Her sword is strapped to her back, not in a sheath as most knights would carry it. It makes it vulnerable to rust and to rain, to dulling and stains, but to the woman who bears it, it matters little. Despite strapping it to her armor, she has never once drawn it in the months she has worn it.
They call her Rose, but it is not her name. It is akin to (but not truly) her style- beautiful, but prickly in its own fashion. The only truly ugly pieces of her, for all that she spends weeks on the road, is the massive scarred shield and the rusted old sword, the former carried in hand and the latter on her back. She is not a knight, and not a sellsword, for all that the two are common across the country she wanders. She describes herself only as a wanderer. Others will always refer to her as the Rose Knight.
She champions no causes and helps no one that does not ask for it in one way or another, and while she has been described as stoic, serious and charitable, she is too fierce to be kind to those she does not know. Her words are short, curt and occasionally cutting, and her manner is ferocious, especially in regards to a fight. Her eyes are piercing and cruel and cold, which to her has always been unfair, as she is not cruel and cold on purpose.
As beautiful as she is, she does not carry herself in that manner, dragging her feet as she walks, slumped, with head bowed toward the ground as if a horrible weight drives it down.
This day, Rose trudges along a path through the infamous Thistlewood. It is near the middle of the wilder part of the forest, where bramblevines wave without wind, and the trees seem to stare, that she comes across a man sitting on the path before a great bridge across a greater creek, nearly ten meters wide.
The man stares up at her as she approaches, and his sharp eyes meet hers. Wordlessly, he stands. A branch that leans from the wood alongside the path is lifted from the grass to reveal a glinting and broad axe. He lifts it and offers her no sneer, no cruel grin or smile, but a grim look, a jerk of his head toward the bridge and a subsequent shake. His stance does not suggest that he means to let her pass.
“What business?” she asks, when she stands before the bridge, still a respectable distance from the man.
“No business,” he replies. “I will have payment in blood or you will find another way.”
Rose stares at him a moment. “How are you called?”
“They call me bastard. They call me monster. They call me demon. What does it matter? You will not pass by.”
Rose shrugs her shoulders easily. “As you would believe. I must pass.”
“Not over this bridge.”
The woman gives him another stare, lingering for a time that makes him distinctly uncomfortable.
Then Rose walks to the edge of the creek and kicks a stone from the bank into it. It drops into the liquid (which is almost certainly not water), making a small splash that hisses and smokes where it touches her armored boots.
She glances back at the man, then walks back to the path, stops, and turns to face him again.
“If you are barring my path, and there is no other way to ford,” she begins. He interrupts her.
“There are other ways.”
Now the man does smile. “What will you give?”
“I have no coin,” Rose replies simply.
“There are other ways to pay.” The man’s voice is flat, but his eyes bear a spark of sick excitement.
“Spare me,” Rose says. “I am no whore.”
The man’s eyes narrow. “Neither am I. You misunderstand. For but the price of a finger I will let you pass.”
Rose stops for a moment, finally takes the time to look the man up and down.
He is tall. As tall as Rose. In one hand he holds his axe, and the other rests at his belt. His stance is one of caution. From the way his hands rest an inch away from his side, however, she guesses that he must have an invisible sheath and throwing dagger. Doubtless his first move will be to draw and throw it. The axe, then, is a simple ruse. By the way he holds it, he has some experience with it. It is impossible for Rose to judge without fighting him. The prospect of fighting him, however, fills her with a little thrill. She can tell that the same thrill must be running through him, see in his eyes the excitement in hers.
It is as causeless as hers.
They let their eyes linger. Her grip adjusts itself on her shield. Her mailed fist clenches at her side and she takes in a breath, watches him stiffen. It is a delicious moment that she lets hang in the air.
It can only hang for so long.
The two warriors charge.
The word echoes through every part of Rose and her opponent, too, echoes through them and freezes them solid where they stand. It forces them still and holds them there, an invisible presence that anchors them midstride. The sorcery is known to her- power forced into common words to make them take effect. It is one of many sorceries worked by many magicians across the country. Word magic. No. Perhaps ‘Power Words’ is more appropriate, if somewhat trite.
The point is moot. She is frozen in place. Not even her eyes may move, and they are locked upon her target no matter how hard she attempts to move them. The source of the magic is not immediately apparent. Was it a trap? No, the man before her is as surprised as she. It must have come from some sorcerer unseen, some worker of magic from the dim forest around her.
Now comes a voice she recognizes- to her rear.
“Ah. The Rose Knight. I did not expect you here.”
A tingling, and abruptly she is released from her paralysis. She can move, and whirls to face the voice.
“Nor did I expect to see you, wizard,” she murmurs.
His name is Dain. His eyes twinkle with mischief. In one hand he holds a crooked yew wand. In the other, he holds a scrap of parchment with glowing words written on it that Rose cannot make out. His voice is hoarse, but clear. The hoarseness is to be expected of one who uses Power Words.
“I am not here for you,” he says. “I am here for him.” he nods in the direction of Rose’s former opponent, still frozen but a few steps before the bridge.
“Be that as it may,” she replies. “Take him and go.” Her voice is bitter, even to her own ears. A good battle is hard to beat. It has been quite a boring journey so far, with (but for a surprisingly skilled swordsman a few turns back) few distractions from the plodding of her feet or the steadily increasing darkness. She is surprised, however, at just how bitter she feels. Even as she agrees to let the man be taken, curiosity springs up in her.
“Why do you take him? There is the city Triumph at the end of this road. Do you bring him there?”
Dain pauses, turns. He is a step or two away from the armored man and his axe. “I take him on office business.” His smile is meant to seem mysterious but only manages condescending. “His destination is no concern of yours, Rose Knight.”
The words slink into her and ease her worry and curiosity away, taking all her desires to understand and dashing them to pieces on the shores of magic calm.
She watches Dain step up to the man. He pauses again and reaches into his robe pocket to pull free a scroll case. He tosses it to Rose, who catches it without thinking. “Thank you for your cooperation,” he says placidly. He looks down at the scroll in his hand, the parchment with those runic letters on it. Dain murmurs a few chosen words from it before freeing them from the page and letting them curl around both his charge and him. Magic smoke hisses, and in a flash of fire, the motionless warrior and the trickster are both gone.
For some time, Rose stares at the spot they just occupied, trying to identify why she hadn’t stopped them. Then she understands- he’d placed an enchantment on her. Frowning, but strangely relaxed, the Rose Knight opens the scroll case. The blue lettering on the page identify it to her immediately- it is a scroll of Excellent Recall. It is keyed specifically to Dain’s residence- the little red imprint of his name at the bottom of the main text block is all she needs to understand that. With a sigh, she shrugs off the magic of the enchantment, willing herself free of its treacherous tethers. She has no reason to use this scroll now.
Rose does not process things quickly, so it is only after she steps onto the bridge, crosses it, and stops to think about what has just happened that she registers the situation.
Her teeth grind and she shuts her eyes, rubbing her temple with her palm. Now she recognizes why that man had been important before. Dain had just taken her rightful bounty. To fight for pleasure had been her only aim a few moments earlier. Now she remembers the truth of the situation, of her feelings. To bring in a bandit is to claim the bounty over him. A brigand who obstructs people in the forest surely counts.
“Huh,” she mutters, and looks the scroll over again. She shakes her head and continues down the path, stepping carefully over debris and detritus. Doubtless a great storm had passed through the Thistlewood.
About three turns down the trail beyond the bridge, there stands a tall and gnarled oak, directly in the middle of the Rose Knight’s path. Paying it no mind, she brushes by, only to be stopped by a shriek that echoes through the wood.
She looks one way, then the other, searching for the source of the sound- but it is not until she glances up that she sees it.
The situation is not hard to judge. Two grey-winged harpies with beautiful faces and long, lean legs had been roosting in their nest shortly before. Their cries are not to her, but to a swift shape that darts down to land on the path before her. As the harpies leap from their roost, another swift shape, black-feathered and vast, snatches the entire nest up in its talons and swoops away.
Frowning, she focuses instead on the thief before her, who has a live harpyling between its foretalons. The little chick squalls piteously before the gryphon- for that is what the massive creature must be- snaps off its head with its beak and swallows it down.
The murderous thief is broad and long, with a sleek-feathered pair of bright white wings on its back and the great head of an eagle, its beak as long as the Rose Knight’s forearm. Its tail is as a lion’s as well, twitching from side to side in agitated fashion, as if Rose’s mere presence is enough to put it in a bad mood, even despite its most recent catch.
Rose goes to take a step forward.
“Mine!” the gryphon shrieks. “Go away!”
She stops and watches it carefully. Its beak drips with blood.
“Thief! Thief! Murderer! Thief!” the harpies screech, circling overhead. The other gryphon, in the air, is making circuits with the nest still clasped in its titanic talons. Suddenly, one of the harpies rams into it and lashes its side with her claws, drawing wet red lines in the beast’s flank. The branch above shakes and pitches as the gryphon struggles to turn to strike back. The second of the nest of harpylings falls, and Rose, without consciously thinking, catches it before it strikes the ground.
The thief before her stares her down with its fierce, bright yellow eyes. The harpy chick in her hand squalls and scratches at her, but her mail holds against the poor thing’s weak little claws, and she tucks it against her mailed breast.
“Yours,” she says, and takes a step back. Be satisfied, she prays. Be stupid.
The gryphon shrieks again and charges. “Mine!”
Rose barely has time to lift her shield before the massive beast slams into her gut and bears her to the ground. The harpyling flies free from her grip, which, conveniently, means that her hand is free to grapple.
The gryphon snaps at the rim of the shield- which she somehow manages to jam between her face and that terrible beak. Breathless, Rose gasps and wheezes under the creature’s direct weight. It’s heavier than any eagle-lion has a right to be. Eagles have hollow bones, do they not? She remembers that from somewhere. Two heavy pecks dent the metal shield and send shocks through her arm.
The next time it tries, she shifts and slams its beak upward with the rim of her shield. Its talons puncture through to her chest through her steel plate, and a set of lion’s claws draw lines of pain down her leg through her mail. Whether the initial impact cracked her ribs and the pressure is making it worse or whether it has actually pierced her plate is not immediately apparent, but whichever it is needs to stop, and soon.
Rose jams her free, steel-sheathed fist into its side, slams its beak with her shield again, lips framing a growl. The furious beast digs and claws at her with talons and paws, but she manages another heavy blow from the ground, twists and finally pushes it from her, heaving and forcing it to the ground. It rolls away from her, staggers to all four feet and hisses.
She has a split second to think and to focus, and she uses it to remember to curl her fingers. The gryphon charges again, and even though Rose is prepared for it, when it leaps at her she is only just able to avoid its beak and lashing claws. It flaps into the air and she jumps, grabbing, snatching at its tail. She misses the target and hits the ground hard. The beast snarls at her, then dives down, swooping low while Rose lies prone. She rolls over onto her back.
Lifting her legs in her plate is not easy, but she kicks up with all the force she can manage, lying flat and slamming her right foot into the creature’s middle. There is a sharp crack. The impact makes the gryphon’s screech into a wheeze and it pitches forward into the dirt.
Rose rolls to her unshielded side and pushes herself up to her knees. When she has her feet under her she struggles up into a fighting stance again, but the gryphon, injured and staring at her with a piercing, yellow-ringed gaze, lies where it fell.
Its ribs are likely broken. It won’t be moving any time soon.
The Rose Knight finds the harpyling on the ground where she left it, squalling and struggling to its talons. Seeing that its parents are in the tree above now, and that the other gryphon is gone, Rose decides to continue along her way. The gryphon on the path snaps at her as she passes, but she ignores it, rubbing at the ache of the gashes she’d earned.
The Thistlewood eventually gives way to an open road, where, still bleeding, Rose trudges away from the forest. The open wound on her leg will have to wait until she can get to town. She’d inspected her ribs along the path and they don’t appear cracked, though her chest is bruised.
“Well, well,” comes a voice. Rose looks up. “Our mark made it through after all.”
The Rose Knight does not recognize the woman who speaks, but she does recognize the man standing beside her. Aed is an experienced warrior, and one she has often met on her travels across the country.
He is foreign, with pale, pale skin, and a thick build. He is experienced, and well-off enough to live without famine, and she respects him for his ability as a fighter and a fellow champion of those who ask for aid, a fellow knight with no master.
His favored weapon is drawn already, a hammer said to be carved from the sky, which glows and leaves lightning wherever it strikes. His armor is thicker than when she had last seen him, and of a different, darker color. Chief amongst the differences between now and before is the crest he bears across his plate. It is a white moon with three red dots arranged in triangular pattern along its center. She notices that he is wearing leather gloves, rather than mail gauntlets.
He gives her a grim nod. “Good day and ill fortunes, Rose Knight.”
She frowns, feeling her heart sink. “Good day and ill fortunes, Sir Aed. You are not here to assist me to the city.”
He shakes his head.
The woman laughs. “Lady Sandrys desires your presence. She will never receive it.”
Rose takes a moment to look the woman up and down. She looks to be hardened, a scar adorning her ivory chin, another two along her forehead. Most notable is the crossbow in one hand, smaller than anything she’d ever seen before. In the other she holds an axe, heavy and ornate by her grip, but not long. The blade shines, and Rose wouldn’t put it past the woman to have enchanted it and to be faking the weight to put enemies off their guard.
The Rose Knight analyzes the situation. The path leads on to the city. She can even see it from her position. To her rear the trees and the forest stand. To either side, open plains.
There is nowhere to run, wounded as she is. There does not appear any way to beat past these two, either. She will need to do battle of some form in order to continue. She grins.
“Come then,” she says, facing the assassin and Aed. “Will you strike together or one and the other?”
The woman seems confident. She shrugs her shoulders and gives Rose a nasty grin. “Aed can fight. I will kill you if he fails.”
Rose’s grin loses none of its potency. Denied one battle to be faced with another. She raises her dented shield.
“Come, Aed!” she calls. “Strike me down if you dare!”
Aed’s warhammer is a two-handed beast of a weapon, long, heavy and enchanted. One blow from it will stave in Rose’s skull, helmet or not. Rose has no weapon of her own but her fists and a rusty blade she dares not draw. She curls her fingers, circling a little to keep Aed between herself and the assassin.
He stalks toward her, trying to circle to allow the opposite. Rose fights the urge to charge. If she makes a mistake it’ll be a bolt through her chest or a hammer through her skull.
They circle like that. Then Aed steps in too close. She can feel it as his boot drops to the ground.
Aed stands not ten feet from her.
She can nearly feel him tense, can feel him charge. Three steps in and he’s too close- he knows it as he moves that he’d misjudged- and she had stepped in to close the distance. His blow comes in too high, overhead. Rose jams her shield up under his arms as he’s coming in. Before he can start backing away she shoves him and stamps on his foot with a thud. It doesn’t hurt him– his boot holds to hers, and so instead she shoves with all her weight.
Heavy plate clatters against the ground as Aed falls. Rose drops her shield down scant splits before she feels the heavy thunk of something tear through it, a second thunk as it smashes into her chest. She staggers back, but where gryphon’s beak and claws cut through unscathed, the bolt’s point bends on impact with her shield, and it buries itself in the leather between her armor and her body. Her ribs scream in protest, but she barely hears them.
Aed reaches for his hammer with one hand and she stamps again, feeling the satisfying, sickening crunch of finger bones under boot as useless leather gives way to her full weight. She looks up in time to catch sight of the assassin woman coming towards her with her heavy axe, sees the other hand on her belt sheath as well, the crossbow forgotten on the ground. Rose takes a wide stance above Aed, still standing on his hand, feels impact from his other fist on her armor and resists kicking his head in.
A silver-lined moment passes as she prepares for another brush with death, a giddy rush that lifts her up and sparks off her armor and her opponent’s. The stirring of power and joy within is familiar, but rather than clouding her head it clears it, shows her the path to victory.
Then the other woman is upon her. Sweat stings Rose’s eyes. That axe comes up. Rose recognizes a feint when she sees one. The axe comes down and the belt-knife comes free of its sheath. Rose turns, pivoting on Aed’s hand and grinding his wrist into the dirt, evading the swing and turning into the knife, arm lowered to block the low jab. The woman has no time to react as Rose ducks into her stab, feeling its blade skitter across the plate ’round her arm.
The Rose Knight’s heavily armored shoulder catches her antagonist in the jaw, knocking her head back. Her elbow smashes into the girl’s middle and helps drive her down. Rose, to make sure she stays there, lands a calculated stamping kick to her assailant’s ribs. Steel-plated boot meets hard, boiled leather and comes away the victor. The woman rolls over on her side, wheezing, coughing, curled up.
For a few minutes, Rose stands like that, panting, sweat running down her face. Adrenaline pounds. Her instincts scream at her to finish her assailants off, to pummel them both into pulp.
She ignores them, swallowing them down, and turns her attention to the woman she just struck.
Rose kneels down next to her and prods her ribs lightly. The groan of pain is enough. They’re broken. Since the woman doesn’t appear to be coughing up blood, Rose is confident she’ll live.
Aed clutches his stricken hand to him and groans as Rose steps away. She glances at the feathered shaft stuck in her plate and smiles. The smith who’d forged her this armor deserves more praise than she feels she has the ability to give. While she’s in the city she ought to drop by.
The scent of ozone is easily tracked to Aed’s warhammer. Rose feels like she’ll cook in her armor if she stays out much longer, so she wanders over to the hammer, picks it up and tosses it closer to Aed, watching it throw up electric sparks as it touches the ground. “We should fight again,” she says as an afterthought. Then, “You two make a good pair.”
Her words merit no intelligible response. She trudges onward, toward Triumph’s gates.
“Her ladyship welcomes you, Rose Knight. She has been expecting you.” It’s the fourth messenger to arrive at the door. A pause. “Do you need help undressing from your plate?”
“Stuff your head up a badger’s arse,” she grunts back through the door. “I put it on by myself. I will take it off by myself.” I do not wear much under it, she adds in her head.
In time, the Rose Knight emerges from an opulent dressing room. She takes two steps before being assailed by anxious women in simple, prim dress. She assumes them to be maids. The last time she’d visited Sandrys, Rose had been surprised at the lack of them. Now there seem to be five maids per guest. Other guests, called from far off lands, likewise emerge from their chambers attended by them.
The guests shout greetings to her. She’s too tired to guess at who they might be, and doesn’t give them so much as a second glance. She catches sight of one as she turns, though, a red-headed girl whose eyes meet hers for just a flicker. For some reason, the glance fills Rose with more than a little unease, but it’s over as fast as it came.
The maids insist that she go to dinner, but Rose won’t have any of it. She came here to visit Sandrys, not to eat, drink and make merry. She figures she’s made enough merry over the last couple towns to last her for a while.
She shrugs off the crowd. She feels sweaty and greatly desires a bath. She is unlikely to get it anytime soon, knowing Sandrys.
Frowning, she pushes past the maids in her way. They seem to be gathered around two large doors.
Not one to walk a hundred miles across the country and be stopped by fancy woodwork, Rose elbows a butler and, ignoring the shouting, pushes the handle down and steps in, deftly snapping it shut behind her before meddling fingers can get in the way. Pink sparks crackle in the air under her fingers and there is a click in the lock. She smiles. She recognizes that trick.
Rose looks up from the door to find herself alone in the room with Lady Sandrys.
Sandrys is thick-boned, rather than thin, with a natural heaviness to her. She’s short and rounded, with caramel skin and thick, long brown hair that Rose could swear she has never seen cut.
“Good eve, San,” Rose says, as nonchalantly as she can. There is a thick lump in her throat.
Sandrys gives her a look, regarding her with sharp amber eyes. “Rose.”
The Rose Knight, strong in the face of all manner of things, shakes on her feet when she hears that voice. “San-”
The Lady taps the floor with her beshoed toe. “Sit.”
When Rose can think again, she’s facing the door she left, sitting in front of the great four-poster bed, with Sandrys’ fingers running through her hair.
“Looking for heroes?” she asks, voice so dry she’s worried it will crack.
“Something about a criminal on the loose in the Thistlewood–”
“He has already been caught. Dain is more than skilled enough in his art to catch any thief.”
Rose tenses at the mention of the mercenary, but sighs. She should have known.
“Why did you–”
Sandrys’ fingers touch on Rose’s shoulders, thumbs and fingertips kneading just so. A feeling like hot pink rises in the worn woman’s body, and her breathing eases, tumbles free from her lips in a happy sigh.
Before, Sandrys’ voice had been blank. When she speaks now, it’s thick enough to taste, sweetness and cinnamon in the air. It flows around Rose and sucks the tension away, softening hard muscles and making her giggle despite herself.
“You know why,” Sandrys’ silky voice murmurs. “You know exactly why. Now come here, Rose, so I can remind you why you missed me.”
Rose’s eyes are slow to open.
A hand on her thigh and another across her back. Whose are they?
But she remembers where she is. Sandrys’ room. In her bed. Smiling, she tucks the shorter woman closer, breathing a soft sigh of relief. Flashes of the night before– is it still night now?– creep over her. She shivers.
Sandrys is short, but she, along with two other royal families, rule Triumph. It shows in her voice, in her command over her pink magic.
Most magic is either red, white or green. Green to manipulate the dead earth, red to manipulate the stubborn mind, white to manipulate the living body.
Sandrys’ is pink, magic used to manipulate both mind and body, a mixture of red and white. While not a rare talent by itself, her mastery of it is. At times it frightens Rose. The last time she was here, she recalls, Sandrys had forced her to stay. True, Lady Sandrys had not been aware of it at the time. True, she had undone the enchantment as soon as she had realized what it was. The fact remains.
Sandrys’ magic has been used more than once without her willing it, in even the last day. She has no recollection of locking the door behind Rose. Rose recalls the more intimate moments with her over the night, and that magic manifesting itself to twist Rose about like a toy, or to inflame desires for things Sandrys likes. The hot pink magic of her voice is what had led to their romp in the first place, Rose muses.
Rose had missed her dearly. She’d missed the touch of that magic. She had missed the touch of her fingers and her lips. She had, most of all, missed that voice and that smile. The warmth and softness she had felt with precious few for as long as she can remember– yet she feels it with Sandrys, stronger every moment Rose spends with her.
Fragrance and pink magic left no scars, this time. The cuts were purged of infection by the same magic which could easily pick Rose up and fling her across the room… the same magic which could turn her, mind and body, into a mouse. Sandrys had done it before– though not to Rose.
The Lady sleeps soundly, tucked close against Rose’s chest. Her breathing is easy, while the Knight’s is shallow and worried, though she cannot immediately pinpoint why. After a time, Rose lets herself relax, wondering why she had awoken at all.
A creak from the corner of the room shifts Rose away from Lady Sandrys and up into a sitting position. The Lady stirs slightly, but doesn’t waken.
The room is black as tar. It is windowless, with only one set of doors leading inside– the one Rose had slipped past. There is a balcony set to Rose’s far right, tall, with stairs leading up to it. Beyond that there are a few shelves filled with ancient books. The creak came from the corner beneath that balcony, but Rose is familiar with this room.
Her eyes shift upward and, sure enough, spot a flicker of movement. Shadow within shadow.
The bed shifts with Rose’s weight. Sandrys stirs again.
Rose hesitates a moment. She is extremely reluctant to leave Sandrys alone in the bed, more than a little protective of her noble lover. Yet if she does not move, she risks bringing a battle within inches of her Lady’s face. This too, does not seem to be a reasonable course of action. Torn, her mind is made up for her when she sees the shadow move and leap down from the balcony without making a sound.
Rose throws herself from the bed. Standing on her two feet, battle-fury already flooding her veins, she balls her hands into fists and waits, standing face to face with it in the dark, not twenty steps from her.
Her eyes narrow as the shadow approaches, rears, and unfolds. Five steps away now.
Her stomach turns as a scent like an open grave reaches her nose.
The room floods with light.
Rose blinks, rubs her eyes, takes a step back and stumbles. She turns in midair and catches herself with a hand and lower arm.
When stars stop spinning in front of her face, she hears Sandrys’ voice.
“Rose? Rose, are you well? What is it?”
When she can get a clear view of the creature before her, she half-expects it to be gone, but there is no such luck.
It swirls with white magic. It’s a corpse, standing upright and rigid. Flesh hangs from it in strips and its maw is open. As she watches, it reaches up, plucks a tooth from its jaw, and drops it.
The white magic hovers around it a moment and then jumps from the corpse to the tooth, which shines and glows on the floor, even in the harsh light.
Sandrys crawls over to the side of the bed and stares at the corpse a moment. Then she snaps her fingers. A small shockwave of pink magic expands, surrounds her hand, forms an orb. Into it, she speaks. “Fetch Vark. A messenger arrived. I wish it to be picked up and delivered to Lord Dae.”
She turns to Rose as the orb speeds away, ignoring the locked doors. “Rose. Can you pick up that tooth for me?”
Rose can hear something in her lover’s voice that gives her pause. “This is dangerous.” It is not a question.
“You will not be hurt.”
It’s only somewhat reassuring to the Rose Knight, but no more than she had expected from Sandrys.
She reaches down to pick up the tooth, closing her fingers around it and lifting it up, offering it to Sandrys. Sandrys reaches over and takes it carefully.
“Why did you make me do that?” Rose asks.
“I have reason to believe it came from Lord Dae… and it stinks of his magic. If I touched it and were immediately incapacitated by some manner of curse, it would be impossible for me to cure myself. If you were, it would take me or my magicians a matter of moments to find out how to help you.”
Something about the explanation strikes Rose as off, but she lets it go. Sandrys is much more learned than she in matters of magic. The reason given seems entirely self-serving to Rose, but then, most things Sandrys seems inclined to do are that way to her. Rose doesn’t mind serving her. If ever she did mind it, she would stop. They are the same terms Rose had sworn to service under countless seasons ago, when she had been a slip of a girl. When Sandrys had been a slip of a girl.
“I never asked. Did you…?” Sandrys starts, but doesn’t finish. Now she won’t meet Rose’s eyes, and Rose knows that she could have been killed a moment before, when she’d touched the tooth. No magician in Sandrys’ employ would be able to bring her back from the dead.
She doesn’t comment on it. “I did. He’s dead– again– and for the last two seasons I have carried it with me. I left it with my armor.”
Sandrys lets out a breath of relief and the moment of vulnerability is gone. Her eyes are again composed and she relaxes. “Do you know what it is, Wander?”
Rose cracks a smile at the old name. “I can hazard a guess. He was a tougher fight than I ever thought old bones could be. Sorcerer’s Sword?”
Sandrys’ turn to smile. “Yes. He was not just any embalmed corpse. Those ‘old bones’ belonged to Sorcerer, held together by his last great spell. With the sword here, that guardian spell is now mine. He may very well awaken again, with or without the sword, but the spell is now mine.”
She pauses, then frowns, and gives Rose a queer look. “Is that… satisfactory?”
Rose realizes her mouth is still open. She closes it and shakes her head, as if to rid herself of buzzing flies. “Power and sorcery is beyond me, San. If this Sorcerer’s Sword brings safety and magic to you that once you did not have, I will be perfectly content with that.”
Sandrys’ expression, which now Rose recognizes as worried, changes to a half-smile. What Rose does not say is how much it has frightened her to see Sandrys like that. Why should unshakable San worry?
Rose wishes so badly to be able to comfort her, but doubts very much that there is anything she could do. She barely understands the power that flows through her lover’s veins, or the power she had taken from Sorcerer’s bones. Troubling as San’s reaction is, Rose can do nothing about it.
“Today I will visit the smith,” she says offhand. “I have to thank him for forging my armor so well. Yesterday it took a bolt, and–”
Sandrys nods. Rose can tell other things are on her mind, and lets the sentence trail off unfinished. The self-described wanderer settles into the bed with her lover again. The sheets are damp with sweat from the terror of a few minutes ago. Though the room is well lit, she feels oddly vulnerable in a way that she certainly did not before.
©2016 Sam Oliver (Eris)
So… this is one of three parts of the longest story I’ve ever written. Big surprise (for those of you who are new, I tend to say that a lot). Since it’s so ridiculously big, I’m going to split it up and post it over three days.
No joke! One part today, one part tomorrow, one part the day after. After they’ve been posted, you’ll be able to find links to all three parts in the Long Stories section.
I’ll also put links to each part at the bottom of these posts. They’ll go live once the story parts are done actually being posted.
Since it took me so long to finish, I figure I might as well warn you that the writing style is fairly consistent, but the amount of time that it took means that there might be a little inconsistency. When I go back and edit it, I’ll try to get rid of those inconsistencies. Also, while I’ll try to keep each part roughly even, it is a big story, and not kind to perfect division.
Anyway, sorry for the delay on posting, but finishing this took longer than I thought and I didn’t have any poetry in me for the intervening days.
Hope this suits those of you who like stories. And fantasy. And the name ‘Rose’. And knights. It’s definitely a universe I wouldn’t mind writing from again.