Always a Beauty

by Peter Spaeth

“There’s usually trouble in beauty, Tyreal,” Grogan said, his blue eyes gazing past me to the tavern door. “Either someone wishes they had it, seeks to possess it, or struggles to retain it.”

Grogan was a strange one to speak about beauty. The white lines of multiple battle scars crossing his thick features gave his face a sour look even when relaxed. His nose, broken in at least two places, could hardly be called aquiline and resembled a badly scrawled rune.

Despite his less than noble features, Grogan was the largest, most powerful man I’d ever met. He stood at least a head taller then me, and I can see over a crowd with ease. Doorways usually required him to enter sideways, and he had his own tankard here at the Black Goose, one which didn’t look like a thimble in his hand. His blonde hair was pulled back into a long straight braid in the tradition of his country, Blosstrag. A land of snows and mountains, from what little I’ve heard him say of it.

How Grogan became a city guardsman here in Coryanda, is a story I’ve yet to hear him tell. He’s traveled much of the world, and despite his barbaric tendencies to drink and wench, he’s the best sergeant in the city. I may be biased though; he’s also my friend, and in command of the guards I serve with.

Half a dozen of us sat in the Black Goose, enjoying a quick tankard before continuing our night rounds. The door occupying Grogan’s attention had just opened and two ladies had entered, accompanied by three armed men. The older lady, who appeared to serve as the younger’s maid, was attractive for her years and still had a mature grace about her. But she paled beside her mistresss’ beauty.

The younger woman commanded the bulk of the stares in the room. Glorious red hair, held high by strands of gold and silver, accented pale skin. Skin which had never been made to toil in the sun. Her heart shaped face well suited the delicate nose and full lips, and while her emerald eyes appeared tired, they flashed with haughty arrogance.

The Lady strode up to Old Gritter as if she owned both the tavern and the man.

“I require a room for the night,” she snapped.

Old Gritter’s one working eye met her pair for a moment, before going back to the mug he was drying.

“Only got two private rooms upstairs, your men will have to stay in the common loft,” he said.

She pulled a pouch from her belt, full of coins from the sound of it, and drew out a silver. I saw more than a few pairs of eyes sizing up the pouch.

“My maid and I only require one room,” she said, chin rising. “This should be more than adequate.”

She placed the silver coin on the counter, taking care not to touch the ale stained wood.

“Will you be wanting something to eat?” Old Gritter asked.

“I’d rather have my tongue--”

Her maid tugged on her sleeve, and quickly whispered in her ear.

“No, thank you,” the lady said, words slipping past her forced smile. “We have already supped; and to apologize for my harsh words...”

She placed a second silver on the counter. Old Gritter eyed the coins for a moment. Taking one, he pushed the other back.

“One is sufficient for both, my Lady. I’ll have my girl put fresh covers on the beds.”

“No need, Rowanne has brought all we require.”

“This way, then.” Old Gritter led them up the narrow steps. I watched the beautiful noblewoman retreat. Her maid, Rowanne, somehow walking with grace while managing a large bundle, picked the second coin off the counter and stepped after them.

Two of the three guardsmen took a table, while the third headed towards us. He stood a head shorter than me, but his shoulders were nearly as wide as mine, which were nearly as big as Grogan’s. The lines etched into his face spoke of a hard life, yet the slight paunch near his belt implied he’d seen softer times of late. His walk made me think of a military man, not ordinary foot, but someone who enjoyed command. Despite the military bearing, there were no insignias or markings on his black clothing, other than a steel eagle clasp holding his cape.

“You’re named Grogan, aren’t you?” he asked my friend.

“I am, and you are Malicant of Archania,” Grogan replied. “Care to sit and have a mug of ale while you tell me what happened to you after the battle of Bloody Swamp?”

“I thought I recognized you from Bullen’s mercenaries,” he said, squeezing in among us.

“As I recall,” Grogan began. “You did something for a noble?”

“Saved Duke Frounder, and more importantly to him, his young pup’s life. In return, he offered me command of his son’s personal guard. I’m tired of running from battle to battle, so I took the job. Of course Codwin, that’s the pup’s name, is a handful. Likes to sneak out and take useless trips to unsavory areas. But nothing me and my men can’t handle.”

“So what are you doing watching this lady?” Grogan asked.

“Lady Fionna is Codwin’s betrothed. This evening she was foolish enough to lose a wager she couldn’t afford to make good, particularly with Codwin in the city.”

We all glanced at each other, and some smiled.

“Close enough,” Malicant said, catching our looks. “So a type of punishment was chosen instead. The lady must sleep one night at an inn on the south side of Haver’s canal.”

Haver’s canal was generally accepted as the separation between the wealthy district to the north, and the lower class merchants and wharves to the south. The area we patrolled was unusual in that we covered sections on both sides of the canal. Wealthy merchants and nobles wanted their wares watched near the wharves, as well as their homes nestled close by in the better districts.

“She also had to walk from her courtyard,” Malicant continued. “As you may imagine, I’ve heard nothing but complaints about the rough, and foul, road conditions this side of the canal. Hence, we stopped at the first place where we knew rooms existed.”

“She sounds like more trouble than she’s worth,” Grogan said.

“She’s the worst type of noble, never worked a day in her life with no clue about anything except how to pamper herself. Sadly enough, my Lord’s smitten with her. My men and I will have a few drinks here, and then leave. We’ll be back in the morning with Codwin to escort her home. He’d have been here, but he passed out celebrating before the wager was made.”

“You’re not going to guard her tonight?” I asked in amazement.

“No, we won’t. Against my recommendation, the Lady agreed to reduce her ‘punishment’ from five nights guarded to one night with only the maid. We’re to return and be watched ourselves. Of course, only a fool looking to have himself castrated and then impaled on the Duke’s walls would harm the Lady.”

The last was said loud enough to hush the bar, and Malicant’s gaze traveled around the room. Some grumbled, while others simply ignored the announcement.

“Anything in the wager about local guardsmen?” Grogan asked.

“She’s not to pay for protection, if that’s what you mean. Nor can she, or I for that matter, request aid. Still, your men are your men.”

“Old Gritter serves a good tankard of ale. I’d hate to see him suffer because some high-born twit ends up with her noble throat slashed. Lowl, you have the first watch,” Grogan ordered.

* * *

I relieved Lowl, and then Old Gritter barred the inn door for the night. We chatted a while, then he headed off to bed. Just as I got comfortable on a bench, I heard the moan. The sound so low, so subtle, I first took it to be my own imaginings. Then I heard it again.

Swift and quiet, I took the steps, pausing at the landing to orient myself. To the left was the common room, currently empty and dark, with a slit of light where the shutter stood slightly open to the night. To the right were the two private rooms. Mumbled conversation came from one of them, conversation in a voice and language which rose the hairs on the nape of my neck and moved my hand to my guard stick.

I put my ear to the door, but silence had descended.

“My Lady, is everything all right?” I called.

The pain and horror carried by the responding groan resonated through me like chill water flowing down my body. I tried the door with a shivering hand; bolted from the inside. I stepped back. I might not be as huge a man as Grogan, but when my foot struck the door, it crashed open.

“Lady Fionna!” I cried.

In the flickering glow of a brazier and dim light from the hallway, I made out two shapes. One woman sat on a bed, while the other lay supine on the floor. A puff of incense laden air flowed across the room’s threshold, carrying the scent of devil lilies.

The woman on the bed spun upon me, eyes flat pits of ichor, sucking in what little light fell upon them.

“Damn you,” she snarled.

Her arm thrust out. Something struck my chest, toppling me to my back, squeezing the air from my lungs. My hands instinctively grabbed and struggled with the thing which ground my ribs. With a massive heave I peeled a small object off and let it fall to the floor. It bounced, light as a dry peach pit, and seemed to tumble intentionally to land upright. As the darkness contracted about me, the last sight I beheld was a figurine of a squat, repulsive woman.

* * *

I ran from something sinister, something disgusting, something which cackled behind me. Talons dug into my shoulder, my muscles soft clay beneath its grip. Despite the pain, I struggled to break free as it shook me like a rag.

“...up. I think he’s finally back with us.” I heard, realizing someone was shaking my shoulder.

Opening my eyes, I saw Grogan and Lowl standing over me.

“What... what happened?” I managed to ask, rising unsteadily to my feet.

“Judging by the dent in the wall plaster, it seems you fell backwards while struggling with the thief and knocked yourself out,” Lowl said. “Old Gritter and his daughter found you on the floor and called the watch.”

“Thief?” I asked.

“My champion has recovered,” came a voice whose timber thrilled my awakening senses. “You will be well rewarded for your heroism.”

Lady Fionna appeared from behind Grogan. My eyes drank in her form. Up close her beauty was magnified many times.

“I will?” I mumbled.

“You will,” she said, her eyes burning into mine, sending tendrils of energy down my limbs. “You saved me from the bandit, else I would have ended up like poor Rowanne.”

The lady glanced to the side. I followed her gaze and saw the bloody, disheveled heap in the center of the small room. Wisps of raven hair spread upon the floor like roots searching purchase. The body reminded me of something. I struggled to remember it. Suddenly, Lady Fionna stepped into my view, sending the memory scurrying away as I gazed upon her. I envied the thin night wrap which snugly held her torso, accenting her lush figure. The room began to take on a pleasant, dream-like quality.

“Tyreal!” Grogan barked, catching my attention. “I asked if you remembered anything.”

“I remember finishing our rounds, and then relieving Lowl. I was talking to Old Gritter, and then....” My eyes strayed back to Lady Fionna, “then--”

“I think I’ll have Estell take a look at you,” Grogan interrupted. “You may have hit your head harder than it seems.”

“Fair well, my champion,” the Lady said, my flesh turning warm where she touched my arm. “It would harm my heart to think you seriously injured.”

Grogan pulled me over to Lowl.

“Get him to Estell before he begins to drool,” he ordered.

* * *

Estell liked being thorough. So though I stated the injury was only to my head, she insisted I take my shirt off after examining my scalp.

“What happened here?” she said, eyes widening momentarily, before returning to their usual, inquisitive attitude.

I looked at my chest. From what little I could see I had a large swath of bruises circling my ribs. Estell poked me.

“Ow! That hurts,” I said.

“But not too bad?” she asked.

“No, they just feel sore,” I replied.

She prodded me some more.

“Thankfully all your ribs seem to be intact. Though how you could suffer a blow which would bruise you like that and not have a few broken is beyond my knowledge.”

Grogan entered the room.

“Estell, I...,” he paused, staring at my torso.

“Interesting, aren’t they,” Estell said. “It’s almost as if a giant had placed his hands around Tyreal’s chest and squeezed.”

“Her hands,” I mumbled.

“What?” Grogan said.

“I said...nothing,” I replied, honestly struggling to recall the words I knew had issued from my mouth. I shook my head, trying to jar the memory loose, but failed.

Grogan frowned, then shrugged and tossed me my shirt.

“Estell,” he said, handing her a small bit of parchment, “could you carry this message to Temple street?”

“At this time of night?” she said, taking the bit of paper and reading it. Her eyes widened slightly.

“You think figurines of Kailee and Keptaan will help?” she asked.

“They might help his memory. Lowl and Shan are waiting outside to escort you to the temples, and then to the Black Goose. They’ll leave you then, but Old Gritter will keep you company until we get there.”

Estell stared at him for a moment, head tilting slightly to the side as if ready to say something else. Then she nodded, grabbed her walking staff, and left.

“You still don’t remember anything about the thief?” Grogan asked.

“No,” I said, “though I suppose he could have come in through the window. The shutters were cracked open when I got to the head of the stairs.”

“Good, that’s more then you remembered before. You don’t recall smelling anything unusual, or anyone grabbing you from behind?” he said.

“No, why?” I asked.

“Because if someone had grabbed you from behind, they might have used some potion which would knock you out, and might explain your loss of memory. Thieves in Tregarria use such a method.”

“But I thought I couldn’t remember because I fell against the wall.”

Grogan snorted.

“Had your eyes been able to focus on anything but Lady Fionna, you would have seen that a foot made that dent, not a skull. There was plaster dust on the top of your head, and none beneath it when you rose. Besides, try and find a lump to show me.”

While I searched my scalp, Grogan got out a pipe and lit it, drawing in deeply and savoring the tobacco.

“I can’t find a bump, or even a sore spot,” I finally said.

“Which is why Estell decided to look you over more thoroughly,” Grogan said. “Something else happened. Sit down, enjoy a pipe with me, and try to recall.”

Grogan pulled another pipe out of his pouch, packed it, and passed it to me. After I got it lit, we sat in silence for some time. I reviewed the evening, but try as I could my memory would not go beyond reaching the top of the stairs.

“Any luck?” Grogan finally asked, tapping his ashes into the hearth.

“Nothing,” I said.

Grogan nodded, took my pipe and tapped its ashes out before returning it to his pouch.

“Let’s get back to the inn,” he said. “Maybe seeing the room without Lady Fionna there to addle your brain will help.”

* * *

They attacked as we neared the Black Goose. Two men rushed us from in front, while two more came up from behind. In swift motions, Grogan set his lantern down, drew his guard stick, and leapt forward. I spun to meet the two at the rear.

One held a long dagger in each hand, the other wielded a short sword. I had my guard stick, a two and a half foot long shaft of ironwood. Not as heavy as a sword, but nearly as tough as steel. Still, it’s a weapon made for subduing drunks or breaking up fights, not for facing dirks and blades.

I decided on the small, thin man with the daggers; I had the reach on him. Dodging to the side, I kicked a pile of street refuse at them. They slowed enough that I managed to dart in and smack one dagger out of the thin man’s hand. My confidence grew until I noticed the man with the short sword was moving around me, and would be able to strike Grogan from behind.

Realizing my error, I acted without thinking. My stick flew through the air. It connected with a sharp crack against the assailants skull, and he and his short sword fell to the gutter. I turned just in time to dodge a slash from the dagger wielding man. He had skill, and now had me off balance. He drove me back. Stumbling into a wall, I righted myself, and managed to palm my eating dagger. It felt like I held a toothpick compared to his blade, but hopefully surprise would be on my side.

As he slashed at me, I used my knife to catch his, moved closer and struck him hard in the face. He staggered back, blood spurting from nose and mouth. Then I kicked him so hard in the crotch that he lofted a few feet before landing on the ground to curl into a whimpering mass of agony. A fist to the back of his neck, and he went limp.

Turning, I saw Grogan grasp an overreaching arm and jerk it with enough force to dash one man against the other. Both fell stunned, and Grogan used the opportunity to rap them each behind an ear, effectively ending the conflict.

“Wonder what in Azmar’s name brought that on,” Grogan mused. “These aren’t drunks or common thieves, which aside from us, is all I’d hope would be out this late at night.”

“What do you want to do with them?” I asked.

Grogan paused, head bowed a moment in thought, eyes shadowed in darkness. I thought I heard another footfall beyond the lantern light, but it didn’t repeat and I relaxed.

“We can’t bring them back ourselves,” Grogan finally said. “We’ll bind them. Then while you stand watch, I’ll go and get some men from the guardhouse to help us haul these to the cages.”

With some binding thongs, we lined up the four attackers and tied their hands and feet. My hands shook slightly. I’d been in tough spots before, even carried my own share of scars. But I’d never felt like the target of a deliberate attack. I checked them for additional weapons. I found two more metal sheathed daggers on the thin man I’d kicked in the crotch, and had to wonder he why he hadn’t drawn one of them after he’d lost the first. I drew one part way out of its sheath, and saw a green slick covering the blade.

“Watch that one when he wakes, we likely missed another knife somewhere,” Grogan said. “I’ll be back soon.”

Leaving the lantern with me, Grogan exited its circle of light, melting into the shadows. Even at his loudest, he still moved with less noise than most men trying to be quiet.

The night grew still, punctuated only by the shuffling of rats rooting through the refuse in the gullies. Occasionally one of the men would moan as if waking, causing me to rush to his side, ready to give him another rap on the head if he needed it. I felt exposed, as if eyes watched me from beyond the ring of light my lantern threw. Fortunately the only eyes reflecting the light scurried near the ground.

Forcing myself to relax, I gazed overhead, noticing the brighter stars through a gap in the houses. I knew some constellations well enough. To the east, using the bow formed by three bright stars, was the archer-swordsman, Keptaan. Beside him, blocked from my sight, would be his companion and lover, the spear-wielding huntress Kailee.

Both archer and spear hurler stood forever poised to drive their weapons into the evil witch, Brachtaira. The pair’s ancient enemy loomed overhead, nearing her zenith. She was a squat, repellent figure of a woman, poised to cast a spell at the attacking pair. The thought of the witch ran a shiver up my spine, and thrust a remembrance into my head. I could almost catch a glimpse of a memory, as if curtains flapping in a breeze were allowing me flashes of different parts to a mural. The memory began to grow clearer: I’d made it to the door, had called out.

“My champion, is that you?” came a voice which sent a much different type of shiver through my body.

“Lady Fionna! What are you doing here?” I asked.

She stepped into the light. Her ruby dress matched the deep luster of her hair, and her emerald eyes glistened in the light of my lantern. Catching the scent of her perfume, I quivered. My knees grew weak as my eyes ranged over her form.

“Come with me, my champion,” she said.

“Certainly, my lady,” I said, stumbling with the reply. “But I must wait a few moments...well, you see, Grogan will--”

“Come,” she said, entwining her arm about mine. I could feel the heat of her body where it brushed against my side. Streamers of pleasure shot up my arm where she touched bare skin. Her aroma filled my head, driving out any thought but the desire to be near her.

“With pleasure, my lady,” I said, picking up the lantern. We stepped away, leaving the unconscious assailants to the night.

Where she led me, I don’t fully remember. Along our path there were streets, alleys, and a passage through a dark tunnel. I vaguely realized we’d entered a clearing. But what filled my mind throughout the journey was the scent, the sight, and the touch of her. Each step brought pleasant sensations as different parts of our bodies rubbed together. I longed for her as I had never longed for anything in my life.

“Lie here, my champion, and rest, while I prepare your reward.” She placed a hand on my chest and guided me to a hard, fur covered couch.

I lay as she bade me. I felt my arms and legs grasped by other hands, but the feeling was far off, and unimportant, as I gazed into the depths of her eyes.

She removed her hand, and walked to a brazier we had passed. As if striving towards the surface after a deep dive, I struggled back into myself. I grew aware of the strong hands gripping my wrists and ankles, of the scent of devil lilies mingling with the mist in the clearing of thick, gnarled trees. I felt the presence of cold, hard stone beneath me. The thin fur covering I lay on had a sweet, cloying scent, reminding me of the slaughter shed on my father’s farm.

I finally turned my gaze from the lady. A bare chested, powerful man held my legs, while another held my hands. Each had tattoos on their chests. Tattoos of symbols which somehow sparked a memory of dark deeds seen only in nightmares, causing the hairs on the nape of my neck to rise.

“I have chosen to release you from the spell,” Lady Fionna said. “It is such a bother to conduct this ceremony and maintain an enchantment.”

She stood by the brazier, her clothing in a pile at her feet, more beautiful than any woman I had ever seen, clothed or unclothed. But as if awakening from a drunken stupor, I no longer felt the irresistible obsession to fill my senses with her presence.

“Lady Fionna, what are you doing?” I asked.

“Lady Fionna,” she said, enunciating the words. “It is not a bad name to become accustomed to.”

“You’re not the Lady?” I asked, a dim suspicion growing in my mind.

“Which lady, my handsome champion? Lady Rowanne, Lady Ishtal, Lady Cleneeta? I have been them all and more, and soon, I will be Lady Fionna.”

“What are you?” My voice cracked as my throat grew dry.

“Why, I am a beautiful woman. A woman whose charms can drive men insane with desire. Surely you can see that, even without the enchantment.” She sauntered up to me, moving as one so young should not have known how to move. Then she bent over and whispered in my ear. “I am also a woman who made a pack with the goddess Brachtaira. A pack to remain beautiful throughout the ages, in return for an occasional sacrifice.”


“Yes, my champion, you shall be sacrificed to Brachtaira, and for possibly the first time, it saddens me to do it,” she said, hands running over my torso. “I usually use slothful, useless drones who have slighted me, rather than waste such a fine man to her. But you saw me at the inn, and your memory will come back in time. After all, even I can’t maintain an enchantment forever. So goodbye, my faithful champion.”

She kissed me, her lips hot and wet against mine, then spun off. Somewhere behind me a drum and flute began to play, and she started to dance. Her body wove like a snake, undulating in motions which took my breath away. As the music increased in pace, so too did her movements, becoming less and less controlled, more and more passionate. The dance repulsed me, yet I could not gather the will to force my eyes from her. At least not until she danced by the brazier and I saw the dagger thrust into the coals, the bit of blade near the hilt glowing red.

Moving only my eyes, I glanced at the man holding my feet. His gaze was riveted to her form, which hopefully occupied the attention of the man holding my wrists.

With a burst of strength I drew my legs and hands forward, twisting as I did so. I got one foot loose and thrust my boot heel into one attendant’s face, knocking him from my feet. Letting my hands get yanked down, I rolled back with the motion, pulling my knees up past my chest to strike the man holding my hands in the head. My momentum was enough that we fell away from the slab.

Struggling loose, I struck the man twice. He went limp beneath me just as the other attendant tackled me. I managed to get on top and pulled my arm back to deliver a blow.

“Cease, my champion,” came her voice.

I could feel the spell enveloping me, but somehow managed to drive my fist downward, knocking the second attendant out even as my own muscles relaxed.

“Rise and return to the altar,” she commanded. She stood by the brazier, body slowly swaying to the music, the red-hot dagger in her hand glowing like the baleful eye of a demon. Whether it was the knowledge of being ensorcelled, or her weakness in maintaining two spells, I fought to stand still, and won. She sighed.

“No matter,” she smiled, “you will be unable to resist me soon enough.”

Unintelligible words cascaded past her lips as she raised the glowing blade over her head, towards the constellation of Brachtaira. My gaze was drawn upwards.

All thoughts of escape, of struggle, washed from me to puddle in a hopeless pool at my feet. Streamers of ice blue light flowed down from the stars forming Brachtaira like moonbeams to strike the dagger.

The dagger’s blade turned white. Lady Fionna opened her eyes, and I gasped. Her irises had turned black, black and full of the vastness of the darkness among the cold wastes. My vision beheld the beautiful and tempting body of Lady Fionna, but my soul saw the twisted, gnarled figure of Brachtaira. A goddess before whom I could only shrink.

“Stay still,” the voice said, words mouthed by the body but pounded down on me from above. I froze. She stepped forward with halting, tentative motions, as if fearful that her essence might obliterate fragile mortal shell if she moved too fast.

A tiny spark of will rose up within me. Fighting hard, I slowly lifted my hand towards the small of my back, where I had secreted one of the daggers taken earlier from the thin man. I despaired as I saw that despite her awkward steps, she would be upon me before I could reach the knife.

“No need for the slab. It just makes the cutting easier,” she said, an inhuman cackle filling the clearing, rasping my ears.

The dagger drew back for the blow. I strained for my blade, still inches away.

“Lady Fionna!” shouted a voice.

She spun. At the entrance to the clearing Grogan and Estell stood. Grogan flung his guard stick. It struck Lady Fionna in the chest.

Her scream radiated up to the heavens, deafening me, my chest reverberating with its echoes. She arched her back in agony, letting me see a small figurine of Keptaan tied on the end of the stick. The figurine’s arms were flung wide, clutching the flesh of her chest, and where it touched her, the skin sizzled.

Estell hurled her walking staff like a spear, striking Brachtaira in the belly. Brachtaira screamed again, one hand darting to the staff. She spun in stiff-legged steps, pulling at both shafts, trying to tear off the figures grasping her. I heard crackling pops and smelled seared meat.

Grogan rushed forward, drawing a short, wide-bladed weapon. Strange glyphs flared along its length as he approached.

Brachtaira flung up her arm. Grogan’s body bounced back as if hitting a stone wall, his unusual sword flying forward from his hand to land in the grass in front of me. He lay stunned, while Estell rushed to his side.

“Fools,” Brachtaira shrieked, her voice rocking the ground of the clearing with its pain and anger. “Did you believe the symbols of my enemies would be enough to vanquish me? Your death shall take moments, but your suffering an eternity.”

Words echoed around us as she recited an incantation, focusing on my friends. Suddenly, I could move, and did. Scooping up the strange blade, and holding it low, I thrust it into Brachtaira’s kidney.

She howled, whipping around to strike at me. I ducked the blow, and blocking the staff still stuck to her belly, thrust the weapon up under her breast and into her heart.

She fell writhing to the turf. The dagger tumbled from her hand, scorching the grass black where it lay before melting to slag. Her jerking subsided, and her eyes turned from dark to white. The air suddenly felt fresh as I gasped it into my lungs. A wry smile appeared upon her lips.

“My champion,” she said, then the eyes blinked, and someone else looked at me. The new eyes held fear, and confusion, and the rising panic of Lady Fionna as she breathed her last. Her eyelids fluttered, and the body relaxed.

I fell to my knees, overcome by having seen those eyes, for having killed an innocent to save myself and my friends. Two men, one holding a flute and the other a drum, scurried to the clearing entrance. I couldn’t muster the will to stop them.

“Remove the blade,” I heard Grogan croak.

I looked up. Grogan sat regarding me, blood dripping from nose and mouth, while Estell supported him.

“Why?” I said, revolted at the thought of having to see the wound I’d caused bleed with the crimson blood of an innocent woman, instead of the black blood of an evil witch. “Isn’t it enough that I killed her? If you want your weapon, get it yourself!”

“Remove the blade,” Grogan commanded.

We stared at each other for a long moment. I saw a sureness in his eyes, a purpose. Tentatively I reached out and grasped the pommel of the weapon. With a jerk, I yanked it out.

Lady Fionna’s skin quivered, and then the flesh sealed, leaving no mark.

The weapon fell from my numb grasp, and I watched as its blade faded, then disappeared, leaving a hilt and pommel inscribed with glyphs. My eyes sought Grogan’s, and he smiled a little, knowing smile. I quickly reached to remove the staff.

“No,” Grogan shouted, causing me to pull my hand back. “Get it, Estell.”

Estell moved forward and pulled the staff off. The blistered, raw skin rippled and smoothed over.

“My turn,” Grogan grumbled.

Rising unsteadily to his feet, he walked forward with stiff steps. Dropping to one knee, he pulled his guard stick from Lady Fionna’s chest. She shuddered as the wound healed, and her chest swelled with air.

“She’s alive!” I gasped.

“That she is, and I’ll have some good words, and some silver,” Grogan hefted the lady’s money pouch from the pile of clothing, “for certain priests when we get back into Coryanda. But for now, why don’t we get her dressed before she awakens and demands our heads?”

“How did you find me?” I asked, while Estell gathered Lady Fionna’s clothes.

“We didn’t. We followed you,” Grogan said. “After we were attacked, I noticed the lady off in the shadows. So when I left you, I walked right at her. She scurried away, not wanting to be discovered. Which gave me a little more time to rush and get Estell. We made it back just as Lady Fi..., well, whatever it was, led you away.”

“We’d have been here sooner, but passed by the entrance in the dark, even though I told Grogan where to turn,” Estell smiled, and he rolled his eyes. “Good thing they used the flute and drum. They led us back.”

“But how did you know it was Brach...the witch,” I said, more cautious now than ever about saying her name aloud.

“Since it wasn’t your head that hit the wall, something else must have touched your mind. My guess was magic. That, and the scent of devil lilies still in the air when I first arrived, made it dark magic. Finally, the body on the floor reminded me of something I’d only come across once in my travels. A not so willing gift of life to...well, you know. That’s why I asked for this,” Grogan picked up the glyph-riddled pommel. “A priest at the temple once showed me this, swearing that it would ‘fashion a blade of purity and might’ when in the presence of the spirit of the witch.”

“So,” I said, helping Estell move the Lady so we could finish dressing her. “How will we explain this to Lady Fionna and Lord Codwin?”

“We won’t,” Grogan grinned. “I’ll leave that to Malicant.”

The End
© 2000 Peter Spaeth

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