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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7

The Sword and the Rose - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Karen Bruce
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 2

The day of departure for the conclave came all too soon in Remy leBeau's opinion. Until then, he could pretend that anything beyond the boundaries of Salem did not exist, could imagine that the world ended where his people's fields and cottages did. His people, he repeated in awe. It had taken him some time to become accustomed the notion of being a lord, if indeed he could be used to it after his highwayman's life. In some ways, he missed the wild freedom, the thrill of dicing with death or imprisonment, the lack of responsibility.

In his current situation, he had to deal with the thousand petty problems of a people who still spat when they heard his name. If he was nearby, they apologised graciously, although their eyes betrayed a lingering distrust. The Mage's conditioning ran too deep for ancient fears and superstitions to be so easily forgotten. They had been taught from birth that anything to do with the leBeau family was inherently evil, that Jean-Luc had brought a curse down on the village through his flauting of the gods' laws. Years ago, they had burnt his sister for a witch and cast him out of the village for being a demonaic. He felt his hands clench into fists and forced himself to relax. They had been under the Mage's control, he told himself, had been brainwashed into doing his will. The guilty one had been punished. Quite conclusively.

Destiny had told him about it some time after the event. After all, he had been on the brink of death at the time. Once saved, he still was too happy and relieved to care about the manner in which his adversary's end had come about, provided that the Mage was well and truly gone. Still, he mused, the punishment had been a fitting one. Sabrina had stabbed him in the back with a lodestone dagger, severing the connection between mind and body as she cut through his flesh. Although Irene had been delighted and told him in private that it should end her grand-daughter's nightmares, bitter experience had taught him that it had not.

In the short time that they had been married, his wife had woken almost nightly, sobbing brokenly and clawing at him when he tried to comfort her. His touch, at times like that, was painful to her. Although she calmed quickly, she seldom went back to sleep after a spell, making her way instead to a pool in the forest. The dreams made her feel dirty, she confessed, and she had to scrub herself clean. He knew better than to follow her, lying awake himself and wondering what the Mage had done to her in her brief imprisonment to affect her so severely. (Maybe it was what he had promised to do that haunted her sleep, because she had in no wise been physically abused.) It was better not to pursue that line of thought, better to allow the healer time to heal herself, better to love and support her enough to make that mending possible. Speculation helped no-one. The Mage was dead and the King's scheme had been foiled. Well, first plot, he corrected, because there was undoubtedly another one awaiting them at the conclave. Once more, he compared the merits of staying in his warm bed with walking into a pit of human-vipers and once more the bed won. Besides, he argued, it was one of the rare nights of uninterrupted sleep Sabrina had had and he was loathe to do anything to disturb her.

As if to prove that the gods were not fond of excuses, she stretched, then collapsed onto the pillow again. The drapes over the windows whisked aside suddenly, and bright light streamed into the dim room. As mysteriously, two crystalline goblets appeared next to their bed, filled with some effervescent, pink liquid. Sleepy, green eyes saw his expression and she laughed.

"You look like you've seen a ghost."

"No," Remy responded with a kiss, "Just a show-off of a sorceress."

"I should smite you for that comment," she replied ironically, then yawned, "But I'm too tired."

"You slept all right?" he asked solicitiously, lounging back on an elbow and examining her critically. The bruises from their training session had disappeared, he thought, as had the exhaustion which had so characterised her the past few days. He had felt guilty about pushing her so hard, about treating her as he would any wet-behind-the-ears student, about punishing each error so severely. She needed to know, however, that every time she entered a swordfight that there was an element of risk. Coddling her would do her no favors in a real battle.

"Like the dead," Sabrina favored him with a sunny, if semicomatose, smile, belying the cheerful simile.

"Good," he touched his lips to hers again, "Because we have a long ride ahead of us today."

Her face sunk, "Goddess of Fortune\Misfortune. The conclave."

"My sentiments exactly," he commented grimly, clambering out of the twist of linen that had snaked around him as if by magic. The stone floor was icy against his bare feet and he warmed it, knowing and not caring for once that it was a frivolous use of his powers. His wife seemed even more reluctant to move than he had been, sitting up against the carved backboard and sipping her fuschia drink.

"I can translocate us," she wheedled, "We'll be there within seconds. We won't have to leave for another fortnight."

"Nice try," he extracted a black, linen-shirt and breeches from a shelf, "You don't know the region and we'll probably end up materialising the middle of a tree or wall."

"The Horse could fly us there," she attempted.

Remy shook his head, slipping into his clothes and admiring the effect in the mirror. Despite being a lord, he could still look the part of a highwayman. He had thought it best to travel as anonymously as possible, not only to avoid patrols of the King's guards who might forget their scruples in the forest. Having been one for years, he knew that it was a popular time for thieves to ply their trade on unsuspecting (and suspecting) noblemen. If they were to travel in the standard carriage dressed in frills and furbelows, escaping robbery would require more than a miracle.

Muttering vile deprecations on him and his parentage, Sabrina winced her way across the again freezing floor to the closet. Scratching through fine velvets and finer silks, she removed an equally plain pair of trousers and a white blouse in which she dressed herself. As she braided her moon-streaked hair, he cast a surreptitious glance at her. In the masculine clothes and with her slim frame, she could have easily passed for a boy travelling to court. Mind you, he amended as he ran his eyes over her, her figure was far too interesting for that impression to last beyond a cursory peek. He was about to pursue that intriguing line of thought, when she preempted him.

"Dear," her voice was suspiciously honeyed, "Don't even think about *that* because you'll be sorely disappointed tonight."

He grinned, pulling on battered, comfortable boots before walking to the window.Their two horses - a splendid chestnut and palamino pair - whinnied and nickered in the yard below, hooves stamping against the stone. His ostler - a swart, reliable soul who had worked for his father - was in the process of fitting them with saddles and bridles, much to his more ethereal one's disgust. He felt the equine mind of the Horse of Another Color touch his own and speak to him.

::I could take you rather than those . . . animals.::

::Thank you, my friend, but I suspect that I want to get there as anonymously as possible.::


The Avatar's stallion returned to his contemplation of the trough of sweet hay, then terminated the connection as he popped out of reality. Remy groaned, knowing that he had returned to the mysterious limbo from which he came and that he would be unreachable until he chose to return. Both his wife and his mythical mount were annoyed with him, although he knew that Sabrina's threats and sulks would be shortlived. They tended to be and these were no exception. He felt slender, cool arms slip around his waist and a head rest against his back. The same delicious scent of peaches and dew that always followed her filled his nose and he smirked.

"Have you forgiven me already?"

"No," she answered teasingly, "This is purely selfish."

He twisted in her arms until he came to face her. Brilliant, green eyes laughed up at him while her lips wore a challenging smile. This had definite possibilities, he thought as he dipped his head to kiss her properly. His love-life, however, appeared to be doomed. The door swung open and a plump, gray-haired woman entered the room. Dressed in spotless white with an apron around her generous waist, she had been Remy's nurse as a baby and adored him. With a flush on her face, Sabrina broke the contact and turned to the other woman, smoothing her hair

"Mattie," Remy said reproachfully, "You always told me to knock when I was small."

She grinned knowingly, seemingly unashamed of intruding, "But I'd miss all the truly interesting stuff if I did that."

Laughing, "The only problem with that theory is that it doesn't happen, thanks to you."

His wife reddened further, dipping her head. She twisted a corner of her shirt in her hands and feigned interest in the ceiling. Remy marvelled again at her quaint sense of propriety. Despite being outspoken and free-thinking in most ways, any mention of, what she called, 'wifely duties' caused Sabrina to revert to blushing wallflowerdom.

"Ah, I'm embarrassing the young Lady leBeau", Mattie raised an eyebrow, "You'll excuse me, child, but I've had three of my own and lost all my maidenly illusions years ago. I just came up here to bring you your provisions for the trip."

Muttering something about it being fine, Sabrina took the packet from her and rifled through it. Remy caught sight of the traditional dried meats, hard cheese and harder bread and resolved to spend most of the nights on the road in inns. Still, if they were waylaid, he knew they would be grateful for even that barely edible food.

"Thanks, Mattie. It looks . . . lovely."

She shook her head, "A charming boy, if a terrible liar. Have a safe trip, Remy, because I'll miss you if anything happens to you. Look after that wife of yours too. There are bound to be . . . wicked men on the roads who would love to take advantage of her."

He nodded seriously, although he pitied the 'wicked man' who attempted it. Sabrina, unlike Ororo, was not bound by nebulous myths to do no harm to any creature. She also had a fairly fertile imagination when it came to ways of taking revenge on people and the power to carry them through into horrible reality. Satisfied, Mattie kissed him impulsively on a cheek then scuttled back to the kitchen.

"I guess we should get on the road," Sabrina said from the doorway. An entourage of packages floated behind her, ready to be packed into the saddle-bags. Since discovering her gifts, she delighted in using them for even the most mundane of tasks, where Remy thought that magic was to be used for special occasions. Consequently, he seldom used his energy-wielding powers.

"Then let's go."

Beneath the earth, Blackheart smiled in satisfaction. The unfortunate messenger he had just received had carried a most intriguing message from an extremely powerful man. It had spoken of a deal, a solemn compact to be honored, that would be very advantageous to the Lord of the Underworld. In return for his support, for providing an army of almost invulnerable undead, he would receive an almost unlimited supply of souls. They would not be the better classes, of course, but Blackheart was no snob. A peasant was as good as a lord, when he was dead, and he operated accordingly. Nonetheless, even he was impressed by the prospect of two of the souls he would be receiving. The Avatar and the Great Sorceress would be delicious additions to his collection. In the meantime, he had received this one as a token of his partner's goodwill and he was well-pleased by its collection of petty evils and hatreds.

"Don't kill the messenger," he grinned at the new soul that flickered in front of him, "Well, whoever says cliches can't be wrong?"

Hands loose on the reins, Sabrina contemplated the road in front of her. It was not a particularly interesting path to warrant such attention, she decided, merely a track worn by the passage of horses, goats and peasants through the years. Nonetheless, hours of travelling had made her aware of every stone, crack and twig on the benighted trail. There was very little one could do on horse-back. Bored, she caused flowers to bloom where her horse stepped, much to her steed's disgust. She glanced back over her shoulder and grinned. Clumps of daisies, violets and black-eyed-susans grew in tiny, patches along the way. Just as some less timid bees were about to explore their new bounty, the leaves and petals silently imploded, becoming flaky, wind-blown ash.

"Sabrina," her husband's voice was disapproving, "We want as little attention drawn to us as possible, remember? I think our own personal flower-strewn path doesn't qualify."

"Your lady lives to serve you, my extreme and dread lordship," she trilled sarcastically, feeling petulant. She had always hated travelling, especially now that her powers made it unneccessary. Remy, on the other hand, thrived on it, finding endless entertainment in what to her was acres and acres of identical woodland. She supposed it was a prerequisite of being a highwayman and having to run for weeks on end to avoid the King's Guards and the King's Justice.

"I suspect this trip will do you good," he teased her, "The ladies at court can teach you some things about being a decorative appendage of your lord and master from what I hear."

Laughing, irritation forgotten, "I exist but to be your little toe, gracious sir."

He chuckled, reining his mount in so it trotted sedately beside her palamino, "I never thought a toe was particularly decorative myself. A finger? Now that's a whole different matter. . . ."

Smiling at him, aware of how much she loved him, she stretched out a hand to take his. It would have been foolhardy to do, had the horses not been docile, well-trained beasts designed to anticipate everything and baulk at nothing. Dragons would not have caused them to break stride.

The thrill she felt was not magical or mystical in origin, the soft leather of their riding gloves preventing the skin-to-skin contact that brought the ancient, impossible sense of completion.

"And yours are particularly beautiful," he quipped, pretending to examine them, then in a low hiss: "Try and look forbidding, darling. We have company."

Dropping his hand instantly, she felt for the long, thin sword that she wore at her side. Magic would be more effective against whatever assailant they were facing, but sorceresses were few and far between and her exploits would not escape notice. Remy had done likewise, as they came to face the ragtag band that had slipped out of the shadowy woods. They were three of them, ranging in demeanour from merely coarse to downright villainous. Their leader, a filthy man with a look of profound stupidity on his face, was clutching a rusty sword. The others, two burly youths, clutched blackjacks.

"Your money or your life."

"Could you be less original?" her husband shook his head despairingly, "Next thing, you'll be telling us to stand and deliver."

The man seemed to consider this for a moment, then repeated, brandishing his blade: "Your money or your life."

"How about we keep our money and you keep your heads?" Remy asked pleasantly, climbing off the horse and drawing the brilliantly polished Spirit Sword up for good effect. Even without the energy crackling up and down its blade, it was evidently the weapon of a professional swordsman.

Their would-be hijacker gulped, roving his eyes over them, raising an eyebrow as they rested on her, then grinned gappily, "Three against one. The other two are not professionals, but I was in the service of the King. One of the Mage's Praetorian Guards, until he was killed by that Great Witch and his Majesty was forced to deny his connection with him."

"Two," Sabrina snapped, unsheathing her own lighter but no less sharp blade, "And it's the Great Sorceress."

"The wench has teeth, does she?" the leader chuckled, winking salaciously at his men, "She'll fetch a good price at the markets of Orleans. The Antiquarian is always looking for . . . servants to assist in his . . . research."

She tightened her grip on the hilt, forcing herself to remain calm despite the thief's insinuations, despite his frank appraisal of her body, measuring out each curve in pieces of gold. He wanted to upset both of them, to put them in a state where they would make mistakes. Her husband had told her of that tactic in the past. Remy's lips tightened dangerously, "Your last warning. Let us pass or I'll be forced to put you in a state where you can't refuse us."

A nasty smirk and a nod, "It occurs to me that I can take the money more easily from a corpse."

His two henchmen moved forward with surprising speed, only to be intercepted by two swift cuts of the weapon that chopped their clubs in two. Dropping the stubs of their former blackjacks and removing wicked daggers from their belts, they advanced on the Avatar who was soon lost in a melee of clashing steel and shouts. Knowing that he was probably more than capable of dealing with all three but wanting to punish the robber for his remarks, she swung off the saddle of her palamino and headed for the leader.

"So you have decided to come with me to the slave-markets, after all, wench?

He blocked her ill-timed blow with his own weapon. Trying to remember her lessons, her forms, she kept her blade low and thrust at his belly. He knocked it away with laughable ease, then slashed viciously at her side. The sword cut into her flesh, and she gasped at the agony which seemed to stab at her like a thousand, red-hot needles. Specks of light danced crazily, dizzily, before her eyes. Knowing he had the advantage, leering, he renewed his attack. She was forced to retreat, desperately warding off each assault with her sword as she was pushed backwards. Ultimately, though, the inevitable happened, her blade was knocked from her hand. She had no other choice, she thought, gathering up her will. He grinned triumphantly, then his eyes widened in fear as he saw who she truly was.

Pain and weakness fell away as she lost herself in the full brilliance and beauty of the ancient power. Watching herself as if from a distance, she was transparent, radiant, a pale moonbeam. She lifted a hand and the rusty sword he was holding flew towards her. As the hilt touched her hand, it melted, metal droplets running down the blade to drip at her feet. The leader stumbled then sprinted away from her, terrified, sketching gestures against evil in the air with a forefinger. To her amazement, when she looked down at the grass, the expected puddle was a perfect, steel rose, growing from the soil.

"Sabrina?" Remy's voice sounded as if it were coming from leagues away, although she could see him standing directly in front of her, "Sabrina, they've gone. It's all right. They're gone. You can let go of the power."

Reluctantly, she released the light and glory that filled her, feeling the agony that was her side again. Her hand went to the tender area almost instinctively, coming up sticky and red. She did not need her husband's look of horror to tell her that she was seriously injured and that she had lost more blood than she should have. Drained completely by the effort required to sustain the earlier magic, all she could do was collapse into his waiting arms and embrace the perfect darkness that overwhelmed her.


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