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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 3

The village wise-woman clucked as she peeled the makeshift bandages away from the wound. Although they were ripped hastily from Remy's black linen shirt and did not show the blood, he could see from the redness on her hands that they were still wet, that the gash in Sabrina's side had not closed but continued suppurating. His wife herself was in that dreadful sleep of the invalid, her forehead warm and damp to the touch and her breathing shallow. He had done his best to clean the sore, but the bandit's blade had been filthy and her condition had allowed him little time to do a proper job of it. As was, he feared he had not been quick enough to get her to professional help.

Half-dazed, he remembered riding endlessly in search of the small village of Moore's Pond where they were to spend the night had things not gone horribly wrong. Sabrina had been too weak to cling onto the reins or grip the horse's side with her legs, so he had transferred his goods to the docile and obliging palamino and placed her in front of him on the fortunately large saddle. Holding her tightly with an arm, feeling the rise and fall of her abdomen that confirmed that she still breathed, he had galloped through the forest without thought for the steed or the branches that whipped against his face. Their road was left far behind as they sped between the trees, following rabbit-tracks, trusting that he had remembered the shortcuts of his thieving days properly. For all that he had, a small, disloyal voice inside him whispered that it was too late and that his wife was going to die. The Great Sorceress was going to die.

He looked at the small, feverish figure on the bed and thought how impossible it was that she had been the personification of light and power only a few hours ago. That the radiant, vital woman of myth had disappeared to leave a broken, frail Sabrina behind. The wise-woman started kneading the skin around the wound, tutting as fresh blood seeped from it. Was she mad, Remy thought angrily, his wife had already lost too much for his liking?

"It's necessary that the muck from the sword be removed first," she informed him as if she had read his mind - more probably, the outraged expression on his face, "You should have done this the instant the skin was punctured to prevent infection from setting in. Water is not always sufficient to clean wounds, when the dirt is beneath the surface."

He nodded apologetically, feeling abashed. Healing was not his forte, and he had been wrong to doubt her; to see her as a crone who used her white hair and wrinkles to make venerability speak in defense of her lack of any medical knowledge. The nut-brown face creased into further folds as she frowningly examined the gash and wiped a cool cloth across her patient's hot forehead.

"I won't lie to you. There's little or nothing I can do for her beyond keeping the cut clean and her fever down," her surprisingly young blue eyes probed him, "I'm a herbalist, not a mage."

Remy felt his knees turn to water beneath him, his stomach become sour and hollow. His hands shook as he took the sponge she proferred to wipe the blood from the millions of tiny cuts on his face that the branches had inflicted. Sabrina was going to die, he repeated, unable to compass it. Just that morning, she had been teasing him from the warmth of their bed, an unreadable smile on her face that was equal parts mocking and loving. Just the night before . . . .

"Can you get one, though?" his voice was urgent, breaking painfully as his eyes went to the prone figure on the bed, "Money is no object, if that's what is stopping you."

She laughed humorlessly, a sound like the crunching of leaves beneath feet, and she added a fine powder to the bowl of water beside the bed. It took on a slight, greenish cast when she stirred it with a wooden spoon that she salvaged from her bag. The mixture smelt of pine and salt, a pungent, acrid scent that made his eyes water from more than a profound sense of helplessness and fear. That task completed, she dunked a cloth in it and turned to face him while it soaked.

"Moore's Field is a small town," she informed him, "More a collection of shacks than anything else, if I have to be honest with you. Hardly a place that any trained Mage would choose to spend their days."

Biting back his annoyance, "I know, but how far away is the nearest one from here?"

"A good week's ride," she said apologetically, as she peered at the concoction in which the rag was steeping. Satisfied, she removed the wet compress from the bowl and, running a solicitious hand over the broken skin as she would a small, injured animal, applied it to the ugly wound. Sabrina gasped, wincing as the no doubt astringent, antiseptic mixture made contact with raw flesh, trying to push it away with blind, flailing hands. She was semi-conscious then, he thought in consternation, was feeling each throb and pulse of pain, but was unable to do anything to heal herself. Fever and agony conspired against her, and she was less powerful than a newborn baby.

"Goddess of Fortune\Misfortune," he swore.

Wanting to do something to relieve the torment in which his wife so evidently was, he took her hand in his. The gesture was superficially one of closeness, comfort, but there were deeper currents of peace and health and love that moved beneath the simple touch. As always, there was the sense of being completed, but, more than that, an initiation into glory. He felt as if he were drunk on lightning, filled with a power that was as primal as it was inexhaustible.

"Help me," he whispered to her light, "Help me to save you."

Jubilation turned over the page of her Gramayre, seemingly absorbed in the endless pages of words, the infinite permutations and combinations of them that were the key to magic. Although Ororo had mentioned in passing that the more powerful sorcerors and sorceresses, those to whom enchanting was as natural and simple as breathing, could do without them and perform marvels through will alone, she had added quickly that she doubted Jubilee was anything near that calibre. In fact, Ororo had continued, there were probably only three in the world, since Belladonna's passing. The Great Sorceress and Phoenix were two of them, and she seemed about to mention the third but then, appearing to think better of it, told her apprentice to return to her studies.

She sighed and attempted to concentrate on the page - a rather pointless illusory spell that could be used to disguise warts. One thing that annoyed Jubilation about spells was their specificacity - each acted within an extremely narrow range of influence; something which her mentor had explained by saying that the older, forgotten spells had been too powerful and had ripped the ethereal plane in two. It had cost the Great Sorceress her life to mend the rift and, thus, they had been placed in the care of the dragons by order of the council at the Academia Arcana. Still, Jubilation privately thought, it had resulted in some very absurd and useless enchantments, such as 'healing leaf-blight on the elm in the second week of autumn if the weather is fine'. There, of course, was one for bad weather and the third week.

Bored, she whispered the words of another illusion beneath her breath. According to the book, it would make a miniature firework appear in mid-air. It was hardly an important spell - a party-trick to impress the skeptical - and she did not expect it to succeed. Her spells seldom did, unless she used powders and herbs. In fact, she mused glumly as she moved into the second part of the spell, the only reason Ororo had taken her had been out of friendship to her parents. Her parents, who were among the greatest pyromagicians and - technicians in the world.

To her surprise, instead of the unexpected cracker, something seemed to rise out of the pages of her book. A tiny, pink sphere, at first, it soon began unfurling and growing. Leaves emerged from a stem; a bud formed at its very tip, then began opening very slowly. It was a flower, a perfect rose, made completely of coruscating, pulsing energy. Transfixed, Jubilation could only squeak a call to Ororo, who was folding linen in another corner of the cottage. Still clutching unfolded sheets to her breast, the Sorceress ran into the room, evidently worried, but stopped as she saw the rose sprouting out of her apprentice's desk. Suddenly, when the blossom was in full bloom, the petals began to fall off one-by-one, each becoming drops of blood as they fell onto the Gramayre. Scared that they would stain even the hated book, she tried to wipe them away with an edge of her skirt, but only succeeded in smearing them. Finally, only the stem remained, but, rather than thorny wood, it was a minature broad-sword that was jabbed into the yellowing pages. On its blade were engraved the words: Moore's Pond

"I . . . it was just meant to be a firework," Jubilation protested, scared Ororo would think it was her deliberate work, "I . . . didn't know my spell would do this."

"It didn't," Ororo sounded grim, dropping her bundle and walking across to where the girl was seated, "You couldn't do magic like this - pull molecules from a dozen different sources and combine them to create something new. Only one person could, but I don't understand how she would be in a fit condition to do this, if the vision we've just seen is accurate."

"I don't . . ." Jubilee began, confused, but Ororo held up a hand to silence her. The normally serene sorceress appeared terrified beyond measure, pale beneath her dark skin, drops of sweat that had nothing to do with the heat of the day beading her forehead.

"Fetch my case of medical herbs," even her voice was shaky, "And saddle up my horse. Fortunately, Moore's Pond is only an hour's ride from here. Still, I hope and pray that we will not get there too late. For the sake of the balance, we cannot."

The erstwhile Praetorian Guard, Frederick Dukes swilled the saliva around his mouth, then spat in disgust. His mind turned pondorously over the events of the day. He had been beaten by the same Great Witch that had killed his master, had cost him his job and forced him into a life of petty robbery. Moreover, he had run from her like a frightened, barely weaned boy seeking his mother's skirts. He, Frederick John Dukes of the Praetorian Guard had fled from a slip of a woman! He spat again for emphasis.

Distance from her lent him bravery, and he passed the few minutes walk to his hovel in pleasant contemplation of what he would do if he confronted her again. Of course, in it, he defeated her without difficulty, then led her in chains to the Antiquarian's slave-markets where he sold her to the lowest possible bidder, on condition that they treated her with the same solicitous consideration as he had. He smirked. She was easy enough on the eyes, although he had never liked a woman with too much spirit and would have to tame it out of her one way or another. The Antiquarian paid the same price for damaged goods as for undamaged, and it had been many years since he had had a woman share his bed.

With a sigh, he tore a chunk of hard, black bread off the loaf and slathered it liberally with the butter that he had . . . requested from a passing noble. A few drinks of good ale washed the meal down nicely, and freed him from the constraints of whatever common sense that he might have had. He would pursue the wench, he decided somewhat fuzzily, pursue her then take her to the markets in Orleans. Slowly, of course, because it would be impolite not to give her time to get to know him properly. He chuckled beerily, and reached for a stout blackthorn club that would serve in lieu of his now floral sword. The witch would not escape him a second time.

Hands shaking as he poured himself a glass of water, so that the liquid slopped and spilled on the table, Remy slumped into the chair that was positioned next to Sabrina's bed. He did not want to admit how draining the magic they had just performed had been - where they normally would have shared the strain equally, he had taken it entirely on himself, sapping more of his strength than was strictly safe. Had he been anyone other than the Avatar, he would have died, body unable to sustain the amount of energy required for both performing the magic and sustaining vital functions. As was, he knew he had come perilously close to doing so and he had no guarantee that the magic had been successful, that Ororo had got the message.

Although he had drawn on Sabrina's inherent power, the task of performing the spell had been left up to him and he was no sorceror or mage. The delicate wielding of thread-thin magic that healing required had certainly been beyond his capabilities. After all, the few parlour-tricks and little trail-magic that Destiny had taught him had hardly prepared him for any truly complex enchantment. So, he had improvised, using his instincts about matter and energy to draw energy out of the heat of the sun and iron out of the dust to create a visual representation of their plight. Unconventional as his casting was, he had no idea if it had actually done what he had intended it to do.

He sipped at the cool liquid morosely. When - if, the nagging voice of doubt amended - Sabrina recovered, he would swallow his pride and ask her to teach him all she knew about her craft. Much of her magic was instinctual, done without conscious thought, but that approach had always suited him better than the endless rituals and incantations that school-trained mages, like Ororo, seemed to use. She, of course, would revel in it, taking her pound of flesh for the repeated humiliations of their swordplay. He laughed as he remembered her indignation at being repeatedly disarmed and whacked with the flat of the sword, but it ended in a choking, strangled sound as the Avatar, hero of a hundred stories and songs, cried for his wife.


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