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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 4

Sara Dawson was on her hands and knees, sleeves rolled up to her elbows as she scrubbed the front step, when the sorceress rode into town. Muttering vituperations at her husband and his muddy boots with every slosh of the cloth, her attention was divided between her work and the pie cooling on the table. The baker's wife, her confections were legendary and the children of the town were constantly conspiring to pocket one of her dainties. It was a testament to her vigilance and the hardness of her switch on rapidly vanishing bottoms that very few of the plots succeeded.

Nonetheless, even with a portion of her attention, she could see that there was something special about the woman on the dappled horse.

Her simple dress, that seemed to shift from grey to blue, would have been enough among the brown homespuns and grey wools of the villagers to mark her as extraordinary. The silver embroidery around the hems, the jewellry she wore, served to set her apart from the remainder of the populace. She did not carry herself like a lady, though, nor did nobles travel without a retinue of servants and sycophants. This one had only an exotic girl, who did not look like a maid in her scarlet dress that complemented her coppery skin. The older woman's white hair, falling around a too youthful face, confirmed Sara's suspicions. She was a mage, possibly the reclusive one of popular myth. However, that posed as many questions as it answered. Who in the village could possibly need or warrant a magic-user? Who could afford one? Who knew how to contact one?

Sensing a juicy piece of gossip for the next quilting circle, Sara abandoned both step and pie and followed the stranger.

As Ororo dismounted in front of the inn, she passed the reins to an obsequious ostler, sensing there was a better use for his hands than dry-washing them. The small building was simple, if clean, and she suspected the majority of the establishment's guests were farmers on their way to market and roaming tinkers - poor people who could ill-afford to tip generously, if they could at all. When he saw her, he probably thought that his ship had finally come into port, that she was a wealthy mage or lady who would pay for each grovel in gold. Pity fought disgust and the former won.

With a grateful smile, she pressed a small, leather purse into his hand. It contained the few silver pieces that she could spare - hardly a fortune, but more than he probably made in a month. She was not rich herself, having eskewed lucrative positions as royal magician or commercial healer for hermitage and the service of her goddess. He dropped into a flowery bow, that she feared would snap his spine, and murmured blessings on her as he scuttled into the stable to count his loot.

"So, where is she?" Jubilation sounded concerned, dismounting her own smaller horse and handing it to a staring stablehand. She had not said much since they had left the cottage and Ororo had attributed it to shock. Her apprentice had initially thought that her attempt at casting a spell of illusion had created the bloody sword and rose, then, when she had discovered its real origin and significance, she had been stunned. Had only asked a single, quiet question: "What happens if the Great Sorceress dies?"

Her response had been honest, if not comforting, "The Great Sorceress has a specific destiny when she is made carnate; a task that only she is able to fulfill. There is no guarantee, however, that she will be successful. Prophecy is not as absolute as history, offers no protection to those it needs. If she dies, then the hope of prophecy being fulfilled dies with her."

Her words had disturbed her young apprentice, she knew, and had destroyed something of her innocence. In the myths and legends told to children and sung at festivals, the hero (or heroine, in the rare few that were based on women) always succeeded in his foreordained quest. He would suffer setbacks, certainly, but would inevitably overcome them, because he was under the divine protection of the Pantheon. He was the Chosen of the gods, and they loved him. Unfortunately, reality was more dispassionate than fable. The gods encompassed evil as well as good - their twin natures allowed them to be as evil as they were good, as malevolent as they were benevolent. Their heroic champions were only created to keep the balance between the two, and once summoned were left to their own devices. As the cynical saying went, the gods helped those who helped themselves. In this case, by calling a healer-sorceress.

"Ask the innkeeper, child," Ororo told her young apprentice, "I will get what I need in the meantime."

Jubilation nodded, then hurriedly made her way into the small building.

Pretending to be interested in the inn's decidedly inferior preserves that were on sale at the counter, Sara Dawson sidled closer to where the mage's young attendant was talking to Allan Adams, more commonly known as Mr Elsie. A wispy, slight man with an air of vagueness about him, there was no doubt in the village as to who was the dominant partner in his marriage. His wife was a hearty, bluff woman with a tongue that could have removed bark from a tree, and she bullied 'poor Allan' (somehow that particular adjective was always attached to his name) mercilessly. The only reason he was actually able to speak to the girl now was that Elsie had gone to market, or else he would have found himself performing some menial task, like chopping the wood or sweeping the floor, while his wife conducted his business for him. Sara stifled a grin, as she thought how angry Goodwife Adams would be when she discovered just how juicy his business actually was.

"I'm looking for the . . . ." the girl paused, seemingly mentally checking herself before continuing, "Lady leBeau? Is she here?"

Sara's smile broadened. If there was one thing better than some delicious morsel of gossip, it was some delicious morsel of gossip about the nobility. As widely hated for their decadent and wasteful ways as they were envied for their wealth and priveleges, the presence of blue blood in a tale lent a certain charm to any story. Commoners liked their stories dressed up in diamonds and ermine.

Allan's voice quavered, "You must have the wrong establishment. Nobles tend to take their patronage . . . elsewhere."

The coppery-skinned child shook her head in exasperation, dark hair feathering around her face as she did so, "They must be travelling in secret, then. She was seriously injured, though."

Sara listened in delight, almost hugging the jar of pickles she was inspecting. A wounded lady never evoked much sympathy from a peasant, certainly not enough to dampen her joy in what was shaping to be a wonderful tale to tell the sewing circle. If the woman was travelling in secret, she had possibly eloped with some dashing but hopelessly unsuitable, young man. Had been hurt as her father's guards had attemped to stop her. Madame la Plume's novels had shown her very clearly how wicked and thrilling a noble's life could be.

"The woman's noble?" a look of consternation crossed the slight man's face, obviously imagining the tongue-lashing with which Elsie would favor him that night, "She must be moved to better rooms in that case. I'll tell cook to roast some lambs and our chambermaid to . . . ."

The girl's voice was very cool, stopping his rambling as quickly and cleanly as would a slap to his face, "You'll take us to her first, or else there might not be a noblewoman for you to grovel to."

"Yes, naturally," the man dipped into what could be a bow or a spasm, "Follow me."

Sensing that that invitation was as good as any other for her, Sara Dawson replaced her pickles and, after a respectable amount of time, went up the stairs after them.

She drifted in blackness among a thousand, tiny lights that shimmered and glimmered tantalisingly beyond her reach. They looked like a convoy of fireflies - who were said to be the heralds of dawn - each carrying their own miniature sun. She knew if she managed to reach one, grasp one, all would be well. The sunrise would come, and she would awaken.

Acutely aware of her own weakness, she attempted to stretch out an arm and touch the silver bauble that was closest to her. She might as well have tried to put the moon in a bag. Despite her best efforts, she could no more move her limbs than catch the stars in the sky. Her arms, legs, seemed disconnected from the rest of her body, heavy burdens of little use to her.


Fortunately, she thought, she had other means at her disposal. Summoning up the last remnants of her energy, she attempted to bring the elusive spheres towards her, to fetch them with a spell that approximated an invisible rope. Instead of the desired effect, golden streamers shot from her fingers and fell uselessly into the abyss around her. A wonderful party-trick, but a poor help to her.


Biting her lip to stop the tears from coming to her eyes, she wondered why her powers had deserted her when she needed them the most. Were they finite? Had she wasted them on frivolously, not thinking that her talents were limited? Why had she not consulted Ororo or her grandmother, Madame Destiny, before using them for her daily purposes?

"Stupid girl," she berated herself, "Stupid, stubborn girl."

Around her, winking out one by one, the tiny lights began to fade. . . .

Remy leBeau dipped the cloth in the cool water and, squeezing it until it was merely damp, ran it lightly over his wife's fevered forehead. Her skin was hot and dry to the touch, her breathing shallow and laboured. She was murmuring gibberish beneath her breath, clutching at his free hand as if he was all that stood between her and the Underworld. In the hours that he had been waiting for Ororo to come, he had become acutely aware that she was dying. That he would have to face endless years without both his wife and his legendary counterpart. He did not know which thought scared him more - being a widower, or being the Avatar alone.

"Finally," a very familiar, young voice was audible from behind the door, "If she doesn't make it, the blame'll be on your head."

"Jubilation," another voice reprimanded her, "Leave it be. We have more important things with which to concern ourselves than apportioning guilt for her death, especially since she will live."

Sweet relief filling him, grinning broadly, Remy raced to the door and opened it to admit his guests. The worry on Ororo's face did nothing to diminish looks that went past beauty into elegance. The blue-grey dress shimmered around her, setting off her tawny skin and the bluest eyes he had ever seen. Behind her, a red-clad Jubilation was scowling at the apologetic innkeeper, but broke into a sweet, if concerned, smile as she saw him emerge from his room.

"My dear friend," the healer kissed him lightly on the cheek and he could smell the elusive woodsy fragrance that she carried with her, "Where is she?"

"On the bed," he replied without ceremony, "You've no idea how glad I am you're here."

He stood aside to allow them to enter, watching Ororo's reaction carefully as the prone figure of his wife was revealed. A flicker of terror disturbed the calm of her face, like a pebble cast into a pool, before it settled into its normal serenity once again. She knew as well as he did the importance of being successful; knew that Sabrina's death would spell the death of the world.

"Pass me my herbs, Jubilation. We have much work to do. . . ."

Sara Dawson did not know what happened behind the closed doors of the room, and, so, the roses seemed like a minor miracle to her and the other villagers. A sign that the gods were with the village. Although it was mid-autumn and the leaves were dropping golden off the trees, the red, fragrant flowers around the inn suddenly burst into bloom. The air was filled with their perfume, and the buzzing of bees made it seem like spring.

Had she been thinking more clearly, she might have realised that their unseasonal blossoming coincided with the noblewoman in the room waking from a sleep that was too near death for her husband's comfort. That the roses had opened from joy, to welcome their spiritual sister back from the grave. When Mr Elsie ventured to suggest this particular theory, the villagers laughed at him and he was shouted down in the face of the prevalent view that it was an omen sent by the God of Planting\Reaping that the harvest would be good that year.

Initially among those who mocked the hardest, Sara Dawson only believed him when she saw the couple leaving the village, the mage and her attendent in two. The woman was very tall and straight on her splendid palamino, and the unheroic combination of man's shirt and breeches could not disguise the fact that she had a silver streak in her hair. The mark of the moon, as common legend went. Her partner, however, was the one to convince the baker's wife. His eyes danced with flames, crackling and burning in the middle of blackness, although they quickly shifted to normal, brown ones when he saw her watching him. Stripes could be faked, but pupils of energy could not. He was the Avatar, and the noblewoman was the Great Sorceress.

Nonetheless, Sara Dawson did not mention anything to her friends and fellow townsfolk; expressed the public misconception that the roses were a favorable sign from the Pantheon. They would suffer a man to be a fool, after all, but never a woman.


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