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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 5

"For the gods' sakes, Ororo," Sabrina's patience had diminished with the passing of the hours, "I don't need to rest, don't need my bandages changed or herbs for the pain and certainly don't need you fussing over me like my grandmother."

All of which was not quite the truth, although she would be damned if she admitted it to the healer. In reality, she was exhausted from sitting in the saddle all day and her side felt as if the knife that had wounded her were being continually twisted in it. The rough road over which they were travelling did not help, jogging her as it did and causing fresh explosions of agony. However, she stubbornly refused to let it show, refused to admit that she was not well enough to ride with her husband, as much out of pragmatism as pride. After all, if she showed any sign of weakness, Ororo would probably have her placed in a litter and carried to the Concave.

"Remy, can you talk some sense into your wife?" Ororo's eyes flickered in appeal to the man riding at the head of their group. Because it was a dull day - rags and shreds of mist clung to the trees - he had eschewed the black that he usually wore in favour of a more visible white shirt and brown breeches. He had strapped the Soul Sword across his back, the shimmering blade hidden by a prosaic, leather scabbard. He also seemed quite content to remain out of the argument, giving a noncommital shrug.

"No, Ororo, you are not going to use my husband against me," Sabrina commented in irritation, "Gods, aren't you bound by some sacred oath to obey me or something? I am the Great Sorceress, after all."

"Not when the Great Sorceress is being a pigheaded idiot, no," Ororo's own annoyance was beginning to show, "Now, we will stop and you will let me examine your wound."

Sabrina's mouth set in an angry line and a bolt of lightning cracked across the scant clouds in the sky. Birds bolted from the trees, squawking their panic at the unexpected noise, wheeling across the sky like specks of ash. She knew it was an irrational, immature show of temper, but she was so tired and her side was so sore and Ororo was so relentlessly, irritatingly right.

"Oh boy," Jubilation murmured, "I do not want to be here when this happens."

"You are even more *ill-disciplined* and *selfish* than I imagined," the sorceress's voice was horribly calm, horribly controlled, "You almost killed yourself by overuse of your powers and consequently jeopardised the future of the entire world. You do not have the strength to heal yourself, yet you refuse to rest to recover it and you use your gifts to throw the magical equivalent of a tantrum. . . ."

"That's slightly unfair, Ororo," Remy interjected, defending the woman he loved.

"She needs to hear it, LeBeau," Jubilation replied, doing the same for the mage to whom she was apprenticed.

Sabrina did not hear them speak, did not derive any comfort from the fact that her husband was on her side. She sat, tall and straight and slim on her horse, and fixed Ororo with a look that would have done any of her predecessors proud. It combined ancient arrogance with determination, dislike with a grudging, unwilling respect. It told the sorceress to remember her place in the universe, and not to forget the meanness and smallness of her destiny. To Ororo's credit, she met the stare with the same perfect composure as she had worn while reprimanding Sabrina.

"We might as well camp here," Remy was saying, clearly aware of the mounting tension between the two women and wanting to defuse it, "It's going to be dark soon and we don't want to be on the road when it does."

Shaking her head as she broke eye contact with Sabrina, Ororo said: "I'll get dinner, if you get wood, Jubilation. What do we have packed, Remy?"

"Hard bread, cheese, the usual . . . ." he made a face as he dismounted and tied the horse to a convenient tree, "I'll see to the horses. Help me, Sabs?"

Forcing a smile onto her face, she nodded her agreement. Although she had not acqueisced to Ororo's bullying, her victory left her feeling dirty and ashamed, as if she had lost more than she had won.

"You don't like Sabrina, do you?" Jubilation's question was quiet, as she rolled onto her side and looked at Ororo. Lying a few feet away from her, the woman's coppery skin and pale hair flickered gold and red in the warm light cast by the embers. The fire had burnt down in the course of hours, leaving only a small, illuminated radius in which the person standing guard could see. Officially, that person was Ororo, but Jubilation had been unable to sleep, turning the events of the evening over in her mind.

"To be truthful, I do not," the reply was low, slightly guilty, "I tried to like her for Remy's sake, knowing how much he loves her, but . . . I do not."

"You've only known her for a few hours," Jubilation reminded her, "And she's probably feeling like something from Blackheart's Realm. You saw the way she winced every time the horse hit a bad patch of road."

Ororo was silent for a long time, and Jubilation could see her eyes go to the other side of the pit where Remy's back marked the bundle of blankets in which he and Sabrina were sleeping. He was very protective of his young wife, despite her incredible power, and her injury had only served to heighten those instincts. She supposed it was a natural consequence of her almost having been forced to marry an evil mage. As a result, they seemed self-sufficient, a perfect circle that excluded everyone else from their relationship, and she knew how that could rankle. Her parents had been much the same and their union had not had the additional tie that destiny provided the other couple.

"That is true," the sorceress said at last, "But I cannot help fearing that she is not the right woman for the task ahead of her. She certainly is no Lady Lilandra, Jubilation, and she will need to be that great woman's superior to withstand coming events."

"Yet she killed Magnus," Jubilation interjected, "We've got to trust prophecy knows what it is doing, right?"

"Yes, we do," Ororo replied, but she did not sound convinced.

Although Remy leBeau gave all the outward impressions of being asleep, he lay awake and listened to the two women talking. It was not precisely eavesdropping, he told himself. He could not sleep, and, if their voices carried to him, it was not his fault. He could not go further away from them without disturbing his wife, whose limbs were tangled with his in such a way as to make surreptitious movement impossible, and he would not have woken Sabrina for the Pantheon. As a result, he could only overhear and be pained by what Ororo was saying.

Naturally, he had hoped his wife and friend would like each other, despite their differences. They had only met briefly on other occasions, had smiled at and greeted each other before going in search of closer acquaintances. A hoary, village proverb went that every rainfall brought a harvest, and, if one good thing could come out of the nightmare that had been Sabrina's injury, he had hoped it would be a friendship between her and Ororo. Instead, the healer had been smotheringly solicitious and his wife had been abrasive and rude. He sighed, tightening his grip around his bedmate, shifting his arms as he felt the wad of bandages over her wound.

"Stop wriggling," a sleepily imperious voice mumbled into his chest, "You're worse than a litter of puppies."

"Maybe we should get separate beds tomorrow night," he teased gently, "Seeing as my ladyship protests so much about me."

Muffled laughter, "And lose my personal, hot-water jar? Forget it, my lordship. I'd rather put up with your wriggling than be cold."

Worried that she would get sick in her weakened state, "You're cold?"

"Gods, not you too," before he could talk to her about Ororo, her tone became arch, "Although, on second thought, I am a little cold. Perhaps I could get a little closer to my lordship?"

Wise man that he was, his lordship did not argue with the suggestion.

Long after Jubilation's conversation had subsided into the regular breathing of sleep, Ororo lay with her eyes closed and attempted to sort through her feelings. To determine precisely why she did not like the young woman. The conclusion to which she came was an uncomfortable one - she was too accustomed to obedience, serenity and docility, and Sabrina was the antithesis of those qualities.

She had spent years alone in the woods, serving her goddess in the capacity of hermit, believing that the purpose of all magic was to glorify the bright lady. She was a healer, true, and some might argue that she had wasted a rare gift by withdrawing from the centres of activity. That she had squandered what her goddess had given her. Still, she ministered to those who found her and to the animals who had no-one else to help them. When she set a bird's broken wing or repaired a doe's leg that had been mangled in a cruel trap, she knew that her service was as valuable and as pleasing to the bright lady as any a commercial healer provided. Nonetheless, until she had taken Jubilation as her apprentice, it had been a quiet and lonely life.

She smiled as she looked at the young apprentice. Her parents, Celebration and Glory Lee, were two of the most powerful and skilled pyromagicians in the world. Official mages to Emperor Matsuo, their annual fireworks were the most famous and frivolous of their works. People came from around the world to watch the spectacle, and brought tales back home with them of dragons of light, star-flowers and blazing fountains. Ororo had only seen the performance once, on the day that she had come to take Jubilation with her, but she still vividly remembered the explosions of red and green and silver. Remembered thinking how impossible Celebration's comment was that the child would surpass the parents if she had the discipline and training she required.

Still, Jubilation had been a good apprentice, even if her progress had been slow. Ororo knew that she found the hard work behind magic difficult, found learning spells to shrink warts and darn socks dull and wanted to get onto more spectacular magic. All young magicians did, but the discipline which the tedious, insignificant charms provided was invaluable for the more difficult ones. Sabrina lacked that control, although the power she wielded and the ease with which she used magic was staggering. From what Remy had told her, she, school-trained and experienced as she was, would probably be unable to do half of what his wife did with the slightest thought. Ororo had never been outclassed before and it was not a pleasant experience.

She was not jealous, she told herself, envy went against her goddess' preaching that everyone was individual with an individual destiny. She was simply a hermit, unaccustomed to the spirit of the woman and unused to being crossed. In the morning, she would try and mend fences with Sabrina.


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