Tales of the Realms


Foreword

This booklet is a compilation of the greatest fiction published in The View From Valehaven, as chosen by its publishers. We have put six long years into this, and we're looking forward to many more.

This work is dedicated to one of our true supporters, who has written much of the best-received fiction that has appeared in the View. This individual's stories have amused and inspired others, and have garnered the "Best Fiction" award in the View Reader's Choice awards on several different occasions. For all she has done for us, and for the Realms, this booklet is dedicated to Carmilla Qwill, otherwise known as:

- Andi Dunphy -


Printed in the July 1993 View from Valehaven. Winner, Best Fiction, 1993 VFV Awards


Sir Shane's Tale


as told to Carmilla Qwill

 

Transcribed by my hand at the Bar & Wench this day, 23 days before midsummer, AC 2.

Now I've had a bit of a run-in with a dragon myself. (Wench, more ale!) 'Twas some years ago in the northlands, between the border wars and the invasion of demons in the west. Ah, now those were fine days. You just don't get good, gory, bloody wars like those were these days. The field ankle deep in purple mud, with chunks and blobs of flesh churned deep into the mire so you never knew when you might trip over a severed" Lady Anne, are you alright? You look a bit green"

Oh, sorry, well anyways, the dragon. I was wintering with an old, retired mercenary. He was a good man and a good soldier - only lost half a leg and one ear before retiring. Well, the two of us spend long nights at the village inn, drinking and enjoying the occasional travelling minstrel.

It was just getting on towards spring when one of the minstrel laddies brought us a new tale. Seems a dragon had set up housekeeping outside a town a few days ride down the road. The beastie had laid waste to the countryside, mutilated some sheep, burned some fields and munched a few virgins - typical dragonly behavior. But the townspeople objected - I don't know why. Never can tell with the merchants and shopkeepers. So they'd gotten the local Lord to advertise for a hero to slay the beast. The reward was twice a hundred-weight in gold and the hand of the Lord's beautiful daughter in marriage.

Well, that sounded like just the thing to clear out the last of winter's cobwebs. Dragons, being large, must have a lot of blood to spill. And it sounded like a good energetic fight. As for the reward, I never turn down gold. The Lord's daughter, however - well the minstrel said the girl was as fair as a new morn, graceful as a deer and delicate as a rose, or some such minstrely pap. I knew exactly what that meant: the wench couldn't fight worth a damn. Well, that part of the reward, I could always refuse.

My friend, the mercenary, thought that dragon-slaying sounded like a time as well, so being an honorable man, I refrained from using the advantage of having two legs to get me to the battlegrounds first. So I suggested we flip a peasant to decide who got to attack the beast first. My friend won the toss, so we travelled together to within a half mile of the dragon's lair and then he went on alone.

Well, I was loitering around outside the cave waiting for my friend to finish his turn. I was hoping he'd leave me something to fight in there. And then I started hearing noises coming from the cave mouth. First, it was just quiet clinking noises. Then a whoosh, followed closely by a nicely blood-curdling scream. And then an even, steady blowing noise.

Well, I sat and waited and thought about it a few minutes. Then I came to the conclusion that the scream probably signalled that my friend's turn was over. So, I entered the dragon's lair.

The dragon was sitting in the middle of the cave on a huge heap of gold, in proper dragonly form. He was good sized, about 160 standard dagger lengths from tip to tail, and was of the common fire-breathing type. He was sitting before a large gold plate with a keg open to his right, a bottle of red sauce to his left and my buddy on the plate in the middle. (Dragons eat their meat well done - how disgusting!) When he spotted me, he had just taken a bite out of my companion's other leg. He reared up and inhaled to gain enough breath to breathe fire at me" and choked on my companion's leg. He got the oddest look on his face. His jaws gaped and he writhed on the pile of gold. And after a few minutes, he died. Waste of a perfectly good dragon.

Well, I hacked open the dragon's throat, collected my companion's leg, then transported both body and leg to the local healer's temple for resurrection. Then, we took our reward (except for the princess-wench), the dragon's hoard and the best parts of the dragon's corpse itself and headed home. As we headed for home, my companion said to me, as he wiped at patches of red sticky stuff still clinging to his skin: "Well, that proves what my dear mother always used to tell me."

"What did she tell you?" I asked.

"Do not disturb the mighty dragon, for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup."


Printed in the July & August 1993 View from Valehaven. 2nd Place - Best Fiction, 1993 VFV Awards


The History of Gael Bahn


of Eagle's Rook, Squire to Sir Gunnar


by Steven Matulewicz

No one may know my true name. There are reasons for this, reasons that I wish were not in existence. But as my heart mourns I must tell this tale one last time, the last tale of the Bard. Let it begin and know the man who became a shadow.

I grew up in a Kingdom beyond the Barren Wastes called Marsh's End. It was a small but powerful Kingdom and I was more fortunate than most for I was the son of a Baron there (forgive me, father, but I shall not disgrace thy name farther by including it here.) I was a spry youth and a favorite at the High King Doran's Court, for my talents at voice and story were pleasant upon his ear. Being in his favor, he made me an Ambassador when I reached manhood and sent me on many missions to many lands to oversee certain treaties. It was also in these lands that I learned the many curious songs I have sung in the Realms; I loved their timbre and melody that were unmatched in the King's domain.

Soon I became Court Advisor, for I knew much of the goings on and gave my opinion without bias; I would only do honor and service to my King. I also kept frequent concerts for the Court and my singing and poetry became the talk of the Kingdom. The King even joked with me one day that my singing brought the Kingdom together. I would never boast such a claim, but certain nobles did visit more often when I was preparing an interlude.

It was my faith that caused darkness to fall over my life. I served my King and would do anything to please him. And it was in faith I first approached the Queen Goldmoon, for I had desire to know the King's favorite songs and to learn them for his coming birthday celebration. She taught me in secret so that the King would not suspect, she of such exquisite blonde hair and captivating blue eyes.

I must say now that I had my choice of many women of the Court and it was arranged by my father to marry Lady Jen of the Outer Baronies. But I soon fell in love with the Queen. She had a sad life that she told me of and I fell in sympathy of her, for the longing in my heart matched her own. She told me how the king would no longer be here now that he had an heir, Prince Wesquin, and kept her locked in her chamber when not at Court. I had been the only one the King had allowed near her in over two years.

I am not a weak man. I am not a slave to the flesh nor the pleasures of it. It was her words, her soul that caught me. She filled my own longings with her laugh. I could not leave her. Soon I told the King that Her Highness had a talent for song and I asked if I may be her teacher; an offer he quickly accepted, for he would have something to occupy her time and having her practice the long hours of the day instead of sobbing was pleasurable to him. So I taught her the virtues of Song, and she taught me the virtues of Love.

I was torn. I loved Queen Goldmoon, yet was obsessively loved by Lady Jen. Lady Jen was a pretty girl, but with a twisted mind that would soon do anything to make sure I was by her side. In my guilt and in Honor I told Lady Jen my secret. I had faith enough in her to lay it to rest. I thought that her love for me would be strong enough to understand my heart was lost to another, that somehow we could talk our parents out of the arrangement. I knew I was a fool to love the Queen: such secrets never remain so. Nor could I ever marry Goldmoon or any such foolishness. I thought my friendship with Lady Jen over the years would hold the confidence and help me in my hour of need.

I was wrong.

Soon came the fateful night our love was betrayed. Lady Jen was livid and swore a black oath that if she could not have me, no one could. She told the King that I was going to kill the Queen that very night. He was amazed and in haste to find out the truth, he rushed with his guards to her chamber and burst open the door.

That night I had been teaching Goldmoon a recently popular Madrigal and we had fallen into talking and romantic moods again. It was at that point she mentioned the Realms, that it was far beyond the Barren Wastes and that we two could go there and forget our unhappy situation. In all my travels I had never heard of the Realms, at the time known only as Valehaven, but it was said to be a new land that we had just begun commerce to. It was large and we could slip into it without any notice. She was beaming and I loved her ever the more, full knowing the escape was impossible. I reminded her of her duties to the King and to Marsh's End. As much as I loved her, my faith was to the King, to the Lands foremost. We argued for a bit, but nothing violent. She knew hers was a vain hope, a lost quest to escape.

I never knew who threw the knife. It sailed in from the window and plugged her squarely in the heart. I still cannot bring myself to remember. I cannot bear that moment that her blood spilled into my hands, her body falling limp upon the bed on which we sat. The murderer must have stood precariously on that ledge to land such a shot. I quickly pulled the blade from her" and knew it was too late. The poison could be seen even through the blood. This person was not going to fail in his assignment of death. She died swiftly. I had not even time to cry out before the King, his men and Lady Jen crashed the door. There I was, bathed in her blood, framed easily for a murder that I did not commit.

The King had me locked up. He came to question me after a few days; one day before I would be tried of my "treason". I looked into his eyes and I could see his pain. He had my manacles unlocked and we sat upon the small wooden bench. He stared at me for a while, trying to figure out where to begin. I don't think I have ever seen the King in such a disheveled state. It was then he told me his own story in hushed tones, a story which shocked me to the core" I waited patiently for King Doran to speak, to hear him curse me or even tear me apart with his large muscular hands. I did not care if he did so. I was still in shock, still reliving my love's death over and over. His actions would be just. I would let him kill me; if anything, I would be with Queen Goldmoon again.

He turned his pain stricken face to me, a small, sad smile on his face. He began to speak.

He knew the Queen and I were in love! He had encouraged it in fact; it was he that made sure our "lessons" were not interrupted, he that mentioned the Realms so we could escape. There were reasons why he had locked her up, more than just to be cruel. Some of the lands he dealt with had grown power-hungry and he did not trust many of those who now attended his Court. Assassins were becoming common and many had been caught. The only reason this one succeeded was that the guards had been diverted with my capture. Those few minutes were all that were needed. The King had trusted me with his own life and with hers for he knew my honor and my faith. He reassured me that he knew it impossible that I had killed her, for he knew my feelings for her. I could never hurt her. The man who really killed her slipped out, no trace left of his passage.

He had not bedded his Queen in ten years for another reason. In a fit of drunkenness after the birth of Prince Wesquin, he had taken a wench during a visit to a Kingdom to the South. He had no child by her (Geb be praised), but had paid a price; a disease that left him crippled. He was horrified and dared not tell the Queen, let alone have another child. He had been glad when we began to love, for he wanted her to be happy. I could give her a happiness that the King longed to give her, but could not.

Had I but KNOWN" but the dagger would still have taken her. But at least we could have lived in happiness with the King's approval. If she had lived. He was a kind man, a man with open eyes and soul. I will never be unfaithful to one who knew the human heart so well. But I digress.

In a last attempt to help me, his trusted friend, High King Doran offered me information of a secret way out of the castle, where a horse would await me. There was enough rations and money to get me to Valehaven. He promised no alarm to sound after me, but after the castle walls, I was on my own. He told me he would proclaim to the Lands I had taken my own life and they had buried me at night in a pauper's grave because of my treachery. He promised me my father would be consoled as much as he dared. He then embraced me and left with no ceremony. I will never forget King Doran.

One thing of significance happened before my departure. Past the latest hour of night, the guards to my prison left. They had not bothered to re-chain me. They had left the door open. I left soundlessly. I mounted the steed and headed for the Outer Baronies; my only barrier to the Barren Wastes and the Realms beyond. I stopped within its borders at a tavern. Disguised in my heavy woolen shirt and black cloak (a manner of dress the Realms would soon know well) I sat and took in one last flagon of ale and listened to see in any news had travelled as fast as I had. The King was as good as his word, for no alarm was called (the Falcons are the way of news to the Lands; they are swifter than any horse and I would soon be caught if the King had not been true.) I drank my fill slowly and listened.

From the booth a few down from me came a boastful voice. He and his companions were trading stories of thievery; one had taken a man down from fifty paces in a crowded room and such. But this one man had the rest awed as he told the tale, a tale I had not known until that very moment. Lady Jen had hired him to kill the Queen. It was her plan to frame me for my slight of her. It was her that had gotten him inside the castle. For proof, he showed them the empty sheath. He had carried two throwing daggers, laced with poison, at his side. One was missing. At this point I stood and approached their stall, supposedly to get another ale. But I had to see that other dagger.

As much as I try to shut out the memory, I remember the dagger's handle vividly. I could not forget the inter-woven copper-silver pommel. I slipped a glance. On that man's hip was the murderous twin of the one who killed my love. At that moment I could have killed that faceless man (I dared not look at him, lest he remember me or think my business was other than elsewhere.) But I stayed myself, knowing his death would only serve my own by these cutthroats. They were quick and I was not a fighter, knew no swordplay, as it was the fashion of the court to learn instead of fight. Fighting was for the knights and mercenaries. So I left instead, knowing if I were ever to see Lady Jen, even a glimpse of her twisted mind and black heart, she would be impaled to my gauntlet.

I travelled over the Barren Wastes with little problem. Once in the Realms, I met up with a band of mercenaries; The Company of the Eclipse. I told them I was a travelling bard and would love to join their ranks. They welcomed me with open arms. In return for my songs and stories, they taught me swordplay. I was pleased to meet friends after so long in darkness. I took on the name Shadow Ebonblade, stayed to the rear of their ranks and stayed out of the light.

As the Eclipse grew in fame, I began to hear of Marsh's End. They had closed trade with the Realms (It was months over the Wastes and not very profitable for such a long journey), but information made its way to my ears. The good King Doran had died a year after I left. His disease consumed him in the end; a painful and slow death for such an honorable man. Prince Wesquin is now King and has taken a bride. Fate is cruel, and has its was of intertwining, for Lady Jen is who he is betrothed to.

I do not think they will ever discover the truth about me. King Doran took my escape to the grave as far as I know, and I pray it stays there. King Wesquin and Queen Jen will both have me served to the Trolls, each for their own dire reasons. Part of me wishes to go back and clear my name, to make good with my past. But even now I know to do so would be useless, especially with her in power. I say let what I was rest in peace. Let me be a new man, to some day emerge from the shadows. But despite the new, I shall harbor one old memory; I shall forever cry my crystal tears for my beloved.


April, May, July, August 1994. Winner - Best Fiction 1994 VFV Awards


The Rescue


by Carrie Morganti

A lone figure left the Keep of the Scarlet Torch after attending to a small errand there, the commissioning of a new tunic to be made for her friend, Sir Raven. A heartfelt and somewhat solemn goodbye to her Kath-sisling, Lady Cassa, for she knew it would be the last time she would see her for a long while - the time of the vision was at hand.

It was a cold night, the vault of the heavens seeming both remote and uncaring but strangely alive to her forest-born eyes - "yes" she thought, "it is the time. Kal, please hold me to your heart. Protect your daughter when she cannot..." the mantra of protection surging through her mind and heart. She was, truth be told, afraid. The double edged gift of prophesy had told her what was to come on this path, and she accepted this one, knowing that the other paths, though easier for her, were even less pleasant.

She started onto her trek back to Raven's cottage in Blackavar, even though she suspected that she would not make it - Prophesy had lied before, perhaps TO (TOE) had been teasing her again. She strained her weakened senses for signs of the Beast, somewhere they were waiting, somewhere... A shadow-like form struck out from the left- shadow form and shadow talons. The Wild-one dodged the first slash and parried with her little mace, knowing and witnessing it pass through the creature unharmed. "Magic and Silver. KA! Mercy Please!" She thought. The creature charged, sending her stumbling backward into the path. Cat-like, she squirmed sideways and dodged off the path into the brush near the road side. She'd hidden from worse creatures before, perhaps she could escape again. The creature however pursued, not at all confused in the darkness of the underbrush, and three more Shadow-beasts joined the hunt.

She ran, climbed, crawled and slunk, using every trick she knew to hide but the creatures kept on, gaining ground, not tiring. She shed her cloak in the chase - it stuck on too many branches anyway. She prayed someone would find it, for her spell book had fallen with it. They eventually trapped her between them in the unfamiliar territory of this foreign wood - a pack of shadowy forms circling like Jackals around a wounded Stag, waiting for the Death, not daring to attack yet. Two more Beasts gathered, then four more, penning her in, allowing no escape. She tried to fight them, to strike out, but they merely waited for a strike to one while another took her legs, then arms. They took her mace away, and broke it over her, casting the pieces away. One bravely grasped her spell focus and ripped it off, screaming in pain from the magic stored there. "Kal, hold me..."

"Well done, boys, well done. Though I must admit this was easier than I expected... T'isn't the Wood, now is it, Pure-One." A humanoid figure, heavily cloaked, approached the circle of Shadow-Beasts. Contemptuously, the figure crushed her Focus under his boot and crouched atop her. Rat-like features swam before her, the reek of sweat and evil stunned her senses. "T'isn't the Wood at all, and the Master will be very pleased to see you, I'm sure." The Rat kicked her in the ribs, hard enough to stun, and with a backward snarl, ordered his troops to pick up the baggage and get moving. Consciousness fading slowly from the pain of broken limbs and ribs, Tetch knew that TO had not been teasing...

* * * * * * * * * *

Raven picked up the soiled cloak with care, the only consolation in it being no sight of blood on it. Tetch had told him she'd be back soon, but that was two days ago and he worried. Now he knew something was definitely wrong - for her spell book was in the folds. Clothing, perhaps, she could do without, her Nature being what it was, but her Magic? Not likely. Grimly, he followed the path she and her pursuers made in the underbrush. After hours of searching he found the broken remains of her little mace and the shattered focus. Here was the blood-sign he had dreaded to find, the evidence of a pitifully short fight - Tetch very obviously the loser. But whether she was just captured or was killed outright was unclear. The signs were muddled. The attackers' trail vanished, as did his hope for finding Tetch the mundane way. Reluctantly, he turned back for home, a Shadow Beast watching him from afar.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Are you sure this is gonna work, Raven?" Jarrod asked skeptically. "Like, could Dec help you or something?"

"Uh, no. It'll work, no problem. Done this at least half a dozen times with Tetch." Raven smiled, trying to hide his nervousness.

"Well, OK. You know what you're doing..." Jarrod subsided.

"The things I do for you..." Raven though as he centered himself and very slowly stepped out of his body into the Dreaming. He was not comfortable here, at all, and definitely didn't like visiting alone. It was disconcertingly REAL here, kind of like Tetch was disconcertingly NATURAL. Too real to be real. Too sharp. "Gods, I'm not ready for this..." "Tetch?, TETCH! Where are you?!"

"Raven?" A weak reply, drained, not quite right - like that odd rime at Duckwater...

Raven moved toward the voice, flying/walking/standing still, he REALLY didn't like it here. He found her quickly, (oh, too quickly - he thought he was going to be sick). She looked funny in the Dreaming - more animal. Perhaps this was her true form and not the one Kal gave her when she left the Guardianship. His connection wasn't strong, making his senses spin. "Tetch, what happened? Where are we?"

"I was attacked. I don't really know why. It was S-shadow Beasts and a Change-child."

"How many are there - I'll come find you." He was getting a sense for where she was, somewhere North of Blackavar, West of Tuath Fasach.

"No! It's too dangerous. There are too many..." She was fading from his sight, he was losing the connection.

"Don't worry, we'll just find you, then we'll get reinforcements." He tried to be reassuring, truth be told, she did not look well.

"Promise you won't attack - please don't. There are too many!" She sounded desperate, the link was rapidly weakening.

"I won't attack, I promise. We're just going to find you-"

"We? Who's we?"

"Jarrod and me -"

"Raven, listen to me! Don't come! Jarrod won't retreat -" The link severed abruptly, as if chopped off with a battle axe.

Raven promptly fell out of report. "Won't retreat? Of course he'll retreat. He's not stupid." He took a few minutes to collect himself before coming out of trance.

"Well? Any luck?" Jarrod asked when Raven stood up.

"Yeah, I think I know where we can start looking..."

* * * * * * * * * *

"Well, whelp, are you going to be a good little slave or are we going to have to beat you some more?" The Rat looked down at his prisoner with hatred. She was not going to be easy to break. He'd already tried the standard ways of torture: Rape, burning, blinding, slow mutilation - she screamed, yes, but she didn't become more cooperative in the least - as a matter of fact she became more stubborn and his mage sight showed him her link to the forest, though pitifully weak compared to a Guardian's, was growing stronger with each day of starvation and each mutilation. If he could only break that link, or find some sort of psychological torture to help, perhaps then he would be more inclined to cooperate...

He didn't dare kill her, he didn't want to risk losing her soul entirely or allowing her to gain more of a link to the Wild. He'd sent two of the Shadow Pack back to the stronghold to get a spell from the Master to shatter than damned link, but they had not yet returned.

One of the Pack had reported that some mage-talented human had found the Wild-One's mace, focus and cloak, and that this man seemed to take an interest in the battle-site. Perhaps that human could be the link Childre needed to break her. Break the human until her hero complex took over to save him... or break him and use him to break her... Either way, the human would be a good bargaining tool.

The Wild-One was sending her soul out - that's not good. Childre was about to build a soul net around her when he sensed the other presence there. "Hmmm..." Carefully, Childre slipped half into the Dreaming - a ghost within the ghost world. He listened to her and the Man-Knight Raven's conversation and chopped it short when she started to warn him not to come - Childre wanted him to come, he even gave Raven a place to start looking. Now all it would take was patience.

* * * * * * * * * *

"There they are." Blade pointed out the group of Shadow Beasts carrying a stretcher-like object, a small curled form inert atop it. "There's only those four from what I can see. We can take 'em, c'mon." Without waiting for a reply, he, Daro, Niko, Kara and Marcus charged down the hill at the Shadow Beasts and Tetch. Jarrod gave a backward glance and a wry grin to Raven as he too charged. "C'mon Raven - the water's warm!" He called gleefully.

"But - we agreed to go back!" Raven sighed and started down the hill after Folkestone, when something sharp neatly ran him through. As he fell backward, transfixed by the sight of a foot of blade poking through his chest, he vaguely recognized the sound of Folkestone screaming, and saw a huge rat gloating over him. "Bummer," he though before Death came to claim him.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Not bad, not bad at all." Childre thought as he threw Raven's limp form onto the heap that was Folkestone. The fighters were good, and if their blades were able to affect the Shadow Pack Childre had no doubt these fighters would have freed the whelp and his new bartering tool. But alas, they were not prepared for the Pack. The servant hid all information of the War and the Master's creatures very well indeed.

Their loss, however, was Childre's gain. These fighters would make very good soldiers for him, and he didn't need their souls to cooperate. Pulling the non-mage gifted out from the pile, Childre summoned a couple of the Mach-med-dren to possess them. He Looked over the "Talents" of the remaining fighters. Only one of these was strong enough to resist the Mach-med-dren, so he had the weaker ones possessed as well. The strongest, a short, dark haired fellow, radiated a strong level of Druidic healing magic. He would be useful. So long as Childre didn't ask him to do anything too radically against his nature, perhaps he would serve as one of the Mach-med-dren. Adding a little extra mana to the summoning and binding, Childre possessed him as well.

As the new servants starting re-animating by the power of the Mach-med-dren within them, Childre took the Druid aside. "Hellow, may I ask your name, sir?" Polite, very polite, and maybe he wouldn't notice I'm not human...

"Dec-" A slow, almost dead voice. "Decion Galen."

""Could you do me a favor, Decion?" Nice, very nice. Sensible...

"Uh, depends on the favor..." The voice of the healer was starting to gain strength. Childre could sense some rebellion, some free will. He'd have to be very careful with this one.

"Could you raise someone for me?" Childre watched as Dec contemplated the request. He looked to one of the fighters, the one with the black shaggy hair, as if to get permission. "Ah, the leader." Childre surmised. "Perfect."

"Excuse me, M'Lord. Would you mind if your fine healer were to help me for a while?" Childre asked the tall fighter.

"No, no, of course not," the parasite answered immediately. "Dec, do what he asks. He's cool."

The reluctant Druid relaxed visibly. "Who do you need Raised?"

Childre grinned. "Well, there's this fellow, Raven - he seems to be dead..." Beautiful, simply beautiful.

* * * * * * * * * *

Raven screamed again, weakly compared to when the torture began, but a raw throat can't scream very well. Even though she had been catatonic during the worst of her torture, she couldn't entirely escape from the sounds of his pain. There was silence. Perhaps someone had stopped the madness... Tetch looked up with hope - which was instantly dashed when she saw Blade vicously slash Raven's stomach open. Tetch moved toward Blade, or tried to, but found her limbs were still broken. She looked hopelessly at Raven, reaching out to him with her spirit (the only thing they hadn't broken yet,) trying to comfort him as he died again.

"I'm dead again, aren't I?" Raven stated bluntly. At least in the dreaming he was whole, even though the pain haunted him here too.

"Yes." Tetch answered quietly. She felt so helpless, these was nothing she could do to save him. If she could just... leave, or something...

Raven sensed Tetch pulling away, her spirit flagging under the double torture. "You're quitting on me, aren't you?"

"No." She wouldn't quit on him, no matter how much it hurt.

"Then why are you hiding out there?"

"Hiding?" She didn't understand.

"Yeah, hiding. You aren't even conscious out there, you're just lying there, not even looking for a way out. You're just letting them do this to you." Raven was relentless. He wasn't trying to hurt her, just trying to get her to move on her own.

"I can't do anything, Raven. I don't have anything to work with. I can't even reach the Kal. They won't help me." Tetch whimpered, wanting escape. "I don't have my magic. I gave up the Guardianship. There's nothing I can do."

"You can stop hiding out there." Raven thought of a new approach to goad her into action. "Maybe the Kal are testing you..."

"Why? How would this be a test?" Raven wasn't making any sense.

"Maybe they want to see if you can stand up for yourself. You gave up the Guardianship, maybe they want to see if you can function without them. You were created by them, right?"

"Yes."

"Well, like parents sometimes do, maybe they want to see if their child can handle things on her own. Maybe they want to see how you'll deal with this, whether or not you should be out here. But by hiding you're not doing anything..."

"But they're hurting you! I can't just listen to that! I can't..." Tetch started to curl up, even here.

"Don't worry about me, okay. Whatever happens, don't give up. Look, one of us has to keep an eye open for a way to escape, and since they are having so much fun working me over, it will have to be you."

"Okay, Raven. Okay."

* * * * * * * * * *

Decion was confused. Childre kept having him go out on errands, to get spell components and things, and every time he came back, usually several hours later, Raven would be dead. It was just odd. But Jarrod didn't seem to think anything was wrong, so he kept on Raising Raven.

One night, after most of the others were asleep, Dec woke up. Something was bothering him. He didn't feel quite right, like he was forgetting something.

"Dec?" A whisper, off to his right. "Could you help me out?"

"Huhn?" Dec walked toward the voice. He found Tetch, looking quite haggard and scrawny. Her limbs were all broken.

"Could you heal these?" Odd question, wasn't she a healer? Couldn't she do that?

"Uh, sure, I guess." He still felt like he was forgetting something. "Adu akaba..."

* * * * * * * * * *

Childre believed it was safe to return to the new fortress. He thought that the Pure One was helpless enough, even though she was not yet broken. Out of spite, he chained her onto Raven and slashed his throat, letting his blood pump out warm onto her. He wanted her as catatonic as possible when he entered her former homeland, the Forest called the Northern Wilds. Setting up a strong phalanx of the Mach-med-dren possessed fighters and Shadow Pack, Childre entered the Dark Wood. He did not notice the slight humanoid form in the upper branches of the old oak, the frantic whisper - that sounded for all the world like wind in the trees, though there was no breeze - that all the path grew alive with, or the large, dark figure that responded to that whisper. The Shadow Pack became nervous, that was the only thing Childre noticed. Sensitive to magic, it was likely that the Wood itself was bothering them. He let it pass.

A loud neighing - like a cross between a war-horse's challenge and a lion's roar - assaulted the party first. Automatically, Folkestone stopped and went into a strong defensive stance. The Shadow Pack saw the Challenger first - Jaymir, the black unicorn - horn dimly glowing with suppressed light. The Pack charged it and Jaymir, again breying his battle-cry, charged to greet them. Enchanted Hooves and Magic Horn punctured, slashed and crushed shadow forms, the Pack very vulnerable to the Creature's Light.

In the midst of the battle, the Wild-One who had been waiting for such an opportunity, freed herself from her bonds, grabbed Raven and ran into the Wilds, yelling in her strange tongue to what appeared to be no one. Childre, noticing his fleeing prize, ordered Folkestone to get her. Grimly they all followed, except for Decion, who seemed to be transfixed by the sight of the unicorn.

All Childre ever really became aware of was the sounds - the creaking of wood, the clacking of branches, the rending of cloth and flesh, the scream of metal being ripped apart, the gurgle of throats being unable to scream out with the penultimate agony of being torn apart by every tree, bush and shrub able to reach them - the mighty warriors of Folkestone, reduced to quivering mounds of bloody flesh in seconds - hearts not rent by beating with borrowed life.

Childre turned tail and ran for the safety of the fields beyond the Wood, hoping beyond hope that the trees could not reach him while he was in the path. The trees seemed to be cooperating with his wish - they did not try to stop him - the safety of the fields beckoned him - he could see them. Only a few steps away. Only a few steps. Then he heard the pounding of hooves, the enraged howl of the Captive and the Unicorn combined in terrible, final unity. The trees reached out for him then, almost tenderly, and forced him to take the charge of the Unicorn spread-eagled - the Pure One riding bare backed atop the beast - golden slitted eyes and bared fangs blazing with the reflected light of the Unicorn's horn.

He was surprised at how little it hurt.

* * * * * * * * * *

"Awaken, Raven, Walk in the forever place no longer." Raven came to that call. Opening his eyes he looked upon the Tetch that he saw in the Dreaming: fanged, clawed, furred and feathered - the former guardian. He tried to move away from her, tried to run, but he was so weak, so tired... "Rest easy, bro-henna, we are free..."

"How - Free?"

"The woods remembered me." She answered.

"Folkestone?"

"Healed of possession and injury and sent home." A pause. "It wasn't their fault."

"Rat?"

"Very Dead."

"Tired," he croaked.

'sleep, then," she replied, and pointed to another figure nearby. A Unicorn. "He will guard us for now."

* * * * * * * * * *

Quiet. Sleep. Nightmares-pain-Pain-NO ESCAPE-Blade-PAIN-PAIN!!

"Raven?! Bro-henna? Shhhh-shhh... It's Okay. We're free."

Quiet. No Sleep. No sleep... never sleep...

"Raven?..."

"Yes?"

"Thank you for coming for me."

Quiet. Anger. Ignore HER. Sleep. Sleep.

Dream.


July 1995. Winner - Best Fiction, 1995 VFV Awards


The Dragon


transcribed by Carmilla Qwill

During the long cold nights of winter, many tales are told over the mugs of Lady Dee's finest brew. Some tell tales of mighty deeds done by brave heroes. Some tell of ghosts and monsters to make you shiver and grip your ale. Some tell stories to make their companions laugh. And as the night wears on, and the level of beer left in the keg grows less, the stories grow wilder and more doubtful. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these tales. I merely record them as they were told, on long nights as the rain and the beer pour down.

It was a dark and stormy night. No, I know... but it really was! Rain and hail so heavy you couldn't see the stables from the tavern door, and thunder growling at you like some pissed-off bear. The lightning didn't help you to see, just blinded you with its flash and left you seeing purple floating splotches. Running out to the outhouse would get you drenched before you got there and freezing before you got back. The cloaks steamed dry by the fire, making the tavern nearly as damp inside as it was out. The few customers sat and nursed mugs of hot cider, sullenly watching the rain fall, and hoping it would let up before it was time to go home. It was no fit night for man or beast. So I suppose I should not have been surprised when the beast agreed.

We all knew there was a dragon in the Marrow Woods - had been since Midsummer or shortly before. Occasionally a brave and doughty knight would stop by the tavern on his way out to slay the beast. We'd direct him out to the woods, and a few days later the town undertaker would go collect the body for transport back to wherever it belonged. But the dragon didn't bother us townsfolk. It didn't raid the herds or attack the children, apparently preferring venison and wild boar from the crispy carcasses we found in the woods. The stream through town ran clearer for passing through the charcoal upstream. And there were no wolves around the village this winter - wolves and dragons being natural enemies and all. So we were not inclined to complain at its presence. "Dragons have a right to live, too," we told ourselves around the tavern and the town moot hall when the topic came up. "He leaves us alone, we have no call to do aught else to him."

So I was standing by the open door watching the storm. There was nothing else to do, there being so few customers, and them not wanting anything more than a break in the storm so they could get home. SO I was standing there, when the wind went WHOOP, and the rain stopped for a second right outside the door, then went sideways straight at me. I went from warm and dry in my good wool shawl to cold and dripping on my ass on the floor where the wind had knocked me, and no recollection of an in-between. And the dragon had his big green knobbledy head stuck in the door. He was laughing at me.

"Your pardon, miss" he said when he'd managed to collect himself. "I had not anticipated an open door in the way of my back wind."

I grumbled and swore and picked myself and my soggy shawl up off the floor. Then, gathering my damp and bedraggled dignity around me, I bowed to the dragon and offered it the Tavern's hospitality.

"Thank you," it said, and began to come in.

Now this was a problem. Dragons are somewhat narrow and snaky, and this one could easily get through the door. Except for the wings - they were a bit of a crush. But while they're thin, dragons are also long, and there was a lot to this one. And now I had a tavern full of thirty feet of dripping wet muddy dragon in the middle of my nice clean tavern floor. And on the nice clean tables, sprawled over half the chairs, with his head on the hearth and his tail on the bar. And our regular customers looking rather nervous in the corner.

The dragon twisted his neck around to look at me by the door. "Forgive the intrusion. I would not readily invade your village, but the weather made the temptation of a mug or two of spiked cider or hot wine irresistible. My coin is good and I will tip well for willing service."

"Well, merry meet, then, Sir Dragon. I always welcome the big tippers... My name's Meg, that's my brother Bart behind the bar, and that's Clef and Tom and Ulf in the corner."

"My name," said the Dragon, "is unpronounceable."

"I beg your pardon?" I said.

"My name is unpronounceable. By the human tongue, I mean. Something about the glottal stops."

I took a deep breath. "Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Unpronounceable."

The dragon got the weirdest look on his face, blinked at me for a second, then burst into hysterical giggles. I know, dragons and giggling just don't work together in the same thought, but that's what he did. Lying with his head on the hearth and all the length of him shaking, the beast giggled.

Bart mixed him up a drink in the largest mug we had, and I went to fetch all the clean sheets to help dry the dragon off. Now, I don't know if it was just this dragon, or if all dragons are susceptible to a wee drop, but he wasn't halfway through the mug before he was under the table. Figuratively, I mean. He was already under the table, on the table and over the bar to begin with. And this monstrous fabled beast that had slain many of the flower of knighthood was sitting there in my own tavern, with Tom and Clef and Ulf leaning on his shoulder, singing bawdy songs and spilling wine on the floor, with the rain pouring down and the thunder rolling over the Marrow Woods. And when the storm ended and the regulars staggered off for home, the dragon was still there, passed out and snoring.

Well, it was a bright and sunny morning the next day, and I was hanging out the damp sheets and towels to dry when I heard a jingling and a clashing, and here came a knight in shining armor down the village road. He jingled right up to me, looked down his nose at me from way up there and said "Wench, I have been told there is a dragon in these environs, a beast of power and grace, and a fit opponent for a worthy and honorable knight."

Well, I looked up at him, tilted my head like I was thinking. "Um," I said, "I don't know about no dragons in the inn-vee-rons, but there's a dragon at the inn, right enough." The knight looked at me like I was loopy. "Go ahead," I said. "Go right on in. But don't wake him up. He was drinking until the wee hours, and he'll be hung over for sure."

The knight sure as hell didn't believe me, and he wasn't sure what kind of a fool I was trying to make him, but he went and looked anyway. He peeked in, jumped back like a singed cat, drew his sword and went charging in to the tavern howling at the top of his lungs. Half a second later, there was a roar that made my ears ring for an hour, and that knight FLEW out, tumbling at the top of his arc, and landing flat on his back in last night's mud. He scrambled up, lunged for his horse, which, understandably upset by the noise, the smell of dragon, and its master's haste, shied away and cantered off down the road. Our last view of the worthy and honorable knight was of him chasing his horse down the road, howling at the top of his lungs and clanking like a tinker's cart.

Since that lovely morning, knights no longer come to Marrow Woods. Tax collectors have learned to avoid that village, too. But every dark and cold and stormy night, the dragon Unpronounceable comes to the tavern to drink a cup and pass the time. And every morning every dark and stormy night finds him sleeping it off on the tavern floor. And nobody ever wakes him up.


Printed in the May 1996 View from Valehaven.


Chronicles from Creathorne


by Rhohe

"But I found them that way, honest - - I swear!" insists Rhohe. Sir Shean hold up the dead chickens by their stiffened legs in front of the girl. A couple feathers float to the tavern floor as Shean shakes the chickens in anger.

"Just what do I say to Lady O'Quinnlin? 'No shit, dear, they all died of heart failure?!"

Shean stomps his way back to the Keep while Milo and Torin laugh uncontrollably at the bar.

"Rhohe, slayer of all that is fowl!" pronounces Torin, smacking his hand on his thigh, his pointed ears pink with laughter. Rhohe, slightly grinning, hangs her head and goes back to her books in the corner.

Giggles ease as Dinky Daggers runs into the tavern, arms flailing and face all lit up.

"They're at it again! Dueling! Sawyer and Silly," exclaims Dinky, almost out of breath. Sawyer tried to disease Silly and Silly turned himself into a bunny when he was trying to cure himself. Backfired, I guess. But now Sawyer has him hog-tied and ready for stew, "Dinky grinned.

Torin, although amused with the situation, saw the potential problem with one of Creathorne's arch-healers becoming dinner for the resident barbarian. He grabbed his bow from above the doorway on his way out. Milo soon caught up to him and they strode toward the woods together.

Dinky, that conniving little page, saw his chance just as the barman and squire rounded the corner to the tournament fields. Quickly, he pulled one of the stools behind the counter and climbed up.

"I know Milo put it up here - - I saw him..." The little fingers searched through an accumulation of glasses and bottles on the top shelf of the bar. "Here it is!"

Grabbing hold of the long bottle neck, he moved to step down off the stool and lost his footing. The loud thump and sound of breaking glass made Rhohe look up from her books and light another candle. She approached the bar cautiously, and peeked over the edge.

"Dinky! How many times does Milo have to tell you to stay away from the Fire Chicken? He'll be very upset. You broke the glasses all for a bottle with a note in it!"

A slow deep chuckle came from the end of the bar, closely followed by a hiccup.

"Mr. Jeremiah!...... Are you okay?" asked Rhohe cautiously. She had never seen the vampire this intoxicated.

"Oh yesh I em...fine. Jusht a bit more pleashe," Jeremiah slurred. Hiccups and a belch followed his words as a white hand reached shakily for another bottle. In an instant he was gone as the bottle contents disappeared. Then he was back, slumped over the bar and staring into nowhere.

'she left me, ya know. Bane ish gone an' I miss her." Jeremiah put his head down on the bar and sighed.

Rhohe was about to offer him a hug when she heard voices coming from the North fields. Milo was coming back!

"Dinky! Get yourself up and go back to the stables. You'll catch it if Milo finds you! Mr. Jeremiah? You might want to go back to your nice mushy swamp now before Milo makes you pay your tab...that's right...one foot first...good."

Jeremiah wobbled his way to the door and Dinky scurried out to the barn. "What a mess!" thought Rhohe, rubbing her hands together nervously. 'shattered glasses, empty bottles and a broken bar stool all in fifteen minutes... How do I explain this?"

Milo stood in the doorway surveying the scene in disbelief.

"Looks like there's been a brawl. What's going on here, Rhohe?"

"I just found it this way, honest - - I swear!"


Printed in the March 1996 View from Valehaven. Winner - "The Fox" - Best Fiction, 1996 VFV Awards


The Courtship Begins


by Carmilla Qwill

"Your Majesty, we've captured a brigand," Sir Shane announced.

Queen Meg looked up from her embroidery. "A brigand? Near the royal castle? What happened?"

Shane shrugged. "Nothing interesting, your Majesty. He was fencing goods down in the low town, and was recognized by someone who had a brief 'acquaintance' of him a month or so ago. We took him without too much of a fight." He stepped further into the solar and lowered his voice. "It appears he might be one of the Fox's men."

"The Fox! That dastardly knave! I thought we ran him off years ago." The Queen's lips tightened in anger. "I still haven't forgotten the last time we met. I can't believe he'd had the audacity to come here!"

"The Fox?" said the Queen's guest, laying down her own needlework. "Who is the Fox?"

"No one knows, my lady. He is a masked brigand and a highwayman, albeit a chivalrous one," said Sir Angus from his seat by the fire. "He would not have travelled so far as to raid in Blackavar, so 'tis no surprise you should not have heard of him."

"A chivalrous highwayman? An interesting oxymoron," Lady Anne said, retrieving her needlework.

"But true," said Sir Angus. "He kills no one unless forced to it, and he takes no scalps. He robs only those who can afford it, and then he takes only half of all they carry. And the ladies say that he speaks fairly and gently to them. The fairest of the ladies he robs he gifts with a single white rose."

"And no one has ever seen his face," said Lady Cassia with a romantic sigh.

"You all sound as if you approve of the knave," said the Queen. "Well, I for one will tolerate no brigands or thieves in my kingdom. I hope to see the man unmasked and hung." She tossed aside her embroidery and stood up. "Come, gentlemen, ladies, I am restless. Who'll to weapons practice with me?"

"Tis said," whispered Lady Cassia into Lady Anne's ear as they collected the sewing, "that at one time the Queen received a rose from the Fox!"

* * * * * * * * * *


"I feel no need to risk ourselves to save that turncoat! Let him rot in the Chimeron jail. Stealing from his own friends like that..."

"I would let him rot, Berin, old friend," said the Fox, "but for two things. First is that I have sworn to defend all my men, no matter how stupid or dishonest they are." He raised his hand to forestall an outburst. "We can cast him out when we get him back, but I am honor-bound to get him back first. And second," he said, pouring himself a cup of wine, "he knows where we camp. We'd better fetch him back before he talks too loud."

"Oh, well, now there's a good reason to fetch him out. He'll sing like a canary, no doubt." Berin took the cup from the Fox's hand and drank its contents down, handing back the empty cup. "Now then, what's the plan?"

The plan involved sending a single man up the smooth, vertical side of the Chimeron Castle and in the window of an empty bedroom. From there, he would descend into the castle cellars where he would take the secret tunnel from the wine cellar to the village moot hall. The moot hall was guarded day and night by Chimeron's own royal guards, but the guards were posted on the outside and the main floor of the building. No one was supposed to know of the passage to the hall's basement and jail, and invasion was not expected from the castle. So no guards guarded the prisoner himself. The rescuer and the rescued man would return to the castle and exit out the garbage hatch in the scullery. Ideally, neither man would be seen, and there would be no need for a fight. The lone man who made this daring rescue was, of course, the Fox.

* * * * * * * * * *

"All went well?" said Berin when the Fox and the ex-prisoner glided into the temporary camp in a valley a mile or two away from the Chimeron Castle. "No trouble?"

"Not much," said the Fox. "The Queen had a guest, so the bedroom I passed through was occupied. But the sleeper did not stir." He turned to his friend as the ex-prisoner headed for the fire and food, and said softly, "I did some thieving as I passed through that room, but I fear 'tis I who have been robbed."

"Of what, my Lord." said Berin, startled.

"Of my heart, old friend," said the Fox, holding up a long strand of golden hair. "Of my heart."


Printed in the August 1996 View From Valehaven. Winner - "The Fox" - Best Fiction, 1996 VFV Awards


The Courtship Continues


by Carmilla Qwill

"Is he still there, Midge?"

"Aye, my lady. He's still there."

Lady Anne sighed. "I am pleased that her Majesty the Queen of Chimeron deems me valuable enough to gift me with a personal bodyguard. But I cannot believe that the risk is so great, nor that the Fox is so strong an adversary that this is necessary.

That man Magnus follows me everywhere. Upstairs, downstairs, outside and in. Truly, I expect to find him under my bed at night."

"I would rather find him in my bed than under, my Lady. He's a handsome one, he is!" said her maidservant.

"Midge!" said the Lady, "you have been spending far too much time with Lady Cassia!"

"But 'tis true, Lady. Look at him as if you were not annoyed at his presence."

Lady Anne turned slightly so she could see Magnus Brave, who was currently standing at parade rest at the edge of the rose garden she was currently pruning.

"Perhaps," she said thoughtfully, "but he is still driving me to madness with his constant hovering... but wait! What is this?"

A young page was sprinting down the path towards Magnus. He came to a gravel-spraying halt in front of the guard and handed him a folded scrap of vellum. Magnus opened it, scanned the contents, nodded sharply, and sent the boy on his way. Then he began to walk over to Lady Anne.

"My Lady, it would seem that that rogue, the Fox, has gotten even braver, or more mad. He has been seen in this area."

"I see..." said the Lady. Her hands tightened around the basket she held. The basket contained a bouquet of carefully cut white roses.

"We will, of course, be increasing security around this castle. There is no chance we will allow him anywhere near you, so there is no need for you to fear."

"I do not fear the Fox, Magnus."

"Good," said Magnus. And he smiled. "Now, if you will forgive me, my Lady, I need to go oversee the additional guards that will be needed. But I will have another guard take my place within minutes." And he turned and walked away down the petal strewn path.

"Well," said Lady Anne. "At least we can have a few minutes alone."

* * * * * * * * * *

It was late evening and the stars were out. Lady Anne had her window open looking out over the rose garden, and the cool breeze carried the scent of the flowers into her chamber where she sat in her chemise, brushing out her blond hair.

"You are as lovely as I remember," said a deep, quiet voice behind her.

She gasped and spun around, hand pressed to her throat. At the window behind her, enveloped in shadow, was a man. He stepped forward into the light of her candle, and Anne fell back against her chair. It was the Fox. She would have known him anywhere. He stood in his black cape and mask, the signature white rose in his gloved hand.

"Do not cry out. I mean you no harm," he said, his voice soft.

"What... what are you doing here. How dare you invade my chamber..." Anne's voice seemed weak. Her hand was tight on her brush.

"My most sincere apologies for the informality of this visit, but I could hardly knock on the castle door and ask for an audience."

"But what do you want?" she burst out.

"Want, my Lady? I wanted to see you once more. To see if the reality could possibly live up to my memories. I have dreamt of you..." The Fox stepped forward deeper into the room. Anne gasped and shrank back into her chair. He froze, then gently dropped to his knees. "But mostly, Lady, I wanted your permission."

"Permission? For what?"

"To pay court to you."

"What?!"

"Just as I said, fairest one. May I?"

The sudden banging on the door startled Anne. She jumped out of her chair, and spun towards the door. Then she turned back towards the window. The Fox was gone!

The banging on the door continued. "J...just a minute," said Anne. She took a deep breath to collect herself, pulled on her robe over her chemise, and opened the door, not without a final glance at the empty window. One of the newest of the palace guards stood in the hall, looking distressed.

"Lady, is everything all right? You took so long to answer, and I was concerned that, well..."

"Everything is fine. I was... improperly attired." The guard blushed crimson. "What is so urgent at this time of night?

"My Lady, the Fox was seen near the castle walls, and Master Brave said I was to come check on you to be sure you were safe and, oh, your window is open, I'd better go close it, and Master Brave will be along as soon as he dispatches the search parties, so don't worry, everything is under control..." The young guard babbled as he headed for the open window. Lady Anne leaped to intercept him.

"Leave the window be!" The young man blinked at her, startled by her vehemence. "I mean... the window is fine as it is. I prefer fresh air." She began leading the guard to the door. "Now, I'm sure everything is fine, Magnus will handle everything and the Fox will not dare trespass within the castle."

"I hope that is so, my Lady," said Magnus from the still-open door to her chamber. "But if you wish the window open, we will leave it so. Please forgive our intrusion so late in the evening. We will let you rest, now."

Magnus quietly closed the door behind the young guard and himself as they left. Anne remained where she was until she heard their footsteps recede down the hall. Then she collapsed onto the bed with a sigh. Then a yelp. She reached behind and removed the thorns of the rose from her backside. There was a note attached to the stem of the rose. It read: "May I?"


Printed in the March 1997 View from Valehaven.


Lady Anne's Night Quest


by Carmilla Qwill

 

Maybe she should have borrowed some of Myriel's more practical clothes instead of wearing this riding gown. Maybe she should have borrowed Myriel's sword - not that she knew how to use it. Maybe she should have stayed at home!

The woods looked different at night. Lady Anne rode her bay palfrey along familiar forest paths, but nothing looked familiar under the shadows. It was probably just her nerves, Anne thought as she took the turning that would lead her deeper into the forest. Nerves, hell, she meant cold fear, she admitted to herself. How did they do it, she wondered. Sir Myriel, Sir Shane, Queen Meg, even young Gonvf, all seemed bold and even eager when they set out into the night wood to face goblins, trolls, and worse. Of course, they wouldn"t ride out alone and weaponless, either, on a fool's errand to find a man who probably broke ladies" hearts for breakfast.

All this for the Fox! What had he done to her that she would willingly sneak out of her own castle, stealing her own horse, and avoiding the honest guards the Queen and Sir Pyr had kindly provided for her, to ride through a cold night alone on the chance that, if he was not on the far side of Folkestone's holdings or somewhere equally distant, she would be able to find him in this huge, dark, lonely wood before the sunrise. Anne had heard that Love makes fools of us all, but she was surely the greatest fool ever to fall in love with a man she had met but three times in her life, and whose face she had never seen. A thief and a brigand, and not even a respectable warrior. What would the noble late Queen of Blackavar think of her foster daughter, now!

Anne halted her horse. Enough of this foolishness! She should be home safe in bed. She laid the reins against the horse's neck and began to turn her on the long path home.

The rustle in the bushes by the path was the only warning she had. One minute, she was alone, and the next the misshapen forms of goblins were all around her. The horse tensed underneath her, and its head came up in fear. Her pulse pounded in her throat.

"Hello, pretty lady, have you come to play with goblins?" The voice was deep and scratchy and menacing. "Come to dinner, pretty lady. We eat good tonight!"

The evil things came closer, and the sound of metal against metal rang out through the night. The horse screamed, and reared as something touched its flank. And Anne fell. The world flashed white as her head hit the rock. Dazed, she lay among the dead leaves, listening to the hoofbeats fade away, and to goblins shouting as they tried to catch the animal.

"Pretty lady out all alone in the dark, dark woods. Pretty lady pretty dumb, me think. Pretty lady not so pretty, soon."

A huge hulking form appeared in her blurry vision. She had just enough time to recognize it as a troll before its massive, horny hand closed on her upper arm in a bruising grip. She found herself tossed up and over a massive, bony shoulder before she could even begin to collect herself. The world came and went in dizzying waves, and her ears rang, and the troll's shoulder dug into her ribs with every step he took as he began to carry her back to his lair, calling together his goblin clan after him.

It was one of these little misshapen creatures that was the first to die. An arrow took him through the throat a mere five feet away from Anne where she struggled feebly on the troll's back. Anne flinched and cried out. She heard other arrows find their marks in the bodies of other monsters all around her, and she shrieked as the troll spun, fast for his size, searching for the source of the attack.

"Put the lady down," said a familiar voice. Anne froze. It couldn"t be!

"Why?" said the troll. "If me put her down, she run away. Me keep."

"But if you don"t put her down, you can"t fight me," said the Fox.

"Oh," said the troll. "Right." And he dumped Ann on her head. Stars filled her vision again.

"Thank you," said the Fox. And his axe split the troll's head.

And the rest of the night is none of your affair. Suffice it to say that Lady Anne was found safely at the edge of the Castle gardens at dawn. Her horse had returned home of its own accord several hours earlier, and its arrival alone had caused quite a stir among the inhabitants of Castle Blackavar. The Lady's safe return, with nothing worse than a bump on her head that she attributed to the fall from the horse, was met with such complete relief by Sir Myriel and the other guards on duty that they completely neglected to mention in their reports to Magnus Brave that the lady was also found in a green jerkin and hose, wrapped in a black cloak emblazoned with a white fox, and was carrying a bouquet of white roses in her arms...


Printed in the August-October 1997 View from Valehaven


Cedric and the Tent

by Steven Matulewicz

 

"This is absolutely ridiculous," mumbled Cedric to himself as he kicked the red and black canvas tent that had been placed in the hayloft above the stable. He would stand watch over it for the next eight hours. This had been going on since their experience in the Nexus. Duncan had posted guard day and night, even at events, to make sure the tent was safe. Obviously the tent had some significance, but the explanation that had been deduced for the abduction of the tent through the Nexus was shaky at best and it gnawed at Cedric even more than having to sit up in a loft to watch something they could remake in a matter of hours. However, it was Duncan's order that these actions be carried out. As his squire, and for lack of any other reason why they shouldn"t protect the tent, he would take his turn at watch.

Dugal was still downstairs, grumbling over his horse. Cedric could hear him brushing down its grey coat. Now and again the mare would let out a small whinny as Dugal's polearm pricked it in the side. A small but gruff 'sorry" would leave Dugal's lips shortly after. He has GOT to learn to put it down, thought Cedric. Rumor had it he even brought the polearm to bed. He had seen Dugal stagger out of his room in the morning, gripping his weapon like it would run away if he loosened his white-knuckled fist. Nonetheless it was comforting to hear him; it gets pretty lonely standing guard in a loft. Cedric knelt by the hatchway and peered down.

"Hey, Dugal!" shouted Cedric. There was a loud squeal and a mumbled sound of "Oops." from beneath him and suddenly Dugal appeared staring up at him. "Could you do me a favor and have someone send out dinner to me? I forgot to tell the cook."

'sure." Dugal disappeared from Cedric's view. The loud thump of the stable door moments later meant he was alone for the moment. He stood up and straightened his armor. Dugal was a good man; a little strange, but then again they all were a little strange in Rhiassa. Tolerance and understanding to a point, he remembered Sir Pyr telling him once, is the difference between a warrior and a knight. If you go off half cocked at every little thing, every feast hall would be drenched with blood. He knew what Sir Pyr had meant; fight the fights that are worth fighting, and not all fights are fought with steel.

Which brought his thoughts back to the task at hand. No matter how he thought about the situation, he could make no sense of it. He sat down on a small wooden stool with a solid "thump" and sighed. He had hoped to spend his early evenings training with Vinal, Rhiassa's newest member, instead of in this musty hayloft. He could almost imagine their practices on the drawbridge, the sound of metal on metal, Vinal's fencing-style thrusts against his saber-like movements, the wind about them as he advanced and retreated ...

Cedric stood up suddenly and drew his sword. There was a strong wind blowing through the loft, much stronger than the sturdy loft should or could have, even in the stormiest weather. He quickly moved to where the tent was at the far side of the loft. It was there, but he saw a pair of black hands pulling the tent to behind a pile of hay.

He drew in a breath to yell for the guards on the outside of the loft, but before he could make a sound he felt the cold steel of a dagger at his throat.

"Drop your sword," said the gravel voice behind him. He dropped it, but not where the voice expected. Cedric grabbed the fist with the knife in it with his right hand while reversing his grip on his sword in his left hand and plunged it through the breast of the attacker. The knife dropped away from him and he charged toward the tent, now out of sight behind the hay.

Turning the corner he saw a shimmering portal of black and green plastered like a door against the wall of the barn. He began to run as he realized the tent was all ready half way through the portal. He leaped at the tent and landed on it, stopping its movement. I guess Duncan was right after all, he thought to himself has he straddled the tarp. He gave the tent a good pull and it began to move back to his side of the gate. Well, whatever their reasoning they are surely putting up a great effort, he thought has he pulled again.

This time the tent did not budge.

Cedric suddenly lost his footing and he and the tent were swiftly jerked through the portal. Cedric closed his eyes, not entirely sure if this was going to hurt or not. He disappeared through the wavering gate. There was a loud "Pop!" as the gate snapped shut and the loft was quiet, except for the thumping sound of someone coming up the ladder.

"Oh, bad," said Dugal as he stared at the gutted Drow on the floor.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Cedric awoke slowly. He attempted to move but there were sharp pains in his hands and feet. As his head became clearer he realized there was a cloth over his eyes so he could not see. He seemed to be sitting, his hands bound behind him. There was a foul odor in the air, as if someone had been dead for weeks. I hope that's not me, thought Cedric as he assessed his situation. He tried to call out, but a gag prevented him from speaking. Where am I, he thought, his mind still swimming.

The last thing he remembered was trying to keep the tent from being dragged into a portal that had opened in the hayloft. He remembered killing one of them, running for the gate, flying through the portal and then .... well, waking up like this. So to answer his own question, he was definitely NOT in Rhiassa and could be anywhere, and any when for that matter. The last tent caper had been in old Rhiassa, so if these were the same people then that was where he was; old Rhiassa.

Cedric's gag came off with a snap and the cloth over his eyes was lifted. Before him stood an ebony skinned woman clad in a black and silver dress, her silver hair draped over her left shoulder, showing her right elfin ear. She smiled at Cedric and a chill ran up the back of his spine. He had heard tales of the quest into Niffelheim, of knights and squires screaming as their skin was pulled slowly off their bodies by these lovely but deadly priestesses. Cedric shoved his fear deep inside; he would not give her the satisfaction of seeing his emotions.

"What do you want from me?" he asked, staring into her dark eyes. Her smile became a grin as her arm flashed out in front of her. Cedric lurched in pain as her dagger drew a line of blood across his cheek, but he did not cry out.

"Rudeness is not tolerated here, little squire," said the Drow Priestess gently, placing her dagger to her lips to lick his blood. "You would do better if you did not speak unless asked to speak. However I will answer your question, because you amuse me. I want you to sit there and slowly die after a few days. But first I want you to be the bait that brings your lord into our waiting trap. Old King Duncan will die soon after you do. But we are not entirely inhospitable." she raised her eyes to look behind him. "Feed him and then begin to ... converse with our guest. I will return soon to see your progress." She took one last glance at Cedric and left through a flap in the wall.

I must be in a tent somewhere, thought Cedric as he tried to see the other person in the tent. He strained his eyes to the right, but could not see who or what it was behind him. The stench, however, was getting worse.

A smaller Drow woman dressed like the other priestess walked around to where he could see her. She had a wooden plate and it took a moment for Cedric to realize that it was the plate the stench was coming from. She held it up to his nose and he gagged from the fumes. It looked like a sheep's intestine cooked with something dark inside it.

"Yummy, isn"t it?" asked the priestess smiling a fearfully sweet smile. Cedric knew she intended to simply shove the hot sheep's intestine down his throat. I've got to do something, he thought wildly. What would Sir Duncan do? What would Sir Callin do? What would Sir Shane do? Shane, he thought grimly, would swallow it down and ask for seconds. At the thought of that, Cedric almost threw up again.

"Are you ready, little squire?" asked the priestess. She held the plate directly up to his lips while pulling out a kris blade dagger with her free hand. I KNOW this is going to hurt thought Cedric as the hot intestine reached his mouth.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

"I hope you"re hungry." said the Drow priestess as she slowly pushed the hot sheep's intestine toward Cedric's lips. Somehow Cedric knew this disgusting meal was not sheep, but it was easier to think along those lines. He closed his eyes as his possibly last meal brushed his lips, hoping to shut out at least one of his senses. If I only had my sword he thought as the slimy, burning food finally made contact.

There was a slight wind that passed under his nose that made a'swoosh" sound and the smell and feel of the food suddenly vanished. Cedric opened his eyes. It was sitting in a tent pole, neatly skewered by an arrow. Cedric smiled. He knew the fletching on that arrow.

"What.....?" said the Priestess who was suddenly covered with arrows and blood. She staggered back and fell to the ground. There was a ripping sound and a good third of the tent wall came crashing down. There before him were five women in red tabards with bows, while a large man with a knife pulled away the fabric.

"The Rhiassan Archer's Guild to the rescue!" shouted Fallon as they rushed the tent. There was another flurry of arrows at the Drow priestess as she tried to get off the floor. Mandrake came around behind Cedric and cut his ropes.

"What's new, Cedric?" said Mandrake with a wide smile.

"Not much," said Cedric, rubbing his feet and his wrists to get back circulation "That was some great shooting. How did you know where to fire?"

Mandrake gave him a wry grin. "Lucky guess?"

Cedric frowned a bit. "Are you saying you would have shot me too?"

Mandrake shrugged.

"In most countries, thirty five percent fatality is considered acceptable in terrorist hostage situations. Besides, we can raise you later. Speaking of later, we have got to hurry; Sir Myriel can"t hold the gate for long." Another volley of arrows were shot into the Drow priestess as Cedric and Mandrake escaped the tent.

"We may not be able to kill her, but we can piss her off for a while," said Myrrh to Cedric as he and Mandrake approached. There was a commotion in another nearby tent. Dugal and Lord Duncan burst out of the tent with a large black and red object under their arms. It was very clear to all of them that they would have to book it for the portal. A knight of Eagle's Rook can"t hold a portal for more than thirty seconds, thought Cedric. I wonder who they got to help her?

There was a loud "BOOM" from behind them and Cedric turned to look. There were ten Drow priestesses on a platform with twenty Drow Knights running at a full tilt at them from beneath the scaffold.

"Magic Missile!" the priestesses screamed at once and a swarm of glowing balls began to make their way at great speed toward them.

"Run!" yelled Duncan.

They all took off, Cedric following the others because he had no clue where the gate was. Balls of hot energy exploded about them. One enveloped the head of Lord Duncan with a sound "FOOMP!" Lord Duncan shrugged it off, but was glad he had made that new, and now charred, helm. A few confused Drow came out of their tents to see what was going on and were immediately cut down by the Archer's Guild.

They turned toward a small thicket at the edge of the Drow camp. Magic Missiles were still raining down about them. There, right before the thicket was a shimmering portal. A woman clad in chainmail stood in the portal pushing at the sides of it with all of her strength. Sir Myriel called out:

"You have ten seconds!" Cedric could vaguely make out Junior and Sir Randal the Light behind her. Quickly the Archer's Guild moved through the gate, followed by Lord Duncan, Dugal and the tent. A Magic Missile hit Cedric in the leg.

"Now that hurt!" he screamed as he stumbled into Sir Myriel, who fell back. The portal promptly snapped shut behind the two falling figures, leaving the Drow Knights who were closer than they knew to stumble into the thicket...

* * * * * * * * * *

 

Sir Myriel, Cedric, Junior and Sir Randal the Light lay sprawled on the floor of the hayloft. The Archer's Guild, Dugal and Lord Duncan stood ready to take on the approaching horde, which did not appear after the portal Sir Myriel had held open with the help of Randal and Junior's magic closed. The four of them rose to their feet , Junior healing Cedric's leg and cheek; wounds gathered from his ordeal.

"Good job everyone," said Duncan who lovingly placed the tent back in its place in the hayloft.

'so what's going on?" asked Sir Randal inquisitively, pulling out his book and a pen.

"How did you all know where I was?" asked Cedric. They all began to descend the stairs to find a more hospitable place to talk. Sir Myriel explained as they headed into the Rhiassan fortress.

"Apparently," she said with some seriousness. "Dugal found a dead Drow in the loft and came running to tell your lord. I happened to be here on business and Sir Randal just conveniently showed up and we devised a way with his magic, Junior's magic and my knightly powers to open the gate you went through."

"How did you know it was a gate we had gone through?" replied Cedric, still a little confused.

" We used Junior's Divine Intervention to find out where when and how you had gone. The rest was really academic."

'so what happened over there?" asked Sir Randal insistently, who had been listening in to the conversation.

By the time they had entered the great hall, Cedric had told his tale to Sir Randal and Sir Myriel. The servants brought drinks for them all and Cedric told his tale once again so that everyone knew what had happened.

"Hmmmmmmm." said Randal, who began to scribble in his book while stroking his chin (a difficult skill that Randal performed very well.)

'so what do you make out of all this, Sir Randal?" asked Duncan as he sipped slowly on his ale.

"Well....., um, see..." stammered Sir Randal, " it seems to me that time in Old Rhiassa is... newer than the time of New Rhiassa, or at least the Drow, um, think that way and that perhaps the tent and / or Sir Duncan are pivotal, um, things, in the main um, time stream."

"What did he just say?" whispered Myrrh to Mandrake. Mandrake shrugged. Sir Myriel, who had dealt with Randal for many years, offered to explain.

'so what you are saying is they thought Lord Duncan was somehow a King Duncan who ruled Old Rhiassa hundreds of years ago and his tent made some kind of significance to the initial founding of Old Rhiassa?" Sir Randal smiled a little at Sir Myriel.

'sort of," he said, flipping through his book. " I think that, um, they think Duncan and his tent will, um, show up in the past sometime in your future and by stopping it they will, um, maybe, win a few hundred years sooner. Maybe." Cedric's eyes opened wide as he realized what Sir Randal was saying.

'so if they take him out now, they think Rhiassa will never be founded."

"But there was never a King Duncan in old Rhiassa," said Lord Duncan, thinking back on the history of the devastated lands. Randal shrugged.

"Things aren"t always as they seem. Um... since they were from the Nexus, perhaps they are not from our time, but from another time line." Myriel nodded her head.

"When I entered the Fay a long time ago, we encountered a world ruled by alternate selves. Maybe in this way you, Lord Duncan, or another you do go back in time?" Junior sat straight up in his seat.

"Luthrien Blades!" he yelled.

"What?" asked Fallon who had almost fallen asleep.

"Maybe," said Junior excitedly, "we go back in time by some means to obtain more Luthrien blades. Since no more can be made, the only way to do it is to go back in time and meet the Silver Elves of hundreds of years ago and ask them to make them, or to ask Luthrien himself!" Lord Duncan stood up.

"We have learned a great deal in the past few months. Indeed there may come a time when the Drow armies will attack again and we may need to be resourceful in our efforts to obtain more Luthrien blades to stop the Drow Knights. Keep these incidents in mind as you go out into the Realms, for there may come a day when this alternate reality may come to light. In the mean time, I have a lot to think about." He excused himself and headed to his chambers.

They all sat stunned for a moment, trying to drink in the possibility of an insane time circle, where they might be their own ancestors. This is really creepy, thought Fallon as she rose to follow Duncan. Sir Myriel talked in low tones with Sir Randal, who sat rapidly stroking his chin. Cedric's stomach rumbled and he realized he had not eaten in quite a while. He stopped a serving girl who was picking up their tankards.

"What's for dinner?" he asked, his stomach grumbling louder as if to add its own questions.

"Well," she said thoughtfully, "The Queen is stopping by tonight along with her guards, so the cook thought it would be good to make a traditional Highland meal." Cedric paled.

'so what are we having?"

"Haggis." she said, at which Cedric turned three shades of green and ran out of the room.

"What was that all about?" asked Myrrh, hearing the wretching noises echoing from the corridor.


Printed in the October 1997 View from Valehaven


Untitled


by Alan Nelson

 

An old man walks through the convoluted passageways of the Web of Fate. His spell of Light illuminated the corridors only dimly. Once again he cursed the curiosity that led him to this place...curiosity he has thought he had long outgrown. For a long time he could perceive gates to other worlds... but to him they might not have existed at all.

For a reason he could not remember... the use of those gates were forbidden to him. A week ago, as near as he could figure, a Gateway appeared which he could use. He would have missed it had his light spell not gone out at that precise moment. Illuminated by his light spell, the Gateway had been all but invisible. In the darkness, it glowed dimly. Strange behavior for a Gateway...

Shaking his head, the old man stopped his reminiscing and continued onward. He no longer attempted to try and keep track of where he was. He was certain that he was lost the second he stepped through the Gateway. He recognized the passageways for what they were... constructs of the Webmistress. Not that he was any great expert on the Lady of the Web... but when you travel the Void for two years you pick up a few things. He could not remember who he had learned it from, but he was sure he knew. His memory was sketchy like that. Some details firmly set, others may not have ever existed. Old age, he thought grimly, was not agreeing with him.

As if to emphasize that point, his knee gave out on him (again) and he staggered sideways. He was rather surprised when he actually fell THROUGH the wall. Muttering to himself, he got up. Illusionary wall... how quaint. He surveyed his surroundings... and found himself staring into another Gateway.

If he was in the Web of Fate and in the presence of a Gateway... then he must be in the Nexxus (more trivia he picked up?) Gateways from this place could lead anywhere in the multiverse... at any time. If he stepped through that Gateway, he could be stranded wherever and whenever it led for eternity. How could he NOT try, however? What difference did it make whether he spent eternity here or wherever that Gateway led? He walked through....

...and found himself falling. A short time later, he hit the ground. He had done it again. Let his curiosity get the better of him again. He was about to start cursing to himself when he finally realized he was not alone.

He was in a circular chamber. The chamber was absolutely filled with Demonspawn. They danced their dance of death around a veiled woman who stood quite calmly in the center of it all. Shadows on the walls mirrored the movements of the Demonspawn's dance. Despite the fact that the he could not see the veiled woman's face at all, he had the impression that she was looking right at him. Which was only strange because nothing else in the room seemed to be paying him any attention at all.

Demonspawn? Where did THAT piece of information come from? The Demonspawn were almost never seen outside the nether planes. They were the infantry in the endless War which the powers of the nether planes waged against each other.

Quite suddenly the Demonspawn stopped their dance. (It was disconcerting to note that the shadows on the walls continued to do so.) The Demonspawn parted and a solitary figure walked in the chamber. From WHERE the old man could not figure out, since there was no exits. The dark figure seemed nothing more than a man who only looked tall because all the Demonspawn around him were hunched over or on their knees. The dark figure walked up to the veiled woman. The old man got the impression that the veiled woman's gaze shifted from himself to that figure... despite the face the she did not move at all.

"Greetings, Webmistress." The dark figure spoke. His voice could have been the voice of any man.

"Greetings, Demon Prince." HER voice was definitely not human. The whole greeting seemed to have an air of practiced ease about it... as if they had spoken these words to each other a thousand times before.

"It has been a thousand years since you first became my guest here." No trace of sarcasm. "For that time, the Web has spun itself out unguided by your hand. Since the time of your binding, the only contact you have had with the Web is the single thread you happened to be working on when I took you.. I see you hold it still." The old man could see nothing in the veiled woman's hands. The Webmistress said nothing.

"I wish you would not be so stubborn about this. The amount of work you would have had to done to accommodate me is insignificant compared to the work ahead of you once you are free to return to the Web. I will not presume to know your work, but I imagine that the Weave is quite a tangle by now!" The old man could not see the face of the dark figure, but he thought he could feel his smile.

"Perhaps you are correct, Demon Prince." Her tone was matter of fact.

The figure looked startled. "For a thousand years, the only words I have ever heard from your lips have been "Greetings, Demon Prince". Now suddenly you seem ready to cooperate. Why now?"

"I have not said I would cooperate, Demon Prince. I would hear your terms once again."

"The terms are the same that they have been for the last millennia. Why do you need to hear them again?" the dark figured looked angry and anxious at the same time.

"I did not say I needed to hear your terms again, Demon Prince. Only that I would hear them."

"Fine. I want you to protect my existence with Prophecy. In return for this, I will release you from the binding." The dark figure looked eager.

"You offer is unacceptable, Demon Prince." She gave no reason. The dark figure merely nodded, as if he expected this answer.

'very well, Webmistress. I want you to protect my existence with Prophecy. I want your complete cooperation in this matter. In return for this, I will release you from the binding. Furthermore, neither I nor any of my minions shall directly or indirectly interfere with you or the Web for the remainder of time itself. I swear this by my truename, the Demon Prince Machiavelli."

Machiavelli? Why does that sound familiar? It brings an acquaintance to mind... Carl? No, no, no.... Kel. The old man was surprised he could remember the name. Typically, it was the only detail he could remember. Who was this Kel? What does he have to do with anything?

"Agreed, Demon Prince."

The dark figure laughed. He spoke a few words of magic. There was a flash of light around the veiled woman, but she did not move.

"I can wait a few months if it would help any." The dark figure sounded smug.

"After a millennia of neglect, Demon Prince, a few hours will hardly make any difference." The veiled woman's tone had not changed. She was free of the spell it seemed, but not of her oath. She had not sworn anything by her own truename. It was quite possible, however, that the Webmistress could not lie. The old man thought that he read that somewhere once.

"Then let us begin."

"Do you understand what Prophecy entails, Demon Prince?"

"I understand the basics. Prophecy simply states the requirements for a certain event to take place."

"It is more than that, Demon Prince, but for our purposes that limited understanding is sufficient." Her tone still had not changed, but the old man would swear she was being condescending. The Demon Prince seemed to pick up on it, too.

"I wish to set the conditions for the termination of my existence."

"You realize that the conditions you set must be able to exist, Demon Prince?"

"Anything is possible, Webmistress."

"You are incorrect, Demon Prince. In the beginning of time, anything was possible. As events unfold, the boundaries of possibility narrow. The end of time will coincide when there are no possibilities left within those boundaries."

"I see." The Demon Prince did not seem to doubt the words of the Webmistress. Evidently he did not think that she could lie, either.

'so what CAN you do?"

"I can alter the boundaries of possibility, Demon Prince. I can make sure that all of the possibilities that end with your demise fall outside those boundaries... save one."

The Demon Prince thought a bit. "If you can change the boundaries of possibilities, then anything IS possible."

"That is incorrect, Demon Prince. I can only actively narrow the possibilities... the reverse is not true. I do not take this lightly. Narrowing the boundaries of possibilities brings the end of time closer to the present. You would not want to triumph only to have time end a few years after your victory." The old man could swear she was being snide.

"I will need to think on this some more. I will get back to you on the conditions I would like to set. For now, feel free to return to your work on the Weave."

"What makes you think I have not been at work on the Weave, Demon Prince?" With that, the woman turned and began to talk away. As she made her way across the floor, she slowly began to fade from view. Just as she was about disappear completely, the old man saw her hold out hand. The hand held a silvery thread of some variety. She gave the thread a tug.

At that moment, the old man felt like he was jerked off his feet. His surroundings changed abruptly.

He was definitely getting too old for this.


Printed in the November 1997 View from Valehaven


The One That Got Away...


by Carmilla Qwill

 

"... and there she be still, luring honest men to their doom with her unearthly voice, and slaying them without remorse, drowning them deep in the waters of her lake." The storyteller drained his mug and slammed it down with a bang onto Lady Dee's counter to punctuate the end of his tale. There was a moment of respectful silence from his audience as Dee refilled his glass.

"Well, I, for one, do not believe a word of it!" Sir Daniel Roseblade stepped forward out of the shadows, and handed his mug to Wil to be refilled.

"Tis true, I assure you," said the storyteller. "I have seen the place myself, and heard the tales of the local peasants. They have petitioned their lord for a quest to slay the foul monster."

"Do you mean to tell me that some sweet, pretty, innocent girl falls into a lake accidentally on her first date, and suddenly becomes some man-hating water demon with a thing for murder? Sounds fishy to me. In fact, it sounds like the poor child needs to be rescued, not destroyed."

"Well, fine," said the storyteller, peeved to find his credibility undermined, " if you"re such a hero, why don"t you go rescue the pretty girl"! See how long you last against her evil powers!"

"I think..." said Sir Daniel. " I think I shall do exactly that." He drained his mug once again, pulled his cloak over his shoulders, and swept out of the room.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

It was a warm summer night, and the woods were full of the noises of living things. Sir Daniel rode his bay mare down the forest path, his way lit by moon and stars. His armor rang like chimes as he moved in rhythm with the horse, and he travelled in a pool of quiet as the small creatures of the night woods stilled their small motions to watch him ride by.

Ahead Sir Daniel could see the edge of the forest where it touched the shores of a lake " the very place he had come to see. He rode to its very edge, then dismounted, but did not tether his horse. He lit a candle in a copper and glass lantern. No fire tonight. He would not leave open flames in the woods when he might be unable to ensure that they went out. No more would he tether his horse, for fear he would not be back to free it. The mare was well trained to his hand and voice. She was well content with her kind and gentle master, and was not inclined to stray far from his side, not as long as there were apples in his saddlebags. Sir Daniel removed the mare's saddle and bridle, and she moved to the grassy edge of the lake.

Sir Daniel settled himself with his back to a tree, and began to empty his saddlebags. The bedroll went behind him to cushion his spine against the rough bark. A well worn diary was laid carefully next to him so as not to damage the ancient and well-used spine, and a pen and inkwell were placed within easy reach. And out of the depths of his bag, Sir Daniel pulled out his small horde of sweets. He did not often indulge his love of candy and comfits, but here on this warm summer evening, by the edge of this lovely lake, and with the potential for a bit of adventure later on, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take pleasure in simple and childlike delights.

He looked at his little horde, considering jewel-like barley sugar shapes, and spicy bits of crystallized ginger, sweet paper-wrapped taffy, and even a small box of Lady Cassia's prized chocolates. But his hand finally fell on a small, wide-mouthed, wax-sealed jar. He carefully broke the seal, reached in, and pulled out a small square of dripping, fragrant honeycomb. He leaned back, diary propped on his knee, pen in his hand, chewing the soft wax with the taste of rich buckwheat honey filling his mouth. Gradually, the flavor weakened, and the wax began to harden, and, eventually, he spat the small blob of wax out into his hand, and moved as if he intended to throw it into the bushes behind him. Instead, he paused, the damp blob in the palm of his hand, and the edge of his mouth quirked, as if he almost smiled.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

She rose from the water, green weed draped about her delicate frame like a gown, hair sleek and black against her pale skin. Her lips opened, and her voice filled the night, eerie and irresistible. And Daniel rose from his scribing at her gesture, and walked into the cold lake water without a flinch. To his knees it rose, then to his waist, and the maiden gazed at him with sorrow-filled eyes as the Thing reached out from it's deep hiding place to capture it's spell-bound prey. But the prey moved, dodging the Thing's grasping tentacle. And then it swept at the tentacle in return, and the Thing knew pain. Nothing like this had happened before in the Thing's long existence. Never had the prey fought back. The Thing's simple mind roiled in consternation as the point of Sir Daniel's sword penetrated it's single huge eye.

The maiden's song cut off as if the sword had severed it's melody instead of the life of the creature that forced it from her. The girl gasped, open-mouthed, stumbled, shivered, and then fainted, collapsing into the chill waters of the lake. Daniel caught her up out of the water, and carried her to land, where he wrapped her in a blanket and built a fire to warm her, before beginning the laborious process of getting all of the beeswax out of his ears.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

It was early morning when Sir Daniel walked into the nearby village, the maiden clothed in Daniel's spare tunic and wrapped in his cloak, and riding on his mare. The few people who were awake that early turned to stare at the strange pair, and a hoarse male voice cried out from within the shadows of the smithy as one of the pair was recognized. The girl scrambled down off the mare and set off at a run, to be met halfway by a burly young man in fire-scorched leather. The smith wrapped her in a tight embrace, tears standing in his eyes as he held her.

Sir Daniel sighed. "Looks like it's me and you again, m"lady," he said to the mare. "What's the point of being a hero if all the pretty maidens you rescue are already in love with someone else. Doesn"t seem fair somehow." He turned to mount, as the mare shook her mane in apparent agreement, and he rode out of the village without a single glance back.

* * * * * * * * * *

 

"Hey, Danny-Boy, where've you been," Lady Dee called from across the bar as Sir Daniel backed through the door, dragging something behind him. Then she caught sight of what he was dragging. "Whoo-ee, but that is one HUGE fish! Where did you catch that monster? What a beauty!"

"Yeah," sighed Daniel, "It's ok... but you should have seen the one that got away!"

 


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