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“My lord, we've brought you your meal.”
The scratchy voice of my old servant echoed within my ears, but I ignored it for the vision outside my window. The night sky was vibrant, the stars bright pinpricks of light amidst the fog that covered the village below. The moon was large and bright, causing the fog to almost glow with an ephemeral silver light. The windows of the cottages below speckled the view with the occasional orange light, the hearth fires keeping things warm and cozy. It was beautiful, and it bored me to tears.
“My lord...?” My servant began again. This time, I turned to look at his offering. Another peasant girl stood cowering at his side, rope tied tightly around her wrists. The scent of fresh soap wafted to my nose, telling me my servants had freshly cleaned the girl. She'd been placed in a thin underdress, and I wondered if my servants had felt this would make me happier, or had simply deemed her original clothing too ragged to appear before me.
She didn't try to struggle against my servant's grip, which no doubt pleased him. I could see in her eyes the fear and resignation, knowledge of her imminent death sitting alongside hope that it would not hurt. How many times had I seen that exact same look upon the face of peasant girls? How many times had I seen the exact same curve of a chin, the same roundness of face, the same slope of breasts? This peasant girl was no different than the hundreds of others over the decades and centuries. Another plump sack of meat that held my sustenance. Likely had the same name as half the ones prior.
“What is your name, child?” I ask, not actually interested in her response. The question was something to pass a few more moments of the night, nothing more.
“M...Maria, lord.” Her voice shook only slightly. It was a pleasant voice, reminding me of the chimes of a bell.
“Ah, yes. After the virgin. Popular name, these days. I remember when it was otherwise. Do you ever wonder, Maria, how a desert religion became so entrenched this far north?” It was a question I posed to myself on occasion, when sitting in the plush fabric of my chair, surrounded by the velvet tapestries that covered the walls of my audience chamber.
“I...couldn't say, lord.” She replied hesitantly, as though unsure of why I was asking such questions. She kept her gaze averted, as if the mere act of looking upon me would bring her immediate death.
“Really, Maria? You've given no thought to your namesake? Is the religion of Saul of Tarsus no longer prominent within the countryside?” The possibility of hearing something new pinged my interest. Not much, hardly enough to bring more than a moment's worth of inflection to my voice. Still, it was something new, and novelty had become so rare in my life.
“No, lord. That...that is to say, our village still follows the word of God, but I haven't given much thought to my name. It's just what my parents have always called me.” She kept her head down, her eyes averted. For my part, the small moment of interest had died.
“I see.” My response was lackluster, as the conversation had failed to keep my interest. I could recall other times when the conversations would be much more entertaining. Girls with far more spirit than this one who would struggle and make demands. They would damn me to hell, insist that their God would seek vengeance for my crimes. Some would even try to fight, breaking away from my servant and making a path for the door.
This girl did none of those things. The resignation bored me, and her inability to give me even the slightest bit of entertainment annoyed me. Such things seemed to be the only source of annoyance any more, and annoyance seemed to be the only emotion I ever felt. Even so, the girl was not so upsetting that it brought more than a momentary memory of the emotion itself.
Finally, I left my place at the window. The fabric of my clothes rustled as I moved, causing me to wonder when I'd put them on in the first place. Had it been a week ago? A month? A servant had assured me they were the latest fashion, made by the finest tailor in the county, but I couldn't recall how long ago that had been. I recalled a time when I'd needed to change daily, lest the oils of my body cause damage. That had not been for a long time.
I moved to the girl, reaching my fingers under her chin. Her skin was warm and soft, bringing memories of a thousand gentle touches, a million soft caresses. A thousand faces merged into the one before me as I lifted her eyes to mine. She gasped, her eyes going wide as they met my gaze. I knew her thoughts from her face. The slight raise of her brow, the quickening of her heart, the quivering of her lips, they spoke of her emotions far too easily. Not that the emotions of human kind were a mystery to me after so long.
“P...please, lord...” her words were soft, holding a mixture of hope within their submissiveness that piqued my interest again. Many had pleaded for their lives, but only a few handfuls had managed to do so while maintaining submission to my will. Most simply fell apart in tears of desperation. I found myself wondering about this girl's parents, what they had taught her about her lord, about her place in the world.
“Please what, Maria?” I found myself asking. A few more moments time, a few more measly seconds that meant nothing to me but the world to her.
“I...I want to live, lord.” She begged with her eyes, but her voice held no question. She did not demand anything of me. She knew she was to be my meal, that such would take her life. She appeared to accept this eventuality. Yet she stated her desire, in hopes I would give in.
“All want to live, Maria. What makes you so worthy of the life so many others have had taken from them?” She had succeeded in gaining my interest once more. So rare had I found such a mix of submission and determination. No part of her wished to die, yet no part of her argued against her lord's desire. I'd seen such a mix so few times over the centuries, certainly fewer times than I'd seen the begging and the fighting.
“Nothing, lord,” her tone held a sincerity that was backed up by the look in her eyes. “I apologize if my desire displeases you.”
I moved her head about, guiding her by pressing gently on her chin. She moved her head obediently, allowing me to gaze at the skin of her neck. It was nothing special, nothing I hadn't seen a thousand times before on peasant girls and prostitutes. Nothing about the girl was special. Even the personality I found momentarily entertaining was nothing I hadn't seen before, even if I saw it rarely.
“And if I let you live, Maria, what would you do? What in your life is so important that you wish to remain?” My question sounded hollow in my own ears. It was no surprise, as I cared little for her answer. If she could manage to pass the time well enough for me, I might let her live. If not, she would be my evening meal.
“My parents, lord. They are ill, and with my brother off elsewhere, I'm the only one who can tend our crops.” Her eyes held no dishonesty. I'd have picked it up immediately. No, the girl wished to live for no reason other than she did not wish to leave her parents alone.
My interest was then grabbed by the sound of my hall doors being thrown open. I turned my gaze slowly, wondering at the intrusion. A man stood in my doorway, dressed in tanned leathers. He held in his grip a long sword that glowed faintly in the candle light, and blood dripped from it and his armor. The girl before me gasped at the sight of him, and only then did I care enough to notice that their faces were similar.
“Unhand my sister, monster!” The man screamed from where he stood. The girl before me didn't pull away, which caused me to wonder at her. She professed a desire to live, yet did not take the opportunity to run during the chaos?
I looked to inspect her even as my servants ran to deal with the intrusion. She held fear in her eyes, yes, but not for herself. Her gaze remained on the man who claimed to be her brother. I glanced back to the melee as I heard the death screams of my servants.
“Well,” I responded, trying and failing to put amusement in my voice, “it seems your parents will have someone to tend the crops after my meal.”
“Please, lord,” she said quickly, “do not kill my brother.” It was the only thing she'd asked of me since arriving in my hall. “I will gladly give myself to you, lord, if you'll only spare him.”
I know not what I'd have answered, because the man grabbed Maria from my grip then. He pulled her back behind him, raising his sword to attack. He swung his weapon, but he had no real hope of striking me. I moved to the side, the blade passing through the fabric of my clothing. A million battles burst forth in my mind, memories of battles with fearsome foes that sent my heart to racing, sent my fear of death screaming. This man was nothing.
“You are brave, boy,” I spoke more out of formality than concern. The man had risked his life to assault my castle, and had succeeded in making it to my audience chamber. He deserved ritual. “Do you come at me with magic, or merely a naked blade and love of your sister?”
“Please, lord! Spare him!” Maria screamed from behind him, but he did not waver in his stance.
“You've kept my village in fear for too long, monster! For years I've trained to be good enough to wield the sacred blade Terminus Est, and tonight you meet your final fate!” His voice was steady, and his face gave me no doubt that he believed his words.
“Well then, boy. Let us see if you can amuse me this night.” I raised my hand, summoning the black magics of my deathly birthright. A simple spell, to send forth a blast of magic, for I saw no reason to expend strength on the man. How old was he, I wondered as he raised his sword to block. An adult by human standards, certainly, but I had long since lost any concept of human years. He knocked aside my blasts as I'd expected, and lunged to attack.
I stepped to the side, letting his blade slide close to my shoulder. How long had he trained? I recognized the form of training, the sureness of his footfalls and strength of his grip. It must have been some time of his life. Years? Decades, even? Perhaps not, surely he didn't have more than two of them to his name.
I raised my arm again, bringing from the ground a pillar of hell's fire. He managed to jump back, though the scent of burnt flesh and fabric reached my nose. I could have ended the fight immediately, with nothing more than a single spell. He'd expended so much effort getting to me, however, and the nights were growing so long. The motions, for I could hardly call it a battle, distracted me for a time.
The screams of the girl echoed about my hall as the man swung his sword down against the ground. A wave of sparkling magic flew towards me, and I allowed it to strike me true. It flung me back, and I almost lost my footing. I recovered quickly enough, and side stepped as the man tried to follow up with another lunge. A sensation tingled within my chest, and it took me a moment to recognize it as pain. It had been so long since I'd felt it, I'd almost forgotten.
“Do you feel the power of the Lord's holy strength, monster?!” The man screamed as he tried again to strike me with his sword. I responded with another wave of dark magics, and this time the boy failed to block. The magics struck true, knocking him to the ground. How many times had I sent men to their deaths with simple magics? How many had I seen fall to the ground before me? Seeing this one brought me no joy, nor did his attempt to kill me bring me anger.
“If your lord had power over me, boy, he'd have no doubt killed me long ago.” I raised my hand again, once more summoning the magics of my birthright.
The boy sprung back to his feet, his face showing determination. He fought desperately for his life and the life of his sister. He was determined to kill me, or die rather than allow me to take her. She, meanwhile, screamed pleas for me to spare her brother's life. None of it concerned me. I could no longer recall the feeling of fighting for my life. The boy before me was no different than a thousand before who had been determined to end my life, and each one had failed. This boy would fail too, when I felt bored with the battle. Only, I had felt bored with the battle before it had even started.
He lunged again, and I let him. The
sensation that blossomed within my chest reminded me of times past,
when my battles mattered. It was pain, intense pain, which I had not
felt since before the night claimed me as its own. Yes, I decided as
the boy withdrew his sword and thrust it once more, death would be
the new experience I craved.
Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
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