Cute Knight Deluxe contest entry: Dark Fates

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Cute Knight Deluxe contest entry: Dark Fates

#1 Post by Ivy » Mon May 21, 2007 9:09 pm

Cecilia blew over her none-too-warm hands.
It shouldn't be that cold at the middle of June… A gust of damp wind made her shiver in her violet and pink gauze costume… well, violet and pink rags, if one had to be honest. The pale coloured gauze had looked quite lovely two years earlier, when she had bought the material at the shop, together with the cheap glass ornaments, and fashioned the fairy-like costume for herself. A slightly sexy fairy, to be sure, but what a success it had been! For two summers she had danced and sung her way to Magic class. It was hard to believe what a pretty face and a supple and partially uncovered body could make in the way of money. Not exactly enough to fund an entire course in Magic, but quite a good deal, and Cecilia had never cared for the spiteful looks her classmates had thrown her way. She had played defiant: after all, no one in the whole College had half her talent for magic, and the day would come when everyone would tremble before her, trying hard to make her forget how they had despised the girl who had to earn a living as a street dancer, amongst other things…
The sudden rumble of a thunder startled Cecilia out of her reverie. After hovering in the sky the whole day long, the early summer storm had unleashed, chasing everyone from the square. There was no point in staying there anymore, no one to dance for, and Cecilia broke into a run as the first, large, cold drops of rain fell from the darkening clouds. Her faded gauze dress and strangely hued hair were sodden when she took repair under the porch connecting the stables to the inn.
She hugged herself as tight as she could and sat fornlornly on a stone step, watching the pelting rain. She was cold and wet and had nowhere to go and, even if the few coins she had earned that day had been enough for a bowl of soup, she wouldn't have crossed the threshold of the inn.
Between thunderclaps, from within came a hum of loud talk and laughter and music, and Cecilia felt very much like crying. She could picture all too vividly the malevolent looks and the lewd sniggers that would meet her in the smoky room… Cecilia balled her fists and bit her under-lip. That was so unfair!
She watched as the lightening coloured the muddy yard, the roofs, the church's spire and the woods a livid white. She wished that lightening would set the whole town afire, she wished she could do it herself with some formidable charm, some charm she did not know, some charm she would never know, now…
The storm thundered on.
"I've heard you have been thrown out of Magic class…"
Cecilia could still hear Carmen's smug, mocking words and the sinking feeling they had given her.
"No… I didn't do anything…" she had stammered, but Carmen, gossiping, heartless, calculating Carmen had only shrugged and thrown over a shoulder that sickeningly false smile of hers, as she walked away. Carmen had no time to loose with a disgraced Magic student.
Still unbelieving, Cecilia had run all the way to the College and pounded on the door of the Magic classroom, until the Lady Orchid herself had come.
"No, not you." had said the Magic teacher "You are banned from this class: you have been giving my daughter dangerous ideas."
And the sparkle of hate in Orchid's eyes had driven home the truth of Carmen's words. Thrown out of Magic class.
Cecilia shivered again, both with the memory and the chilly rain that a capricious wind was blowing every way in the grey dusk. The storm had subsided somewhat, leaving behind a heavy, dull rain and the wind. Much as she tried to rub some warmth into her bare arms, she felt wretchedly uncomfortable. The light of candles shone so invitingly out of the inn windows… Cecilia shrugged the temptation off and dragged herself to her feet. May be her defiant days were far gone, may be she had just had all she could stand for that night, but she would not go begging for a place near the fire…
Besides, there were other ways to get a warm place for the night.
With a sigh, Cecilia threw a glance around to make sure no one saw her. She spared a wry smile to herself: apart the glow from the inn windows, it had grown pitch dark… but living in the streets had given her the cautious instincts of a hunted creature. She did not like to dwell on just what sort of creature… Shaking the thought away with a toss of her head, she slid noiselessly and unobserved in the inn stables and crouched in the darkest corner she could find. She knew that somewhere, on the other end of the low building, some stable-boy was keeping guard on the horses, either grumbling to his bad luck or sneezing on the job. Cecilia hoped it would be fat, slow-witted Bert: the man made a point to be thoroughly unpleasant to her whenever he got the chance, but on such a chilly night, it would take nothing less than a full-scale horse theft to draw him from his cot and his cheap drink. Cecilia waited for a short while and, when she was sure her entrance had caused no alarm, she stole in the first stall, praying the wooden door would not creak. It didn't, but Cecilia was started to find the stall was not empty as she had believed. A small, sleek mare stood there and looked disapprovingly at the bedraggled girl invading her quarters. The animal snorted softly and even started a plaintive neigh.
- Oh, don't! -whispered Cecilia, tentatively laying a hand on the mare's neck- Shush, shush… please? -
The beast reared swiftly, more in objection to the unwanted contact than in fear, and in so doing stirred her bridles, that were hung nearby and apparently sported a quantity of small silver bells.
The faint tinkle almost made Cecilia scream. She swore softly, instead, and took a step away from the mare.
- All right! -she hissed- I'm not touching you! Just let me stay and you won't even know I'm here…How would you like to sleep out in the rain? -She felt silly, reasoning with a horse, but somehow her whispers calmed the mare, who gave another low snort but did not object otherwise when Cecilia curled down in the straw, as far as she could from her unwilling hostess. She lay there, straining her ears to hear whether the stable-boy had been roused, but nothing came from the far end of the stables, except the occasional thump of a shoed hoof, equine snort and softer, unmistakable human snoring.
Cecilia let out a small sigh of relief and wiggled to a slightly more comfortable position. That was definitely better. The straw was clean enough ,the rain was drumming a steady pattern on the tiled roof, and the air , much as it smelled of horses and straw, was reasonably warm. Even the presence of the other occupant of the stall felt oddly comforting.
- See? -Cecilia whispered, as she allowed her tired muscles to relax- And don't tell me I'm bothering you, because I'm not… -
The mare just sniffed, but very quietly.
Cecilia was almost asleep when a sudden noise startled her. She sprang to her knees. Someone had entered the stables with a lantern. Before she had the time to hope the intruder would pass by without seeing her, Cecilia had instinctively scrambled to her feet, her hand on the handle of the wavy kris she always wore in her belt. The sudden movement startled a loud neigh out of the mare, and Cecilia cursed herself as a man kicked the stall-door open. The lantern he held high in his right hand blinded Cecilia too much for her to see anything of the stranger beside a glimpse of brightly coloured clothes, a small, slight figure and a gleam of steel.
At least, she thought, it was not Bert.
As the man made no threatening move, at least, nothing more threatening than brandishing a dagger, Cecilia dared to hope she could talk herself out of this particular corner.
- And what do you think you are doing? -she asked, lifting her chin in her haughtiest manner.
A chuckle came from the stranger.
- May I perhaps ask what do you think you are doing? -he replied, in the most mocking voice Cecilia had ever heard.
Now, if only this man were not the owner of the mare…
- Not that it is any concern of yours, -she snapped back- but I just arrived and I am taking care of my mount myself, since the servants of this place do not strike me as particularly eager… -
She was all too aware of how ill both tone and words would match her dishevelled appearance, but you don't earn a living, let alone Magic School, by performing in the streets without learning to keep up a creditable pretence under the worst conditions.
Nonetheless, she could hardly blame the stranger, when his answer came in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
- I see… -he said- You are taking care of your mount! Which appears to be perfectly dry, although you just arrived in the middle of a damnedly wet night and are, pardon my rudeness, quite wet yourself… -
Cecilia could have laughed at the oddness of it all: her beggar-like self and this dagger-wielding stranger engaged in the most polished verbal sparring in the inn stables… and, if one had to be honest, she was loosing ground.
- You need not concern yourself any further. -she said icily, with as much of a glare as she could muster- I can dry myself at the inn, before I start my performance. -
- Your performance… -repeated the stranger, in that maddening way of his.
- You heard that right! -Cecilia snapped- I happen to be a dancer. I happen to be here to entertain the guests. -
She was not sure this was a wise move, although it could vaguely explain her apparel…
It wasn't, after all. Somehow, this seemed to pique the stranger more than all the rest.
- It happens, -he shot back, a new edge to his voice- that the guests are already being entertained. By me, you know. -
Cecilia's heart sank.
- This is ridiculous! -she exclaimed, in a last desperate attempt- I'll have the innkeeper explain himself! I'm not used to share my audience with… with… -she measured her opponent with a glance as he finally hung the lantern on a hook, revealing a mop of flaxen hair and particoloured clothes of purple and green- …With a mountebank! -
She would have stalked out in feigned indignation, perfectly happy to leave it at that, but the man caught her wrist in a surprisingly strong hold.
- Nice try! -he laughed, giving her a mock bow- I might even have bought it. Except, you see, this is my mount. -
There, inwardly raved Cecilia, just her luck! She wriggled savagely, trying to free her wrist, but the blond man, whose eyes managed to look both very amused and very hard, wouldn't let go.
- So-o! -he said, giving Cecilia a spin so that he could look her in the face- What do we have here? A thief? -
Given the circumstances, the assumption was not completely unfair, and there were many less bland descriptions the mare's owner could have turned up with, and yet the accusation stung Cecilia as a slap in the face. However, she was spared the choice between being called a thief and throwing herself at the mercy of the stranger when a rougher hand wrenched her free from the blond man's grasp, and she found herself manhandled by the forgotten stable-boy, Bert.
- Let me go, you oaf! -screamed Cecilia, and Bert shook her rudely by the arm.
- Happen I'll teach yer manners, before! -sneered the stable-boy, and threw the girl to the ground.
Quick as lighting, the kris appeared in Cecilia's hand. It was an impressive little weapon, in its way, with its water-like gleaming blade and the elegant hilt, but the girl handled it clumsily, and the beefy stable-hand only had to take a step forward and kick the weapon out of her hand.
Cecilia screeched with rage and scuttled back along the stall's wooden partition.
To her surprise, the stranger stepped between her and Bert.
- There's no need for that. -he said, in the calmest voice. He still had his dagger and Bert eyed him warily.
- I'll see to that one. -the stable-boy grumbled, reaching to grab Cecilia again- what did she steal from you? -
The blond man did not stir, except to throw a cold glance to Cecilia over his shoulder.
- Nothing, that I can see. -he said- I'm not even sure she is a thief. May be there was some misunderstanding. The lady says she's a dancer, come to perform at the inn… -he let the sentence trail as Bert broke in a roaring laugh.
- Ay, some lady, ain't you, 'Cilia? -he barked- And some dancer! But I'll teach yer a few steps, I tell yer… Out of my way, little feller! -
And then everything happened together. Bert gave a shove to the stranger, who stumbled back, and Cecilia did not stop to think. Even as she struggled to her feet, she made with her fingers the sign of the Sun right in Bert's face. A small bright light seemed to explode from the palm of the girl's hand, and the stable-boy staggered back, howling in pain and momentary blindness. Cecilia pushed past the two men and ran out in the rain, her worn satin slippers squishing in the mud.
She did not stop until she reached the porch of the College. The school was closed and would be for some weeks, there was little chance of anyone looking her up there. Too bad that the gates were closed and barred, and the stately portico offered very little shelter from the still pelting rain, but it would have to do for that night.
Breathless and shivering, Cecilia leant against the gate and slid to the marble threshold. She felt miserable. It was doubtful she would ever manage to sleep at the stables again, she had lost her kris, her arm hurt where Bert had grabbed her and her gauze dress had been torn in the struggle… Worse still, she had cast a spell and hurt someone! And all because of the green-and-purple-clad mountebank… Bitter, heart-wrenching sobs fought their way through her throat. When a child at the orphanage, Cecilia had made it a point of never crying, no matter what happened to her, always steadying herself with the dreams of the great mage she would become some day… how had she ended up like this, a shabby street dancer and worse, roughing it up in stormy nights, her chosen way barred forever, without hopes, without dreams, without a soul that cared for her… The irony of it all struck her there and then, making her sobs louder and louder. She had picked pockets in the streets, she had danced half naked, she had stolen rubbish from heaps in the slums, she had slept with men for money in order to pursue her dream and, for all this, what had cost her everything had been her one kind act. She had lost herself the day she had befriended one lonely, shy child, promised her to be her "big sister"… just because the child had seemed to care for her.
Exhausted, hurting, chilled, Cecilia sobbed more and more quietly, and eventually cried herself to an uneasy sleep, haunted with dreams of Rose, the only child of the Lady Orchid, and her own sworn sister.

In the stables, Bert rubbed his burning eyes, glad to see again the light of the blond man's lantern.
- The little bitch! -he grumbled, as he dragged himself to his feet- Always sneakin' around, drivin' a feller daft an' then doin' 'er dirty little tricks on 'im… -He halted in mid sentence as a golden gleam caught his still foggy eyes. In the straw, half hidden in it, lay Cecilia's kris, just where he had kicked it. It struck him that, apart from the satisfaction of knowing the girl had lost it, he could either keep it for himself or make some money out of it.
He bent and reached out to grab the weapon, but a swifter, slender-fingered hand beat him to it. Bert's jaw dropped, and he straightened to tower over the small, slightly built blond man.
- Look 'ere, little feller… -he began, but a better look at the man's steel blue eyes made him pause.
- I don't think this is yours.-the stranger observed, tilting his head just back enough to stare at the stable-hand. He held both the girl's kris and his own dagger.
- It ain't yourn, either… -Bert groused, but still he took a step back.
- True. -the blond man smiled, a sunny, devil-may-care smile that made Bert shudder- But you wanted to keep it. I, on the other hand, mean to give it back. -
And with these words he picked up his lantern and sauntered away, leaving a still dazed and very baffled Bert to scratch his none-too-clean head in the dark stables.

The next thing Cecilia knew was a hand on her forehead. Without losing time to figure who, where, why and what, she reached for her kris, only to find it missing. She struggled to sit up, and the world began to spin all around her.
- No use, you know… -said a man's voice- You don't have it any more. -
Cecilia wanted to cry out, but her sore throat and parched lips gave only a pitiful moan. She struggled feebly, but it made her all the more sick, and she found herself unaccountably thankful for the hand that was holding her shoulder.
- Steady, there! -ordered the voice- You've got a fever, and no wonder, sleeping in the rain like that… -
Cecilia cracked her eyelids open. The bright sunlight made her head hurt, and she squeezed them closed again. Even that hurt, but then, she was hurting everywhere.
- Take your hands off me… -she whispered and, with an agonizing effort, she managed to turn and bite deeply in the wrist of whoever was bothering her.
- Ow! -the man gave a startled yelp and shook her- You blasted vixen, you! -
He was still calling her names when Cecilia lost consciousness and pitched forward into his arms.

- Thank you, Doctor. -Cecilia said- Once more. -
The Doctor sighed and pushed his glasses back on his nose.
- You are very welcome, Cecilia. -he answered- I suppose it's no use telling you to take care? -
Cecilia shrugged.
- It just seems I can't keep out of trouble... -she murmured- I'm lucky you don't tire of patching me up. -
The Doctor eyed her, looking very thin and pale in her borrowed plain vest, and shook his head.
- I never will, -he said- but I think you could keep out of trouble doing something else than dancing in the streets… -He sighed again when he saw the girl's eyes harden.
Cecilia managed a tiny, forced laugh.
- And just who would want me for anything else? -she questioned, a touch of sharpness in her voice.
- You know I could use one more nurse. -the Doctor offered- And if you don't like it, Sister Anna can… -
Cecilia, mouth set and eyes cold, hugged harder the bundled remains of her tattered dancing dress and put out her chin, almost defying the Doctor to continue his list of merciful offers. She felt still weak after a week's fever, and she did not know how much longer she could stand the man's kindness.
- You should know better, by now. -she teased, with a feeble attempt at humour. She did not want to quarrel with the Doctor: she might need him again. She almost certainly would. And, if one had to be honest, he did not deserve it.
She was relieved when he just gave up, and the set of her shoulders relaxed a little.
- I should, indeed! -the Doctor grumbled, the sad expression in his eyes belying the anger in his voice- I don't know why I trouble at all with such a proud and stubborn creature as you!
- Don't, then! -shot back Cecilia- though I thank Heaven that you did until today… -
And she spun on her heels to leave. She did not turn when the Doctor called her back, but his next words made her stop.
- The man who brought you in… -curiosity made Cecilia throw a look over her shoulder, and what she saw sent her eyebrows high in surprise.
- Yes, the bard. -the Doctor was holding her own kris by the point- He left this for you. -
Cecilia took the weapon and frowned at it. She knew she had wondered about her blade's fate whenever she had been awake in the last week. She vaguely remembered Bert kicking it from her hand, she remembered herself pointlessly reaching for it, she remembered a voice telling her she had it no more, a stranger's voice…
- A very blond young man, a foreigner, I would guess, in bard's clothes… -there was the barest hint of a question in the Doctor's words.
Cecilia shrugged once more, tucked the kris in her belt and walked away.

Three nights after leaving the hospital, Cecilia was back at the College. The Summer Festival was being held there and, much as she had proposed to keep away from the balls and tournaments, there she was, tightly huddled in a mage's hooded robe, her heart thumping so hard that she could hardly believe it went unnoticed by the people crowding the torch-lit quads. Under the robe she was wearing her darned dancing gauzes, but it was a futile pretence and she had not even tried to find a spot to perform. For the second night in a row, she was hiding in the crowd, haunting the well-known courtyards and halls, craving to enter the Wizard's Challenge and not daring to do it.
Although she knew she had to cast a spell for the Lady Orchid to perceive her presence, she did not even venture into Merlin's Quad, along which ran the row of the twenty-four tall windows of the Hall of the Challenge. The Grand Quad, where every night people gathered to dance and celebrate the Solstice, was as near to the Hall as she could induce herself to go. It was more than she had managed the previous night, and for a short while Cecilia was almost proud of herself… But it was a very short while, and then she ran away, raging at herself. What was she trying to do? Even if she could overcome her fear of the Lady Orchid, was it not bad enough to have been banned from Magic Class, without being exposed in the middle of the Challenge? Orchid had made herself clear enough… Breathless, her heart racing wildly, Cecilia found herself in the gardens surrounding the College, where players, fire-eaters and jugglers were entertaining the merry crowd.
This, she thought, this was her place! There would be no more Magic for her, and she should learn to be thankful for summer nights and an abundance of bawdy onlookers! Swallowing the tears of anger that stung her eyes, Cecilia threw up her chin, forced a provocative smile on her lips and discarded her cloak. She chose the first well-lit spot that looked empty and marched there.
She clapped her hand over her head to command attention…
- No, thank you. -
The cold voice froze Cecilia where she stood, poised to dance.
- This is my place, you know. -Cecilia turned around to see who was addressing her- The guests, here, are already being entertained, 'Cilia! -
And there he stood, looking coolly at her, the stranger in the stables, the bard in purple and green clothes, the man who had brought her to the hospital…
- Don't call me that! -Cecilia screeched, her voice raising to an almost hysterical pitch- Stay away from me! -
The bard shrugged and unslung a lute from his shoulder.
- The latter is mutual. -he announced. He began as if to bow to her, and ended shoving her aside roughly enough. Which was no wise move. Many of the onlookers were men, the sort of men who would rather enjoy a piquant dance than hear old ballads. It was not out of chivalry that a good dozen of them closed on the killjoy who had chased the pretty dancer away, showering him with insults and more tangible compliments, in the form of rotten fruits.
Even as Cecilia threw her robe over her shoulders and scurried away in the crowd, the bard was forced to take a very similar leave in her trail, running for dear life or, at least, before his hitherto audience resorted to rocks and sticks.

Cecilia ran away from the festival. She found herself in the zone where the College gardens merged with the King's hunting woods. She had gone a good way before she paused to catch her breath in a small clearing amongst the firs, and only then it struck her that it might not be safe to wander alone in the woods at night. And, sure enough, when she strained her ears for danger, she was startled to catch the sound of running footsteps. And they were quite near, too… Calling herself names for not being more cautious, Cecilia reached for her kris and was stepping away from the moonlight to hide in the shadows, when a panting, angry voice stopped her.
- I saw you! -it grated bitterly- And you needn't fret, I wouldn't go near you for the world! Had I known you were here… You vixen! -
And Cecilia was very annoyed to see the bard again, his dishevelled hair glistening like pale gold in the moonlight, bent double, hands on knees, panting and breathless.
- What do you want with me, again? -she snarled as threateningly as she could, and brandishing her kris for good measure.
She rolled her eyes when the man made a great show of widening his eyes and staring at her, mouth agape, in a player's portrait of outraged surprise.
- What… do… I… want with you! -he gasped. Then threw up his hands and gave a sour laugh- I like this one! Honest, I like it! I find you trying to filch my mare, you almost slay a stableman and I get thrown out of the inn! Then I bring you to the hospital and you bite me for my troubles! Then I'm earning my bread like a honest man, and you come and stir up that mob to go for my throat… and you ask what I want with you! Doesn't this beat everything! -
To Cecilia's surprise, he was indeed acting, but only a little. He was really baffled and heated, enough to loose his elegant manner of speech. Besides, he was bellowing to the top of his lungs and gesticulating wildly with his lute.
She stepped in the moonlight.
- Will you quiet down! -she admonished sternly, but much of the sternness was lost in a not completely successful attempt to suppress a giggle.
- Right! -snorted the bard, in a fractionally quieter voice- All I need now are the guards flocking on me… With my luck, they're sure to think I'm out to murder you, so they'll drag me in jail and… and… -completely out of breath, the man gave up his tirade and bumped down to sit on the grass, legs crossed, lute across his knees- Will you quiet down, Kit…-he muttered darkly to himself.
He looked very much like a sulking boy but, now that she could take a good look at him, Cecilia had to own that he was rather handsome. Small and petulant, may be, but handsome nonetheless.
She took a couple of steps forward, and he looked up at her frowning in alarm. When he saw the kris gleaming in her hand, he shrugged dismissively and, Cecilia couldn't help thinking, with some relief.
- Just so that you know, -she retorted in a voice that sounded overeager in her own ears- I am a thief and many other things, but that night I wasn't trying to rob you! I only wanted a place to sleep, and you got me thrown out! -
The bard shrugged his shoulders, half apologetically, half in dismissal.
- Sorry for that, but considering, I guess it makes us even. -he grumbled, always keeping a wary eye on her- And no need to wave that thing at me, you know. Remember that it was I who gave it back to you. And besides, from what I saw at the inn, you hardly know how to handle it. -
It was Cecilia's turn to stare in amazement at the man's impudence.
- Do I! -she gasped- This from one who is all but cowering before a girl! I wonder just how you got my kris back from that oaf Bert at all! -
Unexpectedly, the bard grinned.
- Sheer effrontery and presence of mind, wisely blended. -he answered, without missing a beat- Although I fancy I could have held my own against your Bert. -
The man's smile was infectious. Cecilia found herself grinning back.
- The cheek of you! -she laughed out, and took a step forward, tucking the kris back in her belt. To her surprise, alarm flickered in the bard's eyes, and he scurried slightly back.
- Now, really… -his voice was tense under a veneer of carelessness- You are not going to enchant me or something, are you? -
Cecilia arched her brows in surprise.
- Silly of me, I know, - the bard chatted on, but never took his wary eyes from her hands -but I think Magic doesn't agree with my constitution… -
Cecilia laughed outright. Of course he could not know that she would not dare to use her Magic, not this near to the College, and in general not when she was in her right mind.
- So, -he soothed- remember my good deeds and don't, please don't throw charms at me, will you, 'Cilia? -
The laughter died in Cecilia's throat and her eyes narrowed to angry slits. Everyone at the orphanage had called her 'Cilia, and she had hated it. She hated it even more now that somehow the ugly syllables had turned up again in her dancing and begging days. But, if one had to be honest, the bard could not possibly know that…
- Let's make a deal. -she proposed in a low, icy voice- I won't cast spells at you, as long as you don't call me that!
- As long as I don't… -the bard was quite baffled- Oh… -
But before they could explore the issue any further, they were interrupted by a burst of loud voices. Six or seven men, apparently merrymakers who had enjoyed too much beer at the festival, staggered in the clearing, singing out of tune and laughing coarsely. They were carrying torches, and the dancing, smoky flames tore into the silvery darkness, making Cecilia and the bard blink.
- Ugh! The thing they are howling was my ballad! -grimaced the bard, and then either the recognition became mutual or the drunks decided they needed no particular reason to start a brawl. They threw themselves on the pair, clumsy with drunkenness but quite bent on making as much harm as they could.
- Oh, hell! -swore the bard, unsheathing his dagger and slinging his lute over his shoulder in one smooth motion. He slashed out at one of the assailants with some skill, or at least enough of it to make the man yelp and take a jump backwards, but this only served to make the attackers noisier, merrier and angrier to this one small man who confronted them.
The bard turned to Cecilia.
- Don't gape! -he yelled- Do something! -
Cecilia, whose inclination would have been to run, shrugged unhappily, but reached for her kris and attempted a lunge of her own. Apparently, it was not what the bard had hoped for. He rolled his eyes as the drunks roared laughs and coarse names at the girl. In the blink of an eye, beating several other brawnier hands, he caught Cecilia by the wrist.
- Run! -he shouted, and dragged her away in a mad dash for the cover of darkness.
They ran like hunted deer amongst the trees, bushes tearing at their clothes and thorns scratching their skin. Cecilia tried a few times to tug her wrist free of the man's grasp, at first, and she was ready to panic when she could not shake him off. She had already begun to move the fingers of her free hand in the sign of the Mirror, when a burst of angry shouts cleared her mind enough to quell the urge to use Magic. This cheeky bard was not the real danger… Their pursuers were, and the Lady Orchid, back in the Hall…
At length, the yells and footsteps died away. Cecilia supposed the men had tired of the chase. Or may be they were unwilling to continue it in the tricky darkness of the woods, for which she could not blame them.
She herself was out of breath, had tumbled twice in the mud and lost one of her satin slippers. Her side hurt from the effort and she felt blood trickle from various cuts and scratches all over her person. When she decided she had had enough, she did not waste either time or breath in arguing. She just threw herself on the ground, trusting that the bard should be too drained himself to run on dragging her dead weight. And fortunately, so he was. As though he had been expecting for nothing but this, he sank heavily by her. Cecilia strained her hears, but all she could hear was the hoot of an owl somewhere. Beside the heavy panting of two very exhausted people.
It was a while before either could find the breath to speak, and it was the bard to break the silence.
- Now, why… -he panted- why in blazes… didn't you charm them? -
Cecilia raised her head a little and lowered it again, with a half miserable, half angry sigh.
The man drew nearer on his knees and grabbed her by the shoulder.
- I mean it! -he whispered fiercely- Why didn't you blind them, or burn them, or whatever, eh? -
Cecilia made a feeble attempt to push him away.
- I can't. -she gasped.
The bard shook her a little.
- You could all right, that night at the stables! -he retorted distrustfully.
Cecilia shrugged free of his hold, fully incensed, now.
- Very well! -she seethed- Then I mustn't! I never do it, not when I'm in my right mind. I only charmed the stableman because I panicked…
- And you didn't panic, tonight? -cut in the bard.
Cecilia threw him a slightly guilty, sideways glance.
- As a matter of fact, yes… -she stammered- I almost charmed you, when you were dragging me that way… -
The bard stared at her in wide-eyed incredulity for a long instant and then, much to Cecilia's surprise, he collapsed on his back, laughing hard, and laughed until he was almost sick.
The whole time, Cecilia knelt by the laughing man, wringing her hands and throwing worried glances over her shoulder.
- Serves me right! -gasped the bard at length- Catch me trying to help a damsel in distress again!
- I'm sorry… -Cecilia found that she really was- Really, I'm sorry… you don't understand: she can sense it when I use Magic, it scares me… -
This seemed to sober the man enough to raise himself on his elbows and look at Cecilia with some appearance of gravity in his streaming eyes.
- Who is [i]she[/i]? -he asked, not unkindly.
Cecilia shook her head and was horrified to find her chin was trembling.
The bard sighed a long-suffering sigh and rose to his knees.
- Look, how shall I call you? -he insisted.
- Cecilia. -was the unsteady answer.
of all things, the bard chose to lift the girl's chin with his fingers.
- That's a name for a madrigal. -he whispered, a smile in his voice- Who is she, Cecilia? -
And Cecilia melted to this stranger's kindness as she had never melted, except to the sadness in little Rose's eyes and, not caring any more that tears streamed down her cheeks, told him. She told him about the orphanage, her dreams, the hope that had drawn her to the Lady Orchid's school. She told him about the unusual talent she had displayed and how it had won her the interest and regard of the Mistress of Magic. And she told him of her friendship with Orchid's young daughter, Rose, to whom she had agreed to be a big sister.
- …And when she found out that the child looked up to me, that she taught me hereditary charms and planned to enter the Challenge this Solstice because I would, she banned me from School. She ordered me to stay away from her and Rose, she told I had repaid her kindness betraying her trust, that Magic was forbidden to me from that day onwards, and that she would know if I disobeyed her ban, and punish me, and now and then she visits me in my nightmares, to make sure I don't forget… -Cecilia paused, drew a shaky sigh and shook her head- And that's it. They used to respect me, even if I was an orphan and a street dancer, they'd never dare to offend the Mistress of Magic's favourite pupil, but when I lost her favour… Well, you have seen it! -
Cecilia broke sobbing again. She stiffened when the bard drew her in an embrace. She sobbed harder and tried to disengage herself, but he would not let her go. She had already yielded so much, that night, she had told that man so much, she had accepted his kindness… it seemed natural, after a while, to lean in his embrace.
He cradled her gently, stroking her hair.
- I'm sorry I called you a mountebank. -she whimpered.
The man chuckled.
- You should be sorrier that you bit me, got me mobbed and almost roasted me… -he teased- But I'm sorry I called you a thief. I guess we are even, eh?
- I don't even know your name… -Cecilia murmured dreamily. She felt oddly safe in this man's arms.
- Kit. -he answered, and gave another of those dramatically patient sighs that seemed to be part of his repertoire when she did not completely stifle a giggle- I know, I know. A bard should be called something more flamboyant… But I'm just plain Kit. -
Cecilia allowed him to pick her up and lay her under a tree, where the ferns had grown in a thick, soft layer.
- See? -she whispered- I didn't bite you, this time. -
Kit laughed as he stretched himself beside her.
- That's nice, for a change. -he said.
Cecilia sighed. It took her a moment to realize it was a sigh of contentment. The warm summer night, the scent of the crushed ferns, the stars blinking amongst the leaves over her head, the crickets chirping in the grass and someone laying at her side, someone who had told her that she had a name fit for a madrigal and was not even trying to touch her… She had not felt so much at peace in years. So many years that she wondered whether she ever had.

Cecilia was awakened at dawn by the birds saluting daylight. She opened her eyes in the green dusk of the wood and the sight of leaves gently stirring in the morning breeze met her stare. She basked for a moment in the blurred memory of dreams. Real dreams, for once, blessedly not nightmares… She lifted her hands to rub her face and she felt the scratches and cuts of the night run, and it all came back to her. She turned to look and, as she had be half-expecting, half-fearing, Kit was gone.
She sat up with a sigh and proceed to take stock of herself. She wanted something to get angry about, and her ruined dress, lost slipper and assorted bruises and cuts looked like a sound reason to swear a good deal. One would see she could not dance in that state, and one would equally see how this would make her mad. Whereas, being mad at the bard for being kind to her and then leaving her to stumble back to her ugly life…

End of Part One
Last edited by Ivy on Mon May 21, 2007 11:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Apr 21, 2007 10:48 pm

Dark Fates - Part Two

#2 Post by Ivy » Mon May 21, 2007 9:18 pm

Dark Fates - Part Two

- My, my, my! -the amused voice made Cecilia nearly jump out of her skin- Such a pretty girl and such crude language! -
Cecilia turned to gape in stunned silence as Kit leisurely emerged from the bushes in his shirt and breeches and eyed her critically- Not that you are exactly ravishing, at the moment, but I fancy that if you could manage to close your mouth, get a good washing and some decent clothes, you would do well enough… -
Cecilia's hand ran to her surely dishevelled hair.
- You are still here! -she blurted out, and felt herself blushing.
Kit's eyebrows rose in a dramatically quizzical expression.
- No! Am I really? -he quipped. And, as he sat on the ferns, he offered her a handful of blackberries.
Cecilia let her hand fall in her lap and shook her head. It was not that she did not want the blackberries, but she was too busy swallowing down the lump in her throat. He was still there…
Kit shrugged and proceeded to eat the berries himself.
- You look rather stupid, just now. -he informed her grinning- Do something about it, will you, or I might reconsider my intentions to take you away with me.
- Take me… -Cecilia frowned at him, but hers was not a mightily convinced frown, particularly because tears were beginning to well in her eyes.
Kit nodded, grin still in place, a blue smear of berry juice on his cheek.
- I know, I'm insane and I'm sure to regret it, because you are as mad as a hare, but it occurred to me that, since you have nothing to keep you here and I could use someone to dance as I play… -he breezily explained- I might even teach you to sing, if you are a good girl. Once I've given you a slightly less disreputable appearance, that is. -
Bitter and angry rejections crowded on Cecilia's tongue. She had never accepted anyone's pity, and why should she… but this was different. Different from the long-suffering humanity of the doctor, from the distant compassion of Sister Anna… To go away! It was true, she had nothing to keep her in that place, only it had never occurred to her that her life might be better elsewhere. Dancing in the street was much the same wherever one was… But now, it all appeared to her under a different light, and the simple words "to go away" chimed joyously in her heart. To go away in the company of this conceited, droll, kind, volatile young man, to sing with him in places where no one would know her as the disgraceful 'Cilia, to be his lover… Cecilia was startled out of her reverie by the intense gaze of the man who sat by her. She had never noticed how deeply blue his eyes were.
- Well? -he prodded- How would you like to be a travelling bard's mistress? -
There was a smug confidence in his grin that made Cecilia's palms itch, but instead of slapping him on the face, as she thought she should, she found herself throwing her arms around his neck, laughing and crying.
- I… I think I wouldn't mind too much! -she sobbed, failing miserably to salvage her pride in the process.
Kit hugged her back, chuckling merrily in a way that made Cecilia's heart leap. It was good to know that the prospect of travelling with her should make him laugh in that contented way.
- First things first, though. -Kit said, after a happy while, as he gently disengaged himself from Cecilia, and kept her at harm's length. - I've been thinking. And I believe there's a thing you should do before we go. -
Cecilia looked at him dubiously. All of a sudden, he had turned very serious.
- Manage a slightly less disreputable appearance? -she quipped weakly, trying to quell her misgivings.
Kit shook his head.
- No. -he said gravely- I really think you should enter that tournament of yours. -
Cecilia frowned, passing from doubt to alarm as her mind reluctantly grasped the sense of Kit words.
- Tournament… -she muttered- You can't mean the Wizard's Challenge?
Kit shrugged away the matter of the name.
- Whatever. -he conceded, with a nod.
Cecilia paled and tried to shake herself free from his hands, but Kit would not let her go.
- Didn't you listen to a word I said? -she bit back, her voice shrill with raw fear- I can't! She would know, and… -
- How would she? -Kit cut in- How could she? -
Cecilia shook her head, russet locks dancing around her brow, and gave a short, bitter laugh.
- Oh, trust me! -she hissed- She would! She can sense my magic, she trained me!
- As well as almost every other damned contestant, I guess? -Kit countered, giving her a little shake- Can she tell everyone's magic apart?
- Yes!... No… I don't know… -faltered Cecilia. She really did not know, although it seemed hardly likely.
Kit nodded, squeezing her shoulders.
- Good. -he continued- And must you declare your name when you enter the Challenge? Must you?-
Cecilia strove to think clearly through the mist of terror clouding her mind.
- N… no… -she mused- Or at least… You should do so, but it is a long tradition that you can give a false name… -
Kit nodded again, more emphatically.
- Otherwise, your classmates would know only too well your ways, wouldn't they? -he insisted- And, by the same token, I guess you don't show your face?
- No… -Cecilia admitted.
- You go there conveniently wrapped up in your black cloak, hood down on your eyes, don't you? -he squeezed her shoulders again, smiling, willing her to see his point.
Cecilia broke free at last and turned her back to him.
- Yes! yes! -she burst- I guess one could, but not me! Why should I, after all… -
She stopped just a breath before her voice broke.
It was a while before Kit's voice came from behind, gentle and grave and yet just a little stern.
- Because you'll waste your life running away, unless you do. -he pointed out- And then you'll despise yourself, and regret will poison every moment of joy you'll ever have… -
Cecilia balled her fists and shut her eyes tight, as though she could keep away the truth in Kit's words. Because he was right, and that was what had kept her from going after she had been banned by the Lady Orchid, and she would never be free from her past and her magic, unless she entered the Challenge that night.

By the time the moon rose, Cecilia and Kit were pacing Merlin's Quad, hand in hand not to lose each other in the crowd. Cecilia was wrapped in her wizard's cloak, hood lowered on her eyes to hid her face and peculiar hair. Her heart was beating so hard she wondered how it was that it was not bursting out of her ribcage. With one hand she clutched Kit's fingers, with the other the folds of her cloak. She kept repeating mechanically that there was no way the Lady Orchid could possibly discern her magic in the midst of the Challenge, but her heart was not in it. If one had to be honest, she was almost sobbing with fear and left to Kit, in much soberer clothes than his bard's apparel, lead the way through the excited crowd. When he squeezed her hand, motioning towards the huge door of the Hall, Cecilia began to shiver violently.
- Now don't! -scolded the bard, concern so evident under his assumed sternness that even Cecilia saw it plainly through the act- You just go in there, cast a few spells, lose or win, no matter, then you walk out, we are off for good, and to hell with her! -
Cecilia nodded and drew a shaky breath.
- Give me a name. -she whispered, so low that she had to repeat it twice before the bard caught her words- A good-luck name to enter the Challenge. -
She did not look up at him, but could definitely hear the smile in his voice when, after the shortest hesitation, he said "Reagan".
Cecilia nodded, and was already a few paces away, walking like one entranced, when she turned and, in a steadier voice, asked what it meant.
Kit was just behind her.
- Where I come from, it means "Princess". -he explained, and smiled.
Cecilia smiled back, thankful that he understood, that he had not laughed away her request or dismissed it with the first silly name that came to his mind.
She straightened her shoulders and walked towards the door repeating softly to herself her new beautiful name. That way, it was a little easier to pretend her heart was not drumming hard enough to ache. Two men of the King's Guard stood by the huge door on the outside, and two of the Lady Orchid's assistants waited just inside. Cecilia ground her teeth in the effort to quell memories of the days when she had hoped to be one of them, someday… She walked past the soldiers and under the pointed archway. She did not need to look from under her hood to know how tall and imposing the Hall stood. The air felt thick with magic, and the silence was broken only by the hiss and sizzle of charms blazing around each other like cold multicoloured flames, and the voices of the arbiters watching the rounds. One of the wizards approached her in silence.
- I wish to join the Challenge. -Cecilia whispered, her voice trembling a little. It was just a ritual formula, but it was also the greatest lie she had ever told because, indeed, there was nothing she wished less. Or perhaps nothing she wished more… Cecilia shook her head to clear it, and would have missed the wizard's answer, had she not known that he was simply asking her name, according to tradition.
- I am Reagan. -she answered, pronouncing the name in the way Kit had. If they thought her a foreigner, all the better. The wizard just nodded and wrote down the name on the scroll he was carrying, then motioned her to a seat in the first row at the near end of the hall.
- You shall be called. -he said, and went back to the door. Cecilia almost sank in the high-backed seat. She had not expected to have so little time to wait: there were only two other contestants waiting before her. She sat there, as still as she could willing herself to concentrate and mostly failing, never looking up from her folded hands, not even when another contestant and then yet another came to sit next to her. Twice a name was called and one of the contestants ahead of Cecilia walked to the platforms. She hardly caught the names, and made no effort to remember them. When a man's deep voice called her own assumed named, she had a hard time stifling a strangled cry. It was well, if one had to be honest, that it had not been the Lady Orchid herself to call her, or she would easily have fled to the door… Cecilia rose slowly and, as steadily as she could, she walked to the platform where her first opponent waited. She took her place, planted firmly her bare feet on the wooden plank and crossed her arms. She so wished she had something to clutch to… some magic ring or one of those necklaces that boosted one's charms… But even her wand had been sold for some time, now… Her spirits rose a little when she saw who was in front of her. It was one of her former classmates, a boy a few years younger than herself, vain or silly enough to have entered the Challenge in his own name… He looked at the still, hooded figure across the platform with round, slightly dismayed eyes, and Cecilia almost smiled when he visibly swallowed as the arbiter called on them to begin the round.
Cecilia raised her arms and, fingers hidden in the folds of her cloak, she formed the sign of the Mirror. The boy's clumsy Incense charm, a whirl of white smoke, dissolved in mid-air against Cecilia's iridescent Incorporeal Mirror. The boy gaped, a little stunned, as the arbiter lifted a wide-cloaked hand and pointed the rainbow-crystal end of his wizard's staff towards Cecilia. Flushing angrily, the boy moved his fingers in full sight, in the sign of the Flame. That was even too easy! Cecilia covertly motioned another Mirror, and the boy's burst of fire shattered in a shower of sparks.
Intoxicated with the all-too-easy victory and the sheer joy of Magic running in her veins again, Cecilia smiled as the arbiter's rainbow-crystal rose toward her again, and the boy faltered and fell to his knees. He tried to rise, but the arbiter drummed the wooden end of his staff on the platform.
- Reagan wins this round and a 50 gold purse. -he announced.
Cecilia's heart jumped wildly. She had won, she had won a round! While a servant set a scarlet velvet pouch on her end of the platform and another assisted the defeated boy away, she cast a surreptitious look around. At the far end of the Hall, the Lady Orchid was superintending a far more advanced round; amongst the onlookers crowding at the door and windows, Kit was trying to look incospicuous and to draw her attention at once. She nodded slightly to him, but paid no heed at his increasingly frantic gestures of "come away". She would not quit, not like this, not while she was enjoying her Magic for the last time. She turned resolutely to face her second opponent, who answered to the name of Mortimer and looked far more experienced than the previous one. For one thing, he was as effectively wrapped up as Cecilia, which meant he was not new to the Challenge.
Cecilia was as concentrated as she had never hoped to be again, when the arbiter called for the beginning. Cecilia thought quickly. This man was sure to be far more powerful than she was… but she knew a few charms that were beyond her level of instruction… The ones Rose had given her, she could not use, but the ones she had learnt for herself…
She made the sign of the Scream, her most effective spell, just in time to send it howling through her opponent's Cloud. The rainbow-crystal rose towards her, and hushed gasps of surprise rose from the rows of seats at the end of the Hall. Cecilia had to steady herself and force her lungs to draw a few deep breaths: it was never easy to use the Scream…
Setting on something easier, she formed the sign of Lava. Too easy perhaps? She held her breath when the jet of liquid fire seemed to connect solidly with a small, silvery Moon. For a sizzling moment, the two spells battled, but eventually the Moon melted. Cecilia could see the fury burn in Mortimer's eyes, and the arbiter had barely lowered his staff when she hastened to conjure another Scream. The spell pierced the air and the small bat-like image of a Nightmare broke into a rain of velvet-black splinters. Cecilia was surprised: instead of getting angrier, Mortimer was displaying a small smile. Surely he expected she could cast something weaker, now, may be Lava again… Cecilia did not feel excessively inclined to use the Scream again, but she ground her teeth and did it. The Scream was not as powerful as the others, but it was more than enough for Mortimer's Smoke. Cecilia staggered a little under the strain. She had won the round, but she had hoped it was the last… instead, her opponent was still on his feet, pale and sweating but resolute, and through hazy eyed she saw him move him fingers in the shadow of his cloak… She could not possibly throw another Scream! Her fingers seemed to weigh like rocks as she moved them in the first sign that came to her mind: Lava again. It was sheer luck, because Mortimer's stream of Music would have defeated a Scream, but crackled and hissed as the incorporeal magma engulfed it.
Cecilia panted heavily, and felt herself swaying when the arbiter at last announced that Reagan had won the round and a second purse. Two servants came, this time: one with the velvet pouch, the other carrying a tray with a goblet on it.
- The Mana Potion, Mistress. -the girl asked. Cecilia accepted thankfully and sipped the blue liquid. Then she closed her eyes and concentrated, letting the potion work in rebuilding her strained power. She never looked where she knew Kit was. She knew he must be dancing with impatience to be gone, she knew he was right, but… "One more" she whispered to herself "Just one more and I can leave without regrets…"
The arbiter called the name of Alvina, and a small, cloaked and hooded person walked not from the seats but from the next platform, where she must have defeated an opponent. This was good, because she could not be so well rested either, and it was bad, because she had had at least one victory to build her confidence too… "An even match" Cecilia thought "My last…"
As the arbiter gave the sign, Cecilia cast a Mirror. A safe, not too powerful spell, but good enough to swallow the other's Star. A Star! perhaps the match was not so even… The other girl was by far her superior in the matter of spells… Cecilia ruefully contemplated the necessity of resorting to her own charms again. She conjured the Three Candles, only to see her ghostly flames drowned in a bubbling fall of purple-coloured Wine. The arbiter's rainbow-crystal rose towards Alvina. Frowning under her hood, Cecilia moved her fingers in the sign of the Tear. It was an easy charm, but many times she had seen it work well enough against much more complex spells… Alvina's Star entered her Tear like a sparkling stone falling in a pool. For a moment the two spells shone like sunlit water, making the gilded arches above glitter, then the light died. The crowd's murmur rose, and the arbiter lowered his staff, crystal-end to the floor: the two contestants had tied the round. Cecilia sighed. She was beginning to feel the strain and there was not much for it… gathering her forces, she conjured another Scream again… She half-smiled when she saw her opponent throw a charm of Smoke that uselessly whirled around the banshee-like howl. The other girl staggered and gave a small cry of fury. She must be fatigued, but Cecilia was too, and she could not hazard another Scream… To cast a powerful spell when one had little power left could be dangerous. Yet… One last effort: Cecilia tried the Three Candles again. It was all she could do without resorting to the hereditary charms Rose should never have taught her. And once again, it was a lucky choice against Alvina's Snowflake that would have frozen a Scream but melted before the three small flames. Alvina fell to her knees.
- Reagan wins this round and a hundred gold purse… -announced the arbiter.
Cecilia turned to receive the prize. Now she could go. As she searched for Kit with her eyes, she heard a cry of alarm from the arbiters and the onlookers. Contrary to all rules, the defeated Alvina was casting another spell at the back of her opponent. Cecilia barely managed to turn and see a charm of Rain storming towards her. Before she could think clearly, her fingers were making the sign of Rain too. It was the worst possible idea, and she felt the Lady Orchid's sharp voice behind her, ordering both girls to stop. But Alvina seemed to have lost control of herself as well as of her Magic, and her Rain raged on. Cecilia redoubled her effort in sustaining the attack. Pure, unchanneled Magic cracked all around, everyone in the Hall yelled so that the high roof rang with voices, and even the King's guards from without the doors were making for the rebel contestant. Just when Cecilia thought she could resist no longer, there was a sound as of a broken bell as the two spell exploded together. Through the silvery mist of Magic gone awry, she could see Alvina fall like a rag doll, then she heard the Lady Orchid's scream and then felt a hand grabbing her wrist.
- Run! -shouted Kit's voice, and Cecilia ran. They scurried away through the growingly excited crowd that pushed into the Hall, shot past the now unguarded door and elbowed their way across Merlin's Quad. Before the rumour of what had happened at the Challenge reached the outer Quads, they were out of the College, darting for the gardens and then the woods. It was so much like the previous night, and she felt so dizzy with all the Magic she had performed, that Cecilia wondered if she was not dreaming. Only the ache in her side as she ran and Kit's crushing grip on her hand assured her that it was all too real. Wordless, grim, panting, they circled through the woods to the inn's back yard. They slid in the stables, where Kit's mare waited already saddled. Kit unfastened the bridles and led the mare in the yard. Before the stable-hands realised what was happening, he had jumped in the saddle and was hauling Cecilia behind him.
She circled his waist with her arms and held fast as he set spur and put the mare to the wildest gallop Cecilia had ever experienced. Although it was unlikely that the news had already reached the guards at the town gates, Kit thought it safer not to risk, and took the way of the slums. It was not particularly pleasant, as the alleys were dark, encumbered with dirt and peopled by every sort of dubious characters. Twice the bard had to lash out with his dagger at would-be robbers but, at length, they emerged from the slums into the open fields and galloped away as fast and as far as the mare could. All the time, Cecilia sat uneasily in the saddle, chattering her teeth and clinging to Kit. They were far from the town when at last she found her voice.
- My prize… -she whimpered, thinking of the three purses left behind in the Hall…
- Hang your prize! -shouted Kit- You count yourself lucky we escaped with our lives! Why in blazes didn't you come away when I told you? -
Cecilia did not answer. She knew he was right, and yet she knew she could not have quit the Challenge any sooner than she had. It filled her with gratitude that Kit did not seem inclined to pursue the argument. Once more, he seemed to understand. She leant her head against his back and squeezed her arms a little around his waist. She felt him sigh in exasperation, but then he patted her clasped hands with his own, and Cecilia could have wept with joy. Perhaps she even did, but she could deny it even to herself as the night wind dried the tears as soon as they welled in her eyes.

By Harvest time, Cecilia and Kit were far away from the town. They travelled from village to village and they performed in the squares and the inns. Sometimes, when luck was with them, they were even called to sing for the ladies in some country manor. Cecilia had proved a surprisingly good pupil for Kit's singing lessons. They duetted beautifully, or at least well enough to please peasants, merchants travellers and the occasional gentry. Often, Cecilia danced at the music of Kit's lute. On the stage, she wore a pretty green dress with large sleeves that she herself had made, and velvet dancing slippers; she had lost her gaunt and haunted look and she looked every inch a lovely and happy girl. A well loved girl, too: she and Kit never spoke of marriage but never even thought of parting company; they made music, they bickered and laughed, they shared everything and they loved each other very much.
One night, as they were dining at a roadside inn, their tablemate, a horse dealer, told them stories from the capital town, where they said murder and general mayhem had marred the Midsummer celebrations, and the Mistress of Magic was hunting a red headed wizard-girl. The Royal Council itself had offered a reward for the capture of the girl…
They talked little and retired soon for the night. As she lay in bed, in Kit's arms, Cecilia kept shivering, her cheeks pale and pinched.
- That girl Alvina must have died! -she repeated over and over- I'm a murderer…
- You're nothing of the sort! -Kit cut in- She was trying to murder you! If you hadn't fought back, you'd be dead, now. And I the unhappiest man in the Kingdom. -
He drew her in a closer embrace and kissed the heart-shaped birthmark on Cecilia's bare shoulder. She snuggled closer, finding some comfort in her lover's embrace, but she could not help worrying.
- Why should the Lady Orchid be after my head, then? -she wondered, frowning.
Kit made her turn in his arms and kissed her brow.
- She may be after all she wants, -he soothed- but she cannot find you, as long as you are not using your Magic, can she? -
- The Council's reward, though… -insisted Cecilia, and Kit frowned too.
- Yes, that's nasty. -he conceded- Someone might think it their business to hand you in for the money… -
- Kit, perhaps… -Cecilia hesitated- Perhaps we had better part company… -
His laugh, the same merry, devil-may-care laugh of that night when they had first met, seemed to melt some of the cold heartache she was feeling.
- Never. -he said, firmly, looking her in the eye- Never say it again. You'll have to kill me, to get rid of me! -
All the same, they spent the better part of the night planning a route that would eventually bring them out of the Kingdom, where the rumours would not follow them.
The following morning they left early and travelled all day, careful to chose a way that would not cross again the path of the horse dealer. They spent the night in a barnyard and travelled again. They had put many leagues between themselves and the ill-fated inn when they thought it safe to enter a large village where a harvest fair was being held. For good measure, Kit went alone to purchase a bottle of hair-dye, and Cecilia dyed her hair black before entering the village.
- There! -said Kit, smiling- You're no longer a red headed wizard-girl. You rather look like a bard-girl of my corner of the world, you know?
- Perhaps I should change my name too… -wondered Cecilia.
- Never! -protested Kit, bending to kiss her- As I told you before, yours is a name for a madrigal. I'll write it, one of these days… -
It was with a lighter heart that Cecilia sang and danced that day, and the next, and so on, as they steadily travelled from festival to festival towards the border. It was a happy time, at first. Kit and Cecilia were welcomed everywhere, and every night they ended dancing around the bonfires with the villagers. But, as they proceeded north and the season advanced, there were no more merry harvesters, the land was harsher, the road less safe and the people more distrustful.
Also the weather grew less and less pleasant. After the bliss of several sunny weeks, with a string of bright days and sweet, smoke-scented nights, autumn brought storms and cold rain. It was, as the Northerners said, a season for goblins and staying put, so that Kit and Cecilia found themselves without audiences, and often forced to pay their nights at the inns with money instead of music.
One particularly rainy and windy evening, they travelled along a very bad and very desolate road with very little evidence of human presence. The mare plodded wearily in the mud, Kit almost dragging her by the bridle. Cecilia had dismounted too, and walked by, holding her hood in place against the gusts of wind. Black clouds raced across the grey sky over the tall, black pines, and the chilly rain seemed to penetrate everything. It was with some relief that, at length, the two travellers saw ahead the lights of a house.
- I told there would be an inn! -shouted Kit over his shoulder, and Cecilia shrugged wearily. He had been telling it for the last hour, but she had ceased believing him a while earlier.
If one had to be honest, the inn was rather bad, quite matching the road, a rickety, dirty old house that seemed to shake in the wind, but they were not inclined to be choosy, that night.
Kit and Cecilia pulled their edgy mount into the deserted stables and, since no one came to attend them, unharnessed her themselves. The small bells on the bridle chimed when Cecilia hung it across the wooden partition of the stall, and she looked up with a small laugh, to find Kit's twinkling eyes fixed on her.
- Just like that night! -she said.
- Well, not exactly like that, I hope… -teased the bard- Besides, you bit me, back then! -
It was most definitely not like that night, indeed. Laughing and holding hands, Cecilia and Kit ran out in the rain again and hurried to the door of the house. They had to knock and call a good deal before a craggy old man with a lantern cracked the door open and peered warily at them.
- Shall you let us in? -asked Kit, impatiently- This is supposed to be an inn, isn't it? -
The man eyed them a little more.
- Guests. -he called over his shoulder. An unintelligible reply came from within, the man rolled his eyes and, without a word, took a step backwards to let the two travellers in.
Kit ushered Cecilia in and followed her.
- Thank you so very much! -he sneered, as he tried to shake some water from his dripping clothes.
Cecilia, eyes wide, elbowed him in the ribs: beside a lantern, the man was carrying a sturdy stick. For an innkeeper, she thought, he was not behaving in the friendliest of manners. Perhaps it would be wiser not to make him angry.
However, the man took no heed of Kit's taunt and, with the stick, waved the newcomers into the room and to the fireplace. There, on the earth, stood a skinny woman, with a face as dark and parched as a nut's shell, and almost as friendly.
- And wha' might ye two want? -the woman rasped, narrowing small, bead-like eyes on Cecilia.
- Wha' might they want here and at this time o'the night! -snorted the man- Rest and food for them and their nag, eh? -
He raised an eyebrow to Kit, who raised a shoulder in answer. Cecilia stared appalled at the dirty, smelly room, at the two innkeeper who, she realised, were not old at all, certainly not much older than themselves, and at the sheer venom in the woman's eyes staring back at her.
- They'll hae neither under my roof. -the hostess hissed, running a spiteful look over the two mud-covered young people.
- Are you daft, woman? -scowled the man- Throwing'em out in a night like this! Ye want their deaths on your soul? And they're payin', besides! -
The woman crossed her arms and spat right in the fireplace.
Cecilia had to hid a smile when she saw Kit straighten his shoulders and take a step forwards in his most lord-like manner.
- We are paying indeed. -he said haughtily- And, my good woman, I'm sure such a miserable road has brought to your place, here, a good many travellers that looked all the worse for having their share of mud and bad weather! -
The woman stepped forward herself, tilting her head back to look the young man in the eye.
- None of yer high-talk wi'me! -she spat back, reaching a hand to slap the lute in the sack strapped to Kit's shoulder- I know yer kind! A player singin' heathen songs and his slut, without so much as a wedding ring! And as for my soul, -she turned on her husband- I ain't soiling it giving food nor rest to these two! -
Cecilia and Kit exchanged a baffled look as the happy couple embarked on a heated argument in some dialect. Cecilia was startled when, all of a sudden, her companion stiffened and gripped her by the elbow.
- Enough! -he commanded- We are not staying here, being insulted and argued over by two miscreated peasants. We are back on our way, and may whatever befalls us in the night weigh on your heads! I do not expect your place will prosper much, however, if this is the welcome you give to travellers! -
This speech seemed to impress the innkeepers more than the previous one had, and the woman seemed inclined to relent, much to Cecilia's relief. She stared when Kit, instead of condescending to accept the grudging hospitality, turned on his heels and steered her to the door and in the muddy yard. She did not argue until they were back in the stables.
- Are you crazy? -she whispered angrily, as Kit hurried to harness the unhappy mare again- You can't want to go! Where are we sleeping? -
He only silenced her with a warning glance when the man stepped into the stable.
- Don't ye mind the wife, young folk,-said the innkeeper, gruff but uneasy- She's got feelings above her station, ye know… Here, hae some bread and cheese, at least. -he offered a small bundle wrapped in a dirty napkin.
Kit eyed the man and the bundle with equal distaste.
- Thank you. -he declined- This lady and I would never want to imperil you wife's immortal soul. -
With this, he assisted Cecilia in the saddle, mounted himself and set spur, leaving the innkeeper to watch as they plodded away under the pelting rain.
Cecilia was definitely not happy with the turn of events.
- Now, I wonder why you did that! -she complained- Do you think I've never been called a slut before? -
Kit shook his head and did not turn to look at her.
- They speak a little like they do in my parts, here. -he said grimly- Our innkeeper called his hag a lot of names for driving away the first paying guests since the King's soldiers have been pestering the neighbourhood.
- What then? -shot back Cecilia, her temper made very short by the runlets of icy rain oozing down her neck- The King's soldiers may have all sorts of reasons for patrolling this place…
- Yes. -Kit's voice was tense- And I think I can fancy a couple of them: either the charming pair back at the inn are actually cut-throats, or the soldiers are still hunting for one red-headed wizard-girl. -
Cecilia's hand run unwittingly to her dyed hair under the hood. She opened her mouth to retort, then closed it and, with a sigh, she clasped her arms more tightly around Kit's waist.
They rode on in uneasy silence for a while, the mare warily choosing her every step. After a while, Kit dismounted to help the nervous animal.
- Stay where you are! -he ordered, as Cecilia was about to do the same.
- Now, Kit… -she began, but her objections were cut short by a sudden chorus of jarring yells.
The mare neighed with terror and reared wildly, showing the white of her eyes. Kit caught Cecilia just in time as the animal threw her and galloped away.
- Goblins! -she screamed, over the cacophony of howls.
- Run! -shouted back Kit, and pushed her away with one hand, while he unsheathed his dagger with the other. Instead of obeying, Cecilia stood with her back against him, brandishing her kris.
- Run! -repeated Kit, but it was too late, and the goblins were over them, white fangs and bloodshot eyes gleaming in the light of a few pitch torches. Cecilia could not count the monstrous shadows dancing all around them, she could only wield uselessly her shiny blade at them as they threw rocks and spears, and sob with fear and rage.
She shrieked when she heard Kit cry out in pain. She turned to grab him and felt him slump against her. She eased him to the ground.
- Kit! Kit! -she called, running frantic hands over him, feeling for a wound.
- Run, Cecilia! -he stammered. Cecilia raised her eyes to see the goblins making for them with outstretched claws. She stopped thinking, then, and her fingers moved in spite of herself, in the sign of the Scream.
- No! -cried weakly Kit, before collapsing, but Cecilia was past reason. Her face frozen in a deadly mask, she kept casting spells, one after another, Scream, Scream, Scream…
The eerie howls of the charm were echoed by blood-curdling screeches as goblins were torn apart by the unleashed power of Dark Magic.
Cecilia did not know how much time had passed when she found herself kneeling in the mud, worn, terrified, rain and tears streaming down her face, streaks of Dark Magic still coursing her veins like acid. Kit's moan startled out of her trance. She bent over him, raised his head, stroked his face.
By the dying light of the last torch she saw a wan smile appear fleetingly on his ashen face as their eyes met.
- You scare me… -he panted- when you do these things… -
Cecilia shook her head. She would have liked to tell him to lie still, but they had to find help… She could see the wound, a deep, jagged cut in Kit's side, bleeding hard. With her kris, she cut a couple of strips from her cloak, and tried to bandage him as best she could.
Kit flinched in pain under her hands, when she pressed the wound.
- This is the first useful thing I ever saw you doing with that toy… -he murmured. Cecilia stared at him uncomprehendingly.
- Your kris… -he breathed, drawing from her a pale smile and a choked sob.
He gasped in pain as Cecilia tried to help him up.
- We must go back to the inn. -she said, stroking a strand of wet pale hair back from his forehead- Can you walk? -
Kit shook his head.
- Go away, Cecilia. -he stammered, gasping for breath as all teasing drained from his voice- Leave me here, go across the border, it's not far…
- Like hell! -she cried angrily through her tears- Come, we go back, I say. -and she hauled herself to her feet, dragging a badly shaking Kit with her.
- Or else? -he asked, as he struggled to stand, leaning against her, dizzy with pain and blood loss.
- Or else I'll bite you! -Cecilia burst out.
- And you would, at that… -Kit retorted, and he began to fall as his knees buckled under him.
- No! -Cecilia called, in near panic- No, you don't! Come, lean on me… -
She drew his arm across her shoulders, thanked her stars for the small favour that Kit was not a big man and moved a cautious step. Then another. Biting back groans and breathing unsteadily, Kit moved with her.
- The mare… -he said, hazily.
- Gone. -said Cecilia, and felt him sag a little more.
- My lute… -
Cecilia cast a glance around. The lute lay on the ground, where it had fallen during the fight, broken amongst the torn bodies of the goblins.
- I have it here, -she lied, her voice a hissing whisper because of the lump growing in her throat- I have it here… -
They dragged painfully on under the rain. Cecilia was not even sure of the direction. She hoped she was following the road backwards, but she could not see enough to be sure. She paused for a moment in despair, catching her breath and wondering bitterly… She was a wizard, she knew how to brew potions and she had a fairy godmother, and there was nothing she could do to save the man she loved!
Then she thought there was something she could do. She wrapped her arm in a firmer grip around Kit's waist and lifted her free hand, slowly making the sign of the Sun. It was difficult, because she meant it to burn slowly and light their way, and the many Screams had drained most of her power, but she had to manage. She sobbed even more when a small sparkle blossomed in her palm, growing into a small globe of light. It was not much, and it hurt and burnt, but it would help.
It was a while before Kit realised what was happening.
- You shouldn't be doing Magic… -he slurred- I guess things could hardly get worse than they are, though… -
Cecilia could only bit her under-lip and shuffle on.
Her Sun was flickering in her scorched palm when the crooked pile of the inn came in sight. Cecilia let the charm go and tried to hasten the pace. She checked herself when she heard Kit stiffen in the circle of her arm.
- We are almost there… -she whispered.
Kit's steps were becoming more and more unsteady.
- Cecilia… -he sighed- I never wrote that poem that I said… the madrigal… your name… It seems I never will, now… -
- We are there… ! -she repeated. almost dragging him- Come, another step, just another, if you love me… -
They both collapsed on the threshold of the inn. Cecilia struggled to sit up, cradling Kit with one arm and knocking at the door with her free hand.
- Help! -she sobbed- Help! -
The craggy man with the lantern came, as he had before, and swore in surprise when, slitting the door open, he saw the two young people down at his feet. The woman came angrily from behind him and threw the door open.
- It's them again, don't you see! -she hissed- I' told ye I won't have the like of 'em under my roof! -
The man pushed her back.
- Hold yer tongue, woman! -he rumbled- Can't ye see the lad's hurt? -
And he bent to raise Kit and help him in.
- I hadnae known ye. -he said to Cecilia- Wi' yer hair red an'all… -and he stopped short as he was trying to take Kit from the girl's arms.
With eyes wide and lost, Cecilia watched the innkeeper let go the limp arm and mutter something under his breath.
The woman gave a cry of anguished rage.
- A dead man on my threshold! -she stormed- And he'd said it would weigh on our souls! -
A dead man! Cecilia stared at the white face in her lap. She watched uncomprehendingly as black drops fell over the pale skin, the wet hair and her own burnt hand stroking it.
- I'm sorry, lass… -said the innkeeper, in a gentler tone than one would have expected.
Cecilia bent double to kiss the cold forehead, her hair falling like a curtain.
- Kit… -she called- Kit… Kit! -
She was deaf to the rain, to the woman's ranting, to the man's deep rumble, to the sound of horses and voices approaching.
- In the name of the King! -cried a man.
Cecilia did not look up, or she would have seen half a dozen of King Humphrey's Knights, tall on their war-horses, accompanied by as many squires with torches and escorting a smaller hooded figure. But a new woman's voice made her blood turn cold.
- It is the murderer! Seize her! -
And, looking up from her dead lover's body, Cecilia saw in the light of the torches the hard, beautiful face of the Lady Orchid, her purple coloured eyes shining with hate and triumph.
Cecilia did not move when two knights rode up to the door, dismounted and towered over her. She just stared blankly past them, at her former mistress. As they caught her by the arms, however, trying to pry her from Kit's body, she started to fight wildly.
One of the man grabbed her by the shoulder and, as she struggled to shake free, the points of the shoulders broke, as well as the linen shirt, baring her shoulder.
The Lady Orchid dismounted and strode to the fighting group, pointing her staff at Cecilia.
- Leave her to me! -she commanded.
The knights hesitated, and their leader, the King's Captain of the Guard, frowned.
- I don't think, my Lady Orchid… -he began.
- Silence! -Orchid's voice was as cold as ice- She murdered my daughter: leave her to me!
- No!- the cry tore from Cecilia's heart- What are you saying? What did I do to Rose? -
The Lady Orchid turned on her a gaze of blazing hatred.
- You remember the wizard you defeated at the Challenge? -she hissed- The girl you killed with her own spell? Or do you think I had not known you? Rose had not, however, and you killed her! -
Cecilia shrieked, covering her ears with her hands. Rose, Kit… Why must she bring such ill luck to those she loved? She waited for Orchid to strike, she was ready to welcome the spell that would take her life…
- Stop, my Lady! -called the Captain's voice.
Everyone but Cecilia looked at the man, as he stepped between the Mistress of Magic and the kneeling girl.
- How dare you… -seethed the Lady Orchid, but the Captain lifted his hand to silence her and bent to grab Cecilia's arm.
- Look at the girl! -he shouted to the wizard, to his men, to the squires- Look at the birthmark! -the little purple heart looked almost black against the white skin- Look at her hair! -
The black dye had run with the rain, and in the light of the torches Cecilia's hair shone its strange russet again.
- The King's daughter! -exclaimed one Knight.
- The lost Princess! -echoed another.
The Captain nodded silently. He bowed to Cecilia and kissed her hand.
- My Lady… -he saluted her, and brought her to her feet.
- It cannot be… -stormed Orchid- She murdered my daughter! -
The Captain ignored her.
- Hail the Princess! -he ordered, and the men cheered, bowing to their King's long lost daughter.
The Captain caught Cecilia when she swayed and collapsed, and wrapped her in his own cloak.

It was late at night when Cecilia woke. The rain had ceased and she was lying comfortably in a man's arms, on horseback. The horse's pace was even and sure, and torchlight shone all around, showing the tall, black pines. The scent of rain and pitch filled the brisk air.
- Kit… -murmured Cecilia.
- Lay still, Your Highness. -soothed a strange voice.
Tears filled Cecilia's eyes and run down her cheeks.
- I'm not… -she moaned.
- Lie still, my Princess. -repeated the stranger who held her- We are bringing you back to your father and your mother. You will be very happy forever and ever.
- Happy? -echoed hollowly Cecilia, as though she did not know what the word meant.


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Location: Sweden

#3 Post by Sani » Mon Jul 30, 2007 1:09 am

Wow this story totaly rocks! it was exiting and sometims a little frighting, and you have done it good, and I liked it a lot, well made :) if you has more stories please post them!


Posts: 3
Joined: Sat Apr 21, 2007 10:48 pm

Thank you

#4 Post by Ivy » Mon Jul 30, 2007 6:03 pm

Thank you, Sani.
I'm glad you liked the story. Did you really find it frightening? Why? You make me curious...
I don't have any other story, just now, but may be, sometime...
:wink: Ivye

Posts: 20
Joined: Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:43 pm
Location: Sweden

#5 Post by Sani » Mon Jul 30, 2007 7:13 pm

No I just think if it was me that was accused for murder, that’s frightening!
And I think you write so good that I can see it in my mind like a film, so I think you did a very good novel, and I like to reed! :) Sorry you don’t write more things! But I hope you will…


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