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The following is an excerpt from Nine Gees.  Read and enjoy!!!

Who Slays Satan is my exploration of medieval heroic fantasy.  The exploration is the question of evil. When is a deed virtuous? When is a deed wicked? While it’s a fundamental question, it’s also a question on which a sum of money may ride, at least if you are the heroine

 Who Slays Satan

 Aaron the Goldsmith waited in the dark of his shop, a solitary candle guttering fitfully on the table before him. Candlelight gleamed off his tools and threw dancing shadows against stuccoed walls.

There came a rap on the door, twice repeated.

“Enter!” he called. The hinges creaked, revealing a tall figure in charcoal-grey cloak. Outside, a spring rain pittered and pattered off tight-shingled roofs. Aaron’s visitor walked crisply toward his workbench, letting the door swing shut. A shift of her shoulders tossed back her hood, revealing coal black hair and dark eyes which seemed to drink in the candlelight, letting none of it escape back into the room.

“Aaron?” she asked. Her face was hard. She waited for his nod, then relaxed. “You are the great smith, maker of enchanted tools and worker in alchemetical metals?”

“Some men call me great. I like to do good work.” he said quietly.

“Once you wrote that with true-silver, fully enchanted, you could make chain mail so light that it would weigh no more than featherdown, yet so hard that neither sword nor spell might strike its wearer?” she asked.

“Yes, given enough of the material. But that is absurd. You would need pounds, while even the Mother Church in Glastonbury has but grains of it,” he answered.

“I did not pay good gold to talk to you at this hour, to gossip about the impossible. I understand you hide your two apprentices in the darkness—you would be a fool, which you aren’t, not to—” she paused, pointing at the two men, who believed themselves cloaked in darkest spell-bound shadow—”but I want your word, that you will each be silent about what you’ll do.”

“In time, if your request be lawful, our words will be given.” Aaron’s apprentices nodded their assent.

“This, then, is the true-silver.” She reached into her cape, found a hidden purse, and dropped on his workbench a solid ingot the size of a large brick.

He stared, touched, hummed to himself. “Indeed, indeed, it is as you said. But where did you get it?” His voice rose to an astonished quaver.  “I am a goldsmith. My touch alone is enough to confirm that you’ve set before me the greatest treasure in all England.”

“My source is mine. Some would say that I’d sold my soul for it. Those who know me know better.” She grinned quietly.

“I should surely hope. So you want me to waste this most precious of all materials in armor, proof against every blade and spell?” asked Aaron.

“I want from the silver a higher object—a Solomon’s Bottle. I will not quibble. I know your faith, and your learning. I know that you can make one, given the materials, if you so choose. But I will want your oath on a question,” she said.

“I may decline to answer, but I shall not lie.” He pulled from one drawer a crucifix of burnished gold which glinted in the candlelight.  She put her arm up toward her face, grimacing.

“Clever, smith. But you think I marked not your name, nor noted the mezuzah hidden beneath the doorframe? No, I want your word to your God, He of the Old Testament—the Bible.” Her voice stayed calm.

He noted her look, her words, and produced another object, more dimly seen, from the drawer. “As the One God is my witness, as he commanded to Moses, I shall not lie in His Name.”

“A Solomon’s Bottle, as made of enchanted truesilver: Can you make it?  Will it bind any demon? Will it bind the dark one, Satan, himself?” she asked.

“May the Creator protect us! Yes, I can make such a device. The Law and precedents are clear, honoring the one who constructs such a tool for virtue. And once within it, no demon, not even the Fallen One, could escape. But such a bottle is useless, because the Fallen One could not be conjured (nor commanded to enter the bottle) save by a powerful necromancer. But such a darkmage, having already given his soul over to the Fallen One, would be powerless to harm his lord by such treachery,” explained Aaron.

“I worry about using it. You worry about making it. Secretly. Can you?” she asked.

“If that is your desire. I will need enchanted gems and other substances for the Construction—selling a few grains of this material, which I could do without raising undue curiosity, would pay for the lot. But a Solomon’s Bottle is a potent weapon in the armamentarium of Good. Its construction will hardly sit well with those you serve,” Aaron reminded.

“Who do you think I serve? No matter—make it! You’ll need most of the metal for the Bottle, a good one, one you will rejoice in, when you set your mark in its skin. The rest of the metal you may keep. An ounce or so, I would judge,” she said.

“I always give honest work,” said Aaron.

“You do not always give secret work. I want each of you, including your apprentices who think they hide from me by setting a feebly enchanted shadow about themselves, to swear that they will never speak of this meeting, and to say, truthfully, that they know not who I am, or why I’ve commissioned this work.” She waited silently, drawing back slightly as the apprentices recited a litany of Holy Names. “How long will you need?” she hissed. “How long? You can’t do nothing else, not without making people suspicious.”

“That I will not do. You’ve made the three of us rich beyond our wildest dreams, even after you take your Bottle, and given me a chance to make my masterwork—the capstone of my career. For that we’ll risk nothing. A Solomon’s Bottle is more slow than difficult to enchant. I should say surely that a sixmonth is enough,” he said.

“Then I see you in October, at the New Moon. If you feel temptation, remember only that I have a long arm and longer memory,” she said.

“I should ask you, on the Cross since you are of that Faith, to swear that you will not return to rob me,” he said.

“Me?” she laughed. “Rob you? Oh no, Aaron, oh no! A stolen Bottle loses its powers, nor will it work for one who is not its owner. You have my word as to your safety.”

“I hope,” he warned, “you believe your own words about the Bottle and its makers. It is indeed true that you cannot betray me, save at the cost of destroying what I will build for you. Under the circumstances, I suppose you would find the oath I asked to be a more burning experience.”

“Oh, Aaron, Aaron! Someday your tongue will get you into trouble!” She smiled.

“Slower than your hand will get you,” he answered. “I note how you greet the Holy Names. Still, a Solomon’s Bottle is an intrinsically good artifact, whose manufacture may be properly commissioned by anyone, high or low, noble or thief, with no wrong being done.”

“Enough! My ship awaits!” She said.

“You will sail with the dawn?” he asked.

“I sail when and where I please. The night holds no secrets from me.  So work well, and I may have a present for you and yours. Would not a trip to Jerusalem be pleasing?” she asked.

“To return there, though only for a single day? For you, though, going there must be daring,” he said.

“I’ve risked worse. You might have had more guards. But I don’t fear men-at-arms, not even twenty of them, not when I have Moonshadow”—she produced a sword from beneath her cape. He recognized the tempered moonsilver as Faerie work, spell-runes inlaid into the blade and hilt—”and other ways.” She returned the sword to its hilt. The candles went out. The shop door banged open, and closed again.

 * * * * *

October eve. The new moon lay in the arms of the day sky.  Constellations burned through fleeting bits of twilight to float close above the earth. Two figures walked along a well-trod road, alert for other travelers.

“So what’ll your final orders be, capt ... Camilla?” The speaker was an older man with stooped shoulders, gnarled hands, and bristling moustache. A pronounced roll to his walk betrayed years spent before the mast.

“I should have the Bottle tonight. I’ll need the evening to use it, and then be talking to the Abbey at Caer Gwenfaire. They have an artifact whose use I want. I may be on shore for a few days. Keep the ship where you can flee to sea with the wind. If I’m out of touch look at North Cove, after dark.” The answerer was a young woman with black hair and blacker eyes, whose figure was hidden under a heavy cape.

“Yes, Ma’am, but beware Caer Gwenfaire, they’ve th’ most potent relic in all th’ West there. Yes, I saw it me’self once as a boy, carried in Holy Procession, th’ True Blood a’ th’ Savior, collected from th’ Cross and miraculously preserved. For one o’ Faery, it’s purest poison,” said the alder man.

“Nat, your warning is welcome. But it’s still human blood that colors my cheeks, no matter how often I lie with the Prince of Tir na Na’Ogth. And that’s the Relic I want. That and the books of the alchemist Humbert—Humbertus Magnus, I should say,” answered Camilla.

“You’ll be th’ Blood wanting? Oh, no, princess, now you’ll be exceeding yourself for certain. That they’ll never give, though you offer them th’ sack o’ Byzantium,” he said.

“Not give. Just its use. They can keep it afterwards.” She grinned, keeping her plans to herself.

“Princess, your nerves would slice Damascene steel. But be careful. I b’lieve Hugh’ll be in yonder patch of trees. Oh, but I miss my good mail shirt,” he said

“Safer without it. This way, short of a good search, we’re just farmer and daughter, pilgrims to Caer Gwenfaire for prayer and penance, not a pair of pirates.”

“‘specially not the Queen of Pirates and her ‘umble ‘elmsman,” he reminded.

“Shush now, lest someone other than Hugh hear.” They crept into the woods. Through a patch of brush, at the outskirts of a protected town, lay the Goldsmith’s shop. The travellers slipped from tree to tree, alert every step of the way, finally meeting with a third, younger, man.  Aaron’s shop, well lit against the dark, could be seen in the distance.

“Princess,” spoke the younger man, “the shop was closed at supper, but he now has company. Three men-at-arms stand outside, and some one else is inside arguing with Aaron. Aaron expects us tomorrow, yes? So this is no simple ambush. I could sneak closer, try to hear.”

“Perhaps no need,” responded Camilla.

She reached to her cloak and fingered gently at an amulet underneath.  Nodding dreamily, she let the sound float to her ears. Aaron’s firm voice could be heard. “... and finally, the Solomon’s Bottle is an intrinsically lawful item, as all authorities agree. I have given my word that I will not name the person for whom the Bottle was made, and fully enchanted,” Camilla’s smile flashed. She gave the thumb’s up gesture to the two men with her. “and I have sworn this before the Almighty. The King’s Law says that this is my right, so long as the items made are intrinsically lawful in nature, which right you are sworn to uphold, for is not the King truly God’s Steward of God’s English Domain? You, Abbot Cedric, have yourself agreed that this argument has the right.”

“That I have done,” answered a second voice. Cedric, recalled Camilla, was Abbot of Gwenfaire. “The making of this artifact was lawful, a brilliant piece of workmanship, a poem to the Glory of God. But the Bottle is made entirely of enchanted truesilver, which could have come from no place in England, nor anywhere on the Continent. You have sitting in front of you more enchanted truesilver, all carefully masked by truelead foil, than I have ever heard of, nay more than I’d’ve supposed existed in all Christendom, not to mention thirteen other ensorcelled metals,... “

“My client gave me the truesilver. Had it been stolen, or elsewise misappropriated by my client, I could not have enchanted it. The other ingredients I obtained in lawful ways, as my records will attest.  Besides, you can hardly suspect that my client stole the truesilver.  After all, who could he have stolen it from?” asked Aaron.

“Who, indeed?” pondered the Abbot. “Who, indeed? But the Bottle is a tremendously powerful thaumaturgic implement, second in my eyes only to the True Blood.” Abbot Cedric paused. “In the wrong hands, notwithstanding its virtuous nature, it might lead to harm. I insist on taking it to a place of safety, where its rightful owner may claim it by identifying himself.”

“We are in a place of safety,” countered Aaron. “This shop is under the King’s Peace. It is so protected by home-magic, woven into its walls, that only those who have rightful business here may enter either in person, or by spell, without my knowledge. Satan himself knows not what we are doing, nor what I have made. No, only the two of us, my apprentices, the Bottle’s rightful owner, and the Almighty can be privy to this conversation—and the bottle’s owner is not here.”

“Until tomorrow eve,” countered the Abbot.

“I did not say that,” said Aaron.

“I have my ways,” answered Abbot Cedric. “Your new apprentice feared he might have committed a mortal sin. And I insist upon taking the Bottle.  You have been paid, smith; you do not need the Bottle as surety for its owner’s debts. Canon Law and the King’s Writ confirm me in this.” Camilla felt the Abbot scoop up the Bottle, then heard the door slam shut behind him. As the Bottle left the shop, her hearing of what lay within dulled to near-silence. As the smith had sworn, his house-wards excluded those without lawful business.

“It’s the Abbot of Caer Gwenfaire,” she announced, “and a couple-three guards. They’re going to the Abbey; they’ll have to come this way. With my little trinket, too. We’ll make an ambush. Hugh, grab the Abbot.  Don’t hurt him, just set a knife to his throat, so he’ll try no spellcasting. Nat, if they don’t yield, take the guard on the left; I’ll take the other two. They think we’re not coming ‘til tomorrow, so they don’t have a small army with them. After last time, if they knew I was here they’d they’d have more than three men to deal with me.”

“All by surprise?” asked Nat.

“No, darn it!” said Camilla. “I’d better ask them politely for my property. If Aaron thinks I’m a thief, the spells he’s set may do damage, no matter that I’m being properly honest. Hugh, slip up the trail; take them from behind. If the Abbot claimed King’s Writ, the guards are surely King’s Paxmen.” Hugh nodded grimly. The ranks of Paxmen were filled near-exclusively by nominally reformed felons, most of whom saw paths for continuing their wickedness under the guise of lawful virtue.

The trio waited expectantly. Three footmen, one with a torch, tramped down the path, the Abbot following. The goldsmith brought up the rear, wringing his hands, not sure what to do. His greatest work had been marched out of his shop by a man who was not its rightful owner. The law might be on the Abbot’s side; the Paxmen’s swords certainly were. What should a poor smith do?

Camilla stepped from the shadows, her hood thrown back to reveal her face and black hair. “I believe,” she announced calmly, “that that’s my smithwork there. You did say, Abbot, that its rightful owner might appear and claim it.”

Taken aback, the Abbot glared at the figure which had appeared like a sylph from the wood’s gloom. His guards hesitated while he took in her form. “Owner? You? It’s painfully clear to my eyes, whether this bottle was once yours or not, that you carry with you the Scent of Death.  You are a necromancer, tainted of the blood, lawfully unable to hold property or pass an estate. The Bottle is thus Ours, forfeit to the glory of the True Faith.”

“You’ve got an excuse every time, don’t you? Can’t you ever keep a promise? Now give me my Bottle or I may have to get rough!” warned Camilla.

“You threaten to lay hands on me? Me, a representative of God’s Vicar upon this Earth? Guards! You heard her threaten me! She is accursed!  Slay her! Slay her, and the wrath of God will strike to aid glurghh...” The Abbot’s voice faded to nothingness as Hugh’s knife appeared against the Abbot’s throat.

One Paxman hurled his spear at Camilla, then went for his sword. Her own sword came to hand before she ducked.

The Paxmen spread slightly apart as they charged. Camilla’s fear damped when she saw she might avoid having to fight them one-on-two, a maneuver she preferred to leave to hero tales. She was a skilled swordswoman, as strong as most of the men she might have to fight, but she was still in simple cloth, facing a pair of trained warriors in chain corselets and proper helmets. She stepped ahead, her moonsilver blade a flash of white as she parried the first Paxman’s swing, then cut around toward his face.  He dropped, leaving the second Paxman almost on top of her. She attacked with a two-handed down-stroke which sent sparks of pink and blue, steel and moonsilver, flying. Her opponent’s blade shattered at the impact.  He recoiled. Her second strike clove head from neck. She glanced around, finding that the third Paxman had similarly been dispatched. Hugh held the prelate at knifepoint. The goldsmith stood back, too frightened to move.

“Nat,” she said, not even breathing heavily, “I get my chance tonight.  You go back to the Dawnfire. If I’m not there by first light, hide like we arranged. I’ll have to bargain with him.” She pointed her bloodied sword at the Abbot.

“With you,” he whispered, “and your kind there can be no bargains, though my fate be joyous martyrdom.”

“But you’ll bargain,” she answered nonchalantly. “You will! I’ll give you an opportunity you never even dreamed of having. Okay, the rest of you,” she included Aaron in her gesture, “dump the bodies off the trail.  Then we’re going up that hill. You’ll be safer with me, smith, than elsewhere. There’s an open field up there. And, prelate, if you do nothing grossly foolish, I’m letting you free in the end.”

“Up that hill?” stammered Aaron. “But there’s a fairy circle.  And a barrow. There’re ghosts and bogies and things that slither... “ he stepped away from Camilla.

“Come on, and don’t be afraid of a few shadows. The rest will have to face me, if they dare.” She laughed. “If his friends find you, Aaron, they’ll take you for a companion of mine, or an ally, unless our erstwhile colleague”— she gestured at the Abbot—”vouches for you.” Camilla pointed forcefully at the hill while her fellow pirate relieved the Abbot of the Bottle.

 

* * * * *

 

The top of the knoll was naked ground. Low clumps of heather and ivy patches struggled against bare rock. Shadows around the crest hinted at a circle of great stones long since fallen. Camilla motioned the party into the circle.

Camilla set her sword down on a flat boulder and took out her wand.  Wrapped in gold and silver, its inset gems gleamed like prying, malevolent eyes. The Abbot cringed. “Hugh, don’t let him move,” she whispered, “Aaron, stand there!” She gestured at a point a few feet to her right. “And stop blubbering, silly,” she said to the prelate, “I’ve hardly the time to sacrifice you, even if I were the type, which I’m not.”

“You aren’t?” he asked incredulously.

“The world’s full enough of martyr’s bones, all potent against honest sorcery. Why should I make my life more difficult? Now, hush.” She gestured with the wand, then spoke words in the Elder Tongue. Abbot Cedric considered a response, then decided there would be time enough later for working the Divine Will, time when a pirate’s dirk was a little less firmly propped against his windpipe. A Great Circle, fitfully glowing and ten feet across, appeared around them. There followed an overlay: a second circle and pentagram, inwritten with names of hidden power. Aaron found himself at one point, Camilla at the second, Hugh and Cedric at a third. Camilla gestured again. Each witness found himself within a smaller pentacle, scarcely large enough to permit one to stand erect. Camilla paused, mopping her brow of the slightest dusting of sweat.

She set her wand on the stone, fumbled on the ground for a small pebble, and set it by her wand. The Solomon’s Bottle she stripped of its foil and set by the pebble. Finally she took up her wand and began Calling: “Hail, Satan, Lord of Darkness, Lord of Night! Hail, Lucifer, King to Be, King of Light.” She switched to the Elder Tongue, feeling something draw hugely, hungrily at her strength. She had done this before, unassisted, but she would need her power again. She directed the hunger against those with her. Hugh nodded; the Abbot shuddered. Slowly a gate to elsewhere appeared within the Great Circle. Through it rose a being, triple-headed, triple-crowned, against whose obsidian skin the night sky appeared bright. From its pores came little flames, burning blue-white in obscene imitation of the stars which tiled the quiet sky above.

“Who calls?” it chanted. “Who dares to summon me, Supreme Lord of the Universe?”

“Know thou not Thy loving servant, whom Thou promised Thou would receive as Thy daughter, were she only to give over to Thee her soul?” asked Camilla.

“Ah, yes, beloved Camilla,” it answered. “Ah, yes. Have you at long last seen the darkest light? Are you at last ready to seal your self over to me, to gain the full powers which are rightfully yours? Why limit yourself to your fragile mortal strength, when you can call on my inexhaustible energies? But to do that, by the Silent Law from before time, I must have a gift. Yes, I must have a gift!” The being stared at the Abbot, three tongues licking in mistimed unison at three pairs of malformed lips. “Yes, a gift. Will this be the gift? After he is made ready? He will be so fine, though at the moment he would be a trifle—indigestible...”

“In a manner of speaking,” she answered. “But first I have something else for you, something you prize far more, something without price.” Camilla tossed the pebble across the circle, shattering its grip on the demon. “Yes. Something else! Me! Yes, me! Take me, take me now, if you think you’re ready!” She leaned back, hips arched, breath held expectantly.

The demon hesitated, faces showing total surprise. “You are quite totally mad, and even more foolish.” It leered at her pose while it stepped across the now-broken pentagram. Aaron considered his circumstances and fainted, falling against the unseen wall of his private pentacle. The Abbot raised his crucifix and began to stammer a prayer.

“Oh, be still,” snapped the demon at Cedric, “Why would I bother with you when I can have her?” The demon sprang at Camilla, wings outstretched, hissing a tritone through three serpentine throats.

Camilla dropped her wand and darted for the Bottle. For an instant she was afraid. She had but to reach in front of her, while the thing had to cross a half-dozen paces. But it was fast, faster than any man, faster than a striking cobra! Her hands reached the ears of the bottle, which fell like a baby into the cradle of her arms.

“Yes!” she screamed triumphantly, “Yes, come! Come to me, Father of Lies, come to me!” She raised the bottle before her, pointing its mouth at the demon. “Yes, come and enjoy, whether you will it or no. For I bear the Seal of Solomon and am the Command of Solomon, and I order you:  Come to me!” The demon’s screeches were a dozen swine in torment. Its clawed feet came down, slashing through the rocky soil. Wings raised a gale of air as it tried to reverse its course, tried to flee back through the still-open Gate, away from Camilla and the awful pull of the vessel she held.

Whatever power, she considered, lay in the Bottle, it was certainly using her own strength as a supplement. She felt the demon strike the Bottle and begin to be sucked within. Taloned fingers reached for Camilla’s face, raking out but not quite touching her silken-smooth skin.

“Betrayer!” it shrieked. “Turncoat! Liar! Wretched sneak! Let go of me! Release me! You are a daughter of death, hence my bounden servant, so I order you: Let me free! Your soul is mine, so you must obey.” She felt another mind, an alien metallic stench, push against her will, trying to take command of her thoughts. She resisted stubbornly, waiting while the demon was swallowed up by the Bottle. When it disappeared within, she grabbed the lid and brought it down with a brilliant clang. There came in response a distant boom, as of a battering ram against a castle gate.  The demon lashed out again and again at the lid. Getting the demon inside the Bottle had not been easy, even for someone of her strength; holding it within the Bottle proved little easier.

“Now, Father,” she said, “I believe we want to bargain. Unless you want to find out what happens when I let the demon back out of the bottle?  He may view me as a meal, but in his present anger you’ll be an extra treat.”

“You,” answered the Abbot stiffly, “cannot threaten me. If I die by a demon’s hand, my soul will go to eternal bliss. Your fate, having deliberately enraged the Lord of Hell, can scarcely be imagined.”

“I don’t fell like trading taunts. Nor would I be so sure of who’s safe and who’s not.” Her shoulders strained. Once within the Bottle, the Demon was free to try to break out, at least until the Bottle was properly sealed. “I want a bargain, not a bit of piracy. I have something you want, while you have something I’ll take in trade.”

“Trade? An Abbot trade with an accursed necromancer?” he asked.

“Don’t pretend to be naive. Simpletons don’t become Lord Abbots of great monasteries. I have here a powerful demon, whose schemes have worked grave hurts on mankind. You have a relic, potent enough to purge this demon of evil.” She had to stop for a moment. The pounding on the lid had become more insistent. She cradled the jar against her chest to get additional leverage. “You do, you know. Just within the Cathedral, to the left as you enter, lies a certain Relic.”

“Ah, yes, the True Blood, preserved even more miraculously than the wood of the Cross. It could destroy him—and you don’t even dare name that relic, do you?” asked Cedric.

“Don’t make bets on what I’d dare. Not unless you want your monks to obey those silly paupers’ oaths. I will give you this Bottle, its contents ready for purification, for a price—a price that won’t hurt your Christian soul,” she answered.

“A price? For that deed? It’s your Christian duty!” he pronounced.

She laughed. “You jest! You can’t possibly think I’m a faithful Christian, can you, not when you think I’m a Satan-sworn necromancer, a Lord of Night. The next thing, you’ll want to be going and making me a saint. No, in return I want material objects, things not touched with holiness. You will destroy this demon. In return, I want some belongings of the late Archimagus Humbertus Magnus: his books, his potions, and most especially a drink of his thirty-times distilled potion of eternal life.  And I want to see the demon die, so I myself may swear I saw him dead.  For all this, I want safe conduct to the Abbey, back to the ship, and thence free to the open sea.”

“Safe conduct is mine by right to give, though you’d need promise that you will obey the obligations of a guest, not to use your necromancy or skill at arms against the monastery while you stood within,” he answered.

“I will be your guest, and gladly guest-right keep. You and yours I will not harm. Though I would think it better if few learn who I am, or what I am doing,” she remarked.

“That is acceptable. Your weapons stay here, in the hands of a third party,” he said.

“Moonshadow stays under my cloak, not to be drawn so long as my safe conduct is honored. On my name, may she shatter in my hand if I break your guestright. My wand returns to its truelead sheath, that none will know of it. Even so inerted, I cannot readily let it pass far from me,” she countered.

“The books of sorcery, I fear, we have sent away, so I do not have them to give to you. Only a little hand-manual, written by Humbert in spidery fineness in a secret hand, remains,” he said.

“And the potion? The potion?” She would need to edge the conversation back to the notebook. Humbert had kept a single book in a text the Abbot couldn’t read, all on his studies of the lore of the ancients. The greatest part of Humbert’s works were still in reach.

“The potion is a great and potent treasure, meant for a king, the Second Arthur, not for a pirate, and a woman at that,” said Cedric.

“My offer is not inconsiderable.” She tried the sound of reconciliation.  “Within this jar is your greatest foe. Perhaps I should see what he will offer for his freedom.”

Wealth, came the inner thoughts. I will give you gold, opals as black as your eyes, diamonds so white they outshine the snow. I will give you enchanted gems, so that your Captains are as invincible as Alexander.  Your bodyguards I will clad in truesilver. You may have an empire greater than Rome’s, greater than the Khan’s, one which stretches from Cathay through Africa to the lands beyond the setting sun. I can raise armies for you, to sweep through all the lands of this earth, so that you may pillage a city every week for the rest of your life. The pleasures of the body I will all grant: dishes sweet beyond belief, soft silks for your bed and body, young men who will want you and caress you and never tire.  Every joy, every rapture I can create for you. And, at the end, you may still escape me to Paradise. Yes, you may have all this and more, all in exchange for setting me free.

She looked at the Abbot. “You were saying, Father?”

“You wouldn’t trust the Father of All Lies, would you? Once he is free, he will be at you like a hawk at a rabbit,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be the first to deal with Satan,” she retorted, “and come out ahead on the deal.”

Oceans of sapphires, came the thoughts. Enough to float your ship.  Rubies deep as the sweetest port to fill every wine cask in Europe.  Emeralds to leaf a forest. Beyond the west, in distant Cibola, are whole cities fashioned all from gold. Slaves, too, you will have, so that kings will wash your feet, Grand Dukes will launder your clothes. All these I will deliver to you, if only you release me.

“I don’t have all night,” she said. “If you don’t have the books, you can’t very well give them to me. But the hand manual, in a tongue no one can read, yes, that and the potion would be a fair price. Or would you rather that I let this creature go, say in the middle of services tomorrow? Some of your monks may be safe from him, but he should have a fine time among the parishioners. Will you risk that?”

She heard peals of laughter from the Bottle. Demonic hands smote demonic bellies in hysterical laughter at the thought. Some, came the thoughts, some I should leave, that they may cause more mischief later. Yes, that is a very funny trick, and for giving me such a meal I would almost forgive you, though your wickedness in trapping me like this has become embarrassing.

“Well, Prelate, last chance. Though I’ll first promise to let you go free, whether you agree or not, so that you cannot later claim I took your word under duress. What I do with the Bottle afterwards, even to sending its occupant back home, is then up to me,” she said.

“At least let me pray for guidance.” She stood there impatiently, not for very long. “Yes,” he said, “of course it is more than a fair trade.  We trade a book which no man can read, a potion of merely momentary value—for it simply prolongs one’s stay in this vale of tears—and a safe conduct to an enemy who elsewise would never expose herself to the possibility of conversion. Yes, on my Oath, you may have the trade you propose.”

“Swear it, then, on the Holy Names which bind you,” she said.

He answered in Latin. She shivered at the sound of those Names. “Mind you, though,” he added, “if the sight of the True Blood brings you to the Faith, you are free not to leave.”

“I’ve been tempted before. By both sides and by others. I guess conversion is a risk of life.” The pounding within the jar became more insistent.

“I can help you contain our, ummh, our mutual acquaintance in yon bottle.  My surplice will serve as a seal, against which he has no power, any more than he has the power to escape through the inlets tapped in the top and bottom of the vessel. Just set the bottle down on the boulder, while keeping hold of the lid.” He brought the cloth deftly around the bottle’s feet then up to the top. “The cloth must pass over your hand before I can tie it. I see how you take the speaking of the Names; the touch will be worse.”

“I’m not bothered by a little pain. Whatever I see, whatever I feel... it all goes away afterwards. I am not of Faerie herself, that your Names rend my actual flesh,” she answered.

“Very well.” He brought the surplice across her hand. She could smell her skin char at the contact. “Enough,” he said, “it is tied.” She let go, and glanced at her fingers. Despite the seeming of pain, her skin was unmarked.

She gestured, dissipating the remains of three pentacles. “Hugh,” she ordered, “take the goldsmith and his family to the Dawnfire, if they’ll go. I promised them a trip to Jerusalem, which is more than they’ll have here when our Abbot’s Brethren learn about tonight. They’ll want the credit for the gain, and blame the innocents around them for any losses.”

“To Jerusalem,” asked Aaron, now at last recovered of his swoon, “That is a reward beyond price. But you are right. I should be gone from here.  My apprentices I sent out as journeymen a month ago, leaving them not knowing for whom the Bottle was prepared. They should be safe. Thank you, and may you come out from this as you deserve.”

“Now,” announced Camilla to the Abbot, “my wand goes into truelead, where none can sense it, while Moonshadow stays under my cloak. With you leading the way, I appear to be a virtuous and very timid young lady, afraid even to answer a question.” She wrinkled her brows, strained, and shrank back under her cloak. “That spell, cleanly cast, will keep innocents from accidentally noticing who I am, and putting a strain on your safe-conduct.” They set off through the night.

 

* * * * *

 

The cathedral was quiet, the nave nearly deserted. The Abbot led the way, taking the bows of those he met. Camilla shrank back even farther under her hood, keeping the Bottle out before her, as though she were a little girl too frightened and humble to be willing to speak. She was glad of the protection of her cloak. The light stung her eyes and sent lances into her skin. She had not signed herself over to Satan, but she had lived too long in Faerie to love the sights and sounds around her.

They went quietly to one side of the building. Alone with Abbot Cedric, she could at last set the Solomon’s Bottle down on a table. What remained to be done would be his accomplishment, in which she would play at most a minor part. He looked about, finally taking a chalice large enough to hold the Bottle. Then he hesitated.

“Thus far, but no farther. I am wrong, and will not continue,” he said.

“I should have known. You won’t keep promises, no matter the names on which they were sworn!” hissed her whisper.

“No! I said safe conduct in and out, and that you may have. But with this exchange I cannot proceed. You can keep the Bottle, while I protect this most Holy and Ancient Relic,” he answered.

“Will you at least take a moment, and think again?” she stammered. “I bring you your faith’s most deadly enemy, and you want me to turn him loose?” She grimly considered her alternatives. Killing the Abbot here, virtually on top of the altar, would have serious temporal consequences.  Breaking her guest-vow would be at least unpleasant, if not completely disastrous. Would necromancy work? Could she force him to her will, make him do as she wished? Even outside the Cathedral walls, that would have been chancy. He was not a young man, and was likely far more skilled at White Magic than she was at her Art. Besides, without a wand, here where the glint of candles tore at her like knitting needles and fishhooks, the tinkle of little bells drove spikes into her brain, the distant scent of incense bit corrosively in her nose—here would be the very worst place imaginable to practice the Great Art, even with all the time in the world in which to do it. She could, of course, release the demon, but that would probably get her killed. Slowly.

“I will pray for guidance,” he answered. After he turned, his voice faded to a mutter. Through all the distractions, she still heard clearly a distant plop, as of water, remaining in a gutter after a heavy rain, finally making its way onto the cobblestones. The sound repeated.

“Behold!” he said. “Behold!” he exulted. “A miracle, truly given! You see?” he turned, letting her see the vessel he carried. Drop after drop of blood had fallen from above, splattering against the walls of the chalice. She peered upwards, images of icons like sandpaper against her eyelids. There was the Cross, and there, dripping from the painted wounds, came entirely real blood, a crimsoned stream descending with utter precision into the waiting vessel.

“Can you still deny the Faith?” he asked. She nodded her head, managing to force a smile. “Well, the Lord has remarkable ways. But with this Sign, I can hardly deny your request.” He drew from a cabinet a polished crystal flask wrapped in bright-polished steel.

Her knees turned to jelly at the sight. The liquid within might or might not be authentic, but the power it embodied tapped at her strength like nothing else she had ever encountered. Stone-visaged, she made herself stand straight, so that he would find no weakness in her, no matter what his damnable relic was doing to her reserves. “See? See!” he announced. “The True Blood, holiest relic in half the world. Can you not feel its power?”

“Yeah, that I can do,” she agreed, nodding dizzily. “Shall we get this over with? The longer we’re here, the more your neck is out on your promises, and the closer mine may be to the noose.”

“Oh, very well. I’ve done this often enough before, though against lesser menaces. It is not complicated, though first we must recover my surplice,” he said.

“You want it back? What’s going to keep in,” she remembered to lower her voice, “our mutual friend here?”

“Why, you of course. That’s the way it must be. The demon must be allowed a chance to struggle against its fate, a final chance to escape to perdition. Besides, the Blood can hardly be allowed to come in contact with an artifact as imperfect and artificial as a piece of cloth. No, only the chalice, the Jar, and your hand—the last of these being a creation of the Almighty, hence formally perfect—may be allowed to contact the Blood. You hold the Demon there until the Bottle is entirely submerged in the, uhh, the liquid, and wait a few more moments. It will be obvious when you may let go.”

“Understood,” she answered. She swallowed bile; her stomach was near to revolt. The Cathedral was bad enough. Having one hand submerged in the artifact, whatever it really was, would be unimaginably worse. She slipped her hand under the surplice, smelling her flesh burn though she knew that no harm was coming to her.

The dreams, the temptations, returned to Camilla. A queen, came the voice, you shall be my queen. You shall rule Hell as a queen. I shall supply you with wealth and power and all else you can imagine forever and ever. The souls of Hell will be yours to torture. We may share my domain as equals. Just let me out! Out! Now! Let me out! She ignored the voice, set the bottle into the chalice, and forced down with all her strength on the lid.

The Abbot began to pour a liquid which looked more like fluid essence of Ruby than human blood. The dreams continued, mixed now with threats—or were they simply feelings?—of hideous pain. The blood reached her fingers, her palm, her wrist. She remembered an initiation in distant Africa, in which she had had one hand submerged in boiling water, all the while having to sing cheerful songs. She felt her bones bake to charcoal.  The slightest of moans escaped her lips. This was far worse than Africa.

The wait felt long beyond all imagining, though by the clock of her heart only a few moments passed. The nave filled with brilliant light, then went dark again. A white glow was rising through the bottle, through her hand, up toward the rafters. The light coalesced into a figure.  Lucifer! Prince of Light, but no longer the black flame, the eater of the night, who she had known. Now He was the living light, shifted, veiled in polychrome draperies, transformed into another being.

She began her retreat, not seeing how the Blood returned to its original container. Little good, she thought, that Lucifer had changed his looks.  He had escaped the Bottle, defied the Seal of Solomon, and now would take his revenge. Her instincts called for her to run, though without a Circle, without a chance to use her wand before he could reach her, she had no way to escape, no hope of offering effective resistance. When he came for her, she resolved, she would go for her sword, to go down fighting. The Abbot’s guest right did not mean that she could not defend herself. Nor, she sensed, would the magics residing in this place hinder her in raising spells against demons.

“Thank you.” Lucifer’s voice rang of a thousand chimes, bringing with them the redolent odor of freshly cut flowers at a Summer’s dawn. “I thank you, though you do not understand, though you will suffer bitterly for your deeds. Thank you, for I am returned to the light.” The Lucifer-figure peered skywards and vanished.

“Some day,” she said to the Abbot, “Someday, I’d like to know what that was. The demon is dead?” The Abbot nodded. “So let’s go. I kept my part of the bargain, though it cost a trifle more inconvenience than I thought it might. Now, you keep yours.”

“Of course, daughter.” His eyes lifted over her shoulders, his face paling to sudden surprise. Camilla sensed a trap, tried to turn, and found herself pinned, with two men holding her arms and a third putting a brawny clutch on her neck.

“Hold the vixen tight,” came the voice from behind her. “Don’t want her to escape.”

“Your Oath!” she spat at the Abbot.

“Truly, I know nothing of this. You there! In the name of God! And your oath of obedience! Release her. She is here under safe-conduct, properly and fully sworn,” commanded Cedric.

“No!” barked a countermand. Twisting her head, she made out a face she knew all too well—Lord Inquisitor Matthew. Abbot Cedric and the Inquisitor locked eyes. “Abbot,” announced the Inquisitor, “I judge your vow to be invalid. As we are equal in rank, if we disagree your recourse is to appeal to Rome. Of course, I just might find it convenient to burn this witch before then. But you did not break your oath. Had the Almighty not led me to this place and time, had he not inspired me to peer in here, some time ago, I would never have known what was happening, for certainly men of lesser skill would have been fooled by the spells she has woven to hide herself. I certainly would never have interrupted the glorious miracle we have just seen in order to catch this piratical tramp a few moments sooner. I even cast Silence upon my men that we would not risk disturbing what transpired. But—as a matter of Canon Law—it is my duty to capture and burn necromancers, and I shall perform my duty.

She relaxed, feigning resignation. Her chances for escape were probably better now than they would be after they searched and disarmed her. She leaned down, her captors following. Her boot came down hard on the right-hand man’s sandals, followed with an elbow to the ribs. As his grip slipped, her now-free hand swung hard at the left-hand man’s jaw. The crunch told her that he was out of the fray. They had the mass of numbers, but if she could reach Moonshadow things would even considerably.  She dragged her last captor off balance, trying to throw him over her shoulder as the Dawnfire’s East Asian cook had taught her.  Meanwhile a hard kick to the side finished off the man to the right. The man behind her had the weight of an ox, and went over agonizingly slowly.  She managed to reach her sword, began the draw. In the corner of her eye, she caught glimpses of a dozen armed men. Then her world exploded in darkness.

 

* * * * *

 

Camilla awoke, at first not knowing where she might be, or how she might have gotten there. She was standing, chained to a wall, bonds across her chest and under her arms supporting her weight, arms pinned spread-eagled.  She had been taken from behind, then knocked over the head. Something had called, awakening her. What? She could hear a fly buzzing, but not even the distant sounds of voices or men working. What had drawn her awake?

She risked opening her eyes, and found herself in a monk’s simple cell.  The light in the corridor spoke of late afternoon. It had to be the next day. Her head split with pain. She tried to look out with second sight.  She hardly expected it to work. Not here, not so far from Faerie. The room was a golden flame. A Saint had lived here, done his good works here, and finally died here. His deeds lived after him, blinding her inner vision. Look beyond the fire, she told herself. Look beyond!

Willy-nilly, Camilla saw the cathedral nave lined with monks, clergy, and men-at-arms in polished armor. Had she been unconscious through to Sunday? It hardly seemed likely. Then she saw what lay near the altar, still wrapped in its truelead foil. Her wand. Clairaudience was almost always beyond her, but for the moment she could hear the voice of the Inquisitor, reciting in ill-accented Latin. His intent was obvious. He had the wand, and now would destroy it. She tried to reach out, to use the power indwelling in the wand against him. Even without the relics about him, using a magic implement at that distance was virtually impossible. She failed. He droned through his prayers, voice as nasal as a snuffling pig, then paused while the wand was exposed. It lay on the table, its gems’ inner light competing with cathedral candles and the glare of the sun through cathedral stained-glass panes. She tried again to strike against the Inquisitor, again without success. “Go now!” shouted the Inquisitor. “Go again into the dust!” He brought up his hand, gesturing. Around the room, each of his audience copied the motion.  Her second sight filled with the brightness of the solar disc. Through it, momentarily, she could see alchemetical ruby and sapphire striving to hold their forms against the light. The wand crumbled to dust.

She gagged as the shock recoiled on her, as her symbolic ties to her wand were shredded. She had not eaten in a day. Her stomach brought forth nothing. Probing fingers stirred the dust. The laws of similarity transformed them to stilettoes driving down her spine. Ashes were drenched in holy water; acid ate through her eyes to her brain. Finally she collapsed against the chains, unable to think, waiting for the pain would pass.

The corridor outside held dim twilight. Her clarity of thought returned.  Her clothing was stiff with her own sweat, now grown cold. An older man in habit and cowl sat across the room, waiting patiently for her recovery.  If he had wanted, she considered, he could have slit her throat without her putting up the least resistance.

“Ah,” he intoned, “The witch awakes. I hope you found your slumbers comfortable?”

“You must...” She tried to clear her throat. Her voice was gone.

“Wait.” He filled a bowl with water. “Drink! Don’t worry, it’s not poisoned. We are, after all, a monastery, not some baronial torture chamber.” The water went down her throat, cold and sweet. “M’Lord Inquisitor thinks that we ought feed you on holy water, properly blessed.  But that would be cruel. It isn’t as if we are decided what to do with you. M’Lord Abbot’s promise of safe-conduct, his holy word binding our Order and its guards, cannot lightly be ignored, M’Lord Inquisitor’s protestations notwithstanding. You may be formally M’Lord Inquisitor’s prisoner, but almost all of us here must live under M’Lord Abbot after M’Lord Inquisitor leaves.”

“I seem to be less than unhurt,” she said.

“You live. M’Lord Inquisitor hoped that by now you’d be meeting the pleasures of the rack, or the stake; indeed, he’s got half his men collecting the driest of pine branches for your auto-de-fe. But we, the senior brethren, don’t agree as to what is lawful in your case. Peter!” He called over his shoulders. “She’s awake. Perhaps her story will be worth a hearing.”

Brother Peter, a short, corpulent man with the eyes of a greying ferret, slinked into the room. A sash around one arm was woven in the bloody colors of the Lord Inquisitor’s personal service. He hobbled forwards, stared icily over Camilla’s body, and slumped into the pallet opposite her. “I am a truth-smeller,” he wheezed, his voice an old man’s high, thin-pitched squeal as it passed between dirt-brown teeth. “Do not bother with lies, unless you want your body to take penance for your errors.” She glared at him contemptuously. “Now, how did you bribe M’Lord Abbot to get in here. Was it gold? Threats? Perhaps, perhaps the use of your body?” He sniggered.

“Oh, Peter,” complained the other man. “Show some respect for your betters.”

“Look at that spread, those hips, those legs! For that body, most young men would have plenty of respect,” whined Peter. “Well, witch, how did you do it? Blackmail?”

She stared at him, cogitating. His truthsense gave him an aura which was plainly visible to her inner eye. She felt his power, concluded that she could probably lie if she wanted to, but that lying would be one more drain on what remained of her strength. “Do you really want to know?”

“Of course! I asked, didn’t I?” he said.

“I offered him the chance to do good—to do something he thought would be good,” she hastily corrected. “I gave him the chance to destroy a demon. Not any little house-imp or poltergeist, either. I offered him a great and powerful devil. In return I was promised safe-conduct in and out, that I might see the demon’s fate without losing my neck.”

“That was all? Safe conduct? And seeing the deed done?” he repeated.

“Safe conduct. He promised me that which I value far more than anything else—a long life.” She felt his power brighten as he reached out, confirming the truth of her thoughts.

He drew away, his power retreating from her, suspecting that there must be some evasion which he could not grasp. She thanked her good sense, once again, for having forced her through a rigorous study of logic. Truth was a fine-bladed razor, far too sharp for the muddlehead across the room from her to grasp firmly. His sense only told him that she thought she had told the truth.

“So, you offered him a demon? Which one?” he asked.

“Surely even the Lord Inquisitor recognized...” She shut her mouth, recognizing the trap laid for her. If she named the demon, she would eventually be maneuvered into admitting that she had raised it, for that demon did not show himself uncalled. For raising a demon, no matter how holy the cause, the Lord Inquisitor would then argue that it was certainly just that she be burned.

“I want your name for it!” He rose and crept slowly across the room, punctuating each step with screams and insults. “Your name! Well, answer me! Where did you get the demon?” He slapped her hard, twice, then lifted her by the hair, jerking her forward against the chains. “The name! The name! What was its name! How did you raise it?”

“I have the Abbot’s safe-conduct, sworn to,” she gasped in pain, “sworn to Jesus, Mary and all the saints.” The last words tumbled out. To her surprise, her head did not crack with agony on speaking those Names. He pushed her back against the wall, fist against the base of her rib cage.  She tightened her stomach muscles, expecting worse to come.

“Well, so you do, at least for another hour or so.” He slapped her again, not quite hard enough to leave bruises. “But soon this changes.  I have the next round of guarding you, from an hour hence through the night. I expect a little material penance is demanded. For the health of your soul.”

“Peter.” His companion sounded outraged. “That is enough. You are not dealing with a rebellious little girl. She is an adult, albeit one deeply mired in sin.”

“In God’s eyes,” snapped Peter, “we are all children. Nor is there a difference between sin and rebellion against God Himself. And rebellion against one’s Lord is treason. Shall we coddle traitors? You have the next hour of guarding her, though I think it would be safer if you prayed outside the cell, lest this second whore of Babylon, who notoriously spreads herself for pirates, bulls, and elves, tries to tempt a young man like you.” Peter stalked out of the room.

The other monk waited, unbending at the sound of a grate slamming shut.  He moistened a towel and sponged her face. “It would be far better,” he said gently, “If you confessed now. My brothers are divided, but those of us who want to spare you need the advantage of your words.” He gave her some more water and some apple slices. The sweetness reminded her of her hunger.

“You want to know?” she asked. She felt hope, and snatched greedily at it.

“Which demon you raised. How, and more especially why you raised him.  You see, we can make things far more easy on you than Peter’s faction ever will. All they want to do is to burn people or to break them on the wheel. But if you confess, and make proper penance, there can be other possibilities. After all, raising a demon in order to destroy it could be argued not to be a totally evil act. With forgiveness, you could have a life. You’d need to be cloistered, your hours given over to contemplation and prayer, lest you be tempted again, but there are possibilities,” he said.

“Attractive possibilities.” She was alert enough to recognize her situation. The two men were a team, one to frighten her and one to be a tender father. Between them her resistance was to be as wheat between millstones. What she needed now was time, preferably before Peter returned. He might be forbidden to mark her, but holding her head under water might prove an attractive alternative. “I need to think,” she announced agreeably. “I believe you have a fair argument. But I need some quiet. Preferably alone.”

“I’ll be in earshot if you call.” He left more fruit where she could see it, and stepped through the doorway.

Idiot! she snarled to herself. The monks could have dosed the water with enough herbs to convince an elephant that it was a nightingale, and you stood here sipping docilely away. From the light yesterday, she was sure that she was close to the outside of the building. All she had to do was to free herself. Now? No, her escape was best made while Peter was guarding her. He would have arranged to have a long, uninterrupted stretch of time during which he could privately work sweet reason on her.  By escaping then, she’d gain a few hours start. But she had to free herself now.

She braced her back against the wall, and pushed out as hard as she could.  The chains dug into her wrists. The coarseness of the stone wall pressed against her shift. More than once she’d been held by people who put women in light, decorative chains, not suspecting her actual strength. The chains gave no signs of bending. The mortar was new, but well-set.

She thought. She would have to use magecraft to free herself, but how?  She was in bare feet, wearing neither her sword nor her outer coat.  There was a steel needle sewn into the hem of her dress, sufficient a tool to open their crude locks, but she couldn’t reach it. She experimented with different positions, finally concluding that even if she had the needle in one hand she couldn’t reach any of the keyholes.

Levitation? Under the best of conditions, she could move a piece of steel with her mind almost as delicately as she could move it with her fingers.  But that sort of control required a wand and a comfortable position for sitting. Worse, levitation wouldn’t give her a proper feel for what she was doing. The same problem held for rolling the lock’s tumblers with her mind. Without a wand, she couldn’t feel what she was doing, and would have little chance of setting the tumblers right.

She could always try brute force. Casting a strong spell against the remnant goodness in this room would not be easy, but she had always been more of a powerful mage than a subtle one. What should she do?  Enhancing her own strength, to try to tear the chains from the walls, was too risky. The steel in the bolts looked beyond her strength, even after she ensorcelled herself. She examined the links to her hands, finding the weakest of them.

She could feel the metal slip within her aura. It was plain, cold iron, unshielded against magic. The monks were probably confident that she couldn’t use spellcraft in this room. Against a weaker opponent, they would likely have been correct. They would not be the first to underestimate how much power she could summon. She knew she was not a great mage, at least in skill, at least not yet, but most men assumed that maga had no more endurance than butterflies. She chose her spell.

Attacking the metal of the chain was like running through hip-deep water.  Each move of the casting faced massive resistance. At least, she noted to herself, she hadn’t made the mistake of so many other mages, fools who relied on voice or gesture to cue them through their own spells. She was a necromancer, or, as her colleagues styled themselves, a Lord of Death.  Necromantic spells imitated death, the quiet and still, in their casting.

The room fought back against her. The golden fire visible to her second sight concentrated against the touch of her own magic, blocking her efforts. Her logic told her that the fire would also block the monks’ second sight, so that they could not tell that she was casting spells.  Camilla focussed every fragment of strength, locking her will into the making of the spell. She could see fragments of steel disappear as she concentrated on the link, but the strain was enormous. She considered her likely fate if she failed to escape, then set aside her usual inhibition against drawing on her core strength. This spell, she saw, was going to be very dangerous. If the metal continued to resist her, she might draw on her power completely, so that she would slump unconscious, mayhaps even forgetting to breath. For an instant she brought to mind’s eye the image of Tir na Na’Ogth rising out of the seamist, then strained with body as well as spell against the chain. She was sweating again, and could feel the strength draining from her body.

The link snapped, leaving her momentarily stunned. Half-dazed, she fumbled through her gown, finding the pin she had hidden in it. The locks were very simple. A few minutes work released them. She paused to ponder. She had to disguise the fact that she had broken free, so that no one would notice anything wrong until she was alone with Peter. Leg manacles could be hidden under her stockings, while hand manacles could be held with her palms. What about the broken chain? She tiptoed across the room, picked up the broken link, and bent it somewhat back into shape.  It had parted after most of its metal had been spelled away, but it could still pass a casual inspection.

Bye and bye, Peter appeared at the door. “I see,” he sneered, “that you are still thinking. My Superior, M’Lord High Inquisitor, thinks you need substance to focus your thoughts, something to give you strength to resist the devil.” He produced from his gown a flattened, well-polished wooden club. “Before I saw the light, I was employed by the Lord Mayor of London, in a capacity directly relevant to my present intentions. You may be certain that you will neither die nor bruise. You may also be certain that if you neither confess nor repent you will wish above all for death.” He smiled as he ran the baton under her jaw line.

Camilla grabbed the club and punched him in the nose. She followed with a knee to the stomach, whirled him around, used one hand to clamp his mouth shut, and pulled. As he leaned over in pain she slammed his head, as hard as she could, into the stone cell wall. He slumped. She felt for his pulse, confirming that he was still alive. Good! Dead, his ghost might manage to raise some warning against her. Alive, he would do nothing for some time. The belt at his waist tied him in place, while chunks of his hair shirt provided a crude gag. She appropriated his sandals and habit for a disguise, wondering as she did if he had ever had the garment washed.

The empty corridor outside ended in a narrow window. She looked out and down. The wall was smooth stone, with nearly a hundred feet of drop between her and a paved stone courtyard. Even in a hero tale, that would be an impossible leap. The pallet was hay, not rope; rigging a line was impossible. Besides, there were guards in the courtyard below. The corridor held three other cells, all empty, and a trapdoor to the floor below. Trusting the shadows to hide her, she peered through the grate, finding a half-dozen men below, busily playing at dice. She couldn’t sneak around them. Opening the trap door and jumping through was absurd.  One to six odds, six swords against one pair of slim if well-muscled fists, was beyond her martial skills. A small closet revealed only a long ladder. The corridor relied on windows for illumination. It didn’t even have a torch she might use as a weapon. Barricading the grate with the ladder sounded romantic, but would merely advertise that she was free.

Only after some bewildered pacing did she see the obvious. Why, after all, fifteen fathoms above the ground, did the closet have a ladder in it?  There were no cressets to fill. There had to be some other reason why people might want to climb. She finally found the trapdoor in the ceiling, opening to the roof.

She stood on the tower, the trapdoor closed again, the ladder next to her.  A few feet below ran the peak of a steep roof, heavily leaded against the weather. Climbing on such a surface would rapidly send her down to the gutters, followed by a fifty foot fall onto bare stone. She could straddle the roof peak, but that path didn’t take her anyplace. She might be able to hang onto a gutter, assuming that the gutters would take her weight. Reaching the gutters would be a serious problem. The ladder might be her salvation again. It had hooks which could be snagged on a roof line while she climbed down from one roof to the next. She traced out the route she would follow. The back gardens were dark; she could work her way out through them. At this hour few would be awake to challenge her.

She lowered the ladder over the parapet, then followed herself, not breathing easily until she felt the rooftop between her knees. She turned around, set the ladder in front of her, and inched her way ahead. The roof was not so long, not more than thirty yards, but sliding the ladder ahead without making noise took a challenging mixture of strength and delicacy. She wished she had eaten the fruit in her cell while she had had the chance, then reflected that it might have been poisoned.

The second roof line was not very far below the first. She could see that the ladder would reach from one roof to the next. Setting the ladder in place, she slipped sideways to stand on its rungs. As she took the weight off her feet, she slipped. Afraid, she jerked convulsively at the rung in her left hand. The wood snapped. A frantic grab for the roof peak missed. Camilla found herself sliding, speed ever increasing, toward the courtyard below. Her last effort had carried her too far sideways; she couldn’t reach the ladder. She scrabbled against smooth, slick lead, feeling her slide accelerate.

Desperately she pushed off with one hand and flipped stomach over back through mid-air, landing on the roof near the ladder. Her fingers touched wood and took the ladder in a steely grip. The groan of ladder joints was loud as a crashing avalanche. Moments later, there came the clatter of the errant rung striking paving blocks below. Camilla froze still, grateful for the new moon hiding her in its black velvet folds.

The remaining descents were more gentle, though her shoulder ached from the strain it had taken. Finally, she stood at an upper landing of an open stairway. The ladder disappeared into the weeds under the stairs.  Where was she? Stars above gave precise compass bearings. She wished she had seen a detailed plan of the abbey. Roughly speaking, she knew she was in the middle of a complex of storage sheds, granaries, and barns. To the north lay the tower of Humbertus Magnus and his hidden, spell-warded garden. The thought of Humbert’s tower brought a fey gleam to her face.  The exchange with the Abbot had come to nought, but perhaps she could simply steal the items she wanted. The Lord Inquisitor had stolen from her, the Queen of Pirates. He needed to be taught who was to be stealing from whom, in the natural order of things.

An open door let her into a network of corridors. From above, the buildings had appeared simply built. A long hall with store-rooms to either side brought her swiftly to her objective. Once she paused, trying to use her second sight to see what lay in the rooms around her. She was very tired and far from the lands of the setting sun. She perceived confused images of boxes and bales, but no hint of traps or steel-bright weapons.

Where, she wondered, would the Abbot be? Asleep in his cell? Rooms, she corrected; the Abbot of Caer Gwenfaire was not sworn to poverty. Perhaps he was arguing with the Lord Inquisitor. And who had Moonshadow? She had paid very deeply for that sword, almost as deeply as she’d paid for her wand. She didn’t want to lose them both in a single day. Well, if the Abbot had her sword, and wanted her secrets, he’d have tried to translate the inscription on Moonshadow’s blade from the Elder Tongue. The monks so feared Faerie that no monk knew that language. In all likelihood no book in the monastery’s library would contain it. But Humbert had dealt with the Elves and knew their speech. Surely he must have had a dictionary.  If some of Humbert’s books were still in the Tower, the Abbot might be there too.

She sent out her second sight again, this time to the innards of Humbert’s tower. To her surprise, inner vision found only impenetrable darkness within. The doorway was held by two men-at-arms in the livery of the Abbot’s Life Guard. She let second sight carry her view around the tower, finding that the hidden garden was also barred to her view.

She needed a point of view which would let her peer into the tower windows. Her fatigue, the hour, the demands of using sorcery without any artifact to assist, left the feeling that she was being transformed into the hollow shell of a person. The realization that she was without a wand, that she had to use her own mind to cut and cast each spell, was deeply chilling. She found the vantage point she needed, and put down her fears again. There was light within Humbert’s tower, and a solitary figure seated at a bench, some largish object cradled in his hands. The rosy glow of moonsilver was hard to mistake. The figure had to be studying her sword.

How could she get by the guards? She had no weapon. They were doubtless shielded against spells, at least to some extent, not that she could manage to cast a solid spell of command through her exhaustion. It would have to be bluff. She would march up to the door, mumble to them, and have them let her in. With her head under the cowl, she would appear to be a beardless young man, doubtless extremely nervous about the vital message for M’Lord Abbot.

The guards did everything but offer to carry her up the stairs. They knew that there were disagreements, and that messages to M’Lord Abbot from M’Lord High Inquisitor of All England were to be treated with the utmost of dispatch, even if they were being carried by a nervous boy who could manage no more than whispers and falsetto squeaks. They opened the door, announced her arrival, and closed the door behind her.

The Abbot sat near the center of a great trestle table, his back nearly to the door. The tabletop was littered with alchemical implements and bottles of mysterious powders. At one end, in a space carefully cleared, were her cloak, boots, and Solomon’s Bottle. The Abbot held her sword, comparing runes against entries in a small book. Continuing to focus his attention on the runes, he gestured her forward. Plainly he expected the Lord Inquisitor’s messengers to wait patiently until they were spoken to.

“Her name,” announced Camilla, “is Tirgnoddyr—Moonshadow.”

The Abbot, not conceiving the possibility that his studies might be interrupted by a female voice, recoiled in astonishment. She threw back her cowl. Recognition was immediate.

“How,” he asked, “How in God’s Wisdom—no, I suppose in your case that is not likely to be the explanation, at least not in a direct way—how did you get here?”

She shed her borrowed habit, wrinkled her nose again at the smell, and walked over to him. Her tabard revealed much of the length of her arms and legs. She used the moment of surprise to snatch back her sword. “I walked.” She donned her cloak. “I came to finish our deal. I believe you owe me a philtre, a book, and a safe-conduct.” She buckled Moonshadow to her belt. “There is also the minor matter of a bump on the head and another possession of mine, one which your inquisitor seems to have borrowed.”

“Rather permanently, I fear, notwithstanding my objection that the object did not violate the letter of Canon Law, in that it did not appear to incorporate human bone. Or did I miss the obvious?” he asked.

“Nope. Human bone specializes the wand for hurting people, which is not my usual inclination. It also limits the power levels. Badly. Dragon’s bone is a much better material,” she answered.

“My appeal to Rome,” he continued, not hiding his disbelief of her last words, “may eventually lead to his chastisement. As I promised, your body is intact. For the remainder, this is the philtre,” he produced from the tabletop a clean goblet and a pair of crystal bottles, “this is the book,” he pulled from one drawer a small, leather-bound volume, “and I will find some way to get you out from here. The philtre is to be mixed, allowed to settle for a fraction of a candle, and then drunk.” He fumbled through the tabletop, at last locating a sandglass. “I do presume that you want the philtre for yourself?” She nodded. “I am obliged to warn you against drinking it. Why confine yourself to this Earth, with its everpresent risk of incurring eternal damnation, when the joys of Heaven might be yours?”

“Mix the potion. And perhaps advise me against the risks of dying soon, and going to Hell. I don’t know what’s in charge down there with numero uno gone, but if I end there, not the Blessed Isles, I suspect I’ll rate a lot of personal attention,” she noted. “And not nearly the gratitude you might expect, given I got the new demon in charge his job.”

“You seek the fate of the beings of Faerie, rather than your birthright as a daughter of Adam?” He shook his head. “Even you might be forgiven, especially after your deeds this week.” He opened the bottles, mixed their contents, and swirled the mixture lightly. The two liquids, separately clear, merged into a single mass within which swirled opalescent sparks of green and red and orange. The Abbot inverted the sandglass. “Humbertus Magnus,” he continued, “was always interested in numbers, in ways I don’t understand, for all my interest in alchemy.  Instead of mixing a pinch of this, a dram of that, and tasting or smelling, he always weighed and counted everything. That’s not at all the way a normal, rational worker proceeds. But somehow he got results. Oh, yes, the book has its holder.” He found an oilcloth wrapper and steel box. “Though the book is sunk to the bottom of the Ocean Sea, the box will keep it dry.”

Camilla paged through the volume. Humbertus’s script was so fine as to be painful to read. It was better that the Abbot not be told what tongue Humbertus had used, let alone admit that she knew the reading of Auld Wyrmish. “Like you said,” she remarked, “It’s not Chaldean or Greek, or Cathayan or Tibetan or any other common tongue.” She shrugged, affecting ignorance. The book and its box disappeared into a pocket.

“You know all those languages?” he asked.

“To read, most not to speak well. Though Cathayan is easier than the tongue of Cipangu,” she said. “They’re fabulously fond of literary allusions.”

“But why, to ask a more fundamental question, does one of your sort come to a Holy Place?” he asked. “And why did a necromancer, one given over wholly to Satan and his accursed works, betray him? Which you surely did.  Your own powers will suffer greatly thereby, which I may count as a blessing, but which you ought to regret.”

“My powers will do nothing of the sort, and reducing the strength of the fools of my craft we both count as a blessing, if for different reasons. I’m not even embarrassed we agree on this.” She grinned impishly. “Look, Cedric, we’ve got time until that potion settles. I’ll play the riddle game with you, but only even, riddle for riddle.”

“Very well. But there are some secrets—I’ll certainly not say how many men-at-arms guard this Abbey, which spells are bound into its walls, ...” he said.

“Not interested anyway. We both name riddles, then trade or not?” she answered.

“This is fair. My first question would be: why does a necromancer seek to slay her liege lord, first master of her forbidden craft?” he asked.

“And mine: what came from the Bottle—that figure of light?” she asked.

“That, my dear, was a heavenly being, an angel, though the details are complex, and I could not swear as to its precise current place in the Celestial taxonomy. To be precise, the light was a demiurge, made of the same substance as Satan, purged of Satan’s errors, and returning to the Mercy Seat,” he answered.

She wrinkled her brows. “Necromancy is an art, like fencing. Binding yourself to the Devil is—mayhaps I mean was—a way to get a lot of power very fast, without any immediate hard work. But a necromancer, alone, can gain that same power, though I know few who have. The temptation of the easiest path is very strong. Since the Art is interdicted, most necromancers hazard little, and gain much, by becoming Satanists as well. Of course, if you follow the easier path you soon—on a temporal if not secular time scale—end up in the icy parts of the netherworld. I prefer to stay here. If I had converted, given my soul to him, I could hardly have bound him, let alone touched your relics without physical scarring. So I really didn’t slay my liege lord, though perhaps he was the true Master of my art. But if that stuff purified him, why didn’t it change me? I seem to be the same as before.”

“I would ask, perhaps again, why you did what you did.” He waited for her nod. “In answer, you are human, or of Faerie. In either case, you have free will, and must choose your fate. The divine beings we encounter are—different. They choose Good or Evil because their nature so decrees, they having no choice in the matter. The Blood transforms one nature into another, in the same body, so that the body remains, but the Demon no longer exists.”

“Why did I do all this? I have a bet with the Jarl Herverd, closing at year’s end, for an iron ha’penny. The bet is to the one who does the more wicked deed to a third party,” she answered.

“Jarl Herverd? The Scourge of God? The Second Attila? The monster who put London and Paris to the sack last Summer?” he asked.

“That’s right. But I don’t have armies to waste, like him, so I had to be cleverer,” said Camilla. “I wasn’t quite bound to Satan, though the distinction is pretty tiny, ‘cept to a good lawyer, so I maybe owed him something. Certainly most people think a necromancer does; you said so yourself. To win the bet, I killed the Fallen One, a great King, who counted me among his loyal and loving subjects.”

“Dear God! What a motive! Forgive me, daughter, while I pray. Truly I am an innocent and unworldly man.” He knelt. She stole closer to him, noting as she did that the final grains of sand were passing through the glass.

“Abbot,” she asked, “do I drink the dregs, or just the liquid?” He didn’t move. “Your promise is at stake!” she snapped.

“Oh, yes. It is ready. Drink the whole thing, every drop,” he instructed.

Her nostrils flared. She shook convulsively, for a moment not steady enough to lift the goblet. On long voyages, her sailors lamented the absence of women in the crew. Their lusts were nothing compared to what she felt now, what promises lurked for her in a swallow of murky, distasteful fluid. She downed the liquid, then looked at the Abbot, transfigured by an inner ecstasy, a transformation too subtle and fundamental to be described save to those who had also experienced it.

“The Baltic Vikings,” she remarked, “brew a drink from fermented garlic kielbasa. It’s enough to drive a drinking man to water. But that was worse, no matter what else it did.”

The Abbot nodded in agreement. “Humbertus was very explicit about that.  He compares the drink, though 30 times distilled without loss of volume, to fermented rancid butter, saying that the latter is more pleasing to the palate. But on my word, may God be my witness, that was the Philtre of Eternal Life and Health.”

She made a face, wishing she could rinse her mouth of the taste.

“Humbertus,” he noted, “recommended following the philtre with wine, to clean the taste buds, and perhaps food, enough to avert hunger. While this is not a refectory, I did have something waiting for me.” He nodded at a silver tray. She lifted the lid, noting a silver flask, silver wine cup, a small loaf of bread still warm from the ovens, and a few fresh apples. “My predecessor,” continued the Abbot, “would have preferred a quail stuffed with herbs, mushrooms, and its own eggs, the latter hard-boiled and stuffed with salmon roe, perhaps a little fresh salmon, three or four steamed vegetables, a cake or confection, three wines, and a digestive cordial. My tastes have always been far more simple. But don’t wait. I can well imagine the philtre’s taste. Assuredly there is no hurt in your eating. Humbertus Magnus himself did that after taking his own philtre.”

“But he died of old age!” she shot back. Was the philtre a mass of humbuggery?

“Oh, no. That’s just a rumor someone put out. No, he made the philosopher’s stone, or at least enough of it to turn every gilt-work statue in the Abbey down to their pedestals and foundations into solid gold, and disappeared. His final message to us, inscribed on yonder slate, read simply ‘I am called. I go. Fare well, good friends. May the Almighty be with you.’ Well, let us share this. I understand your caution.” He found another mug, divided the wine, blessed his own portion, and toasted her. “To leave here is not so hard. We need only wait for night’s deep, so you’ll not be seen. They’ll eventually notice you’re gone, but likely not before daybreak—I know when the guard will be changed—so you can walk out through the garden and be over the wall.  It’s low from this side. The wall spells protect against intruders, not against those seeking to leave us. Indeed, from this room you may pass directly to the waiting garden, through yonder window. I’ll find a rope, thought the fall from here is no more than two or three yards.” He sat again, broke the bread, and offered her a portion. “I still don’t understand your theological status now. Surely, if you were to repent of your Art, your deed yesterday would earn you forgiveness for many wrongs.”

“That was a wicked deed, or supposed to be one. Though since then I’ve done nothing especially malevolent. Even during my escape, no one was seriously hurt. Tied, gagged, head pounded no more than mine, but not hurt badly. If the Jarl Herverd argues that the deed was not evil, I may lose my bet,” she answered.

“Virtue derives from one’s motive, not according to one’s material deeds.  Besides, for a malevolent being to be struck down maliciously is a fiendish ... well, I was always an administrator, not a man of great insight.” He leaned back in his chair, letting her eat more bread.

“Oh, Cedric,” said Camilla. He raised his eyebrows. “I can’t seem to remember what you said about the statues.” There was a look of surprise on his face. “I won’t remember in the future, either.” She’d walked enough halls here. The monks made statues as penances. Many statues.  Large statues. Had even one been ungilded? She decided not to try explaining to Cedric that he had the power to destroy the price of gold.

There came a pounding at the outer door. A breathless voice called “Abbot Cedric! Abbot Cedric! The witch has escaped! Open at once!”

“She has escaped? Then go, search for her!” he replied. “I am in the midst of a translation.”

“Now, open!” The men pounded on the door again.

“M’Lord Abbot Cedric,” came another voice, whining in sycophancy, “It is I, your faithful Inquisitor. Is all well in there?”

“Yes, indeed,” the Abbot answered. “Though all will go far less well if I am not given peace and quiet.” While he answered, Camilla rose and peered down into the garden. She saw mounds of herbs, leafless apple trees, but no hint of movement.

“No one down there yet,” she whispered.

“They’ll be searching the front of the Abbey first. Besides, the only easy entrance to that garden passes through this room,” he noted.

“Guards!” called the Inquisitor, his voice plainly audible through the plain oaken door. “The Insight of Gabriel reveals all to me. She is within this tower. She must be threatening your Lord Abbot. Break down the door!” With a crash of steel against wooden panels, the door splintered, nearly flying open. A second crash shattered the door, leaving fragments hanging by the sill. Camilla heaved a small table through the window, then took a running leap for the opening as a half-dozen guards pushed their way into the room behind her.

Camilla sailed out into the night, stretched, and waited for the ground.  The skid across a damp lawn left her on her feet. A glance back showed men, still in the room, looking down but unwilling to duplicate her leap.  She dashed for the outer wall, scrambling around bushes and over low decorative hedges.

As the Abbot had said, the wall was short from this side, not more than chest height. She vaulted to the top and stared. The wall was not short from the other side. Someone had spent years carting fill to raise the garden to its present elevation. That, she told herself, was a long way down. She unbuckled her sword, wrapped it in her cape, and dropped it over the edge. She saw no handholds. Cautiously, she lowered herself over the side. Touch revealed no cracks too fine to see. She pushed gently off from the wall. ‘To learn to fall, watch the cat’ went the proverb.  Her second jump was rather longer than the drop into the garden. She tried to roll, finding herself suddenly flat on her back. Lights like cut crystal, tinted blue and green, floated before her face, outshining the starstream in the cloudless sky above. She forced herself to her feet, searched out her sword, and staggered into the trees. The sound of metal on metal spoke of guards already on her trail.

After a time, she heard no more pursuit. She slowed a bit, trying to recover from the shock she’d taken. Her ship’s crew had laughed at hero tales, telling of about princes who escaped from sorcerers’ eyries by plummeting a dozen fathoms onto stone pavement, ran all night through thick forest, and fought a dragon in the morning, all the time dressed in full plate armor. Her jump had been less than a third of the tales’, onto soft ground, and she’d been lucky not to wreck an ankle. She leaned back on a tree stump, letting the night sounds envelop her, regaining a little of her composure. Then she began a slow, distance-eating run to the west.  It was a good hour before she began to worry.

In the distance she could hear the baying of hounds, one after another, followed by the ill-tuned piping of horns. A hunt! She could readily guess what prey was sought. Almost in panic she began a sprint, then forced herself to slow down. She still had a long distance to the coast.  If they wanted to chase her, she would give them a hard trail. Her wand might be gone, but a Lord of Death saw as well by starlight as by the light of the sun. Her hunters would seek to drive her inland. She knew where escape lay.

Camilla called to mind’s eye what she knew of the surrounding territory.  There were a few villages and trails, a couple of hunting lodges, but much of this land was still under the sway of the great forest. The road she wanted was to the northwest. The local Baron’s castle, from which the hunt came, was nearly due south. The town with the goldsmith’s shop would lie ahead. She’d have to go around that. Adepts from the monastery might have reached the townspeople, calling with the mind over greater distances than any shout could travel. If she had escaped a little later, all would have been well. After midnight, no one would have been awake to hear a mental call. At this hour, though, much would be left to chance.

She cut through plowed fields, hearing dogs barking and men shouting.  There were no lights beyond the town, yet. A night ambush with no light would be a one-sided affair—but she would be the one side. The town had no mage skilled enough to give others the gift of night-sight. For her, under these conditions, it would be like fighting blind men. Without a moon, she could almost think of matching the heroes of fable, the solitary warrior against whom armies could not stand. The Abbot’s paxmen the previous night had had torches, and she had been obliged not to surprise them.

She could hardly stay on open ground indefinitely. A rider might not risk a gallop in the dark, but horsemen could still run her down. She cut into the woods, at first having to bat branches away from her eyes. Under the great old trees, there was open space, where so little sunlight entered that lesser plants could not grow. Ahead were the barrows. That would be an amusing place for the vermin behind her to enter, if they dared, no matter the price on her head.

The ground rose and fell around her. She had reached the burial place of the Celts or Picts or some older, now-forgotten race. Here, despite the bright stars above, her sight did not penetrate so clearly. The dead wished their privacy, and she was too tired to strip it from them. In the fullness of her strength, she had ignored this ground’s dwellers. Now she might need to be more respectful. Aaron, who was by most standards not a superstitious man, had feared to come near here. She could sense around her the motions he had feared, of the dead silently dreaming, waiting for time’s end. She hoped they would not object to her intrusion. If the Jarl Herverd wished war with France and England at the same time, that was his problem. One set of enemies at a time was enough for her.

A figure loomed from a mound to block her way. She glanced to her side, seeing that others, equally wrapped in formless stygian blackness, were rising to bar her choices of trail. She slowed to a walk, one hand resting on Moonshadow’s pommel, fingers set against the sword’s graceful crescent quillons.

“You dare to block my path?” she asked. “Do you really dare?” The figure remained silent. She stepped towards it, one pace evenly following the next, all too aware of a circle of unseen others gradually tightening around her. As she closed on the creature before her, the others hung back. Her self-confidence reasserted itself. If she fought, it would be one against one.

She only needed to drive around the creature, she reflected, not force it back into its grave. Her alternative to her sword was to use sorcery, to draw on darkness to compel the use of the trail. Her breath was raggedly painful. Her enchantments these past few days had been more demanding than any she had tried before. Recourse to the Art was clearly her last resort.

“You do not riddle me?” came a voice from the ebon gloom, its tones as chilling as January slush under bare feet.

“I didn’t come to ask questions. I’m just passing through,” she answered.

“There is a true game. Passage is not the game. If you ask no questions I cannot answer, you are rightfully mine, for I am a Riddle Prince of Gwales, dead these eight hundred years and more. You must ask successfully, or join my company,” it announced.

“I’m not interested.” Her voice was light. If it entered a rage, so much the better.

“Interest! Interest? Who spoke of interest?” It produced a quarterstaff—or perhaps a wizard’s stave—from its side. She guessed what was to come. In a flash of speed, she drew Moonshadow. Her blade’s runes trapped the starlight. “No, mortal,” the creature intoned, “you have come to my realm in my time of power, and you are mine. Your fellows bound us to our graves with the New Faith, sealing us to the Adversary and using the Names and Signs which bind his servants. But now the Adversary is gone, passed beyond the Second Death—and with his passing went all power of the New Faith over my kind. Now, from every mound and barrow, from every hidden place, we will come forth, to restore Our rule and return Our land to the Old Faith of its mothers. And you are to be the first to bend your knee before Us.”

“Now,” snapped Camilla, “Be gone from my path! Be gone, or follow the Adversary beyond the Second Death! For I am a Lord of Death itself, who calls on the powers of the eternal night and the ultimate deep. It is your kind who bends its knees to mine.” She hoped he wouldn’t push on her latter claim. The adventures of the past few days had left her with no sense of inner power, no reserves for casting even the weakest of enchantments.

“Idle boasts, spun from wind. Bow before me, mortal!” it demanded.

“Mortal, I am no longer! And you,” she closed on him, “can go straight to Hell!” The creature brought up its staff. She could feel her skin tingle with the magic it was readying. Without hesitation, she aimed a blow for its head. It countered and responded. She parried, then felt the biting cold of an undead arm grasping at her shield arm. Wrestling with undead, its seeming objective, was a sport she preferred to leave to the insane. Meanwhile, behind her came the slithering and sliding and breathless meeping of the Prince’s allies. She didn’t want to fight a mob. Moonshadow! she called. Tirgnoddyr! She put the last of her inner strength into the sword’s runes. Moonshadow, spun from dark and light, black and bright! It was the easiest of spells for her to call, but weaving magic when you were ready to fall exhausted, when your head still ached from blows and falls, was only a task for the sternest of wills.

Moonshadow changed, glowed, burst into burning black and white. Camilla had to squint against her sword’s light. The Prince drank the light, but Moonshadow was brighter. The figure’s shadows were dark, but Moonshadow was darker. Tirgnoddyr, she thought, the new and full moons conjoined in a single blade: no wonder the Cipanguese had treasured its sight. The glare burned through the prince’s shroud, revealing a corpse, skin dried, teeth protruding—a body which ought have passed to final rest centuries before. It shrank from her, one arm shielding its eyes.  She chased and swung downwards, her sword cleaving grey shadow into blinding night and sparks of brilliant light. She felt old bone crumble as she sliced through arm and skull. As the creature fell, the sounds behind her intensified.

“You are only dead!” she shouted. “I am a Lord of Death. Against me you cannot stand, no matter the power of the Old or New Faiths.” Her heart was fainter. She lacked the strength to set another spell. If the beings about her made a rush, she would cut some of them down, and then suffer the traditional fate of failed necromancers, fixed since time immemorial: making a last stand against the dead. Her answer was the deepest of quiet.

All the time, the hunt had closed on her. Dogs barked, horns piped, and men shouted each other forwards. She ran down a slope. The hounds might smell her out, but their masters would have more trouble. The glamour faded from her sword. Her left arm was still numb. However little it might touch those of Faerie, a barrow-wight’s cold struck deep into human flesh. She had boasted more than once that she was still part of the family of Adam. A disadvantage of that truth bit home.

A brook loomed before her. Camilla considered doubling back on her trail.  The hunters had enough number to follow her both ways. She might as well choose the direction which led to safety. She had one reserve remaining.  Beyond magesight, she had earned the Gift of Ran: to her eyes, water was as clear as air. She followed the stream, feet skipping just below the water’s edge, amused by the dart of minnows away from her unexpected footsteps. Behind, the hounds’ bays turned to yelps of fear. The dogs had reached the barrows, and preferred to advance no farther. Then she heard howling, and men’s battle cries, and eldritch screeches. The dead were carrying out their threats. She made herself run, feeling her feet transform from flesh to wood to drossest lead.

Her memories said the next brook emptied into the northern cove. If her hunters caught up with her again, she could always shed her clothing and swim downstream. She might need to breath, but in the night keeping her nose above water was little disadvantage. Years spent at sea and in the Western Isles made her nearly at home in the water as on land. Her sailors believed that knowing how to swim was a curse—it would just prolong a sure death amidst the waves—but she didn’t intend to quit, not now, not ever, not so long as she could strive for life.

The cove was empty. Where was the Dawnfire? she asked herself.  She considered the wind, concluding that the ship would be farther out, nearer to the ocean. She let the air fan her face, then struck out along the beach, scampering through the sand and letting the waves cover her tracks.

It was very late, though still before the false dawn. She walked with eyes only half open, wishing she dared fall off to sleep. At last, out in the bay she saw her ship riding at anchor. The Solomon’s Bottle was heavier than a trio of bricks. The book in its steel box was only slightly lighter. The beach yielded a piece of drift wood. She stripped off her weather cloak, wrapped sword and plunder in it, and pushed into the water, using the wood to support her burden.

“Hugh!” she finally called. “Hugh! Toss me a line! It’s cold down here.”

“Princess? Are you there?” A rope came over the side. She grabbed, gave a tug, and half climbed, half held on as waiting arms hoisted her onto the deck.

“The water’s cold as the Tethys. We don’t want to stay here any longer than need be. They were staging a foxhunt, with me as the fox. Is the goldsmith on board?” she asked.

“Aye, aye, princess.” He lifted his voice. “Crew to stations! Unfurl the jib!” He returned to her. “Though no cleverer fox, nor any prettier, has ever been hunted. What wish you?”

“A blanket. I’ll take the sterncastle. Oh, I have my own snowstorm hidden within me!” She felt a hand touch hers, then reach to her cheek. “Hugh, I don’t freeze, not that fast. Nat, keep the wheel!”

“Aye aye, captain.”

“Course with the wind three points to starboard, then south by southwest.  We’ll leave our guests at St. Brendan’s isle for a few days. I would stop at Tir na Na’Ogth, at which they’d not be welcome or comfortable,” she said.

“Aye aye, captain.”

“Princess?” asked Hugh. “I’ve something half-dry for you to don.  Your hands could freeze a stone’s heart.”

“When we’re free of land.” She shook as the anchor came free, relaxing only when sails caught the land breeze. “I’ll not have us going onto rocks, not on this of all coasts.” She realized she was shivering.  “Two points to port!”

“Two points to port, aye!”

“Hugh,” she continued, “I lost my wand. Gone! But I got the Bottle back, and did what I set out to do. Reef ahead! Stand by for starboard tack!” She paused. “Starboard tack! Now!” She clutched the rail as the ship came about, wishing they were in open water, so she could lie down and sleep. Looking out through the night, she could see trees on either shore. Below, her vision carried down to reveal a school of fish and the slow drift of the coastal bottom under the keel.

“You weren’t hurt, princess?” asked Hugh.

“Hurt?” she answered. “Oh, the wand dying? That stung a bit.” She clung to the rail, overtaken by an occasional shiver. Finally the coast swung away behind them. “Course south by southwest! Full sail!”

She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Hugh, I won my bet with the Jarl Herverd. He just sacked a couple cities.” She giggled. “The Abbot thought London and Paris weren’t just any cities. But a city is just a city. I killed a king, great and terrible, who thought me his obedient servant.” Hidden by the night, her smile glowed.

 

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August 26, 2000 - August 26, 2002    

00 - May 1, 2002