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You are here: Home --> The Archives --> Short Stories


The second part to the Watching story. You really should read it before reading this one.

Freedom... I find myself singing to myself again. I have been waiting so long... oh so long. I do not understand the words I sing, nor recognise the melody. I seem to remember a smoky tavern once when I was a young man, a bard singing his latest tunes to entertain his audience. I do anything now to help myself pass the time - I sing my songs, recite my poetry, review the scripts of plays I have seen. Anything to stop myself thinking about my curse. Then, I see movement and I strain my eyes, trying to see - the song, if that is what it was, is forgotten now. This time only two. Despite myself, I feel my heart sink. Two are unlikely to succeed where sometimes fifteen have failed. Unable to close my 'eyes' I stare instead at the sky, watching the clouds as the blow in a steady procession, trying not to see the two as they approach. Soon my curiosity overcomes me and I turn my sharp gaze towards them once more. I am shocked by what I see. Two women approach me. They could not be more different. One is of northern cast - her pale, almost white blonde hair, cascades down her back. She is picking her way over and around the boulders of the canyon with great ease, apparently untroubled by the long climb to get here. I see her watching the valley around, always alert to any sign of attack. The other is from the south. Her dark skin and black hair a total contrast to the fair northerner. She too is untroubled by the climb, for she is floating up on what appears to be some kind of magical platform. Her robes, dark blue velvet trimmed with silver, are decorated in an old style, so old that I recognise it. She is a mage, and judging by her demeanour, either mightily arrogant or mightily powerful. My interest is piqued. I start to see other details. The two say nothing to one another. As they approach I start to sense something I have never felt radiating from the northern woman. It speaks of power and might beyond my comprehension. I feel humbled. This is a woman with a great destiny, that perhaps she doesn't even know of. Then, even as I am praying that they will see that sword lying before me, the warrior sees a glint, her head turning sharply that way. She speaks for the first time, and the mage hovers, looking at her impatiently. She makes a swift motion with her hand and gently sinks to the ground, smoothing her velvet robe. The warrior retrieves the sword and again I drink in the exquisite pain of its invisible light burning into my eyes. The mage laughs - the sword is tarnished by the years it has spent in the open, but the warrior is not so quick to dismiss it. She looks closely at the metal, seemingly to commune with the weapon. She speaks to the mage, who shrugs as the northerner straps the weapon to her belt by her dagger. Then the two stand before me, keeping their distance. Again, the warrior speaks, a smile coming to her lips that warms my heart. The mage makes no response, They both scan the featureless cave entrance before them. Then the wizard starts to speak, and even as she begins the spell, I can tell this is a mage of power. Then the spell is released, and I gasp as its cool wave washes over me, stripping my secrets bare. As I regain myself, The mage speaks a word that I know, that I recognise. "Halaver." The name of my master. It is burned in my memory. Oh the curses I have heaped upon that name. I almost weep with relief. My time of torment is sure to be at an end. I draw my attention back to the scene before me. The two are having a discussion. The warrior is asking questions of the wizard, who answers tersely, impatiently. They seem to come to an agreement. The mage steps forwards and casts another spell. My hopes rise briefly, but then I see it is a spell of low power. With uncanny accuracy, she uses the spell to burn a like of soot onto the stone floor, just outside the point at which the trap is triggered. The warrior sets to making a camp for herself. The mage looks on and with a huff, conjures for herself a little hut against the elements, which she enters, slamming the door behind her. The warrior smiles once more and continues making her camp. I notice with dismay that the light is failing. I see the warrior tuck a dagger in with the furs she is using to protect herself from the cold. There is clearly little love lost between these two. I wonder why they travel together. That night is the longest of my life. All my years of waiting seem like an instant against the passing of those few hours. I listen to the rhythmic breathing of the warrior, counting her breaths to pass the time. And to sleep - if only to sleep... An eternity later, it is dawn. At first light the warrior rises and starts a series of isometric work-outs, preparing herself for the day ahead. She straps on her gear just as the sorceror steps from her little hut. Again, a short exchange of words, and the wizard produces a cushion from nowhere. She moves to seat herself before the cave and sinks into a meditative trance. The warrior stands, motionless, only her eyes, darting this way and that, betray she is still alert. Then the mage starts to speak softly, her voice rising into a chant. I feel the strands of my curse start to groan and strain under the pressure of her spell of unravelling. Then she falters, straining to remember the ancient words of power that she spoke. Instantly, I start to move, and again I feel myself step from the rock. The mage gasp and almost recoils at the sight of me, but the warrior, calm, leaps before the mage, her weapons ready to fight. As I am forced to approach her, I am surprised, for I have never stayed conscious this long before. Perhaps the mage has affected me already after all. I have no time to speculate. The weapon in my hand blurs into the attack, the powerful blow neatly parried by the warrior's twin swords. The mage starts to speak once again, this time hurrying her words. I hope that she does not stumble on them. I duck and dive at the warrior, resisting the almost primal urge to attack the mage who is to be my salvation. But to no avail. The woman's blades match mine strike for strike, her feet moving in perfect harmony with her weapons as she blocks and parries my best efforts to defeat her. The impossible was happening. I was losing. I know I have lost, even though she draws no blood from me. I feel the flat of her blades strike my skin on three occasions. I realise she is playing for time, waiting for the mage to complete her spell. I scream my anger and fear as I realise her intent. She means to free me. But before I can attack again, the mage finishes her spell, and I feel such a surge of power. I am frozen in time, the red mist descending as the most terrible agony searing through me. The mist lifts. My view has changed. All I can see is the sky... tears escape my eyes as I take in the simple beauty of a new scene. I hear more discussion, which continues as the warrior leans over me. she smiles at me and I fell in love with her then and there. She says something to me, but I can not understand. She reaches into her pouch and removes a golden circlet that she places on my brow. "slfkf lskflksf klfls slfk ... kill him and have done with it." the mage is saying. The warrior shakes her head. "Do you not think he has suffered enough?" Then she frowns as she sees the pain cross my vision. "Do as you wish." huffs the mage, striding into the cave, no doubt to see what treasure she has troubled herself for. I am alone with the warrior. "You are free." she whispers with a reassuring smile. Again, pain crosses my face. "What is wrong?" I try to speak, but no words come. I cough weekly, and try again. "Kill me." It is my only wish. I look into the warrior's deep blue eyes and she nods. She understands. She sees the millennia of my torment, mapped out on my face. She pulls her dagger from its sheath, and shows it to me. It is a fine weapon, good metal. "I will make it swift." she promises me, and I close my eyes, crying uncontrollably. Then comes a sharp, intense pain under my chin, and for a moment I feel the blade pushing through towards my brain. This is the moment I have lived for. In death, I owe the warrior my life. Digg Technorati Blinklist Furlreddit
Thanks to Andrew M. McLeish for this contribution!


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