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| | BITNET Fantasy-Science Fiction Fanzine
___|___________|___ X-Edited by 'Orny' Liscomb
X-Editorial 'Orny' Liscomb
*Destiny of Tara n'ha Sansela Glenn Sixbury
*Night Fruit: A Tasty Comedy Jim Owens
*The Dream: Part 1 of 2 John White
Date: 111686 Dist: 202
An "*" indicates story is part of the Dargon Project
All original materials copyrighted by the author(s)
Greetings and solicitations, all! First of all I'd like to
welcome all the new readers, and thank the authors for their recent
spurt of creativity. The next issue will contain several articles of
interest, and should be out in early December. As for this issue, we
have three Dargon stories. The first is a new character being
introduced by Glenn Sixbury. The second is an entertaining short
from Jim Owens. The third is the first half of an excellent story
from John White, who insists on writing faster than I can edit. An
excellent issue, and I hope you all enjoy it.
The only other matter I wish to bring up is reader feedback.
Now, the authors have mentioned putting a LOC section in the zine,
which I personally dislike, because it would mean less room for
stories. However, the authors are interested in hearing what you
think of their stuff. As a compromise, you can mail individual
authors, or, if you wish to send a mailing to all Dargon authors, it
is possible to send a mail file to DARGON-L@NCSUVM, and it will be
distributed by the LISTSERV there to the Dargon authors.
But on to the real stuff...
Destiny of Tara n'ha Sansela
"Tara! Tara!" Samuel called for his daughter, angrily chasing
away the animals from their stolen supper.
"What is it, Father?" Tara asked, emerging from the trees behind
"It's your rabbits, girl! They've eaten half the garden again
while you were out wandering around doing who knows what. How many
times have I told you that they are your responsibility?"
"They didn't mean to, Father," Tara said, trying to calm him, as
she picked up one of the offenders and cradled it in her arms.
"They're not meaning to isn't going to bring our garden back."
"I'm sorry," Tara said. Then she gathered up her rabbits and put
them back into their cages.
Being sorry is not good enough. I'm afraid they're going to have
"No! Please don't," Tara wailed. "I promise I won't do it again."
"That's what you always say. This time it won't work." Then,
seeing the look of dispair on his daughter's face, Samuel softened
somewhat. "They are still going," he said, "but I will let you set
them free in the woods. After that, if they come back, I won't
hesitate to make them into rabbit stew."
"Do I have to let them go?"
"You've got too many animals the way it is!" he yelled again,
his moment of understanding gone as quickly as it had come.
"All right, Father," Tara agreed sadly. She hadn't given up hope
of talking him out of this idea, but she knew better than to cross
him when he was angry. "I'll take them deep into the woods, so that
they won't trouble you anymore."
"Fine. You better get started, though. Your mother'll be
starting supper soon, and you ought to be helping her."
With a heavy heart, Tara gathered up her three rabbits and put
them into an old sack. After calling for Zed, her pet Shivaree, to
follow her, she headed off into the trees, leaving her father to
assess the damage the rabbits had done to the garden.
After Tara had disappeared into the trees, her mother came out
of the small farm cottage, and asked her father what had happened.
"I made Tara get rid of her rabbits."
"But she loves those, Sam," her mother started.
"She loves every animal in the forest, Sansela, but that doesn't
mean we have food enough to feed them all," he growled. Realizing
how angry he was, Sansela decided not to protest further and to go
back into the house.
Walking through the woods cheered up Tara n'ha Sansela. She had
loved these woods as long as she could remember. They seemed to
strengthen her and it was hard to feel sad as she walked along the
path, feeling the sunlight sift through the trees and smelling the
fresh scent of the firs around her.
As always, Zed, who was tagging at her heels, enjoyed being in
the woods. Tara had found the young Shivaree several years ago when
she had been out for one of her walks. He had been caught in an
abandoned hunter's snare, and although he had not been severely
hurt, he had been on the verge of starvation and had been very weak.
She had taken him home and had nursed him back to health. Her father
had only rarely ever seen a Shivaree and he had heard that these
large, ferret-like creatures were impossible to tame, but Zed had
never been any trouble. By the time the animal was healthy again, he
had become just like one of the family. Tara had begged her father
to let her keep Zed, and although Samuel had been skeptical at
first, he had finally consented.
Tara was a small girl for her seventeen summers, standing just a
little over five feet tall, but she had worked on her father's farm
since she was old enough to walk. She was strong for a girl her size
and carried the rabbits about half a league into the woods before
she grew tired and decided she had taken them far enough. From here,
they wouldn't find their way back to the farm too quickly.
Setting the bag on the ground, she let her rabbits out into the
open air. Nestling one in her strawberry blond curls before setting
it free, she knew deep down that they would be happy to be free
again, but she would miss them. The rabbits gradually scampered off
into the woods, leaving her and Zed alone. Then, knowing she was
already late for supper, she headed back home with Zed scampering a
few feet behind her stopping now and then to investigate various
scents which caught his attention.
After Tara left, Sam busied himself with the garden and wondered
if he had been too tough on his only child. Of course not, he
decided. She loved animals just too much. After all, his farm was
beginning to look like a menagerie. She had adopted all kinds of
birds: Doves, robins, and even a baby hawk. She also had a pet
squirrel and a fawn, which she promised she would let go once it was
grown. The girl just doesn't know when to quit, he thought,
finishing his work with the garden.
Then as he turned to take the vegetables he had gathered into
the house, he heard horses in the distance. He should have heard
them sooner, but he must have been too lost in thought. He bounded
quickly into the cottage. "Sansela, there's riders headed this way.
Maybe ten or more. You stay in the house until I find out what they
want." Sansela nodded in agreement, looking worried as Sam grabbed
his sword and rushed back outside.
As he emerged from the house, he saw the riders. He counted
about fifteen of them as they rode across the small patch of farm
ground to the east of his house. Then, as they drew near, he noticed
a wisp of smoke rising from the other side of the hill behind the
men. That was about where Myridon, the local village was located.
Something was burning, and in these woods, people joined together to
fight fires. Men riding in the wrong direction was a certain sign of
danger, but there was little that could be done about it now. Sam
stood defiantly in front of his home, bracing himself for the worst.
The men rode up and were brought to a halt by a very large man,
with a bow slung over one shoulder. This man then made a motion, and
the rest of the men circled Sam, a few of them drawing their swords.
Once they were in place, the leader spoke.
"I can see by your sword that you knew we were coming, and you
knew it wasn't going to be a friendly call." Samuel remained silent,
studying the situation. The leader of the group wore furs, made
after a fashion common to an area east of here. He was a large man,
and he wore a scar on his left cheek, indicating he had seen his
share of fighting. He would not be a pleasant man to fight, Sam
thought, and then the leader spoke again.
"You know what we want. We're after your gold. Your friends
there in the village decided to fight. They're all dead." As the
leader said this, a few of the other men laughed and smiled. "As you
can tell, my men want to kill you, but if you cooperate, I won't let
them. Now, drop your sword, gather every bit of gold you've gotten
hidden away in that little shack of yours, and bring it out here."
Sam was in a bad spot, and he knew it. His honor demanded that
he fight, but he realized with him gone, Sansela would be helpless.
Perhaps, if he gave them the gold, they would leave, and his family
would be safe. Then he could go for help and chase the bandits down.
As Sam considered his options, the bandits grew impatient, and one
of them behind him rode forward, planting a foot in Sam's back,
knocking him down. Sam flashed the bandit a glare from his fiery
eyes, but when he got up, he left his sword on the ground and
disappeared into the house.
Sam found Sansela hiding in the bedroom. He explained the
situation very quickly to her in quiet whispers and promised that
things would be all right. Then he got his small sack of gold from
under the bed, and went back outside.
As he stepped out of the door, one of the bandits, grabbed the
sack from him, and brought it to the leader, who examined the
contents. "Is this all you have? Something tells me you are holding
out on us, farmer. Kork," he said to the man beside him, "go and
search the house. Make sure our friend isn't hiding anything from us."
Sam started to stop him, but Kork kept him at bay with the point
of his sword and went into the house. Sam considered distracting
them by telling them about the gold hidden in his cellar, but before
he could, he heard Sansela scream, and saw the bandit at the
doorway. He was dragging Sansela outside by the arm, and Sam saw
that her dress was torn. He started for her, but one of the larger
bandits grabbed him from behind, putting an arm around his neck to
hold him motionless.
"Lookie what I found," Kork called. "She ought to make for lots
of fun," he jeered, and then grabbed the top of her dress, tore it
down to her waist to expose her breasts, and pulled her to him for a
savage kiss. Samuel could stand no more. He popped his elbow into
the ribs of the man holding him and spun around, knocking the man to
the ground. Grabbing his sword, Sam charged Kork, knocking another
bandit out of the way as he did. Kork reacted quickly, tossing
Sansela away and raising his sword to defend himself, but Sam was on
him too quickly. After one blow, Sam had him decapitated and turned
to face two other bandits which had charged him.
Sam was not a skillful swordsman, but he had been strengthened
all his life from hard work, and with the help of his anger and his
adrenaline, he was more than a match for the two bandits. He killed
the first one immeditatly, and turned on the second. The bandit
tried to defend himself, but Sam put him off balance with one
powerful blow, and then split him open with a second. Then, before
Sam could turn around, an arrow whizzed into his back, its head
pushing out from the front of his ribs. Samuel managed to turn
around before falling to knees, cursing the leader who had shot him
with the arrow. Another bandit stepped forward and grabbed Sansela,
who was trying to run to her husband.
"You are a strong one, farmer," the leader said respectfully,
"but my men still should have been able to kill such an unskilled
fighter." Then the leader smiled, "But as they say, if you want it
done right...." With that, he notched another arrow, and let it fly.
Samuel gasped as the second arrow landed in his chest, and then he
fell forward, dead. As he fell, Sansela managed to struggle her way
free and run to her husband. As she bent over him and began to sob,
the leader notched another arrow and shot it into her bare back.
As she slumped over her husband, one of the bandits complained,
"Why'd you have to kill the woman?"
"You would have fought over her, and I've lost enough men for
one day." The other bandit did no more than grumble, not wanting to
die this day.
"All right, someone search the house, and the rest of you, take
those animals along. We'll need meat for supper, and there's no
reason to hunt when we have this nice farmer's generosity.
One of the bandits emerged from the house. "There's nothing
inside of any value. I guess the old man was telling the truth."
"That's what I hate about these peasants," the leader growled.
"All of them are too honest." Then he laughed loudly, and turned his
horse back in the direction from which they'd come. "Ride," he
called. The other bandits followed, the last throwing a torch onto
the thatched roof of Samuel's hut before riding hard to catch up
with the rest.
Tara was busily picking the mushrooms she'd found by the path on
her way home. She was hoping that the mushrooms would make up for
her being late for supper. She realized too late that she really
shouldn't have travelled so far to release her rabbits, but she
hadn't wanted them to become rabbit stew, either. As she picked the
last of the mushrooms, Zed began to prance nervously about, sniffing
the breeze in a frenzy. "What is it, Zed?" she asked, looking up
from her work. At first, she didn't see anything. Then, climbing on
top of a nearby rock, she spied what had made Zed so nervous. There
were two streams of smoke, one of them rising from somewhere quite
near. "Fire, Zed, come on," Tara called, throwing the bag over her
shoulder and racing down the trail for home.
As Tara came closer to home, she realized the smoke was coming
from her own farm. Terrified, she ran even faster, finally coming to
the edge of the woods. As she stepped out of the trees, she stopped,
turned to stone by the shock of what she saw. The house was burning,
filling the air with smoke, and the farm was deserted. Her parents
were gone. Even all of her animal cages were empty. Zed stood in the
trees behind her, snorting nervously, being torn between his
instinct to run and the need to be near his master.
"Father! Mother!" Tara finally called out. Tara could feel her
stomach tieing itself in knots. She tried desperately not to panic,
but it didn't work. She called for her parents again and then
circled the house, searching for them. As she rounded the front
corner of the house, Tara saw the dead bodies and ran over to them.
Bending over, Tara lifted her mother to her breast, sobbing
uncontrollably. As she held her mother, she ran her fingers across
the arrows sticking up from her father's body. "Oh, papa, papa," she
said in between tears, pulling her father a little towards her.
Then, putting her arms around both of them and laying her head on
her father's shoulder, the sorrow overtook Tara, and she lost her
last thread of thought, slipping into a shrieking, sobbing delirium.
Tara was never sure how long she sat beside her parents, crying
over in mourning. Finally, shock from what had happened numbed her,
allowing her to regain part of her senses. Hardening herself against
her feelings, she drug herself to her feet and left her mother and
father for the moment.
The house was gone. Judging by the smoke coming from over the
hill, the village of Myridon was gone, too, probably suffering the
same fate as her parents. She had nothing left. Tara experienced the
lowest point of her life as she stood on the devastated farmstead
where she had grown up, trying to see some glimmer of hope on the
horizon. There was none. Thoughts of ending her life crossed Tara's
mind. She probably would have killed herself, but her father had
always taught her that people who take their own life are never
granted another, but instead suffer eternally for refusing to meet
As Tara struggled with her situation, the sun sank low in the
sky and a north wind began to blow. She was sober now, her temporary
loss of sanity due to grief being completely gone. She realized that
there was much work to do before nightfall, and she had better get
to doing it.
Tara's first concern was her parents. If she left them where
they were, their bodies would be defiled by animals during the
night. She considered digging graves for them, but decided that she
didn't have time. Then she realized what she needed to do.
Tara went to the cellar and began to bring out the things she
might need. Luckily, whoever had killed her parents hadn't found the
bag of gold which her father kept here. She also found some dried
fruit and meat along with a couple of blankets. She gathered all the
things together and hauled them up out of the cellar.
Tara decided she had salvaged everything usable from the cellar.
Now she had the hardest part of her duties left to do. Tara first
dragged her mother, and then her father down into the old cellar.
When they were first married, Tara's parents had carved this farm
out of the woods, they had built the house which was now little more
than ashes, and they had dug this cellar. It would make a fitting
tomb, Tara thought. Then she paused to say a few silent prayers
before shutting the door on the cellar, effectively shutting the
door on her childhood and the only way of life she had ever known.
By the time her parents were buried, it was almost dark. Tara
knew that it might be dangerous to stick around, but she didn't want
to travel at night, so she loaded up the things she had taken from
the cellar and carried them into the woods. Then she whistled for
her horse, Boxter. He emerged from the trees on the other side of
the glen, but wouldn't come any closer, because he could smell the
smoke from the house. Tara walked across the clearing to the with a
rope in her hand. Soothing the old animal as she talked, she managed
to put the rope around his neck and lead him into the woods near the
smouldering house. There, she tied him to a tree and went back to
the house to see that she had everything she needed.
She looked around the farm, realizing again that all her animals
were gone. She hoped that they had escaped, but there would be no
way she would ever know. Then, seeing her father's sword laying
where he had fallen, she picked it up and headed back to the woods
where she had left Boxter and her things.
Once Tara was back in the safety of her woods, she considered
lighting a small fire. It might get very cold tonight. However,
tonight she would make a cold camp, in case the people who had
attacked her parents were still in the area. Zed had come into the
camp with her, and he sniffed hungrily at her pack. She took some of
the dried meat out of the pack and gave it to her pet, although Tara
couldn't find the will to eat herself. Then she gathered some pine
needles together, forming a cushion which would make a soft bed for
the night. Once her bed was made, Tara settled down, covering
herself with blankets. Zed came over and stretched out beside her.
He will warn me if anyone comes near, Tara thought. Then, much to
her surprise, she fell asleep.
Tara was suddenly awake. It took her a few seconds to remember
where she was and what had happened. Then she heard the same noise
again which had disturbed her slumber. It was a voice, coming from
the trail which led to the house. At first, Tara couldn't see
anything. Then the voice spoke again, and she saw a form step from
the trees into her small camp. Tara couldn't believe what she saw.
She wheezed, trying to make herself breathe. She shook her head and
looked again, convinced the shadows from the full moon were playing
tricks on her eyes. When she looked again, she was positive who it
was. It was her father.
Tara was sure her mind was playing tricks on her. Then her
father spoke her name. "I'm here father," she said, pulling herself
to her feet. "Oh, papa," she said, taking a step toward him, and
then she stopped. She could see an arrow protruding through the
front of his chest, which was caked with dried blood. Then she
realized that she could see the trees behind him through his body.
Before she had time to react to any of this, he spoke again. "Tara,
my daughter," the vision began, "I have come to help you." Her
father's spirit took a step closer to her, and Tara noticed that
although his body was still maimed, the look on his face was no
longer full of pain but instead was peaceful. Then her father spoke
again. "Your mother is with me, and we are happy. It was our destiny."
"Take me with you, Father," Tara pleaded, reaching out for him.
As she put her hand out to him, she watched helplessly as it passed
through his body. He appeared not to notice. Then he smiled.
"Our work in this world is finished, my daughter, but you still
have much to do. Travel to Dargon, and there you must seek my
brother. It is this path on which your destiny lies." Then the
spirit began to fade.
"No, Father," Tara begged him. "Let me come with you."
"Travel to Dargon, my daughter, and do not grieve. Your mother
and I will be here when you have come to the end of your road." Tara
reached for him. As she did, she was suddenly sitting up on the spot
where she had gone to sleep, her arm clutching nothing but the empty
night air in front of her.
A dream, Tara thought. I had a dream. She looked again where she
had seen her father, but there was no one there. This time Tara did
not fall asleep so quickly.
In the morning, Tara saddled up Boxter, loaded her gear onto the
saddle, and then before leaving forever, she walked back to look
once more at what was left of the only home she had ever known.
Tara had always assumed that she would live out her life as her
mother had done, living on the farm with her parents until her
father gave her away in marriage to some local farmer's son which
had impressed him. Then she would spend the rest of her life raising
children and working on the farm. Now her destiny had been mutilated
by strangers in a single afternoon. It was almost too much for her.
She let a tear come to her eye, and then she turned her back on
the the farm and headed back to where she had made camp. As she
moved off the trail to go to her little camp, something on the
ground caught her eye. Bending over, she found a set of tracks,
leading from the trail to where she had slept. She had seen tracks
like these for as long as she could remember. They were her
father's. She followed them into camp, and there, they stopped.
So, it was real, Tara thought. Then she reminded herself that
her father walked these woods all the time before he died. He
probably made them yesterday morning, she convinced herself. Still,
the possibility gave her courage to do what she needed to do. She
would go to Dargon to live with her uncle. Even if it had only been
a dream the night before, she had decided that it was the only
alternative she had. Tara had never met her uncle, at least not when
she was old enough to remember, but he was her father's brother.
Surely he would take her in and help her decide what she needed to
do. Then, strengthed by the knowledge of what she was going to do,
she set about getting ready to leave. She would head first to the
village of Tench. From there, she would be able to send word to her
uncle to let him know she was coming, and perhaps she could buy a
map or hire someone to take her to Dargon. Then, filing her father's
sword into a sheath on the saddle, she started to leave, but before
she could, Zed came bounding up on his short legs, snorting and
grunting. "It's all right, Zed," she said. "You can come along.
After all, you're all I have left." Then, giving the Shivaree a pat
on his head before climbing onto her horse, she realized how final
this leaving would be. She had never been more than 10 leagues away
from home in her life, and now she was headed for a place she had
only heard of. Then, overcome by the emotions of the moment, she had
to fight to keep from sobbing at the realization of what she was
doing. Finally, she forced herself to calm down. She was going to
Dargon and everything was going to be all right. But first, she
would need travel to Tench, over twenty leagues away, and she wasn't
going to get there by staying here burning daylight. "Com'on,
Boxter," she urged, pushing her heels into the horse's ribs, "we're
going to Dargon."
She left the farm with the morning sun on her back, heading west
to Tench, to Dargon, and to a new life.
-Glenn R. Sixbury
Night Fruit: A Tasty Comedy
Sarah woke up with that feeling. She reached out, but the other
half of the bed was empty. Levy had already left for the smithy. She
resigned herself to the fact and got up. She dressed slowly,
stretching long and hard, tensing her body, but the feeling only got
worse. Well, there's always tonight, she thought.
She ate quickly, then started the day's chores. The feeling
dimmed some, but it continued to flare up through the day. She
worried. What if he didn't want to?
Halfway through the day it hit her. Nightfruit! That way he'd
have to want to!
She hurried to finish her tasks, and then grabbed her staff and
started across the field. She had seen some growing by the fence,
near where Greta, Levy's sister-in-law kept her herb garden. She
hiked through the field, enjoying the warm sun. She thought of the
soon coming night. She hiked faster.
She reached the fence, but no amount of searching would find a
single nightfruit. She realized from the amount of marks in the area
that the cows had probably been eating them. No wonder both cows had
had calves. She looked up, and saw Greta in her garden.
"Good day! Lovely, isn't it?"
"Yes." Replied Sarah. She walked closer. She hesitated shyly. "I
was looking for an herb, but I think the cows ate it. Do you know
where I might find it?"
Greta stood, hands on hips. "Depends. What are you looking for?"
Sarah blushed lightly. "Nightfruit."
"Ah!" Greta grinned. "I usually get that on The Outcrop. It's a
climb, but it's worth it!" She giggled. "I shouldn't think you'd
need it, though, only being married a week."
"Nine days, and it never hurts to be sure." Sarah smiled back.
"Thanks." She turned to leave.
"It's just in good fruit, too. I gathered some just this week."
"That explains your smiling face then, doesn't it!" Both laughed
Sarah started off towards The Outcrop. The Outcrop was a
monolith that jutted up in the woods between Levy's property and
Greta's father's property, to the east. Sarah had to walk for a half
hour to reach the woods, and another ten minutes to reach the foot
of The Outcrop. When she got to the bottom, she looked up. And up.
And up more. The top of The Outcrop was hidden in the blaze of the
sun. Is this really worth it? she asked herself. I know Levy won't
need it. She then shrugged. It might be fun, she thought, and
Five minutes later she was thirty feet higher, and several
degrees hotter. She paused to look around. She saw further up a
likely place to find nightfruit growing. Nightfruit liked a thin but
rich soil, with shade. The rock above could easily provide that. She
She found a path that led along the face of the rock. It was
rather wide, with grass growing sparsely on it. It soon narrowed,
and eventually disappeared. She climbed up higher, by means of a few
cracks in the rock, but soon had to back down for lack of further
holds. She walked back down the rock, fingering a few, recent tears
in her skirt. She found another path, one that led in the other
direction. It led up to a wide, mossy ledge. A small pool of cold
water lie there, fed by rain and a small seeping spring. She drank
the water, and rested on the moss. She lay there, wishing she could
have Levy there, in the cool fresh air. He was working, however,
hammering hot iron, working off the last year of his apprenticeship.
She would be alone all day. She got up, and continued to climb.
She found what seemed to be a path, scuffed onto the bald stone
by occasional use. She followed it up. It was steep, and the sun was
now hot, and there was no wind. She hadn't gotten too far before she
was sweating heavily. She followed it up to a small ledge that ended
in a sheer twenty foot cliff. At the top of the cliff, just hanging
over the edge, she saw a leaf, one she recognized. There were cracks
in the cliff face, but they were small and far apart. They also
were, unfortunately, the only way up. She pulled off her boots, and
hoisted herself up with bare toes and fingers.
Sarah had worked as a metalsmith for years, but after a minute
or two of climbing she found her arms aching. Her calves were
cramped, and so were her forearms. What was worse, she was only
halfway up the cliff. She paused for a moment to rest. She looked
out from the face of the rock. She was already higher than the
treetops. She could see her house in the distance. She looked down,
and shut her eyes tight. A night with her beloved husband was the
furthest thing from her mind.
Finally she urged herself back into movement. She struggled
upwards, and finally pushed her face level with the tiny shelf. All
it had on it was a thin layer of moss and the nightfruit plant.
Hanging down pendulously from the bushy green leaves were two red
fruit. They looked so ridiculous that she would have laughed had not
the pain been so great. With enormous effort she reached up and
plucked one of the fruit. I got it! she exulted. Now all I have to
do is get down.
When Levy got home that evening, he opened the door to his house
and looked around. He was fairly well off, and actually had two
rooms, a main room and a bedroom. The bedroom curtain was closed. A
cold supper was waiting for him, as had been the case the few times
he had been late before, and he proceeded directly to work on it.
The meat he ate first, then the potatoes and bread. Partway through
the meal he noticed a bowl upside-down in the center of the table,
as if covering something. He waited until last to move it, expecting
it to be a sweet of some sort, as his young bride had occasionally
made before the wedding. When he lifted it, however, the red
nightfruit gleamed seductively in the lamplight. He stared at it for
a moment, then snatched it up and hasten into the bedroom.
He undressed hurriedly, while softly calling Sarah's name. When
no one answered, he carefully lie down beside her warm form. She did
not move. She was so exhausted from her efforts she had fallen sound
asleep. He gently shook her, but to no avail. So, he kissed her
gently, and fell asleep as well, the nightfruit forgotten in his hand.
Part One: Arrival
The City of Dargon, seat of the Duchy of Dargon, was fairly
typical, for its type - river mouth port town. It surrounded the
mouth of the River Coldwell, and several miles of its lower length.
The river, racing to the sea from its source deep in the Darst range
and fed on its way by scores of major and hundreds of minor
tributaries that drained the forest that carpeted the whole of the
northwest, met an estcarpment less than 40 feet high that still
succeeded in turning it from its quest, forcing it to go around the
outcropping. Dargon Keep had been built upon that rock in times long
past, thickset massive walls bearing three towers - two facing the
river it protected and one facing the sea as a watcher. Of slightly
newer construction, but still a century or more old, was the Old
City, built between the Keep, the River and the sea, and walled for
most of its perimeter. A well fortified causway crossed the river to
the much newer parts of town, especially the bustling port itself.
Within the walls of the Old City lived the wealthy of Dargon, with
the wealthiest and most favored sharing the walls of the Keep itself
with the Lord of the City and Duke of all the lands around, Lord
Clifton Dargon. Across the river, the merchants kept up a busy trade
in anything a traveler might want, while closer to the sea clustered
the less well-off of the residents of Dargon, keeping the port well
supplied with cheap labor.
Je'lanthra'en reached Dargon shortly after midday, walking with
a farm family who were traveling to the city in their yearly faring
to try and sell the fruits of their winter shutting-in, having just
gotten their crops planted for the warmer months. She had somehow
expected there to be no travel from the landward side of Dargon, and
certainly there was little that crossed the Darst range from the
interrior of Baranur. But, the Lord of Dargon was also Duke of the
forestland between the Darst and the sea, and his land was well
populated, if not as well as the Barony around Magnus.
She accompanied the family into the Open marketplace, where
anyone with goods to sell could take an unoccupied booth and stay
until their wares were gone, and from there she asked directions to
the Inn of the Serpent. In the last letter she had had from her
brother Kroan, he said that he was living in a place two doors down
from the Inn of the Serpent, and he had just gotten a job with the
Fifth I Merchant firm, doing inventory (Kroan has always been as
good with numbers as she had been (once) with words).
She set off across the market section of the city following the
directions she had received. She came to the Inn on a street that
served as a border of the merchant section of town. The Inn got its
name from a well-carved sculpture of a Great Wyrm of legend - rather
fancifully embellished, really, and painted a garish green and red:
not frightening at all, not like the stories...
Je'en counted doorways, entered the right one, and climbed the
second set of stairs. Four doors down from the top, and she knocked.
The door was answered by a young woman dressed very garishly.
"Ya, whadd'ya want, 'oney?" she said.
Je'en hesitated, then said, "Is this where Kroan Jessthson lives?"
"Na, never 'eard of 'im, love. Lived 'ere t'ree years, I 'ave,
and never 'eard tell of t'is Kroan person. T'at all?"
Momentarily disheartened, Je'en thanked the woman for her time,
and walked slowly back down the stairs. Four years it had been since
she had read Kroan's last letter, and it had arrived at the College
in Magnus two years before that - a Bard is seldom in one place for
long. Much could have happened in six years, and obviously had: just
look at her - once a Bard, now a left-handed fighter who wore a mask.
Still, there was at least one more lead: she knew where Kroan
had been working then. She decided to see if they knew of her
brother at Fifth I Merchants, and if they didn't, she had time to
search the whole town if it came to that.
It didn't. She asked directions at the Inn, and found the
offices of the Fifth I with ease. From there, after asking about
Kroan, she was led to another office in the wealthiest section of
town outside the walls of Old Town, and there, in an office,
surrounded by clarks and ledgers, she was reunited with her brother.
Kroan had really grown up since Je'en had seen him last, more
than ten years ago. He was now taller than she, and had filled out
some, tho he was still skinny by any standards. A full beard and
moustache adorned his face, startlingly red in contrast to his
ordinarily brown hair, making him seem even older, but his eyes were
the same twinkling brown, and his smile made him seem like a child
again, happy and carefree.
To Kroan, Je'en had changed, too. She was still the tall, well
built sandy-blonde woman that had left for the Bardic College when
she was fifteen, over twelve years ago. He had always loved the way
she could bring a song to life (he couldn't carry a tune in a
bucket), and she had picked up harping with natural-born ease. But,
she wasn't now dressed in the green cloak she had always worn when
she had visited home, nor the pendant of her Rank, nor was the harp
she had fought a duel of words to win on her back, and the sword she
wore on her right hip (odd, that - Je'en was right-handed, wasn't
she?) wasn't good old Leaf- Killer. She wore only dusty riding
leathers, and a strange half-mask of silver that was molded to her
features so that, tho it hid her eyes, he had had no trouble
When he had recovered from the bone-crushing hug she had given
him, Kroan said, "So, why are you here, Sis? I thought you mostly
stayed in the south, in more civilized lands? What, did you get the
Master of the College mad at you, and he sent you to the hinterlands
Her eyes were well hidden, and he didn't see the pain in them,
but he did notice the way her mouth twitched downwards, so he didn't
wait for some awkward response, but changed the subject.
"Well, we can talk about that in more privacy, eh? What say we
go have dinner in this nice little inn I know of, and we can talk
all we want - all night even. The nice thing about being boss here
is I can leave anytime I want to (as long as MY boss doesn't find
out, ha ha!). You have any place to stay, Je'en?"
They did talk all night, both of them. Kroan told her how he had
been promoted again and again, until he finally had control of all
matters financial for the third largest merchantile guild in Dargon.
He enjoyed his work, and felt quite happy where he was.
And, Je'en told her brother what had happened to her - the
attack, her injuries, her leaving the College, and training at
Pentamorlo with the famous Lord Morion. Kroan was genuinely upset to
hear about Je'en's losses, and, when she said she was looking for
work, he immediatly assured her that she could have a lifetime
position with Fifth I. She gladly accepted, but refused to promise
that it would be for a lifetime.
So, Je'en, with her brother's help, settled in to Dargon. He
found her an apartment in the better part of town, and got her a job
as a Peace-keeper in one of the Upper Marketplaces. She didn't
really even have to know one end of a sword from the other for such
a job, just how to placate irate customers and shop keepers, but she
enjoyed it, anyway.
Part Two: Assassination
"The Sword of Cleah has returned to us, my brothers!"
There was a murmur of suprise from the other
black-robed-and-cowled members of the Septent of the Order of Jhel
and Her Prophets on Earth. The seven men, who were always hidden,
even from each other, when they met to discuss Order business, were
astonished that the Time was so near. For the Sword to return in
"Brother Saith, what proof do you bring to us of this?" asked
Brother Un (for anonymities sake, each member bore a number instead
of a name).
"It was seen, Brother Un. I, myself, have seen it, after hearing
reports about it from some of the acolytes. A woman wearing a silver
mask who guards in one of the marketplaces bears Lladdwr openly at
her side. The Sword of the First of Her Prophets has returned to us!"
"To be precise," said Brother Pedwar, "Lladdwr has come to
Dargon. It is in the hands of an unknowing Outsider. How is it to be
returned to us?"
"We could buy it," suggested Brother Chwech.
"But, what if this Outsider is not unknowing? You know that the
King has forbidden the worship of Jhel within his borders. What if
this masked woman is a decoy - what if she knows what she bears, and
is ready to point out any interest in her sword to agents of the
King?" asked Brother Un.
That gave them all pause. The Order of Jhel existed under a
front in Dargon, that was one reason why the Septent went hooded
when together. The King had decreed that Jhel and all of her
followers were traitors to the Crown. The tenets that Jhel's
Prophets proclaimed included that Anarchy was the Blessed state, and
when there was no more external rule, then would everyone live in
Bliss and Ecstacy Forever. Few believed in Jhel, but her followers
were fanatical, and they believed that if a person couldn't be
converted to Jhel's ways, then they should die, beginning with those
who imposed their rule on the people, and so postponed Jhel's Promise.
Finally, Brother Chwech said, "If this masked woman is a plant,
then if she is dead, she cannot report who had interest in her
sword, right? And, if she is not - well, one more step will have
been taken to fulfill Jhel's Promise."
"You know a competent assassin?" asked Brother Un.
"Aye, several. But, I think that a few street thugs should be
enough: she's only a woman, after all."
"Do what you think best, Brother Chwech. In your hands I place
the retrieval of Lladdwr, the Slayer that will bring down the world,
and replace it with Jhel's Promise!"
The room was dark, except over the intricately carved and inlaid
table in its center, which was lit by a clear crystal globe that
glowed with a golden light, suspended over it. The young yet
knowledgeable man settled himself into the chair, as carved and
inlaid as the table that was its mate, and shuffled the over-large
deck of cards in his hands.
When the cards felt right, he stopped shuffling and turned over
the top card onto the center of the table. It was the Twelve of
Swords - the cards were properly aligned with the subject. The young
man proceeded to lay out the rest of the Bent-Star pattern - the two
Force cards crossing the Significator, and the five rays of three
cards each that outlined the pathways of the layout. It took him
less than a second to scan the whole pattern and read it to its
deepest level, and when he had, he leaped to his feet in such haste
that the ornate chair went crashing backwards. He ran into the
darkness at the edge of the room with no hesitation, calling out,
"Mahr! Mahr, ready the Image Table quickly! Hurry!"
The young man ran through the darkness of his house as if it was
noonday-lit. Perhaps the way his eyes glowed with a sapphire blue
light enabled him to move surely where even a cat might have
faltered. Down three flights of steps to the first sub-basement he
ran, and into another globe-lit room with another table in it. His
apprentice, Mahr, was already there, preparing the special
properties of the table in this room for use.
The Image Table was large, with a flat top made of polished
slate. At each of the four corners stood a crystal pole, about a
foot and a half high, with what looked like small silver metal
flakes imbedded in it. All but one now glowed with the same eerie
inner illumination that the light globe did, and Mahr was touching
the last unglowing one with the palm of her left hand, muttering
something softly. When her words stopped, that pole, too, began to
glow, and she looked up at the young man said, "It is ready, my
Lord. Do you wish anything else?"
"No, Mahr, thank you. You have done well. You may stay, if you
wish." Mahr smiled, and moved back out of the way, but happy to stay
and watch her teacher, Cefn an'Derrin, work.
Cefn placed his hands on a metal plate on one of the long sides
of the Image Table, and began muttering some ancient and powerful
words. Light lanced outward from each pole, but only along and
within the edges of the table. Soon the light seemed to take on
solid form, filling the top of the table with a block of light. And
then, the block cleared, but the top of the table had vanished.
Instead, a portion of the town was visible, but not just as a
picture - it was as if someone had built an exact scale model of
part of Dargon's fringe district on the table.
But, no model could be so perfect. Unfelt wind moved debris down
the streets of the image, rocked shop signs, and caused lantern and
candle light to flicker. And, every so often, people moved thru the
tiny streets, either merchant going uptown, or sailor or dockworker
Cefn read the image with the same speed he had read the cards.
He frowned, and muttered a mild oath that caused a symbol
embroidered on his tunic to spark and flash. He said as if talking
to himself (which he was really, but aloud for Mahr's benefit), "The
cards said she'd be here. Must have taken too long to set up. I'll
have to move the Image to the danger zone, and wait."
The Image was centered on the street that ran along the nominal
separation line between the low city and the middle city. As Cefn
stood, the street ran right to left along the middle of the Image,
and the low city was on the side closest to him. He ran the
fingertips of his right hand slowly along the metal plate in front
of him, and the Image began to move to the left, until he recognized
a certain combination of cross streets and alleyways. Making careful
adjustments until a certain street was directly in front of him, he
began to move his fingers up, so that the Image moved into the low
city, following that street.
Cefn again recognized a certain alleyway, and moved the Image
right, following the alley into the darkness between buildings. When
the image just barely showed where the alley joined the street he
had been following at its right edge, he stopped. He had reached the
Slowly, as they watched and waited, details became clear in the
blackness of the alley. Cefn noticed the concealed figures first,
because he knew that they would be there - once he had pointed them
out to Mahr, their positions seemed obvious. Cefn said, "She will be
comming down the alley this way, from the left of the Image. She'll
never be able to spot these ambushers."
"Master, will you intervene?" asked Mahr.
"Little one, you know that I must keep my interrest and presence
hidden for our purpose here to succeed. But - fetch me some glass
slivers from the laboratory, quickly."
Mahr dashed into the surrounding darkness, uncovering a small
candle lantern when she reached the edge of the darkness that filled
Cefn's house - she had no sorcerous means of penetrating it as her
master did. She was swiftly back with the requested materials - a
handfull of glass splinters from the preparations for a spell Cefn
had been testing earlier that day. She placed them in Cefn's free
hand, and resumed watching the almost motionless waiting of the
ambushers in the Image.
Cefn was also watching, dividing his mind between that task and
preparing the spell he was going to use with the splinters. Silence
grew absolute as the two magicians waited for the woman's arrival.
A globe of lantern light preceeded the woman's arrival within
the Image - yellow oil-flame glinting off of silver face mask and
drawn and ready sword held left-handed. The lantern hung from a
special hook attached to her right wrist, which she held before her
to provide maximum illumination. Her pace was measured and careful,
and she looked around warily. The two watchers saw the ambushers
move deeper into the shadows that cloaked their hiding places. They
were well enough concealed that even when the woman was alongside
them, they would still be hidden from the light.
Cefn plucked two splinters of glass from his palm, and held them
above the Image where the two nearest ambushers hid. He mouthed the
words of the proper spell, and released the slivers. They fell, and
when they crossed the edge of the Image, it seemed that two swift
bolts of lightning streaked down to flash harmlessly but brightly
off of the sword-blades of the hidden attackers.
The woman saw the flashes, and immediately set her lantern down,
and backed up against a wall. The ambushers, knowing themselves to
be revealed, rushed out of hiding - six well armed youths with the
look of the street about them. They closed into a semi-circle around
the woman, who just shifted slightly so that she could keep all of
them in sight. Then, the melee began.
The only light in the alley was that of the lantern the woman
had set down. The movements of her attackers cast shadows into the
dim illumination, making the action difficult to follow for the two
who watched from safety and distance, but the attacked woman seemed
unaffected by the chancy light. She moved with speed, grace, and
skill, unaffected by the uneven odds and bad situation of the
attack. Bodies darted in and out of light, used shadows of others to
hid, and move unseen, and steel flashed bright white and blue as
swords did their work. Soon, the peculiar glint of light off wet
blood was seen as swift moving sword shed its red coating in moving
to gain another. The melee became clearer as, one by one, the street
toughs met the woman's sword for the last time, and ceased to move.
Less than five minutes later, Dargon's population was reduced by
six. The woman stood, panting slightly, sword still held at ready,
in the unblocked light of her lantern - her attackers were all dead.
Any expression she might have worn was hidden by her mask, and the
size of the image the mage watched, but, by her stance, she seemed
unaffected by her brush with death. Satisfied that the woman was all
right, Cefn lifted his hand from the metal plate, and the Image
folded in upon itself. Had he watched it fade away, he might have
seen the swordswoman begin to shake in delayed reaction, dropping
her sword, and sinking slowly to the ground.
But, Cefn's attention was diverted by Mahr. His apprentice
asked, "Who were those men, sir?"
"I don't know, Mahr. But, I can guess that the Order of Jhel now
knows that Lladdwr is in the city, and that was their first attempt
to retrieve it. We must keep a better watch over the woman."
"Yes, Master. After what she has been through, she deserves to
be looked after. Master, will it work? Was it worth it to bring her?"
Cefn frowned, and turned away from Mahr. After long moments of
staring into the darkness, he finally said, "I have my orders. Jhel
must be eliminated, and the Order here in Dargon is the only one
left. You were with me when we cast the cards, looking for the
answer. The only avenue open was to bring Lladdwr here, and the only
way to do that was to get her friends to take her out that night.
The cards didn't tell us what would come of that little sorcerous
manipulation, did they?!
"It has to work. We've destroyed that woman's life, just to get
a damnable piece of steel into this city - if it doesn't bring down
Jhel, well -- well, it has to, that's all. We must be vigilant,
ready to help, and be ready, when the time comes, to expose and
destroy the last Septent in existence."
Part Three: Dreams
"Brother Chwech, report," said Brother Un.
"As you know, Brothers, the attack was unsuccessful. Apparently,
this 'Je'en' woman, she who bears the Sacred Sword, knows its uses.
The men I hired were all killed in the ambush. I..."
"Pardon me, Brother Chwech, but it wasn't an ambush," said
Brother Pump. "I was watching the whole thing, and someone or
something intervened on the woman's behalf, exposing the location of
the men hired by Brother Chwech, and ruining the ambush. Later, I
learned that I was not alone in observing the conflict. Brothers,
this woman is not here by chance. Someone has lured her here, and I
fear that she is bait for us. If we wish to retrieve Lladdwr, we
must act slowly, cautiously, and as covertly as possible. Forget
not, Brothers, we are the last of Jhel's Priests - the prophecies do
speak of a possible future wherein Jhel's very name is forgotten.
That must not happen."
"Well spoken, Brother Pump," said Brother Un. "Caution is indeed
necessary. Has anyone here any ideas on how to coax the Sacred Sword
from this woman?"
Brother Tri said, "I have done some research into this woman's
past, and I think I have found a possible weakness. You see, she was
once a Bard, before a recent accident stole away her voice. What
might she do, my Brothers, to regain it...?"
Je'en, Mecke, and Taal laughed in pure joy as they walked down
the street, heading for the best tavern in Magnus - the Battered
Shield. They had just passed their final test and were now
officially Bards, and intended to spend a few hours celebrating.
For Je'en, it was the fulfillment of a dream. From that first
day the circuit Bard had selected her from the Faire's singing
contest, saying she had the potential, Je'en had done everything in
her power to become a Bard. She had traveled to the College in
Magnus, studied hard, and learned well. And, she was now a Bard.
She and her two classmates entered the Battered Shield, and Taal
immediately ordered a round for the house, announcing their news to
all. Je'en smiled and accepted the congratulations of the patrons,
and then the they settled into a corner booth and began to celebrate.
About an hour and a half later, Mecke suggested a little
contest. The three of them would take a given legend, and retell it,
each differently. It was an exercise that they had all done in
class, so they all knew what was required. Since Mecke had suggested
it, she was chosen to go first.
As she sang her version of the Balphiryon and Hengnra tale, the
patrons of the tavern began to gather around - even in Magnus,
listening to a Bard ply her trade was an event.
When Mecke was finished - to much applause, and a few coins - it
was Taal's turn. His version took a totally different turn, but was
equally entertaining, and he, too, received applause, and cheers,
and coins - enough to pay for his "round for the house" earlier.
Then it was Je'en's turn. While she had been half listening to
the others sing, she was formulating her own version, on yet a
different tack from Taal's. So, once the accolades for Taal had died
down, she began. By way of long practice, and tenacious teachers, it
had become almost second nature for her to make up a story-song as
she went along. Her version came out as smoothly and professionally
and the two before, and she could tell that the audience was
enjoying themselves as well.
Then, in the middle of her twenty-second verse, she suddenly
couldn't sing anymore. Her throat burned, there was stabbing pain in
her face, arm, and leg, and all that came out of her mouth were
harsh, croaking noises, fit only for an angry bird. And, the
audience immediately turned on her, throwing mugs and bread,
jeering, catcalling, abusing her verbally and physically. And, to
make it worse, her friends joined in with the patrons instead of
standing by her and helping her. She didn't understand. This hadn't
happened before, before...
Je'en woke up with a start, sitting bolt upright, her mouth open
and breath caught to scream. She caught herself before she tortured
her throat further, and instead began to sob, coiling into a ball on
Wend had awakened when Je'en did, and he, used to her nightly
fits, tenderly reached out to her, gently unrolled her, and let her
cry herself out against his chest.
When Je'en was calm again, she thanked Wend and stayed close to
his comforting solidity. He was a Peace-keeper in the same market
place she was. He had always been friendly, and a help in getting to
know Dargon, and, eventually they had become lovers. And now, with
these nightly nightmares, he was a great comfort to her as well.
The bad dreams had started shortly after the attack in the
alley. Up until that time, Je'en had never used her newly-won skills
with the sword to kill. That, with the similarity of that ambush to
the one in Magnus that had taken her voice, had released all of her
carefully dammed up memories. Memories that were now tormenting her
each and every night.
Wend said, "Better now, hon? What was it this time?"
Je'en told him. It seemed to help. He was so understanding. She
was beginning to feel something deep for him.
That night's nightmare was typical: a good memory from her past
life ruined by the intrusion of her present circumstances. Without
Wend's help, she would probably have retained the mixture, ruining
even her memories of her past, but he helped her reason out the
nightmare and banish it. She hadn't had any repeat dreams, for which
she was glad.
When Wend had done his work sorting out her dream, he said,
"Je'en, I learned of this treatment that might help you. It's a mild
drug that frees the mind, and with guidance, deep-seated problems
can be resolved while under the influence. It has been three weeks
since you had an undisturbed night's rest."
Je'en thought about it. Normally, she didn't like drugs, other
than a little alchohol now and then. She didn't like to be out of
control. But these nightmares were bad, and without Wend, they would
be worse. She didn't want to go through life dreaming bad dreams,
with Wend always by her side (as nice as that sounded, for other
reasons) to keep her sane. So, she said, "Alright, Wend. What do I
need to do?"
The house was in that chancy fringe district between the middle
and lower cities. It stood out because it was the best kept house on
the street, and it stood alone - its neighbors had collapsed, and
the rubble cleared away, long since.
Wend led Je'en up to the door, and knocked. Je'en was nervous -
she was literally giving control of her mind to Wend, who had
offered to give the healing guidance. But, she had come to know him,
and she trusted him. When she was cured, she thought she might even
ask him to marry her.
An old woman answered the door, and ushered them into a well
kept parlor, furnished with the trappings of a fortune-teller, as
was the old woman. Wend whispered something in her ear, and handed
her a small leather bag that clinked faintly as it met the woman's
hand. She hefted it as if judging the value of its contents, smiled,
and produced a small silver box from her robes. She said in a voice
like old leaves, "Use number 15, my son. I wish you well." Then she
began to putter around the room, ignoring the couple as they went up
the stairs at the back of the room.
Room 15 was neatly, if sparsely, furnished with a bed, chair,
and table. It was very neat, and the furniture was expensive, but
Je'en could guess what else this room might be used for. She
wondered how much of the coin Wend had paid had been for the time in
the room, and not the drug.
Je'en took her place on the bed, and Wend pulled the chair up
next to her. He showed her the tiny box, and opened it. Within were
two very small pills with the silvery-red sheen of blood on steel. A
ewer and glass on the table helped to wash down the pills, and Wend
told her to just relax.
It wasn't long before Je'en fell lightly asleep. She didn't
consciously hear the soothing words spoken by Wend, but she felt
their effects. And she began to dream.
Nothing bad, this time. Only good. Reliving her memories,
specifically her most recent nightmares, without the bad parts. The
dreams were very vivid, and she enjoyed feeling herself sing and
play music again. The pain of her loss was mitigated by the joy of
When she awoke, she felt much refreshed. And that night there
was no nightmare. Wend was happy that Je'en felt better, but felt
that she should use the drug for at least the rest of the week -
after all, she didn't want the nightmares returning, did she? So,
every day for the next four days, she and Wend went to that lone,
well kept house, and spent an hour or so in one of the upper rooms.
Cefn sat in near darkness, the globe above the table dimmed to
just a faint spark. He studied the lay of the cards on the table,
and frowned again. They refused to tell clearly! He read dreams and
danger in them, but there was no imminency in them, and no definite
focus either. The way they read, it almost seemed that they were
warning of the everyday possibility of an accident, save that the
cards never worked so trivially. His charge, Je'en, seemed to be in
some danger, but he couldn't tell what kind, or how soon, and he
couldn't act until he knew. With a stifled oath, he swept the cards
from the table, dimmed the globe with a gesture, and sat, brooding,
in total darkness.