Crimson Enchantress is every bit the minx that her original counterpart is.
Crimson Enchantress is every bit the minx that her original counterpart is.
The deities of the Wealdenda refused to get involved in human affairs. The Earth, while created by the god king Heittan (at least according to him; other pantheons disagreed), belonged to Man. Yet, the gods and goddesses knew they must get involved, or their childish creations would destroy themselves before maturing. So, they sired and bore the half-gods, beings of great supernatural power yet formed from the flesh of mortals. Through them, the gods and goddesses could influence, or interfere, as needed.
Two such half-goddesses are Dydaea and Knuse. They are cousins. They are enemies.
Dydaea, the Dark One. She is the daughter of the love goddess Lieba by the sorcerer Kontar the Younger. Her name means Virtue. She does tend to be a bit imperious about enforcing her name. No one ever called her sweet. But she is always good.
Knuse, the Fair One. She is the daughter of the war god Kregg upon the sorceress Vytarra of Aitia. Her name was once Aereka, for Honor. Twisted by her own beauty, she started down the road of conquest and dominion. Even though half-mortal herself, she decided that humanity was created to be servants of the gods, not their children. So, she changed her name to Knuse. It means Crush. And crush she does.
The two are linked by more than the fact that their respective mother and father are sister and brother. Alarmed by his daughter’s turn to evil and abandonment of honor, Kregg himself charged Dydaea with preventing Knuse’s planned reign of terror, at any cost. Even if it meant slaying Knuse, and Dydaea was one of the few half-goddesses powerful enough to accomplish that. As the daughter of a love goddess, war was not her domain. However, Dydaea rose to the occasion. It proved easy to turn romantic love outward, into actions that benefitted the welfare of people as a whole.
Dydaea and Knuse are evenly matched in godlike power and magical skill, but not in attitude. A being of honor and valor, Dydaea has lines she will not cross, and self-imposed rules she will not break. No matter how relentless her pursuit of Knuse, she stops just short of killing her, even though she knows she should. Knuse suffers no such foolish delusions. Nothing will deter her from her goal of grinding her grandfather’s world beneath her sandal in ruthless subjugation. That is especially true of her infernal cousin.
They have warred for two hundred years. Even though Knuse often defeats and humiliates her cousin, Dydaea continually injures the other so much that Knuse’s plans of conquest are thwarted. Until next time. However, since their last battle, Dydaea has grown stronger and more wily, while Knuse basks in her arrogance and superiority. The force for good realizes the only way to permanently stop Knuse is to throw her across time and realm into another sphere of existence, and imprison her there. She herself will serve as Knuse’s gaolkeeper. It is eternal exile, but a price Dydaea is willing to pay to preserve the Earth and Man.
Dydaea, the half-goddess.
Aura casts her favorite opening duel spell, the Throwback Spell. Considering she cast it from her left hand, instead of the head of her staff, this is a warning shot.
“You can’t keep fighting, Aura,” Elisabeth Lovejoy growled.
“I most certainly can,” Aura Lockhaven snarled through a mouth full of blood. “You forget, Elisabeth. I fail at quitting!”
“You stubborn bitch!” the warrior mumbled. She clenched her teeth as the broken bones in her right leg grated together. “That makes two of us.”
The enchantress steadied herself, using her staff as a crutch. She wanted to collapse. It was hard to breathe with a rib jammed into her lung, and half her face pulverized. Her shattered right arm lay useless against her body, and her chest screamed from the burns. But she couldn’t quit. As long as Aura and Elisabeth lived, as long as they continued to fight, then Rivan the Sorcerer couldn’t sacrifice Vanessa. The girl’s life depended on the two injured defenders.
“He’s coming back,” Elisabeth said.
“Good! I need him to get closer. I don’t dare miss with this spell.”
Aura tightened her grip on her staff. She managed a smile with the half of her mouth that still moved. If Aura looked horrible, Rivan looked worse. Lady Erba Martingale would heal the warrior and the enchantress later. She always did. Rivan couldn’t say the same.
The madman had received her best dueling spells into his body. That he still stood was testimony to his insanity. She reserved her best spell for last, her most devastating spell, her Divine Thunderbolt. Cast through her staff, the bolt of lightning became solid light, boring holes through even the thick hide of trolls. Rivan was a man. The spell would reduce him to a scattered pile of burning parts. That is, if Aura hit him. She needed the sorcerer to get even closer. As weak as she was, the Divine Thunderbolt might drain even her life force. But if it meant Vanessa lived, what of it?
“If he gets by you, I’ll cut off his feet,” Elisabeth snarled, readying her sword.
“I knew I could count on you,” Aura said.
Elisabeth glanced over her shoulder at the trembling Vanessa, and said, “You aren’t the one counting on me, Aura.”
“What do you want with me?” Aura Lockhaven stammered.
She dreaded hearing the hermit’s answer, for she felt in her churning belly that she already knew what it would be. When the rough hands grabbed her and threw her to the ground, she knew. When the filthy rag was tied around her eyes, she knew. When her arms were jerked behind her back and the coarse rope cruelly wrapped around her wrists, she knew. When she was shoved to the stone floor, and her clothes ripped from her body, she knew. When she felt her arms drawn up and back, and again felt the bite of coarse rope, she knew. There was only one reason a man would do that to a woman. It was, however, mere suspicion and not fact. A mere suspicion only caused her guts to roil. Fact would ignite a terror attack.
The hermit ripped the blindfold from Aura’s face. The young Enchantress blinked to clear her eyes and acclimate to the dim light of the room. Instinctively, she flexed her arms and tugged on the rope. That only caused it to dig deeper into her wrists. She stared at the filthy stone hovel, and the equally filthy man most in Lodwynnshire called the Hermit Gravely.
Everyone heard of him. Few saw him. Reality was worse than rumor. He indeed lived in a home more cave than house. He indeed shuffled through dust and rotting fruit and vegetables. He indeed shared his abode with rats and spiders. At least, he did not eat bears alive and wolves raw, not that Aura could tell. For all the things spoken in the typical delight-filled tone of gossip about the man, no one ever accused Gravely of being a rapist. Yet, Aura knelt in his home, stripped naked and bound to a pole. Why else would he want her thus? Unless he saw more than he was seen, he didn’t even know she was the Enchantress of Hartshorn. She seldom ventured into this part of the shire.
Gravely knelt only a yard from Aura. Water had not seen his inside nor his outside in at least a decade. He reeked of unwashed body, rotten teeth, and stale beer. Aura narrowed her eyes at him, as her stomach tried to revolt against his odor and her fear of what he no doubt planned to do to her. Perhaps the loose pebbles in his skull shifted, and he realized there was only one way he could get a woman into his bed. Again, it was but mere suspicion.
“I be wanting ye to eat an’ drink,” Gravely said, his voice sticky with phlegm and decaying food. The words forced his foul breath into Aura’s nostrils. She gagged, as he continued. “I brought bread an’ water. Ye be needing yer strength for yer consummation.”
“Consummation,” Aura said, with a gasp. That was a hell of a way to phrase it. “You mean to defile me!”
Now, it was fact. Sticky bile rose in Aura’s throat. Black flecks swam before her eyes. For a brief moment, Gravely’s haggard face changed to that of the comely and youthful Ester. No! Aura shouted in her mind. Think of the task. Only of the task. She was bound and naked, but she was inside Gravely’s miserable excuse for a home. It lay beyond the arm of the law, but not the hands of the Enchantress. She only needed one more piece of information. Nostrils flaring, she fought with every ounce of her strength to stare into Gravely’s eyes. If he wanted to see fear, then it sat before his face, raw and uncompromised. So many things could go wrong right now. So many. But Aura lived to help the helpless, and Emma Killingsworth was totally helpless.
“It nae be defiling if it be between husband an’ wife,” Gravely said, grinning, his mouth a wretch of brown teeth, half of them missing.
“I’m not married,” Aura growled through a clenched mouth.
“Nae, but ye will be. Ta me. I be old enough to take a wife. Twae of them, if I be feelin’ like it.”
“We haven’t exchanged vows. We haven’t stood before a priest. No one has pronounced us husband and wife,” Aura said, trying to buy time. She searched the sitting chamber for a way out, in case her intuition failed and her plan went awry. The room had no windows. A rough wooded door lay to one side. Light streamed in through the cracks. That must be the way out. On the other side, a burlap curtain obscured whatever lay in the adjacent room. She could untie herself easily, if she remembered the incantation. If her initial panic erupted into terror, she would forget even her own name.
Gravely screwed up his face in disgust and spat on his floor. “That be for silkbellies,” he snarled. He poked a grimy, gnarled finger at Aura’s chest. “We be gettin’ married like folks of old, when things be done right afore kings an’ priests an’ laws come along to put us in chains. We jest choose each nother an’ fek an’ ye bear me bairns an’ I build ye a home an’ bring ye food an’ take care of ye. That makes me and ye husband a’ wife. If’n ye relax, ye will enjoy the consummation. I tell that to me other wife, but she don’t listen none.”
“Your other wife?” Aura muttered. Keep him talking, she thought. She repeated the simple incantation for untie over and over in her mind, just in case. “I don’t know if I like sharing a husband with another woman. Who is my rival?”
Please say a certain name, Aura thought. Please! If he said any other name, then Gravely was just a loonie old man with strange ways. There were no laws dictating how a man treated his wife. If he said any other name, Aura would lose her feeble grip on her will, and succumb to the gargantuan horror of being raped. Then, he would have his way with her, and with great ease. Already, her head swam. The way he tied her, she could not sink to the comfort of the cold stones like she wanted. A tear tried to force its way to the edge of her eye. No, she screamed in her mind. She permitted him to see her fear, but she would be damned if he made her beg.
“Why, ‘tis Emma herself. She be a fine girl,” Gravely said. “She’s tied up in bed. But she larnin’ her ways. Soon, I can untie her.” He nodded to Aura and gave her a satisfied, and lust filled smile. “But ye be a fine woman. I be untyin’ ye soon ‘nuff, I ‘spect.”
The black flecks faded from Aura’s view. The nausea turned to resolve. Her mind cleared and the muscles in her body tightened. That was the name she longed to hear.
Four weeks ago, Emma Killingsworth walked the five miles from Hartshorn to Morningstar to visit her aunt. She never arrived. Some boys fishing saw her in the vicinity of Gravely’s hovel. Constable Lamerock suspected the hermit grabbed her, but the old man lived outside Lamerock’s legal jurisdiction. Morningstar’s own constable was too busy inspecting wares and whores in winesinks to bother with an errant girl from some other town. The rotting pile of stones did not lie outside Aura’s reach, however. Her desire to help the helpless entitled her to go to the helpless, no matter where they may be found.
Although considerably shorter, five years younger, and graced with eyes like the sky, Emma resembled Aura in many ways. Both had long, dark auburn hair and voluptuous bodies that aroused passion in all but blind men. So, Aura donned a dress with a form-fitting, low cut bodice that revealed much of her endowed breasts and deep cleavage, and a snug skirt that hugged her well-rounded hips, yet showed most of her left leg. Pretending to be lost while walking to Morningstar, she stopped to pick a few flowers within sight of Gravely’s hovel. Her ruse worked.
The Enchantress’ emerald eyes flashed. Slowly, a smile of triumph spread across her full lips. She said, “Gravely, you should have gagged me!”
The hermit never heard the roared throwback incantation, cast with all of Aura’s fury. He felt the spell slam into his chest, however. Gravely flew across his ruin of a sitting chamber and smashed into the stone wall. He slumped to the cold floor with three shattered ribs, a broken arm, and a concussion. Aura quickly spoke the Karanthek word for untie. The ropes obeyed the spell and slid to the filthy flagstones in a pile.
Gripping the pole with numb hands, and pouring her strength into her sore arms, she hauled herself to her feet. Her wobbly legs barely held her weight. That had been too close. Too close to a terror attack, and too close to actually being ravaged. Glancing across the room at the unconscious Gravely, she heaved a sigh from her deepest being. A tankard of ale was in order tonight. No, make that half a keg.
“The things I do to help the helpless,” she mumbled. She looked toward the curtain. A muffled moan told her that Emma lay behind it. “Well, I hope Gravely left our clothes in somewhat decent shape, or Emma and I are about to walk home starkers.”
The young woman opened her eyes, and looked up into the green eyes of the redheaded enchantress smiling down on her.
“My baby?” the woman whispered.
“You have a son, Mrs. Fletcher,” Aura Lockhaven replied. “He’s in the next room with your husband and the midwife. He’s a healthy boy. Based on his size, I’d say he grows up to be even more strapping than Mr. Fletcher.”
With tears flowing down her cheeks, and her weak stomach shaking with laughter, Mrs. Fletcher said, “I have a son? I have a son!” With what strength she had, she lifted her hand and grasped Aura’s. “Thank you, Lady Aura. Thank you!”
Aura squeezed Mrs. Fletcher’s hand. “It’s always a pleasure. Well, you lost a lot of blood. I don’t have a spell or potion to replace that. You’ll have to do that on your own, and we’ll start with some broth. I’ll fetch it and send for your husband and new boy.”
Aura slipped her hand from that of the exhausted patient lying in bed. With a smile, she stepped out into the hall. Then, she collapsed against the wall.
Twenty-two years ago, the town of Hartshorn didn’t have a village witch, much less an enchantress. When Aurora Lockhaven burst an artery in labor with her baby, she began to bleed to death. The apothecary told her that he could save her or her baby, but not both. Aurora made her choice. That baby now leaned against the wall, with her own tears trickling down her own face. That baby just saved Mrs. Fletcher from bleeding to death in childbirth, holding back the blood long enough for the midwife to deliver the child, then sealing the ruptured artery with an intense healing spell. Hartshorn didn’t have an enchantress twenty-two years ago, but it did today. Mrs. Fletcher did not suffer the same fate as Mrs. Lockhaven. Today, the hopeless had hope.
Aura stared at the C shaped scar on her left palm. Sometimes that C stood for Careless or Clumsy. Today, it stood for Compassion. She clenched her fist, feeling the stiffness of the thick tissue. That boy will know his mother! she thought. This is why I trained!
Wiping the moisture from her face, Aura stood up straight, and said, “Well, I best fetch that broth.”