A Dead Hero
By PatsBard ©2000 All Rights Reserved
Disclaimers: This is a work of original, alternative fantasy fiction. The world and all characters within are copyright of the author and may not be used elsewhere without permission.
Sex: Possibly Rated R for the simple fact that the protagonists are both female and a romantic relationship between them is hinted at.
Sequels/Prequels: It is my intention to flesh out and continue this story at a later date. I will also write a story related to previous events mentioned within A Dead Hero.
Violence: It's a rough world out there. Violence aplenty. Wounds are described in detail, though the battles they were received in are not.
Contact the author:
Copyright: February 2000 Barbara Davey
The tattered figure crawled from the cave's mouth leaving a trail of blood and bits of clothing. Small bits of clothing...not much was left on the stick-thin figure. Even the blood left only small smears on the patchy ground. A stream trickled not far to the west and the creature made its slow, agonizing journey the few feet to the edge of it. As it leaned over to try to cup some water in its bony hands, the moon came out from hiding and showed a hideous reflection in the clear water.
With a choked gasp, the creature fell back from the stream and its skeletal hands cupped a deeply scarred face instead of water. The only things of great amount left on the creature were masses of scars and scabbed-over wounds. The once coppery hair was now a sweat-soaked, black tangle. High cheekbones were the only evidence left of what once had been a proud, aristocratic face. Two swollen mounds showed the barest glitter of blue where the eyes once glared out fiercely. The rest of the six-foot body was ravaged with even more devastating injuries.
Trembling hands tried to smooth away encrusted dirt and stones from the legs and succeeded only in breaking open some of the scabs. 180 pounds had melted away to 110, and a skeleton had more flesh it seemed. A weak laugh startled the creature as the stray thought entered its head. It had killed enough skeletons in the past months, while battling its way through the mountain's dark interior.
Turning back to the stream the creature again reached for the water, this time taking care not to look at the reflection within. A few sips eased the parchedness of its throat and the next handful was carefully used to clean some of the dirt off its face. A deep breath later-cut off sharply by broken ribs-the creature dared to look at the reflection again.
"Female! Human! You would dare test yourself against me ?"
The creature, who was in fact human and female, shuddered to hear the rumbling echoes of a remembered voice, the voice of her enemy. That voice had shaken boulders from the mountain as they fought. Even now, she could still feel the bone jarring trembling of the earth. Only much later did she find that the boulders had closed all but the one, tiny exit she had crawled out of. Months ago or maybe years, she was no longer certain. Even without eyes swollen almost shut, she would have had to squint against the glare of the moon, so long had it been since she saw light.
Peering into the water, she saw slight traces of the beauty that had once been hers. Well, not beauty. Her face had been too strong for that. She had the high cheekbones of her mother and the square jaw of her father. Her mouth was somewhere between the two, not so full as her mother's yet not the hard slash of her father's. 'Handsome' was what her father called her. 'Stubborn' was her mother's fond choice.
The people they ruled over called her 'trouble'...with much affection and behind her back, though. Only one brave soul had called her that to her face and he had felt the full force of cold, blue eyes piercing into his own. Later he told his friends that he had felt his heart begin to freeze solid from that glare. Little did they know how true were his words.
A gift, her mother had told her when she had come of age. The L'Omarr had visited her great-great-great grandmother upon that most-revered woman's coming of age. Spirited her away to a hidden land and when they returned her, her eyes were no longer green, but instead were a brilliant blue. It had been a matter of weeks before the family found out exactly what else had changed besides the color of their eldest child's eyes.
The emaciated woman struggled to her feet, gasping against the pain of her broken limbs and falling back down onto the packed earth. So immersed was she in her misery that she didn't notice the glowing orb dancing scant feet in front of her until it coalesced into a tall, shimmering form. Reflexively, she felt the icy rage begin to build within her, an automatic defense against her enemies.
"Hold, my child. We mean you no ill." The voice was a silvery echo in her mind, calming and soothing her. She knew this being, though she was not sure how or why.
"What...do you want of me?" Her throat was scraped raw from the many screams of rage she had loosed in the mountain. Where her Rage of Ice killed some, others fed upon it. For those she had let the anger consume her, the Rage of Fire boiling forth to turn them into cinders in her path. Now she felt as though there were more sand in her throat than in the silt of the riverbed.
"You have served us well, child of Trymola. You have driven our ancient foe back into the depths, and now we would reward you."
The battered head dipped low to the ground, almost touching it in her grief. "Driven it to the depths? I have not killed it?" A rasping sob echoed in the night air. "What matters my life? What point a reward if my people are not safe?" she whispered despairingly.
Tendrils of mist surrounded the broken body, light touches caressing the deep wounds and knitting broken bones back together again. Warmth began in her belly and radiated outward until her entire form was encased in it, held and nurtured by the willowy being who had caused her tears. And, finally, she slept for the first time in recent memory.
When next she woke, it took some moments for her to regain her senses. She gratefully took in the fact that she could see clearly and her next experiment was to stretch her limbs. Only slight twinges of pain in her arms and legs, for which she sent out silent words of thanks.
"You're welcome, child."
Swifter than sight, the woman was on her feet and into a defensive crouch. Her legs trembled with the strain, but she willed them the strength to continue holding her upright. Death would not find her lying upon her back, helpless before her enemies.
"Show yourself," she snarled, fingers curling around empty air as if it were the sword that rested in the mountain behind her.
Once again, the orb appeared. She watched the transformation with no little awe. Though she carried the gift, she had never before been graced by the presence of the L'Omarr. Only her distant ancestor had been so honored when the L'Omarr would visit her from time to time throughout her long life, and she never revealed any of the events that had transpired. Chalynde's eyes would merely glow with an otherworldly light until her questioners, primarily Seers who had the misguided idea that they had the right to know, backed away with no memory of why they were speaking to her.
The secret was passed from mother to daughter, the oddness of green eyes turning to blue at the coming of age explained away in one fashion or another. Only the mother and daughter knew that the blue of their eyes echoed the colors of the Rage: a cold, brilliant indigo for the Rage of Ice, and a dazzling, blazing azure for the Rage of Fire.
Impossibly long fingers stretched out to gently touch her cheek. "We mean you no harm. You carry our gift, and our hope. Ask anything of us and we will grant it if we can."
"If you can? I was taught the L'Omarr could do whatever they pleased." She stood proud and tall before them now, refusing to show any signs of weakness even though her legs were trembling fiercely.
The slender fingers waved through the air in a delicate motion. Renewed strength flowed into her veins and her trembling stopped. "It has been almost a year since you entered the mountain. How do you think you survived?" The voice was gentle, yet demanding.
The woman dropped her eyes momentarily, embarrassed by her excessive pride. "I had help, it seems," she answered quietly.
"We have been drained severely in our aid to you. We say this not to humble you, but to make you aware of our restrictions." Blue eyes that matched her own burned into her. "Ask us."
Tears quavered upon her eyelashes as she struggled to speak. "I want to go home, Honored Ones."
"And so it is done. Be in peace until we need you again."
Shimmering light engulfed her, leaving the mountain and all its devastation far behind, but knowing that its shadow was forever within her soul.
Her eyes adjusted instantly to the darkness of the alley she found herself in. A quick glance through the refuse strewn about told her she was in the Merchant District of her home village. Galen, proprietor of the largest of Trymola's inns, was still leaving scraps out for the strays. She almost smiled in relief at the normalcy of it.
Dark fabric caught her eye and she realized suddenly that she was still naked. The hooded robe was fresh and clean, a marked contrast to its surroundings. The dark woman used great care as she slipped it on-she was in much better shape than when she had stumbled out of the mountain, but the wounds were still there. She spared another quick word of thanks that the infections were gone, and that she was well on her way to being completely healed.
The tall form eased out of the alley cautiously, mingling with the crowd unnoticed as she made her way to Galen's Inn. By the time she made it to the huge, stone structure, her eyes were flashing a brilliant blue deep within the cowl. One false step or wrong word and the crush of bodies around her would have been so much kindling. It had been too long since she had been required to exert such control over her gift, and longer still since she had been subjected to the noise and mass of a crowd such as this. Sheer willpower kept her Rage in check.
The interior of the inn was little better. Every table, every chair was occupied by laughing, half-inebriated men, while serving girls pushed their way through groups who had yet to find seats or preferred standing. A cauldron in the center of the spacious room was constantly being replenished by fresh buckets of stew, and tankards of ale were being passed hand-over-head from the bar to men who stood three deep back from it.
The noise was deafening.
The woman took a deep breath and forced her way to Galen's side. Strong fingers gouged into his elbow as she took hold of him. "I would speak with you, good sir," she growled in his ear.
Galen's eyes widened in a mixture of fear and confusion. His arm felt as though it had been plunged into an icy stream, yet sweat still dripped from his brow from the oppressive heat of the building. He jerked his head toward a side door and tried to rub feeling back into his arm as he followed his dark visitor.
"What is the news?" she asked without preamble, voice oddly muffled by the hood.
"You haven't heard?" he responded incredulously. "The Dark One has been vanquished! The entire realm celebrates, and at the next cycle the Houses of Pradek and Trymola will be joined in honor of the New Beginning!" Galen's brown eyes fairly danced with excitement. His inn was already prospering under the ebullition caused by the destruction of the dark powers.
The woman paced in the relative quiet of Galen's office, thoughts running like quicksilver through her mind. How could Dalrath even think of poisoning their bloodline by allowing a marriage with those backstabbing spies? And the L'Omarr had told her The Dark One was still alive. What sign could Galen have seen? Exhaustion was creeping into her bones, yet she could not rest without more information.
"How do you know of this? How do you know he has been vanquished?" It had only been a few days-or was it weeks-since she had watched the hideous form melt away under the combined onslaughts of her Rage. The reverberations of his anguished screams of retribution still pounded through her mercilessly.
"Look to the mountain," Galen told her quietly. Where had the woman been that she had not seen the proof of his words?
She could not stop the gasp that escaped her as she stood in front of the multi-paned window. Where once great gouts of oily, black smoke poured from the utmost tip of the mountain, now it was capped by a silvery-blue sheen of ice that spread halfway down its bulk. Her gaze dropped to her scarred hands in wonder at what she had wrought.
"A dead hero is better than no hero at all," Galen continued sadly. Though he could not see the face hidden within the depths of the hood, he could tell by the slight tilt of her head that she wished to hear more.
"Stories will be told until the End of Ages about the bravery of Teralynde of Trymola. Armed only with her great sword and her courage, she strode into the mountain over three cycles ago. All had been lost, we thought, until the mountain trembled and spewed forth blue fire. It was the strangest thing we had ever seen...fire scorching the earth around us, while great chunks of ice fell from the sky."
Galen's eyes were locked on the mountain, but he was seeing another vision in its place. "Teralynde's brother, Bradon, was at the foot when the sword fell." He turned tear-filled eyes to the dark woman. "Teralynde would never lose her sword. It was as if it was cleaved to her hand when her father presented it to her at her coming of age. It rests now, in the center of the castle, still encased in the block of ice with which it fell."
He shook his head as if to clear it of his dark thoughts. "When Bradon returned with the sword, we knew that Teralynde was lost to us. But the memory of her great deed will live on for as long as Trymola stands and longer."
Teralynde swayed slightly. Of all she had been through, this hearing of her own death was by far the oddest. She could not take much more. "What of the joining, Galen? You, of all people, know of Pradek's betrayal."
Galen's eyes darkened almost to black. "That is true, milady. But they sent their youngest daughter here to the Court...as a gesture of good will, so they said." He smiled slightly. "She and Bradon became inseparable. In fact, she was with him when he found the sword. The seers said having a member of both Houses present was a sign that the joining was blessed."
Blessed by my supposed death? The weight of Teralynde's responsibilities pressed heavily upon her shoulders. "I must rest, good sir. But I thank you for telling me of these things. Perhaps I shall share my tale with you once I have recovered myself."
"Of course, of course!" Galen cried. "Here I have kept you standing when you are obviously exhausted. I have but one room left, milady. But...."
"But what, good sir?" Teralynde sighed.
"I'm afraid you must share it with one of my new servants. A quiet child she is, who just came to Trymola herself. Normally I would not hesitate, but...she bears the mark."
Teralynde just barely suppressed a bark of laughter. The Mark? What is this? A new trial right upon the heels of the old? L'Omarr, lend me strength. She sank heavily into the nearest chair as her legs gave way. "And what is this mark?" she questioned wearily.
Galen grinned nervously. "We are not sure of its purpose. It is an exact rendition of the ice cap upon the mountain and the seers are researching it even now. She is such a gentle child, milady," he hastened to add, "that they allowed her to stay here rather than place her in the dungeons. After all...the ice cap is a good portent, so must be the mark."
The dark woman shook her head in bemusement. Long, slender fingers waved in the general direction of the door. "Lead the way, good sir. I am weary and could not care if she had the entire mountain emblazoned upon her back."
Indeed, she had much more to think about than a child with a tattoo...no doubt done by an overzealous attention seeker. A member of her House joining with Pradek? The very thought of it was anathema.
Impossible though it seemed, the inn was even more crowded than before. There was scarcely room to scream and that was what Teralynde wanted to do more than anything. Her scarred hand trembled as it gripped the backs of chairs, and she slowly pushed her way forward. Galen struggled to get in front of her so his bulk could better pave the way, but it was for naught. There were simply too many revelers in the common area.
A low growl started deep within her chest, building in intensity until those closest to the dark woman could hear it rumbling. She raised her left hand with every intent to sweep the cowl from her face when, incredibly, she felt a soft touch upon her sleeve. Who dared touch her? Had they lost every sense given them at birth? The rest of the crowd had already fallen back because of her feral growl. Her eyes burned with the effort at holding the Rage in check, as she twisted and grasped a soft hand within her own.
"Please, milady. We will do you no harm." The quiet voice and familiar phrase sent Teralynde reeling. Only the quick action of Galen kept her from sprawling headlong to the floor.
Teralynde ignored him, her focus entirely on the small woman before her. "Who are you?"
"I am but a servant here, milady. I am no one."
Silver eyes shining luminously up at her belied the girl's words. None in the realm had eyes such as that. Teralynde's family would have been informed of any such event, just as they were told of any child born with green eyes. The ancient scripts...Sacred Mother, she could hardly recall the words now. It had been a warning or a blessing....
"Milady, please." Galen's face was ashen. He had no idea what was occurring, but if he read the patrons correctly there would be an ugly scene soon. One he wanted no part of.
"Marista, help me take her to your room. I'll have a bath drawn and bring food in."
The mention of a bath and food cleared Teralynde's head and she nodded acquiescence. She kept a fierce grip on the tiny blonde, though, as they traversed the inn at a much quicker pace than before. The girl was hiding something; that was about the only thing she was sure of now.
That and her Rage of Fire had dissipated as if it had never been.
Teralynde made it to the small cot in the room just before her legs gave way. Marista gently disengaged her hand then began bustling around the room, stoking up the fire and lighting sweetly scented tapers. Galen, feeling very much in the way, decided to go fetch a large cask for the bath and instruct another serving girl to bring food and drink.
The dark woman remained quiet while the preparations were being made. Her eyes were growing heavier and heavier, but she forced herself to remain awake. She didn't want to let Marista out of her sight.
"Galen," she finally said. "I have need of decent clothing. Have you any to spare?"
The innkeeper eyed her long form critically and nodded. "The tanner's son is about your size. If you don't mind having to wear men's clothing, that is, milady."
"Excellent. I doubt I remember how to maneuver all those layers and ties, in any case." Her voice betrayed her humor and Galen chuckled.
"I took the liberty of bringing in nightclothes for you," he added with a nod toward a small bundle by the cask. "A bit short they'll be, but the blankets will keep you warm enough." As would Marista, no doubt, but he was smart enough to keep that particular thought to himself.
A great hope was rising within the innkeeper. There were only two women in the realm who stood at such a height or whose voices held such smooth, honeyed tones. If only she would remove the hood while he was present...then he would be sure. Oh, what a celebration there would be if Teralynde of Trymola had indeed come home!
What a handsome child she had been, and a delight to all who knew her. Even the outlanders had heard of the wit and bravery of Lady Caralynde's eldest child. It was said that only she and her mother could soothe Lord Dalrath's temper. Though it was also said that Teralynde had the talent to inflame it, as well. Galen stifled another chuckle as he indulged in the short reminiscence of Trymola's beloved royal family. The sound of a throat clearing brought his musings to a sudden halt.
"If you would, good sir...." The woman's hand gestured at the door and Galen flushed darkly.
"Of course, milady. My apologies," he sputtered, bowing deeply as he backed out of the small room. Perhaps the beginning of next turn would see him graced by the sight of the lady's visage. "A good rest to you both. May the L'Omarr sweeten your dreams."
Only Marista heard the inelegant snort his words caused, and she smiled slightly at the dark woman. "Your bath awaits, milady."
"Thank you, Marista." Teralynde let the smaller woman ease her to her feet, then stood there uncertainly for a moment. She was dismayed by the knowledge of how truly ugly her wounds made her, and how much she wanted this small woman to look fairly upon her.
Marista came around in front of her and took Teralynde's hands in the lightest of grips. Silver eyes stared into the darkness of the cowl with calm intensity. "I may be young, milady, but these eyes have seen much. Sights that no one should ever have inflicted upon them. I would only see you clean and warm. Please, let me help you."
Teralynde hesitated a moment longer before exerting the slightest of pressure on Marista's hands and releasing her. The smaller woman took the sign of tacit approval for what it was, reaching up and very slowly revealing Teralynde's hidden features.
Eyes the blue of a sunlit tarn greeted her and Marista flashed a bright, delighted smile. Rich, auburn hair, flattened slightly by the weight of the robe, winked at her in the flickering light of the tapers. She gave in to the nameless urge filling her and gently pushed a dark lock from the smooth brow.
Only the faintest of movement gave away the sadness she felt that the woman's brow was the only unmarked feature of her noble face. A deep scar ran from the bridge of Teralynde's nose and down across her high cheekbone, trailing almost to the line of her jaw. Smaller scars decorated the rest of her face and Marista traced each of them, longing for the strength to heal them all.
"Not yet, child of our heart." A tinkling echo of the voice Marista had been hearing for the past four cycles.
"They are healing," Teralynde told the girl hesitantly. "One day I should not be too difficult to look upon."
"You are always beautiful to me," Marista answered softly, ignoring the confusion her words caused. It would be soon enough to tell her proud warrior how long she had been seeing her in the dreams the L'Omarr sent her. Bringing her concentration back to the task at hand, Marista finished removing the robe and led the dark woman to her bath.
It was a silent, seemingly choreographed dance. Obeying wordless commands, Teralynde sat, stood, knelt, and turned at the subtlest of pressure from the serving girl's fingers. By the time Teralynde stood in a smaller bucket with a sheet of clean water cascading down her glistening form, her skin and even her hair tingled with new life. Teralynde had to check to see if the many scars had simply been scrubbed off. A thick towel, wielded by the force of nature that was Marista, dried and polished Teralynde until she fairly glowed.
"You would kill me with kindness!" she protested laughingly, as Marista attempted to draw the nightclothes over her head. "Grow a bit more and perhaps I will let you try again," she added with a smile, drawing the tunic on herself and smoothing it down with long, slender fingers. The soft cloth came barely to her knees, but she was covered modestly, at least.
"If you would bend a bit more easily, it would not make it so difficult for me to reach," Marista teased back.
Blue and silver eyes met and held each other. The two disparate women quietly shared the rare moment of laughter, neither knowing when it would come her way again.
"For a serving girl, you are unaccountably bold, Marista." The two women had settled comfortably in front of the fireplace, taking part of the generous repast Galen had sent in.
"And you are unaccountably stubborn for a hero, milady," Marista responded, placing a serving a vegetables back onto the taller woman's trencher.
The sudden stillness in the room was palpable.
Slowly-very slowly-the tension eased out of Teralynde's broad shoulders. "Ah, but I'm a dead hero," she told the girl with forced levity. She speared a chunk of meat with her dagger before shoving the trencher away from her. "Dead heroes don't eat vegetables."
Teralynde had shared some of her tale with the smaller woman, unaccountably at ease with her and somehow sure that Marista would never betray her trust.
Marista eyed her companion with a worried frown; her silver eyes a dark gray in the flickering light. "You must eat, Teralynde."
"And I have. It will take some time before I can consume a normal meal again." Teralynde gave Marista a small smile. "My body became adjusted to surviving on very small amounts of nourishment while I was...away."
Rising, Teralynde extinguished all but a few of the tapers and went to the cot, reclining back on it where she could still view the serving girl's huddled form. "You must call me Trey, little one. I know not what I will find when I arrive at my home. I do not wish to announce myself just yet."
Teralynde had decided that she could learn more about what was happening if she returned incognito. There was too much history between the two Houses for her to be comfortable with the sudden good will. She didn't trust Volma of Pradek, or his slimy little ministers.
Marista cleared away the remnants of their meal, and then began the arduous task of removing her clothing. She shook her head when Teralynde made a motion as if to rise. "Rest, milady. I'll be with you quickly enough." So saying, she undid the complicated knot on her left shoulder and unraveled the topmost layer of her gown. The action revealed the creamy expanse of her shoulders, while her undergarments covered the rest of her from her breasts down to her petite ankles.
Teralynde thought it a crime that the ivory shaded linen must remain invisible from others' eyes. Marista looked much better clad only in the undergarment than she had in the dull brown of her outer robes. Then again, she mused as her gaze traveled across softly swelling mounds and sweet curves, perhaps it is best that no one else could share this vision.
She scooted up in the bed, resting her back against the pillows. "Come," she demanded with a hint of impatience. "Let me help you at least with your hair."
Marista's blonde tresses were done up in a series of braids that looked to be more difficult to undo than her gown. She sat upon the edge of the cot and hid a smile at Teralynde's muttered curses.
"Why must women do these things to themselves? Bodies wrapped up in umpteen layers of cloth. Hair tortured and tangled in designs that must take hours to arrange..."
"Do you like how I appear, milady?" Marista asked quietly, her expression schooled to its most innocent expression.
"Well...yes. You are a beautiful woman." Teralynde frowned in bemusement.
"Then you have answered your own question." The girl twisted to look directly at her companion, eyes twinkling with humor.
Teralynde opened her mouth, then snapped it shut when no witty reply was forthcoming. Long moments passed as she contented herself with smoothing her fingers through the golden mass. She was well aware of silver eyes watching her every expression and so managed to conceal her startlement when her thumb brushed over the Mark.
She had forgotten about the sign in all the bustle and to-do of the evening, but with her touch, the Mark seemed to pulse with an inner warmth drawing her attention to it. Fingertips traced the design while, unbeknownst to Teralynde, her azure eyes glowed with an answering light.
Finally she brought her gaze up to meet Marista's and she tilted her head. "Who are you?" she asked again softly.
"Marista of L'Omarr," came the equally soft answer. "I am your greatest fear and your greatest hope." Small hands brought Teralynde's fingers to rest upon the blonde's heart. "Within me lies your every dream. Lose me and you will lose yourself."
Those words spoken by anyone else would have had Teralynde beside herself with laughter at her temerity, but the intent, silver gaze and the absolute certainty of the woman's tone gave her pause. "And would you save me from myself?" she whispered.
Her face was cradled in gentle hands and a soft kiss graced her lips. "I would return you to yourself. When you are strong enough to hold it again."
Exhaustion swept over her with the kiss and Teralynde's eyes closed in sleep. Tender care placed her under thick blankets and her body curved naturally around the sweet form of her bedmate.
"Sleep, children of our heart. We will be calling on you soon enough." The shimmering orb faded away to nothingness in the quiet of the night.
And so the dead hero slept, holding the precious gift of life within her arms, patiently waiting for the strength to carry the burden on her own.
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