Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Light (apparently part one, huh)

Starlight glimmered.

Aelph laughed. "This is no place for a meeting!" he told his brothers. "It is cold, and dark, and wet! Why, I cannot even see your faces with the cloaks you wear to cover them! All I can see is the glint of your... knives..."

His brothers divided Aelph's possessions among them. The eldest took his golden necklace, the youngest took his steel-forged sword, and the middle child, last to make his claim, took his fur-lined cloak. Then they scattered to the far corners of the earth, knowing that each of them would turn on the others just as willingly as they had turned on Aelph.

Aelph had a son. He saw Aelph's corpse, the morning after the brothers fled, and wept. Realizing what had occurred (and what had been taken), he considered pursuit; but he knew not where they went, and had little guile or skill at arms to overcome them with. So he bided. Years passed. Aelph's son learned little of the brothers, and grew preoccupied with other matters, though he never truly forgot the betrayal. He married, twice; had five daughters, and two sons.

One of the sons lived to manhood. His father, Aelph's son, presented him with a quest: to find the three brothers, reclaim that which they had stolen, and avenge Aelph's death. Three presents he gave: A silver statue, three inches high, of the messenger-god; an iron dirk; and a sheaf of torches. With this Aelph's grandson left his father's camp.

But he was too much like his father. He excelled neither in wit nor athleticism; nor, either, in will. He sat down, out of sight from the camp, to cry at this harsh fate assigned to him on what should have been a day of triumph (his birthday! his coming of age!), and was surprised to see his eldest sister approach him.

Her name was Jasmine, and she had an offer for him. She would take his place, adventure to avenge Aelph and claim his treasures; her brother would go out into the world for one year, with no quest but survival, and return to that spot to meet her and receive the treasures. Thus would he avoid that bitter fate he dreaded, and she know the satisfaction of her grandfather's betrayal avenged.

He agreed, of course. To aid Jasmine, he told her all he knew of the three brothers, and gave to her the iron dirk and torches his father had gifted him with for the quest; but some covetous instinct in him made him keep the silver statue. Jasmine had not been there when Aelph's son gave the gifts; so, not knowing her lack, set out.

After the first night on the road, she made to disguise herself as a man, wearing trousers and binding her breasts, that she would not be harassed as a woman by bandits, and that word reaching Aelph's son of her adventures would be taken for those of her brother. She was told that the middle brother had settled closest; a bandit, he stalked the peaks with his murderous band, committing atrocities too terrible to name. Twice the city-men had caught him, but both times he had abandoned his comrades to escape, slipping through their net. This was what Jasmine knew of him, and she had no plan but that which she devised as she walked.

One week's walk took her to the mountains. There, she walked slowly through the summer snow, and jingled her purse (half-filled with flimsy copper) at every opportunity. The chill was such that she lit a torch to warm herself. The bandits came predictably; two of them, more than enough to rob a traveler so slim and unintimidating as she. As the bandits approached from each side, Jasmine threw her torch at one, blinding him, then lunged at the other. She ducked under his clumsy swing, drew blood on his chest, then with a more careful slice cut his neck. The other bandit regained sight to his sword tossed down the mountain and Jasmine's knife at his neck. "Bring me to your leader," she advised, and he, nervously, commenced.

Night had fallen by the time they reached the bandit camp. The bandit walked nervously up to the camp, followed by Jasmine two feet behind, carrying another torch. His comrades rose, surprised at the visit. One shouted, "Bringing us a gift, Erl?" Then they noticed his missing sword.

All of them stood and drew weapons, watching each-other as well as Jasmine. One particularly large one, grey of hair but thick of thew, strode before Jasmine and smashed his axe into the bandit's gut. Watching Jasmine (and holding a dagger in his other hand), the man looted the bandit's body, then let it drop to the ground. Cleaning his axe, he belatedly asked, "And why are you here, little boy?"

An old, fur-lined cloak hung on his back.

"You must be Aelph's middle brother," she commented. Her heart pounded nervously.

A black, grimy grin filled the man's mouth. "So I am, though I have not been called such for a very long time," he told Jasmine. "Do you come here to kill me? The odds are against you." The bandits moved closer.

"Because you can't kill one boy, armed only with a dagger?" she asked him caustically.

The bandits stood back.

"Very well, then," Aelph's brother roared. Starlight gleamed off his axe as he twirled it dramatically in the air; then he charged Jasmine. Anticipating this, Jasmine sidestepped and ducked, trying to cut his tendons. She missed, but he roared in pain nonetheless.

Now he looked at her with a new light in his eyes. Hefting his axe thoughtfully, he walked towards her; then, without warning, he lifted his axe and slammed it down in a vertical blow at Jasmine. For a moment she panicked; then she ducked and dodged to the left, swinging with her dagger again. She scored a hit, and drew back to stab for the heart while he was still drawing back his axe.

A dagger appeared in his left hand.

Jasmine reached out and grabbed with her left hand, trying to hold the dagger back.

Slowly, Aelph's brother overpowered Jasmine, grinning.

Starlight glinted on the blades.

Jasmine leaned forward and embedded her iron dirk into the bandit chief's chest.

"I always envied his smile," Aelph's middle brother told Jasmine earnestly.

Blood tricked from his mouth. He toppled slowly, and Jasmine drew the dagger from his chest.

Taking the cloak, she walked away, wincing. Behind her, the bandits swarmed over the corpse, weapons drawn. As the sounds of battle faded into the distance, Jasmine looked at her left palm, wondering why it hurt so.

It was bleeding.

She had grabbed the dagger by the blade.

"I thought it would hurt more," she said, seemingly calmly; then, overcome by shock, fell into the snow.

[apparently this is part one because it is way way longer than I anticipated. Well, more tomorrow. Maybe all of it, who knows.]

[you'd think I'd have learned to anticipate these things by now.]