Mary watched as her aunt neared the ship. A rush of emotions hit her as she raced down the ramp and was about to pounce on her, when Mariqah raised a sign saying:
Mary frowned, but slid off the belt and handed the sheathed sword to Mariqah. The older woman smiled, drawing the Damascus out marginally with a smooth snick. Her smile grew as the blade caught the sunlight.
Mary huffed and crossed her arms, “You’re going to have a moment with your sword?”
Mariqah looked up at her, I’m sorry, what? she thought.
Mary stared at her aunt, holding her head, “How are you…? Don’t do that! It’s creepy!”
Mind-speaking, you mean? I don’t have a choice.
I lost my tongue.
“What do you mean–? Tongues in this realm can do that now? It just walked out of your mouth and disappeared? It got that sick of you?”
Mariqah furrowed her brows and shook her head in wonder and irritation, I’m not going to dignify that ridiculous assumption with an answer.
“Talk to me!” cried Mary.
Mariqah sighed and showed Mary the inside of her mouth.
“Oh,” was all Mary could say, sheepishly. She shuddered a little, before saying, “Well, your description was vague and I–”
“So you’re not going to hug me? Ask me how I’ve been for the last few days without you?”
Mary glowered at her aunt, “Yes. Hug me.”
That’s where you draw the line? You’re too adult to be called Mary-boo, but still child enough to be hugged?
Mariqah shook her head, I’m not the hugging kind. You know that.
“You just had a moment with your sword!”
And my sword has saved my life on several occasions. It, itself, is defenceless against the elements and the intentions of intelligent beings. It has both practical and sentimental value, and it doesn’t complain when I lovingly take care of it, Mariqah walked passed Mary to meet with Captain Ethelbald (who was shaking his head and smiling at the conversation he was hearing), Of course I’d have a moment with my sword. It loves me and appreciates me for who I am. For you, I’m the constant source of embarrassment.
“Only because you call me ‘Mary-boo’ in public and take ‘extra special’ care of me when it’s clear I don’t need it!” said Mary, stomping her way after Mariqah.
Mariqah raised her brows and looked at Mary, You just asked me to hug you.
You know that I haven’t hugged you since you insisted that it was embarrassing. That was about three or four years ago.
“That was a different situation!”
“You hugged me to patronise me!”
I shouldn’t think so. Whatever would be so patronising about me?
Mary fumed, “Aunt Mariqah!”
“Hug me!” she insisted.
I promise you’ll get one later. At the moment, there’s an army hiding in the bushes and I have some important things to say to Ethelbald. Adult-important type things, like… she pointed into the brush, putting an arm around Mary’s shoulders, killing the Captain of the Guard and his little minions who are ‘hiding’ and being ‘stealthy’ over there. Pathetic bunch, eh?
“I want you to hug me now!”
Patience, woman, is a virtue.
Mary scowled, “You’re even fuller of yourself when you talk through your head!”
Mariqah laughed, Humility is a virtue too.
“You could learn a few things from what you say, you know.”
I know. Aren’t I just brilliant like that?
Mary rolled her eyes and shook her head.
Engaging in meaningless banter was always a way for both aunt and niece to easily hide their emotions.
Mary’s shock and horror for having known that the Witch-Queen of Skye was her mother was in no mood to surface just yet. From the way Tostig had hidden information from her, it was clear that Britney FeCamp (My mother, Mary thought loathsomely) had played a serious part in Mariqah’s detention.
Mary didn’t know how she felt about that.
Now, seeing that Mariqah had no tongue, Mary wondered whether her aunt hadn’t hugged her because of Britney’s actions. Had it awoken some old memory in Mariqah’s mind? Was Britney the one who’d tortured Mariqah and taken her tongue? Did Mary’s aunt suddenly dislike her?
Mary looked at Mariqah, as she scribbled in her notepad and the Captain spoke to her.
Do you hate me? thought Mary, frowning.
Mariqah looked like she been prodded by something and looked straight at Mary, What? What are you talking about?
“You can hear my thoughts now?” Mary blabbed. She found her aunt’s newfound mind-speaking ability quite disconcerting.
I wasn’t supposed to hear that?
Mary walked her way to them, “No. I was just…” she clamped her mouth shut, “It’s nothing.”
Mariqah regarded Mary, and tilted her head to a side, You’ve never taken my sarcasm to heart, Mary…
“And I’m not now, I just…”
Mariqah raised her head, the sounds of scuffle reaching her. Mary heard them too.
Mariqah stowed her notepad into her pocket, We’ll talk about this later, she said, drawing her sword, Come on, there’s an army to fight.
Mary nodded, taking the cutlass that Ethelbald handed to her. It was an almost dainty-looking thing, she noted. She followed Mariqah down and listened as her aunt’s voice floated around, issuing orders:
“Assassins and murderers, to me! Thieves and conmen, to the rear! Everyone else, get on the ship! Today you are no petty criminals and miscreants, but soldiers and marksmen!”
Men and women lined up next to her, drawing and loading their weapons (Mary was surprised to see Tostig amongst them) as the Brimonian cohort made their appearance. There was about forty of them, standing proud and disciplined in their bright red livery. The Captain of the Guard sat on a horse, the poor creature struggling to stand beneath the bulk of its master and the decorum that hung from it.
“Lay down your weapons and surrender!” said the Captain of the Guard. He had a horrible quality to his voice, as if each word lined itself with saliva and mucus, “You need not die in this way!”
Mariqah’s voice sounded without her opening her mouth, a blue mark glowing on her forehead, “Go home, Sigmund,” she said evenly.
Sigmund snorted a laugh, “Your false courage is clearly inspiring. Do you present yourself as the victim here? Or, perhaps, a hero of some sort?”
“There are no such a things as heroes, Sigmund,” Mariqah stepped forward. Mary heard bows tighten, “Only villains – rogues and renegades,” Mariqah smiled and tilted her head in that way that she did, “some are just better than others.”
The enemy cohort drew their weapons. No marksmen, Mary noted.
“Loose!” Mariqah commanded. Arrows and darts flew into the sky, holding their place before gravity claimed them and they came raining down on the enemy. They raised their shields, staggering under the downpour of sharp, splintering shafts of death. A few screams pierced the air, as some arrows hit their mark.
“Cease! Charge!” Mariqah barked and the group ran as one. This always amazed Mary –how Mariqah could command a line and they immediately submitted to her will, almost blindly. How did she do it?
Shields were flung aside as the two powers collided. Sigmund, Mary noticed, pranced away to the rear with his unfortunate mount. A curved blade spun and sliced through the horse’s throat and the animal lost its footing. The Captain of the Guard was pitched forward and he bounced comically off the ground and into an undignified heap.
Mariqah was on Mary’s left, slicing her way through with skill and finesse. Mary cut through an adversary and dared a glance as Mariqah was caught by a blade to her shoulder. She bawled a curse, ignoring the blood dripping from the fresh wound, and delivered a sharp kick across the man’s neck – knocking him to the ground – before stomping on his throat and crushing it beneath her boot. It was brutal killing. Mariqah looked at her niece, with eyes wide.
Mary! Behind you!
Oh, right. War-zone.
Mary spun around and met the descending sword with her own. She sent the attack wide and cut through the soldier’s middle. Mary gagged as she saw the man’s guts spill onto the ground. She was never going to get used to that.
“Your Captain-Guard is beneath my blade!” cried a man.
The fighting stopped abruptly, and Mary turned to get a look. A slight man with an untrustworthy face was holding a blade to Sigmund’s throat. Mariqah was nodding at him, “Drop your weapons and step away from us! You have lost many this day, but those of you who are spared can go crawling back to your master!”
The men in red looked at each other, but dropped their weapons and backed away. They watched as Mariqah strode up to Sigmund and held his face.
“You said…” said Sigmund, his face shivering with something approaching fear, “You said you’d let me go!”
I said nothing even remotely related to that, nor did my accomplice, Mary heard her aunt think. She wondered if everyone else could hear her, But you’re lucky I don’t take lives where I don’t have to.
Sigmund’s face relaxed before he said, “You won’t go far, you–”
I didn’t say I wouldn’t hurt you though, she smacked the hilt of her sword down on his temple and gestured for her entourage to follow.
They left the guards of Brimone to mourn for their losses and climbed aboard Captain Ethelbald’s ship…