Mariqah approached a horror-house of a building. She looked up at the crumbling shutters and the dirty windows, the gaping entrance that bore no door. In one of the rooms was a witch named Gwyn. Mariqah huffed, before she entered the building and climbed the creaking stairs and headed towards the door that Ead had mentioned to her.
Mariqah disliked the use of magic.
She made it a point to respect the dead and, since magic was almost exclusively necromancy, it was a pure defilement of the dead spirits. Their woes in this cruel world were supposed to be ended. Mariqah shuddered, feeling Tostig’s Ide swimming around inside her. An Ide was part of an elf’s soul… If she died while his Ide was still within her, it would return to him – but broken and useless. He would be open to corruption. Then again, his Ide already had been misused by Britney. Mariqah couldn’t see how that could mean any good for him.
Approaching the door, Mariqah knocked on it lightly. No response came, so she stood back and watched down the corridor. The green paint that covered the walls was faded and peeling. Water-spots dotted the corners and a musty, damp smell came from everywhere. A giant cockroach scuttled long the ceiling. Mariqah mentally begged for it not to fall on her or fly. A freak-out now would just be embarrassing.
The door swung open. “Can I help you?” called a voice.
Mariqah turned to owner of the sweet, honey-tongued voice – anchoring down the growl emerging in her throat, the voice being so reminiscent of Britney – and nodded.
The she-elf was old. Perhaps older that most elves. Her hair was lank and grey, her face drooping with wrinkles. Her pointed ears were bent at the tips and she stood stooped in her simple, shapeless gown. But Gwyn smiled a bright, wrinkled smile at Mariqah.
“Ah, a human comes to me,” her large brown eyes blinked, surveying the woman in front of her, “you have within you a willing Ide, and not one procured by a curse. Impressive, indeed, my dear. Have you come to learn something from me?”
Mariqah shook her head.
“Then speak, dear, of why you come.”
The blue mark on Mariqah’s forehead glowed brightly.
I am a soldier, Mariqah told Gwyn, I seek to lead a campaign against the Witch-Queen of Skye. They told me that you taught her everything she knows.
Gwyn’s face fell, her grey skin paling in fear, “I…”
I am not here to put you to my sword. You need not fear for yourself.
Gwyn looked unsure, but nodded slightly, “Yes. The young woman did learn everything from me, I am afraid. I had not intended for her to become what she is, however.”
They also told me that you specialise in enchanting things.
“That is correct.”
Mariqah nodded to herself, I seek to enchant my sword, as she drew the Damascus, the witch cowered back, Make it so that the wounds it inflicts may never heal.
“And, I suppose, you seek for me to make it resilient from counter enchantments? Ones that I may or may not have taught the Witch-Queen?”
“You know what this entails?”
Mariqah put out her hand, Yes.
“Consider me impressed, she-soldier,” said the witch, her eyes growing black and leaking dark tears, “I’ve never seen a human so learned in our ways,” the nail on her right forefinger grew steely and sharp. It caught the dim light that glowed in her quarters.
A fair exposure to strangeness does you curses and blessings alike, said Mariqah.
“That it does,” Gwyn dug the sharp finger into the back of Mariqah’s hand. Mariqah gasped a little as the blood spilled on the blade of her sword. The finger continued to break her skin until it reached her shoulder, a straight and clean cut. Gwyn’s eyes returned to normal and the regeneration curse took hold of Mariqah’s arm. It knitted the skin back together.
“Ah,” Gwyn smiled, taking the sword from Mariqah, “You have inflicted regeneration on yourself.”
No. That was the Witch-Queen’s doing. I’d never be so stupid. I was hoping that you could remove that for me also.
Gwyn raised a curious brow at the soldier, “I’m sorry?”
I’ve lived near six decades, witch, yet I do not look a day past thirty years. I should be old and crippled, surrounded by several grandchildren, Mariqah stepped into the witch’s apartment as Gwyn waddled in, Why lengthen my life, Gwyn? I’ve lived my fair share.
“You are curious indeed, my dear,” she placed the sword in her fire-place and lit the furnace, “But you may still be killed.”
Yes. But not bested. It really destroys my sport, Gwyn. It made me feel alive, but not anymore.
“Curious. Curious, indeed…” the witch paused, “but show me the mark the Witch-Queen laid upon your back, and I shall remove you of her hold.”
* * * * *
Mary and Tostig sat side by side and watched as the mercenaries loaded the ships.
They sighed in unison.
They’re job had been to round up any carpenters and engineers, and hire them to join the campaign – a siege on Skye would require the construction of several siege weapons. But that was all done and dusted, and now the two idled – only able to imagine what they’d be missing.
Mariqah passed by them and tutted, amusement in her smile.
You two are strange people.
Mary looked up at her aunt, finding her dressed in armour. It was rough, leather armour – only iron-plated across the shoulders. She wore no helmet – she never did, on the claim that it distorted her peripheral vision – and her hair had been cut short. The Damascus hung from her belt. It had a… strange sheen to it.
“Is the economy bad here too?” asked Mary, noting the lack of metal.
Mariqah laughed at the quip, The rest of my armour is on-deck of the Evenstar. I’ll wear it when we land in Ely and then move on to Skye. Wouldn’t want to be pulled down, if I get thrown overboard.
“I really wonder if you could get anymore morbid…”
It’s the kind of thing you have to prepare for.
Mary rolled her eyes and didn’t say anything else.
People would die not to go to war… Mariqah shook her head, And here the two of you are, grumbling and bumbling, because you can’t come along to destroy a) Tostig’s homeland and b) Mary’s mother!
“That’s not how we see it, Mariqah,” muttered Tostig, “It’s as much my homeland as Ead’s or Cyne’s. They still get to go.”
And that doesn’t make it any less their homeland, Tostig. You think this is easy for them? Take it from someone who takes the side against her homeland almost all the time – it’s not. I think I’ve broken London worse than any Hitler blitz could. More than once. This isn’t a spot of fun, Tostig. Just something grim that needs to be done.
Tostig made a sour face, “I didn’t say it was fun. But I want to be part of the effort.”
We’ve been through this conversation! You are currently at a huge disadvantage. Should we have to take formation, a whole line might be at a disadvantage.
“So I have one arm, yes. But this isn’t a war as much as it is a siege. The need for a formation isn’t as likely.”
You want to run into battle with only a sword in your hand? How will you climb a ladder? How are you going to loose an arrow?
Tostig glared at Mariqah, “Go away. Don’t you have a war to fight?”
Mariqah shook her head, a grin forming on her lips, And now to argue with you again, Mary: What qualms do you have?
“Is there even a point in expressing them?” asked Mary with a sigh.
“Then…” Mary stood up and hugged her aunt, “Just come back soon, so I can fight a different war quicker?”
There’s a good girl, Mariqah smiled, patting Mary’s head.
“Suck up…” muttered Tostig, turning away and folding his arms.
In the meantime, though, you could train your sword with Tostig, Mary. He’s a decent opponent. And watch the Guild for us, eh? A few of the mercenaries are staying behind. It’s… unlikely that the Guild would be under any threat, given that it’s so hard to reach, but it could happen.
“That’s a… good – albeit deficient – alternative,” Mary replied, with a small smile.
Just don’t kick Tostig about too much, eh? Mariqah winked at Tostig as he glowered at her, He’s a sore, sore loser.