Disclaimer: The characters belong
to Marvel and are not used for profit purposes, but the scenario
in which they find themselves belongs to me. If you'll read
a wee bit further in the story, you'll see that this is a
sequel to a Horse of Another Color, which is archive with
my other fic at http://www.geocities.com/roguestar3
Comments to: email@example.com
The Sword and the Rose
Sara Dawson was on her hands and knees, sleeves rolled up
to her elbows as she scrubbed the front step, when the sorceress
rode into town. Muttering vituperations at her husband and
his muddy boots with every slosh of the cloth, her attention
was divided between her work and the pie cooling on the table.
The baker's wife, her confections were legendary and the children
of the town were constantly conspiring to pocket one of her
dainties. It was a testament to her vigilance and the hardness
of her switch on rapidly vanishing bottoms that very few of
the plots succeeded.
Nonetheless, even with a portion of her attention, she could
see that there was something special about the woman on the
Her simple dress, that seemed to shift from grey to blue,
would have been enough among the brown homespuns and grey
wools of the villagers to mark her as extraordinary. The silver
embroidery around the hems, the jewellry she wore, served
to set her apart from the remainder of the populace. She did
not carry herself like a lady, though, nor did nobles travel
without a retinue of servants and sycophants. This one had
only an exotic girl, who did not look like a maid in her scarlet
dress that complemented her coppery skin. The older woman's
white hair, falling around a too youthful face, confirmed
Sara's suspicions. She was a mage, possibly the reclusive
one of popular myth. However, that posed as many questions
as it answered. Who in the village could possibly need or
warrant a magic-user? Who could afford one? Who knew how to
Sensing a juicy piece of gossip for the next quilting circle,
Sara abandoned both step and pie and followed the stranger.
As Ororo dismounted in front of the inn, she passed the reins
to an obsequious ostler, sensing there was a better use for
his hands than dry-washing them. The small building was simple,
if clean, and she suspected the majority of the establishment's
guests were farmers on their way to market and roaming tinkers
- poor people who could ill-afford to tip generously, if they
could at all. When he saw her, he probably thought that his
ship had finally come into port, that she was a wealthy mage
or lady who would pay for each grovel in gold. Pity fought
disgust and the former won.
With a grateful smile, she pressed a small, leather purse
into his hand. It contained the few silver pieces that she
could spare - hardly a fortune, but more than he probably
made in a month. She was not rich herself, having eskewed
lucrative positions as royal magician or commercial healer
for hermitage and the service of her goddess. He dropped into
a flowery bow, that she feared would snap his spine, and murmured
blessings on her as he scuttled into the stable to count his
"So, where is she?" Jubilation sounded concerned, dismounting
her own smaller horse and handing it to a staring stablehand.
She had not said much since they had left the cottage and
Ororo had attributed it to shock. Her apprentice had initially
thought that her attempt at casting a spell of illusion had
created the bloody sword and rose, then, when she had discovered
its real origin and significance, she had been stunned. Had
only asked a single, quiet question: "What happens if the
Great Sorceress dies?"
Her response had been honest, if not comforting, "The Great
Sorceress has a specific destiny when she is made carnate;
a task that only she is able to fulfill. There is no guarantee,
however, that she will be successful. Prophecy is not as absolute
as history, offers no protection to those it needs. If she
dies, then the hope of prophecy being fulfilled dies with
Her words had disturbed her young apprentice, she knew, and
had destroyed something of her innocence. In the myths and
legends told to children and sung at festivals, the hero (or
heroine, in the rare few that were based on women) always
succeeded in his foreordained quest. He would suffer setbacks,
certainly, but would inevitably overcome them, because he
was under the divine protection of the Pantheon. He was the
Chosen of the gods, and they loved him. Unfortunately, reality
was more dispassionate than fable. The gods encompassed evil
as well as good -- their twin natures allowed them to be as
evil as they were good, as malevolent as they were benevolent.
Their heroic champions were only created to keep the balance
between the two, and once summoned were left to their own
devices. As the cynical saying went, the gods helped those
who helped themselves. In this case, by calling a healer-sorceress.
"Ask the innkeeper, child," Ororo told her young apprentice,
"I will get what I need in the meantime."
Jubilation nodded, then hurriedly made her way into the small
Pretending to be interested in the inn's decidedly inferior
preserves that were on sale at the counter, Sara Dawson sidled
closer to where the mage's young attendant was talking to
Allan Adams, more commonly known as Mr Elsie. A wispy, slight
man with an air of vagueness about him, there was no doubt
in the village as to who was the dominant partner in his marriage.
His wife was a hearty, bluff woman with a tongue that could
have removed bark from a tree, and she bullied 'poor Allan'
(somehow that particular adjective was always attached to
his name) mercilessly. The only reason he was actually able
to speak to the girl now was that Elsie had gone to market,
or else he would have found himself performing some menial
task, like chopping the wood or sweeping the floor, while
his wife conducted his business for him. Sara stifled a grin,
as she thought how angry Goodwife Adams would be when she
discovered just how juicy his business actually was.
"I'm looking for the..." the girl paused, seemingly mentally
checking herself before continuing, "Lady leBeau? Is she here?"
Sara's smile broadened. If there was one thing better than
some delicious morsel of gossip, it was some delicious morsel
of gossip about the nobility. As widely hated for their decadent
and wasteful ways as they were envied for their wealth and
priveleges, the presence of blue blood in a tale lent a certain
charm to any story. Commoners liked their stories dressed
up in diamonds and ermine.
Allan's voice quavered, "You must have the wrong establishment.
Nobles tend to take their patronage ... elsewhere."
The coppery-skinned child shook her head in exasperation,
dark hair feathering around her face as she did so, "They
must be travelling in secret, then. She was seriously injured,
Sara listened in delight, almost hugging the jar of pickles
she was inspecting. A wounded lady never evoked much sympathy
from a peasant, certainly not enough to dampen her joy in
what was shaping to be a wonderful tale to tell the sewing
circle. If the woman was travelling in secret, she had possibly
eloped with some dashing but hopelessly unsuitable, young
man. Had been hurt as her father's guards had attemped to
stop her. Madame la Plume's novels had shown her very clearly
how wicked and thrilling a noble's life could be.
"The woman's noble?" a look of consternation crossed the
slight man's face, obviously imagining the tongue-lashing
with which Elsie would favor him that night, "She must be
moved to better rooms in that case. I'll tell cook to roast
some lambs and our chambermaid to..."
The girl's voice was very cool, stopping his rambling as
quickly and cleanly as would a slap to his face, "You'll take
us to her first, or else there might not be a noblewoman for
you to grovel to."
"Yes, naturally," the man dipped into what could be a bow
or a spasm, "Follow me."
Sensing that that invitation was as good as any other for
her, Sara Dawson replaced her pickles and, after a respectable
amount of time, went up the stairs after them.
She drifted in blackness among a thousand, tiny lights that
shimmered and glimmered tantalisingly beyond her reach. They
looked like a convoy of fireflies -- who were said to be the
heralds of dawn -- each carrying their own miniature sun.
She knew if she managed to reach one, grasp one, all would
be well. The sunrise would come, and she would awaken.
Acutely aware of her own weakness, she attempted to stretch
out an arm and touch the silver bauble that was closest to
her. She might as well have tried to put the moon in a bag.
Despite her best efforts, she could no more move her limbs
than catch the stars in the sky. Her arms, legs, seemed disconnected
from the rest of her body, heavy burdens of little use to
Fortunately, she thought, she had other means at her disposal.
Summoning up the last remnants of her energy, she attempted
to bring the elusive spheres towards her, to fetch them with
a spell that approximated an invisible rope. Instead of the
desired effect, golden streamers shot from her fingers and
fell uselessly into the abyss around her. A wonderful party-trick,
but a poor help to her.
Biting her lip to stop the tears from coming to her eyes,
she wondered why her powers had deserted her when she needed
them the most. Were they finite? Had she wasted them on frivolously,
not thinking that her talents were limited? Why had she not
consulted Ororo or her grandmother, Madame Destiny, before
using them for her daily purposes?
"Stupid girl," she berated herself, "Stupid, stubborn girl."
Around her, winking out one by one, the tiny lights began
Remy leBeau dipped the cloth in the cool water and, squeezing
it until it was merely damp, ran it lightly over his wife's
fevered forehead. Her skin was hot and dry to the touch, her
breathing shallow and laboured. She was murmuring gibberish
beneath her breath, clutching at his free hand as if he was
all that stood between her and the Underworld. In the hours
that he had been waiting for Ororo to come, he had become
acutely aware that she was dying. That he would have to face
endless years without both his wife and his legendary counterpart.
He did not know which thought scared him more -- being a widower,
or being the Avatar alone.
"Finally," a very familiar, young voice was audible from
behind the door, "If she doesn't make it, the blame'll be
on your head."
"Jubilation," another voice reprimanded her, "Leave it be.
We have more important things with which to concern ourselves
than apportioning guilt for her death, especially since she
Sweet relief filling him, grinning broadly, Remy raced to
the door and opened it to admit his guests. The worry on Ororo's
face did nothing to diminish looks that went past beauty into
elegance. The blue-grey dress shimmered around her, setting
off her tawny skin and the bluest eyes he had ever seen. Behind
her, a red-clad Jubilation was scowling at the apologetic
innkeeper, but broke into a sweet, if concerned, smile as
she saw him emerge from his room.
"My dear friend," the healer kissed him lightly on the cheek
and he could smell the elusive woodsy fragrance that she carried
with her, "Where is she?"
"On the bed," he replied without ceremony, "You've no idea
how glad I am you're here."
He stood aside to allow them to enter, watching Ororo's reaction
carefully as the prone figure of his wife was revealed. A
flicker of terror disturbed the calm of her face, like a pebble
cast into a pool, before it settled into its normal serenity
once again. She knew as well as he did the importance of being
successful; knew that Sabrina's death would spell the death
of the world.
"Pass me my herbs, Jubilation. We have much work to do..."
Sara Dawson did not know what happened behind the closed
doors of the room, and, so, the roses seemed like a minor
miracle to her and the other villagers. A sign that the gods
were with the village. Although it was mid-autumn and the
leaves were dropping golden off the trees, the red, fragrant
flowers around the inn suddenly burst into bloom. The air
was filled with their perfume, and the buzzing of bees made
it seem like spring.
Had she been thinking more clearly, she might have realised
that their unseasonal blossoming coincided with the noblewoman
in the room waking from a sleep that was too near death for
her husband's comfort. That the roses had opened from joy,
to welcome their spiritual sister back from the grave. When
Mr Elsie ventured to suggest this particular theory, the villagers
laughed at him and he was shouted down in the face of the
prevalent view that it was an omen sent by the God of Planting\Reaping
that the harvest would be good that year.
Initially among those who mocked the hardest, Sara Dawson
only believed him when she saw the couple leaving the village,
the mage and her attendent in two. The woman was very tall
and straight on her splendid palamino, and the unheroic combination
of man's shirt and breeches could not disguise the fact that
she had a silver streak in her hair. The mark of the moon,
as common legend went. Her partner, however, was the one to
convince the baker's wife. His eyes danced with flames, crackling
and burning in the middle of blackness, although they quickly
shifted to normal, brown ones when he saw her watching him.
Stripes could be faked, but pupils of energy could not. He
was the Avatar, and the noblewoman was the Great Sorceress.
Nonetheless, Sara Dawson did not mention anything to her
friends and fellow townsfolk; expressed the public misconception
that the roses were a favorable sign from the Pantheon. They
would suffer a man to be a fool, after all, but never a woman.
Continued in Chapter
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