The Sword and the Rose
"For the godsí sakes, Ororo," Sabrinaís patience had diminished
with the passing of the hours, "I donít need to rest, donít
need my bandages changed or herbs for the pain and certainly
donít need you fussing over me like my grandmother."
All of which was not quite the truth, although she would
be damned if she admitted it to the healer. In reality, she
was exhausted from sitting in the saddle all day and her side
felt as if the knife that had wounded her were being continually
twisted in it. The rough road over which they were travelling
did not help, jogging her as it did and causing fresh explosions
of agony. However, she stubbornly refused to let it show,
refused to admit that she was not well enough to ride with
her husband, as much out of pragmatism as pride. After all,
if she showed any sign of weakness, Ororo would probably have
her placed in a litter and carried to the Concave.
"Remy, can you talk some sense into your wife?" Ororoís eyes
flickered in appeal to the man riding at the head of their
group. Because it was a dull day - rags and shreds of mist
clung to the trees - he had eschewed the black that he usually
wore in favour of a more visible white shirt and brown breeches.
He had strapped the Soul Sword across his back, the shimmering
blade hidden by a prosaic, leather scabbard. He also seemed
quite content to remain out of the argument, giving a noncommital
"No, Ororo, you are not going to use my husband against me,"
Sabrina commented in irritation, "Gods, arenít you bound by
some sacred oath to obey me or something? I am the Great Sorceress,
"Not when the Great Sorceress is being a pigheaded idiot,
no," Ororoís own annoyance was beginning to show, "Now, we
will stop and you will let me examine your wound."
Sabrinaís mouth set in an angry line and a bolt of lightning
cracked across the scant clouds in the sky. Birds bolted from
the trees, squawking their panic at the unexpected noise,
wheeling across the sky like specks of ash. She knew it was
an irrational, immature show of temper, but she was so tired
and her side was so sore and Ororo was so relentlessly, irritatingly
"Oh boy," Jubilation murmured, "I do not want to be here
when this happens."
"You are even more ill-disciplined and selfish
than I imagined," the sorceressís voice was horribly calm,
horribly controlled, "You almost killed yourself by overuse
of your powers and consequently jeopardised the future of
the entire world. You do not have the strength to heal yourself,
yet you refuse to rest to recover it and you use your gifts
to throw the magical equivalent of a tantrum..."
"Thatís slightly unfair, Ororo," Remy interjected, defending
the woman he loved.
"She needs to hear it, LeBeau," Jubilation replied, doing
the same for the mage to whom she was apprenticed.
Sabrina did not hear them speak, did not derive any comfort
from the fact that her husband was on her side. She sat, tall
and straight and slim on her horse, and fixed Ororo with a
look that would have done any of her predecessors proud. It
combined ancient arrogance with determination, dislike with
a grudging, unwilling respect. It told the sorceress to remember
her place in the universe, and not to forget the meanness
and smallness of her destiny. To Ororoís credit, she met the
stare with the same perfect composure as she had worn while
"We might as well camp here," Remy was saying, clearly aware
of the mounting tension between the two women and wanting
to defuse it, "Itís going to be dark soon and we donít want
to be on the road when it does."
Shaking her head as she broke eye contact with Sabrina, Ororo
said: "Iíll get dinner, if you get wood, Jubilation. What
do we have packed, Remy?"
"Hard bread, cheese, the usual..." he made a face as he dismounted
and tied the horse to a convenient tree, "Iíll see to the
horses. Help me, Sabs?"
Forcing a smile onto her face, she nodded her agreement.
Although she had not acqueisced to Ororoís bullying, her victory
left her feeling dirty and ashamed, as if she had lost more
than she had won.
"You donít like Sabrina, do you?" Jubilationís question was
quiet, as she rolled onto her side and looked at Ororo. Lying
a few feet away from her, the womanís coppery skin and pale
hair flickered gold and red in the warm light cast by the
embers. The fire had burnt down in the course of hours, leaving
only a small, illuminated radius in which the person standing
guard could see. Officially, that person was Ororo, but Jubilation
had been unable to sleep, turning the events of the evening
over in her mind.
"To be truthful, I do not," the reply was low, slightly guilty,
"I tried to like her for Remyís sake, knowing how much he
loves her, but ... I do not."
"Youíve only known her for a few hours," Jubilation reminded
her, "And sheís probably feeling like something from Blackheartís
Realm. You saw the way she winced every time the horse hit
a bad patch of road."
Ororo was silent for a long time, and Jubilation could see
her eyes go to the other side of the pit where Remyís back
marked the bundle of blankets in which he and Sabrina were
sleeping. He was very protective of his young wife, despite
her incredible power, and her injury had only served to heighten
those instincts. She supposed it was a natural consequence
of her almost having been forced to marry an evil mage. As
a result, they seemed self-sufficient, a perfect circle that
excluded everyone else from their relationship, and she knew
how that could rankle. Her parents had been much the same
and their union had not had the additional tie that destiny
provided the other couple.
"That is true," the sorceress said at last, "But I cannot
help fearing that she is not the right woman for the task
ahead of her. She certainly is no Lady Lilandra, Jubilation,
and she will need to be that great womanís superior to withstand
"Yet she killed Magnus," Jubilation interjected, "Weíve got
to trust prophecy knows what it is doing, right?"
"Yes, we do," Ororo replied, but she did not sound convinced.
Although Remy leBeau gave all the outward impressions of
being asleep, he lay awake and listened to the two women talking.
It was not precisely eavesdropping, he told himself. He could
not sleep, and, if their voices carried to him, it was not
his fault. He could not go further away from them without
disturbing his wife, whose limbs were tangled with his in
such a way as to make surreptitious movement impossible, and
he would not have woken Sabrina for the Pantheon. As a result,
he could only overhear and be pained by what Ororo was saying.
Naturally, he had hoped his wife and friend would like each
other, despite their differences. They had only met briefly
on other occasions, had smiled at and greeted each other before
going in search of closer acquaintances. A hoary, village
proverb went that every rainfall brought a harvest, and, if
one good thing could come out of the nightmare that had been
Sabrinaís injury, he had hoped it would be a friendship between
her and Ororo. Instead, the healer had been smotheringly solicitious
and his wife had been abrasive and rude. He sighed, tightening
his grip around his bedmate, shifting his arms as he felt
the wad of bandages over her wound.
"Stop wriggling," a sleepily imperious voice mumbled into
his chest, "Youíre worse than a litter of puppies."
"Maybe we should get separate beds tomorrow night," he teased
gently, "Seeing as my ladyship protests so much about me."
Muffled laughter, "And lose my personal, hot-water jar? Forget
it, my lordship. Iíd rather put up with your wriggling than
Worried that she would get sick in her weakened state, "Youíre
"Gods, not you too," before he could talk to her about Ororo,
her tone became arch, "Although, on second thought, I am a
little cold. Perhaps I could get a little closer to my lordship?"
Wise man that he was, his lordship did not argue with the
Long after Jubilationís conversation had subsided into the
regular breathing of sleep, Ororo lay with her eyes closed
and attempted to sort through her feelings. To determine precisely
why she did not like the young woman. The conclusion to which
she came was an uncomfortable one - she was too accustomed
to obedience, serenity and docility, and Sabrina was the antithesis
of those qualities.
She had spent years alone in the woods, serving her goddess
in the capacity of hermit, believing that the purpose of all
magic was to glorify the bright lady. She was a healer, true,
and some might argue that she had wasted a rare gift by withdrawing
from the centres of activity. That she had squandered what
her goddess had given her. Still, she ministered to those
who found her and to the animals who had no-one else to help
them. When she set a birdís broken wing or repaired a doeís
leg that had been mangled in a cruel trap, she knew that her
service was as valuable and as pleasing to the bright lady
as any a commercial healer provided. Nonetheless, until she
had taken Jubilation as her apprentice, it had been a quiet
and lonely life.
She smiled as she looked at the young apprentice. Her parents,
Celebration and Glory Lee, were two of the most powerful and
skilled pyromagicians in the world. Official mages to Emperor
Matsuo, their annual fireworks were the most famous and frivolous
of their works. People came from around the world to watch
the spectacle, and brought tales back home with them of dragons
of light, star-flowers and blazing fountains. Ororo had only
seen the performance once, on the day that she had come to
take Jubilation with her, but she still vividly remembered
the explosions of red and green and silver. Remembered thinking
how impossible Celebrationís comment was that the child would
surpass the parents if she had the discipline and training
Still, Jubilation had been a good apprentice, even if her
progress had been slow. Ororo knew that she found the hard
work behind magic difficult, found learning spells to shrink
warts and darn socks dull and wanted to get onto more spectacular
magic. All young magicians did, but the discipline which the
tedious, insignificant charms provided was invaluable for
the more difficult ones. Sabrina lacked that control, although
the power she wielded and the ease with which she used magic
was staggering. From what Remy had told her, she, school-trained
and experienced as she was, would probably be unable to do
half of what his wife did with the slightest thought. Ororo
had never been outclassed before and it was not a pleasant
She was not jealous, she told herself, envy went against
her goddessí preaching that everyone was individual with an
individual destiny. She was simply a hermit, unaccustomed
to the spirit of the woman and unused to being crossed. In
the morning, she would try and mend fences with Sabrina.
Continued in Chapter
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as can the prequel "The Horse of Another
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