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"The Sword and the Rose"

The Sword and the Rose

The sequel to "The Horse of a Different Color.

Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

This story is still in progress.

The Sword and the Rose

Chapter 6

Sabrina leBeau loved the mornings. She loved lying in bed and waiting for the world to come to life around her. Around her, the birds would chatter and gossip, the songs of labourers would rise from the fields, the light would slowly steal in through her window. In its own way, it was almost like being outside time.

Above that, however, she loved watching her husband sleep. His face smoothed out in sleep, until it was as innocent and untroubled as a young boyís. His chest rose and fall to a regular, internal rhythm. Listening to him breathe always made her feel that everything was and would be all right with the world. She never saw him look so happy or so peaceful awake.

More than even that, however, she loved to watch the sun rise.

With a small smile, she dropped a kiss on the forehead of her sleeping husband and walked out onto the balcony. Night was just beginning to give way to morning. The sun was not yet visible over the horizon, but the sky was growing purple, shaded a delicate rose in places. Watching sunrises had long been a secret pleasure of hers. There was something so liberating about being alone with the sky, while everyone else was asleep around her.

Not that that was the case today. She could hear merchants in the nearby square beginning to set up their stalls. She could hear them shout their greetings, as well as their curses when somebody had gotten to a prime position before them. Pots clanged, piles of wood rattled, crystal chimed. Now and again, the frantic crow of a rooster rose above the rest of the hubbub. If it were not for them, she could have pretended that she had the morning to herself, that she was the only person awake in the city. She consoled herself with the thought that she was the only Great Sorceress awake in the universe.

Again, she tried to stretch her mind to the power that she had seized so easily and so instinctively in the past. Again, she felt a single moment of transfiguring brilliance, before it slipped away from her. She slumped against the wall. It had become a habit with her, like picking at a scab that had not yet fully healed. Ororo claimed that rest would bring back her power, but she knew that the healer was guessing. There was a very real possibility that she would never be able to wield the power of the Great Sorceress again. She did not want to think of the consequences of that for the world.

"If only I hadnít been so stupid," she told the morning, "If only Iíd taken the time to learn about myself and my power, rather than rushing in like a headstrong colt...."

Suddenly, the noise of the town died away into stillness, out of which a wild, sweet music arose. Sabrina could not pinpoint the origin of it. It sounded like a thrush trilling for joy at springtime. It whispered like raindrops among wet leaves. It babbled like a brook rushing down a mountain. It soughed like the ocean rising and falling on the shore. It sung like the roaming, restless wind. Finally, it levelled out into a clear, silver note that filled her with an indescribable, aching longing. She did not know what she yearned for - she could not name or even understand her heartís truest and deepest desire - she only knew it would always be unattainable. It was the loneliest sound she had ever heard.

Out of the single, pure note, a voice began to speak. Within it was all the wild sweetness of the music, and all the sadness of its concluding strain. It was a voice that knew spring must become winter, but also that snow and ice must give way to sun and leaves. It was a voice whose speaker had watched nations grow to greatness, then crumble to dust and rock, then return to the green and living forest:

"When midwinter comes with frost and chill
and the sleepers wake from beneath the hill,
When menís hearts fail and too grow cold,
the rose must flower as the sages foretold
yet she does not understand the winter snow -
she cannot blossom nor can she grow."

"The rose? Me? I donít understand the snow?," Sabrina whispered, "What does that mean?"

The voice changed. Where the first had held age-old serenity, this one held ancient cruelty. No, she thought, cruelty was not the right word. This speaker was above cruelty - it was more a pitiless, merciless acceptance of the brutality of the world and of the inevitability of nature. Hawks would prey, wolves would hunt, and this voice understood that. It was the most awful voice that she had ever heard:

"Holly berry, bloody berry, berries red as blood,
Winterís daughter, iceís heir, newborn in blood.
Holly berry, blooded berry, berries red as blood."

A shiver went down Sabrinaís spine, although she did not know why. She had learnt those three, chanted lines as a child at her grandmotherís knee. Every boy or girl old enough to speak could recite them. There was even a folktale to go with them - something to do with an ancient king who had created a wife out of his own blood. It had been a charming story and poem at the time. Now, spoken by that wild and awful voice, it seemed to have an older, stranger meaning. Hearing them, it had been like she had been a falcon soaring alone through a grey sky before dropping suddenly to earth for the kill. And even though her mind could not grasp what she had seen, some deeper part of her understood what it meant and feared it.

"I wonít."

"Too late. The white rose is already stained," the awful voice said mockingly, "See her hands."

Unwilling to look, Sabrinaís eyes went slowly to her hands. They were coated with a slippery, silvery substance that she remembered and recognised all too well. It was ichor - the blood of the man-become-god, that had gushed from Magnusí wound when she had stabbed him. It shimmered in the morning light. She gasped, jerking her eyes away from them, rubbing them spasmatically on her skirts. Her heart began to pound within her chest.

"I had to kill him," she protested, "He would have killed Remy, if I hadnít."

Again, it was the awful voice that spoke and, again, its words chilled her to the marrow of her bones:

"The white falcon feels no remorse,
The grey wolf knows no shame.
The just sword kills with force.
The thorny rose bears no blame."

When its verse was finished, the sweet voice picked up where it had left off:

"When days wane short and nights wax long,
When shadows rise to dim summerís sun,
When deathís dark forces rise, growing strong,
The Sword and the Rose must become one.

"Come, there is much to learn," the two voices spoke together, blending and mixing in perfect counterpoint, "The Sword and the Rose must become one."

Before Sabrinaís wondering and horrified eyes, an archway seemed to open before her on the balcony. That was, she thought there might have been an archway beneath all the white roses, holly berries and leaves. However, she could not make out what lay through it. The foliage was nothing more than a border to a grey, opaque mirror across which smoke and clouds drifted at regular intervals. She could make out her own face in the gaps between the fog. It looked very pale and afraid, even to her. Tearing her eyes away from the spectacle, she glanced over her shoulder to where Remy was lying asleep on their bed. She wondered how he had managed to remain asleep through all of this, then noticed he appeared frozen between breaths. Somehow, the two voices had managed to stop time. Even after all she had seen, the thought still managed to inspire awe in her.

"But ... my husband ... Shouldnít he come with us? He is the Avatar."

The sweet voice replied:

"Only the rose does not understand the snow,
so she does not blossom nor does she grow."

"Can I leave him a note?" she asked, thinking how weak and pathetic the words sounded, "Otherwise, heíll worry about me."

"No," the awful voice said, "That is your first lesson."

"Do I have to do this?" she whispered, feeling the tears prickle her eyes as she looked backwards to her sleeping husband. His hair was tousled, like that of a little boy, and his mouth was curved in a drowsy smile. His one arm was stretched out towards her side of the bed. He was her only love. He needed her. She could not leave him, not now that she had discovered him, not now that she knew how complete he made ... She rubbed her eyes fiercely, "Donít answer that. Donít give me the choice, because I wonít take it if you do. And I must go with you."

Turning her back on Remy - for good, for all she knew of what lay before her - she stepped into the archway.


"Have you seen my wife?" Remy asked the innkeeper, as he came down the steps and entered the common room. He had been irritated, if not surprised, to discover that Sabrina had not been there when he awoke. He had grown accustomed to waking up to an empty bed most mornings. He had come to learn that dawn was Sabrinaís time for rambling. At home, he would have found her in the forest, lying beneath a tree, arms filled with wildflowers, a smile on her face. Here, she had probably gotten up early to look around the strange city, he thought wryly, before he could spoil her fun by telling her that she was supposed to be resting. It made sense, so why did it do nothing to relieve the strange, quiet fear in his heart?

The man looked at him with mild, incurious eyes, "I havenít seen her, sir. I am sorry."

Refusing to allow himself to panic, "Thereís no way she could have gotten past you without you knowing?"

"None, sir," he shook his head ponderously, "Iíve been here since midnight, going over my accounts."

Panic turning his gut to ice, Remy spun on his heel and hurried back upstairs to the room that he shared with his wife. He quickly scanned the room for signs of foul play and found none. There were certainly no signs of a struggle. Everything was as neat and trim as it had been the previous evening. Wherever Sabrina had gone, she had not gone unwillingly. Or she had not been able to resist, the nagging, little voice of fear reminded him.

A sudden flash of white caught his eyes, and he twisted to face it, unsheathing the sword he wore on his back as he did so. He laughed weakly, as he saw the curtains blowing inwards like great, white wings. The doors to the balcony were wide open, letting in a breeze. Sabrina must have gone out there to watch the sunrise, as was her custom.

"Youíre an idiot, leBeau," he berated himself, "Getting yourself into a state over a sunrise."

The smile on his lips faded, as he pulled aside the screening curtains and stepped onto the balcony. There, lying on the sunwarmed, white stone, was Sabrinaís nightgown. Stranger still, it did not appear hastily discarded. It was neatly folded into a square. And, on top of it, the brilliant red of blood, was a bunch of holly.

"SABRINA!"

 

To be continued.


NOTES: Much as I hate to be made a liar by my own hand, I felt the story needed a change of direction. It was getting really boring to write, so I could only imagine how dull it was to read. So, I binned the original plan for this chapter and came up with this twist. Inspirations are obviously Tolkienís "Lord of the Rings" - all the verses especially, even though none of them are directly based on any of his - as well as Susan Cooperís incredible "Over Sea, Under Stone" series. The 'awful voice' is derived from Herne the Hunter. I suppose the archway\leaving everything you love is another Robert Jordan echo. I only thought of the comparison after writing it, though. :P

DISCLAIMER: Characters belong to Marvel. These incarnations are mine, as are all the verses in this part. Not that anyone would want Ďem, because theyíre dreadfully written. Iím not making a profit from any of this. Any feedback to brucepat@iafrica.com or hopes_angel2@hotmail.com will be worshipped. But Anyone who attempts to do MST3Ks and\or Pop-Ups on this will have my Patamon sicced on them. Flames can epect similar treatment. :) Previous parts should hopefully be up at http://www.geocities.com/textualchemy/swordrose.html

 


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