Can orphan-refugee Sigrun find peace and justice or will she become the enemy?
|This boy does understand me! Protecting people, maybe that's why I survived. Eager to meet this Oliver, and to fulfill my purpose — as the last-known-living in my family of warriors — I shimmied down the side of my balcony.
Dust like an image in a mirror, stood as tall as me, as razor-thin, with the same luna-white hair and ice-blue eyes. Ever-growing passion overwhelms everything in their wake. The thought of his gaze gave me chills, inspired the need to tell him my story, to win him over. I had to know what he had in mind and try to prove myself. So, I followed him.
We ducked down one open alley and another before finally coming to rest in a quieter section.
Collen sat beside the rich boy, like guard and prisoner. He grabbed his table leg. "Hey, what'd I tell you!"
"Down, Collen. She's with me."
He bowed his head. "Alright, Dust. You get a pass then, dumb girl." Glaring and jutting out his chin, Collen brushed off his jacket.
Dust knuckled Collen in the forehead, then mussed the big kid's hair. "More like you get a pass, you brute. We got our own future Watch Commander."
"Ah, hey. You're the girl tried to help me," the rich boy said, checking a silver thing tied to his belt.
"You've met Collen. I understand you're acquainted as well?"
I stepped toward the rich boy, lifted his chin. "I'm sorry I couldn't help you more."
Dust pinched the rich boy's cheek. "I'm not. Oliver's got to pay his fair share."
Oliver blushed. "Oh, it's a trifle. Truth is, my family provides plenty sustenance, ah. We do alright." He grimaced, forced a smile, kept his shoulders from sagging.
The boy belonged in a library, not a street fight with these kids, but courage starts where a person stands. Hoping to encourage him, I smiled approval, then turned to Dust. "So, what's the story? Somehow, I don't think Oliver qualifies to run with you."
"I'd be worried about you taking my spot, if not for current events." A cold smirk said he counted me among his rivals. He shrugged. "We've got problems moving in. The watch is doing nothing. We have, believe it or not, urgans moving into our neighborhood."
I'm not going to run again. Emotion, in bolts of lightning, shook every joint of my body. I couldn't stand still as I scanned the area. "Where are they?"
Collen raised a fist at me in salute.
Dust's voice started out frantic. "Easy there. It's not a good idea for kids to go running off to battle." Each word faded until I could barely hear the last. He touched me on the shoulder.
I can strike back? Honest to goodness, green-blooded urgans would feel my wrath. Maybe not Korog, but any violent criminal could serve in his stead. "You've got it all figured out, then."
"Don't worry. I'll let you get the next offensive, Watch Girl." He turned and stared into my eyes. "When you get your bearings."
He strutted like an actor with a crown, pretending to superior wisdom. I let him have his moment, ignoring the holes in his logic. Why did the watch do nothing about urgan invaders? If Dust plans so well, why would he lead three, half-armed children against an enemy who might casually fling weapons heavier than any one of us? None of that mattered to me, as the idea of doing my people proud tasted sweet, yet not as sweet as the idea of joining an army against the forces of darkness. I never cared which of these feelings belonged to me, which to him. They blended in flashes of thundering, blinding brilliance. Most of all, his sense of certainty bewitched me, soothed pain I had not even recognized. If I could find this by joining his quest to cleanse the town—no, the world—of the urgan filth that threatened these good people, then I could think of no better cause. Though such extreme thoughts belonged in a fool's head, I had not committed to do anything wrong. "I'll play any role, so long as I get to destroy evil."
"See that, Collen? She wants to destroy evil, not compete with it." He tapped Collen in the ear, then curled his lips to hint at a guilty smile. "Sometimes, it is the same thing."
Collen grinned. "Yeah! I'm the bad one."
Dust gathered us all in a square. "For now. Either way, there's a place for all of you in our empire. Right, Sigrun? This filth in our presence stains our souls. Today, we cleanse our world, and ourselves. The actions we take today bring glory not just to ourselves, but to all humanity." He pointed his fist at the center of the square.
Collen raised his hand, and they brushed knuckles. Oliver joined. Dust's elf ghost shook her head and pinched her eyebrows in distress. Mack didn't seem much happier, though neither spirit spoke. The boys stared at me, waiting for me to join their ceremony, as I contemplated the distaste of these imaginary adults.
I met my knuckles to theirs with a roll of my eyes. "All right. So, what's the plan?"
"Oliver buys a bag of goodies and stumbles around."
I crinkled my nose. "He's bait?"
"Oh, my, yes." Oliver pulled at his collar. "Please, do help, Watch Girl."
Unlike Dust or Collen, Oliver meant the title with respect. I scratched my chin. "Are you sure you're up for this?"
Dust raised his eyebrow and spoke to Oliver's ear. "They're his enemy as much as ours. Predators prey on the weak."
Something about that statement rang flat. I looked at Mack, who just pursed his lips.
"Of—course, Watch." He swallowed, scratched his nose. "It's my idea."
I raised my eyebrows at Mack.
Mack sighed. "I don't like it either, but a young man makes his own decisions."
I glared at Dust. "Then what?"
Collen puffed up. "I come running! Chase him right up to you."
I rolled my eyes. "You're going to assault an urgan warrior with a table leg? You'd be lucky if he brains you with it."
Dust put his hand on my shoulder, in that way that usually silences people. "You have a lot of experience with urgans, I'm sure, but trust me. We've planned for everything. It's going to be glorious."
Mack whispered in my ear. "Ambushes can do anything but 'be glorious.' Are you sure the urgan's the only one who comes out losing in this plan?"
Since imaginary characters do what we decide, I tried again to imagine Mack agreeing with Dust. No matter what I did, I could not control these imaginary ghosts, or make them seem less real. But that did not mean I had to listen every time, any more than if he was alive. I waved him away, running the battle through my imagination like Aunt Myrrha taught. In my plan, Collen, rises above his station as want-to thug to heroically engage the gigantic, pig-faced bandit, who turns his back on us. Dust and I ambush from behind. Dust tries some back-alley stratagem he has in mind, and it fails. He ducks death while I stand toe-to-toe with the monster as they get away. Everything clicked. For the first time since walking into the night, something felt right. I smiled.
I saw my confidence reflected in the faces of the three boys.
They thought my confidence was in victory, but it was more than that. Within the hour, I would either deliver vengeance upon a deserving urgan, or join Mack and Myrrha. Either would delight me. It was time for me to smirk knowingly. Smart as Dust might be, no city dweller could hope to improvise the warrior know-how Mack had drilled into my bones. "That sounds like a plan. Be sure not to get hurt when the games begin."
Dust squinted at me, and smiled at the boys. "Told you she'd stand up. Now, we march." He turned his back on me.
Neither of us were showing all our cards, though Dust had his up his sleeve, I wasn't like that before today. Dust's presence had bent me, the way Mack's had, or Ker's, or even Korog's. Old Man Wolf was right. I was not right, not normal, and how could I know myself if the bend of my spine changed from scene to scene?
At that moment, I allowed that to be just one of the cards in my hand, right beside the tragedy of Mack and Myrrha. Win, lose, or die, I needed to play to the end.
** ** **
Dust and I stood in the shadows across from my balcony. Collen stood around like he thought he had hidden himself behind the rag-wearing crone who tended to the smaller children on the street.
As Oliver came from the baker's home with a bag of treats that filled his left arm, so much sweat dripped down his forehead that it made mine itch. He carried a scroll by the top bar, squinting and muttering at it, looking down all the time. "I hope nobody gets these treats. I really hope nobody gets my wonderful donuts this time. I am really hungry." He paced the length of that square and turned back before our quarry arrived.
Never had I dreamt of such an underfed urgan. Korog, slight as he was, stood a head taller and had arms as large as the piglet's waist. Green skin had pinkish tinges. The nose came to an almost-human point. The piglet looked in every direction, stalking Oliver as if afraid—such an impossible sight, that it made me want to laugh. His fear flooded over him and made us both want to run. I grabbed Dust. "This isn't right."
"No, we've got to call it—"
The empty-handed, urgan boy lunged up behind Oliver, squealing and snorting. He grabbed the bag and ran past.
Oliver straightened his shoulders, and he pointed. A glob of silver-blue lightning leaped from his finger to the piglet's feet. Ice caked on the surrounding street and shattered the piglet's boots. The piglet slipped and fell flat on his snout, throwing the donuts ahead. Collen rushed from behind. Dust ran to hover over him, pulling a bamboo straw and blowing. Sparkling dust covered the poor, unfortunate piglet's face until he coughed.
"What? Why di—?" The urgan's head fell to the ground, mid-word.
"You killed him!" This was no daring assault, just a simple murder.
Dust smiled. "Don't worry. Pig's still alive. We saved him for you."
Collen smiled. "A gift to you. We know you hate them dirty pigs."
Oliver's fake smile looked sickened as he wandered off. He couldn't bear to watch.
I stood over the piglet, cleaver-arm hanging, loose at my side. My stomach ached. Nothing I'd believed had proved true. That magic powder would fetch a huge price. He could have fed himself for weeks, even months, selling that one dose. Dust meant to bewitch me as surely as Korog manipulated Ker.
I wanted more than anything to take out my aggressions. Part of me didn't care who took the punishment, even myself. That's who I saw there, helpless on the cobblestones: a little refugee child, an orphan who took refuge in the city. She deserved to be punished for what had happened to her aunt and uncle as much as anybody. It would have been so easy to go along, to murder her in effigy along with the boy, and join Dust's army. I shook my head. "Not like this. Not some snack thief, unarmed and drugged. This will bring no honor to anybody."
Collen jumped, excited, and waved his club.
Dust nodded, gave the thumbs down sign.
I could stop the club, maybe ruin it. I readied
my cleaver. My voice cracked as I begged. "Don't do it, Collen. You may be bad, but, no. Please, you're better than this."
Dust slapped me in the back, approving. "Keep at it. One day you might just turn somebody, maybe even Collen. We're done with the pig, do what you want." Dust walked away.
Collen swung the club over his head and brought it down as hard as he could. I struck straight up at it, chopping halfway through it. The force of the swing wrenched the cleaver out of my hand and pulled my wrist. Collen's attack failed. I had saved the piglet but had no idea for how long.
"Really, Watch Girl?" He made a pulling sign, to tell Collen to stop. "Sure that's how you want to play it?"
I wasn't sure of anything, but I had to protect the boy. He'd probably done wrong, but for all that, so far as I could tell, had done nothing to deserve this. "I can't let you do this."
Oliver piped up. "This has to be scary for him. Maybe he's learned his lesson."
"You sure are stupid for a wizard, Oliver. Only thing urgans learn is how to hit sooner and harder. But whatever. Watch Girl's made her choice, sided with the pig. Whatever he does, from here on out, it's on your head, Sigrun. When the time comes, we won't be there to help you destroy him. And you will destroy him, or him you." He turned his back on me and left without listening for an answer.
Collen threw down his ruined club and stuck both thumbs down. "Yeah — You heard me!" He howled and turned to follow his leader.
Oliver pulled at his collar, and slowly backed away. He wanted to help, probably would have if I'd invited him. I couldn't ask him to brave Dust's ire. I nodded and waved.
The piglet woke, and threw his arms up. "I'm sorry I lost the donuts! I'll get more!"
"What are you talking about?"
"Shaman Dust, your boss. He tell me he let me live if steal the Oliver food."
"I do not answer to Dust." I offered my hand to help him up.
"Everybody answers to Dust. Maybe not Medusas, the glass-shaman that plays queen here—" He referred to Queen Medusa, the statue I had seen. She claimed to be able to turn her enemies into glass, like her namesake from an ancient Amerik fable, much to the terror of gullible urgans everywhere. "—but all the kids, and most of the adults, do what he says. Have to."
No surprise, that. Dust had the bearing, the way of somebody who spoke the truth. Not honesty, but more; he would change the truth, make good on his lies. "I'm not 'all the kids.'"
"Why I live? I see hate."
"Ker murdered my Aunt and Uncle, but you? You're just ... not." I wiped a tear from my eyes. "I wish I could pretend you were."
He laughed. "Thorgabent! Mother say you're thorgabent, like huma father. Protect fragile garbage, it destroy you!"
"Maybe I am foolish, maybe not. But know this: I speak urga too. Ha mek medkek." Medkek, the state of mind a prisoner feels when beaten to the end of his endurance, or the state of steel on the anvil as it's ready to take a new form. I had threatened make him a good listener—that is, to torture him. I retrieved my cleaver.
He smiled and rolled out of reach.
My threat reassured him, as I expected it would. He ran away, and when he got far enough to duck a flying cleaver, he turned. His hands splayed in a sort of urgan 'thumbs up' gesture. "I one owes you!"
"Just don't tell the locals. That's all I need."
As if to prove my point, an egg hit me in the back of my head. I turned to look back, at a cute little boy half my age. His brown eyes glistened out from under the dirt as he snarled at me.
"Pig farmer! Hit the pig farmer." He ran away as fast as he could.
The old lady who tended these little ones walked up behind me with a comb and pulled it through the mess. "He's right, you know. Pigs don't belong here. Why risk your life?"
Before she finished, I pulled away from her. "Because maybe I don't belong here, either." I moped along, wandering through the streets. A far-off flute melody melded with my mood, putting a sort of beauty to my helpless despair as I made my way to the center of the city, toward Medusa's Tower.
** ** **
Dust and Collen would be hunting me. My stationary camp would betray me. The weeks of living on ratspider meat had already begun turning my skin ashen. I had not believed that until I saw it myself. The time came for a new idea, a new place.
After wandering the town, dodging carts and lunatics, I came to rest outside an inn. The sign on the door showed a green pig with a meat cleaver. "The Urgan Inn? What kind of glass-helmet would you have to wear to want—oh." I sighed. I'd started thinking like one of Ker's men. The door creaked as I pushed into the place.
The scent of armor-oil and sweat put me at ease. The humans here dressed not at all like thorga, but like a smarter class of urga. They preferred iron, plate and chain being the norm. A few in hard leather jackets seemed like commoners, but even they had multiple blades at the ready. Peace ties hung half-tied or false around the handles. The glimmer of enchantment peeked out beneath the crossguards of several. The enchanted weapons didn't go to the richest, biggest, or the most aggressive but randomly—distributed by luck, whoever had the good fortune to find one. I had found the gathering place of my people, the roving freemen.
"Quit your gawking, kid." Even the host had leather armor and a club at his belt, though his belly barely fit. "You got money, take a table. Otherwise, go away. This is a place to buy food, not to steal."
Why assume I'm a thief? "I'd really rather not."
When he laughed, his whole belly shook. He threw down a tankard. "What's that, leave? I can see that, but this place belongs to somebody else. You ain't got one here."
"Um, steal, actually." I would choose death before theft but best not to tell how far I would go. "Maybe you can help with that — the not-stealing?"
"What do you want, to work here?" He came nose to nose with me. "Look around. These aren't the softest people. You aren't a little afraid of them?"
"Who, thorga?" I'd never heard anything so absurd. Those people could be my family. Anyhow, I couldn't dream of a human who might frighten me, except perhaps Dust. "Humans, I mean. Yeah, I'm just plain not afraid of humans."
The big man grabbed my chin and made me stare into his cloudy, green-gray eyes. "You're one of them, aren't you, the danger men—the people who like to visit 'civilization' every once in a while?"
He creeped me out with that look. I shook out of his grip.
The man looked down at me.
I had to agree that I had more in common with these men than anybody I'd seen so far. "Whatever. You got work, and you got food. What's it to be?" I traced my finger along the stones of the wall, then slipped in the kitchen door.
Behind a table the size of a drawbridge, stood a white-skinned urgan. Shock burned my heart and made him seem twice as big as Ker as he wielded a cleaver the size of my chest. Seeing me, he stopped at the top of his swing and glared. "Take out of kitchen, rat child!"
The fat human came in behind me.
The size of the man's cleaver cut the confidence from my voice. "This man just hired me?" That wasn't supposed to sound like a question, Sigrun.
He snorted. "That sure nice, Logan."
"I'm sorry, Briggen! I said nothing of the sort, didn't expect—" He pulled at his collar, and looked a bit like Oliver.
Briggen snorted at the human host, keeping up his fake accent. "No mind, Logan."
He stomped around the table. "She good, like. No mind working for pigsnout?" He brought his smashed in, piggish nose in my face.
"I got the job? If you don't like me, I hear us little ones make the best roast. Till then, if it pleases you, I'm all kinds of medkek."
Logan blanched. I couldn't guess whether he feared his own fate or mine.
Meanwhile, Briggen picked me up by the shoulder and pinned me to the wall. "Who do you think you are, you ignorant little infestation? Nobody is permitted, under any circumstances, to speak one syllable of that incoherent prattle in my presence. So unless I say it first...
"Krolesh. Human talk. Yessir."
He still held me in his palm. "Good talk. Take up stairs, find place sleep. Clean face."
"Um, Mr. Briggen, sir. I'm still pinned?"
He set me down, and I ran up the stairway.
** ** **
I barged into a cheap room. A box held straw for sleeping. A towel hung from a bar by the 'window,' above a table with a bowl for water. Shutters over a hole in the wall.
I tried to clean myself in my tears with the towel and sat in the bed.
Ker appeared, sitting beside me. "Sigrun, your name? Need money, kill sleeping Briggen." Ker didn't know my name, but that didn't affect my daydream. I wondered why some of my imaginary friends seemed so hard to control.
"Murder, robbery? I don't do that."
"No robbery. Wereguid. Human word for tax on murder."
I shook my head. "Can't do that."
"Can't, or won't?" Ker laughed.
I gave up trying to will Ker away; I did need someone to talk to. "Just not going to happen. Why did Briggen yell at me like that?"
"He want know if Sigrun want work for him."
"That's stupid. He can just watch me."
"Briggen human, but not. If he fear, he test. Words, weapons, all same. Different ways to break things."
"I don't understand."
"Simple thing, kill Briggen. Quick ax to throat, but walk quiet. No spirit to keep him sleep."
"All right, I could, but I won't. It's wrong."
"Not wrong. Urga law in Briggen's arms. Huma law say Briggen animal, outlaw. Sigrun right to slaughter."
I glared at him, unable to destroy or evade his logic. Talking to him felt like fighting Myrrha in the kitchen. Myrrha's imaginary blade had been sleek. Ker's words had the elegance of rusted salvage, but he wielded them with professional strategy.
He looked down his snout at me, smug. "Peasant blame society. Noble blame maybe queen. Enemy, noble, queen and law
say Sigrun can take easy path. Sigrun remember this."
"I don't care," I screamed, jumping up and pointing at Ker, forgetting that I imagined him. "I'm not going to murder him for being an urgan!"
Briggen's voice came from below. "Shut up or get to work, rat child!"
Ker snorted his laughter and walked through the wall. "Never gave orders. Reminding you why you didn't."
Ker seemed to urge me toward evil a second ago, but at the moment.... Perhaps he meant some kind of lesson. My head felt soft and fragile, like a fool in a glass helmet.
"Rat child no listen word I say. Good." He shoved a wet towel and a bowl of soup in my face. "Briggen take cost of room out of pay, if ever you work."
I took the soup. Nasty and cold, it tasted like seasoned rat spider soup — horrible, but the best I had eaten since coming to town. After a few tastes, I drank it down like it belonged in the queen's banquet. "Thank you so much."
"Nothing. Stuff will stink if nobody eats." He offered me two huge mugs and said, "Table by door."
Eager to pay him back for the room and the food, I grabbed them and hustled out. What I saw there stabbed me in the chest. For a second,seeing the red hair and green traveling armor, I thought that Myrrha had returned from the grave. I plunked down the mugs and grabbed her by the arm. "It's me, Sigrun!"
It hadn't been Myrrha. I thought I'd seen this woman once. Many adventurers stopped at our farm-fort when passing through. I wanted to ask her why she hadn't been there, to protect the 'good woman' who had lent her home for their safety, but I knew the answer. They hadn't been there. Nobody had. Nobody could take the blame for what happened to Mack and Myrrha, or even share it. It rested only on Mack, Myrrha, and me.
"Do I — Oh, yes. You're quite a ways from home, aren't you?" She reached in her coin purse, gave me a few copper. "This is for you, Sigrun."
A raven screeched. Had it been another shadow raven? I looked hesitantly at the door.
"Well, go on. We're not keeping you." The woman said it as if remarking on my omen.
Had she discussed this with Myrrha, I wondered? I stepped outside. The clouds showed nothing definite, not like that day, just a knotted loop, a judge's hammer. I looked around and considered going back in.
Mack's voice came from behind me. "Don't tell me you didn't hear that."
I could not guess what he spoke of.
"Please, please! Show mercy!"
The wind carried the call far beyond where I should have heard it. Somebody needed my help, far more than Briggen and Logan. Knowing I might not be welcome if I came and went as I pleased, I frowned at the tavern.
"You've got believe, Honor! I didn't steal that Dust shaman's food."
Though I could barely hear it, the voice belonged to the refugee piglet. Clearly, he needed help. I turned from Briggen's place, knowing that this time, I had no one to blame for the loss of my home. I sprinted toward him.
"Hear ye, hear ye!" The watchman had the piglet bound beside him. "We have heard the account of the honorable child of humanity, 'Dust'. Charming name, young man. The valiant human defended himself against the rampaging barbarian."
Dust held a rag to his forehead, the extent of his 'injury' unclear.
"Please, Honor! No kill me. I ugly. I look mean. I no attack. Just want be left alone. You saw. You all saw! He friend attack."
I looked about. People of all ages stood mesmerized. A few looked uncomfortable, but most thirsted for the blood and the spectacle of law.
They all had seen, except the Watchman. Unless someone spoke, I would see another innocent struck down. All for a slander lesser than Dust had spoken against me. "Your honor, do not trust this boy. His lies nearly compelled me to kill the young urgan before me, as they compelled you to confiscate my cleaver."
"If you had acted in line with reason, this monster would not be standing before us today." He stroked his chin. "I have heard you speak their words, and now you speak in their defense. Be glad; you are but a child. The penalty for sympathizers exceeds that for enemies."
"This is no true urgan! You've heard him beg for his life. An ordinary urgan would dare you to kill him, call you thorgabent for hesitating."
"He would be right. It is a peculiar foolishness of humans. We show mercy to those who are not capable of showing it in return. Merely because they seem somewhat like us."
I stepped forward, but the old woman, the one with the comb, grabbed me.
I strained to escape and yelled at the watchman. "You have no right. Not without a trial!"
"I, Kermit Velgen, am a duly appointed officer of the law. Besides. We are at war with the urgan horde. Any citizen has the right — no, the duty — to stand in judgment of the enemy. This is cruel. I will delay execution no longer." He took my cleaver from his jacket and pulled it down on the skull of the piglet, in a single chop.
The boy fell without a sound. I rushed forward, scooped him up in my arms as the crowd booed and hissed. Green-black blood oozed everywhere, but I didn't care. "Why? Why did they call me to you?" My tears burned behind my eyes, but never came.
"You want to believe in them. I sympathize." The watchman put away my cleaver and stepped toward the crowd. He raised his voice, flailed his hands. "Get away. Justice is done! Find your entertainment elsewhere."
A mist formed around the clear space, with only me and the piglet. Out of that mist stepped Mack and Ker.
"Sigrun has answer."
Mack chided Ker. "You're getting ahead of yourself."
The tears began, as I hugged the boy closer.
Ker snorted at Mack. "You know. Who stand up for innocent."
"That wasn't my question." Suddenly the question seemed wrong, like Mack had been saying. "The right question is, 'Who will stand up for the innocent.'"
Ker banged his chest and they both nodded.
"It's me. That's why I wouldn't kill Briggen or this boy. But, this is all wrong. There has to be more, has to be."
Mack took my hand in his and held it over the boy's wound. "Where there's a will, there's a way."
I put my hand on his skull and pushed with all my heart. The blood flowed into him. The wound sealed. His breathing smoothed. I didn't notice his shaking until he stopped.
Mack smiled, his eyes approving but not surprised.
I blinked, and the mist disappeared. Ker and Mack faded like dreams. The green-black blood still covered my hands and tunic, but his breathing flowed smooth. The bleeding didn't spurt so bad. Eggs and pebbles rained down on us between the hoofbeats.
Ben and Corielle jumped from their wagon. The little boys launched a volley of eggs and stones at Dust's command, taking none-too-kindly to my display.
"It looks like you've outstayed your welcome. Hope you don't mind being rescued again." Corielle grabbed me.
I grabbed Corielle's shirt. "I don't understand."
"Hush. We can talk about how your Uncle and his loudmouth Circean friend came to your rescue, when the emergency has been averted." She put me up on the wagon, beside the piglet.
When Ben had almost gotten to his seat, she grabbed the reins and started the wagon.
"Och, foolish woman, it's only pebbles. I think you could have waited a space for me to sit."
We rode out of range before another egg hit, going this way and that before coming to rest at an odd building. It seemed not a house for living, nor a place of business—no painting to depict the wares. Instead, the windows had color, pictures of people.
Ben tugged at his sparse beard. "Are you sure we should leave the cart?"
Corielle picked up the piglet and walked to the odd door. "I'll buy you another one if anything happens."
"Ah, Corielle, you know right well that I'm the treasurer, and most of our wealth sits right there."
I grabbed the door at her gesture, and she led us all in, including Ben. "Go be a dragon and sit on the thing, if that's what you're about."
Ben and I laughed at that one, and he shut the door behind the four of us. The place was dark, lit by candles. Arches and paintings covered the hall that led downward. The place felt strange, yet familiar, like dreaming about home: nothing sits how it should, and yet it belongs the new way.
Corielle carried the boy in all the way to the end of the hall, to a bed glowing pink. She sat him down, and looked at me. The light didn't reflect on her, or anything around. Though Corielle knew about the glow, Ben could not see.
"Unbleeding." It wasn't a word, but that's what happened on that bed.
"You know what to do, Sigrun. Put your hand on the wound and push."
I laid my hand on his skull, and pressed against it until he squirmed.
Corielle laughed. "No, with your breath. Humans would say, heart, whatever. Push with that."
I took a deep breath, and willed the pink light into his skull. Little bits of the blood returned to him. The skin pulled together and closed the gap, leaving a subtle pink scar.
My hand shook with the effort of what I had done, or from the momentous surprise the power had brought.
He awoke, and smiled. "Thank you! Standing for me, Watch Girl." His eyes fluttered and closed. For a long time, I didn't see him breathe.
Corielle pulled me away. "He's very tired. His spirit must decide whether to remain with us. Come, we have much to discuss."
She led me away to a long bench, one of many. We sat, side by side. I leaned against her. She let me rest my head in her lap.
"You understand what your guide said to you, about having your answer?"
I wondered how she heard what my imaginary Ker and Mack had said, when they existed only in my head, but that would wait. I felt around inside myself. "I'm still sad and angry and confused about Mack and Myrrha." I paused to think again.
She waited, meeting my gaze. The pink light reflected in her emerald eyes.
"After helping that boy, the world doesn't seem so broken."
Corielle sighed with relief. "I'm glad to hear
that, Sigrun. I have a feeling you're going to be something very special, something we've never seen."
Not someone special, but something. I wondered what she had in mind, as I dared to dream a child's dreams— so I thought — of knights and battles and faerie princes.
She patted my shoulder. "Remember, little warrior, you have only begun. Though it take you many lives, never will you need do more than follow your heart. That is all that is asked of any of us. "
In flickering torchlight, at the end of the hall, I caught a glimpse of the orange-haired woman, shaking her head at me before turning and disappearing into the darkness. I wanted to ask Corielle if she too saw Dust's guide, but realized that this fire-haired spirit could not reach us.
Weeks like a hundred years had passed through me after the deaths of Mack, Myrrha, and Ker. My fuzzy head could fathom only the smallest part. Feeling old yet safe for the first time since then, I rested against Corielle. My eyes watered, and I fell asleep.
All grown up, Sigrun reflects upon how these events forged her heart and started a movement... "Appendix/Epilogue: Sigrun's Oath"