Necromanceress (Flash Fiction Contest) by JD Wilcox
We were called to war.
Well, not everyone.
Not those fatuous spawn of third-generation peasants whose wattle-and-daub dwellings brighten the slopes east of the River Argent, nor the overfed merchants of Edgeheld, whose vainglorious lanterns nightly geld the prominence west of the waterway. Oh, some of these humans were called, and many answered under Karath’s bright blue banner, where it snapped fast atop the grand pavilions of field generals and dell lords. With lavish feasts and flowing kegs they joined ranks with that strapping cavalry, those stalwart footmen, or the somber longbow men, each according to their experience and mien.
But we, we were called to our own brigade. All of us, by race. From proclamations pinned to post boards in all peculiarities of auberges to lane-side heralds shouting against pouring rain. It was us they needed, not to funnel into the gold-striped canopies of their great armies, but to shove into the mud-strewn common ways outside the city gates. Prove your loyalty, they murmured between breaths, advising us to form our company as we would. Show your valor, they exhaled upon cries that told us we would do well to die in the king’s name.
But what need have the kicked and spat-upon strays for allegiance? Is it not enough that she has not yet fled? I saw through their lies. I saw through their cunning.
Berret did not.
My betrothed suggested that we answer the call. Karath was our nation, and his sinew and bow were eager and ready.
“Do not, you and I, swim leafless in the waters of lake Myhrbright, whenever the air is warm and the moon at her peak?”
“And our reflections grace the woods of Druaan, whose forest belongs to the elves.”
“Forsooth, forsooth, yet do we not also love to canter bareback across Heartdwell’s summer-golden plains?”
“From hamlet to hamlet, where humans treat us no better than our palfreys?”
He touches the skin of my shoulder, his hand comfortingly coarse and calloused. He does not desire this imbroglio. Yet I do not yield.
“When beside their queen we would ride into battle, then will I fight.” I temper my words with a kiss of his hand.
“They do not have a queen,” he says with a smile.
“Further folly,” I say.
He draws me in. Kisses my neck.
“We could use your strength,” his lips murmur. “We could use your magick.”
“They could,” I correct.
And that is the end of it. He adjusts his surcoat. Bids me goodbye.
It is the last memory I have of him, as the snow falls deep. The blue livery of proud Karath over his mail, its silver-emblazoned dragon dull against steel’s gleaming imbrication—all outshone by his unrequited smile and dauntless eyes.
Now, he is dead.
I felt it before the criers rode down the lanes. It woke me, a quarrel through my own heart in the dead of winter’s night. I reached out to him. Reached out to all of them. Ran to my study in my nightdress, bare feet scuffing down steps. Undraped the ancient mirror above the cold-embered hearth. Uttered hasty, unpracticed words. Spilled my will into the glass, through its reflection, bending its light in search of the way my betrothed’s mail shone. The polish would be faded. The gleaming scales scarred. But by Berret’s pride I knew I would yet see something in it.
Smote upon the shattered sheen, aglow in flickering Anrak pyres, settled snow and sideways field and sanguine stillness.
My Berret did not move. My Berret did not breathe. Even as his enemy fell beneath the charge of beknighted Karathian destriers, he did not react.
My scream shattered the mirror. Its shards sliced my skin in recompense and I collapsed into them weeping, heedless, knowing naught save guilt’s breathlessness.
In time, dawn dawned. On its light, the riders came. “The war is won!” they called, steeds a-gallop. “The Anraks are broken beyond the Bridge of Winduren!”
Humans rushed to meet them. Cried joy into the lanes. And on my skin, under drying blood, against cold’s stupor, sparked new, ineffable pain. They spoke of victory. Of Karthian valor. They varnished death via vendetta’s vein. Not a mention of my beloved, nor of his half-elven brigade. Their unadulterated sacrifice upon the bridge Winduren lay as cold as they.
I can feel him now as winter lengthens. My betrothed, dead in the streets. His corpse lies frozen upon every gutter and within every snow drift. And beside him are all of them, unburied, entombed in frost and sleet. The season continues to blanket, my blood sisters and blood brothers laid low until spring. Humans sing of human deeds. The inceptive imbroglio is obliterated. The cold continues to weigh. I would not eat, except I become unsteady. I would not drink, except I become faint.
There is knowledge out there. There is power lurking. I have known of it. I have heard its whispers. Heretofore I have shunned it, not tempting myself with its taste. Yet as my blushing nightgown tickles over scarred shins and feet, I know it is the only way.
The raven brought this message to me, upon my upper window’s sill on Darkember’s first day. I was yet hasty to choler then, and her incessant pecking came clothed in insolent claw clicks. I snarled a dagger’s thrust. Rent glass and feathered breast. The spell slew her instantly. But gazing upon my deed beyond the window’s shattered casement, my own heart caught in my breast. In my garden lay the frozen fields of Winduren. In her lifeless onyx, Berret’s body crimsoned ice-swept grass.
It had to be unwoven.
I found the book swiftly. For some days it had called to me, from whence I’d entombed it years before. A prize, mayhap a burden, for undoing a fiend most foul. Loathe to deter knowledge, I could not destroy it, though upon its pages lay a blasphemous tongue capable of staying my blood in its beat.
Would Berret still love me if I wove this magick?
Would I know if he did any other way?
For certes, righteous warnings spoke against such atrocity. Learned prohibitions lay against this obscenity. Yet such acts, they had already taken place. Such acts had rendered my betrothed and my blood sisters and brothers to their fates.
This was the only path.
I bent my tongue to the task. The very words were vile, their taste on my lips as excrement. But in them, too, lay incipient strength—the flex of a muscle long left unbent.
From that shade I drew only a sliver—enough thread to wind round the raven’s wounds.
I brought her body in. Coddled her up before cauldron and hearth. Stoked the fire. Pinched sprigs of dried herb. Drew candles, then spun up the thread.
Upon its willow I bound her heart. Wedded her wounds. Trussed her fate. And when I was done, I bade her, “Wake.”
She lay still.
Again I bade, “Wake.”
Yet she vexed me. But the words would be mine. The power would be mine.
“Lift your beak, shake off your snow, take up blooded wing and fly.”
And in saying I opened my heart, opened that sliver to a stream of shadowy strands. My skin revolted. Yet I caught the strands up. Grasped them close. Wound them tighter, lifted higher, bade the raven once more, a third time, “Wake.”
She opened her eyes.
Thrill thrust through me. Imbued us both with newfound strength. She rose under my command, eyes dark and dull and agleam, without any trace of blame. I offered her food. She demurred. I impelled the window open. She struck away. Into the swirling winds. Over the frigid snow. In my mind was her desire: Home.
I watched after until the chill finally caught me. In calm moments now I wonder if she’s flown over where Berret lays. I believe I could call her back. I believe she could lead me there. But I do not have time to waste. This black-bound book is only the beginning. Buried in the depths of mountains lies far greater strength. My newfound muscles itch in Heaven’s movement. I feel the world turning at pace. Time slips toward spring and her gay, skipping gait.
That which I seek has long been buried. The deeds it wrought, thought folly and hate. But I will use it for love. I will bid my Berret rise. Bid all my blood sisters and brothers rise. Then those the humans took from me, the half-elves they fed to Anrak to buy time for their king, will cleanse these fair Twin Cities of their race.
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