I'll have to do a life-story-recap but what reminded me to post was someone harassing me about Payment a story that I wrote almost four years ago now. So, since it has been so long I"m putting the first two bits and the latest bit together and posting it here.
Alice was 33. She was the head personal maid to her Ladyship the Duchess. She obtained this illustrious position because she was clean, organized, neat, and prompt about her duties. She obtained those attributes by always looking forwards to the next task. Never daydreaming, never being distracted by life's hopes. Always anticipating what would happen next. That was why she was at the ball.
As a young girl she used to daydream of princes and castles. That ended when her parents disappeared one night. After a week of waiting the uncaring town officials had her packaged up and sent to an orphanage. There she learned many things. That her name was Alice. That she was to be a servant. That she had been abandoned and did not deserve the love that normal children received. She was told she had better be productive or she’d find herself starving on the highway.
Tonight thoughts of her childhood had been bustled up by the business of life and shoved into a closet. Covered with duties and obligations. Earlier tonight had been spent in a controlled panic. Tonight’s ball had been and still was quite a surprise. The mercenary company had arrived early. The same company that had been so instrumental in the latest victory in the war. In turning around the Summer King’s losing war with the empire to the west. In forcing them to accept what they had taken and take no more. The heroes of the day… were early. They had made it back to the capitol almost a week ahead of schedule. They would have been a complete surprise but a messenger rider had seen them about a day out and had rushed in with the news.
Rather than be seen unprepared the royal court had sprung into action. Tonight’s ball had been thrown together with all the haste that could be beaten out of the servants and commoners available. Gold spent like water in an effort to preserve the myth of the all knowing nobility.
Alice herself had spent all day fixing her Ladyship a new dress with a new hairstyle and just the right color of yellow to stand out but blend in with the Summer Court. She was quite pleased with her efforts. Her ladyship was easily the best dressed woman at the ball and this fact had already been noticed by several of the more eligible bachelors.
She sat across the room from the Duchess; right next to the wine table, ready at a moment’s notice to hop up and fetch anything required. Sometimes wine, sometimes a snack, sometimes a light wet cloth for wiping away the sweat of the summer heat. And sometimes even drugged wine for some of the more… avid lords who didn’t know how to take a kindly hinted dismissal from her Ladyship. They would simply wakeup the next morning with a heavier hangover than normal and no memory of having been refused by a beautiful woman.
Ah! There it was, nothing noticeable if you were not aware. A quick gesture meaning more wine, unchilled, undrugged. Alice swept up a few glasses and started weaving her way across the dance floor.
The air was warm. The room noisy. The vibrations of the dancers gently shook the wooden floor. The music pranced around her.
The room grew distant. She suddenly had to focus carefully just to keep walking straight.
Ice swept through her blood. Winter frost numbed her hands. Images of vast glacial walls and deep icy rivers rushed through her mind.The tray in her hands shook and slipped to the floor with the tinkle of cracking ice. She stopped in her tracks.
“Bethany Marie Sarahsdaughter”
An impossibly large man dressed in barbarian leathers walked out of the crowd. His chest covered in icy blue ink sigils and harsh forgotten phrases. On his back a massive stone sword covered in azure runes rested; held by two thin leather cords. His eyes glowed with a neon blue fire.
Alice, no that isn’t/wasn’t/wouldn’t be her. Alice saw. Suddenly, unbidden she saw. For the first time in almost twenty years her mother’s face drifted in her mind’s eye. Her mother standing over her father’s body healing him with tears in her eyes. Her mother suddenly snapped up in the giant claws of an enormous blue lizard. An ancient wyrm from beyond season. Her mother struggling against the crushing grip ice water turning her hair black.
A far off frozen wasteland. A dying egg. Her mother pouring the last of her healing magic into the egg. Another wyrm nuzzling the now living shell.
The two dragons conferring. A claw dipped in blue blood and traced over scales. Sigils of meaning and power. Phrases of promises and debts.
A question to her dying mother. Icy pale from exhaustion her mother’s gasped response. One last misty breath and then eternal peace.
Alice was herself once more. On her knees in the middle of the floor. The image of her mother whispering her name with her last breath etched in her mind forever. Her soul numb with the remembrance of all that she had lost. All that had been taken from her.
“Bethany Marie Sarahsdaughter”
The booming voice was no longer just in her mind. The room froze as everyone stared at the icy giant. The fey dragon bound in man form. Elemental winter in the shape of a mortal.
“I have come. My life bound to serve you. My blade bound to aid you. My magic bound to protect you.”
“Bethany Marie Sarahsdaughter. I AM PAYMENT.”
They had taught her many things in the orphanage. That her name was Alice. That she couldn't dream of anything better than a servant’s life. That she had been abandoned and was unloved.
All of these were wrong. Her Imperial Majesty, Bethany Marie Sarahsdaughter, Queen of Dragons was reborn that night. Freed from rotting slavery in the summer king's palace by winter's life debt to her mother.
(Posted in Feb 2010) http://twoandahalforcs.blogspot.com/2010/02/payment.html
“Captain! You’d better come quick. Sky is about to start something huge.”
The sergeant interrupted Mercenary Captain Lightblade’s charming rendition of the heroics performed by his company. The surrounding crowd of guests whispered among themselves surprised that he would allow such a brash interruption. But he simply smiled and excused himself.
The diplomatic smile hid inner worry. Strangers who saw sky only saw his physique and thought that his fighting strength lay in swordsmanship. Ha! The man couldn’t out duel a fly. He as immensely strong, yes but had no clue how to use the blade he carried in melee combat. However, outside of a martial contest he was devastating. The man was simply the best war mage the captain had ever seen. That had been proven at the pass of Reijin. Sky alone had held the shield against at least twenty imperial mages. Their bombardments were casually ignored. At the same time he had reinforced the bridge the pass was known for; allowing more refuges to cross faster and had assisted the companies three other mages in counter bombardment. But with a range, power and finesse they could not match.
Not to say the man was invincible. The captain was certain he was mortal but give Sky a meager personal guard and he would be an army to himself. Fortunately he avoided all conflict and was very content to accept any orders that had been given him since he signed on to the company last spring on the north shore of Jennen. Which was why this news was a surprise. Sky starting a fight. This was a problem.
No, change that. “Sky” and “start something” was disaster.
The band froze at the booming statement. The dancers paused. Everyone’s attention focused on the dumpy woman in the middle of the room and the uncouth man whose voice had silenced them. The party was completely derailed.
The Grand Duke Montain rose angrily from his upper balcony table to see what and who had interrupted his party. A flush spread across his face when he recognized his niece’s serving girl, on her knees confronted by a large unwashed mercenary. Some jaded lover returned, he presumed, and interrupting his ball like at some commoner house building party. Furious he turned to his nephew and snapped: “Deal with this intrusion” Then he sat back down and resumed his card game and the important discussions that went along with it.
The Earl of Kines pushed his way through the crowd. He had worked hard to get a seat at that table. All of the Lords who were anyone were there and with the Summer King absent it was the highest honor available at this ball. So much power and influence in one spot the opportunity to make contacts was beyond value. And now banished like a serving boy to clean up his sisters mess. His inner anger boiled to his face and more than one of the lesser nobility flinched as they got out of his way.
The crowd finally parted and he found himself standing over his sister’s maid. He tried to remember her name. Amanda or Alicia or something like that; it didn’t matter. He raised his hand to strike her for the impudence of interrupting such a momentous occasion…
“Strike her and die”
Spinning, he turned to the mercenary who had spoken.
“You threaten me? Dog tonight I will have you in chains. Guards! Remove this man!”
Immediately, at least ten palace guards surrounded the mercenary their weapons drawn. The sergeant at arms spoke up: “Surrender your weapon and come with us or draw it and we’ll take your dead body.”
The tattooed behemoth simply shrugged. Drawing his stone blade he planted it in front of him. Two calloused hands rested on its pommel. The Earl felt the air cool noticeably.
“STOP” A third voice halted the guards a second before they reacted to the drawn blade. The Earl saw a mercenary officer emerge from the crowd.
“My Lord,” the officer started, “please call off your men. I will take my soldier and we will withdraw. I will pay any rudeness fine that must be addressed.”
The Earl sneered, the temerity of the man. Bargaining with him? As if he was a minor noble who had been bumped in the market place. “This is beyond rudeness. This fool has threatened my life and shall be punished for it.”
A smile flashed across his face as he saw the captain blanch. It didn’t stay long.
“My Lord,” the Captain , “if your men attack they will all die, and more than likely most of us will as well. My soldier Sky there is an elemental Grandmaster. If he can hold of the might of the Imperial Mage Corp do you really want him to unleash his strength here and now? Please just let me take him and go. I will send a currier after we are gone to discuss settlement and make amends for this affront. I beseech you do not allow his uncivilized behavior to further ruin your evening.”
A cold tremor of fear crept through the Earl. This man? A mage? That mage? Taking another look at the large man confronting his guards he shook his head. This couldn’t be. He scanned the crowd for his own mage Krem. He needed some sort of verification.
He found it. There in the back of the room was Krem, staring white faced at the barbarian; flame magic and fear in his eyes; backing towards the exit. The Earl’s fear intensified mixing with embarrassment and anger. He turned back to the captain.
“Go. Take your rabble and go. But I swear you will recompense me for this.”
The captain sighed with relief, he really had thought for a moment there that this Earl would have ordered the attack and killed them all. Turning to Sky he gestured, “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
Sky returned his weapon to his back, strode past the Earl and his guards, and swept up the unmoving servant woman. He then quickly followed his captain out.
As soon as they were out of the room the captain turned to the Sergeant who had summoned him. “Rodriguez grab the men. All of them. I want everyone back at camp within the hour. Things are going to get real ugly soon.”
(Posted in March 2010) http://twoandahalforcs.blogspot.com/2010/03/paymentcontinued.html
As soon as they were out of the building a squadron of guards fell in around them and marched them down streets to a wagon. The giant of man carried her effortlessly as if she only weighed as much as a feather pillow. Once in the wagon they sat in troubled silence on a hurried bumpy ride towards the outskirts of town. She stared at the large man across from her. The runes on his skin moved it seemed; like they danced in responses to her thoughts. Winter roared. Storms crackled. Lightning in the snow. Ice shattering from the skies. It was like deep of winter encasing every thought. Suddenly she couldn’t stop shivering even though her skin wasn’t cold.
Upon reaching a camp of tents the authoritative man who had ushered them out of the palace leaned out and snapped orders at some soldiers standing around. Suddenly shouts filled the air and the camp exploded with movement.
“Take her to the map room. I’ll be there in just a moment.”
Icy arms lifted her shaking form out of the wagon and carried her into one of the larger tents.
“Bethany Marie Sarahsdaughter, I do not have a chair. I apologize but you must stand.”
Wearily she stood. How had simple words upset her so badly that she couldn’t even think clearly. Where was she? In a panic she was pinned by the thought of the Duchesses anger over her absence. The giant caught the look on her face and laughed. A booming preposterous laughter that seemed to rattle the tent poles.
“They cannot touch you. They dare not touch you. By now even if I were to fall the returned gift has found seed ground in you. Your soul flowers a new you, daughter of the life bringer. Our kind does not forget and you will live as long as us. Mine are not weak and you will be our equal. As we owe you everything we will give you everything.”
“And what good would that do her?” A wry voice interrupted the lecture from the Giant. “Have you ever seen a child who was given everything? Or an adult? Too much of a gift is just as poisonous as none at all.”
Turning to her he continued: “Well now, your clothes say you are a high house’s servant. And despite your feverous demeanor you have remarkably kept your composure. And for some reason this oaf of a mage thinks you are God’s gift to frozen oafs everywhere, and is willing to kill over it. So, Milady gift…..Who are you?”
“She is t-“
“Shut up Sky. I asked her and based on how you are acting it is hers to answer. Who are you?”
She stood there. In the center of the plain, neat field tent staring at the floor. Her mind lost in a past that was lost to her. Memories of forgotten fjords, and shattered frozen forests rippled in her eyes. The room felt like it was ice but sweat rolled down her face. She blinked and tried to remember who she was addressing.
The weird giant, Sky, was a complete anomaly and any time she looked at him she kept getting glimpses of huge reptilian faces and icy fields. The other man however…. Suddenly her memory put his outfit and accent and attitude together.
Lightblade Yerrin they called him. The man who reached out and wielded a sun beam to defeat the Forest beasts to the south. The commander who pulled a blade out of a reflection in a mirror to defeat assassins in the Hall of Memories. Second only to the Summer King in renown. His troops had worked miracles and were willing to kill at the merest slight to this man. He was bizarrely young, a thin clean faced man with an intense gaze. A gaze that was focused on her, drilling into her soul like the blades he was known for.
“That is I was… I am Alice Noneson, Head Maid of the Lady Duchess D’Montain. I have served faithfully for nearly 20 summe----winters now.”
As she spoke her voice cracked oddly with the effort of speaking. It was like two people warred inside her. Alice the serving maid clung to a world was flickering like a dying fire while Bethany woke up from a lifetime of sleep. Her bones ached and her head felt like it would burst.
“And that’s all? No ages old magical cabal connections? No secret power behind the thrown? Just a middle aged woman slipping in the mud in front of a tidal wave?” His voice slightly disbelieving, the Captain raised an eyebrow at Sky. “Are you sure you got the right one?”
Somewhere deep, deep inside bright blue eyes flared and snarled. Even the Alice part of her soul snarled. She wasn’t just some village nobody. Winter served her breath, blizzards echoed her wrath. She had worked hard to get to her post and was known in every major house. The wolves howled at her approach, bears hid in their dens. How dare this, man, this mercenary captain speak of her in this manner. She controlled more of the cities actions in a day than he dreamed about in a year with his petty little tents. She commanded storms from mountains so cold they would----- Wait…what?
Anger pure and deep spun startled with no where to go. Frustration built in her like a volcano. A chanting echo whispered in her ears and runes danced in her eyes.
“SHUT UP!” Her shout exploded at the sky. The tent tore open and snow, snow in the middle of summer drifted in huge flurries around the three of them. All around the camp froze in surprise. Her fists worked angrily and suddenly her mind was awake again.
“Captain Lightblade, you sit there now and shut your mouth. I did not ask for this damn fool to come throw my world upside down and ruin my relationship with my Lady and her house. I did not ask for you to come kidnap me outside of my city and away from my staff. I did not ask for him to infect me with this … this whatever it is. But I am not a little gel to be lectured by some young sapling who thinks he runs the world because he can kill a few bandits. I am not a pretty little skirt to go chasing off to fool camps and be ridiculed. I am winter’s—“
She shut her mouth hard cutting off the rest. I am Winter’s breath and Queen among Dragons, I am the Mother of Snow. The shaking intensified again and she realized that she was standing in nearly two feet of snow screaming at a rather smug Sky and an open mouthed Lightblade while a crowd of soldiers boggled from surrounding tents.
In a much shakier voice she trembled “what…is happening to me?”
The captain’s eyes softened and he closed the distance between them in a few, sure steps. Catching her before she could fall he answered.
“Let’s find out shall we?”
Then the feverish cold swept her back into oblivion.