Fantasy strong women characters sword and sorcery sword & sorcery

Bad Luck and Curses

By Jessie D. Eaker
Apr 13, 2020 · 6,476 words · 24 minutes


From the author: Does luck have to be either good or bad? Could it be something else...


Bad Luck and Curses

By

Jessie D. Eaker

            A twig snapped behind her. Jerking her dagger out of the loose soil, Geyth leaped to her feet and faced two approaching men. They were nearly upon her. Both wore rough and dirty clothing, and their hair was long and unkempt. She knew their kind well.

            The nearer flinched back a step and regarded her cautiously. She took comfort in that small motion—he had not counted on the dagger. But his hesitation did not last long. She saw his eyes flit from her well-made tunic, to the broken amulet around her neck, to the bracelet around her wrist. He grinned, revealing yellow, broken teeth.

            Yellow Teeth spoke, "Working the flowers, I see."

            The other man snickered and began to hit his thigh with a short club—a rhythmic slap, slap, slap. He stepped to one side, cutting her off from her horse grazing several paces away. Banishing her dagger, she pointed it from one man to the other, clutching it tightly, and feeling the grit and the sweat on her hand. She took a wary step backward, brushing against the bushes whose soil she had been tending. They were itha bushes—from her homeland.

            Geyth cursed her foolishness. She should have known better than to have taken off her travel cloak with the symbol of her trade. That protection lay draped over the saddle of her horse, facedown and unseen. The delight of smelling itha bushes—even finding them!—had overridden her usual caution. Surely, she had told herself, there would be no harm in stopping for a moment. The clump of bushes grew concealed in the center of a large forest clearing. She had located them by scent alone! What could possibly go wrong on such a fine day....

            Yellow Teeth calmly pulled a long knife from his belt. Geyth tried not to show her fear as she eyed its length. It was ugly in the manner of blades without even a proper handle. But it was well-honed—something a farmer might use to gut an animal. Yellow Teeth licked his lips and crept closer.

            "My lady," he said. "Put the dagger aside, and we will not harm you. Your silver is all we want—and we aim to take it one way or the other. Be easy on yourself."

            Geyth's dagger did not waver. The man's eyes whispered his true thoughts, and his greed was plainly great. But she would not give up her hard-earned silver without a fight.

            "Thief!" she called to him. "I am not a lady of wealth. Magic is my trade. Leave now, or I will curse you."

            Undaunted, Yellow Teeth shook his head. "Your amulet is broken, and you wear no symbols." He gestured towards her with his knife. "I think you lie."

            Geyth ground her teeth and glared at him. If she could reach the cloak on her horse and the symbol it bore, she could show them what she really was. Then they would flee, running and screaming. But for now another tact....

            She heaved a despairing sigh and dropped her arms in submission. She bowed her head.

            Yellow Teeth chuckled. "Wise choice, my lady...."

            Suddenly, Geyth feigned toward the man with the club, then switched and leaped between Yellow Teeth and the bushes. Her speed surprised them, and they reacted a moment too late. Yellow Teeth grabbed for her, but only caught the edge of her tunic. It ripped, leaving a piece in his hand and spinning her around. Surprisingly, she kept her balance and fled toward her horse. She looked back and saw Yellow Teeth running after her, close behind, knife held ready. She tried to force her legs faster.

            Unexpectedly, she felt a sharp pain in her left leg, and she stumbled. She landed hard, sliding to a stop on the short grass and knocking the wind from her chest. Yellow Teeth immediately slammed on top of her. Rough hands grabbed her, turned her to her back, and held her down. Yellow Teeth leaned over her, breathing hard, his stinking breath hot in her face. He smirked in victory.

            Geyth prayed—that for once in her miserable life—for something good to happen. Please Goddess Mother, haven't I been punished enough...!

            Unexpectedly, a battle cry rang out from the other side of the flowering bushes. Surprised, both men looked up to see a lone, unarmed figure leap from the hedge and charge towards them. Yellow Teeth grunted in frustration and sat up. He pointed towards the interloper, and the man with the club stepped over to meet the challenge. Yellow Teeth watched for his chance to approach from behind.

            Through a haze of pain and shock, Geyth stared at the approaching figure. At first, she couldn't make out anything except a blurry shadow against the bright sky. Was it the Goddess Mother herself come to save her? But Geyth knew better. She blinked and managed to make out a woman—silver-haired and in her middle years—but tall, with bare, well-muscled arms. The woman ran with incredible speed, and with the grace and agility of one accustomed to fighting.

            Geyth knew from experience that her sudden change in luck would not hold. With the men's attention diverted, she tried to stand, but toppled back to the ground with her left leg burning in pain. She found the calf covered in blood—a ragged gash from Yellow Teeth's knife. She tore a strip from her tunic and tried to staunch the flow. It did not want to stop. Unable to run, she kept a wary eye on the developing fight.

            The man with the club had positioned himself in the woman's line of approach. He stood waiting with his weapon raised to his shoulder. The woman never hesitated.

            When the woman came into reach, the man with the club swung at her head. But with uncanny speed, she ducked under the swing and drove a hard punch into his belly. The blow nearly lifted him off the ground, and the air went out of him with an audible whoosh. Gasping for breath, the club slipped from his fingers and he staggered. Twice more she punched, and the man toppled towards her. She staggered back under the man's weight. Yellow Teeth slipped behind her and raised his knife.

            "Behind you!" Geyth yelled.

            The woman wheeled, using the momentum of the collapsing man to throw him into Yellow Teeth... and onto the man's knife. Spitting in anger, Yellow Teeth jerked his blade free and dove for the woman. She caught his arm and the two grappled. Then, so fast Geyth could scarcely believe she saw it, the woman side-stepped, bringing Yellow Teeth's arm quickly down and under to impale him with his own blade. With a cry, he fell to the ground and did not get up.

            Feeling light-headed, Geyth watched nervously as the woman walked towards her. This woman could want her silver as much as the men. And with her leg, she could not flee.

            But the woman, breathing hard and covered with sweat, quickly knelt beside her and tore another piece from Geyth's tunic. She pushed aside Geyth's thick fingers and began to bandage the wound. "Goddess Mother, girl! This leg is bleeding like a palace fountain! It's going to need sewing." She leaned forward and placed a hand on Geyth's forehead. "And you're sweaty and pale. Feeling faint too, I'd wager."

            Geyth managed a weak nod. It felt as if her strength was pouring out of her. She felt so cold.

            The woman rose and walked slowly to the horse. She patted it reassuringly on the shoulder and moved the travel cloak which had been thrown across the saddle.... But she froze at the symbol it revealed.

            Geyth swallowed and waited for her to do as everyone did: make a warding sign, and then quietly slink away. No help to one such as you. But to Geyth's surprise and admiration, the woman only grunted and pushed the cloak aside.

            Geyth must have blacked-out for a moment because the horse was suddenly standing beside her, and the woman was bodily lifting her onto its back. Geyth gritted her teeth at the pain in her leg. The woman mounted behind her and held her in place.

            "Don't worry child," said the woman, covering Geyth with the travel cloak. "My old gardener's cottage is just beyond these bushes. We'll be there before you know it."

            The last thing Geyth saw before she faded from consciousness was the symbol on the travel cloak. It seemed to float before her: a snake, an eye, and the moon within a silver circle. She put it there herself, laboriously stitching the pattern into the black fabric. Many tears had gone into its making, and it symbolized not only her profession, but her own failure and disgrace. Bad luck and curses, it said. Sold for silver.

#

            Geyth awoke slowly, noticing first the warmth of the bed, then the brightness of the room, and finally, the faint smell of mustiness, mixed with spices and bread. At first, Geyth thought herself back in the temple city of Percillis—in the room she had shared with the dozen other priestesses in training. And that at any moment, old Sidra would come to wake them, take them to the tower for prayer, then later after a quick breakfast of cold bread, they would review their lessons while kneeling on their mats. It had been strict, but she had enjoyed the rigor.... Until they had expelled her.

            No, she scolded herself. You ran away. Couldn't stand to see another blessing turn sour and didn't dare go home in failure and disgrace. In their eyes, she would be worse than dirt. So with no other way to earn her next meal, she had turned to selling curses. I had no choice, she told herself. And I was very good at it.

            Opening her eyes, she found herself in a small cottage. Bright light streamed through two open windows on either side of a wooden door, and she lay on a straw pallet covered with a linen sheet. A fur lay over her. Excepting the pain in her leg, she hadn't been this comfortable in ages.

            The latch on the cottage door lifted, and the silver-haired woman entered. She smiled and her eyes seemed to twinkle. Geyth was frozen by her genuine warmth.

            "Awake, I see," the woman said. "And just in time for breakfast." She set a heavy basket on the room's only table.

            Geyth blinked in surprise. "Have I been out that long?" It had been afternoon when the men had attacked her. But gradually, wisps of memory floated by: being lifted off her horse, others looking at her, being given something to drink....

            The woman chuckled. "You've been out for two days, child." She began unpacking the basket. "The healer feared the wound would go bad and gave you a potion. I've had it myself, and it puts you right to sleep."

            The woman brought over a bowl of porridge and helped Geyth prop up on her pallet. Geyth tentatively took a first bite, unsure how her stomach would react. But it took it well and quickly demanded more. She looked up embarrassed to find that she had emptied the bowl.

            The woman had sat quietly on a stool while the young woman ate. "Don't be embarrassed," said the woman. "You've lost a lot of blood, and you need to eat...." She grinned. "I just wouldn't try to do it all at once." The woman reached for the empty bowl.

            Geyth handed it to her. She couldn't help noticing the ring the woman wore—a warrior's band of gold.

            "You have been so kind to me," said Geyth. "My lady, I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

            The woman snorted. "Just call me Myrrha. I've long since abandoned the idea of becoming a lady." She grinned. "And you owe me no thanks, I would do the same for anyone on my lands."

            Geyth's eyes widened. "Then this is not your house, you must have something... bigger."

            Myrrha chuckled. "Yes child, my keep is at the top of the hill. This cottage belonged to my gardener, who passed away during the winter. Lucky for you, I was cleaning it out when I heard the commotion. Although, I should give you a lashing for leaving the road. That was sheer foolishness girl."

            Geyth blushed. "I smelled the itha blossoms from the road. And I... I needed to find them."

            Understanding dawned on Myrrha's face. "Then you're from the southern lands?"

            Geyth bowed her head. "Yes, my... uh... Myrrha. My name is Geyth, and I come from Bechure." Myrrha was obviously ready to hear more, but Geyth thought it best to say no more. She could never go back anyway.

            Myrrha nodded, finally understanding. She stood. "Well Geyth, you are welcome to stay here until you mend. I brought enough supplies to last you through the day. The healer will be by to see you later. Be warned that he may want to put another potion in you. And don't worry about your horse. He's being cared for at my stables."

            Geyth bowed her head. "You are doing too much."

            Myrrha smiled. "Not really. I owe you something for weeding those damn itha bushes. They certainly needed it, and if I'd touched them, they would have shriveled up and died."

            Geyth couldn't help but smile in return.

            Myrrha continued. "I have some business back at the keep, but I will return before night to check on you." She took a step towards the door, but stopped and looked back. "I took the liberty of hanging your cloak outside. No one will bother you with that visible, although I suspect it will draw those wanting your services." She frowned and Geyth suddenly felt the world frown with her. "I would appreciate it if you did not practice your craft while you are here. I feel bad enough that I had to put you up here, but if I had put you in the keep, I fear my servants would have run off. I hope this doesn't offend you."

            Geyth bowed her head. "Not at all. I am surprised you even let me stay on your lands. Most fear the bad luck I can bring."

            Myrrha smiled, the twinkle returning to her eyes. "As for myself, I do not believe in bad luck. There are only opportunities. You can always turn something bad into something good, if you look at it the right way." And with that, she walked out the door.

            Geyth frowned after her in disbelief. Not believe in bad luck! How could she possibly say that? Bad luck was all Geyth had ever known, even before she had tried to become a priestess to the Goddess Mother. Wasn't the death of her mother when she was seven seasons bad luck? Wasn't the cruelty of her father's new bride bad luck? Wasn't her own rape by a passing soldier bad luck? Geyth shook her head. Myrrha was certainly kind, but she knew nothing of bad luck.

            Geyth sat up looking for the chamber pot, and wincing at the pain in her leg as she slowly stood. It did not feel as bad as she had expected. In only a hand's worth of days, she would be able to travel again. The young woman frowned. Not that she was all that anxious to move on. Living on the road was hard: sleeping on the ground, eating meals prepared over an open fire, travelling alone.... Always alone. Even when she visited a village, they would not talk to her—just spit as she walked by. They visited her only to make a request: curse this man for cheating me, bring bad luck on that woman for refusing me. To all, she said yes. But she never stayed long enough to see the fruits of her work. She had no lack of confidence in her powers.

            Geyth went to the open windows and inhaled the gentle spring breeze. It was so pleasant here, and her favorite flowers were only paces away. Geyth decided she would stay in the cottage as long as she could—maybe even stretch it out a little. Geyth grinned. Maybe she would even tend the itha bushes again. That was the one thing she took pleasure in—taking care of flowers and plants. They did not trouble her like people did—nor desire bad for those that ill treated them.

#

            The evening of the fifth day at the cottage found Geyth brushing her long hair in preparation for bed. It was a habit she had practiced since childhood and one she had doggedly stuck to while on the road. Although at times it had been pointless, she usually enjoyed it. And this evening was no exception. She hummed to herself a melody from her childhood.

            Suddenly, she froze. Outside she heard hoofs approaching. She held her breath. They drew up outside, and a heartbeat later, someone banged loudly on the door.

            "Who is it?" she called.

            "One seeking your services," answered a man's voice from the other side. It was deep and commanded respect, as one used to giving commands.

            She groaned inwardly. So soon? I had hoped to stay just a little longer.

            "Go away," she called back. "Lady Myrrha has forbidden me to practice on her land." She stared at the brush in her lap.

            "I have silver," the voice answered. "I will pay you well. No one will know but you and I."

            She hesitated. "Go away."

            She heard boots shuffle on the stones before the door. "I will pay you quite well. Even in gold...."

            Geyth looked up in surprise. Most were willing to pay well for a curse, but not too well. And never in gold. She licked her lips. With gold, she could buy a cottage just like this. Maybe even a small farm—and give up her life on the road. She opened the door.

            A tall man strode into the room—broad-shouldered and bearded in the fashion of the northern men—he had to duck to enter. The cottage suddenly seemed tiny in his presence. Geyth thought he would have been handsome if his mouth had not been fixed with a permanent sneer. Without hesitation, he sat down on a stool and placed his elbows on the table. She sat on the other side and waited for him to speak.

            "I need you to curse someone for me," he finally said. "I want them severely crippled, but not killed. Can you do this?"

            Geyth nodded. "I can."

            The man leaned forward and grinned. "And can you do it tonight?"

            Geyth sighed and glanced down at the brush she still held. "If you can get me a personal item—like a lock of hair or a favorite piece of clothing...."

            The man reached into his belt pouch and pulled out a tiny bundle wrapped in a piece of linen. He tossed it on the table along with three pieces of gold. Geyth licked her lips and tried to keep her eyes from the coins. Her hand trembled as it took the bundle. Inside was a lock of white hair.

            "Who is it you want cursed?" she asked.

            The man clenched his fists. The blood left his knuckles. "Do you need to know?"

            Geyth suddenly understood that this man was very dangerous. All her clients were a threat to one extent or another. But this man—the slitted eyes, the tensed shoulders, the cocked jaw—all indicated he was more than dangerous. He was deadly.

            "No," she stammered. "I do not need the person's name. The hair will do."

            He nodded once and stood. "Then unless you require my presence, I will be leaving." He strode to the door and opened it, but paused at the threshold and turned. "Do not think to cheat me. If the person is untouched, I will seek you out and kill you. Even if you run." He walked out into the night.

            Geyth began to wonder if she had just made a mistake.

#

            The next morning, Geyth went out to work the flowers. But they brought no enjoyment. The cursing had been easy, no magical backlash as sometimes occurred. But she couldn't shake the feeling of uneasiness... and guilt. Not for the curse itself, but for the betrayal of Myrrha's trust. She felt dirty and used. It was time to move on.

            At noon, a messenger from Myrrha arrived asking her to come to the keep. No explanation was given. She was to be 'consulted' was all he would say. Geyth decided she would take this opportunity to tell Myrrha she was leaving. She owed her host at least that much courtesy.

            Deciding not to pull on the cloak of her office, she went with the messenger. At mid-afternoon, she entered the keep—a large stone tower surrounded by high walls. The messenger got them quick passage inside, and she was taken up several flights of stairs. Finally, they stopped before a thick wooden door guarded by a man in light armor. He examined her critically before allowing her to pass.

            They entered into a bed chamber. Myrrha lay face up on a fur-covered couch. She appeared to be asleep. Around her stood several servants and men she recognized as Myrrha's commanders. Expressions of concern were on every face. What is wrong?

            One of the men snarled at her. "Whore! How could you...."

            "Now, Kerrard," said Myrrha calmly from her bed, startling Geyth. "We don't know that yet."

            Geyth felt her stomach tighten. "What happened?"

            "You don't know?" asked Myrrha.

            Geyth shook her head. But she was beginning to suspect. She looked from the men and back to Myrrha. "What is wrong?"

            One of the servants answered, "My lady fell down a flight of stairs this morn. She took some nasty bumps to her head. Now, she can't move, nor can she see. The healer says she has broken something inside and will be like that till she dies."

            Geyth's hand flew to her mouth. I need you to curse someone for me, the man had said. I want them crippled.... It had been Myrrha's hair the man had brought—the only one in this whole northern country that had shown her any kindness. And she had cursed her! A ragged sob escaped her.

            The man Kerrard watched her closely. "She's shaking her head," he said for Myrrha's benefit. "And she appears confused and shocked. Your accident seems to have taken her by surprise."

            Myrrha smiled sadly. "I'm afraid gentlemen, that you are going to have to admit that this just happened, and a curse had nothing to do with it. Besides, Geyth gave me her word."

            Geyth swallowed and fought back tears. It felt like someone was squeezing her heart. She stared in horror at the prone figure. Blind and crippled. Geyth had done her job very well.

            "Bad luck," whispered one of the servants. "Just bad luck."

            Myrrha chuckled. "No, old friend. It was not bad luck, only my own clumsiness. You've been telling me to watch myself on those steps since I came here." She shook her head. "No, this is an opportunity. I just need to find the good that will come of it." She grinned. "Although I admit, it might take me a while to figure this one out."

            Just then a tall man, broad shouldered—bearded in the fashion of the northern men—strode into the room. He paused at the threshold and surveyed those inside. Geyth bit her lip. It's him! It was the man who had come to her last night. What is he doing here?

            The man coolly noted Geyth's presence, but said nothing. He immediately went to Myrrha, knelt beside her, and took her hand. He pressed it reverently to his lips. "My lady, it is I, Leighton. I came as soon as I heard."

            "That was kind of you," said Myrrha, a note of irritation in her voice. "I expected you would."

            "How could such a thing happen?" he demanded.

            Myrrha smiled. "That is exactly what we were trying to discover. My captain here thought this woman might have put a curse on me. But she is apparently as shocked as the rest."

            Leighton looked over his shoulder at Geyth. He shook his head. "I believe her. It would not make sense for her to hurt you. What could she gain by it?" He sighed. "But never fear. I will make sure all is well. I will personally see that no further harm comes to you."

            "That is kind of you," said Myrrha. "But I am still perfectly able to command my people...."

            Leighton shook his head. "No, I insist." He glanced at Geyth, and for just a moment, she caught that flash of dangerousness in his eyes. It was a clear warning.

            "And maybe later," he continued. "We can discuss my proposal. I know you've turned me down many times, but the offer is still open. Even confined to a couch, you would be the best wife a man could want. Just give me the word, and I will arrange it." Myrrha stiffened as Leighton patted her hand. "Think about it. It could be advantageous to us both. Joining our lands would make us both powerful...."

            "No, Leighton." Myrrha shook her head. "It might be advantageous for you, since you would have complete control, but it would not benefit my lands or my servants. Besides, your many creditors might confuse my property with yours."

            Leighton bowed his head. "As you wish."

            But Geyth could see the issue was far from over.

#

            Geyth sat at the small table in her cottage. The sun had long since gone down, and only a tiny lamp, resting in the center of the table, illuminated the room. She kept touching the three gold coins spread on the table before her. Combined with her meager savings, it would be enough to purchase a small cottage. Nothing fancy of course, but it would be enough.

            She turned the coins over and examined their other side. She should be happy. But thoughts of poor Myrrha, unable to see and unable to move, kept intruding. She turned the coins over again—searching. Searching for the blood that should be on them. Blood for the evil she had done.

            Not since the early days had she seen the results of her curses—she was usually well away the next morning. She had pushed from her mind just how devastating they could be. You do not believe in goodness. That was what the old priestess had told her before she left Percillis. You have to believe in good, before good will happen. Her first attempt at a blessing had proven this well.

            Still an apprentice, they had decided to allow her to bless the novice guardswomen after they took their oath of allegiance to the Goddess Mother. Nothing difficult, just a general wish for good luck and well-being. But as she had gazed upon their upturned faces, all she saw was strong women with weapons—weapons just like the one the soldier had held to her throat while he had raped her. And her blessing had turned sour. If the head priestess had not intervened, they would have all died.

            Suddenly, there was a loud pounding on her door. It rattled the whole cottage. Geyth reached for the dagger at her belt.

            "Open the door!" a man's voice commanded. It was Leighton.

            "Go away!" she shouted. "I won't be tricked again."

            The door shook violently. "Let me in or I will chop this door down. I have no time for your remorse."

            She thought of the man, his broad shoulders, his long sword, and knew that she stood little chance against him. And the door, only meant to keep the wind out, would hold only a short time.

            She lifted the latch, and he strode into the room. He wasted no time on formalities. He tossed another small linen pouch onto the table. "I need another curse. This time, I want her dead."

            Geyth swallowed hard and tried to muster her courage, but found little to support her. "I... I will not do it. You tricked me into it last time. You used me to force Myrrha into marrying you...."

            Leighton grabbed her by the front of her gown and lifted her bodily until her face nearly touched his. "Don't whine to me about your wounded morality. You've given no thought to the harm you've already caused others. Now do it, or I will kill you!" He released her roughly.

            She staggered back. With her eyes frozen on the man before her, she groped for the pouch. Something heavy was inside. She opened it and found a gold ring with tiny symbols inlaid into its band: the lion for valor, the hammer for strength, the hawk for faithfulness. Geyth slipped the ring on her finger. Those symbols were not awarded lightly. And to think that Myrrha had earned each of them. She must be truly an exceptional person. Geyth turned the ring with her thumb. Myrrha was also the one person who had accepted her as she really was. The one person who had shown her kindness. Geyth grit her teeth, a deep-seated anger beginning to burn. This man had tricked her—used her. Just like all the others. Yes, she had brought harm to many, but she didn't have to continue. She could stop. Could stop at any time. She was in control of her fate. She could do something right!

            "NO!" she screamed. "I will not do it!" She flung herself at him and raked his face with her nails.

            On reflex, he backhanded her. She landed against the table, knocking it over and sprawling on the floor beside it.

            "Damn you, woman." He dabbed at the flow and glanced at the blood on his fingers. His eyes narrowed. He leaned over, jerked her up, and punched her hard in the face. Her head snapped back with its force, and pain exploded in her head. She immediately collapsed unconscious.

#

            Geyth awoke as she was roughly tossed onto a low couch. Groaning from the agony in her skull, she slowly opened her eyes and found Leighton's sneering face hovering over her. She tried to scream and squirm away, but she had been gagged, and her hands and legs were bound.

            And she realized she was not alone on the couch.

            "I want to make sure we are not interrupted," said Leighton. "You two be still, and I promise your deaths will be quick." He stepped to the door, peered out cautiously, and quietly left the room. The door latch slipped softly into place.

            "Geyth? Is that you lying beside me?" asked a familiar voice. It was Myrrha.

            Geyth fought with the gag, and managed to grunt assent.

            "I thought so," Myrrha answered. "I was pretty sure you would join me tonight, once I understood what Leighton was doing—trying to force me into marrying him by making me a cripple." She signed. "And you were his chosen tool."

            Geyth fought tears. "I'm sorry," she tried to say.

            Myrrha nodded slowly. "Do not fret, child. I forgive you. No doubt Leighton tricked or threatened you. Even I did not realize how low he would stoop to get control of my lands. And I realized it a little too late." Myrrha licked her dry lips. "Since I would not marry him, he has chosen another way. You see, among my people if one dies without an heir—and I do not have one—then their lands can be given to anyone who attempted to save their life. When he's finished, it will look like you murdered me, and he caught you, no doubt claiming he had to kill you as you tried to escape." She took a deep breath. "Now, we have to get you out of here before Leighton returns. I take it you are bound hand and foot?"

            "Yes," was her muffled reply.

            "Quickly then, you must get to your feet and feel along the wall at the head of the couch. The third stone, waist-high, on your side is loose. Behind it is a dagger. Use it to cut your ropes. But hurry, Leighton will be back in only moments."

            Geyth squirmed and fought to sit up. She carefully stood, and managed to back up to the area Myrrha described. By touch alone, she found the loose stone, pulled it out, and grabbed the dagger. She cut her hand on its well-honed blade. It only took a few swipes to free her. "I did it!"

            Myrrha chuckled. "Good! Now, you must get help. It may take a little bit to find someone—I believe Leighton cleared all my servants from the building."

            Geyth looked longingly at the door, but turned back to Myrrha. "How can I get you out, too? Leighton could kill you before I get back."

            Myrrha nodded. "True. But you would have to carry me out, and I do not think you can. No, you must leave me behind and get away quickly so you can prove your innocence."

            Geyth looked at the dagger in her hand. "I cannot leave you."

            "You must!" Myrrha sighed. "With luck, they will catch Leighton in the act. And if I do die, my death could actually be a good thing. At least this way, I will not have to live out the rest of my days in this crippled body. And I will die for a friend. In the short term this may seem bad, but in the long run, things will work out. Of that I have no doubt. Even your curses will eventually bring good."

            Geyth blinked back tears. Before her, unable to move, lay a truly good woman. Even in the face of death, she saw the good in what was to come. If only, she could see that herself... believe in it. She felt something warm in her hand. She still wore Myrrha's ring! Could it be? She shook her head in denial. But at the same time couldn't help herself. Myrrha was a good woman, and Geyth honestly wished her the best the Goddess Mother would allow. Wished her life, health, and happiness. She repeated the litany over and over. Her hand grew warmer and she felt the building of magic—but of a kind she had never known. It felt different. It felt right.

            The door suddenly opened and Leighton entered. Myrrha groaned unexpectedly, and Geyth's breath caught in her throat. He drew his dagger and stepped nearer. "Ah... I see you are waiting for me. And thank you for cutting your ropes—it will make my story all the more believable."

            Positioning herself between Myrrha and Leighton, Geyth brandished her dagger. "I will not let you harm her!"

            Leighton laughed and took a step nearer. In a lightning blow, he knocked the dagger from her hand and shoved her backward. She sprawled across Myrrha's chest. Leighton grabbed Geyth by the throat and raised his blade.

            "Myrrha," spat Leighton. "See what you have done by not accepting my offer. I may not have made you happy…" He grinned. "But at least you and your friend wouldn't be dead."

            With a powerful downstroke, he plunged the dagger toward Geyth's chest. Geyth couldn't tear her eyes away from the descending blade. Oh, Goddess Mother, please no!         

            Suddenly, an arm shot up from behind her catching Leighton's wrist and stopping the dagger's descent. Geyth's eyes grew wide in disbelief.

            It was Myrrha's arm.

            "This is not possible," Leighton gasped.       

            Myrrha laughed. "It is when a priestess blesses you!" Still holding Geyth, Leighton tried to free his hand. But Myrrha doggedly held to it, forcing him to release Geyth to better deal with the experienced fighter. He quickly moved to grip Myrrha's throat.

            This diversion was all Myrrha needed. As Geyth rolled out of the way, Myrrha grabbed his shirt and yanked him to one side. Thrown off-balance, he went to one knee beside the couch. In a blur of motion, Myrrha leaped to her feet and turned to confront him. Leighton roared in anger and lunged for her, but Myrrha again caught his descending hand and the two grappled. Then, as she had done with the thief, Myrrha side-stepped and brought Leighton's arm quickly down and under to impale him with his own blade. With a cry, he slumped to the floor and did not get up.

            Geyth immediately dropped to her knees before Myrrha. "Once again, you saved my life. I am in your debt."

            Myrrha took the young woman's hand and pulled her up. "Actually, I think we are about even. You showed Leighton for what he really was. For that, I am in your debt."

            "But I placed a powerful curse on you."

            Myrrha grinned. "And removed it with your blessing."

            "But I cannot.... I don't have...."

            Myrrha nodded. "Oh yes you do, priestess of the Goddess Mother."

            Geyth stared at her in disbelief, but also realized that Myrrha spoke the truth. She had given a true blessing. She had found some goodness. Geyth slowly nodded. "Maybe you are right. But I am not worthy to be a priestess. Not yet. First, I have to atone for the wrong I have done. If I make it that far."

            Myrrha slapped her on the back. "Well, you will always be welcome here. I know the itha bushes would be glad to have you back." She leaned closer. "In fact, you may want to bless them before you leave. They need all the luck they can get if I'm tending them."

            They both laughed.

This story originally appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword and Sorceress 11.


Data?1586667507
Jessie D. Eaker

Jessie writes what he loves—fantasy, science fiction, and strong women characters.