-This exceedingly strange epic cross-over has been floating in the back of my mind, begging to be written, for close to three years. Why? Something about the interaction just sparks my curiosity, and makes me squee.
-The main character is a particularly religious one, and when it's his point of view, there's going to be a lot of deity references and possible preachiness. I'm not trying to convert people, just writing the character.
-The usual patter: I'm not making any money off this, don't sue, only doing it because I adore the works, etc.
Part I: Collision
Chapter 1: Lost and Found
These woods were always beautiful in the autumn. Stands of birch and oak shed their leaves thickly over the smaller brush, which left the forest above and below with a yellow gilt that shone brighter than any gold coin. The stallion's hooves made muffled thumps on the dry earth, disturbing the patterns of leaves as they lay on the road. The simple silence and beauty of this place tempted him to stop and pray, but he had many leagues yet to travel and the afternoon was waning. Bevier winced at the intrusive clanking of his armor and the creaking of the saddle, wishing briefly that he could ride light and bareback as he once had as a boy. The sheer weight and fuss of the armor he bore precluded the temptation, unfortunately, so he had to content himself with removing his helmet.
No matter, I can appreciate this perfect example of God's love for the world as I travel through it, the knight told himself firmly. He was in God's service, and it would behoove him to remember that he needed armor for a reason. Even in such a peaceful area as Lindlair, it was prudent to be cautious of bandits and ne'er-do-wells - though they would be foolish indeed to try the patience of a Church Knight.
He had continued along the trail for a good league when, as if summoned by his earlier doubts, there was a flash in the corner of his eye. Bevier wheeled the stallion, instinctively reaching out to catch – nothing. Blinking in surprise, he examined his traitorously empty hand. Perhaps he had imagined… but no, there was a wisp of thread or hair caught in his gauntlet. He surveyed the empty forest in surprise, observing the lack of hiding places and general silence. After a second of perplexed searching, he reached down to reaffirm that his panniers were full, and the unpleasant shock of their absence made him scowl more deeply. Stolen.
He brought his gauntlet closer to his face. It was a blue strand, nearly three feet in length. Stumped, he sat for a minute on his oddly restless stallion, surveying the underbrush. The chances of a piece of rare blue cloth that big belonging to a common thief were slim at best, and hair simply didn't come in that color. For that matter, getting a three foot long unbroken thread from a flailing grasp of cloth was pushing the limits of credulity, unless the cloth was ridiculously frayed. Ah, he thought with a sudden certainty, that would fit. A thief with a stolen bolt of cloth would probably wear it to disgraceful levels of disrepair, and no matter how they obtained it.
The idea that a thief snuck so close to him without being seen or heard was not unlikely; he had not been paying close attention, and had he not just thought to himself that his armor was clanking obnoxiously? Yet the skill of this thief in eluding his grasp and hiding afterwards bordered on the eerie. The forest was not so thick that a person wearing a blue cloak would be able to hide easily in such a short time.
"I will return," he announced in a tone that had been trained to carry over the din of battle. "And punishment will rain down on those who tempt God's wrath!" He paused to listen, then added in a lower, hardened voice, "…incarnated in me." Bevier wheeled the stallion once more around the clearing for a last look, and trotted away down the trail.
High above him in the trees, a slight figure burdened down with leather saddlebags smiled smugly, and leapt away.
The inn, as he had remembered, was less than an hour away. The beauty of the forest was lost on him as he finished the last several miles in a brisk canter, determined to head back and deal with the thief that evening. The inn's courtyard was mostly empty as he entered, but a stable boy raced out as he dismounted and claimed the stallion for the stables. "Keep him warm," Bevier said over his shoulder, "I'll not be long."
The interior of the inn was dark, and as his eyes adjusted Bevier noticed with some dismay that it was also rather in disrepair. A few of the locals still seemed to frequent the place, however, and the serving maid was bustling between scattered tables. The noise level dropped considerably as he caught the people's attention, then resumed in a subdued buzz. Ignoring this reaction, he hailed the bartender.
"What kin I help you with, good Sir Knight?" the man offered nervously. His apron was yellow with grease and beer, but he started pulling a draft before the knight even voiced his thirst.
"Information, if you would be so kind," Bevier said politely, then took a mouthful of mellow ale. "I was accosted on my way here, and I was wond-"
"Surely not!" the man interrupted in astonishment. At the knight's flat stare, he stammered an apology, then went on, "I never- well, wit' you being a Church Knight and all, I wouldn'ta thought they'd dare! Matter of fact, I was just thinking your lordship might help us wit' 'em."
"Ah. I take it this has been an ongoing problem, then?"
"Oh, aye," groused the man. "Bin keeping business away, they have."
Bevier eyed the serving room doubtfully, but continued, "How many attacks have been reported?"
The man looked blank for a second, then screwed up his broad face in thought. The resulting expression looked rather painful. "Ooh, I'd say twice or thrice a week, for the last two months, like. Well, they was here before that, but didn't come out quite so much."
The knight was somewhat startled. Generally bandits weren't known for such regularity. "It is a large group, needing a lot of supplies? Has anyone got a good look?"
The barman laughed uneasily, and grabbed his mug to refill it. "See, Sir Knight," he hesitated until the foam hit the top of the rim, "That's why we've been hoping for a churchly intervention such as yerrself." Bevier looked at him sharply. "We knew the leader was ol' Yorie's bastard, and the rest of the roughs, three or four of them, were normal enough scum. Hold you up, demand your cash, the usual. Then when they started to hit harder, folks started saying they was, uh…" After scanning the room, the barman leaned in close and whispered nervously, "They was using dark magic, M'Lord."
Bevier's initial urge to go charging off into the forest was sternly repressed. More often than not, such rumors were born of ignorance and could not be taken too seriously, like tales of Styrics eating Elene babies. The uneasy memories of the afternoon danced mockingly in front of his mind, however. He responded evenly, "And why are they saying that, exactly?"
"They're too quiet and too tricksy, mostly," the man explained in a low tone. "Sometimes people don't even know they been robbed 'til they get here, or even to town. And sometimes the scum stick to the old ways, and confront people outright, but later they that's been robbed realize that more has been taken that they'd handed over to them." The man mopped his forehead, dripping as if he himself was standing in peril of supernatural thievery. "So folks figure they've got to have a demon or the like lifting the goods, because no human could do it so quiet and fast, My Lord."
Bevier only grunted acknowledgement; he knew certain people who could strip a carriage far faster than these simple people could dream, but that revelation would be an upsetting association for a Cyrinic Church Knight. A Hand of God is not supposed to associate with common thieves, except possibly in the abrupt repentance of previous sins. He considered briefly as he finished his beer, judging his strength and mission, and adding the length of time to the nearest chapterhouse to the chance of further robberies and murders-
His thoughts halted abruptly at the last, and he asked sharply, "Has there been any deaths, or… other violence?"
"Well, not recently, praise God." The barkeep sounded somewhat torn between appreciating their good fortune and being bored by the lack of gossip. "Last one who resisted got sliced open, but that was near five weeks ago."
"They have committed murder, though?" Bevier's eyes were unsettlingly bright to the other man, and there was a strange curl to his smile. "My job just got a little easier, good barkeep."
It was really very disappointing.
The last light of the day was shining through the trees when Bevier found them, and the roughs scattered as he burst into the clearing, throwing gooey plates of food and jugs in every direction in a mad scramble for weapons. A single beheading of the nearest criminal – and a good look at the armor-clad, Lochaber-bearing Church Knight - made them all drop to their knees and plead for mercy. It made for a woefully short fight, though, and Bevier was feeling unsatisfied.
He removed their weapons and trussed them up in a line to follow him back to town to face their eventual hanging, praying in a loud and pointed manner (though of course perfectly sincere, for this was Sir Bevier, after all) for God to have mercy on them if anything forbidden was revealed during the trial. The four men looked a bit uneasy at this, but not particularly guilty, which Bevier found terribly interesting. After securing them to the saddle, he knelt by the headless body for a moment. "God will judge your soul, for any sins you have committed against His sight, for He is just, and He is wise; may He also be forgiving." He was silent for a moment longer, finishing mentally, May He also forgive me for presuming to pass judgment; all I do is in His name. "Amen."
Feeling better, he turned and looked at the campsite. It was, typically, filthy and not particularly well-planned. His nose informed him that the latrine and garbage pit were far too close to camp. Several crude tents sheltered nests of furs, and bits of food, wine, weapons and treasures were strewn across the forest carpet, probably in some part from his dramatic entrance. There was no obvious sign of dark magics, however, nor was there anything resembling blue cloth. The treasures seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary, but he kept a keen eye on the thieves for reactions as he poked through the detritus.
The heaviest thief snarled as he neared the northern end, alerting Bevier. A jade pendant and a small pearl-inlaid box, truly rare on this part of the continent, were shoved under the crook of a tree root. He fished them out and looked at them carefully. The pendant seemed ordinary, if expensive, but the designs on the box were foreign to him – a significant claim for a man who, in recent years, had traveled the breadth of the known world. Mightily curious now, he tucked the items in his tunic for safe-keeping and returned to his stallion.
The thief who had reacted before glared at him through lank hair, but one was panicky and the other two had a dull, hopeless look in their eyes. Getting ever more intrigued, Bevier grinned at them. "Why do I get the feeling that this box will add some spice to the upcoming events, my brothers?"
"We're not your brothers," spat the angry one.
"We are all brothers under the holy sight of the one true God," Bevier informed him serenely. "In any case my method of appellation is least among the things you should be concerning yourself with. What you should be worried about, and I mean this sincerely, is the rumors that have been spreading about your unique abilities."
"It's not us," blurted the panicky one, a smaller man with slightly less ragged clothes. "We don't have nothing to do with that!"
"Shut up, you moron, he'll not believe you."
Bevier mounted during the ensuing cussing session, and led them back to the road.
"We got to say something, or they'll give us to the Church inquisitors!"
"You think they won't anyway? Save something to give them later, idiot."
Uncomfortable as this last comment made Bevier, he was more intrigued by the clear indications that these men were no more magical than a barrel of flour. Interrupting the muttered argument, he said to them in a conversational tone, "I'm intrigued by this box, I think. I doubt that any of you would have the skill necessary to use it, nor conjure it, which means you are probably in over your heads, dealing with a force you can't understand or control." The silence behind him was answer enough. He continued over the muffled clopping of his horse's hooves. "What makes me very curious is how you've managed to survive this long, and what it is exactly that you've set loose."
More silence, deeper this time, with no shuffling footsteps behind him. Frowning, he turned and gaped in astonishment, looking at the equally wide-eyed brigands - ten strides away and arms unbound, fetters fallen to the forest floor. The severed tether hung limply from Bevier's saddle. At the first movement he spurred his mount instinctively, prepared to race after them – but was immediately forced to cut sideways to keep from trampling the three brigands still huddled in his path, exchanging fearful glances at the woods around them. Only the last and angriest of the bunch had made a break for the trees, leaping over roots and bushes in his way.
Without thinking, Bevier sent his stallion surging after. In a few strides they were caught up and a single blow from his axe split the upper torso of the thief in two. Whirling, Bevier noted that the thieves still huddled together in the clearing. He shook the blood off his weapon idly. The forest around them showed no sign of whatever had cut their bonds, but he hadn't expected any.
He castigated himself for his own impatience. What Bevier needed now was information, not corpses, and he only hoped that the remaining thieves could provide him with the particulars. His job might well have changed from thief-catcher to protector. Bevier said a brief prayer over the dead highwayman and trotted back.
Again, high above and far away, a figure scowled. I gave them the chance, so why didn't they run, the idiots? There goes my cover. A shudder. And that is a dangerous, dangerous man.
Shortly after securing the thieves in the stocks of Lindlair, Bevier found that there was no chapterhouse in the little hamlet and had to make do with the lone inn of the town. Despite its lack of competition the service was good, and as an added bonus his manservant, Delric, found him easily when he finally arrived in town. The old family servant was supposed to have met Bevier when he separated from the party traveling back through Lamorkand, but Delric had sent word that "family matters" would delay his departure for a few days. Bevier thought little of it, figuring that the man probably had to dance attendance on some of his mother's guests. The suspicion was confirmed when Delric arrived at the inn late that evening, still grumbling slightly but cheerful to be away from the castle's bustle. Though the man had aged since their last meeting, they slid easily into the familiar banter of old acquaintance. After breifly reassuring Bevier that all was well with the family, Delric trotted downstairs to arrange a meal while Bevier sat on the bed and mused over the course of the day. He still had far more questions than answers.
The few coals in their brazier was more than adequate for the mild fall evening, though Bevier knew he would appreciate its presence come morning. The reddish light set aglow both wooden walls and burnished steel, giving his armor an illusory warmth where it hung in the corner of the rented room. Bevier stared blankly at the glowing coals, thinking. There were too many loose ends, too much unknown. Unless he was greatly mistaken, there was little chance of those common brigands having anything to do with the mysterious power he had encountered in the woods. The carved box was almost certainly part of it, and the dead thief had known it somehow. It was remotely possible that he had more magical skill than his companions, but again, Bevier doubted it from their overheard conversations. Either way, the box was the key. His gaze shifted to it, sitting quietly on the table next to the window, no bigger than a wild apple. It made him uneasy somehow, as if his eyes wanted to reject it, declare it non-existent. He moved his gaze back to the comforting familiarity of the brazier.
When Bevier had tried to examine the box on the ride to town, he saw that it was circled by eight exquisitely executed carvings, two to a side; each one was unique and curiously complicated. There was a single figure on the top and bottom of the box, a much simpler sign that his eyes nonetheless refused to focus on. If he forced himself to look at them, an unnerving dizziness swept over him like an illness, so rather than force himself Bevier spent most of his time tracing the side markings with a finger. It was doubtful that any of the markings would make be decipherable to the scholars in Coombe in any case, so he did not force himself to try and memorize the ill-spelled sigils - he preferred to imperil his soul only when necessary. They matched no runes or alphabet that he had ever seen, so he wasn't positive that they were writing or even in any way significant, but the sensation of power coming from the strange container indicated some kind of incantation or seal.
There didn't seem to be anything in it, though there was no obvious way for him to open it and check and he hesitated to forcibly crack it open. It was hardly large enough to fit much of anything, except perhaps a piece of jewelry or gems. Or, he though darkly, some arcane talisman, some small bit of evil. The thought made him scowl. Having such evil close to him made him intensely uncomfortable, though he knew that he was far better equipped to resist it than most folk in the vicinity. He said a small prayer, feeling reassured by the protection it gave.
A knock on the bolted door broke his concentration, and he started up to answer. Expecting Delric, he began unbolting the door before asking, "Who is it?" A feminine voice answered, and he stopped just before opening the door.
"Yer servant, M'Lord, he asked me to drop this off for you. He's tendin' the horses, sir," a hopeful voice responded. Satisfied, Bevier opened the door to meet the awed blue eyes of the serving maid. Her eyes dropped to his chest and widened further at the sight of his half-laced undershirt. Bevier, internally cursing his forgetfulness, grabbed the tray as politely as possible, quickly expressed his gratitude and shut the door again. He had forgotten to put on his tunic, and Arcian barmaids weren't nearly as used to half-clad men as the Tamuls. Not that the shirt itself was especially shocking, but in Arcadia, anything less than fully dressed was nearly scandalous. Bevier sighed in exasperation and, possibly for the first time, irritation at the customs of his homeland.
The stew was hearty and the bread free of grit, but the good mood it fostered in Bevier was immediately dispelled when Delric stopped by to report. The servant was short and wiry, with black hair receding from a wrinkled forehead, though the laugh lines around Delric's mouth were more pronounced. The manservant, though to all appearances serious, had obviously been hearing things. "My Lord, I see you've eaten. Was everything to your liking?" Bevier nodded shortly, his mouth still full of bread. "Well, I can always call up another serving girl if you need anything."
Bevier looked at him with narrowed eyes but responded with equal politeness. "No thank you, Delric, I'm sure they're too busy. That's what you're here for, if you recall."
"Oh, but they're all just standing around the kitchen, giggling like loons. I'm sure it wouldn't put them out in the slightest." Delric leaned in to examine Bevier's armor and murmured, "There may even be volunteers." A speck of dust caught his attention and he rubbed it away with a cloth, pointedly not looking at Bevier. The knight closed his eyes and shoved more stew into his mouth, chewing ferociously.
"Well, there's not much we can do tonight," Bevier began after a moment, trying to change the subject. He gave the servant a preemptive warning look when an ever-so-slight twinkle appeared in the man's eyes. "About the thieves, Delric. In any case, I don't think those buffoons are really the issue here. I hate to leave the area, but we need to contact the preceptor about the matter. We'll leave in the morning for Coombe." He fell silent for a moment, looking at the pearl and walnut box on the table, then continued quietly, "I can only hope the situation doesn't worsen while we're gone."
The servant, truly serious now, bowed in acquiescence and turned to leave. "I'll get supplies together, if that is what My Lord wishes."
"Yes, do so. And Delric-"
"I do plan on apologizing to that girl."
"I'm sure it isn't necessary, My Lord."
"I shall, nonetheless."
"I'm really quite sure she's okay with it, My Lord."
"Thank you, Delric."
Despite having to avoid the common room the next morning, Bevier was cheerful as they left Lindlair. He had little left to do there since the thieves were incarcerated; he just had to make sure that they wouldn't be executed before he was absolutely sure that their curse wouldn't somehow backfire on the townspeople. After a brief prayer at the tiny church, knight and manservant stopped by the stocks on their way out of town for one last interrogation.
The three thieves were irritated and fearful, but fairly cooperative. Bevier quizzed them again on the circumstances of their possession of the box, and the answers were the same. They had found the box in with a large bundle of curiosities from an Elene traveler, an old man who threatened them with retribution for their crimes. The nervous thief claimed to have heard the man mutter something over the bundle as he passed it over, but he hadn't understood the words at the time. They let him go on with only some worthless papers and his under-tunic, but since that time they had been haunted by some manner of devil.
"He's haunting us," wailed the man. "We'd not been able to rid ourselves of it yet. We'd been getting rid of all the things we got from the old geezer, once we started hearing the rumors, except Bernard had to keep a couple of the most expensive for last." He hung limply in the rack. "The curse was on one of them, looks like."
"You never actually saw anything, though?" He had asked before, but it never hurt to retread a confession.
"Nay, apart from that bit right after you took us." He flinched and shivered at the memory.
One of the quieter ones spoke up. "There was a flash of blue and we was free, but consortin' with demons ain't something we'd do, sir. Not at any cost."
Bevier nodded in grim approval. Despite their criminal turning, they were still Arcium peasant stock, fundamentally incapable of major sacrilege. Then he blinked. "A flash of blue, you said? Like a light?"
"No, a blue shape went by. Man-sized or thereabouts," responded the third man. "Almost too fast to see, wunnit?" The other two bobbed their heads in agreement, their disembodied heads almost comical.
"I thought I saw a bit of red, too," offered the first thief eagerly.
Bevier hmmed thoughtfully at this new information. "You never noticed anything like the rumors said, though?"
There was a moment of silence, and then the middle thief said slowly, "Well, we wasn't absolutely sure. But things tended to go missing more often lately. Food and clothing. A dagger, I think. Unimportant stuff." After a moment of thought, the other two voiced agreement. Non-valuables, more like, thought Bevier. How odd.
For a minute the knight stared off into space, thoughts galloping. Delric coughed pointedly, and he blinked. "Yes. You have my thanks for your help, brothers. I'm sure your cooperation will be noted in your favor." The thieves looked somewhat cheered, and Bevier didn't disabuse them of the notion that it would matter in this world's judgment.
The road to Coombe took them through heavy forest on the south side of Lindlair, eventually thinning to small copses of birch and maple. Bevier preferred it that way, for though he admired the forest, lurking dangers were far more likely there. The memory of yesterday's mysterious theft sent a creeping itch up his spine with every swishing branch and animal rustling. He pushed his stallion to a gallop, rapid hoof beats muffling most of the forest noises.
By the time the sun reached its zenith, both Bevier's destrier and Delric's gelding were lathered and steaming in the cool air. Spotting a likely meadow, he allowed his horse to trot off the road and into the grass. Delric followed not far behind, his horse also snatching at the old wisps of meadow grass. As he thought, Bevier discovered a tiny rivulet back by the trees and dismounted as his horse snuffled delightedly into the water.
"We're making good time, I think," commented Bevier. He pulled off his glove to dip a hand into the cool water, upstream of the horses, and drank.
"Aye, M'Lord," nodded Delric. "Wouldn't take more than three days at this pace, if we could keep it up." He dug in the saddlebags for bread and cheese, knowing that they would not stop for a hot meal.
Bevier snorted humorlessly, acknowledging the implicit reminder that both men and horses would be far too exhausted by such a ride. Delric handed a hunk of bread to Bevier, who accepted it with thanks and said, "We'll get a bit of rest this afternoon, since it will be too warm. Brush them down a bit when you're done, I'll be back in a minute." He left Delric digging out a towel and curry brushes, both horses grazing freely.
Bevier munched on the dark bread as he trod on the thick mat of yellow-green grass. The stream meandered down from a copse of trees, chiming pleasantly in the fall afternoon. In the sun-dappled shadows of the copse, birch and maple had sunk their roots into the rich earth, grass and smaller bushes filling the gaps between, their crowns patterned with yellow leaves. Turning, he could still see Delric through the trees, fussing over the horses. Reassured, the knight wound his way further into the copse, ears perked for any unusual noises. Only a sighing wind and the occasional bird filled the silence, along with the more clumsy rustles from his boots. He smiled, looking around.
There it was, the source of the stream: a small artesian fountain, bubbling from cracked mound of earth and rock. Tiny blue flowers radiated from the center, obviously thriving from the extra watering. Bevier crouched and let the water run over his fingers for a moment, enjoying the sensation. He flicked the water from his hands, scattering shimmering droplets over the flowers. Bless you, my children, he thought, grinning. He stood for a moment longer, breathing in the forest air. Closing his eyes, he prayed, May I never forget what wonders this world holds. There is so much here to love, and so much to protect. May You grant me the wisdom and strength to do both. He released another calming breath, feeling some tension ease from his shoulders.
When he opened his eyes again, there it stood.
Or rather, there she stood.
She looked furious, and, truth be told, severely disheveled.
to be continued...
Tell me what you think!
I blame indygodusk for filling me with evil glee at the thought of cliffhangers. Mwahaha!
The whole thing, of course, is based on the works of David Eddings and, ah, someone else. Delric and incidental characters are my own creation.
Title from "Girl, Interrupted" by Susanna Kaysen