The Black Rose
Author's Note: So this is one of the first stories I wrote that went over a certain word count. It was also something I had trouble with so there are three fairly distinct parts. This story also introduces characters that my husband and I gave a lot of thought. I'll be interested to hear what everyone thinks as it is one of my earliest stories and my writing style has improved a lot since I wrote this. College classes will do that apparently. But because it partially sets up a our world of D&D it was very hard to rewrite. All I can say is I hope you all enjoy it and I'll be posting more in this world.
By the way, this story is set in the same world as my other three D&D stories and you might notice one character makes a reappearance.
Rosaleen Dhu muttered to herself as she stalked out of the courtyard. That the weaponsmaster was her mother's brother made no difference. That she was tall for her age and quick as a cat mattered not. All that was important to her uncle was her failure to master the broad sword. It was of no moment that she was proficient with her father's long bow, that her skill with a main gauche and rapier was excellent or that she could part his hair with a dagger.
Scowling the tall girl slammed the door to her room and threw herself into a chair. Her gaze fell upon the flute placed carefully on her desk. Her father had left four things with her mother when he'd disappeared so long ago; a flute of cherrywood and silver, a long-bow, a strange pendant and Rosaleen Dhu growing in her mother's belly.
Rosaleen shook her head. It hadn't been so much a disgrace that Merrila was bearing a child or that the child would be a bastard. After all Merrila was a bastard herself, the daughter of the keeps lord and an elven woman whose charms had smitten him for a time.
No the disgrace was that Rosaleen had the bad taste to be born female. Male children born out of wedlock were generally considered useful. Her uncle the weaponsmaster proved that. But a girl born illegitimately couldn't even be wed to a neighbor to strengthen an alliance. Thus her uncles were determined to teach her the fighting arts and make a warrior of her.
The girl shook her head. The bastards of Serendal were a long standing and accepted quirk of the Serendal house. Even the current lords wife was kind enough to her husbands base born siblings. Ljosa was sweet if overly preoccupied with household matters and her husbands comfort. Serek, her husband, found her ways to be very convenient and thus left well enough alone.
Rosaleen picked up the flute and raising it to her lips, coaxed forth a sighing, weeping melody.
Merrila paused outside the door as she heard the music. Sighing she wondered if Vidan Dhu knew of the gift he'd bequeathed his daughter. The elf had loved music and so did his child, and at fifteen, she was as gifted as he had been.
Slowly she opened the door and gazed at her daughter. Rosaleen was tall, almost five foot eight, she'd gotten her height from the men of Merrila's family; not one was under six feet. Slouched in a chair as she was the girl's trim light figure didn't show to advantage. A hooded tunic concealed the long hair, the color of midnight and straight as an arrow. The eyes that were closed in concentration Merrila knew to be so dark a green that they too were black. But nothing could conceal her only child's beauty. Skin tinted by a delicate pink lent warmth to a face the image of Vidan's, though softened by gender.
Rose's dark pink mouth was sweeter than Vidan's and the dimples in her chin and right cheek robbed her face of the cold regal aspect the elf had possessed in repose.
The music stopped as Rosaleen opened her eyes and saw her mother. The girls gaze was affectionate if tinged with humor. "Well has Uncle Mory vowed to send me to a cloistered temple of Ilmater?" She asked, her rage having faded as she played. "Or will he once again force another weapon into my hands?"
Merrila shook her head, her lips spreading in a wry smile in response to her daughters jests. "For now my dear he has simply declared you hopeless and is drowning his sorrows."
Rosaleen shook her head. "He maintains that it is my inherent elven weakness that prevents my mastery of the broad sword."
"Your father would have laughed in his face." Merrila said absently. "As an elf he was shorter than any of your uncles. But he was quicker than all of them. Time and again he proved himself their better, but as he pointed out he'd had centuries of practice and experience."
"What was he like?" Rosaleen asked softly. Her mother rarely spoke of her father.
"Much like you my Briar." Merrila said absently. "Humorous even in the face of what could be his death, deadly in battle, gentle with me and his eyes and heart seeing things I could never understand." She picked up the silver pendant from the desk and gazed at it thoughtfully. "He put this around my neck just before he left. He said she would watch over me while he was gone. He never came back."
"Surely he meant to return?" Rosaleen said with a frown. "He left his flute and bow."
Merrila shook her head. "I don't know. He made another while he was here, twin to his own. He was teaching me archery. He took one of them, the new one I believe, when he left." She smiled her blue eyes warm with the memory. "He was ever kind though on occasion his tongue was as sharp as your rapier. He had a wit as you do, insulted his foes in battle, and made his friends see the humorous side in everything. He made folk think with his words."
"Did he love you?" Rosaleen dared to ask, her voice quiet.
Merrila smiled at her daughter. "We loved each other you could say. It was not in him to simply dally with a lass, unless that was all they both desired. There was affection on his part and fascination on mine for I'd never met anyone like him. Love is perhaps too strong a description for what he felt for me." Her delicate face broke into a smile. "Be assured that had he known of you he would have loved you. Nothing would have prevented him from being part of your life."
Rosaleen sighed and fingered her flute. "Well he doesn't know about me and it's getting a bit tiresome being molded into a tribute to battle." Her forehead wrinkled in a frown and she draped the pendant around her neck.
"Well unless you're taking the road less traveled and remaining in your room it's almost time for dinner." Merrila's tone was dry, for her daughter rarely avoided unpleasantness even when it was easier to do so. It was the reason Merrila had nicknamed her daughter Briar for the girl was a thorny rose indeed.
"Oh I'll come down. I've a mind to show them there's more to life than battle arts." Rosaleen replied with a mischievous gleam in her eyes.
Merrila uttered a groan and shook her head. This would be an interesting evening to say the least.
It was Rosaleen's custom to appear at the table in the clothing she'd worn throughout the day. Most often this was the same garb she'd worn to weapon practice and to hunt with her cousin's and uncle.
Merrila had long since resigned herself to her child's appearance for it effectively disguised Rosaleen's beauty and was suitable for the activities she was compelled to pursue. This evening Merrila had to bite her tongue in order to stifle her gasp as Rosaleen entered the hall.
Her daughter had obviously decided it was time to show her family that she was feminine as well as female. Her long black hair was loose and hanging to her hips but for a slim braid that caught it back from her face exposing her tipped ears. The gown she wore was the color of a winter shadow and skimmed over her slim figure. She looked exotic and lovely.
Merrila blinked in astonishment as her normally rushed and careless daughter gracefully seated herself in a slow regal manner. Rosaleen had draped her father's pendant around her neck and carried a small harp. Merrila recognized the instrument as having belonged to her own grandmother.
The reaction of Merrila's brother Mory was comical. The huge man gaped at his niece and nearly fell backwards off his stool. The reaction of the other male relatives was slightly less extreme but revealed their shock to say the least.
Rosaleen looked up at her mother and dropped one black fringed eyelid in a wink before directing her gaze back at her plate. Merrila simply shook her head over Rosaleen's antics and wondered what the girl would do next. She didn't have to wait very long.
Rosaleen rose from the table and seated herself near the fire. The harp, a small three quarter octave instrument, was positioned in her lap. Long fingered hands plucked at the strings and a delicate recurring melody was expertly coaxed from the instrument.
The voice that rose above the harp chimed perfectly in tune with the melody. Gentle and sweet as the summer breeze over the rose gardens it wafted over her audience.
"The wings of the butterfly in trembling motion
Are said to cause hurricanes over the ocean.
Complex and wonderful such as men are
Do our foolish actions trouble a star?
So many tiny threads comprise a tapestry
The way life has been and how it must be.
The colors, like souls, full and rich and rare
Do we see the patterns and do we care?
For life is a tale, from beginning to the end
Our own story best told from the heart of a friend
Do we travel together or go our separate ways?
Yet all life is interwoven until the end of days."
When the song at last faded away and the last chime of the harp stilled Rosaleen withdrew from the hall.
Merrila concealed a smile over the reaction her daughter had evoked. The lady Ljosa looked decidedly annoyed and her husband thoughtful. Mory was stunned and for once at a loss for words. Merrila's other two brothers Lestal and Jeank were conversing in low tones, accents of astonishment coloring their voices.
Merrila's smile faded completely when she saw Ljosa and Serek's son. He had a gleam in his eye that Merrila couldn't like though their daughter merely looked peevish. Loren at thirteen was years younger than Rosaleen and could not hope to compare with the exotic half elf's beauty.
Merrila sighed and wondered if Rosaleen's display would cause more trouble than it would solve for her daughter.
Rosaleen leapt the last two stairs to the ground and raced into the armory. Snatching her blades from the wall she hurriedly belted them on and rushed to the courtyard for weapon's practice. Her long legs were concealed beneath her most baggy hose and a knee length tunic with its hood kept her warm, while a patched jerkin would protect her from any blows she might take.
In the two weeks since she'd worn a gown to the hall Serek's son Saldan had been following her about. He had joined the men-at-arms for weapon's practice, unheard of for this particular lord's son, and continually sought out her company if not her conversation. Rosaleen found this unsettling especially in light of her mother's cautionary words on ever being alone with Saldan.
Arriving in the courtyard her haste was rewarded by her Uncle Mory's solitary figure as he ran through his warm up exercises. "Uncle." Rosaleen hailed him as she stepped into the yard. More than one man had nearly lost a limb for not giving Mory warning of their approach. Her uncle's reflexes were still sharp as ever.
"Ah, Briar." Mory wiped sweat from his brow and nodded to her, "You're early."
"Aye." She smiled slightly. "I'm in need of some advice."
"That would be Saldan giving you trouble?" Mory inquired.
Rosaleen shook her head in amazement. "I might have known that you'd already heard."
"The way he's been dogging your steps it's a wonder Lady Ljosa doesn't realize." Mory snorted. "Don't let him catch you alone." He added.
"Isn't there anything more I can do?" She asked in disgust thinking that her aunt already was aware of her son's behavior.
Mory shook his head. "Technically you and I, your mother and our brothers aren't even nobility. We're not in line for the succession and we have no official place in the family. For you to do anything against him is a commoner 'gainst a noble."
Rosaleen's mouth set into a grim line. "That explains a bit. But why are we all still at Serendal?"
Mory's rugged face creased into a grin for a moment. "At first because your grandfather delighted in his large brood. He wanted us near him. And in order to ensure our home he made sure we were trained in various skills. Your uncle Lestal is a fine weaponsmith and Serek couldn't run this place without Jeank in charge of the men. Me, I had some skill with teaching and weapons, so I teach all of you how to defend yourselves. And your mama has a near genius for dyes and weaving." He smiled gently at his slender niece. "With your elven blood we knew you'd be graceful, so we've all been trying to make you a warrior. We thought you might take mine or Jeank's place someday. We didn't know you'd inherited your Da's talent for music."
Rosaleen smiled faintly. "So I have no defenses?"
Mory shook his head. "Stay by one of us if you can. We have no official place but between the five of us we could cripple Serendal should we leave and Serek knows it."
Rosaleen sighed and gave her uncle a tiny salute. "Well, now I know."
She was back in her room idly plucking the harps strings when the conversation she'd overheard came to mind. In her attempt to avoid Saldan she'd taken a shortcut through Ljosa's solar. She'd just been out the doorway when Serek and Ljosa came in arguing heatedly.
"I tell you Ljosa he must be made to leave her alone!" Serek said forcefully.
"Why does it matter if he has her or not?" his wife retorted. "She's probably no better than she should be!"
"For one thing bastard or no she is my niece and I won't see her harmed." Serek said angrily. "And for another if I'm able to contract a marriage for her it could strengthen our truce with Lord Trusdant."
Ljosa immediately took exception to that. "Why are you worrying over a marriage for her and not our daughter?"
"Because our daughter, despite her resemblance to you, pales when compared to Rosaleen and you know it. If we are to stand a chance of marrying Loren off then Rosaleen cannot be anywhere near her!" Serek exploded. "Hardly anyone remembered that Briar was also a Rose until a few weeks ago. Small wonder Saldan is so hot to have her."
"Well I don't see why he cannot!" Ljosa spat. "She's forever among the men anyway, she's most likely long since lost her maidenhead." Serek's eyes narrowed in consideration as he listened to his wife. "It's not as if she's had a good example before her. Her mother didn't exactly make a respectable marriage. Your niece is a bastard of a bastard." Her voice grew cunning and persuasive. "Why not turn her elven blood to our advantage. Trusdant will enjoy a hot-blooded wench in his bed and everyone knows that elves are pleasure mad. We'll simply imply that she's a wild one and experienced and he'll nearly beg to marry her. And Saldan can do what he will since she's probably not a virgin anyway."
Serek made some reply to the affirmative and chuckled richly. Sickened by what she'd learned Rosaleen had darted away, carefully making sure that she wasn't seen or heard.
Now as she held the instrument in her hands she wondered how long it would be before her uncle tried to marry her off to some lecherous lord. The harp sighed a chorus to her thoughts and restlessly she began to pluck a tune. And for once there was no joy in her music, and Rosaleen learned that the harp spoke of sorrow as eloquently as the flute.
"Ugh!" Rosaleen wrenched herself away from Saldan. With a strength born of desperation she heaved him off of her and ran. It seemed her feet barely touched the ground and she didn't remember snatching her blades from the walls of the armory, nor running with them in hand to the courtyard where her uncle waited to begin the morning's training.
Mory looked up at her rushed approach and drawn blades. The faint flush in her cheeks and disheveled clothing spoke eloquently of what had occurred. The weaponsmaster scowled, his rage etched over his face. "How did he catch you?" He rasped out.
Rosaleen took a deep breath. "I was careful uncle, but he is devious. Lucia and I were both going in the same direction so I was walking with her. He ordered her away and attacked me." Her entire frame was trembling with rage. "He is much stronger than I am and it was only luck that I got away."
Mory gathered the delicate girl into his arms, carefully avoiding her rapier's tip and hugged her thankfully. "It didn't take him long did it?" He observed.
Rosaleen hissed out. "I will challenge him. As an equal on the field I have a chance of defending myself."
"A challenge will allow him to name the terms." Mory said quietly. "But from the looks of him he will challenge you. You seem to have hurt his pride."
Rosaleen turned and barely saw Saldan's form through the red haze that dropped over here eyes. When she was able to control her anger she agreed with Mory. Saldan's face was scratched and his lip bleeding. "I challenge you!" The boy shouted. "I challenge Rosaleen Dhu to a duel. To the death!"
"So if you can't have her you'll kill her?" Mory snorted derisively. "Your father will never agree. To first blood, or I will challenge you myself, little man."
"To first blood then." Saldan spat blood from his mouth furiously. "And when I win she is mine for however long I like. I choose broadswords."
Rosaleen smiled coldly. All color and passion had faded from her face and mind. "I believe as the party challenged right of weapon choice is mine." She replied. "I choose, rapier and main gauche. And when I win you will never attempt to touch me again." She turned to her uncle. "Uncle Mory, I trust you will act as my second?"
The weaponsmaster nodded slowly. "I will have Jeank in here to act as the mediator. Who will you name as second Saldan? Your father?" His contempt was plain.
Saldan flushed. "I'll not have a bastard ordering me about. I name Luxor as my second." Mory looked at the dark haired soldier a few feet away from Saldan. "Luxor is that agreeable?" The soldier grimaced and nodded. "Then shall we set the time?" Luxor nodded amiably. Mory turned to Rosaleen whose lips set in an unsmilingly grim line.
"Now." She said softly. "Let it be now. He will not have another chance at me."
Mory nodded to Luxor and the soldier turned to the lord's son. "And is now acceptable to you?" The soldier's tone was soft and deceptively gentle.
Saldan nodded angrily. "The little bitch can have a beating now just as well as later."
Rosaleen arched an eyebrow skeptically and regarded her cousin with cold eyes. "He will need appropriate weapons." She said without concern. "And Jeank must be fetched."
Mory nodded eyeing his niece in concern. "Gerald, go and get Jeank immediately." He gestured dismissively. Turning to the rest of the slowly gathering men he addressed them. "Weapons practice is taking second place to a matter of honor today. Saldan of Serendal demands satisfaction for his pride, Rosaleen Dhu, daughter of Vidan Dhu, elven bladesinger and bard, welcomes the opportunity to educate Saldan in courtesy. Those of you who wish may watch, the rest take your leave until the sun is over the ramparts."
Rosaleen allowed no display of curiosity or emotion to cross her face but spoke to her uncle when he turned back to her. "Elven bladesinger? Bard?" She queried.
Mory grinned. "Vidan and I were fast friends. He was a warrior of his race before he took up music. And he could use magic and still have a sword in hand. I'd never seen the like but watching him fight gave me a goal I'll strive towards all my life." He looked the deceptively fragile appearing girl over. "You have more height than he and a bit less grace but you could be his equal with enough work. If your music doesn't call you away from the sword."
Rosaleen grinned. "So long as I win this match I'll be satisfied." Mory rolled his eyes and together they waited for their mediator to arrive and for Saldan to arm himself.
The duel itself was mercifully short. Saldan, angry and overly conscious of his humiliation, fought without honor or grace. His movements were passionate but without control and his lack of experience with the weapons used only added to his lacks. He took every opportunity to strike at his opponent.
By contrast Rosaleen was almost cold in her precise graceful movements. Her dark eyes were the only part of her that showed any emotion and they flickered with anger but never gave away her attack. She took every chance to strike at her enemy but never wasted any motion.
When she drew Saldan's blood it was almost anticlimactic, a slash along his jaw to the corner of his eye, laying open his cheek and drawing a howl of rage from the boy. She waited warily for him to throw down his weapons and concede defeat. He did not. Saldan charged her, full of his rage and lost to reason. Rosaleen turned his attack away but shouted at him. "It is over! I have first blood!"
Saldan snarled at her viciously. "And I said to the death!" He charged her again and with a frown she ducked beneath his wild swing. Kicking him hard in the stomach she knocked him down and held her rapier tip to his throat.
"Uncle," she did not take her gaze from Saldan. "Would you say that this is done?"
"Aye." Jeank agreed. "The day is yours." Rosaleen nodded and stepped away from Saldan slowly. She did not turn her back to him until she felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning she saw it was the lord. Serek frowned down at her and she took a deep breath. The lord of Serendal was not pleased, not pleased at all.
That night the Black Rose was born. Rosaleen used skills she'd learned climbing trees in her childhood to climb the wall below her window and then with all the stealth she could muster crept through armory and gathered the provisions Mory had left for her.
In the deepening twilight no one could remember seeing a slim agile figure on the walls. No one understood how she'd managed to carry away her fathers bow as well as her other weapons. Books and clothing as well as her instruments were all gone from her room. The lord of Serendal questioned every man of the guard and all of Rosaleen's uncles. No one admitted to having helped the girl or to seeing her leave.
Mory simply frowned his expression so severe that Serek simply shrugged and left the weaponsmaster to his thoughts. Mory's thoughts were grim but strangely satisfying. He'd seen her climbing down the wall with a blanket wrapped bundle on her back.
Rosaleen had simply been grateful that her uncle had the foresight to plan for the possible result of her duel. The pack he'd given her with food and directions to a meadow where he'd tied a gelding of stout heart and quick feet were all she needed to get on her way.
Now she was moving away from Serendal at a brisk trot breathing a sigh of relief. Sadly she had not been able to bid her mother and uncles goodbye. Mory had merely intercepted her, given her the pack and kissed her in rough affection before sending her on her way. He'd told her not to stop until dawn and not even then if her horse could continue.
So she was on her own. Rosaleen fingered the pendent around her neck and decided to head further west. Supposedly her father had come from the west, perhaps she might find his people if she was lucky enough.
The next days were difficult in more ways than one. Raised, however roughly, within the walls of a keep had ill prepared her for the day to day needs of the road. She burnt most of her food, when it wasn't raw or a peculiar combination of both. And there was no one to talk to but her horse which she called Patience in wry irony for he was anything but.
Finally she came to a small village that did not boast an inn but did have a small tavern where travelers might find a meal and bed down on the floor. Warily she entered and asked for cider. The bar keep eyed her strangely but brought her the drink and she gave him the copper he'd requested. With the deep hood she wore all he could see were slender white hands and hear a quiet voice.
Rosaleen looked around the dark room with its low beams and oily lanterns. It was a typical tavern with straw on the floor and a large fireplace. Most of the rough tables were filled with men who were drinking with the single-mindedness of working men. One sat apart from the rest, by the fire, and his clothing and pack marked him as a fellow traveler.
She beckoned to the bar keep and asked in a low voice if music would be taken amiss. The man grinned at her revealing two teeth of which he was inordinately proud and told her that she could make as much noise as she wanted no one would care. Rosaleen's mouth twisted in puzzled humor and she raised her fathers flute to her lips. Soft at first and then growing louder in volume as the talking lowered she piped a sprightly tune that wound in and about itself in a queer question. Not taking the chance that she'd be silenced she dove from that into another merry air that invited feet to tap in time with the beat.
This time when the tune ended she paused to take a deep breath and smiled when after a stunned silence applause and loud whistles exploded from her audience. She saw a few more men come in the door and squeeze into a table. They bellowed out their orders for drinks and sat quietly afterward waiting for the next tune.
Rosaleen lifted the flute to her lips again and a melancholy air drifted through the room. It was as sorrowful as a sigh and in the melody the listener could almost hear a woman weeping of loneliness and pain.
From that tune she drew them into a mood of mystery that seemed to twist and pull at the shadows flickering over the ceiling. Replacing her flute she pulled out her harp and plucked a tune to tremble under her voice with the mood of the tale she told. A story of a girl born to a wanderers destiny, with gifts from a father she'd never known. Her own story slightly exaggerated and underscored with music. When the story came to its end she smiled and remarked quietly. "So she left her home and all she'd known to seek her father's people. And one night she came to a tiny village tavern and hoped her voice would bring enough joy that the folk there would aid her with food and shelter. She is the Black Rose; will you judge her worthy?" She reached up and pulled her deep hood off and dark green eyes swept over her listeners before she bowed.
A moment of stunned silence followed and the bar keep placed an empty bowl beside her and then a full plate of bread and cheese. "The lass has entertained you lot far better than your boasting contests. Put your gratitude in the bowl for she still has a long way ta go." Rosaleen smiled at him gratefully and began to eat.
She was offered shelter and warmth by the same man and was even given a few coppers by men with deeper pockets. After her meal she played again and delighted in the music and the laughter.
That night she slept deeply near the fire, the other traveler a few feet away.
Morning brought new problems in the form of a soldier from Serendal. Rosaleen cursed softly as she observed the man entering the village. Her fellow traveler followed her gaze and frowned. He walked and stood with the grace of an older man, someone who was experienced with both sword and battle. He was several inches taller than she, at least six feet tall. His voice when he spoke to her for the first time was ragged and rough from some old injury. "He is a pursuer?"
Rosaleen nodded, "I need to get out before he sees me." Her gaze darted over the room and settled on a small hide-covered window. "That is my way to the gelding. He won't find me after." Her voice was grim.
The stranger's voice held a grin. "Meet me at the back of the stables, such as they are. I'll distract him, you get our horses."
Rosaleen regarded him quizzically and then nodded. She lowered her pack and bow through the window and then slipped out. The stranger watched her disappear and then stepped boldly into the sun.
Rosaleen murmured soft reassuring words to the horses. The dappled gray mare was gentle but Patience shifted restlessly. Finally a travel worn figure slipped around the wall. Rosaleen looked at the stranger skeptically. "What did you do?"
The voice that answered sounded like a growl with humor in it. "Through a touch of the Art he now believes the well handle is held by a person who steadfastly refuses to speak but obviously knows something." He mounted his horse and waited for her to do the same. When she did not move he sighed impatiently. "It would be better that we were gone before he comes out if it." She mounted her horse and gestured for him to lead the way.
When they had gone several miles away from the village Rosaleen pulled Patience to a halt and waited. The stranger continued for several yards before he noticed her absence. Turning his mount they trotted back to her. "You wish to rest so early?" He queried in rough whimsical tones.
Rosaleen pulled her hood back enough to see him clearly. She then looked at his hood until he did the same.
The face of her fellow traveler was not beautiful. His hair was dark brown, his skin was tanned brown and his eyes an obsidian black. Scars marred his throat and part of his face. They were obviously old marks for they too had tanned slightly. His ears were as pointed as her own and his features sharp as though carved by a wicked blade. There was nothing handsome in his face. It was compelling, and strangely attractive but not because of beauty. It was a face that proclaimed strength and hardship and valor.
"Are you quite through staring?" The rough growling voice asked, "I am well aware of the contrast between our faces, you needn't force such comparisons on me."
Rosaleen jerked in surprise. "I saw a wild lion once." She said slowly, deliberately. "He was old and had been in many battles. His hide was terribly scarred. He was still free, had lived fully. He was terrifyingly beautiful and so noble he made my heart ache." Her black green eyes focused on the stranger until understanding dawned in his eyes and his skin flushed faintly. "I stopped because there is no longer a need for us to travel together. He pursues me and you should not trouble yourself further."
"It is no trouble." He bowed in his saddle. "You may even find me useful."
Rosaleen's eyes narrowed. "What is your name?" Her face was cold and wary.
"I am called Dragon, by those who choose to call me anything." He smiled slightly. "It is a name that will do as well as any other." His gaze grew sharp. "You, I know, are the Black Rose. It suits you."
She pressed her lips together. "It serves me." Her voice was eerily absent of inflection. "If you choose to address me, you may call me Briar."
"A Black briar rose?" Dragon queried. "How very odd, those are usually crimson, or pale pink like your lips." She looked at him stonily and debated the idea of riding as fast as she could away from him. "Ah, let that wary look fade from your eyes my Briar rose," He smiled slightly. "You have nothing to fear from me. I know full well that beauty has little to do with a beast, even one so noble, as the lion."
Rosaleen sighed. "The tale I told last eve was true, in all its parts." She said in deliberately even voice. "And it is more recent than most could guess. Remarks on my beauty will not improve my temper. The face I wear is my fathers and it's only value the aid it gives in finding him."
Dragon smiled at her and his hand was gentle as he pulled her hood further forward. "Then let us conceal such beauty, for I doubt I could refrain from praising it for long." His rough voice was almost soft and he took her hand carefully so as not to startle her. "Black Rose, Briar, and in the language of my mother Rosaleen Dhu." He was surprised as her hand jerked from his in fright. The dark green eyes were staring at him in shock. "In the language of my mother I am Nwyfan Reisolnt Draco. It is a pleasure to meet you."
Rosaleen smiled tremulously. " I am honored to meet you, Nwyfan Dragon Heart. Names are such weighty things." She said quietly. "Should you call me Briar I would be grateful. The weight of my name, and my father's name is heavy right now."
"It would be a pleasure." Dragon grinned. "Shall we continue on? I know a good place to camp but it is a fair ways off."
She nodded and watched as he pulled up his hood concealing his face.
The place he chose for them to make camp was amidst a ruin of an ancient keep with a circle of broken stones in the center. She looked around warily and dismounted only after he did. "This is a strange place." She commented quietly. "I almost expect ghosts to walk through the archways."
Dragon grinned at her. "You see into two worlds then, like every other bard I've met." He said as he dug the fire pit. "Try not to let the ghosts bother you as you gather up the wood."
Rosaleen nodded absently and her hand caressed the hilt of her rapier as she moved towards the surrounding forest. Her small journey was uneventful but for the chattering of the squirrels and she returned feeling slightly foolish. Setting the dead wood in an untidy pile by the fire pit she slung her quiver over her shoulder and picked up her bow. "If you will make the fire, I will seek out meat for our meal."
"If you can get a quail that would be good." Dragon commented. "But Briar," she turned to regard him. "Don't go too far, you were correct when you said this was a strange place."
She nodded soberly and melted into the woods.
Dragon stared after her and mentally debated the wisdom of following her. Shaking his head he began to build the fire. He was not the most sociable of fellows. His studies took much of his time. Even before the magical explosion had marked him he had been a solitary fellow. The last thing he had expected was to invite a bard on his travels. But she was young and frightened and he had ever had a soft place in his hard heart for the innocent. That she was not repelled by his face and voice was a pleasant surprise. With a smooth movement he pulled the bastard sword from the sheath on his back. The edge was sharp as ever but he lovingly began to oil and polish the blade. In the fire's light the hilt sparkled and shone; it caught the light like fire.
The shadows deepened and then twilight's misty skies drifted over the trees but Briar didn't return. Dragon looked at the trees where she'd walked away and with a sigh rose to his feet. Taking a small polished bowl from his pack he filled it with water at the crumbling well and dusted it with dried herbs. Murmuring low wild sounding phrases he gesticulated gracefully over the bowl and was rewarded with a slight gleam. He pictured Briar in his mind and pushed the thought into the spell. Slowly a picture of the girl appeared. She was hiding in a bush with an arrow ready to fly. Her face was still and patient as she waited. Dragon murmured something else and the angle of the vision tilted, enabling him to view what she was seeing. A face with protruding tusks and green tinged skin swam in the bowl and he shook his head. Obviously the orc hadn't seen her yet and might not if she kept still. There was only the one, apparently he also was hunting. As Dragon watched the orc moved out of the bowls vision and it shifted back to Briar. Her face was more relaxed though she kept her arrow ready. After a moment she rose stealthily and he saw that she had a small bag tied to her belt. The bowl blurred then and the water became dull and opaque.
Dragon raised his head with a sigh of relief and weariness. Emptying the bowl and carefully wiping it clean he replaced it in his pack. He took up his sword and began to nonchalantly polish it again. It was not too long after that she entered the circle of firelight. With a nod of greeting she knelt by the fire and untied the bag. Pulling out three birds she began to pluck them. "You were gone a while." He commented neutrally.
Rosaleen eyed him curiously. "There must be an orc village in this region. I nearly ran into a hunter." She scowled down at the birds. "He took my fourth bird." With a shrug she spitted the birds and put them over the fire. In silence, she unstrung her bow and carefully oiled the wood. Her arrows were meticulously cleaned and replaced in their quiver. She eyed Dragon and his careful polishing of his blade but forbore comment.
Dragon watched idly and on occasion turned the birds but otherwise enjoyed the silence, listening for odd noises from the surrounding forest. "You have good woodcraft if you can avoid another hunter." He said carefully. "Who taught you? Your father?"
"My uncle." She replied quietly. "I never knew my father."
Dragon raised his eyebrows. "But he had a hand in your naming? Or was your mother fluent in Elven?"
She shrugged. "She never really said. He didn't know of me though. How could he when my mother did not until he was gone? She could speak Elven though, he taught her and she taught me. And she gave me his name."
Dragon looked over at Briar curiously; she had pulled out the silver and cherrywood flute and was regarding it with a strange expression. "My father left four things with my mother. A pendant. A bow. This flute, and myself." Her dark green eyes were unreadable as she looked up at him. "Sometimes I wonder what he was like. If he and I would have argued often or if he was affectionate. Did you know both of your parents?" She asked.
Dragon shook his head. "My father was killed when I was very young. I have no memory of him. My mother was an adventurer; she turned merchant when I was born. But she taught me everything she knew of magic and swordplay."
"Was that sword hers?" Briar asked softly.
"No. This was my fathers." Dragon held it up so that he hilt was clear. "It is for this that I am named." The guard and hilt of the bastard sword were in the shape of a dragon its wings outspread. At its heart was a ruby. The workmanship was remarkable and the entire sword was a thing of beauty.
"How lovely." Briar breathed the words in awe. "I've never seen a blade that was also a work of art."
Dragon gestured to her set of blades. "Yours are quite fine."
Briar drew the rapier and the smaller companion blade. The guard was of twisted steel, the hilt wrapped in dark green leather. "They are functional." She said finally. "They are not beautiful in and of themselves, only when I hold them and compel them to move in battle."
Dragon smiled at the arrogance in her voice. "Then you consider your skill with the blades to be great?"
Briar met his gaze steadily. "I survived a duel, and in my uncles practice ring there is no quarter given for a relative or a female." Her voice was matter of fact and unenthused. "I have some small skill or he would not have continued to teach me."
Dragon nodded his understanding. "Why would you undertake such a thing when it is obvious that you have a gift for music." He queried, curiosity coloring his macabre voice.
She looked down at the shining blades in her hands. For a very long time they had ruled her life. "My uncles were trying to protect me. If I were skilled enough I would earn a place at Serendal. A position of respect and security. And because of my heritage they found me to also have a gift for the blades." When Dragon's eyebrows shot up she said testily. "Do not judge me by my face Dragon. You have never stood against me on the sands, nor have you had the teaching of me. I speak the truth. I have a gift. That it has been little joy to me is beside the point."
Dragon shook his head but didn't question her further. He watched as she sheathed the blades and raised the flute to her lips. The haunting melody that floated over the air stirred his heart and tightened his throat with unshed tears. His voice was rougher than usual when he asked. "What do you call it?"
The music drifted away and Briar smiled. "Lost." She told him. Replacing the flute in its pouch she pulled out her harp. The song she played was gentle and spoke of the beauty of the night and the wonder of a moment of romance.
"Your music would bring tears to my eyes were I capable of weeping." A new voice spoke from the shadows.
Dragon's sword was in his hands an instant later and Briar carefully set the harp to the side as a ghostly figure stepped closer to them.
"Do not stop playing, I beg you." The sweet voice entreated. "It has been so long since I heard music." As the figure coalesced they could see it was a human girl with honey colored hair and brown eyes. "You needn't be concerned." She said gesturing to Dragon's sword. "I have no intention of harming either of you." As she came closer they saw the shimmering aura surrounding her. "I am Lasenu."
Dragon looked at Briar hoping she'd drawn her blades but the girl had picked up her harp again. He didn't lower his blade as he stood glaring at the apparition.
Briar regarded the ghost in awe. "I'm Briar." She offered. "This is Dragon. I've never met a ghost before."
"For your sake I hope you do not have the opportunity again." Lasenu replied. "Most are not as benign as myself."
Briar idly caressed the harpstrings and regarded the ghost with clear questioning eyes. "So that Dragon may put his mind at ease, perhaps you will explain your sudden appearance?"
Lasenu smiled. "Your music called to me, you have the soul of a bard and only a true bard can bear the gift I have. But you have the heart of a warrior and only a warrior has the strength to complete the task that must be completed. And in your friend I see a spirit kin to my own with a mage's wisdom and a warrior's courage."
Dragon scowled, his scarred visage even more forbidding, in spite of the ghosts pretty words. "What task is this?" He moved closer to Briar protectively.
"I was a Knight of Twilight." The ghost replied. "And while I was journeying on behalf of my order I was killed. The message I bore will be lost if it is not carried on."
"I haven't heard of the Knights of Twilight." Briar said in a puzzled tone, but Dragon was nodding his acceptance with a sad smile.
"Perhaps you will tell us who founded the order and who heads it now?" He said slowly, thinking that not many knew of the Knights and fewer of those who had created and ran the loosely organized group.
Lasenu nodded. "Dark Lady Alauniira founded the Knights and Enigma leads us now."
Dragon visibly relaxed and sheathed his blade. Sitting down next to Briar he smiled. "We will bear your message." His smile concealed his relief as his mind raced through the information he'd been given. When he'd been sent from Sanctuary Enigma had told him of the missing knight. He had been sent to complete her journey and discover what had happened to her.
Briar regarded Dragon with astonishment and her wide eyes invited elaboration. Dragon sighted and looked at the girl. Inwardly he shook his head, she was still young and he didn't know how far he could trust her with his secrets. She would be safer knowing nothing of his status or background.
Lasenu smiled and settled herself on the ground across from them. "It must be taken to Sanctuary outside in the Misty Wood. In Waterdeep ask for Deirdriu of the Midnight Sun, she will arrange passage for you." She took a deep breath, the habits of humanity still strong. "Tell them, the Elder Eye has found a haven in the Dark Keep to the west. And a knife in the dark may become a Dagger if given guidance." Lasenu frowned. "The knife is already in motion and the life of the second Knight is in danger."
Dragon nodded seriously and waited a moment. Lasenu shook her head. "That is all." She said quietly. "I don't know who the assassin is, nor at whom the knife is aimed. But I heard rumors to the effect that the first knight is also in danger but from another source. The man who told me all of this turned up dead the next day. All I know for certain is that the Knights are in danger from two different sources. Three if you consider the Elder Eye."
Dragon frowned but said nothing in response. "That is the whole of the message then?" He asked.
Lasenu nodded. "You must be on your guard. I did not die in an accident, nor at the hands of rampaging monsters and humanoids. That is why I said it would take a warriors heart and courage. But only a true bard can possess the gift I leave behind."
Briar had remained silent throughout the conversation and now looked quizzically at Dragon and Lasenu. The scarred half elf looked at her and smiled slightly. "I believe that we have a bard. Certainly she has the gift."
Lasenu pointed at the small ruin of stone. "Beneath the stones lie my body and my possessions. Among them are spell books and a harp of great beauty. There is also a ring and a circlet. I leave them all to you if you will but deliver that message." She began to fade from their sight. "Do not fail me, I beg you, I will not rest until my mission has been successfully completed."