Famous fairy tales revisited, Coldfire style: the Goose Girl
Disclaimer: I don't own either the "Coldfire Trilogy" or "The Goose Girl", and no profit or harm is intended.
Author's note: Well, I've been planning a Coldfire version of some of the well-known fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm for quite a while now. Unfortunately "Little Red Riding Hood" is on hiatus at the moment (just too many projects, and not much spare time...), but I'm also working on "The Sleeping Beauty", and there might be a "Cinderella" version one day, an obvious choice if one of your protagonists has to put up with eight rather nasty siblings and a beastly father on top of his misfortune.
The following story is very loosely based on "The Goose Girl", although it includes neither a goose girl nor any geese whatsoever, lol. I've got a rather vivid imagination, but try as I might I simply couldn't bring myself to picture the former Hunter minding some fowl for his livelihood. The poor horse Falada is part of the story, though, plus some hair braiding and hat chasing… The setting is slightly A/U (no revelations on Black Ridge Pass), by the way.
Chapter One: Black Ridge Pass
Once upon a time on a far away planet, when wishing still did some good if one was prepared for the ultimate sacrifice, a former priest stood on Black Ridge Pass and watched while the flames consumed the domain of his deceased companion, the Hunter.
Deceased, ha! Damien thought grimly. Murdered by his last living descendant who'd been wax in Calesta's and the patriarch's merciless hands would certainly hit home more closely, and gritting his teeth against the pain and his helpless wrath Damien clenched and unclenched his hands, vainly trying to bleed off some of the tension.
Vryce had never denied that Tarrant's repulsive crimes had cried to heaven, but the Hunter had already died on Mount Shaitan, and the man who had been killed at the keep had been mortal again, a human being who had just saved the world by sacrificing his next-to-immortal existence. God had shown mercy on his fallen prophet and had offered that unbelievable chance of redemption, but as usual humankind had failed to match the Lord's generosity. All that had been left to Gerald Tarrant was that one single, precious sunrise, the first dawn he had seen after more than nine hundred years of walking in the darkness.
Remembering Gerald's dirty, now so human face, tilted upwards to meet the rising sun with a disbelieving smile, Damien's throat constricted painfully, and he lifted a shaking hand to wipe away the unbidden tears that were starting to flow again. Why the heck couldn't he stop crying? The man had grown on him over the years they'd spent together, had become a friend against all odds, but Tarrant had been wiped off the face of the planet by a drug-addicted, half crazed kid in an act of cruel, pointless revenge, and he had come to terms with that fact sooner or later.
Let's face it, Vryce, Damien thought with a small grain of that familiar dry humor that must have been rubbed off on him by his late companion, in this special case you might have to settle for 'a lot later, if ever'.
Before the bloody fools had set the Hunter's domain on fire at the end of the dry season the warrior knight had even sneaked into the forest and rummaged through the rubble of what had once been a proud, black castle in a desperate attempt to recover Gerald's beheaded body, bowing down to the grisly task with grim determination.
Burying the sad remains of an existence of nearly a thousand years might have given him a sense of closure, but he hadn't found any bones, not even Tarrant's severed head in the pyre's remnants. So he had finally knelt on the bare earth and had recited the Prayer for the Dead, slowly and tenderly, pouring his very soul into the ancient verses, and every word had been a blade that cleaved his heart into tiny, bleeding bits. Very likely no memorial would ever be built to honor the man who had rescued humanity from falling into the clutches of a sadistic, power-crazy demon, but for those who had known him Gerald Tarrant's headstone were the stars he had loved so much and had never stopped yearning for, and Damien's heart.
All at once something dark and vicious moved against the clouds, and Damien snapped out of his reverie and brought up his springbolt, but a deafening crack startled him, and he missed the shot by an inch or two. The marksman didn't, and several tourists applauded when the demon exploded into bloody pieces, the shower of black blood and fragments failing to drench the enthusiastic crowd by a hair's breath. Rubbing his tortured ears Vryce whirled around, just to come face to face with a young man who nodded at him apologetically.
Damien's verdict was swift and derogatory: a spoiled brat in expensive clothes who very likely hadn't lifted so much as a slender finger in his life, except cleaning his daddy's expensive collection of firearms. The youth was pretty in an androgynous, delicate way, the thick, black braid nearly waist-length, the olive skin smooth and unblemished. Dark eyes framed with long lashes gazed arrogantly at the world, and their haughty expression and unwavering gaze reminded the warrior knight of another face, now lost to the world forever. Damien's heart clenched painfully and he averted his eyes from the unsettling stare.
"Hard to believe that he's gone, isn't it?" (CoS, page 521)
Involuntary Damien gulped down some air. What he really didn't need on top of his misery was a nice small talk about the Hunter's demise, and most certainly he had no intention of discussing his troubled feelings with a complete stranger. With his looks and money the youth wouldn't have any problems to find more talkative and enthusiastic company, and Vryce never even bothered to answer. With a curt nod he descended from Black Ridge Pass, but he didn't fail to notice that those dark, fathomless eyes never stopped drilling metaphorical holes into his back until he was out of sight.
To Damien's utter amazement it took him all his remaining resolve not to look back. Something had been very unsettling concerning the stranger, but his mind clouded with grief and despair he wasn't able to lay a finger upon it yet, and for his taste he had solved enough mysteries to last him a lifetime.
Suppressing a shiver Vryce realized that he had to get away from Black Ridge Pass with its crowd of gloating tourists and the never-waning smell of burning wood, away from that wretched place thriving on the demise of his friend just like the vile creatures in the Hunter's lair had thrived on death and decay, so close to the accursed spot where all his hopes for the future had been shattered before he'd even had the guts to admit them to himself. That hadn't come until later, when he had been forced to endure the sight of grey eyes staring blankly into eternity, beautiful even in death, and of those delicate features blackening in the scorching flames of a bonfire.
Damien swallowed a mouthful of bile and tried to make up his mind. So close to the dividers it would be sensible to head home, leave everything behind and start anew with the help of his siblings, but frankly he didn't feel up to meet the questioning stares of his relatives. The church had always been his vocation, the place where he truly belonged, and digging up some believable explanation why he'd resigned from his priesthood required an effort of will and imagination he simply wasn't able to muster yet, not while his grief was still fresh and his heart a bleeding mess.
You belonged at his side, but you left him to die, his guilty conscience whispered, and if you couldn't have saved him you should have died with him.
The terrible temptation to take matters into his own hands, if only to escape his very private hell of shame and remorse, had become a constant companion since the adept had perished in his stronghold a few weeks ago, and although defiling the sword of his order with the cardinal sin of suicide wasn't quite an option surviving Tarrant's death was a mistake that could be remedied easily.
Vryce was sufficiently proficient in herb lore to concoct a strong potion from certain plants, or he could simply acquire a lethal dose of the pills Andrys Tarrant had reportedly been so fond of and doze off peacefully into a better world. If everything else failed he still had his knife, but as usual his hand was stilled by the weird musing what Gerald's acerbic tongue eventually might have to say concerning his deplorable tendency to wallow in guilt and self-pity when they met again in the afterlife. Despite his sorrow Damien smiled faintly, lost in his memories.
Several days later Damien was still drifting aimlessly, spending most of the daylight hours on Black Ridge Pass and gazing at the smoking forest with burning eyes. To his utter amazement an incomprehensible part of himself had been longing for the reappearance of the nosy, intrusive youth, but the spoiled brat had never returned and was probably busy telling his well-to-do drinking mates about his daring demon shooting for the umpteenth time. To his dismay Vryce was torn between disappointment and stark relief. Something had been so very strange about that chance encounter in the dawn of a new world, so unnerving that just thinking of it gave him the creeps.
Damien shook his head like a horse trying to shoo away a bunch of irksome flies. Over the last few days he had felt increasingly fidgety, his restlessness getting stronger and stronger with each passing hour until his legs were twitching and he was coming close to twiddling his thumbs in despair. The world was still turning, and he couldn't remain on Black Ridge Pass forever, mourning Tarrant's passing. Gerald was gone for good, and as much as the thought still hurt the time to move on and get a life again had finally come.
Seemingly out of the blue an idea struck Damien, and he made for his lodgings to gather his scarce possessions. A few hours later the warrior knight was on his way to Jaggonath.