Ruby Red and Gentilberry Green: A Fantastical Romance - Part X

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the tenth part of an ongoing serial. Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine. Updates every two days.

Her name was Matilda Gentilberry, formerly of the Magister’s Guild of Realmsighters. She had joined the Guild at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, slightly too old to serve anyone’s purposes, but slightly too young to be convinced to leave. There was no-one in the Guild, after all, entirely willing to take the blame for driving out a Gentilberry. Everyone knew who she was. No-one dared to ask why she was here.

She had left home, in part, because her family had branded her a witch. She was eighteen years old.

It wasn’t an uncommon accusation, not in Raglia, but when the Gentilberry clan grouped behind it, the charge became one with weight. They were, after all, the most powerful wizards in the entire land. Some even called them the strongest in the world. They’d tried to burn her, and, when the Church had stopped them from doing it, thrown her in a cart and seen her out of the town in chains.

There was no place in the world for a magicking woman. Not in Raglia. Not in House Gentilberry.

But Matilda, quiet, mousy Matilda, was far harder on the inside than any of her relatives could have even imagined. She had read books, you see, and not all of them mundane either. There was nothing in her heart that told her she couldn’t be a wizard - or a wizardess. Even though that wasn’t a word.

On the fourth day of her captivity, Matilda begged to be released in order to relieve herself. Her captors, more than willing to see the back of a witch, obliged, but refused to undo her chains. They let her out, pointed at the side of the road, and laughed.

It was at this point that the young woman bit her lip, spat the blood down her neck and into her bosom, and turned abruptly into a lame black hare. Before the guards could even blink, she was gone.

She spent ten bitter years on the run, helping those that she could and eating when time afforded. It was to be her first and sweetest taste of the wanderer’s life. For at the age of thirty, a mere two years after her enlistment into the Realmsighters, Matilda Gentilberry did the impossible:

She opened a passing planesgate, stepped through her dressing-mirror, and vanished from the world.

#####

It was a cold spring day in Arnil, Land of the Thousand Trees, and in the dewy glade a girl lay dying.

It was not the cold that was killing her. Her lips were carnation-pink. Her blue eyes were clear as the ocean on a bright summer’s day. Her hair hung all about her, wet honeycomb gold in the grass and dew. Her dress was pristine as a cloud, and showed no sign of violence. She was smiling, wistfully, sweetly, as if remembering a love long lost, or an old home now vanished.

But she was dying, nonetheless. After thirty years of wandering the Infinite, one tended to know these things. To see these things.

The old scarecrow woman, bound in rags and sackcloth, put a padded knee into the grass and touched the girl on the shoulder.

“Who did this to you?” asked Matilda Gentilberry.

The girl’s smile widened. She opened her mouth to speak, and whispered:

“No-one.”

Matilda pursed her lips into a thin white line.

“Nonsense,” she said. “You’re being eaten up, girl, I can see it. The sorcery’s right inside of you. Whatever possessed you to do something so foolish?”

Again, the sweet, wistful smile.

“I thought… I could take it. That he would give it to me.”

“Necristo,” said Matilda. “It was Necristo, wasn’t it?”

The girl nodded. Matilda closed her rag-bound hands. She looked for a while at the grass, then said:

“You can’t take sorcery. No-one can, not unless they have the gift. Did he tell you? That you would kill yourself?”

The sweet smile widened, warmed by the light of the morning sun. The blue eyes were glazing. Matilda grasped the girl’s shoulders and shook her hard.

“Stay with me,” she said. “Don’t go. I need you to tell me what he did to you. Do you understand? Give me your name. What’s your name?”

“Ceres,” came the numb reply. “Ceres Swansilver. I used to… I used to live… I just wanted his…”

“What did he do to you?”

The body jerked once, twice, in a spasm of utter ecstasy. The beautiful mouth opened wide, so wide it looked as if it would unhinge her jaw. And from that mouth issued a cry, a cry of unfettered pleasure, a sensual howl so complete in its utterance that it sounded like the wail of an overjoyed child.

The white hands curled into dainty claws, then fell limp to the ground. The head lolled back. Slowly, over one whole minute, the corpse’s flesh silvered, as if its very skin were alchemising. An iridescent liquid, shimmering like mother-of-pearl, bubbled from the unseeing eyes and open mouth, like beautiful streams of blood.

Matilda Gentilberry closed her eyes and said a brief prayer to Khevila. Then she raised her hood, slipped a small vial from inside her cloak and began to take the soulstuff.

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