VANCE BACCER V.S. ALUSHA
Vance Baccer paced nervously in front of the door. A woman’s scream echoing through the tiny keep. Desperately he pounded on the door. “What is happening! Let me in!”
A final unholy shriek rang out, causing all those who heard it to cover their ears and cower in fear. It seemed to go on for an eternity, echoing off the stones and through the halls. Then, it died, only to be replaced by the plaintive wailing of a newborn child.
Vance stepped back, ready to break down the door when he heard the lock turn with a hollow ‘click’.
Falragn, priest and physician, stepped out, his face pale and closed the door quietly behind him. “I am sorry…”
Vance felt fear wash over him. “What is it? The child? Is it…”
The priest silenced him with the wave of his hand. “No, no… The child, your daughter is fine.” He assured. “But I’m afraid your wife, Kiyra is…”
Vance pushed past the startled priest before he could finish and slammed the door open with all his might.
He only managed to take three steps before his knees buckled in shock. A sheet covered the bed where his wife lay, the lower half drenched in blood. On the floor was a rapidly cooling pile of blood. Blood, everywhere…
“What… happened?” He stammered in disbelief.
“I am sorry, she did not survive the birth.” Falragn said slowly.
“And my daughter?”
“Is well.” Came a sultry feminine voice from across the room.
Vance did not need to look up to know who spoke. He fixed the woman holding his child with an angry glare. “You knew this would happen, witch.”
Alusha glanced briefly at the bloody sheet and shook her head. “What I know, or did not know, is not relevant. A bargain was made. You knew my price when you made the bargain.”
One year earlier…
Vance ducked an poorly aimed blow from the Orc’s axe and slashed his opponent across the stomach. The Orc fell squealing, holding in its intestines. Vance kicked the dying Orc aside pushed forward. All around him Orcs and men were brutally slaughtering each other. Horses and dying combatants alike screamed shrilly over the clang of steel on steel. To his right a mace wielding priest went down under the spears of two Orcs.
Vance cut the first down from behind and slammed his shield into the next one. The Orc stumbled over the dying priest and fell hard into the mud and blood. Vance stepped over the bodies and drove his sword into the fallen Orcs throat.
A crude hammer slammed into his shield, nearly knocking him down. Vance turned and slashed wildly, catching his assailant across the haft of the hammer, sending the hammer and fingers flying in separate directions.
The stunned Orc looked at its mutilated hands for only a moment before several arrows thudded into its chest.
Vance fell to one knee, panting and scanned the carnage. Their losses had been great, it was obvious now that the Orcs were losing, badly. Catching his breath he staggered to his feet and searched intently for his sole reason for being here.
A savage war cry caught his attention and he found the Orc chieftain immediately. It was rumored the Chieftan was really half-ogre, and from the size of him, Vance began to wonder at the validity of that claim.
Hefting his sword he roared his challenge and charged the giant Orc.
The Orc chieftan turned and held out his massive war-sword, growling in acceptance. Swinging wildly, both combatants cut a swath towards each other. The chieftan cutting down Orc and human alike to meet his foe.
Vance darted forward, slamming into the Chief with his shield, trying to use his body weight to bear his larger opponent to the ground. The Orc grunted slightly and backhanded the human like he were no more than a mere child.
The blow staggered him, sending sword and shield flying. Grinning cruelly the Orc slammed his war sword down with all his might, seeking to split the feeble human down the middle.
At the last second Vance rolled forward, tackling the giant Orc in the shins and sending him toppling forward.
Vance rolled to his knees and grabbed the nearest weapon at hand, a broken spear shaft. With an yell he drove it through the back of the Orc’s knee, pinning him to the ground.
The Orc chieftain bellowed in pain and swiped at the human, his claws raking deep gouges across the Vance’s face.
“Through a mask of stinging sweat and blood I found my sword and thrust it through his heart. Slaying the foul beast. Their leader gone, the Orcs fled before us like sheep. But we gave them no quarter, and slew every last one…” Vance finished the statement with a gesture to the severed Orc head at his feet. “And so, I return victorious, to claim what is rightfully mine.”
King Orrym nodded slowly, he was shrewd enough to see half the young man’s story was a farce, but the proof was undeniable.
“Very well. For your courage, I will grant you land, a keep of your own and title ‘Protector of the Realm.”
“And the princess’s hand in marriage.” Vance added with a wide grin.
King Orrym started to protest, hoping he could talk this silly peasant out of his youngest daughter’s hand, but before he could speak he was interrupted.
From beside the throne, Princess Kiyra bowed acquiescence. “Yes, as per my father’s agreement.” She stepped forward, a false smile on her face. Inwardly she was horrified. When the homely young man had first come to the court, professing his undying love, vowing to slay the Orcs pillaging her father’s land, she had dismissed it as the lovesick rambling of a simple peasant. But when she had heard that he had succeeded, she had steeled herself, trying to convince herself it would not be that bad. Now, that he returned, his face gouged and torn, she could hardly bear to look upon him.
Keeping her composure she stepped forward and embraced her soon to be husband. Tears forming in her eyes, she looked across the hall at one of the young handsome knights who had arrived far too late, as she did she whispered into his ear. “Though I will be your wife, you will never have my heart.”
Vance stiffened in anger, but bit back his angry reply. How dare she deny him? After all he had suffered? Immediately a plan formed in his mind. Bowing slowly he stepped back and addressed the king. “I would never impose upon a woman I did not know, give me a month to win your daughter’s heart. If she does not profess her love to me by then, I will return to my village, never to return.”
Orrym nodded, with a smile. Knowing his daughter would never profess her love to such a base-born peasant. “Agreed. You have one month from tomorrow.”
Vance slogged through the swamp with grim determination. It had taken him nearly a week and a half to get this far, nothing could stop him now. Exhausted he fell to his knees in he tepid water. “Witch! I know you can hear me! I come to you, begging your aid!”
He paused in his ranting, the swamp unnaturally still.
“WITCH! Hear me now! Whatever is mine to offer I will grant you!”
From behind him a sultry voice replied. “Anything?”
Vance whirled around in surprise. The legends spoke of the swamp witch being over a hundred years old, twisted and ugly, but then again, no one had reliably seen her in almost ten years.
The woman before him defied description. Though brown robes covered her head to toe, it could not hide her feminine figure. Her hair was dark brown and her skin was tanned deeply tanned but un-lined. But most compelling were her eyes, so dark they seemed almost black and bottomless. She crouched on the logs she was standing on so that she was almost eye to eye with Vance.
“Who are you?” He wondered aloud.
The witch smiled, showing even white teeth, that looked faintly pointed. “I am Alusha, I am the one you seek.”
She reached out to touch his torn face. “What brings such a handsome one as yourself to my humble home?”
Turning her hand over she pricked Vance’s face with a single razor like fingernail, drawing a drop of blood. Vance watched in speechless horror as she licked her fingertip thoughtfully and smiled.
“You seek a throne…”
Vance gaped in shock and scrambled backwards. “No! I only seek the Princess’s love.”
Alusha waved her finger in front of her face in negation. “The blood does not lie. But, I can give you all you wish…”
Vance’s eyes gleamed with unveiled greed. “You can?”
The witch smiled and produced a vial in each hand, one clear, one black. “Take these, the clear one will give you the love of whomever drinks it.”
Vance eyed the black vial suspiciously. “And the black one?”
Alusha laughed quietly, her eyes glittering under her hood. “If poured into a cup and drunk, it will render the drinker mad…”
Vance eyed the witch warily and crept closer. “What is your price?”
Alusha closed her hands over the vials and frowned. “For only the love of a woman? A years service.”
Vance shook his head in negation. “I have only two weeks to win her love.”
Alusha shrugged. “For both vials, your first born female child.”
Vance didn’t even hesitate. “Done!”
The priest pushed his way into the room. “What is going on in here?”
Vance pushed the priest out of the room. “Get the guards.” He hissed. “This woman is trying to steal the heir. I will try and stop the witch, but make sure she does not leave this room alive. GO!”
Vance closed the door behind the terrified priest and turned to face the witch. “Give me my daughter and I will spare your life.”
Alusha laughed and placed the child on the floor. “What good is your word? You have already broken one agreement? What will prevent you from breaking another?”
Vance grinned cruelly and shrugged. “Fine, we shall do this the hard way.” He flexed his fingers eagerly as he stalked towards the witch.
Alusha held up a warning hand. “This is your last chance, hold true to your word. For if you lay one hand upon me, it will be your undoing.”
Vance laughed and advanced on Alusha, a feral gleam in his eyes.
Father Falraghn panted as he rushed down the halls, a dozen guards clanking behind him. “Hurry!” He shouted. “There’s no telling what the witch has done!”
They reached the door a moment later and the guards pushed him aside. “We’ll handle this now!” Growled the squad leader as two of his guards kicked in the door. The guards rushed in, weapons at the ready.
Vance staggered towards the guards, child in his arms. “Thank all the gods! The witch has gone mad!”
As one the guards turned and converged on Alusha.
The witch looked at the guards in confusion. “Wait, it is a trick! I command you-“ The rest of her words were cut off as the squad leader stepped forward and punched her with a heavy mailed fist. “Enough of your foul lies, witch.” He turned to Vance. “Are you alright sir?”
Vance nodded wordlessly, seeming in shock.
The guard captain turned sharply away from Vance and eyed the unconscious witch in disgust. “Bind her and gag her. Take her outside and hang her.”
The guards nodded and went to their work. Satisfied the squad leader turned back to Vance and the priest and escorted them out of the room. “All will be taken care of.”
The witch stood unsteadily, the pain in her head and body overwhelming. As soon as the priest had been out of sight the guards had used her, one after the other. Now bound and gagged, the priest slipped the noose over her neck.
“May whatever gods you call upon have mercy on your soul.”
The witch looked out over the crowd assembled, mostly guards and staff. She easily picked out Vance over the crowd, mounted on his fine horse, child still in hand.
She jerked forward against her captors, trying to warn them all, but the gag muffled her words.
Vance raised his hand wordlessly. The priest nodded and placed a black bag over the witches head and stepped back, head bowed in prayer.
The crowd held its breath, waiting for what was to come next. As the sun crept over the battlements Vance lowered his hand sharply. Signaling the guards. The two guards nodded and shoved the witch off the platform. The audience gasped as the witch tumbled forward. The sharp crack as the rope snapped taut caused everyone to wince. The body kicked and twitched for several moments before it was still. Slowly, the crowd dispersed, in the early light no one noticed the body seemed… different somehow.
A satisfied smile on his face, Vance turned and rode out the gates with the child. The horse trotted slowly through the portcullis, tossing its head. Vance leaned forwards and whispered something into the animals ear, calming it. Slowly he rode until he was out of sight of the keep. Pausing, Vance threw back his hood and concentrated. Slowly the scarred visage and bulky frame rippled and melted away, revealing a slender feminine form. Alusha opened her eyes and smiled at the young child in her arms. “What shall I call you, little one?” She mused aloud. “You shall be named Kiyra, in memory of your mother.”
By: Jason Haley