Monday, 6 May 2013

An Enchantress Enchanted - Part 1

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Magical or enchanted items play a big part in many stories of fantasy. Often there'll be tales of weapons or other objects that appear to have an awareness, an intelligence, even a life of their own. 

Though the fantasy piece I'm working on currently is a humorous piece, there's a 'character' in it who takes the form of an enchanted sword. I couldn't expect readers to just accept the existence of such a thing, with no explanation but I didn't want to complicate the plot unnecessarily. 

I decided to create an origin story. I originally set out to maintain the light hearted flavour of the parent work, but found that impossible considering the more sinister themes of the story. 

It was a somewhat bigger task than I intended. To make the concept believable (yes, it's fantasy, but I'm talking 'believable' in fantasy terms,) the characters involved had to be believable, and the events that led to the creation of the enchanted sword had to be readily acceptable and not too far-fetched.

What follows is the first half of the story. This part makes no mention of an enchanted sword, but all will become clear in the second half. 

Knowing where the story will eventually lead, see if you can work out how it's likely to develop. I'd be interested in your ideas if you'd like to add comments. 

In the meantime, if you'd like to read a short tale that actually involves the enchanted sword, you can find one *HERE*.
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For centuries the lands known as ‘the north country had existed independently of the Three Kingdoms, without ever being part of any one of them for very long. Oakendale was a place like many of the other towns and villages that existed in those lands. Some of the older, larger settlements nearby still had the remains of town walls, erected as defences by various occupation forces centuries ago, in the years when armies from the Three Kingdoms had fought for control. Oakendale had no such defences though: it had sprung up since the times of walled towns, in the years since the Three Kingdoms had finally reached a truce that left the north country non-aligned and independent of the rule of any of them.

Oakendale was little more than a cluster of houses, a handful of stores and other merchants' premises; there were also stables, a smithy and a couple of inns. The village’s merchants did most of their trade with local farmers or with travellers between the Three Kingdoms. At times dwarves from the western mountains would pass through, or very occasionally even the elves from the distant forests further to the north had been known to visit. With the regular business from travellers, it seemed that the two inns in Oakendale did more trade than the merchants did, and there had always been competition between them. They both brewed their own ale, but to be honest there was very little difference between the two local brews. They both supplied food which was pretty much the basic, unremarkable sort available from inns everywhere. The rooms that both the inns provided where of a similar standard too, so whenever travellers and locals frequented one of the inns in preference to the other, it was due to factors other than these.

Siobhan was one of those factors. She'd started out first as a kitchen hand, then as a serving maid in one of the inns and had worked there ever since she'd been old enough to work. As she'd got a little older though, everyone was aware that she'd grown into a very attractive woman. The landlord of the rival inn had recognised that her looks alone were enough to attract patrons to his competitor's premises and had lured her away with promises of higher wages and better conditions, so now she slept in one of his better rooms without having to share, and earned more than any of the other girls in either of Oakendale's inns did.

Though she was privileged in a way, that wasn't enough for Siobhan; she had her mind and her heart set on even greater things. She knew that her appearance alone provided her with the potential to earn more. She knew that some of the girls from both inns would sell their favours to men, and Siobhan recognised that as a way of earning more money. She knew though, that her appeal gave her the advantage over her colleagues should she ever turn her efforts to such things, but also that she could earn as much as the other girls without having to resort to those extremes.

Outwardly, Siobhan had a pleasing personality and a happy disposition. If that, and the sight of her face and body, wasn't enough to endear herself to patrons, then her habit of singing and dancing whenever the chance arose certainly was; in fact it was the dancing that gave Siobhan her chance to increase her earnings. Her landlord had long since accepted that she wouldn't do as much serving as his other girls and accepted that, because the mere fact that she was there on his premises was enough to increase his business, so while others served the drinks and food to the public, Siobhan would wander amongst them, being generally friendly and pleasant. When music was playing, she would dance, and when she did she would command the attention of men. Often some men would ask her to dance for them specifically, and would be willing to pay for it. Occasionally men would ask her to go to their rooms or even outside of the inn to dance for them privately. Siobhan realised that the payment on offer for that was more than the coppers they offered in the inn, but also that it was almost definitely payment for more than just dancing, so she always politely declined. She did keep the idea in mind though, for a possible source of income in the future.

Then one day, the old man came to the inn. By this time Siobhan had taken to dancing at one end of the main common room to the inn’s assembled patrons; the landlord had even cleared part of the floor there for her purposes, and chairs had been arranged nearby to be occupied by the men who would come to the inn especially to see Siobhan: to fill the landlord's pockets by buying ale, and to fill Siobhan's pockets by paying her to dance.

The old man occupied one of these chairs tonight. He had done for the past three nights, ever since he'd arrived in Oakendale. As Siobhan began her first dance tonight, she saw him there and she frowned. Three nights so far and he'd not even given her a copper penny. Of course there had been others like him before, free-loaders enjoying her dancing without ever thinking to pay her for it, but she'd always known how to deal with that sort. She'd always make sure to pay particular attention to those men who were willing to pay, and sure enough, the tight fisted ones would soon loosen their purse strings, but this old man was different. He watched her closely enough, but the expression on his face showed that she didn't interest him in the same way that she did the others. He never showed any sign of pleasure in watching her dance. It was almost as though he was judging her.

She took a break and sat at a table in a quieter corner of the inn. She was surprised to see the old man approaching her. So that was it: It seemed he was one of those who wanted more from her than just dances. She turned to face him, determined that he wouldn't have his way with her, but also determined that she would take him for as much money as she could.

"You dance very well," he said to her. "Your talent extends to more than skill; looking at the effect you have on all these men, I would even say you have the ability to enchant."

"I don't seem to be having much effect on you sir," she replied. "As yet, my enchantment has been insufficient to persuade you even to open your purse."

"I enjoy your dancing as much as the rest do," he said, "though I may not show it in the same way that the others do. As for enchantment: It's difficult for even such as you to enchant one who's business is enchantment."

She talked to him at length, and found him to be a very interesting person, if a little sinister in his ways. He was right about his business being enchantment: that was clear. She found herself believing whatever he said, for no other reason than because he said it. He said that he was a sorcerer and though she’d never as much as seen a sorcerer before and doubted that such people even existed, she had no reason to doubt him and accepted his word. He told her that he could demonstrate powers over people to rival her power over men and she believed him. She found herself telling him freely of her disdain for the men who she danced for and even admitting her contempt for men in general, even though she'd never dared to share that with anyone before: he just seemed able to draw the truth out of her without really trying. She trusted him, and only enchantment could have made her act that way.

The other men in the bar were calling for her to dance again but she found herself reluctant to leave this old man's company. "Go," he said, "Dance for the men. When you next take a rest, come back to me and I'll tell you of a way you can enchant them even more, how you can draw even more men into your influence and how you can take even more of their money."

So later that night she sat with the old man again and this time he told her that he had a pact in mind. Her power over men was useful to them both and he could help her profit more from it, but her hatred of men could also be particularly useful to him. "For my part," he said, "I will reveal to you a way of improving your lot, of enticing more men, of earning far more from them. For your own part you must give me your word that you will do favours for me in return, whenever I call for you to."

There was never any doubt that she would agree. This man had enchanted her as much as she enchanted those who came here to see her. She knew it was enchantment; she recognised it as such, but that didn't matter to her, so she eagerly listened as he explained in detail what she had to do for herself. For now he didn't mention exactly what she'd need to do for him, but she didn't care. She knew she'd do it anyway, whatever it was.

~o~O~o~

The blacksmith rested for a moment and took a drink to soothe the burning in his throat. His work was hard but business was healthy, though not as brisk as he’d have liked it to be. He mentally reviewed the jobs he had left on his work rosta and hoped that trade would improve a little soon. The occasional traveller with a horse to be shod wasn't really going to make him his fortune.

He was skilled in all forms of metalwork but saw himself particularly as an armourer. He had once been known for producing some of the finest swords there were, back in the day when he lived in the Eastern Kingdom, in the days before his debts had caused him to flee his creditors and hide here in this hole of a village in the north country, so now he made a reasonable enough living, but if he was ever to even dream of returning to his previous, more prosperous life then he needed to take on bigger jobs that paid more.

The creaking of the door to his forge made him look up suddenly. The early morning sun shining through the door into his darkened smithy showed just the silhouette of the person standing there, but that was enough for him to recognise her. It was the girl from the inn. He'd watched her dance countless times, and had willingly given her money he couldn't really afford to spend, just to watch her dance. He'd had many dreams of her since he first watched her: dreams of all kinds, both sleeping ones and waking ones. And now here she was visiting his place of work for some reason.

She walked slowly into the forge and looked around the workshop before saying: "Do you only cater for horses, or do your skills extend to bigger things than horseshoes?" then she walked over to his bench and picked up a sickle blade he'd made earlier, running her long slender finger along the edge of the blade.

"As you can see," he said to her, "I'm skilled in making tools: blade making I'm especially skilled in, both domestic and military, though I doubt you're in the market for a scythe or a sword. A dagger perhaps?"

She turned to him and smiled. "You work with steel," It was a statement, not a question, "I have a task for you, working with steel. How long could you make a shaft of steel? Rounded like a pole, slender but still strong enough that nothing could bend or break it?"

"There is no piece of metal strong enough to resist breaking entirely," He said, "but I could fashion something for you that would be immune to the efforts of the strongest man to bend or break it."

"It's enough for it to stay in one place and not bend or break, under nothing more than the weight of a slender young girl," she said as she laughed.

He laughed too: "No problem with that," he said "Tell me exactly what it is you need. Though steel isn't cheap. I have some, but I reserve it for making my best farm implements." He didn't mention that he had a small secret stock of the very best weapons grade steel that he’d brought with him years ago and that he kept back for making swords, for when the orders started coming back in.

She explained to him what she wanted: A steel pole hardly thicker than her wrist, but long enough to span the space between the floor and the ceiling of the common room at the inn where she worked. He told her he could make what she wanted, but that it would not be cheap. Then she told him that though she couldn't pay him right away, she was confident that within days of him completing the job, she would be in a position to settle the bill. Something about her smile convinced him to believe every word she said, and when she smiled at him again and he felt her eyes meet his, he knew at that moment he was going to use his best sword steel for this job.

~o~O~o~

The pole had been in place for just over a week now. The old man hadn't lied. Each night since the blacksmith had delivered it and fitted it in place, Siobhan had danced around the pole. Swinging around it, rubbing herself suggestively against it, climbing it, all came naturally to her as though she'd been doing it all her life. The men in the bar reacted better than she could possibly have hoped. The landlord had asked her what the hell she was doing to begin with, but once word had got around and it seemed that every man in the region was making a point of visiting his bar, he'd appreciated what an asset Siobhan and her pole were to his business. He'd increased the size of the area of the common room where Siobhan danced, and had even trebled the number of chairs there.

If the inn's profits had increased, then Siobhan's own income had increased on a massive scale. The landlord didn't realise it yet, but Siobhan suspected that the public were spending more watching her dance than they were buying food and drink from the landlord. She smiled to herself. At this rate she'd be in a position to buy an inn of her own in little more than a year or two. Perhaps even sooner: her landlord's rival had begun to see his own business suffer and might well be ready to sell up within the year.

She walked into the common room and already the men had started gathering, claiming the best seats in the front row. She didn't intend to start dancing just yet, though it didn't surprise her that her public were keen to get to the inn early just in case. The blacksmith was standing by the bar, waiting for her. he passed her a piece of paper as she approached him: his bill. She unfolded it and looked at it. She hadn't had much of an idea how much the work would cost, but was quite surprised that it was so much. It didn't matter though. She could afford it now. She went behind the bar and into an alcove there, took a key from within the folds of her dress and unlocked a strongbox fastened to the ground. She took out three bags of silver and passed them to the blacksmith. He weighed each of them in his hand, then opened one to examine the contents. "This is too much," he said, "Much more than my bill says."

"That's OK," she replied, "You did a good job and your work is already showing it's worth to me. Take it all."

He pulled a single silver coin from one of the bags. "Then I thank you," he said, "Let me at least buy you a drink before you start working tonight."

"No need," she said, "I never drink before I work, but let me buy you one. Ale I take it? I hope you'll stay a while and watch my performance. There's still one chair in the front row there that you can sit in."

So it was that Siobhan performed again that night to a full house of eager lusty males, none more so than the blacksmith sitting in the front row, his infatuation for her showing clearly in his eyes every time she looked longingly toward him as she danced. It would have been natural for him to have glanced toward the pole as she danced; after all it was his own handiwork, but his eyes only ever left Siobhan's face and body long enough to take another silver coin from the bags in his hand and toss it toward her, to fall with the other hundreds of coins of copper and silver.

More and more men arrived at the Inn, and though the place was crowded more than it had ever been, though their chances of buying refreshment were remote, since the landlord and his serving maids just couldn't keep up, still they came, until it was standing room only. None of the chairs were vacated all evening and when eventually the inn closed for the night, the blacksmith was the last to leave his seat and begin his journey home, carrying with him not all three, not even two, but only one of his bags of silver, and that one only half full.

~o~O~o~

Siobhan had to admit that the pole had been an excellent idea, but she knew that it was more than that: there was magic and enchantment involved. The more popular she became when she danced at the pole, the less she seemed to appeal to the men she met in the times in between. She’d always noticed the looks of the men she passed in the streets of the village during the daylight hours, but just lately, she’d been able to walk amongst them almost unnoticed. Occasionally she’d recognise one of her regular audience and she’d smile and nod toward them, only to find herself being totally ignored. In the old days that had only ever happened if they’d had their wives with them, and then it had been accompanied by embarrassment on the man’s part. Recently, if she ever detected a look from them of any kind it was always one of disinterest.

Things were totally different when evening came around and she was back in the inn. Tonight she stood beside the pole in the time before the men arrived. She stroked her hand down part of its length. It felt somehow different. When the blacksmith had first installed it and she’d had her first try at rehearsing with it, she’d been aware of it’s coldness, of it’s strength and she liked that, but now there was more: now she felt the power within it, felt that it even had a soul, like a living thing. Not only that, but it felt like that soul was connected to her in some way, as though she and the pole shared something. It felt to her as if she was never complete unless she was here, beside her pole.

The effect had become noticeable after the first couple of days, but had become even more apparent as time went on. This morning she’d awoken in panic; she felt the presence of someone else in her room, but when she’d jumped out of her bed there had been nobody there. Her instinct made her race downstairs, just in time to see one of the other serving girls: Beth, who she’d thought of as a friend, stroking her own hand down the length of her pole.

What are you doing?” she shouted.

Beth turned to face her, a look of guilt on her face as she said “I’m sorry Siobhan, I was just looking at it. It’s so very cold and strong and shiny.”

It’s also mine,” she snapped, “So keep your hands off it. If I see you with as much as a fingertip on it again, you’ll be sorry.”

Beth apologised again then left the common room, looking hurt and a little shocked. Siobhan knew right then that if anyone ever tried to take the pole away from her, she would kill them.

~o~O~o~

It was a few more days before the old man returned to the inn. Siobhan thought she’d seen him at the back of the crowd the night before, so when he walked into the inn that next morning as she ate her breakfast, she was hardly surprised. She’d wondered all this time about what the favours he’d want from her would be, and to begin with she’d worried about it, but recently she’d made up her mind that any price she’d have to pay would be worth it. The pole was worth it: not just for the incredible income she was able to make with it, but because it was now a part of her, and if she lost it she knew it would feel like a kind of bereavement to her; no, more than that: it would feel like losing a part of herself.

It seems our agreement is working well for you my dear,” he said as he approached the table she sat at. “Now the time has come for it to start working for me too.”

What exactly is it that you want me to do?” she asked, though she knew she would agree to anything. Even if this old man wanted her to lie with him, even that would not be too much of a price to pay.

I want you to do anything that I ask of you, whenever I ask it of you,” he said firmly, “though for now I have a specific job for you. Do you know the travelling merchant: Hal of Outgate?”

She nodded. She knew him. Hal was a regular visitor to Oakendale, always with wares from faraway places and always at prices most of the locals couldn’t afford. He kept on returning to the village again and again because of the number of people who owed him money from his earlier visits, and of course with new wares that the people longed for, so he could trap more into becoming his customers. “Do you owe him money?” she asked.

Not at all,” he replied. He paused before continuing: “He has information about me that I’d prefer he didn’t share with others. He also possesses tokens and charms that render him immune to my own powers. That makes him very dangerous to me. Let’s just say that he’s my enemy.”

She realised at that moment that the old man wanted her to kill the merchant. She was surprised that the thought didn’t particularly bother her. Admittedly she’d never liked this Hal, but she’d never had anything against him personally. The thought of killing him ought to have been abhorrent to her, but at that moment, it seemed like a reasonable thing for the old man to ask.

He’ll be here in the inn tonight. Pay him special attention as you dance. He’s particularly wealthy though not known to be free with his riches. Nevertheless I think he’ll be eager to donate toward your income. He probably won’t be content to just throw coins like the common people do though. I predict that a little attention from you, together with the odd smile and he’ll be requesting a private dance.”

And you want me to arrange to meet him outside later and kill him?” she asked.

No, that wouldn’t work. You’re at your most attractive and most dangerous when you’re with your pole. Persuade him instead to come back to the inn when everyone else has left. Dance for him and when he tries to get closer to you, use this.” He passed her a long slender dagger. “Between his ribs should do it. Aim for the heart.”

I can’t do that,” she said, “What about the body? People will know it was me.”

Don’t worry about the body,” he said, “There will be no body. Just do as I say. It’s what we agreed. If you break our pact I have it in my power to take the pole away from you.”

She wasn’t sure she understood what he meant by “there will be no body,” but his powers of enchantment prevented her from doubting his word, so she nodded and tucked the dagger into the bodice of her dress.

~o~O~o~

She sat at that same table later that night, counting the evening’s takings.

The merchant had behaved exactly like the old man said he would. He’d watched her dance with all the lust of the other men present, but had kept a tight grasp on the contents of his purse until she made a point to direct her charm to him specifically. She started by smiling at him, then looking directly at him with such a look that some of the other men began to show signs of jealousy. At last he took a silver coin from within his clothing and instead of tossing it at her feet, he held it out in front of him offering it to her. She swung around the pole, holding on with her left hand as she reached out to take it from his hand with her right. She smiled then raised his coin to her lips; she kissed it, then licked the coin and smiled again before she tucked it into her bodice.

She expected the merchant to approach her at her next break, but he didn’t. She’d noticed these past couple of nights that the men had stopped pestering her between performances, instead just sitting patiently facing the area of the floor where the pole stood. The merchant did likewise, as though her own appeal had drained away the further from the pole she was. She decided to approach him. She walked toward her dancing area and all the men became more attentive as she did. The few who had been standing at the bar followed her to stand in the crowd.

As she passed the front row of chairs, she placed her hand on the merchant’s shoulder and bending she whispered in his ear: “If you have a lot more of those big silver coins, perhaps I could dance for you privately later.”

He turned toward her then back to the pole, then back to her as he smiled. “I have more than you can imagine,” he said, “perhaps even enough to buy more than just a dance from you.”

She smiled as she continued toward the pole. The men cheered as she jumped toward it, wrapping her arm and her legs around it. She spun around the pole to face the merchant and she nodded at him and smiled, as she thought: “Yes, you’ll certainly get more than a dance from me.”

She gathered her coins up now as he walked back into the common room. He was staying at the inn but neither she nor he had suggested that she visit him in his room, because of course, that wasn’t where the pole was.

Bear with me for a little while,” she said as she walked behind the bar, unlocked her strong box and put her money inside. She locked the box again and replaced the key in her bodice, checking that she had the dagger the old man had given her.

Let’s hurry this up,” the merchant said. “You know what I’m here for.” His tone wasn’t one of someone who lusted after her, and the expression on his face was one of someone who disapproved of her, rather than one who wanted her. She walked toward the pole, picking up one of the chairs as she passed. She placed the chair forward of the rest, closer to the pole and facing it. She rubbed her back against the pole and smiled. The look he gave her as he took his place on the chair was different from how it had been only a moment before. Now it was the look of a man who wanted her, wanted her so much that he had to have her.

He took a large bag of silver from inside his cloak, opened it, and poured out a few coins onto the floor in front of him. He tossed the bag, with the remainder of its contents down and she began to dance.

As she danced she noticed how she was affecting him, but more than that, she noticed something different from the pole. As his lust increased, so the feeling of desire from the pole seemed to do too. Though what came from the pole wasn’t a desire for her, it was a desire for something different, something she couldn’t quite explain though she did detect a similar though lesser desire within herself.

She danced for a couple of minutes more as her one man audience seemed to get more and more excited. Then he held up his hand to signal her to stop. She did and his hand went back into his cloak; when he pulled it out, it held another bag of silver, this one somewhat larger than the last one.

She smiled at him and blew him a kiss. He took yet another bag out and nodded toward the silver on the floor. “That,” he said, “for dancing for me. This one,” he raised the hand holding the second bag of coins, “If you’ll dance for me naked. And this…” He left his sentence unfinished as his other hand lifted the third bag.

She smiled and rubbed her body against the pole. “Naked?” she said, “Let me think about it.” She lifted her skirt to show a little more leg, then pressed her body to the pole as she rotated around it. “Very well,” she said, “providing you’ll come over here and undress me.”

He didn’t need further persuasion. He stood up, dropping both his extra bags of coins and walked briskly toward her, his hands stretching out in front of him as his eyes widened and he almost drooled from his lips. She giggled and moved her body behind the pole, to the side opposite to him. He reached around the pole to touch her and as he did, she felt a surge of lust coming from the pole. Finally she recognised it. This was lust yes, but it was blood lust The pole wanted his death.

She swung around the pole so that she was behind him now, pinning his body between the pole and her own. Her teeth closed on his ear as she breathed into it, groaning slightly. The groan that he returned was much more audible. She reached into her bodice and pulled out the dagger. Rubbing herself up and down his body, she lifted his cloak then pushed the dagger into his back, knowing the blade was long and slender enough to pass between his ribs and right into his heart.

His body slipped down the pole as it bled; and how it bled: more blood than she’d ever seen flowed from his corpse as it lay at the foot of the pole. “There’ll be no body, eh?” she thought, then as she stood back from the pole she watched as more blood gushed forth from his corpse. More blood than she thought possible gathered in a pool around the pole; his body seemed to be shrinking as the blood increased, until even his clothing seem to be dissolving in the blood or perhaps turning into blood itself; then as the corpse began to reduce further in size, so too did the pool of blood. It was as if the blood was being drawn into the pole. She stood and watched, amazed and excited as first the merchant’s flesh and clothing disappeared, then as every single drop of the blood was drawn into the pole.

She looked at the pole. It was as bright and shiny as it had ever been. There wasn’t a sign or a stain of blood anywhere on it. She turned and looked at all the silver on the floor by the chair and smiled to herself, then she walked closer toward the pole. She placed her hand on it, and recognised that the pole’s lust for blood had been quenched as much as her own had, but there was more. The soul she’d detected from within the pole a few days earlier was recognisable now. It was her own soul. The pole had become an extension of her being. It was a part of her.

~o~O~o~

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