This post contains a revision to the climax of Tales of the Ravensdaughter found in Adventure #6, The Raven’s Daughter.
It is meant for those who have already read Adventures #1-#6, and would like a little more ‘umph’ from one of the key scenes in the final novella.
If you have NOT yet read Adventure #6, The Raven’s Daughter – AND YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ A MAJOR SPOILER…
TURN BACK NOW!
If you have continued to read this far, here is a revision of the battle between Alerice Linden and Kreston Dühalde. For those of you who have already read Adventure #6, The Raven’s Daughter, you know that this scene is powerfully bittersweet.
Here is your last chance to turn back…
FROM THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER, ADVENTURE #6 OF TALES OF THE RAVENSDAUGHTER
Alerice landed once more atop the section of city wall that crowned the portcullis. Unable to hold Kreston a moment longer, she dropped him as her boots struck the stone, but the sudden shift in weight fouled her balance and she toppled toward the wall’s edge.
Someone grabbed the scruff of her scale mail tunic and drew her back from the brink. Then that same someone tore her feathered cloak off her body and cast it to the ground below. She watched it float down, but then felt Kreston grab her arm and spin her about.
He locked stares with her, and dropped his broadsword. As it clanked to rest, Kreston grabbed hold of Alerice’s left arm and held her in an iron grip. Then he forced his left hand over her right, and guided it over her dagger. With a quick tug, he drew the blade and closed her fingers over the handle, his gloved hand pressing down upon hers.
“I said this is over,” he stated.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ll yield if that’s what you need.”
“No,” Kreston said, forcing her to lift the dagger and aim it at the chink in his red scales. “I yield.” He paused and then added in the sternest voice Alerice had ever known, “Kill me.”
Alerice’s eyes went wide. “What?” she gasped.
“You heard me,” he said, his gaze both desperate and demanding. “The king won’t let me strike myself. Believe me, I’ve tried, but he can’t stop you unless he’s here, which he could be any moment, so you’ve got to do it now.”
“Kreston,” she said. “There must be another way.”
“There isn’t, Alerice. Please. I’m begging you. Before that wretch puts me back into action against your friends. Once my soul goes below, he’ll take hold of it and have Oddwyn fetch my body. He always does, and he’ll make me pay for this, but if there is any mercy, the queen will find a way to lock my brain up again so I can’t murder at his command. You can persuade her to do it. I know you can.” He strengthened his hold on her hand, half-crushing it. “Alerice Linden, strike me down.”
He moved the dagger’s tip into his armor, and Alerice felt the resistance of his body. She saw him wince, but then she saw his hazel eyes imploring her to act.
In that moment, Alerice knew it would be better for Kreston to never have known her, never to remember her once he woke within the healing columns, for the King of Shadows would only use her memory against him, and if the king would not grant him liberty, she would.
“I will see you free, Kreston Dühalde.”
He smiled and said, “If anyone can it’s you.”
Though Alerice knew that her steel had already pierced his flesh, she kept it ready as Kreston reached to the back of her neck and drew her to him. Then he kissed her with every ounce of the pent-up passion he held for her.
He released her left arm, and she grabbed hold of his shoulder. Then, she thrust her dagger into him, feeling it drive as deeply as the Reef of Navre had driven her own dagger into her heart not so very long ago.
“Now, Oddwyn,” the Raven Queen ordered in her Grotto.
The maiden Oddwyn conjured a portal and disappeared.
“I should have known!” the King of Shadows shouted at the foolish scene playing out in his prime pane. Both it and the other eleven mirrors shook in their smokey tendrils. Yes, he would make Dühalde pay for this idiocy. By the Realme, he would.
The king focused his prime pane on the Convergence, for Dühalde’s soul would appear there any moment. He drew a breath to summon the Realme’s herald to fetch his body, but just then the maiden Oddwyn appeared to his left.
“Go and bring him,” the king ordered. “That girl child thinks she can help the queen lock his mind away again, but I’m not about to let that happen a second time.”
“Yes, but My King?” Oddwyn said, perhaps a little too sweetly.
“What?” the king asked.
“You see, the queen… She has asked me to… You see…”
In her Twilight Grotto, the Raven Queen conjured the sight of the Convergence in one of her windows. Kreston’s spirit appeared there, looking about. Then his spirit closed his eyes, held wide his arms, and hung his head back awaiting his fate.
The queen curled her willow-white fingers into the palm of one hand while holding the soul amphora in the other. Kreston’s spirit flew through the window to her. She caught hold of it, and gently directed it into the amphora, managing every moment of its glistening descent.
“The queen what?” the King of Shadows demanded.
The maiden Oddwyn curtseyed deeply so that her knees touched the floor, but looking up into the king’s dark gray eyes, she rose to her feet and stood with her shoulders back.
“The queen commanded me to do something.”
“Well, what is it?”
Oddwyn paused one final moment and then said, “Distract you, My King.”
The King of Shadows thought the command curious, until he spun about and looked into his prime pane at the sight of an empty Convergence. Then he altered the image to that of the city wall where the girl child knelt beside his fallen Walker.
Alerice withdrew her dagger from Kreston’s side and looked about. All she could see were storm clouds rolling in against the moonlight. Fires burning along the wall highlighted Kreston’s body, and she could see the blood trailing from below his gray scales and pooling onto the stone. But she saw nothing else.
“Where are you, Oddwyn?” she called into the night. “Oddwyn!”
She felt Kreston’s face. It was cold, and his complexion was growing pale. The clouds above moved with surprising speed, and she looked about once again.
“Oddwyn!” she called again.
Lightning split the night, and Alerice recoiled. When she looked up, she saw the King of Shadows standing over her.
“She’s not coming,” the king said. “He’s not coming. Neither of them are coming. My wife has Dühalde’s soul. He’s dead.”
Alerice looked at Kreston in disbelief. Then the truth struck her, and she felt a flash of anger as she scrambled to her feet. She raised her bloody dagger against the king, but then she caught sight of Kreston’s broadsword.
As another bolt of lightning flashed and a clap of thunder rolled out, Alerice tossed her dagger aside, swept the sword into her grasp, and aimed it at its master.
“So now you claim my blade,” the king said, the crystals on his crown and standing out from his shoulders seeming to reflect the after-traces of the lightning above.
“Yes, I do,” Alerice said, her expression hardening. “But not in your service. The gods above and you below have blessed me, and I am no longer yours. I am the Realme’s.”
“I am the Realme,” the king said.
“No, you and your wife are the personifications of the Realme, but you are not the world below. It is boundless, and you are fixed, and I will walk past you both. I will carry this sword with me – though I will never draw it again. I will never allow you to enslave anyone else with it again. This is the last time you will ever see its service. I promise you that.”
“And how do you think you can accomplish all this?” the king asked.
“With a little bit of help,” two voices said – L’Orku in his deep, rolling tone and Gäete in his higher tenor.
The three immortals locked stares before L’Orku lowered his torso and presented his great ram horns. Then he charged at the King of Shadows, colliding with him so soundly that thunder rang out atop the wall as he sent the king toppling off into the night.
Gäete reached out to steady Alerice from the percussive shock. As she grabbed hold of his arm, he reached out with a charcoal hand to touch the broadsword. His lightning-ringed eyes danced as he ran his fingers up the blade from hilt to tip, causing it to crackle with dancing dynamic.
Gäete then smiled at Alerice, who looked at the sword’s many arcs before she looked up at the brother gods. Then she stood upright before them and raised the blade in salute, her back straight as she lowered her weight onto her rear leg in her classic reverence.
“Do use it,” Gäete said. “Use it well.”
Alerice nodded, but then she looked down at Kreston’s body. There was only one proper way to send him off, and so she raised the lightning blade high so that it sparked in the night sky. Then she brought it to her, turned its point down, and slammed it through the heart of Kreston’s gray scales.
A blast flashed brightly, and yet this time Alerice did not feel any repercussion. She saw a brilliant wave spread out from Kreston’s body, and though she needed to glance away for a short moment, when she looked down, Kreston’s body was gone – as were both L’Orku and Gäete.
Alerice stood atop the small rise that was capped by the little shade tree. Stretching out before her was the flat expanse where two mornings ago, two armies had joined battle. Kreston had stood beside her then, and she had promised him she would be his advocate.
Now, the battle was done. Lord Bolivar was the official Cheval of both Navre and A’Leon. He had ordered his men to clear the field and bury the dead. What remained were mounds where groups of the fallen lay.
Alerice stood quietly in her black scales. She bore no gorget or plate. Her Realme dagger rested at her hip, opposite her crossbow. Her pixie pole cylinders hung from her belt, but she also bore another belt – a man’s belt, Kreston’s belt.
Strapped to it was the sheathed broadsword he had been forced to bear. The weapon was hers now, infused with Gäete’s lightning, and she intended to keep her vow that the King of Shadows would never again use it to enslave someone.
The king would likely find another champion in due course. There were always men willing to seek him out, but Alerice doubted he would ever find another natural Walker. As so many others had told her, her kind was not born all that often. The king might seek one out, but Kreston Dühalde had been a unique fellow, a combination of talent in both the worlds above and below, and yet a man driven to try and right the wrongs he had suffered.
A small red bird alighted on one of the shade tree’s branches. It sung for a moment, and then cocked its head to spy down on Alerice. She smiled as she gazed upon it, and watched as it looked into the distance and darted away.
Then Alerice saw a Realme portal begin to open beside her, and she looked once more upon the field.
A youthful Oddwyn appeared and lifted his hand in salutation. Alerice saw him from the corner of her eye, but did not acknowledge him. She waited for him to approach, which he did. He held something in his hand, but she did not look closer to see what it was.
“I…” Alerice paused before she said, “I should have let myself love him more, Oddwyn. He deserved it. He was a good man who endured bad things. He should have had a better life.”
“It’s always sad when mortals don’t get the life they long for, but that’s the way things often happen. You gave him what love you could. He wanted more for a while, but he resigned himself in the end. And you did give him love, Alerice. And he was grateful for what you had to offer.”
Alerice thought of Kreston’s hazel eyes and the way he laughed when he was truly himself. Her tears began to well up, and she closed her eyes to think of something else.
She sniffed to collect herself, but when she opened her eyes, she saw Oddwyn looking out upon the field, tears in his.
“Oh, Oddwyn,” Alerice said, holding her arms open to offer an embrace. Oddwyn glanced at her, then turned toward her and stepped in. She held him close and cradled him softly as he pressed into her shoulder and allowed himself a rare moment of raw feeling.
“I’ll miss him, Alerice,” Oddwyn said. “Yes, he was a good fellow.”
“You knew him better than I did,” Alerice said.
Oddwyn gave Alerice a long squeeze, and then withdrew to wipe his face. “I did,” he said with a sigh. “You’re right. He didn’t deserve to be treated the way his was. For what it’s worth, the gods above did their best to keep Kreston from dying his whole career. It was their way of hiding him from the King of Shadows. It was also his lucky charm in battle. Just when he thought the game was up, he’d sidestep a fatal blow. He was known as the pride of the Crimson Brigade long before he was known as its ghost.”
“But then his brigade was destroyed,” Alerice said.
“It was,” Oddwyn agreed with a far-away look. “And nothing could stop him after that. He climbed the cliffs to the king’s shrine, and the rest you know.”
Alerice paused, trying to imagine the dashing Captain Dühalde before disaster had struck. “I wonder what he was like when he was younger.”
“Charming beyond belief,” Oddwyn chuckled.
“Maybe I would have fallen in love with him back then.”
Oddwyn looked Alerice over, seeing that the moment was perfect for a frank assessment.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t think you’ll ever let yourself fall in love with anybody, Alerice Linden. There’s a part of you that’s locked away, perhaps for a good reason. I don’t know why, but let’s be honest. Wearing that scale armor came naturally to you.”
Alerice sighed thinly and said, “Perhaps you’re right. Did you take my cloak back to the Realme so what’s left of the Crimson Brigade could be safely placed?”
“I did,” Oddwyn said.
“And Lolladoe, and Mutt and Wisp, and the Painted Women?” she asked.
“All back where they belong. We can always go seek them out, if you like, both here and below.”
“Perhaps we will,” she said.
“Perhaps you will,” he offered. “When I said we, I meant as walk-about friends. You don’t need me any longer.”
“No,” she said before she drew and released a deep breath. “Before she sent me to Navre, the Raven Queen said that if all elements worked according to their natures, then the Realme would see the benefit. But what benefit, Oddwyn? Losing Kreston is a benefit to the queen, I suppose, because the king can’t use him against me any longer, but the queen has lost me too, in a way.”
“Hmmm,” Oddwyn mused, looking Alerice over. “And yet you still wear her scales.”
“Because I choose to,” Alerice said most heartfully.
“Then perhaps that’s another benefit,” Oddwyn said. “The queen has a colleague in you now, and so does the Realme. Perhaps in time you and the queen may find a different type of relationship. She’s not exactly the ‘motherly’ type, but she may see you as her daughter. She set you on your path. She gave you wings. Either way, the Realme benefits, and I’m happy for that.”
“Mmmm,” Alerice said. “It’s always been about the Realme for me, hasn’t it.”
“I’d say so,” Oddwyn said, a twinkle in his ice-blue eyes.
“Do you think, then, that the queen knew all this would happen?” Alerice asked.
“I don’t know. I told you, it’s not my place to know her mind.”
“So, what’s it like?” Oddwyn asked sweetly, presenting her maiden form. “I’ve never met a Far-Walker.”
“It’s… strange,” Alerice said, reaching out to take her Realme sister’s hand. “Sometimes, I feel the full might of each immortal working in tandem within me. Then at other times, if I concentrate, I can call upon each immortal separately, though I doubt I’ll ever call upon the king or the shadows he commands.”
Oddwyn patted Alerice’s hand, and then presented himself as a youth once more to tuck the item he was holding into her palm.
Alerice looked down to find Kreston’s soul amphora, and she gulped back a sob. Then, she curled her fingers about its smooth surface and held it tightly.
“You can always wear it,” Oddwyn offered.
“No,” she said. “That will only tempt me to open it and see him once again. He’s gone, Oddwyn. He wanted an end to this, and now he has it. Let’s let him be.” She turned to Oddwyn and asked, “Yes?”
“Yes,” Oddwyn said.
Alerice smiled and closed her eyes. While holding the amphora in one hand, she reached down to release her crossbow with the other. Then she concentrated on Imari’s blue crescent that wove into the Raven Queen’s mark upon her brow.
A pleasant breeze blew in, warming the morning air with a gentle perfume. Then a low fog swelled about the field, covering the mounds.
Alerice opened her eyes and watched the two layers play against one another, the wind churning up the top of the mist so that it looked like some apothecary’s preparation.
Alerice allowed a few moments to pass, and then raised her crossbow and took aim at the distance. The bow string pulled back of its own accord, and a gleaming black bolt appeared in the flight groove.
“Throw it,” Alerice said as she passed the amphora to Oddwyn.
Oddwyn took it, and then hurled it as far as he could. Alerice took aim and fired.
The bolt struck home, shattering the amphora in midair. Alerice felt Oddwyn come next to her and snuggle a bit as she watched the amphora’s contents cast the field with a glistening cascade.
The wind scattered the evanescent particles about so that they dusted the top of the mist, and then the wind blew in just a bit more to waft the mist away.
As Alerice looked out, she saw that new grass had begun to sprout on the field. Also, tiny little ground scrubs had begun to grow, each of which bore clusters of miniature red flowers.
Alerice could not stop the tears from rolling down one cheek and then the other. Oddwyn balled his iridescent sleeve into his hand, turned her toward him, and wiped them from her face. Then he tickled his fingertips along the jawline scar left by Sukaar, Father God of Fire.
Alerice sniffed, and then ran her own black sleeve across her face. She reattached the crossbow to her belt, and found her hand naturally curling about the handle of Kreston’s broadsword.
Oddwyn smiled, and opened a small portal beside them. As when riding along the ridgeline after giving Alerice her black hat, he reached into the vertical slit, diving deeply so that his arm disappeared up to his shoulder.
“Ah… ha!” he exclaimed as he withdrew two foaming tankards and handed one to Alerice. “To you, Dühalde,” he said, raising his.
“To you, good friend,” Alerice said, raising hers.
Together, she and Oddwyn lowered their tankards, poured a bit of brew out onto the ground, and then touched rims before they drank.
Alerice savored the flavor, for it was rich and pure as she knew any Realme nourishment would be from this moment forward. She was a Far-Walker now, but a Realme Walker first, and she was forever tethered to the world below. When she finished drinking, she saw Oddwyn looking at her lovingly.
“You wanna go below?” he asked. “The Hammer Clan is having another feast. Lots more brew.”
Alerice smiled, then gave her full concentration over to visiting the mead hall, where she knew Aric and his kindred spirits would be happy to see her. Her own portal opened in a swirl of plum and lapis, and she found no difficulty maintaining it in the mortal world.
“After you, Oddwyn,” she said.
“Hmmm, race you for it.” Oddwyn presented herself as a maiden one final time to say, “Last one there pays!”
Oddwyn charged into the portal. Alerice looked after her confusedly.
“Oddwyn, the brew is free,” she said before she smiled to herself. She paused and raised her tankard once more before saying, “Gods above bless and keep you, Captain Dühalde.”
Then a smile flashed in her gray-green eyes as she strode into her portal, calling, “We’ll see who pays!”
Tales of the Ravensdaughter will continue with Collection Two
To play out Collection One, please search for “Summon Your Courage” by the Steel City Rovers.
If you enjoyed The Raven’s Daughter, please leave a review.
Thank you and blessings,
Erin Hunt Rado
BOOKS IN THIS SERIES
Tales of the Ravensdaughter
The Beast of Basque
The Thief of Souls
The Wizard and the Wyld
Rips in the Ether
Mistress of Her Own Game
The Raven’s Daughter