The Beast of Basque by Erin Hunt Rado from Tales of the RavensdaughterThis short story is based on characters from The Beast of Basque, Adventure One from Tales of the Ravensdaughter by Erin Hunt Rado.

Purchase your copy now on Amazon.

Oh, Arrosa, my Arrosa,
She makes the Reef nervos-a
Imprison her he did not dare,
So he planted her elsewhere!

Alerice started awake from her reverie. There was something different about this song, something that separated it from the usual bawdy ballads about farmers’ daughters and traveling clerics. It wasn’t the “Reef” part; songs about Reeves there were a-plenty, with Reeves in every part of every nation: brave Reeves, cruel Reeves, cowardly Reeves, greedy Reeves. No, it was the “Arrosa” part.

Arrosa. A name from the past. If Alerice sat down and thought about it, recalling her adventures in detail, she could place the name. It just wouldn’t come to her mind right now.

She glanced over at the traveling merchants’ column, then clicked her tongue to bring Jerome to the side of the column. She would relax later; during uneventful journeys, Jerome’s steady step was as good as a bed, but now it was time for answers. She knew there was something important about “Arrosa.”

“Caravan master!” she cried. “Where does that song come from?”

The guide grinned at her, showing his recently-purchased ivory teeth. “The Goat and the Boy on the Boat? Why, from a merchant’s dirtiest imaginings, like all the others.”

“No, not that one. Arrosa, Arrosa. Who is Arrosa?”

The man shrugged. “Well, I’m not from these parts, but it’s some local scandal, I reckon. Some whore or knife-girl who got out of jail free. Actually, I think I heard some of the folk from here saying’ she’s in the lord’s house, living the life of a regular queen.”

Alerice frowned. Such tales were all too common, but she was headed for the county seat on another matter. A series of murders. If this Arrosa needed justice, she would have to wait her turn, behind the as-yet unidentified assassins.

Murder had brought Alerice back to the kingdom of Vizcaya, the country that happened to include the little town of Basque, site of her first adventure, many years ago. Murder at the Grand Temple of Imari. Very precise murder, with some brothers and sisters slain and most of the others let alone. Murder also at the county seat of Álava, the very province Basque was in. Murder in the Count’s own household.

The port where Alerice had disembarked was closer to the county seat than to the grand temple, so it was logical to start there. She had fallen in with a trade column that was making its way to Álava, good fellows mostly, although some were too fond of their drink and too sharp in their dealings. Most of them did not even snicker at the sight of a woman in scale armor; as international travelers, they were used to seeing such things.

Some had even heard about her, with her slowly growing renown. Merchanting was a risky business; they could use all the protection they could get. So they gladly shared their rations and wine with her, and their oats and water with Jerome. (Ordinary travelers would have found some coin to pay for her blade and bow, but these were merchants.)

Jerome, walking at a rolling pace again, lulled her once more into a reverie. She was recalling more and more about Basque. Her first assignment, but only her second fight to the death. The first time, it was her death.

She shook herself awake again. “Say, you!” she shouted over at the silks man. “Have you ever been to Basque?”

The silks seller shuddered: “No, ma’am. No merchant ever likes to go to Basque. The Reef there is mean. He’ll believe anything the market shoppers say about you, whether you did it or not.

Then he’ll kick you so hard, your arse will be out of town ten seconds before the rest of your body.”

“So, I guess the Vascos have to buy their imports in the next town?”

“And pay more for it? You bet they do.” The silks man frowned.

The Reef of Basque, thought Alerice. My old friend. This is all connected somehow.

She puzzled all the way to the gates of Álava.

Once there, Alerice made her way to the marketplace in the company of her caravan friends. There was no better place to hear gossip in any town, unless it was the barber shop. Idly chatting while inspecting fruit, she learned that the killing in the Count’s mansion had been much less discriminating than the attack on the Temple. (Was it even the same man?) There was something flailing, something desperate about the way the assassin had burst into the kitchens, as if he were frantically looking for one single person, checking all the pantries and cabinets and nonchalantly slaying any others who happened to be there, while his search continued. All this time, he never said a word, nor called out a name. He must have known the person he was looking for by sight, thought Alerice.

Two cooks, one cook’s assistant, six kitchen maids and three pot-boys murdered. It’s always the poor who suffer first, Alerice continued in her musings. The attack had happened in mid- afternoon, and it was nearly that hour now. Let me see if I can talk to the survivors. The ones who are working at that hour. I doubt the lord would give them any time off for grieving. Or even one additional guard.

Alerice left Jerome at a stable near the marketplace, and bid farewell to her friends, who were anxious to tell her when and where they would be leaving. It was not easy to find a bodyguard who would work for free.

Alerice knew from many years of experience that nothing would be gained by announcing herself at the main gate of the house.

No one would believe she had a warrant from the Raven Queen, and besides, the place was crawling with guards, all dedicated to protecting the little lordling, and no one else, from possible harm.

Circling around the back, near the river, she spied a door that was likely to be a servants’ entrance. She rapped on the door with the handle of her dagger. “Egg delivery.”

“We don’t need eggs,” came the reply. Undaunted, Alerice simply made up stuff: “The deal was for three dozen eggs, twice a week. You don’t want them anymore? At least pay us the three bronzes you promised for the week.”

The reply was even sharper. “Don’t know about it. Go away, the guards will be here in a moment.”

“Like they were last month?” Alerice should not have said that; it was mean-spirited and ugly. The door obviously was not going to be opened, and she was not in the habit of breaking into places or threatening people unless it were a matter of life and death. She turned away to think.

And as Alerice thought, a woman appeared, coming up from the riverbank with a basket of wet clothes. A stout, exhausted red- faced woman with too many gray hairs and lines in her face. A woman who did not seem rosy or sunny at all. A woman she had last seen in Basque, being taken away to….what fate? Alerice had never heard.


It was her. The woman who, with her husband, had sold children – even her own children – to the town lechers for an hour at a time. The despoiler of childhood. The thief of innocence. The wickedest person Alerice had ever met, and after years of travel, that was really saying something.

Alerice unbuckled her crossbow, pointed it ahead of her, and a bolt magically appeared in the groove. She wasn’t going to use it, just show her authority.

“Arrosa…” Alerice tapped the evil woman on the shoulder. The quarry whipped around, eyes wide with terror. The clothes spilled out of the basket and landed in the mud. Her mouth opened in a wail of fear: “I’m not her! I’m not her! Kill all the other ‘uns, but not me! I swear, I didn’t do nothing!”

Nothing happened. The woman’s terror only increased. “It’s not me, I tell ya! Look, you left a dozen of them alive in there, I can get you in….”

“Shut your mouth, Arrosa.” Alerice didn’t have to brandish her weapon; the woman became quiet immediately. “Yes, I know it’s you. And I also know it was you the assassin was looking for. You didn’t die because you were doing laundry at the river, just like today. And now you would sell out the survivors to save yourself. You are truly low, but I didn’t know you could go that low. You have learned nothing in all these years. But then why would you, if you were never punished in the first place?”

Alerice buckled her weapon. “By the way, I was not the killer. I’m going to catch him, and you’re going to tell me everything you know.”

Arrosa glared at her inquisitor, hatred in her eyes. “You think you’re better than me? Mannish bitch, I’m not telling you nothing and your crossbow can’t make me.”

Alerice gestured at the ground. “Well, you’ll be in trouble anyway for getting the clothes all muddy. Might as well say you were kidnapped. And the beer will be better than what you served at the Pink Rose.”

Alerice even smiled a little. She had said the magic word.


It was her. The woman who, with her husband, had sold children – even her own children – to the town lechers for an hour at a time. The despoiler of childhood. The thief of innocence. The wickedest person Alerice had ever met, and after years of travel, that was really saying something.

Alerice kept her word, and the beer was better than what Arrosa had served, back in the day. I know my beer, Alerice thought sadly, thinking about her youth at the Cup and Quill.

Arrosa sipped, then glared. “Don’t think I owe you nothing for this. I get better than this from m’lord, ‘specially if I bring him a pretty one.”

“A pretty….what??”Alerice leaned forward. “Are you….still selling children?”

“Don’t know how old they are,” shrugged the former child trafficker. “They all look the same in m’lord’s chamber. It’s what I know best.” Alerice felt like gutting her with her dagger then and there, but she restrained herself.

“Oh, and I won’t get in trouble for the clothes. Happens all the time. You ask me, they should string the lines down by the river instead of in the courtyard. Too far to walk, too heavy.”

“That’s not important. What happened to you after the Pink Rose was closed? Why weren’t you hanged?”

“Because old Dogood wouldn’t let me be hanged! He knew I would scream out the truth from the gallows. That’s why he sent me here, to wash clothes and scour pots and find girlies. He knew m’lord would approve.”


“REEF Dogood! You know? That sanctimonious old bastard who came marching in, weapons flashing, ten minutes after you and your boyfriend killed ‘Enri and wrecked my place and stole my children! THAT Dogood!” Arrosa leaned over the table, bitter at the memory, eyes flashing. “A great one for the stage, that one would have been, if he weren’t a Reef! Pretending to be all surprised, you know, Oh gods, what’s going on here, how shocking! And then he sent me here,” she concluded matter-of- factly.

Alerice saw red. Her comrade-in-arms from her first adventure, an honorable man, was being accused of taking part in the same villainy they had defeated together. By a woman whose word was worth nothing.

She had never learned his name until now.

“And m’lord, well, he won’t let me anywhere near the rose garden. I keep telling him, I’m the best flower lady there is, but the only pink flower that interests him is….” Arrosa prattled on. Arrosa finally managed to get out, “You have no proof of this…”

Arrosa laughed and replied, “Well, none of his guards will ever say a bad word about him, and that’s sure. The little ‘uns they took from me don’t know nothing, ‘cause he was never in the place until that night. ‘Enri knew, because he was the one that brought him his gold once a month….but you killed him, so he can’t talk.” Arrosa had turned bitter again with the memory. “But you may want to talk with Linny. The prettiest one, the smallest one. He wanted her for himself, and he took her. While she was still whole, too. Thief and hypocrite….”

“And, where is Linny now?”

“Who knows? They only took away the little ’uns they found on my property. They never searched his house. And they never will.”

Alerice was nearly done. She had only one more thing to say. “No more girls for the Count. I will be back for you.”

Arrosa half-smiled, trying to find a balance between mockery and fear.

“I mean it. I will be back. And stop going to the river to wash. Stay in the house, so you can answer the door if anyone calls.” Alerice smiled without good intentions, and Arrosa’s face decided on fear.


Alerice considered what she knew as Jerome trotted on. The Linny clue was a very slender thread which may never be found, if it even existed. But why would Reef Dogood send such a horrible woman, whose guilt was certain, to domestic service in the Count’s palace instead of to the gallows or a prison tower?

Alerice rode towards Basque, coaxing Jerome to a more urgent pace. Alone this time. There was no question of accompanying a merchant caravan, since no merchant wanted to go to Basque. Her friends must have been disappointed when she didn’t show up on their departure date. Especially if they had to pay for their armed escort now.

Absolutely not, the Count of Álava had said when she humbly asked for an armed escort to accompany her to Basque. My Reef has done no wrong. Do not go there to trouble him, or you will be the one in peril.

My lord, he sent a known trafficker of children to you, to your very household. Does that not merit an investigation, that he aided a fugitive from justice?

The Count scowled. Fugitive? From what dungeon or headsman did she escape? As far as I’m concerned she is above suspicion and at liberty, having faithfully served my, uh, needs for many years. I have no reason to sever that relationship, and no questions whatsoever about the conduct of my Reef, or my laundress. Go petition the King of Vizcaya if you like, but he will doubtless listen to me before you.

And let me warn you again, he concluded. Do not, under any circumstances, go to Basque. On your head be it.

Grandness and nobility are wasted on the wrong people, thought Alerice. And when I finish with Reef Dogood, I’m coming back for you as well.

And so Alerice rode on alone. Alone, except for her weapons, her magic, her knowledge, and Jerome.

Alerice considered what she knew as Jerome trotted on. The Linny clue was a very slender thread which may never be found, if it even existed. But why would Reef Dogood send such a horrible woman, whose guilt was certain, to domestic service in the Count’s palace instead of to the gallows or a prison tower?

That, alone, had to be explained before the Reef was completely exonerated in Alerice’s mind.

And perhaps then she could visit the Grand Temple and find the mysterious killer. But there was a nagging sense in the back of her mind, which she had felt on similar missions, that everything was related. By pursuing one, she was pursuing the other.

Before riding into Basque, Alerice tapped the third eye that had been left on her forehead by her Raven Mother’s kiss. If she knew what she was looking for, she could see it with that eye.

She knew the name Linny, but did not know what she looked like, either as a child or now.

There was no one named Linny in the town.

So, another thread of a clue gusted away. But she still needed to go ask the Reef some hard questions. She found him in his chambers in the town hall, surrounded by men at arms. He had immediately granted her an audience in recognition of the service she had done for the town years ago, but he did not look happy to see her. He looked perfunctorily formal.

“My good Reef,” she began. “Good warrior Alerice Linden of Navre,” he replied. “What is your business in town today?”

Just like the first words he had ever said to her, years ago.

“Good Reef, I have been looking into the murders that have recently plagued important locations in the kingdom…”

“I will give you all the assistance you need,” he cut in. “What are your needs? An escort to Álava or the Grand Temple? The aid of a far-seer? Provisions?”

“Actually,” she replied, “I have already been to Álava. While I was there, I made a…disconcerting discovery.”

The Reef frowned and leaned forward, but said nothing.

“Arrosa, the landlady of the former Pink Rose. She was in your custody when I last saw her, but….”

The Reef turned red as he interrupted her: “The provisions for justice made by the Count are none of your concern. This is a matter of State, and is therefore outside your understanding.”

“Ah, then, it was the Count’s decision? He overruled you?” Alerice was almost relieved to say it. “Let us then go, you and I, to petition at Court…”

“NO!” The Reef slammed his hand down on his writing-table. He was shouting now. “It matters not who made the decision! The Count and I are in perfect accord, and you are very impertinent to question our doings!” He calmed down a little. “No doubt in your travels you have heard those idiotic merchants’ songs. I have heard them too, and they mean nothing. Now leave my town before you disrupt the peace we have worked so long to obtain.” A little wave of the hand, a pointing gesture, and just like that, Alerice was banished from the town she had helped to save.

While being escorted out, Alerice could not help but call out, “Reef! Where is Linny?” He did not even bother to respond.

The man-at-arms escorting Alerice out of town gave his opinion: “You know, whatever you’re accusing the Reef of doing?

You’re wrong. He’s brave and honest and just to all, if not always kind. Why, just two years after shutting down that tavern, another group of devils came into town, giving out candy and trying to entice the young ones. The Reef, he ran them off and they were gone, just six hours after they came.”

“Did he send them to the Count’s mansion?” Alerice could not help asking.

The man-at-arms bristled and nearly leveled his poleaxe at Alerice. “It’s all lies! You know a woman like Arrosa would say anything. The Reef treats us all like his brothers. He’s saved our lives more times than I can count. He’s taken countless thieves, flogged countless pickpockets and sticky-fingers, and I’ve seen him beat a rich man who tried to put coins in his hand. He can’t be bought, and he won’t be lied about neither! And that’s why I’m not listening to you. Now there’s the gates. Get out!”

Alerice walked slowly on the path away from town, heading to where she had Jerome tied up, unseeable, in a thicket. Perhaps, like the man said, it was just a lie. But then why didn’t the Reef just say that and be done with it? He had once taken down a house of villainy with her help – he knew she had pure motives. So instead of wrathfully chasing her out of town, why not just welcome her as an old comrade-in-arms and laugh about Arrosa’s lies over a beer or two?

The man was too angry over too little, it seemed. And it didn’t help that he had changed color on hearing the allegations.

Something was bothering him. Guilt? He seemed to be very insistent about his lack of guilt. Although…had he actually denied anything?

“I believe you,” whispered someone from behind the first milestone. “My brothers believe you too.”

Alerice whirled toward the sound, dagger out. “How did you…?”

A young man emerged from behind the stone. “Well, the chap that kicked you out was making plenty of noise, wasn’t he, with all that The Reef’s so great, I wuv the Reef, the Reef, the stinking’ Reef….if he kicked you out, it must be for the same reason he kicked all o’ us out. Just as noisy then, too.”

“The Reef does stink!” A younger man, perhaps a teenager, now appeared, and then another, and another. They all wore tattered clothes and seemed dirty and hungry. “We’re none of us Reef lovers. And the songs, they’s true.”

Alerice now counted over twenty ragged young men and a ragged teenage girl. She was surprised, but she was not in the least frightened; she’d faced greater odds before, and in any case these youths did not appear to mean her any harm.

Alerice was all business-like. “Tell me your stories,” she commanded.

It turned out that they had all been caught, beaten and expelled from town by the Reef’s men for petty crimes: filching a fruit from the market, drinking behind the chapel, selling silk from out of town, writing “The Reef Sucks” on a wall, saying unkind things about the Reef — all of it disrespectful and disorderly, none of it worth a beating.

And in a few cases, involving theft of jewelry, some young men’s hands had been cut off. Alerice did not see it at first, since everyone’s limbs were hidden inside their grimy robes. A boy’s ear had been sliced off as a punishment for listening to rumors about the Reef. Just listening. The penalty, in that case, for the boy speaking the rumors was to have his tongue cut out. Alerice did not see this either, until it was pointed out to her.

The young girl had refused a date with one of the Reef’s men, and had cursed him quite creatively. Fortunately, she had not suffered any physical consequences. Alerice was relieved to hear this, remembering what Mayor Gotthard of Navre had done to her.

And yet, despite this mutilation and savagery, all of the boys and young men displayed exaggerated bravado, even cockiness.

“So, you’re all petty criminals? You’re all guilty of what you’re accused of?” asked Alerice. The young men grinned and nodded, and one pointed to a very young lad: “All except for Alfern, he’s just a Prissy Missy.”

“I’m not!” retorted the boy, but the older boy who had outed him just shrugged and said, “Eh, it’s all right. If the Reef’s against it, then we’re for it. Hey, I think I’ll be a Missy too!” He cupped his hand to his hair and batted his eyes while his fellows laughed — all but the smaller boy, who was angry at being labeled.

Alerice cut through the levity and got back to the point. “And the others in town, they let this happen? They approve? What about your parents?”

One of the ragged boys snorted. “Ah, they’re too scared. Last time a Dad spoke up for his boy, he got banished too.” He pointed; there was indeed a father and son pair in the crowd, the difference in their ages well concealed by all the dirt and grime.

Alerice was insistent. “How many people in town are against the Reef? How many would fight him, if they could?”

The group laughed. “Fight?” said one. “The ones that’s for him has got all the lances and axes and sidearms. And the ones that loves the Reef, they’re very loud about it. Kind of drowns out the ones that, you know, don’t.”

“Then,” sighed Alerice, “we’ll just have to do it ourselves.” “Do….what?”

Alerice looked at them with stern determination. “We’re going to arrest the Reef. We’re going to try him — fairly. And after that, I promise you, there will be no more hasty judgments or cruel punishments in this town.” At this point, it did not matter so much whether Reef Dogood had colluded with the Count or with Arrosa. The evidence of his unjust cruelty was plain to see.

Just then, armed riders from the town thundered along the road, headed toward Álava.

After a minute one of the boys spoke up. “Well, we’d better do it before the Reef calls his friends.”


Alerice looked at them with stern determination. “We’re going to arrest the Reef. We’re going to try him — fairly. And after that, I promise you, there will be no more hasty judgments or cruel punishments in this town.”

The first attempt to capture the Reef was a disaster. No one raised the alarm as the motley little army crept through the streets toward the town hall, which was a good indication of the quiet sentiments of the townspeople. That was good to know.

However, the attempt to draw the guards away by lighting a bonfire outside the chapel was a total failure. The Reef’s men did not seem to care if the chapel was in danger of burning down, and anyway they had seen all those pranks before. So they stayed at their posts. The attempt to ply the guards with liquor was likewise a failure. Both the liquor-offerers and the homemade liquor were recognized, and then the guards did leave their posts, to chase the boys all the way out of town.

Luckily, no one was caught.

It was then that the siege began. Alerice detailed some of the boys to dig a big pit in front of the town gates, an ingenious reversal of siege tactics: rather than keep people out, this pit was designed to keep people in. Other boys were detailed to collect piles of rocks, handy for barrages against anyone coming out.

Still other boys, and the girl, were assigned to cutting hundreds of branches in the woods and sharpening them. The smallest ones took care of watering and brushing Jerome. They did not need to feed him, since the pasture was good around those parts.

All the boys and young men, and the girl, seemed to instantly accept Alerice as their goddess-savior. It was an easy leap for them to make. They recognized her good will and her leadership qualities, and they had nothing to lose.

By the first morning after the failed raid, the pit was not yet completed, but the boys had plenty of opportunities to pelt with rocks any surprised men-at-arms who tried to come out of the gates. If Reef Dogood had had a sizable force, and more than a couple of crossbows, and if Alerice had not had magical weapons, the boys would have been in trouble. But Dogood had barely enough men to man the walls as it was; and if any of them aimed a crossbow at one of the boys who was venturing out in the open, Alerice would fire her own crossbow bolt. At the man’s crossbow, not the man. Alerice was determined not to kill anyone if possible, and the magic obeyed her, and destroyed the enemy’s crossbow every time.

Sometimes there was a sortie of the Reef’s men from small doors in the wall, with the intention of finding and neutralizing dirty boys. That’s when Alerice took an even more active role. She willed her third eye to tingle when anyone tried to leave the town, and then she would quickly ride Jerome to that place and use her crossbow non-lethally, hitting weapons instead of bodies. This was usually enough to intimidate the men into going back inside, but when it wasn’t, her army of dirty boys would have shown up with their rocks and spears to do some more intimidating. Usually by this time the men were disarmed, and fled.

On the second night, while sitting around the campfire with her boys (which was perfectly safe, as the Reef’s men had no crossbows left), Alerice made a stab in the dark: “Do any of you know a girl named Linny? She would be almost sixteen by now.”

Some of the boys looked at each other, their usually jocular mood dampened. “Linny….uh, yeah, she hung with us for a while. She’s the Reef’s, uh, daughter, I guess.”

“Good hunter,” offered another. “Really good at finding food.” The boy with no tongue affirmed this, saying “Mm-hm!”

There was a moment’s silence, and then another boy piped up, “She was one of the first to leave town. She…asked a lot of questions. Then she left. Went away.”

“What questions? To whom?”

An older boy, speaking so low he was practically mumbling, replied, “She wanted to know about the Grand Temple. I …. recognize you, Mistress Alerice. I was one of the children you saved from ….. the Pink Rose. They…. sent us to the chapel first, but the docents didn’t have the ability to care for all of us, so most of us were…uh, sent…..sent to the, to the Grand Temple of Imari. I was the only one to come back to the town from there. So….she was curious about it.”

Sensing that now was the time to be gentle, Alerice softly asked, “And what did you tell her about it?”

The boy’s lip trembled. “It was….it was worse than the Pink Rose.”

No one said anything for some minutes after that. Another boy patted the older boy’s shoulder and left his hand there for a while. A wild theory began to form in Alerice’s mind.

When it seemed safe to speak again, Alerice pressed on. “So… the Reef even banished his own daughter.”

The boys were more conversational now. “Ah, no, she said she left by herself. She almost seemed, I dunno, mad enough to….kill him, or something.”

There was no attempt at ending the siege until the second day. Reef Dogood himself appeared atop the wall above the main gate, under flag of truce, and Alerice did not fire on him. “What do you want?” he shouted. “How much should we pay you to go away?”

Alerice’s answer: “Surrender and face justice!” The Reef then laughed and went back below the walls, and there was no more dialogue.

One would think that the Reef and his men would notice that no one was being killed or even seriously hurt, and therefore conclude that Alerice’s intentions were sincere and just, but instead they became more and more resentful about this ragged army that would not let them leave town. Until the third night.

There was another sortie from the walls, and Alerice was there with her crossbow as usual, when suddenly she sensed a strange, malign presence. Like someone she had been looking for, but did not want to find. Before she could fire a bolt, she saw a dark figure leap onto the last soldier to leave the door, and then drag the soldier inside, shutting and barring the door firmly. The other soldiers, stranded outside, were soon captured by a stick-and- stone wielding army. They had no idea that their captors had just saved their lives.

Over the next hour, the mysterious interloper, wearing the armor of his dead victim, stalked and knifed every single Reef’s man who was inside the town walls. Reef Dogood was not killed, thanks to an unbreakable routine of his. Every night at midnight, he would blow a horn, signaling to all his men to report in by blowing their own horns, from every wall around the town.

When he heard no answering horns this time, he knew instantly what was wrong. He retreated and locked himself in his private chamber, which had no windows, a paved floor, slate tiles covering roof beams of stout oak, and walls of stone. The intruder could not get in, and did not wait until morning. The Reef was saved.

No one saw the murderer leave the town, not even Alerice. She did not know what to look for.

When morning broke, and no one could be seen on the walls, the captured men were beside themselves with fear. They demanded to know what had happened to their fellows, and they pleaded to be spared. Alerice tried to calm them, telling them that they were safe in her custody. They did not believe her, as she was obviously a witch.

Alerice went to her army, which was unscathed and had suffered no losses. “It is time,” she called. The young men and boys, and the girl, laid tree trunks down to cover the pit in front of the main gate, and simply walked into town.

The siege had not lasted long enough for anyone to suffer, and the townspeople did not have much need to leave the town anyway, except to work their plots just outside town in Spring and Summer, and collect their harvests in the Fall. Remember that they were totally independent of the merchant trade, and had no need for consumer goods. So the townspeople were simply going about their business as if nothing had happened. Some, presumably the anti-Reef faction, winked and smiled at the ragamuffin invaders, while others, the pro-Reef party, merely scowled.

“Come out, Dogood, you will be safe under my protection,” called Alerice. At first there was no reply, but then the Reef seemed to realize that all his men were dead and that no one in town was fighting for him. The door opened, and the Reef came out, pale and shaken.

Alerice thanked him for coming out, assured him that neither she nor her army had killed his men, and asked if he knew what had happened. He simply looked down and shook his head.

Alerice then got down to business. “Reef Dogood, you are under arrest for cruel and unusual punishments, for obstructing justice, for —”

Some in the gathering crowd of townspeople began to object. “He’s a good Reef!” said one. “True, he was a little hard on you boys, but he had to be that way! You kids were out of control sometimes!”

Another chimed in: “Who are you to judge him? It’s he who should be judging you!”

Suddenly, loud horn blasts were heard outside of town. The Count had come to rescue his Reef.

Everyone, Alerice and her army, the townspeople, and Reef Dogood himself, rushed out the town gates to see what was happening. The Count was astride an armored warhorse with a bejeweled bridle and saddle, leading a force that must have numbered in the thousands. Every man of those thousands was outfitted with a helmet, chain mail, shield, pike and sword, except for the heavily muscled archers who brandished their deadly longbows about a hundred yards back, by the trees.

Crossbows were clearly considered playthings, and were not seen here, as longbows could go farther and penetrate with more force. Any group of men or boys who dared to challenge this force, in the open, with sticks and stones, would clearly be dead very quickly.

And there, at the side of the Count, riding an even larger horse with even more armor and jewels, was His Majesty Himself, the King of Vizcaya. His fine silk clothes and golden crown reflected the morning sunlight. The armed men were all his.

Clearly, the Count was too cheap to pay for more than household guards.

Reef Dogood simply stood with his head down, almost touching his chest, refusing to look at any of the spectacle. The King turned and looked at the Count, indicating that he was to speak first. “In the name of the King of Vizcaya and the County of Álava,” shouted the Count, “we order the arrest of the witch Alerice Linden of Navre, well known as the murderer of Mayor Gotthard of Navre and Lady Gotthard, for rebellion and waging illegal war against the Reef of Basque, for spreading scandalous lies about the Reef of Basque and the Count of Álava and his servants, and for refusing the Count of Álava’s legal order, on pain of death, not to come to Basque. We order the arrest as well of the witch’s infamous army of criminals, thieves, malcontents, perverts and other rabble, and order that all of the arrested be brought to forthwith to Álava for judgment and condemnation.”

The Count paused to look at the King, who nodded. The Count continued, “The marshals will now seize and bind the criminals

“YOU WILL DO NO SUCH THING!” bellowed Dogood furiously. “Leave them be! They are not the criminals, I AM! They did not lie, I DID! Arrest ME, not them!!”

There was an audible gasp from the townspeople. No one, either pro- or anti-Reef, had expected this. A gasp also came from the royal retinue and even the soldiers. To openly challenge a King’s proclamation was unheard of. Dogood continued, making his voice loud enough for all to hear. “What the good warrior Alerice Linden says is true. I conspired with the Count to allow a foul child trafficker to escape justice, in return for a free hand in Basque and the promise of armed support if necessary; and I am truly sorry, my king, that this foul and deceptive Count has beguiled even you with his plans.” The King looked stricken and speechless. The Reef continued.

“Not only that, but I conspired with the child traffickers ‘Enri and Arrosa to continue their sordid business, which I knew all about and allowed to operate unmolested in the heart of my town—” “NO!” screamed someone from the crowd of townspeople. No one can bear to see their hero revealed as the worst type of villain.

Dogood pressed on, “I did not accept any payment. That part is not true. But I managed to deceive myself into thinking that the town was better off with the money this activity brought in, and that if no one knew, it would be the same as if it never happened. I agonized, I wrestled with my conscience, I knew it was wrong, and yet I still did it!!!” Sobbing and wailing could now be heard, punctuating this unbelievable confession.

“I only closed down the trafficking once my hand was forced by the brave intervention of this heroic woman, the saintly Alerice Linden. But I was afraid of being exposed. None of the children had ever seen me, no one could ever implicate me, save one: Madame Arrosa. It was too late to arrange an accident, she could not be silenced, so I cravenly offered to place her in the Count’s household, in exchange for her keeping my secret forever. The Count happily accepted, and she continued to procure for him — as she had many times before, whenever he visited Basque.”

At this latest explosive revelation, some looked and were surprised to see that the Count was gone. He had discreetly ridden his horse away from the scene at the beginning of Dogood’s confession. The King whispered to some of his captains, who led some of their men in the presumed direction of the Count’s departure, but it was too late. The border of the neighboring kingdom was very close.

Dogood then looked at the boys he had maimed and beaten. “Yes, I was unjust with the accused of my town. Having failed to uphold the good and the right in the case of the Pink Rose, I became harder, harsher, in pursuit of any transgressors. Perhaps I was also grief-stricken when my daughter left. I had saved her from that place. I saved just one.”

Dogood was nearly finished. “Please, your Majesty. I beg that you arrest me, not the warrior Alerice or her helpers. Do whatever you want with me. Give me the fate I deserve.”

The King, for the first time, spoke. “Seize the former Reef, and confine him to a tent until we decide what do with him.” A pause, and then, “Send a force to Álava to apprehend the child destroyer Arrosa, and bring her here.”

He then turned to Alerice. “Madame Linden, it seems that you have done Basque a great service, again. The realm is grateful for the role you have played in exposing this nest of corruption and evil. Please name any boon you desire, and it will be granted.”

Alerice did not hesitate. “Your Majesty, I only ask that Dogood and Arrosa be given a trial before an impartial jury, which will weigh and consider the evidence presented by both sides.”

The King was genuinely surprised. “A jury trial for crimes such as these? Do they truly deserve that?”

“Everyone deserves that, Your Majesty,” replied Alerice, looking over at her boys.


The king then turned to Alerice. “Madame Linden, it seems that you have done Basque a great service, again. The realm is grateful for the role you have played in exposing this nest of corruption and evil. Please name any boon you desire, and it will be granted.”

Trial by jury, although known to the realm, was still such a novelty that spectators flocked to Basque from all parts of the country. Since the tavern had been demolished years ago, the biggest building in town was the chapel; but it was soon determined that that would not suffice either. Finally a large banquet tent was erected in a field, and then two more tents attached, with the walls in between rolled up. Some complained that the arrangement seemed insecure, but no one had a better idea. Most of the soldiers who had come with the King went home, with only a small force remaining to provide security for the proceedings and for the King himself, who was to act as judge.

Since Dogood repeated his entire confession at trial, and the evidence against the still-defiant Arrosa was overwhelming, the only issue to be decided was the penalty. The defense conceded all the wrongdoing, but sought to convince the jury, and then the judge-king, not to put the defendants to death. Strangely, it was not hard to find advocates for the defense among the schooled population of Basque. Many people in town had admired their Reef, and wanted to save him from execution. They wrinkled their noses when they found they had to defend the life of Madame Arrosa as well, but in the end they accepted it as an ugly but necessary duty.

The defense’s main argument was that Dogood’s public confession, which had certainly saved the heroine Alerice Linden from arrest and possible execution, constituted remorse and atonement. As for Arrosa, well, she wasn’t remorseful, yet, but she might be in the future, so why not give her a chance as well?

Alerice was in the gallery, watching the final defense summation, when her third eye started to give her that tingly feeling again. Somebody she had been looking for, whom she didn’t want to find, again. But how could that be? The King’s men had secured the tent, patted down all the spectators and litigators, and even checked the tent pegs to make sure they were tight enough to prevent any crawling in or out. Nothing unusual was happening. The King was on the bench, both defendants in the dock.

Just then a small woman in a cloak drew a long, sharp, heavy needle from under her tongue, leaned over to the dock and pressed the needle, forcefully, against Dogood’s throat. All activity stopped. Time itself seemed to stand still. No one dared to breathe.

The young woman spoke first. “End of the road, father. It was easy getting to those wretches at the Temple. The Count’s Kitchen was harder. And you were impossible, with all your loyal guards around. Well, no one’s loyal to you today, so here we are. All three of us, and my work is complete. Uh, no, don’t even try, old lady. I can throw this thing like a crossbow bolt.” Arrosa, who’d been inching away, froze where she was.

Alerice sat watching this with her hand on her dagger — but not drawing it out of its sheath. Her dagger had never steered her wrong before, and right now it was saying “No.” She could end this situation right now, but she wouldn’t.

Dogood bravely answered the assassin: “Linny, why do you hate me so? Remember that it was I who took you out of that place.

You were so small and delicate, I was afraid you would break if anyone touched you. I taught you how to defeat attackers, stomping their feet and gouging their eyes. Then I taught you the staff, the dagger, the lance, horsecraft and the ways of subterfuge. Tell me, Linny, why did you have to kill my men?

They were fighting for what they thought was an honorable cause. I only wish I had taught you compassion as well. “

Linny replied: “You were stingy with your compassion, father. You did not extend it to the other children, whom you also could have saved. For this, I deem you as bad as the old bitch, and equally deserving of your fate.”

“Kill me, then. Death would be merciful compared to the loss of my name and reputation. Do it.”

Linny hesitated, then spoke. “You are right. Death is too merciful for a preening peacock like you. You and she deserve each other.”

With a sudden wild movement of her arm, the assassin threw the heavy needle directly at the royal seal at the back of the king- judge’s chair. The King’s men sprang into action immediately, but once they saw the King was not hurt, they turned around and saw the young woman was gone.

The King insisted that the business of the court continue, despite the attempted assassination. The defense, resuming its interrupted summation, eagerly seized on the incident as another proof that Dogood was not all bad. He had saved one child.

The jury came back the next morning and the foreman unfolded the verdict form, reading from it: “The Reef is not a good man. But he is also not a monster who needs to be slain. We recommend a sentence other than death.”

They recommended the same for Arrosa. Because, well, she was there too.

The judge had already given some thought to the sentence. “It is the ruling of this Court that the convicted child traffickers and conspirators Dogood and Arrosa be immediately joined in legally witnessed and binding matrimony in the Chapel of Basque; that the announcement of this marriage be sent post- haste to every county and town in the Kingdom of Vizcaya; and that the convicted married criminals be sent to live in a small hut to be provided in the Barrens region, from which they can never leave and which will be the location of their graves at such time as death separates them.”

“NO!” screamed Arrosa. “I won’t have him! Not that smug son of a bitch!”

Dogood put his head down his chest and muttered, “I deserve it.”


The jury came back the next morning and the foreman unfolded the verdict form, reading from it: “The Reef is not a good man. But he is also not a monster who needs to be slain. We recommend a sentence other than death.”

The Raven Queen looked out at the sea. The docks were teeming with passengers waiting to depart, but no one could see or hear her. Except Alerice.

“It was quite generous of the King, to resettle your boy army in a new town,” opined the lady. “There must have been too many bad memories in Basque. Still…I might ask them for service, in the far future. I was impressed with them.”

“Let’s just let them grow up, for now,” smiled Alerice. “Give them a chance to make families and futures of their own.”

“And the Reef? And his blushing bride?”

“I heard they are suffering a fate worse than death: each other. He is tormented by guilt for what he has done, and she is tormented by resentment over being caught and punished for what she has done. Two different mindsets, equally miserable. I suppose that comes from her doing horrible things….and him, doing nothing.” Alerice pondered. “I suppose, in a way, I should be grateful to the Reef. He could not face his guilt, but he has helped me face mine.”

“Oh? You no longer feel guilt for killing the Gotthards?”

“Well, I will always feel guilt, but somehow I am more at peace with it. I mean… I’ve killed no one on this mission. I’ve hardly even hurt anyone. I stopped people from being executed, brought a little more justice into the world. Maybe… I’m atoning for what I did?”

The Queen smiled and caressed Alerice’s hair. “You atoned for it a long time ago. But what’s most important is that you believe it.”

“Mother… third eye won’t tell me where Linny went. Can you tell me? I still haven’t completed my mission of capturing her.”

“No, your mission is complete. Don’t search for Linny, she will be for another to find. But I can tell you that the murders will now cease.” The Queen paused. “Alerice Ravensdaughter, I’ve noticed that lately you’ve taken to calling me ‘Mother’. Why is that?”

“Oh, yes, that. Well, I never really had a mother, and….to me, you’ve been a Mother more than anyone else. I’m sorry, I’ll stop if it offends you.”

The Raven Queen smiled as she faded in the portal. “Actually, it doesn’t,” she said.


Tom Louie is a teacher, a linguist, and an officer of An Claidheamh Soluis / The Celtic Arts Center, a non-profit cultural organization in North Hollywood.