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The Autumnal Lady - Chapter IX - Ashley Marrowwax
The ninth chapter of my fairy tale, The Autumnal Lady. Having run afoul of the slavers, Oliver finds himself captured and meets his companion in captivity, Ashley Marrowwax face to face. If you have not read the previous chapter, you can find it here. Enjoy!
As the sun rose in the east to cast its light across the lands, Oliver beheld his companion for the first time. She was a beautiful, young woman with dark, tanned skin. Her only clothing was a simple, long, and baggy tunic. Her red hair was cut short, and some of it fell across the left side of her face. Within her red eyes, a wild and passionate fire seemed to dance. Instead of a leather collar like Oliver’s, a metal one encircled her neck. As Oliver stared at her in the dawn’s light, Ashley Marrowwax smirked at him. Chuckling, she asked, “Have you never seen an enslaved fire enchantress before, boy?”
Oliver gave Ashley a somewhat stunned look, and then he slowly shook his head. “Why do you have a metal collar instead of a leather one?” he asked in an unsure voice.
Raising her hand, Ashley ran one of her fingers along the collar about her neck. Then letting loose another one of her growl-like chuckles, she replied, “Oh, this little bauble. It is a collar made of netherite, an alloy of the emperor of metals, orichalcum. It prevents an enchanter or enchantress from calling on their innate powers. Basically, the slavers are afraid, rightly so, that I might burn them to a crisp for the indignities that they have dared to thrust upon me.”
“You can do that?” Oliver asked in a voice of wonder.
“You have not traveled very far in the land of fairy, have you, boy?” Ashley shot back.
“Well,” Oliver said, “I lived on the edge of it my entire life, but this is my first time really leaving The Crowned Rose.”
“The Crowned Rose,” Ashley said as an almost joyous smile came to her lips. “It has been far too long since I last visited that fine inn.”
“If you could burn them to a crisp, how did they capture you?” Oliver pressed.
“Boy,” Ashley said with a shake of her head, “you should never ask your elders to tell embarrassing stories of how mere children outwitted them. It is disrespectful.”
Before Oliver could reply to that statement, a large hand banged against the bars of their wagon. Turning, Oliver saw a rather large and ugly member of the slaver band glaring at him. It took a moment for Oliver to realize that this was one of the men that he had given a good whack to the previous night. “You lucky,” the man snarled. “Boss thinks you bring much coin, so he no whip you.”
“Have off it, Var,” Ashley said with a bit of a snarl in her voice. “And tell us what is on the delightful menu for the day.”
“You watch your tongue, little flamey,” the slaver, Var, growled in reply, “or perhaps boss cut it out.” But then he turned to a pot full of a very unappetizing slop. He ladled some into two bowls and passed them through bars. Yet as Oliver prepared to take his first bite of the food, the slaver delivered a hard whack with the ladle to the back of Oliver’s head. Losing his grip on the bowl, Oliver dropped it, and its contents spilled across the floor of the wagon. Guffawing, Var began to move away from the wagon.
Oliver was about to shout angrily after him when Ashley hissed, “Don’t, boy. Var is mean and cruel. Don’t call unnecessary attention to yourself. You can share my breakfast, but I warn you that it tastes most foul.”
Oliver moved closer to the kind fire enchantress, and she carefully scooped some of her slop into his bowl. As the two of them ate the foul food in silence, Oliver could not help but wistfully remember Chun’s marvelous cooking back at the inn. Then he thought of the delicious yet simple fare that Craig had prepared back in the Halls of Dougal and on their journey through the tunnels, and he felt like weeping at his misfortune.
A short while later, another one of the slavers came by to collect the bowls, and then the wagons began to move. “Where are we going?” Oliver asked Ashley.
“Out of Zephyria to be sure,” Ashley said with a slight smile. “Ever since the Vagabond Prince and his Gray Company overthrew the usurper, slavery has once more been illegal in Zephyria. They will most likely take us to Muldorvan. It has one of the greatest slave markets in the world. Even Fomorians and trolls from the Fomor Islands trade in Muldorvan.”
Oliver’s face paled at the mention of Fomorians and trolls. Images of the night that he had fled his village flashed through his mind. As he began to tremble at the memories, he heard Ashley ask, “What is the matter, boy?”
“Nothing,” Oliver snapped with a ferocious shake of his head. He did not wish to speak of that night.
“That is clearly a lie,” Ashley replied. “The instant that I mentioned Fomorians and trolls you seemed to become ill. I wish to know why.”
Feeling a dam break within his soul, Oliver moaned, “They attacked my village. They attacked my village to kill me, and they forced me to flee to protect my home.”
Ashley stared at him with a dumbfounded look for a moment. “Why would they wish to kill you, a simple, ordinary boy?” she finally asked in a perplexed voice.
“I don’t know,” Oliver moaned. “It all started with the infernal dreams of the strange girl and the raggedy woman.” Then Oliver began to weep.
Moving closer to him, Ashley like a loving mother tenderly wrapped her arms around him. “Hush, hush,” she said in a voice full of fierce melody. “Sleep, and let no evil trouble you.”
As the words passed her lips, Oliver felt himself drifting off into sleep,
*** *** ***
Oliver found himself standing once more in the seemingly endless passage. For a moment, he stood as still as a statue for fear filled him at his return to that place. Here, all the weirdness that now infested his life had began. But then his inner voice of reason said, You can stand still in terror until they come to kill you, or you can gird yourself with courage and move. You can continue to complain and whine about the unfairness of it all, or you can be a man and do your duty. The time for indecision and inaction has passed. Now is the time to choose and act!
Casting about his mind, Oliver sought for any argument or excuse that he could throw against his reason, but he knew there was none. His reason spoke the truth. Taking a deep breath, Oliver squared his shoulders and began to walk forward down the endless corridor of stone.
When he came at last to the door of the mirror room, Oliver stopped for a moment. The door had changed. It was not a major change, but a notable one nonetheless. Where before there had been only writing, there were now four figures inlaid with gold.
The first figure was that of a woman in a robe, but her head was a skull with hair. Her hands and feet were also skeletal. Beneath her was written the word Atra. The second figure was a rocky form atop the body of a serpent. Its head was also a skull. Beneath it was written the word Destruction. The third figure was that of a man dressed in armor, but instead of legs, he had squid tentacles. His mouth was also surrounded by tentacles, and his arms ended in crab-like pincers. Beneath him was written the word Khaos. The fourth and final figure had a body like that of an ape, but her face was made of rotting flesh. Beneath her was written the word Decay.
With a shudder for the images, Oliver pushed open the door and stepped into the ill-kept room. Then he heard the voice of the Autumnal Lady say, “Ah, he returns.”
What are the images of?
© 2014 Joseph Ray