Magick (The Dragonfly Chronicles Book 2), page 27
Svala maneuvered gracefully through the throng and grabbed a goblet of ale from a serving thrall. She took several long breaths of the stuffy air to calm herself. She must be composed to do this right. And she had to dose Merewin soon before everyone began to get sick. Must not have the bride healing people. Luckily the concentrated hemlock should work quickly to paralyze the whore.
Svala stepped up to where Merewin sat laughing with Bera. Both women turned to look. Svala smiled nervously. “I wish you well, Merewin.” She spoke as convincingly as she could, while her stomach roiled.
“For once, I think I’m speechless,” Bera replied and Svala laughed, flopping down on the bench beside Merewin. She purposefully pushed against the table causing the tankards to tip. Bera’s pitched forward drenching her front. Bera screeched and jumped up as the cold wet mess washed down her gown.
Merewin turned to help her friend.
She’d practiced this, she could do this. Svala reached up and caught Merewin’s drinking goblet as if to steady it while jumping up to help. With one push of a clasp on her ring and a tilt to her hand, the powdered hemlock fell into Merewin’s goblet.
“Oh Bera, I am so sorry. I just came to toast Merewin and Hauk’s union and I’ve ruined your gown.”
“I must run home and change,” Bera gritted out.
“Again I am so sorry.”
“Of course you are.” Bera stepped away from the table to find Gamal.
When Merewin turned back toward Svala, Svala raised her own goblet. “Now that I’ve made such a mess, I should finish what I started. I toast you, Merewin. May you and Hauk have a long and happy marriage,” she called out loudly, so those around could hear her good wishes.
“Thank ye, Svala. I hope that one day we can move past any hostility.” With so many raising their goblets with Svala’s, Merewin raised her own, accepting the good wish. She drank.
Svala smiled a bit too much and covered it with a little hiccough. “I’m afraid I’ve already had too much ale this evening.” She walked away, her business done. The whore didn’t deserve any type of farewell. Now to just watch all the pots she’d set to boil.
Aslaug was already complaining to her husband about chest pains. Eldgrim rubbed at his joints. Svein pushed his fist into his stomach. The soup had been served. Luckily, Hauk seemed too busy amongst the guests and fawning over his whore to eat the soup.
Bjalki came from the kitchens adjusting his trews. One of the kitchen thralls followed him, her cheeks reddened. He ran a hand familiarly over her round backside as she walked by. Svala elbowed her brother.
“You are supposed to be working here,” she hissed.
“I put the powder in the soup, sister dear. But there was such a lovely new kitchen thrall I just had to have a taste of her,” he drawled. He looked to where Merewin sat sipping her bridal ale. “Just looking at her makes me hard again.”
Svala rolled her eyes.
Bjalki moved his lips close to her ear, his hot breath pungent with ale and woman.
Svala’s nose wrinkled.
“For my help in this, you promised that I could have her tonight, Svala. Remember that. I want her alive enough to fuck.”
“You call me crude when you poison nearly the entire village.”
Svala bit her fingernails into his bare arm. “Shut that rank mouth,” she hissed, and glanced around, but no one was close enough to hear his words. The musicians started up again and a few people began to dance. “You will have her, brother, as much as you desire, as long as she’s dead by morning.”
Bjalki frowned and rubbed his jaw. “Let me take her away from here. You can say she’s dead, but I would keep her away with me. No one will know.”
Svala looked down her nose at him. “You would leave your home just to keep the whore?”
Bjalki adjusted his obvious arousal. “Aye, for day and night of that flesh. I’ll take her overseas, and start fresh with her as my thrall on one of the northern islands.”
Svala seemed to consider it. “Nay brother, I need Hauk to see her dead.”
Bjalki growled low. “That bastard needs to die.”
Svala rounded on her brother. “Do not touch him, else you find yourself dying in your own puke,” she threatened.
Bjalki frowned, returning her stare until he finally looked away. “Just make sure she’s not dead when I get to her tonight.”
Svala smiled tightly and patted his arm. “All according to plan, brother.”
Merewin was tired of raising her goblet for yet another toast. Svala’s insincere little speech had started off a series of happy toasts to her and Hauk, and with each one, Merewin took another sip of her bridal ale. Now the goblet was empty and she felt strange, tired, and a bit queasy. She shouldn’t have drunk it so quickly.
Merewin looked about the room for Hauk, and noticed that many people sat down and were grabbing their stomachs. Something was wrong. Merewin tried to stand but found she could hardly move.
“Are you well, Merewin?” Svala’s voice hissed near her ear, but Merewin wasn’t able to turn her head. She was paralyzed, the wall behind the bench the only thing holding her up. “Nay, I suppose you aren’t. Just sit tight and watch the show, my snared little sparrow.”
Merewin’s heart raced, pounding in her pained chest. She concentrated on keeping her breaths coming in and out, her gaze searching for Hauk. Hauk! Merewin screamed in her mind.
Someone below vomited, causing several people to yell and more to run out of the hall. Chaos reigned as people began getting sick. Svala’s voice rang out over the noise.
“People, you have been tricked!” She stood up next to Merewin.
Hauk came to stand in front. “Svala, what lies are you speaking?” he asked evenly, and looked at Merewin. Merewin could only stare at him. Could she even blink?
Svala kept her voice loud to be heard. “Merewin has confessed to me that she doesn’t really know how to heal people.” This got the attention she wanted, as several people turned her way. “She is truly just an illusionist and has hidden your ailments from you.”
Hauk kept looking at Merewin, but she couldn’t say anything. “I don’t believe you, Svala, why would Merewin say that, especially to you?” He glanced between them.
“She feels guilty that her tricks are making you all sick,” Svala yelled and opened her arms to the room. Hauk looked behind him at the attendees, most of whom were vomiting in the rushes.
“My joints hurt so bad I can’t stand,” Eldgrim yelled. “She tricked me,” he shouted and pointed to Merewin.
Svala forced a concerned look. “Aslaug, you look unwell.” Hauk turned to look at the queen, where she stood by a very pale Ragnar.
Aslaug clutched at her chest. “I...my heart.” She sat down next to Ragnar.
“You had better check poor Ivarr.” Svala shook her head with mock concern.
Merewin twisted and turned inside her paralyzed body, trying to find a way out. The hold on her was too thick.
“Why would she do this?” Someone yelled, a moment before retching.
“Loki is her partner,” Svala answered. “She wanted to gain your trust, Hauk’s trust, so he would free her.”
“This is ridiculous, Svala!” Hauk thundered. “Merewin, say something.”
Merewin mustered what she could, willing her lips to move. “I...can’t...”
“She can’t because she’s guilty,” Svala interrupted.
Hauk began to move toward Merewin, when Dalla’s voice called out behind him. “Papa...I’m sick.”
Merewin watched Hauk freeze, his face paled.
He spun around to Dalla and picked her up.
Merewin could hardly turn her head in Dalla’s direction, but she could see by looking to the side that the young girl looked pale and shaky.
Hauk turned toward Merewin with Dalla in his arms. “Merewin, you need to heal her.”
Merewin tried to lower her head toward them but couldn’t. “I...can’
“She can’t because she is no healer. I am sorry, Hauk, but you’ve been tricked again,” Svala pronounced, her voice syrupy with compassion.
Could Hauk hear the triumph behind Svala’s words? Merewin could. Her words were thick with it. Inside, the woman was gloating.
“Merewin?” Hauk yelled again, and the sound nearly tore Merewin’s heart from her chest. There was anguish in the question, there was betrayal. Hauk had just begun to accept the magick, to really trust her. And Svala was tearing asunder that fragile fabric they’d woven.
Merewin fought against the heaviness imprisoning her body, fought against the sickness rolling through her stomach and mind. She had to help these people, she had to get to Dalla.
Gamal came to Hauk’s side. “Let us take Dalla to our house, away from this mess.” He indicated the foulness in Ragnar’s hall.
Merewin watched with tears blurring her eyes as Hauk turned away and headed out into the night. Hauk, Dalla! Merewin screamed inside her mind. She began to sway in her seat and felt the vomit creeping up her throat. Perhaps she would die by choking. Right now she didn’t have much energy to fight it. Death would be an escape from the look in Hauk’s eyes.
“Bloody hell, she’s vomiting!” Bjalki’s voice came from behind.
“That’s good,” Svala said, “else she’ll die before you’ve satiated your lust.”
Bjalki pulled her off the platform. He held her head down as the vomit poured from her mouth. Blood rushed to Merewin’s head and blackness closed in.
Dear Earth Mother, help me, Merewin thought as consciousness retreated.
Cold water smacked against Merewin’s face, followed by the burning fire of being slapped. Her eyes cracked open slowly, her vision blurry. Merewin tried to focus on her attacker.
“Wake, woman!” Svala shouted in her face. Another cold smack of water hit Merewin. She blinked to clear it from her eyes. The firelight condensed back into focus. She sat on the ground against a tree. The chill of damp soil seeped up through her gown and the darkness of the forest surrounded them. Svala bent by a pond to bring up another bowl of water.
“I’m awake,” Merewin muttered, relieved that she could once again speak. She tried to move her arms but found them still rather weak, but praise be, she wasn’t paralyzed anymore. Since she wasn’t tied up, she hid the fact that she could move. She could use that secret to her advantage later.
Svala cursed, dropped the bowl and walked back. The firelight cast Svala’s huge shadow along a large rock outcropping. Instead of fear, which Merewin knew Svala wished, anger swelled through Merewin.
“Svala, what have ye done? Those people, me, ye’ve poisoned us.” Merewin kept the seething tone from her voice, hoping that Svala would tell the truth.
“It had to be done,” Svala stated matter-of-factly. “Without them ill, they wouldn’t have let us take you, nor would they believe so easily that you tricked all of them.”
Merewin’s gaze narrowed. “And innocent Dalla, ye had to poison a child, too?” Merewin couldn’t keep the sneer out of her voice.
“Do not judge me, whore,” Svala spat back, taking full advantage of her height. “You do not know anything about me, what I’ve suffered, what these good people have done for me,” she said sarcastically. Svala’s frown cut deep lines across her face.
How could Merewin have ever thought the woman attractive? The ugliness of her soul claimed her features. Svala began to pace and glanced out into the night.
“Then tell me, Svala, tell me yer charges against these people ye’ve tricked, sickened, and perhaps killed.”
Svala turned back to Merewin with tears, but they didn’t soften the horrific visage. “They turned away from me when my husband died. I was part of the royal household, but when he died, they sent me to live in a small house, fit for a commoner.”
I’d have sent Svala away too. But Merewin just nodded. Meanwhile she tried to call on the powers in the earth beneath. She needed the Earth Mother’s strength in case Svala attacked again. Merewin still wore the jade stone around her neck. The stone was infused with her mother’s power.
Svala squatted in front of Merewin and grasped her shoulders, shaking until her head snapped back and forth. “Everyone knew Aslaug couldn’t birth a healthy child. It was to be my child to take Ragnar’s place one day, my child. But Gorm died before he could get me with child, the saklauss! Then, they threw me out.”
“I’m sure they didn’t just throw you out,” Merewin whispered, as she ignored the sharp headache.
Svala shoved her backwards, knocking Merewin onto the hard ground. Merewin’s teeth clanked together as her head hit the packed dirt. Svala pulled out a long dagger.
“I had no one!” she spat, standing over Merewin. “And if you hadn’t come along, I would have caught Hauk. He came to me one night.” She smiled wickedly. “And how I made him moan with pleasure.” She stopped and turned, “but then he went off raiding for over a year. He had finally returned, when Ragnar sent him after you.”
Merewin had no weapon. She moved her fingers around on the ground searching for a stone, something. The tang of her own blood sat on her tongue and she licked at her cracked lip.
“And now you are going to kill yourself, Merewin. Kill yourself over the shame you feel, a sacrifice to the gods to repent for tricking the village, for tricking Hauk.” Svala smiled, and grabbed Merewin’s hair. Pain, sharp and bruising, tore along Merewin scalp. Svala pulled her back into a sitting position then let go and turned to the woods.
Merewin pushed hair out of her face. Wisps came out in her palm.
“Where are you, Bjalki?” Svala asked, stamping her foot. She turned back to Merewin. “Bjalki has some fun planned for you tonight before you kill yourself. I pity you really. He can get a bit rough when he takes his pleasure on a wench, and he’s quite lusty for you.”
Merewin swallowed against the fear that caught like thick syrup in her throat. Torture, rape, and death. For the first time in her life, Merewin had found a community that accepted her. She’d found love and a family. She wouldn’t, couldn’t just give that up.
Hauk’s love gave her the strength to try. Fear of failure no longer gripped around the throat, no longer plunged its ice cold blade. No longer would she hide away from trying. She was a fighter, a warrior. She wouldn’t give up.
Merewin took a deep breath as her mind sifted from one thought to the next. Perhaps if she could harness energy to push into people to heal them, she could pull out that energy to harm them? She’d never tried that, never thought of it. It went against her education, her character, her nature, but she had to try something. She wouldn’t give up.
As Svala approached again, Merewin grabbed hold of Svala’s arms. She began to suck out health, but stopped, drawing away. Merewin had felt the life as soon as she’d made contact.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Svala jumped back in alarm.
“Ye...ye are carrying..., Svala, ye are pregnant?”
Tears gathered quickly in Svala’s large eyes. “How do you know that?” She glanced around and lowered her voice.
“I...felt it in ye, growing.”
Svala’s hand went to her belly, hidden by the gown.
“Who is the father?”
Svala rubbed a hand over her face, still clutching the knife with the other. “I’m not certain. There were two or three men in the village...”
How would Merewin stop her, now that she couldn’t use magick? To do so would harm the innocent bairn inside. Merewin couldn’t overpower the fanatical woman, not with the crippling effects of the poison still so potent.
Svala sneered at Merewin. “If you hadn’t been here, I would have found a way to bring Hauk back into my bed. He would have married me once I told him I was with child. His honor would have demanded it.”
She stood up and Merewin breathed again. “If I go to him after you’ve been found dead, I will comfort him again with my bod
Svala stared out at the night. “I just need to get you out of the way.”
A small skitter sounded behind Merewin, just before she felt Bela creep up under her hair. Svala continued to watch the surrounding forest. Merewin relaxed at the feel of her pet. Bela’s soft fur rubbed against her neck. Merewin turned her lips toward Bela and whispered. “Get Hauk; lead Hauk here.”
“What are you saying?” Svala screeched, and ran behind Merewin, her look frantic.
Bela scampered down Merewin’s arm and leapt past the fire, darting out into the night. “I was but praying to the Earth Mother.”
Svala looked uneasy. “That illusion you cast before with Ivarr won’t save you.”
Hooves thudded from the direction Bela had run. Hauk, please be Hauk! But would Hauk even look for her after what he’d witnessed as her uncaring admission at Ragnar’s hall? Even if Bela found him? Please be Hauk…Hauk..Hauk! Merewin held her breath.
Bjalki sauntered out of the woods, and Merewin’s heart struck against her chest. Pain gripped and she took slow even breaths to release it. She dug her fingers in the dirt trying to find a rock. She would try her reversal healing on him, but she feared that it would take all her strength to affect him. That would leave her immobile. And if she didn’t harm him, she’d not be able to fight at all.
He strutted into the circle of light, already stripping his shirt over his head. His large torso was covered with scars and a lawn of hair that went back over his shoulders and down his back. He stretched his arms overhead like a great beast. “I’ve been looking forward to taking a bite of you for a long time, Merewin.”
“Has Hauk returned to Spring House?” Svala demanded.
Bjalki didn’t even turn to look at his sister, but went to stand over Merewin. Merewin stared at his knees, her back as straight as the tall trees. She would never cower. “Nay, he’s at Gamal’s,” he called casually, a leer sharpening features until he looked like some predator.
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