This story is concluded from Terrible Gift Part 1. Please also refer to Terrible Gift Part 1 for back-links to the rest of the series.
Though the Silver Sword may someday reappear to protect Irowasa, this is the story of the current last recorded hero and the first battle he fought using the blessed sword...
Terrible Gift Part 2
Let the praise of God be on their lips and a two-edged sword in their hand, to deal out vengeance to the nations and punishment on all the peoples.
Psalm 149: 6-7
Ris adjusted the position of a blue bandanna holding back his fair hair and continued watching the slender, sandy haired siren girl out of the corner of his eye as she strolled along the dock. The siren was easy to identify not because she had an aura of dark magic as would a corrupt magician or even because she looked different from other women but because of the way she watched men like a predator stalking prey. The girl sang a line of a strange haunting melody. Ris feigned the same dreamy glazed look he saw in the faces of the men around him, though in truth the fairy queen’s amulet protected him from the magic of the siren’s song.
Deciding it was time to make a move, Ris stepped off the pile of fish crates on which he had been sitting and picked up the bundle leaning against them. He took several slow steps across the sun warmed planks before staggering against the siren as though her song had distracted him. She ended her tune as they both regained their balance then turned her hungry black eyes on him. A flicker of recognition crossed her pale face and Ris knew the couple days spent following her as she hunted had now paid off. As the siren sized him up, Ris dropped his eyes and turned as if to step around her. She placed a hand on his shoulder, stopping him.
“What is your rush?” asked the siren in a smooth, sweet voice. “Keep me company a while.”
Ris allowed her to lead him farther down the dock. A tingle of nervous anticipation ran through him as he realized he had succeeded in drawing the siren’s attention away from other men and onto himself. She was clearly the key to getting onto the island in order to defeat the warlock and his monstrous alter-ego.
The siren gestured toward a small white-washed wooden rowboat. Ris hopped aboard, placing his bundle beneath the rowing bench. With a couple graceful steps, the siren joined him in the boat and took up the oars. Ris breathed in the salty breeze and listened to the cries of gulls as she navigated them around larger boats and onto the bluish grey waves of the open ocean. Glancing over his shoulder, Ris watched the sun slip behind the rooftops of the village and streak the sky the glorious oranges, golds and purples of sunset.
The splash of the oars ceased for a moment. As Ris turned to see why they had stopped, the siren’s hand snaked toward him. She hooked a finger through a loop of exposed leather on his neck, pulling his amulet from under his shirt. With a quick tug the siren snapped the cord then tossed the white stone into the waves. Ris leaned over the side of the boat and watched it sink with a sense of alarm. Before his fear had quite made the shift into panic, the siren picked up the oars again, singing while she rowed.
Ris blinked and tried to remember what had frightened him. The siren’s song made his heart ache like a fond memory of something lost. He thought it was the most beautiful melody he had ever heard. With a contented sigh he settled back into the boat and let the music wash over him. He gazed at the siren’s pale heart shaped face. He was very aware of her sharp, intelligent eyes on him and took notice of the way her soft hair swirled about her face in the wind. She must be the prettiest woman in the world.
A hazy dark shape which had been visible on the horizon in front of them when they set out now resolved itself into a tiny island. It was little more than a pile of rocks rising above the surface of the waves. The siren navigated the boat toward a crescent shaped beach where patches of pebbles mixed with sand. She ended her song as the boat neared the shore. Within seconds Ris found himself wishing she would sing again.
“Help me pull the boat ashore,” said the siren.
Eager to obey, Ris jumped over the rowboat’s side, landing in the shallow water with a splash. The siren took the opposite side of the boat and together they dragged it out of reach of the waves. As they completed their task, the siren bent and pulled an oddly shaped bundle from under the rowing bench.
What could that be? Ris wondered as the siren unwrapped several layers of cloth.
A gleam of silver caught his eye and with it he regained a sense of clarity. He had put that bundle under the rowing bench. It was the one he had used to disguise the...
Ris charged the siren just as the last cloths fell back to display the full glory of the Silver Sword. At the sight of it she gave a sharp hiss, raised it over her head and flung it toward the ocean. Ris let out a cry of anger as the sword sailed past an outcropping of rock and sank into the foamy water. He had broken the fairy queen’s trust by losing the sword before even attempting to use it. He waded into the surf in order to swim out and retrieve it. A sad, slow melody rang out over the crashing of the waves as the siren began a new song. The tune tugged at the edges of Ris’ consciousness but he pressed his palms over his ears and shouted wordlessly to drown out her enchantments.
The siren ran forward and grabbed his upper arms, attempting to pull his hands away from his ears. He shook himself free and kicked at her legs. This turned out to be a mistake for it threw him off balance. The siren took advantage of the opening by slamming herself into him, tripping him and shoving him head first into the next wave that rolled up the beach. Salty water stung his throat and his lungs burned. In the confusion his hands slipped from his ears.
The siren was already singing as she grasped his arms and pulled him coughing and gasping out of the surf. Tears of frustration mixed with the salt water dripping from his face as Ris struggled one last time to pull his arms free of her grasp. The siren’s song increased in its intensity. Ris shuddered. A sense of calm washed over him and the world blurred. He felt the siren lead him across the beach. The loose sand and pebbles gave way to hard rock. The siren led him on a path worn into the stones. When the path ended she pushed him backward a few steps. Something cold touched his wrists. The sensation was followed by the sound of a soft click. The siren ended her song with a sharp, high note and Ris’ vision cleared.
He was standing atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. The beach with the rowboat was downhill to his right. The siren stood in front of him, regarding him with a hungry expression. She no longer looked pretty, only menacing. With a cruel smile she turned and made her way back down the steep path toward the beach. As Ris shifted to watch her go he heard a jingling noise and something tugged against his arms. He glanced down to see chains fastened around his wrists. Twisting as much as his bonds would allow, he followed the length of the chains with his eyes. He could see that they were fastened to a huge stone pillar that loomed over him from behind, decorated with ominous stains and blotches.
Leaning back against the pillar he glanced to either side, trying to see the area at the top of the cliff. What he could make out was an uneven surface of barren rocks strewn with bleached white objects of various sizes. As he turned his head, Ris caught sight of a grinning human skull. He shook uncontrollably, setting the chains rattling against the pillar, as he realized that the white objects were bones. They were the remains of the werewolf’s previous victims who had once been bound to the pillar as he was now.
Raking his eyes over the beach, Ris saw the siren rowing away from shore in the dimming light. Once she was past the breakers, she pulled the oars free and tossed them to the waves, allowing them to drift away from the boat. She was making sure he could not escape the island. Furious, Ris screamed a gypsy curse at her and spit over the edge of the cliff. Her laughter rang out over the sound of crashing waves. Then she jumped over the rowboat’s side and vanished into the ocean. Ris watched the boat for several minutes until the current swept it out of sight. All the while he strained against the chains, tucking his thumbs against his palms in a vain attempt to slip his hands free of the restraints.
A foal stench of rotting meat and the metallic smell of blood wafted to him, growing stronger with each second. The monster was approaching. Ris doubled his efforts against the chains. His heart pounded and his ears rang as a primal fear gripped him. A minute later he sensed a presence behind him. He froze as warm breath brushed the back of his neck. The newcomer sniffed then laughed.
“She brought me young blood,” said a low growling voice. “Ah, so tender and such good sport!”
Ris shivered. A dark shape slid past his left side and turned to face him. A sudden sense of relief washed over Ris and he suppressed a laugh of his own. What stood before him was a dirty man in tattered clothes. His head and face were covered with overgrown locks of shaggy dark hair and a tangled beard. There was a look of madness in his cold grey eyes. The thing which made Ris want to laugh was the aura of black magic which settled around him as he concocted a potion in a bowl he held. Despite everything, this man was still a corrupt magician; something Ris knew how to handle.
The warlock reached out with his right hand. Ris pressed his back against the pillar forcing him to take a step forward. The warlock plucked a single hair from Ris’ head. As the warlock drew back his hand Ris reached out as far as his chains would allow, caught the magician by the wrist with his left hand and tugged at the flow of magic, drawing it into himself. The warlock’s eyes widened and his face turned a sickly grey. The bowl slipped from his hands, shattering on the rocky ground and spilling its contents as the last of the magic transferred to Ris’ body. Once Ris released him, the former magician fell to his hands and knees gasping.
Ris felt giddy and exhilarated by the power flowing through him. He knew from experience that he would only retain the magic for three minutes, in which time he must reverse the warlock’s spells. He first used his temporary power to unlock his chains then traced the stream of magic backward through the enchantments it had previously performed. There was a half completed spell intended to keep him on firm ground and prevent him from escaping the island by throwing himself into the ocean. He spared just enough energy to encourage it to dissipate then continued to undo spells protecting both the warlock and the siren, and on to charms placed on the island itself. Curses and foal spells the warlock had designed over the years fell instantly to ruin at the touch of Ris’ mind. He smiled, savoring the feeling. At last Ris came to the spell the warlock had used to make himself a werewolf. The stream of magic pushed and tugged at the spell without success. Ris ground his teeth and had to admit he had come to an impasse. There was no counter to the werewolf spell.
The three minutes ended and the magic slipped from his grasp leaving him feeling slightly light headed. As his attention returned to his surroundings, Ris noticed a low growling noise. He turned to see the former warlock lying shuddering on the ground at his right side. The man’s nose looked longer and his fingers shorter. Tufts of hair stuck out from under his clothes at odd places. He opened his eyes for a moment in which time Ris noticed the reflective gleam of animal eyes. Another shudder racked the man’s body. It was clear he was trying to gather enough strength to shift into his wolf form.
Ris sprinted past him down the path. He realized his only chance of success was to retrieve the Silver Sword before the wolf-man completed his transformation. Turning off the path, Ris headed across the top of the rocky outcropping he had seen when the siren had thrown the sword. The uneven stones felt rough against his bare feet. Taking a running leap off the summit of the formation, he dove into the ocean.
At once the current caught him and swept him toward the wall of rocky shoreline. He struggled against the current, somersaulting as he grabbed at the smaller rocks lining the ocean floor and scraping his palms as he was dragged free. He bumped his knee against a cliff before the waves carried him into a calmer eddy in a hollow of the rock face. An object tucked into the hollow gleamed with white light. Before Ris could reach the object, the current pulled him backward toward the open ocean. The water swirling out of the eddy carried him toward the edge of the current. He took advantage of this by kicking hard until he was free of the water’s pull then shot to the surface to catch a breath.
Seeing the next wave rolling in, he again dove under water and allowed the current to carry him back into the eddy. He reached out toward the white object as the water carried him past it. His hand closed on the hilt of the Silver Sword which was wedged into a crack in the stone. The current pulled him away before he could free it.
Once more he swam to the surface and caught a breath before diving to make another attempt. This time he noticed the sword’s belt waving in the current like a strand of seaweed. Looping the belt around his left shoulder he allowed the current to carry him backward, using its force along with his weight to pull the sword free of the crack. Swimming hard he pulled both himself and the sword free of the current then shot for the surface.
He had just caught a breath when something slammed into his back, forcing him under water. After coming back up, he twisted to see the siren as she slid behind him. She locked her thin arms around his neck, leaned backward to pull him under water and began to sing. No, never again! he thought and before the enchantment took effect he reached under his left armpit to yank the Silver Sword out of its sheath. The force of breaking the water’s surface sent the sword bouncing backward over Ris’ right shoulder. The blade struck the siren’s face. Her song ended in a shriek of pain and she released her hold on Ris. Keeping the sword between them, Ris turned to face her. She pressed a hand over a cut on her right cheek and the corner of her mouth. Another wave swept over them and when it passed the siren was gone.
Ris swam in a circle, wary of another attack. When the siren did not reappear he headed for shore with the Silver Sword still clutched in his right hand. He crawled his way onto the island’s thin strip of beach then stood dripping on the sand. A breeze cut through him, causing him to shiver. The scrapes on his palms stung from the salty water.
A dark shape streaked toward him from the left, letting out a hair-raising snarl. In his shock, Ris dropped the sword belt and instinctively batted the Silver Sword in the direction of the threat. The blade caught the werewolf on his right ear, sending him sprawling on the sand. The wolf pushed himself to his feet, rubbing his bleeding ear with one paw. Then the effects of the silver set in accompanied by a smell of burnt meat and singed fur. The werewolf let out a shrill howl of pain. Ris took several steps backward and was already running for the far end of the beach when the monster lunged again.
The werewolf swatted at Ris with his claws, shredding the back of his shirt and missing his skin by a fraction of an inch. Ris sped up but the werewolf moved in front of him, blocking his path. The beast snarled again, his fang gleaming. Ris dug in his heels to try to stop himself from barreling into the wolf. He skidded on a patch of pebbles and his momentum carried him forward. Raising the Silver Sword in both hands he sliced at his enemy. The werewolf jumped to the side but not quite fast enough, for the sword cut through his tail, severing it as Ris fell. With a howl of agony and rage the wolf twisted to claw at Ris’ face. Ris rolled in time to avoid the full force of the blow though one claw left a small gash on his left arm.
Pushing himself to his feet, Ris ran in the direction of the rocks, hoping to find shelter among them. The sound of heavy breathing behind him told him the werewolf was giving pursuit. Ris scrambled up the first set of rocks he came to. He slipped slightly, caught himself using the pommel of the Silver Sword then pulled himself onto a ledge as the werewolf snapped at his heels. The wolf tensed his legs and sprang but without his tail for balance he fell short, slamming into the rock face. Pushing himself back to his feet, the werewolf paced at the base of the rock, growling and searching for another way to reach the ledge. Seeing an opportunity, Ris once again raised the Silver Sword in both hands, took a deep breath to steel his nerves and jumped onto the beast’s back, stabbing him downward through the heart. The werewolf gave a gargling howl and thrashed, throwing Ris from his back before going still.
With trembling hands Ris pulled the sword free and staggered with it across the beach. He stopped in front of the spot where he had dropped the sword belt. Taking the bandanna off his head he used it to wipe the blood from the blade. Then he sheathed the sword before collapsing on the sand.
He woke to the light of dawn feeling cold and hungry. Standing, he brushed himself free of sand, slung the Silver Sword across his back and set himself the task of finding a way off the island and back to the mainland. He climbed the path in the rocks and scanned the horizon for boats. Those he saw were distant. Their captains seemed to be giving the island a wide berth, for which he could not blame them.
Desperate to be off the place where so much horror and pain had occurred, Ris ran back to the beach and retrieved the wolf’s tail. This he waved over his head at the nearest vessels to signal that it was safe to approach the island. After he had been waving the tail off and on for what seemed like an eternity but in reality was probably about an hour or two, a large sailing barge stopped near the island and lowered a rowboat which headed toward the shore.
Ris returned to the beach and waited there until the boat arrived. A group of men armed with crossbows disembarked. With looks of astonishment they took in the sight of the ragged boy with a sword slung across his back and the gristle body of the monster, who had attempted to revert to his human form in his death throes and had not quite succeeded.
“Did you kill him?” asked one of the sailors sizing up Ris with a look of admiration.
“Yes,” Ris answered.
“How did you do it? So many others have failed.”
“If you’ll take me back to the mainland I’ll explain everything.”
“Very well, climb aboard, lad,” said the sailor. Turning to his companions he instructed, “Help me load the body into the boat. We will need it to prove to everyone that the monster is dead.”
Ris watched from a distance for a few minutes as Rella scrubbed her laundry on stones lining the Farawad River. Once he determined that she was truly alone, he approached her.
The old gypsy jumped, sending up a spray of water from the wet shirt she was holding.
“Oh Ris! You scared me, boy. What are you doing here?”
“You left Caramyth in such a hurry I had no time for a proper good-bye,” Ris replied.
“Eh, you know how it is. Once it became clear we would make no money from the werewolf deal and with word spreading of our use of your talents, the others thought it was time to move camp.”
“And set up new scams elsewhere, I suppose.”
“I bought my own caravan and team of mules with the reward from defeating the werewolf,” said Ris. “I considered settling down at first but...”
“But you’re a gypsy at heat,” Rella finished.
Ris nodded. “I was hoping you would consider traveling with me. I would enjoy your company and you deserve better than this camp can offer.”
Rella’s face creased and she turned to wring out the wet shirt before replying.
“I heard a rumor you’ve been hired by the Caramythan navy to battle an island sorceress specializing in creating minions for herself through hypnosis.”
“It’s true,” said Ris. “If you choose to travel with me you can have the caravan to yourself while I’m gone.”
Rella shook her head. “You are destined to be a guardian of Irowasa like the hero, Andell after the great war of magic ended. That’s no life for a worn out old woman like me. I wish you well Ris, but I cannot join you.”
“I’ll miss you, Rella.”
“And I you. Visit me if you are ever near my camp. I will look forward to hearing of your exploits firsthand.”
“I promise to tell you all about them.”
One hot summer many years later when he was a weathered, white haired old man, Ris returned to Fairy Wood. Parking his wagon in the shade of the dark green canopy, he unhitched his mules and let them wander to graze in the meadows. After years spent protecting Irowasa’s roadways from corrupt magicians and rampaging monsters, he was glad to be somewhere peaceful where he could rest. Smoothing his bedroll over the boards and placing the Silver Sword beside him, he lay down inside the wagon and fell asleep. There in the woods he loved, old age took its toll and he woke no more.
The next day the soft flap of gauzy wings heralded the coming of the fairy queen. Opening the door of the caravan she took in the lifeless old body with the Silver Sword lying beside it. Closing the door, she bent her dark head and raised her arms, silently asking the Lord of Light’s blessing on the spot. Vines and grass sprang up and grew over the wagon, making it a fitting resting place for the gypsy warrior and a new hiding place for the Silver Sword.