"The ring!" she screamed insanely, and a thin line of red welled up on his throat from where her dagger pressed against it.
"Which ring?" my master gurgled, struggling uselessly against her. They were sprawled on the stone floor only a sword's length from me. I was hiding under the workbench.
"The ring you stole from me in Kirans' Keep, you filthy thief!"
Rannard trembled in his black robes. "I-I don't remember, Lady!"
She snarled. "Don't `Lady' me, Rannard. Let me refresh your rotted memory. You attacked us at night while we were asleep, coward that you are. You left me for dead like the others and stripped our bodies for loot. You stole a ring from my left hand with a stone as red as the setting sun... I've come to get it back, Rannard, and I WILL have it!"
His face screwed into an attempt at a smile. "Of course, of course," he crooned, "A ring of great power... I remember now... With a ruby the size of a crow's eye... "
She shifted her weight on top of him, and her armored knee clanked against the stone. "Yes! Where is it?"
He spat in her eye. "Gone," he hissed, "Gone forever. I used its magic for a spell!"
She smiled slowly then, and slit his throat.
I watched in horror as his blood poured onto the grey stone floor in front of my eyes. The smell of death mingled with the spicy odors of shattered herb bottles and magic potions around me.
She stood up with an ease that belied the weight of her armor. I held my breath as she approached the workbench, and I said a feeble prayer when her leather boots stopped only inches from my hand. She raised one leg and kicked the workbench over.
There was a crash of broken glass, and I closed my eyes tightly as a blood covered, gauntleted fist grabbed the front of my tunic and wrenched me to my feet.
"Well, well," she said. I cringed and waited for the sharp sting of her dagger stabbing me in the throat.
Instead, she let me go.
"Open your eyes, boy," she said in a voice which commanded instant obedience.
I opened my eyes. She was smiling at me.
"You're brave," she said. "Most boys your age would be bawling now. Or perhaps Rannard has hardened you to death and destruction?"
I did not answer, but waited to see if she would kill me like she had the guards.
"What are you doing here?"
"I served master Rannard," I said humbly. "As a page."
She grinned. "Good. You know the keep then?"
"Where does he keep his treasure hidden?"
There was no point in hiding the truth. She would find it with or without my help. Perhaps if I helped her she would let me live. I hung my head. "In his sleeping chambers, Lady. He has a chest."
"Take me there."
I looked up. "But, Lady, I fear it would do no good. The chest is magically sealed."
She picked up her sword from where it lay in a corner. Rannard had knocked it from her grip with a spell. "Just take me there."
Without protest I led her down the spiral stairs and through two doors. The passage beyond was littered with the bloody bodies of guards, and I wondered again what tremendous power this ring must have had to cause this woman to storm a wizard's keep by herself. At the end of the passage I pressed a concealed button and a door opened in the stone wall. Another short passage led into Rannard's private quarters.
The woman stepped forward. "Wait here," she ordered.
Sometime later she reappeared and held up a ruby ring in one hand. "I found it," she said with quiet satisfaction.
"But he said he used its magic in a spell," I said, wondering if she had forgotten. Surely it was useless now!
She grinned, removed her bloody gauntlet, and slipped it onto her finger. "Some magic cannot be touched by mortal wizards."
I gaped. No wonder she thought it worth killing Rannard to get it back! "What does it do?" I whispered in awe.
She looked at the red stone on her finger. "Nothing," she said simply. "It's my wedding ring."
[Return to the Viking Chick's Reading Room]