Okay, for those who are still interested in the fantasy story, here is chapter 2. If you still haven’t read chapter 1, you may do so here.
CHAPTER TWO: THE LADY IN THE WATER
Twelve years having passed since the last meeting of the council, a young boy clad in green and brown sat in a tree that stretched over the passage through the edge of the woods of Aelbridge, province of Thane Haraldr. The boy watched as a large army of horsemen went by, fervently wishing he could be among them.
This obviously was Thane Haraldr’s army, returning home after some battle. Perhaps they had been having brave adventures. Perhaps some of their comrades had fallen on the field.
Perhaps one day he could join them and lead his own army of heroic knights.
But no, it was impossible to become a knight unless you were of noble blood. And as far as this boy knew, he had no noble blood running through his veins. He was simply Corin, a foundling taken in by an old hermit named Oswald when Corin was just a baby. No one would ever take him seriously.
Indeed, whenever Corin would venture into the local village, people would look at him askance, call him vagabond and ragamuffin and shoo him away. And besides all these unjust insults, for he never did anything except look at the shops and never begged, he was scolded by Oswald for going into the village at all.
Corin did not understand why Oswald objected so to his going into the village. He never stole, or desired to steal anything, for he was very well fed at home and he scarcely ever spoke to anybody. Corin only liked to see the bustle of daily life. He was very fond of his home in the forest, as a rule, but sometimes a boy of twelve needs better company than a solitary old man, however kind that solitary old man may be.
Just as interesting to Corin as the village shops were the days when Thane Haraldr’s army came passing through. And on this particular day, there was another interesting occurrence, for some time after the last lingering footsteps of the army had vanished and darkness was beginning to descend on the land, Corin caught a glimpse of a very beautiful lady dressed in elegant clothes walking through the forest. He did not know who this lady was, for he had never seen her before, and certainly it was strange for a noble lady to wander into the forest unaccompanied, and so close to twilight.
Something about the lady’s demeanor struck Corin as unusual, and he followed her, unseen, as she went deeper in the forest. Corin readied his bow, in case any night creatures should attack either him or the lady. No creature appeared, however, and they finally came to the edge of the forest, where the forest meets the sea.
The waves crashed on the large and jagged rocks in the distance and with a look of resolution on her face, the lady stepped into the sea. Corin stood by, entranced as the air filled with unearthly music, strange but beautiful, and words in a language Corin did not understand.
The music seemed to be emitted from the lady who was now waist deep in the water. Corin blinked and stared a little harder, for he could not quite believe what he saw. What he saw was a splendid array of sea creatures surrounding the lady and she seemed to be speaking to them in low, soothing voices. Corin started and felt a blade across his throat.
“Don’t move,” a nearby voice said slowly. “Or your blood shall be on your own head.” Corin slowly turned to face his captor, which appeared to be a boy about his own age. Corin’s bow lay a few feet away from him. He had dropped it in his fascination with the lady in the water.
“Who are you?” Corin asked the boy.
“You’re not really in a position to ask questions,” the boy replied. “Now tell me who you are and what you’re doing here and I’ll decide whether or not to kill you.” Well, there was nothing for it but to tell the truth. Not that Corin had anything to hide.
“My name is Corin,” he answered. “I live with Oswald, the old hermit in the woods. I saw a lady travelling alone in the woods and I didn’t wish any harm to come to her, so I followed in case she should need my protection.”
“Protection?” The other boy repeated scornfully. “From an untrained boy like yourself? What protection could you possibly afford?”
“I’m no worse than you,” Corin retorted defensively. “You can’t possibly be any older than me. And just because I’m no squire doesn’t mean I can’t hold my own. I’d be a fair match for you at least.”
“Indeed,” the boy said. “Who is at whose sword point, might you tell me?”
“You snuck up on me and caught me at an unfair advantage,” Corin said. “Face on, I could have prevented you.”
“What if I had been a manticore or an ogre?” the boy asked him. “Do you suppose they would have said, ‘excuse me, I’m going to attack you, so you’d better get on your guard’? No, you would already be dead. For someone who lives in the woods, you ought to know you can’t drop your guard, even for a moment.”
“Well now that I’ve answered your questions, might you tell me who you are?” Corin asked. “And who the lady is?”
“My name is Arin,” the boy said, replacing his sword in his sheath. “I’m a squire in Thane Haraldr’s army. And that is my—she is Thane Haraldr’s wife, the Lady Evelyn.” He tossed Corin’s bow back to him. “You might need that. Though much good it will do when it’s this dark.”
For most men, perhaps,” Corin replied. “But I can see better and farther than most men. Even in the dark.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Arin said skeptically.
“What is she doing?” Corin asked in a whisper. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I don’t know,” Arin whispered back. “I’ve never seen it before either. And I’ve never seen her coming out at night before.” They both looked back toward the water which was now being lit up by something under the surface and the water began to bubble. Corin suppressed a shout as another lady materialized and rose up out of the water.
This lady was as beautiful as the other, but she had dangerous, other worldly beauty about her. Her hair was dark and her skin was pale and she wore a necklace of exotic seashells and what appeared to be a tiara made of coral and jewels.
“Nerina!” Lady Evelyn exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“I warned you never to come back,” Nerina replied in a low voice. “I told you what would happen if you ever came back.”
“Nerina, please,” Lady Evelyn said, a note of desperation in her voice. “I’ve been away so long—I missed the sea. I did not come to fight you. Only to feel the water.”
“You would have done better to come prepared to fight me,” Nerina said. “For I will not give up my throne so easily. As it is, foolish, trusting girl that you are—you come alone. Unprotected.”
“What will you do to me?” Lady Evelyn asked. “And what have I ever done to you to receive such a reception?”
“I shall kill you,” Nerina answered softly. “For the offense of having been born. Forever to be a pain in my side, as long as you live.”
“I made a life here like you demanded!” Lady Evelyn protested. “I married a man. I haven’t set foot in the sea since you last saw me.”
“I know you haven’t,” Nerina replied. “I would have known if you had. I would have found you. As I found you tonight. You would already be dead.”
“Just let me go back to my life here,” Lady Evelyn pleaded. “I promise I will never bother you. I did not come for war!”
“Well that’s your problem, then,” Nerina said. “Your problem and your foolishness. All of Caradonia is at war. Civil war. And I’ve been regretting my moment of mercy all those years ago. Letting you roam free about the land. I ought to have known you’d never keep your word. As it happens, it’s fortunate for me that you didn’t. Otherwise I might have lived out my entire reign never achieving my full potential.” Nerina held up a long golden staff with a round, pale blue stone on the end. She touched the end of the stone to the water and the water began to bubble again.
“No,” Lady Evelyn groaned as she back away back toward the shore. “Nerina—please—” She stopped, for something long and ropelike had grabbed each of her wrists and now held her fast.
“I am a little sorry,” Nerina said, as she pointed the scepter at Lady Evelyn’s chest. “After all, you are my sister.”
“Arin!” Corin cried out, for Arin had left his hiding place and was now running full speed at Nerina and Lady Evelyn, sword unsheathed. There was a blue flash of light and Arin screamed. Nerina looked up and saw Arin, raised her hand and disappeared in a curtain of water.
Suddenly, the water was full of the ropelike things that had held Lady Evelyn in place. Arin began slicing in all directions, fighting his way to the lifeless form of Lady Evelyn.
“Corin, help!” Arin cried. He was now being bound with the ropes. Corin could no longer stand by. He ran toward the water, drew his dagger and sliced away at the ropes that bound Arin. A great, many-eyed head came above the surface several yards away, revealing itself as the center of the ropelike things, which were, in fact, this creature’s tentacles. “It’s a giant sea spider!” Arin cried. “Well, now’s your chance to prove your skill at shooting in the dark.” Corin took an arrow from his quiver and readied his bow. He took a breath and shot. The sea spider howled in pain when the arrow hit its eye.
It seemed the injury to its eye caused the creature more pain than the loss of its tentacles, which Arin was tirelessly striking away at, and which seemed to grow back as fast as Arin could cut them. One of the tentacles of the injured and angry sea spider grabbed Corin by the foot and hoisted him into the air. Being turned upside-down caused Corin’s arrows to fall out of the quiver, though Corin managed to catch three of them before the rest plunged into the waves.
“We’ve got to get close to the body!” Corin shouted. “Cutting off the tentacles won’t do anything!”
“I know!” Arin called back. “But the tentacles keep getting in my way!” Corin was starting to get dizzy from being dangled upside down, but he attempted to arm his bow again. He strategically aimed to shoot into the creature’s fanged mouth. Right as he shot, he was dropped back into the water, and the arrow hit another eye instead of going down the sea spider’s throat. Arin had cut him down.
“You messed up my shot!” Corin said.
“I guess I’ll have to be more considerate next time I’m saving your life,” Arin retorted.
“I had it under control.”
“I could see that from the way you were dangling,” Arin said. “Come on, we’re almost there. How many arrows have you got?”
“Only two left,” Corin said. “The rest fell out.”
“I think I can make it,” Arin said. “Shoot it, and its tentacles will stop for a few moments. I will run for it, then when I get to its head, shoot it again. Then I will stab it.” Corin fired his bow at the sea spider’s eyes and Arin ran the rest of the way to the head. Corin followed and shot his last arrow and Arin plunged his sword into the sea spider’s head and Corin caught up and took out his dagger and stabbed the creature a second time. At last the tentacles stopped moving and all was quiet except for the waves lapping on the shore.
“Who was that woman?” Corin asked Arin as they went back through the woods, bearing the body of Lady Evelyn. “What was she?”
“I don’t know,” Arin replied with a set jaw. “But she had better hope I never get my hands on her. Because I’ll kill her.”
“You can’t kill a lady,” Corin protested.
“You watched her kill a lady,” Arin said. “Who’s to say I can’t kill her?”
“But you saw what she did,” Corin said. “She used some kind of magic to kill Lady Evelyn.”
“Well then she’s a witch,” Arin said. “She’s an evil witch and she should be burned.”
“But she came out of the water.”
“She cast a spell on herself to make her breathe underwater,” Arin said. They sat the body down and leaned up against a tree. Arin took out a dagger and began viciously stabbing at the ground.
“Were you fond of her?” Corin asked in a low voice. “Of the Lady Evelyn, I mean.” Arin buried his face in his hand and began sobbing. “Come now, Arin. You did all you could. You fought bravely.” Corin began to get uncomfortable. Surely it wasn’t normal for boys to cry like that, not over their master’s wife. Corin heard voices and saw torch lights approaching. Surely it was some of Thane Haraldr’s men, sent to find out what had become of their lady. Corin wasn’t entirely sure Arin was supposed to be out of the castle. “Arin,” he whispered. “I think we’d better get moving. Someone’s coming.” Arin remained motionless, except for the low sobs. “I think it’s your master’s men. I don’t want you to get in trouble.” Still no reply. Corin stood up.
“Halt!” A voice cried out. “Don’t move!” Corin froze. “Who are you?”
“I’m—” Corin began, but he was cut off.
“It’s the Lady Evelyn!” Another voice cried. “She’s dead.” Arin looked up.
“Yes, she’s dead!” Arin cried. He struck the armor of the nearest soldier who grabbed his hand. “She’s dead! She’s dead! Murdered by an evil witch!” Meanwhile, two other guards grabbed hold of Corin.
“Alright, you two,” the soldier said. “You’re under arrest.”