I leap from the edge without thinking. A long drop to the icy river. Arrows pelt the water around me and I dive for my life.
“Was she worth it,” I ask.
Far above my station, to be sure. But worth it? She was warm, soft, sweet… and rich.
Right now is anything but warm and soft as I duck my head below the water to save my skin.
I must hold off on deciding the value of my lady until all the facts are in. If I survive, that’s one point to the good.
Fiona heard the dogs baying, saw her father’s men racing for the river. It was all so thrilling. The night breeze touched her bare shoulder through the window and she shivered, pulling the sleeve of her dress back into place.
“It was worth it,” she whispered as she crossed to her bed.
“Tristan. Sweet, beautiful Tristan!” She fell into her pillows with a giggle. “So, incredibly worth it.”
The shock on her father’s face. That had been worth it too. Only for a moment, then he had rushed away to call the guard. Tristan was already down into the garden by then.
Fiona could still hear the dogs, far off now. Her pillows smelled like Tristan. She was so, very warm.
The door burst inward, crashing against the wall. A portrait of Mother, the one Fiona gazed at when she missed her most, fell to the floor and smashed to pieces.
Something like her father stood in the doorway, but could it truly be him? This man was bigger, wilder. His eyes burned with an insane fury. In his hand, he held his box, the one she had never seen open. But it was open now… and it was empty.
His voice went so deep that it chilled her blood.
“What have you done, child?”
“Tristan! Hells, man!”
A familiar hand grasps my own and pulls me from the river.
“I’d almost given up. What kept you?”
I wipe the water from my eyes and grin up at Cedric.
“Warm things, old friend. Warm, soft things.”
Cedric frowns and scratches the stubble under his chin. “Yes, I’m very happy for you. But the question is, did you get it?”
I fish in the pouch at my hip and pull out a heavy object, big as my palm. Cedric leans in, his eyes wide with awe.
“Hells. It’s true. The Mad Wizard’s Eye.”
The stone glitters a pale green even in this night with no moon. It draws the light of the stars like a beacon.
“Oh, it’s magic to be sure. Just look at it. Eerie, isn’t it?”
“Eerie?” I almost laugh. “No. It’s beautiful.”
Cedric shuffles back. “Perhaps it is. But don’t forget. That thing destroyed your family, and mine. Remember that.”
“I know it,” I snap. “You think I would forget? I’d barely stopped wetting myself when the Wizard took them.”
Cedric grows fearful. He begins to inspect the shadows around us.
“Oh, Hells, but we are truly committed now. Do you think it was worth it?”
“I’ve been trying to decide that.” I look again at the Eye. I imagine soft Fiona and her soft bed.
“Yes. Yes, it definitely was.”
The Wizard returned to his chambers. He dashed his empty box against the wall.
“Stupid girl! The Eye was everything.” He sat before his scrying basin and stirred the water within. He still had power, but how could he gather more without the Eye?
He needed two things to acquire his power. The lives of his peasants. He only took the poorest, those with the least worth. And the Eye, to draw out their lives and add to his own.
Something shifted in the water. He saw the thief. He saw his daughter. The Wizard rose to go and call back the hunt. They need not search.
He had locked Fiona within her room, but she knew her way from the window down into the garden. She would lead the way. She would find the thief for him.
“I’ll follow you, daughter. Ungrateful brat. With my magic, I’ll follow you and you’ll lead me to my Eye.”
“You did what?” Cedric sounds unhappy with me.
“As I slipped out the window,” I repeat. “I whispered to Fiona where she could find me.”
“Are you mad? She’s the daughter of the Wizard. What were you thinking of?”
“Love wasn’t the plan, you fool! Ridding our land of the Mad Wizard, that’s the plan!”
“Tristan!” Fiona’s voice stops my retort.
I turn to find her in the dark and suddenly she is in my arms, all soft and sweet, just like before.
“Tristan, this is madness.” I can hear Cedric, but he sounds far off as my lips search for Fiona’s.
Another voice is not so meek. It booms at us from out of the river, from the rushing water.
“Thief,” it cries. “See how easily I find you? Now I’ll have your lives. Even you, my poor child.”
“Father, you wouldn’t!”
“And why not?” The river begins to foam and swirl. The Wizard’s face forms in the wild spray. “You have crossed me, Fiona. Your mother crossed me once. I cannot have it.”
I step in front of Fiona. Cedric cowers away from the phantom head. The wizard’s mouth grows wider as if to swallow us all.
Without a thought, Fiona snatches the Eye from my hand. The words that fall from her lips as she holds it aloft are not hers. They are ancient. I taste the dust of them on the air.
She stabs the Eye at the swirling spray and it becomes a fury. It howls and moans, then dies away, spilling back into the cold river.
Fiona collapses against me. Soft.
In his chamber, the Mad Wizard stared down into the basin. His lifeless gaze held no fury, sucked dry by his own daughter’s words… by the image of the Eye floating in the water.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it. Please comment and share.