The Demon

 

The demon

Alex and I returned to Glenroran – me with my heart resolved, Alex still in bewilderment. Alex and Tierry finished training the militia, so that they would be fit for fight (against whom? we wondered). The lot of us – Tierry, Alex, Father Cidron and I – set out for Zorenstadt, where they each would report to their masters. I was much more at ease with myself than I had ever been before. Maithair had set me free somehow – I was no longer just the hangmans daughter; I could be practically anything I wanted to be. I could serve the Goddess, and do good in the world. I wanted that more than anything else – to make a difference.

 

Our journey to Zorenstadt was not without incident. At an inn we were attacked by Martin of Zorenstadt – a man that had plagued us before – and he was not alone. With him or within him was the demon that Fienna had been searching for. It was a terrible fight. His men were shooting at us and we fought back as well as we could. Meanwhile Father Cidron stood in the middle of the courtyard completely frozen, with bullets flying past his ears. I could not grasp what was possessing him to risk his life thus and ran to save him. The only thanks I received afterwards were a berating that I had interrupted his mental fight with the demon – that was the first I heard of it. And I hadn’t even known – had only felt slightly disturbed; like a moth had been fluttering in the outskirts of my vision. Apparently I was not its target. Father Cidron was wounded in the fight, and for some reason the demon fled and left Martin of Zorenstadt and his men to fight us alone. They too gave up eventually. I was puzzled by the whole thing. I had never figured out how Martin of Zorenstadt fitted in in the scheme of things, and how he came to be involved with a demon was completely beyond me. The others were also very concerned about the demon thing. Alex and Tierry found it quite unnerving – how do common mortals fight a demon? They are immensely strong and terrifying – they are not easily killed, if at all. Only Father Cidron would know how to deal with it, and maybe, as all but himself knew; maybe me.

 

We continued to Zorenstadt, where a letter from Daniel was waiting for me. He had returned from the war, but not unscathed; a bullet had taken his leg. He seemed quite optimistic about it though; to return wounded from the battle, was the only way to return alive. And his news grew grimmer still; Father had fallen sick after the last letter I sent him and was now unable to perform his duties, so Daniel was now the new Hangman in Stevensport. I sorely grieved at these news, and I promptly wrote a letter back to him and send along some money that Father Cidron had given me for clothes and other means. I didn’t need half of them, and Daniel and the little ones would. And Father… I was terribly worried for him – I should never have sent the last letter! I never ever meant to cause him trouble and certainly not of this nature.

The baron Armenius, appointed the others a new assignment; to escort a delegation going to Ryendor City – the capital of Ryendor. They were to discuss more favourable terms of the northern trade with the counsel there. It seemed a common enough assignment, and as always Father Cidron and I tagged along. We discovered several signs along the way that something was amiss – Father Cidron claimed it was signs that the demon was near. I kept feeling it fluttering just beyond reach in my conscience, and close to Ryendor City, in an apple orchard, I met it – face to face. I had gone for a walk to be by myself and the orchard seemed a pleasant and private place. But suddenly I saw it. It had possessed a man, bedraggled and wild looking. And though he looked like a common beggar or ruffian, well, I knew that the man’s soul was no longer present. Under that dirty skin lurked the spirit of the demon, and it was very much aware of me and the danger I presented to it. It attacked me, and I’m afraid it would have killed me, if not Father Cidron had shown up just then. He fought the human body and practically cut it in half. Afterwards he berated me for having walked out alone, when we knew that the demon was about. And then he looked at me in a funny way. “Why would the demon seek you out? What interest could it have in you?” I couldn’t present him with any answer that could satisfy him. I think it was then he began to suspect that I still kept secrets from him – and he was not at all pleased with that!

 

And then we arrived in Ryendor City. I had never seen such a large city before. It was much much larger than Stevensport. It was not only large, but also noisy and smelly and full of strange wonders. Dark and scary backalleyways and large, green parks, houses almost bundled upon each other and great big mansions with uniform clad guards at the door. I was in complete awe and felt very much out of place. We led the delegation to their assigned quarters and we left them to find our own quarters at an inn. Alex seemed quite happy with this large city. She had spent much time here when she was younger. And even though she was concerned about being recognized by anyone, she was clearly very much at ease here.

 

Alex took me out to meet her friend Alain. He was handsome, attentive and charming. And I was charmed, but since both my hearts was given to another, Alain didn’t stand a chance. We went to the theatre and saw a very silly play about young love, mistaken identities and at least one foul murder. I was not impressed. The theatre itself was exciting, though. I have never seen so many people in such small space. Luckily Alain lead us to a balcony, and from here we could see everything clearly. The floor below us was swarmed with people, and though I tried I could see nothing but heads and shoulders, they were standing so close to each other. I should have suffocated in such a crowd! But the play, as I said, was silly. How he could mistake his lost love for a man, just because she put on an obviously false moustache, is beyond me. Off course all the players were men, and that might have caused his confusion. I kept wanting to cry out him not to despair: his love was right there next to him and unharmed. But though many of the others commented the play and yelled at the actors, I would have been too embarrassed to do so. I just didn’t understand why that pleasant old man had to die in the end, since he hadn’t done anything, except for being a little annoying. And the part about the dog just went completely over my head. Well, every one else seemed to enjoy themselves, so it was probably just me who was in the dark here. I really try to understand the ryendorian people and their customs, but my upbringing is just so far away from this world!

 

After the play we went to ”The Clucking Hen” to meet Tierry. We had a little to drink, well I had a little; the others drank their fill as usual. Alain took us to the Gaming Halls, and that was kind of fun. Off course a place like this could never have existed back home. All sorts of people came here – both rich and poor, all hoping to get richer or at least amused for a while. Alex played a game with great success and we all threw knives. I even made a few good hits and I think it impressed Alain that a girl like me could handle a knife (I impressed myself too; really, I’m not that good). Oh, if only he knew about Alex, he would really change his view on women! But her secret is safe with me, as long as she should want me to keep it. I’ll take it to my grave, if she wants me to.

 

Many drinks later (on their behalves) we wandered along the stinking river and when we reached the bridge called Pont du Sully, I got the strangest sensation that Father Cidron was in one of the houses on the bridge and that I ought be there. I saw before my eyes an older, well fleshed man lying on his knees and drawing strange signs with chalk in a circle on the floor. We walked across the bridge and just before we reached the house a young boy opened the door and raced in the direction we had just come from. ”I need to go into this house” I told the others and they insisted on joining me. I tried to tell them to go home. They were drunk and I wasn’t sure they could be of any help. But they would hear none of it, so when I knocked, and we were welcomed into the house, we all entered.

 

We were shown upstairs and halfway up Father Cidron was standing awaiting us. The others were naturally very surprised to see him there. He showed no surprise in our quick arrival. Surely the boy was sent to fetch us. He showed us into a room, obviously the study of some scientist. There were carpets on the floor and large table was standing in the centre with heavy chairs around it. The room was alight with candles and one wall was completely covered by a large curtain. Light showed beneath it and mutterings sounded from within. Father Cidron drew the curtain aside and there was the old man from my vision, still lying on his knees on the floor.

”What is he doing?” I asked, although I already felt the terrifying answer in my heart. ”Locating the demon” the Father said and confirmed my worst suspicions. He showed us a bucked full of sour milk, taken from the cow only this morning! A sure sign that something demonic was in town. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have Fiennas leather purse and my knife with me. I had never felt so naked before in my life. The demon would surely come and I was unarmed. Though Father Cidron gave me his knife for protection, I knew it would have no effect. It would not be able to protect me and would not destroy the beast. I asked Alex to take Alain home. He was too drunk and unaware of the danger in this situation. When asked Father Cidron told me, that the sorcerer (the old man was a sorcerer!) would have finished his business within the hour, and now Alex told me it would take at least an hour each way to take Alain home. Well, Alain wouldn’t hear of going home anyway. It seemed to him the party had only just begun and if danger came a’lurking, he was game. I took Alex aside, and explained the necessity of having my leather purse with me and she understood. But what could we do? She could not go into the streets alone, and we could not get my things here in time for the demon’s arrival. I would have to do as well as I could without it.

 

I prayed to Mathair, but she was too far away to hear me or answer. I found comfort in just whispering her name within. She had told me to believe in myself, and I took that to mean that I was a weapon in myself against this foul creature. This poor, bewildered creature… I remembered the pain I had sensed in it. The unbelievable anger towards all. I found myself feeling sorry for it, as I had once had for Simon. Our prime task would have to be easing its pain, and how could we do that, except through its death?

 

Tierry came up with the splendid idea of making some hellish brew to clear their drunken heads with a recipe handed down to him from his mother. I had gathered from his tales of his family during the evening that they were not of the best sort. They all seemed to have dubious ways of making a living. But like Tierry, they all seemed bold and confident that good luck would come their way some day. He is a strange one, is Tierry, but I cannot help but like him. He has a light in him that will take him far. And there’s a good soul in him, for though his commitment to the church, he has never broken his promise to me to keep my secret. A secret soon enough revealed anyway, as it would turn out.

 

After a long while of waiting and praying to our different gods, the old sorcerer stumbled out from the next room and fell exhausted into a chair. ”Seven rings” he said ”I took it through seven rings and it did not give in. I cannot defeat it. It usually takes only three, maybe four rings to defeat a demon, and with seven I have not defeated this one. It is too strong!”. We looked at each other, Father Cidron and I, and knew it would come for us and we must be ready for it. We waited yet a while and soon signs of its presence appeared. The candle lights began too flicker though no wind was in the room. A terrible noise came from downstairs and a soul chilling scream followed. The sorcerers servant had been in the kitchen and Alain and Alex ran downstairs to look. I knew he would be dead, but Alain just had to tell all the gory details when he came back up. The dead man seemed to have bled trough every opening of his body, as if something had blown him up from within. He had no visible wounds. Alain seemed a little shocked and very sober now. Doors started to open and slam shut downstairs. Tierry placed himself halfway down the stairway with an eye on the main door. All other doors and windows had been barred. Alex and Alain went upstairs to check it out. Father Cidron and I stood on either side of the sorcerers chair, facing the stairs. We did not think of going up or down to look for the demon. Surely it would find us.

 

Suddenly growls and cries came from the upstairs. The demon had found Alex and Alain. There were sounds of fighting, but how could they stand a chance! I cried out to it: ”Leave them alone. Come to me!”. With a growl and a terrible speed it came down the stairs and ran straight for us. I must have closed my eyes for a mere second, and when I opened them, Father Cidron had fired both his pistols at it, and still it kept coming. I cried soothing words towards it :”You are in pain. Let me help you”, but my word were ignored. Tierry came back up the stairs and fearlessly put Father Cidrons rapier through the monsters throat. The rapier stayed in the demons body, but it did not hinder its movement. It seemed wounded, but not weakened. I ran into the next room, while the others fought it, and from the other side of the circle I called to it. In its terrible anger it came towards me in horrific speed and ran straight into the circle - and could not get out again. The demon was trapped.

 

I stayed just outside the circle and kept talking soothingly to it. Father Cidron mocked me for it. He couldn’t see the use of it, but it seemed to me that the demon calmed down somewhat. It was still angry and still in pain, but it was eased a little. It soon cowered into the farthest it could get from me and I entered the circle. The others moved to stop me, but they were on the far side of the circle and could not reach me. I went to the demons side and put my arms around it to comfort it, but in one strong movement it threw me halfway across the room and I lay for moment stunned. Tierry chided me for doing such a stupid thing. I did not answer him. I knew it had been stupid, but I was unharmed, wasn’t I? It had only flung me away, it had not clawed at me or strangled me. I stayed outside the circle from now on, and kept talking to it. It threw itself at the edge of the circle several times, but could not penetrate the magic that held it.

 

The sorcerer believed the circle would be able to hold it ”for a while”, but the demon would heal itself and grow stronger if we did nothing. Alex caught my eye and nodded, and with a few words she ran out the door. She would go fetch my things. Tierry tried his best to help the wounded Alain. He was splattered with blood and looked badly, and one of his legs was broken for sure, but he seemed in good spirits. Fighting for his life seemed to be bread and air to him. Nothing to think about, no intrigues, no second meaning to everything, just keeping life and soul together – that made sense.

Father Cidron sat down in a chair with a bottle of wine. He laughed at my methods. He wasn’t going to do anything, for ”obviously Miss Judith was doing such a fine job”. I tried to ignore him and kept on talking to the motionless demon. I don’t know if it heard me at all, or if anything I did, did any good, but it sat there still as a northland rock and made no further attempts to flee from the circle.

 

Hours later Alex arrived with my backpack. I looked through it and found my little leather bag with the blue powder in it. I seemed to know what must be done, and I asked the sorcerer if he had any flowers. Everybody in this city had flowers hanging by their windows and so did he, off course. Just to prove difficult about it. ”On whose authority” asked he ”do you ask of this?”. ”Just give it to me” I said ”It will help our cause”. ”Give it to her” Father Cidron said, suddenly interested in my doings (how could he not be?) ”Can’t you see, she’s a colleague”. I tried hard not to look at him, and just keep a steady gaze at the sorcerer. He complied, and I crushed the flowers he gave me along with the powder and the heather, I had taken with me from the Northlands. ”What are you doing?” asked the sorcerer, who had started taking notes ”Where did you learn that?”. ”In the Northlands, obviously” Father Cidron dryly commented. I said nothing. My secret was lost now, and I didn’t care. I had things to attend to; this was why I had left the Northlands and my love. I would finish Fiennas task, and I would banish the demon. If only I knew exactly how… I knew a few steps along the way and then I was in the dark. Shy as I am I asked the others to turn their backs to me, but they were all anxious to see what I would now do. So I turned my back to them and undressed. Judith would never have done this: undressed in front of other people, but I was more than Judith now, and it had to be done. I drew figures and signs on my face and naked body with the paste I had made. I had never done this before, though I knew exactly how it was to be done. Instinct moved my fingers, instinct moved my lips in quiet chanting. Ancient knowledge fed that instinct and I turned towards the demon. Alain whistled softly and the sorcerer scribbled every detail in his notebook, but all else was silent. Silent, except for my chanting in the northlandish tongue. The demon moved and hissed and I had to take a step back, but soon I regained my confidence and moved ever so slowly towards it, singing an ancient song in an ancient language, that I understood then, but have completely forgotten again now. It seemed I sang forever, it’s very hazy now in my memory. The demon shrank before me. It hissed and whimpered. In the end it seemed only the hollow shell of the human body was there. I could do no more. I knew I needed a vessel to put it in, but did not know which kind. It was like I had read almost an entire book and had suddenly lost the ability to read. I did not know how to end it.

 

”Father Cidron” I said quietly ”I can do no more. You must take over now”. I looked up at him, just to find him sleeping. Can you believe it? He had slept through the whole thing, it seemed! I was amazed and just a little angry. The others woke him and I repeated my prayer. ”Why?” he said ”You seem to be doing so well. Do go on”. ”I don’t know what to do now” I said on the edge of tears ”Please, finish it!”. Alex came towards me with my clothes. We had talked of this : when Father Cidron found out my secret, we could be gone quickly. But I could not leave just yet. I had to know the demon was destroyed, and I could not do it myself. Father Cidron, if no one else, could. I have never met a better blessed man. The Light is so completely on his side, I am amazed he has not seen through me before. ”Well” he said ”You know what I have always said about keeping secrets from your friends. Some secret you had! I’m sure you can do this without my help”. ”I cannot” I begged ”Please! This is not a game. Do what you came for”. I think he felt good about me not being able to complete it. Somewhere deep down I’m grateful that I wasn’t. It would have been humiliating for him, if he, the great inquisitor, had had no part in destroying the demon. He shook off his arrogance and walked towards the demon chanting in Tyndall. Before our eyes the demon began to tear in its own skin. Its claws opened its chest, and we saw green flames within. It tore its face of like a mask and all it was, were those green flames. They flickered and weakened as Father Cidron chanted on. In the end it was just a tiny flicker of light and then it died out.

 

There was a moment of complete silence, then the quiet hush of all of us sighing. It was over. The demon was dead. I had no feel it of it anymore. It really was gone. My eyes met Father Cidrons over what was left of the demons human host, as the sorcerer began chattering about our exact procedures. What did the paintings on my body mean? He wanted to know. What did the singing mean? What had Father Cidron said that killed it? Father Cidron walked towards him with an outstretched hand. ”Give me the notebook” he ordered. The sorcerer hesitated ”I only meant to…”. ”You mean to do nothing! Give me the book. How would you like if I told on you to the inquisition? I’m sure they won’t be pleased to hear of your part in this”. The sorcerer looked uncomfortable and handed the notebook over to the Father. Father Cidron tore every word of me out of the notebook, even the drawing of my body with the paintings on it, and threw it into the fireplace. The dry leaves of paper immediately went up into flames. ”You will never mention this to anyone, you understand?!” Father Cidron thundered at the sorcerer. ”You will never mention this young lady or my own presence here tonight to anyone!” ”Could I at a later time maybe write a book about….” the sorcerer began. Father Cidrons look rendered his ”NO!” superfluous. He turned towards me ”And we will talk about this, young lady, sometime soon!”. I nodded and looked bewildered at him. He who had sworn to destroy all witches, had just destroyed all his evidence against me and ordered the only untrustworthy witness present to silence. With Alex’s help I started to dress. I could hardly stand by now. My legs were weak beneath me and my entire body shuddered with exhaustion. I washed off the paint from my face and arms, so I could get home without getting too much attention. Though sorcerers had authorization to practise in Ryendor City, I’m not sure heathen northlander witches would ever get it.

We had hardly had time to sigh with relief, before a loud knocking came from downstairs. Alex went down to answer the door. A horde of city guards overran her, demanding to know what was going on. Obviously the noises we had been making for the last couple of hours (shooting, screaming etc.) had not gone unnoticed. They stormed upstairs, saw the chalk circle on the floor and the dead body lying in the middle of it and promptly arrested us all. I had time to hide my backpack with the skin purse in it in a dark corner, but that was all. I was deadly tired and didn’t even bother protesting about them roughhandling me. Alex halfsupported, halfcarried the badly wounded Alain. They took us to their headquarters and put us into separate cells, that is: all the menfolk together, and me into a cell full of ”ladies of the night”. They were kind enough, but a little loud. They commented on my inability to get customers the way I looked. I merely smiled at the comments. I ignored the talking and singing in my cell and tried to get some sleep. I was just too exhausted to keep my eyes open any longer. A few hours later I was roughly waken and taken into an interrogation room with the others. The officer who had arrested us came into the room with a priest, who introduced himself as Father Francis, and started asking questions. Father Cidron wanted me to speak for us, and I wanted him to do it. He was still very angry with me, and I wondered if he would ever forgive my treachery. I had truly never seen him so bitter. In the end he told the story, and kept no secret of my using northland magic. Father Francis was very interested in that fact and kept digging deeper and deeper into the matter. I didn’t tell him much, other than what I had needed to know just came to me, which was the truth. After a while they send us to the cells again, this time into the same one. The atmosphere between us was tense and unpleasant. I tried to sleep again. I was so tired. Some hours later I was sitting alone across from the Bishop of Ryendor City, Father Florence Marten Christian De Cartier-Bresson, and the others had been released. He started asking me about the magic. I decided to tell him everything. He asked my how I had learned northland magic. I told him about Fiennas death. I told him the Light had encouraged me to welcome her soul, that I believed that in this matter, I had been the instrument of Light all the way. He doubted it, off course, but my earnesty convinced him in the end. I had lied, but it was such a small lie: I do believe something good encouraged me to welcome her, I do believe our union was somehow meant to be. If the Light had planned it or not, I don’t know, I doubt it.

 

The bishop was a shrewd man. He seemed friendly and understanding, but he was hard as steel underneath. I didn’t doubt that fact for a moment. Somehow I felt, though, that he could be a good ally, if I played my cards right. So I kept insisting that the Light had played a very big part in the whole affair. At a time he asked me : ”What should keep me from burning you at the stake?”. I replied that if the Light wished it, maybe my ability could be of use again. ”Alright”, the bishop said, prove yourself to me. I have a task for you. I understand that you are invited to the Cavalry Ball tonight?”. I had completely forgotten about it. Certainly I had no intention of going after last nights doings. I nodded. ”I want you to attend” he continued. ”Keep an eye on a young debutante, Juliette D’Isar, and tell me what she talks about, what company she keeps, what they talk about. I want to know everything”. I frowned. ”I’m not sure, I would be any good at it…” I began. ”Do you want to burn so badly?”, he asked with raised eyebrows. ”…But I’ll give it a try” I finished hurriedly. I was in a tight spot, and my only way out was spying on some poor, innocent girl at a stupid ball, I really didn’t want to go to. ”The girl is the Kings mothers protégé, so she is by no means unimportant” the bishop continued. I sighed. The last thing I wanted now, was to get mixed up in some political intrigue. ”You may go” he dismissed me and I went home, tired to my very bones.

 

The others were already there, and they had obviously been talking. I really wasn’t in the mood to take the confrontation with Father Cidron now, but I had no choice. Alex had already spilled her guts about Fienna, and there really wasn’t any point in hiding that now, anyway. Father Cidron was very angry. He complained this was the second time his close companions had stabbed him in the back (the other time being the incident with the northlandish ”army”, where Alex and Tierry had withdrawn). He complained about us having lied to him and kept secrets from him, and what could we say to that? It was all true. I defended myself only by saying that I had feared for my life. How could I tell a dedicated witchhunter that part of me was a witch? He said that if I had told him ’in time’, he could have exercised the ’evil spirit’. One more good reason NOT to tell him! I can’t imagine being without Fienna. It would be like being without half my being – for she IS half my being! But Father Cidron couldn’t accept the fact that two souls lived in me. ”How do you know she is good?!” he thundered ”After all she did to us then?”. ”I am not any different” I said ”Have you seen me doing anything remotely evil, since that time?”. ”It’s what I haven’t seen I’m worried about” he retorted. We fought back and forth. Alex and Tierry got a few words in edgeways, but the battle was between me and Father Cidron. He was also angry about me swearing the other two to secrecy, forcing them to betray him again. I regretted having to do that, but as it had been my choice to tell them, it had been their choice to swear silence about the matter. I would not take their betrayal on my head, I had quite enough in my own.

 

The discussion ended fruitlessly. Though Father Cidron had destroyed the evidence against me, I still wasn’t sure he wouldn’t turn me in to the inquisition. Though I was tired and needed to sleep and to prepare myself for tonight, I sat down and wrote four difficult letters. It was goodbye-letters to Alex, with a request to see to sending of the other three and dispose of my worldly goods, to Daniel, my brother, to Maggie, my dear, dear friend and to Sean, my beloved. It was a bit melodramatic of me, I know. But while writing to them I came to peace with what might be my fate. I had done nothing wrong. I didn’t regret one bit that Fienna was now part of me. In fact I would rather burn at the stake, than have her exercised. To be left half a being would kill me in a far more painful way than any flames could. I forgave Father Cidron for what he might do. I couldn’t blame him for being himself. I had known all along what danger lay in staying near him. Why hadI stayed near him? I wondered at that myself, but I knew the answer already : he was still the most charismatic person I had ever met. And I was still sure that the Light acted through him and helped him. Hopefully the Light would also make him let me be. A strange man he was, Father Cidron, a dangerous one, but also one I had a very hard time leaving. Maybe I still don’t quite understand the attraction. He could certainly be the death of me yet.