Monday, September 27, 2004


Day Five

Re-reading yesterday's entry, I seem to have left a lot out - but there was so much I wanted to write. I did all the talking of course, but we did manage to communicate, and it became clear that "Memree" was the only name to use, as she didn't remember what her real name was, in fact she doesn't remember anything before I turned the key and opened the dungeon door. But I can't go back over all that, though I'll admit to letting her give me a sponge-bath after I bathed her, as today has been a lot more eventful than yesterday ever was - Sunil's teats, yesterday was nothing compared to today, except that it was the day I first met Memree. At least I am starting this entry rather earlier than the last one, but, Ser Imaginary Librarian, I warn you, this is going to be the longest and most complex daily entry I ever write - gods willing!

Memree had thin porridge for breakfast, which was even noisier than milk, and then I dressed her up in a white leather sex-slave kind of costume that Del had provided, which had the advantage of camouflaging the gag a bit - and girl did she look cute in it! The first thing to do was take her to the Restormel townhouse, and I'd have had some explaining to do if she'd turned out to be the family's long-lost daughter or something. But I hoped that the chamberlain or Lady Restormel would recognise her, or that she would recognise them, or the portrait of Marius that was given pride of place in their reception room.

And when my girl saw that portrait, there was some connection, certainly - she just stared at it, which in a purported-slavegirl was such extreme rudeness that I had to promise Lady Restormel to punish her for it later, or she'd probably have sent for a man with a whip then and there! I know it wasn't Memree's fault, but I was annoyed at her, and at myself - I'd have to follow through on my promise, as again that was something that might be checked on, so I hurried my prize back to the lodgings, and with her hobble-chain she could hardly keep up. I couldn't paddle her, I just couldn't - so I tied her in a kneeling position, popped a hood over her head, and left her there, with a friendly pat on her shoulder, and went off to spread that Restormel silver around a bit more.

I'd half an idea to get the pair of us smuggled into the castle as part of a troupe of entertainers, but maybe "half an idea" is flattering it. I may be pretty nimble in a swordfight, but as a dancer, well, I die every time. So the plan was just to be dressed like dancers to get past the outer door, along with another hefty contribution to Torner's retirement plans, and then head off on our own. I was convinced that the answers I was looking for would be in the castle. Magic had abducted Lord Restormel, and Memree had been at the focus of some strong magic, somewhere there. I'd gone over the ground levels and the lower levels, this time a bit of staircase-climbing seemed like a plan.

I told Delinda most of this, and she nodded, and pulled out a box of her stock, and produced the most scandalous item of clothing I'd ever seen... then, when she saw the colour draining from my face, produced the second most scandalous item of clothing I'd ever seen, which at least rather matched my best gloves and boots, though a small amount of rather intimate shaving had to be performed, we discovered after I'd tried it on. It was black, and it was shiny, and it was thinner than a gnat's wing, but at least it covered my back, and Delinda assured me that all but the sharpest blades would be unable to cut it, though naturally there'd be extensive bruising if the attempt was made.

Memree was still kneeling, hooded, when I got home carrying a jug of fresh milk, her back straight, and seeing her like that I was filled with remorse. This golden-haired, beautiful creature, so gentle, so reliant on me, and I was so cruel to her! I crouched down and unlaced the hood, and she blinked at the afternoon sunshine flooding in. I untied her ankles, untied all the rope, and helped her gently to her feet. I fed her carefully, and generally saw to her comfort, then sat her down on the bed, and started to change into the costume Del had provided. Strange - I had no thoughts of modesty, changing like that, it shows how I'm thinking of this girl as a continuing part of my life. And of course she was naked too, except for the leather trimmings which enhanced rather than covered her bits...

She'd seen my back before, last night, but, when I'd removed my ordinary leo, she made little murmuring noises, cocked her head on one side, and looked at me wide-eyed. How? Why? She asked, but I couldn't answer, not then, not yet. My back bears its scars, from a brutal, deserved whipping six years ago, when I was sixteen. How could I have been so stupid, then? I shuddered, and she stroked my arm gently, rested her silky-soft hair against my shoulder. I fought back my tears. I was a warrior now, and suddenly I was responsible for more than myself.

"Now, close your eyes, my friend." I stood up, and wriggled into Del's costume, finding myself anxious for the girl Memree's approval. "What do you think? It's what the well-dressed warrior trying to get into a castle disguised as a dancer is wearing these days, or so Delinda tells me."

Memree's eyes widened in surprise, mainly at the mention of the castle I think, and then I could see her cheeks move up, telling me she was smiling for me, behind that gag. Then she carefully knelt on the floor again, and bowed towards me. "Chump", I muttered. "Yes, I'm going back to Castle Redwall, that's the only damned place we'll ever find out what's happened to Marius Restormel, and the only twice-damned place we are ever likely to find out what's been done to you, too - and there's the small matter of finding a key, the key, for that monstrous gag, too!"

I smiled at her. "Want to come along...?"

You can guess the answer, I think, my Mage-Librarian, so let's move on to the sight of two cloaked women entering the castle past a broadly smiling Torner. 'Strange, he usually only holds one pikestaff", I muttered to Memree, after my cloak had blown rather further open than I'd have liked. She gave an amused little snort, or at least I like to think she did.

The castle is old, and much bigger than it now needs to be. We headed away from the inhabited part, and again the place seemed to change its atmosphere, to become cold and unwelcoming. Memree shuddered, and let her cloak fall open for a moment, before pulling it tight around her again. The hobble-chain between her ankle bracelets was at its full length, and the chains to her wrist cuffs were also as loose as I could make them. I wanted her to have as much freedom as possible, but if there was trouble ahead, I wanted to make it perfectly clear that she was not a fighter.

I certainly didn't want to go up the first flight of stairs we reached, just looking at the stone steps made the hairs on the back of my neck try to stand up. That seemed a good reason to go up, so that's the path we took. The first floor we came to was...dusty, and dry, and smelt of - apples? All the doors we passed were wide open, if you didn't count the cobwebs; sometimes furniture had yellowing sheets draped over it, sometimes not. There was no sound at all, except our footsteps and our breathing, no rats scuffling, no distant voices from outside, nothing. We reached another flight of stairs, this time a curving one, leading into an old off-central tower which had never had any practical use. Obviously, a dead end, not to be explored, to even put a foot on the first step would be moronic...

I can be stubborn sometimes, and we started to climb, though every step reinforced what a fool I was being, to leave the safety of the mortal world for a place of desolation and endless, timeless death. It was actually difficult to get one foot to go up to each next step; Memree's hand found mine, and grasped it, and we gave each other extra strength to carry on. That tower rises no more than four storeys above the surrounding building, but I'd swear we climbed up at least twelve. We stopped three times to recover our breath, and each time, leaving that particular landing was hard. Very hard.

A final landing just had the usual couple of small empty storerooms off it - it was curiously clean, though, no dust, no spider webs, nothing at all except bare wood and stone walls... oh, and a ladder going up to a circular hole in the ceiling. I discarded my cloak, and began to climb, and this time there was no resistance, so I was up in the final, top chamber almost before I realised it.

It was not a nice room to be in. Almost every inch of the walls was hung with chains, cuffs, hoods, restraints of every kind, along with more sinister devices. There were whips, some of them barbed. Cuffs hung from the ceiling on chains that ran over pulleys. A corset was on a side-table, and I could see that it was lined with cruel spikes. There was a large solid wooden table scattered with tools, there was even a rack for stretching victims on, and an unlit brazier with a few branding-irons nearby. There was more, and I shuddered, chilled to the soul.

Memree had followed me up, of course, and moved towards an unvarnished wooden coffin. She tried to move the lid sideways, but it was awkward for her, and I helped... and together we gazed on the cold, waxy face, unmistakably, of Marius Restormel. He looked calm, but sad, and very dead.

"He's dead, you meddling cow, and you'll join him -- in a day or two!" I don't know where she came from, but a blue light appeared and grew, and took the form of a woman a foot taller than me, covered in a blue leathery glow. The eyes were glowing white ovals, but otherwise the surface was unflawed. The voice was inside me, I don't think she was actually speaking as such. "The castle's people have forgotten this tower exists -- so you, you silly bitch, must be from outside, I think?"

"Am I a bitch or a cow, lanky? I've always thought of myself as more of the lioness type." Well I never thought I'd be able to talk my way out of this, so at least I'd have the satisfaction of insulting this she-demon.

"My name is ATZMON, cow-dugs -- Atzmon, flame of magic!"

"Pleased to meet you, I'm sure - er, 'cow-dugs' is your middle name, right?" And with that I drew my sword, just in time, as she had obviously decided that the introductions had been concluded. She had a sword too, though she'd not had it an instant before - it was on fire with a blue flame, but the first clash of blades told me that it was all too solid. She drove forward, and I stepped sideways, not easy as the room had an awful lot of furniture and not much spare space. I ducked and her sword sliced the air apart over my head, then lunged forwards and pricked Atzmon's side... there was a brief eruption of more pale blue light, then the hole seemed to seal itself as I quickly drew my sword back. And the tip of my sword had melted!

I backed away, drawing Atzmon clear of Memree, who was at the main table now. I don't think Atzmon was in any hurry to finish me, she might even still have wanted to take us both alive for a time, our swords clashed again and again, and she effortlessly kicked Restormel's coffin to one side, it hit the wall, bounced back, and landed heavily, the body sprawled half out. Memree had found an old, half-rusted sword on the table, and was trying to get round behind the demon; I parried a massive blow from Atzmon, and my blade shattered into a dozen pieces, which was probably just as well since my arm felt as if it had nearly been jerked out of its shoulder-socket. I backed away, ducked again, and caught the rusty sword that Memree threw to me.

"So, scar-back, you've returned my little experiment to me -- the dear sweet 'memree', so eager to please!"

Oh, we were talking again, were we? I could do that. "What did you do to her, demon?"

"Merely improved the little prentice-animal," Atzmon said. The room seemed full of some arcane magic. "A lack-wit she'd become, but with a little sorcerous boost from me, courtesy of the late Lord Restormel, she's actually quite clever now, in her own way!"

"You killed Marius Restormel, for your experiment?" Okay, I was stating the obvious, but I was also getting my strength back; we traded blows, but she wasn't trying to kill me, for the moment.

"I'd expected to send his lady back a drooling simpleton, which would have been amusing--" She lunged, batting aside my sword with frightening ease, and I rolled desperately to my left, feeling the rush of air and the crash as the sword struck the floor a fraction of an inch from my precious hide. "--but instead I got a corpse."

"You're not saying that she is Lord Restormel in some way now?" A silly question, but the best I could come up with at that moment. "His mind, his thoughts and memories, transferred?"

Atzmon laughed, and believe me, it was infectious - or at least, it made me feel ill. "Oh no, his mind and thoughts are dead and gone -- I just ladled her a little of his intelligence, the dark gods know she always needed it!"

Swordplay continued. Memree was still at the main table, the other side of it from us, and tried throwing a torture-boot at Atzmon's head, but her sword moved at astonishing speed and cut it clean in two in mid-air, I had to duck as one half, with its internal spikes, came straight at me. I wanted to move round, to allow Memree to have a chance to bolt for the ladder down, but Atzmon seemed to read my mind, and stayed close to it. I caught a brief glimpse of Memree awkwardly climbing up onto the table, using a stool - the hobble-chain didn't make that a simple task, really, what had I been thinking of, taking her on this "adventure" in chains? Not that it would matter for much longer...

My replacement sword was flaking rust and possibly other things, it was dented and not exactly straight, but at least it hadn't fallen apart, and on one rare opportunity to counter-attack, when it scratched a line down her thigh, the wound didn't immediately heal, but continued to leak little bubbles of light. "You think you can hurt me, do you? Ha, swords are for cissies, let's you and me wrestle, lady-girl!"

Sounded like a bad idea to me. I held onto my sword, and circled warily, as Atzmon's weapon faded into her hand and vanished. She tried to grab the blade of my sword between her palms, she was close to the table now, Memree had grabbed some cylindrical box, it hinged open, it had spikes inside, Memree leapt onto Atzmom's back, I stabbed Atzmon in the shoulder, the box was some sort of "iron maiden" for the head, I could see, as time seemed to shudder almost to a halt, its interior spikes were two inches long, sharp, glowing, Atzmon screamed, tried to reach up for the courageous girl on her back, Memree rammed the open box onto Atzmon's head, and slammed it shut with a bang, just the thought of those spikes made me feel queasy, but Atzmon remained on her feet, staggering, tugging at the box, and making a shrill, shrieking howl. I held my sword, and swept it horizontally, it went straight though Atzmon's neck and both her wrists, the body crumpled and fell in upon itself and vanished, the head-box fell to the floor with a loud crash, and...

...sudden silence, except for my panting, Memree making a whistling noise as she attempted to gulp in air through that gag's hole, and the distant, welcome sounds of the castle and the town. I hoped fervently that Atzmon had been killed but, with some sort of demon, or whatever she'd been, who could tell? Memree had been thrown off, and landed against Lord Restormel's coffin, inches from his lolling head.

I looked at the "iron maiden" head-box, though I didn't dare open it. Empty", I pronounced, after looking up the neck-hole. "I do hope she's dead, or we'll both be very annoyed." I walked over to the coffin, and gently moved Marius Restormel's corpse back into place. "I'm definitely not charging Lady Restormel enough for this, you know."

Memree had found a little key among the collection on the table; she brought it over to me, and held it out tentatively, like a child offering a freshly-picked wild flower. "Memree, that was very, very brave of you... I owe you my life, I'm sure." Slowly, I reached out my hand. "That's it, you reckon -- the key? And you want me to do the honours?"

She nodded, her eyes wide. I'd taken the key now, and I gently inserted it into the tiny keyhole - the gag sprang apart, and I eased it away. It was heavy, with a substantial, mouth-filling plug. I put it down on the table.

And that is definitely all I am writing tonight. I'm amazed I could write so much without falling asleep at this desk, but the tale is told now - and tomorrow is another day. There will be plenty of loose ends to tie up then, but hopefully not as endless a writing session at the end of it!

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