Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Day 21

One thing I'm not looking for at the moment is a new adventure, assignment, job, call it what you will, so I was a little wary when Ashil called around. Luckily he'd only come to discuss the money we'd earned, and what we wanted to do with it. We started talking about bankers, we even talked about buying one of the local taverns, having it cleaned up a bit, putting a landlord in, and having our very own rooms upstairs - but, even with one of the smallest and worst-placed hostelries in town, we would be stretching ourselves a bit.

Suddenly, Memree surprised us by asking Ashil what he knew about "Mistress Indigo" - a name I'd heard mentioned, I knew she was some kind of mage-healer who lived not too far outside town in a miniature castle with a domed roof.

Ashil looked puzzled, and then smiled. "Well she's good - if I have people badly hurt, she cures them. Not cheap, though... but it's not a matter of her giving you a bottle of some smelly potion, it's more involved than that, it's a very hands-on approach, she kind of brings the cure out of you yourself..."

"I thought we could get Charol's scars healed - she's so beautiful, I just hate the way her back is marred by those ugly weals, it just doesn't seem right!"

"Now hold on", I began, and I'm sure I was blushing. "She is expensive - I admit the idea is tempting, but--"

"We can use my share, or go half-and-half, but if any of the money is mine, that's how I want to spend it!" She grabbed my shoulders, and looked me in the eye. "Please...?"

And that's how we came, in late afternoon, to be knocking on the miniature castle's door., cloaked against the wind - Memree even had her hood up. The sound of the knocking was surprisingly quiet, but within a few heartbeats Mistress Indigo was opening the door, and beckoning us in.

"Ah, Charol, and Memree - Ashil's message said you'd be coming, welcome to my house!" She wore a long, tight black dress, and had a teardrop-shaped dark blue gem suspended on her forehead. Her black hair had a bluish tinge, I think; perhaps it was dyed, but she looked no older than a well-preserved, handsome 35.

We were shown into a large room with a blazing fire in the grate. There were normal comfortable chairs, but there was also something more like an upholstered table - and that's what I found myself lying on, on my front, in my underwear, while Mistress Indigo gently ran her cool hands along the old scars.

"It is no simple thing", she told us. "No ointment, no lotion can do more than calm the redness. I have to understand the scars - and you have to understand them, too."

"I was young, I was stupid, I thought I was in love", I said glumly. "So I got sweet-talked into hanging around the streets in a town well away from here, wearing a tiny skirt and a thin blouse." I closed my eyes. "I wasn't... I didn't sell myself, what I did was worse than that, though I didn't think so then..."

I must have fallen asleep; the table was comfortable, the fire warm, the flickering light made it easy to close my eyes, and Mistress Indigo's hands were warm now, and very soothing. Sometimes, when it rains a lot, or in the worst of winter, I do feel some memories of pain in my back, but now, I was just drifting... and I dreamed.

Old Cerryl always said that our hill-tribe made the initiation test harder for the girl-children, as they needed plenty of tribe-wives to stay in our village and breed and look after the children. She was right about this costume, certainly, I'd made it out of a rather small amount of leather, and the first defender I'd had to pass hadn't known whether to fight, faint, or, well... I used my knee to give him a love-tap in an appropriate place, and was past and out of his circle before he remembered what he had been supposed to be doing.

I hurried across the hillside. Arrow-signs made from pebbles showed the path I must take, and I clutched my spear, and ran on, into a narrow pass, half-choked with bushes and a few hardy trees. This must be the next trial-point, I thought - and a monster, green and slimy and half again my height, leapt at me, a claw swiping across my naked stomach! The pain was - was not agonizing, this had to be some sort of illusion. I swung the butt of my spear round, it hit something that wasn't there, and the monster wavered, rippled, and was gone.

Our shaman looked annoyed, rubbing his forehead where I'd clipped him. "Yes, yes, very good, Highfield - the test continues, on you run!"

So far, I'd been lucky... but the further I went, the more dangerous it would become. People could get killed out here, it was understood, which made it a fine time to remember old grudges. I moved quietly, now... this wasn't the next testing-point, but the birds were quiet, the flies were too active, and then I caught a whiff of stale sweat and old leather, and stopped, began to circle around, as quietly as a butterfly with a hangover. Ah yes - Finbur! A couple of years older than me, a bully, a loudmouth, he'd got a grudge against me, just because I'd turned him down - oh and I'd beaten him in a fishing contest too, in front of all his friends. So here he was trying to ambush little Charol and make her fail her test, maybe rape her, maybe maim her, maybe kill her. Oh yes, he held grudges, did Finbur.

Unfortunately for him, so did I; I crept up behind him,held the spear two-handed and whipped it over his head like a garrotte, he tried to grab the spear as it began to crush his windpipe, but, too much fishing and too little weapons practice, his arms weren't quite strong enough. He fell to the ground, wheezing and coughing blood. Truth to tell, I didn't know if I'd killed him or not.

I ran through the firepits, hardly noticing - I leapt clear of the spear-throwers, and jumped off the waterfall into the pool far below, easily avoiding the rocks. Hey, I'd been there often enough on hot days with a few friends, cooling off and showing off! And now the final hillside was ahead, with its warren of caves. Choose one cave, and see what the final snare for you will be...

"Charol?" It was Memree's voice, she sounded concerned. "You drifted off, then - how are you feeling...?"

"Hmmm?" My eyes were a little slow to focus. There was Memree, with my clothes, ready to help me dress; and there was Mistress Indigo, smiling encouragingly. "Sorry... I was dreaming..."

"That is good", Mistress Indigo said quietly. "It is the beginning of the cure, but only the beginning. You will return tomorrow at the same time, and we will continue." She grinned. "And yes there is some ointment for you to use tonight, have your friend rub it in all across your back last thing before you sleep, it will help, just a little."

We left, walking back into Redwall. And now it is last thing, and Memree is holding the little pot of ointment reasonably patiently while I finish this. Was my dream part of the treatment, or did I just sleep through whatever Mistress Indigo was doing? Hopefully we'll all find out tomorrow!

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