On the eve of battle…
Nightfall, and Jezebelle lay awake in her caravan. Incense burned on her small table, the fragrant smoke magically compelled to waft down over her, her entire body was enveloped in a layer of it now. Maybe it was the imaginings of a guilty conscience, but every time she didn’t scent her crimson fur so, she was convinced it smelled like blood.
As she lay there in meditation, her mind turned not to the coming battles, but to those of the past. Dreamlike, memories of misdeeds she was barely cognizant of flitted through her mind, intangible and faint as ghosts. But one face she remembered quite clearly, as it looked up at her in confusion, pleading with her silently as the light faded from its eyes. A name fell from the young taur’s lips. “Calliope…why?”
“Mmm, so much guilt. That’s what I love about you, Jezzy. You’re just a never-ending buffet of negative emotions.” Chirped Pollywog, the corpulent yellow toad presently attached to Jezebelle’s finger, sucking her blood and all her bad energy with it. “Guilt, fear, anger. My favorites!”
“Just hurry up and help me clear my head. I need to be calm. All the oracles I consulted say the same thing. The battles to come will be here in just a couple days.” Jezebelle spat, taking a deep breath.
“Polly has a point though.” Grackle chimed in. “One day your unresolved issues are going to get the better of you. Polly can’t keep soaking up your grief forever, she’s plenty fat enough as it is.”
“Thank you” said Polly proudly.
“Yes. Thank you Grackle, for the opinion nobody asked for.” Jezebelle hissed through gritted teeth. “How would I even begin to heal from everything that’s been done? The curse–”
“Is all but gone, Jezzy. All the bad juju attached to you is your own, and has been for some time. The only thing that magic is doing to you is keeping your fur all red and feeding off your own negativity to block your ability to channel magic. If you ever plan to be more than a sideshow performer or a hedge witch you’re going to need to let go of–”
“Come, Calliope..” Jezebelle started at the new voice. That wasn’t a memory. That came from outside.
Jezebelle stood, the incense smoke scattering from her body. She grabbed her sword and opened the caravan door. And there, pale skin and fur gleaming in the moonlight was……”Mom…?!”
The centauride stood in front of the path to her home was of slight build, her fur pale blue, hair and mane white. She was older than Jezebelle, but didn’t look quite old enough to be her mother. And although she looked ordinary enough, Jezebelle sucked in a sharp breath when she saw the eyes. There was no mistaking the look of someone who’d been turned.
“They told me I would find you here.” said the trespassing centauride.
“You’re looking better than last I saw you, Euterpe.” Said Jezebelle cagily. Her grip tightened on her sword, but she did not draw it yet. “What’s it been, ten years?”
“At least the span of ten years since I cursed thee and cast you from my sight, Calliope.” She smiled a crazed, too-wide grin as Jezebelle’s jaw dropped.
Grackle alit upon Jezebelle’s shoulder. “What’s going on? Who’s the crazy lady and who the hell is Calliope?” he cawed.
Hang on, you cursed me?” Shouted Jezebelle incredulously.
“Thinkest thou labored under Vitrollia’s magicks? Nay, that curse was broken.” The smiling centauride threw back her head and in a lilting voice recited:
“I cloak thee in the blood of he
Who by thy hand has died.
I rob thee of thy strength of arms,
All thy capacity for harm,
Thy guilt a knife that twists inside,
So do I curse thee, Fratricide.”
Jezebelle felt her body react violently to the recitation of the curse. Grackle took flight as she fell to her knees, dropping her sword as the nauseating smell of blood permeated the air; Her fur was suddenly dripping with it. All those tumultuous emotions and feelings of guilt returned upon her tenfold, and she could barely breathe through her grief.
“All those wonderful dozens of lives we stole together, as mother and daughter. I slew a dozen more to find you here. But you alone amongst us raised thy hand in anger and struck down family. You alone murdered your brother, my darling son, my firstborn!” a mother’s anguish was plain in her voice, even under all the turned-cursed crazy. “That cannot be forgiven! And so shall you die here, a shameful, traitorous wretch living in this hovel on wheels. I’ve no children anymore!”
Wild-eyed, Euterpe produced a dagger and struck her daughter in the side. Jezebelle barely had strength enough to cry out, as something on the ground bit her wrist as well.
“Jezebelle!” Grackle cried, swooping in and clawing at the turned centauride’s face. Euterpe hissed and slashed wildly at the attacking raven, but couldn’t land a killing blow whilst also protecting her eyes. But her wild attacks managed to clip the bird, and Grackle fell to the ground, rolling to a stop by the fire pit. Euterpe wiped the blood from her eyes just in time to watch Jezebelle stand back up, her sword in one hand as she covered her wound with the other.
“Thanks, Polly” she said. Pollywog crawled heavily away, moaning “Oog, S-so full. I’m, hurk! I’m gonna be sick..”
The two centaurides circled one another in the camp, eyes locked, blades drawn. The elder taur was beginning to look gaunter by the minute, whatever glamour she’d employed to get close to Jezebelle wearing off or abandoned.
“I’ll enjoy murdering all thy little friends tomorrow, Calliope. A shame you won’t be there to hear them scream for me! Hydror Ophis!” Euterpe outstretched a hand, and a serpent of rushing water struck at Jezebelle.
“Muros!” the witch responded in kind, and an invisible plane of force stopped the snake short, splashing over the shield and blurring her vision. The crazed taur lunged, bursting through the watery veil dagger-first, shattering the weak shield, and Jezebelle barely parried, getting a long, shallow cut on her arm for the effort.
Jezebelle swung clumsily at the monster in her mother’s face, but swordplay had never been her forte even when she wasn’t stabbed in the belly. Euterpe sidestepped the swing with a musical laugh and her next lunge stabbed Jezebelle clean through the shoulder with enough force to send them both to the ground.
“DIE FOR MOMMY, CALLIOPEEEE!” She shrieked, twisting the blade slowly. Jezebelle gritted her teeth. She wasn’t a strong fighter, it was true, but she could tolerate physical pain like a true Glenstormer.
“My name.” She said, gripping the ground with one hand. “Is Jezebelle Queen, bitch. AND YOU’RE NOT MY MOTHER!” as she shouted her defiance she flung a fistful of dirt in Euterpe’s bloodied, crazy eyes, and the both of them clawed at her face, one in pain, the other in rage.
“Urpyra!” Jez hissed, and her tormentor fled, her tail set ablaze. As the flickering light receded a threatening cry echoed back: “You won’t survive this day, nor shall Centauria!”
Jezebelle’s sword clattered to the ground, and she limped to the fire pit and scooped Grackle up. He was breathing, thank the gods. She managed to get up the steps of her caravan and in the door before her legs gave out. She slumped to the floor, her rump pinning the door shut with her weight, a long bloody smear down it where her fur had rubbed. All the blood from the curse made it impossible to tell how bad she was hurt, but she couldn’t move one arm, and her wounds were flowing freely.
She set Grackle down gently and started tearing her cloak into shreds with her good hand and her teeth. She couldn’t tie anything up tight enough with one hand, so she stuffed wads of cloth as deep into her wounds as she could, and prayed it would be enough until help got here. If help got here, for all she knew the other taurs were being assailed in their homes right now.
“Did we win?” croaked a quiet voice.
“Grackle! Thank goodness. Will you be okay? I dressed your wound as best I could, but..” She nodded at her ruined shoulder. Grackle examined his damaged wing.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’ll heal right unless a better healer than you gets to it. Which means I can’t fly, which means no calling for help.” He paused sullenly. “You didn’t ever tell me your name wasn’t really Jezebelle.”
“My name is Jezebelle. Calliope died the day her family left her alone in that healer’s camp. I got a fresh start and I… well I guess I never really stopped looking back, huh?” she smiled sadly, stroking Grackle’s feathery head.
“Nn. Told you so.”
“So you did, dodo-brain. So you did…” And blackness overtook her.
Polly swam as fast as she could, fighting the river’s current to get to the market. Gods willing, someone would be there to send help. She just hoped she wasn’t too late already…..
“Help! Someone! I need a doctor!” Cried a tiny voice in the market square late at night. A small but fat yellow frog was hopping frantically to and fro, desperately searching for someone.
Cinnamon has been busy anticipating the imminent attacks from Dark forces. She had just finished setting up the tents for an improvised hospital outside the Healer’s hut, when far away in the distance she seemed to hear a little voice. She turned her head to pay more attention thinking she might have imagined it. Making no sound, and trying to listen to it again, she walked a few steps away from the Hut.
“Help!!… someone…” Did she really hear that? Following the tiny voice she walked with slow steps past the Great Hall and towards the Market. “Who is that??” she replied to the voice, walking towards it, closer and closer.
“Down here!” said the small voice, as Pollywog the toad hopped over to the centaur as fast as she could move her chubby body. “Please, I need help, my mistress is badly hurt! We’ve not much time!”
Hastening her pace, and narrowing her eyes, as the sun was coming down, she walked towards the voice and looking on the grass, she tried to find where it came from. She could distinguish a little toad hopping directly to her.
“Pollywog??? What is wrong??” She picked up the toad and instinctively walked back to the Healer’s hut.
“Assassins! Some strange taur showed up at Mistress Jezebelle’s house. It seemed like they knew each other. But they started fighting, and Jezebelle got hurt! I left as fast as I could. Oh, I do hope nothing terrible has happened to her or Grackle..” Polly fretted.
“Oh no… no no no no… This is not happening… Not in the village…!” Cinnamon ran fast with the toad in her hands, busted the Healer’s Hut door open with the shoulder and left Pollywog on the desk.
Rushing through her medicines and bandages, she started putting things together in her bag, “How bad is she?? How is Grackle?? Talk to me, Polly!!” Throwing bandages, ointments, potions, needle and thread, all she could think of that could be useful into her bag “I was hoping this moment never came… Oh gods Jezz..” Finally putting a good bundle together and making sure she was wearing her Amulet, she picked up the toad and rushed out the door.
Cinn arrived to Jezebelle’s caravan. Leaving Pollywog on the floor, she walked towards the half closed door, and tried to push it open… “Gods..!!! Jez??? Jez??” She insisted but no one answered… pushing the door a bit more, she could finally look inside and saw Jezebelle laying on the floor behind the door, in a puddle of blood. An unconscious Grackle laying by her side. “Oh Jez!! Girl!!! What happened to you?!!” Struggling, she jumped her unconscious body to get to the other side, and kneeled next to her, trying not to move her much. She inspected her carefully, checked her pulse… “She’s still alive…”
“Oh! Thank goodness someone came!” exclaimed Grackle. “Jezebelle passed out a while ago. I don’t know the extent of her injuries but she’s lost a lot of blood. Not all of that is hers, but.. Please, tell me you can help.”
Polly poked her head over Cinnamon’s shoulder. “Grackle! Oh, thank goodness you’re okay! I saw you go down, and I…” She hopped down and ran to the raven’s side.
“Oh Grackle!! Thank the Gods you are okay!” she turned to the bird for one instant, as she worked on Jezebelle.
“I’m alright, Polly. Thank you for finding help. For this, I swear I’ll never call you fat again.”
“Don’t say such awful things! Is Jezzy going to be okay, Miss Healer?” pleaded Pollywog.
“Oh.. NO ONE is dying, not on my watch, Polly.” She said firmly. Quickly took out a rag and tied it up really tight on her arm, right above her biggest wound to stop the bleeding. Slowly and carefully, she moved around, and noticed another big wound in her shoulder with stuffed pieces of Jezebelle’s own cloak… “Oh for all the gods! who did this to her??” She kept the rags in the wounds and making pressure on them with one hand to slow down the bleeding, with the other hand, she reached her bag, pulled out a bottle of tonic, took out the cork with her teeth and poured the liquid in it. Her nostrils were not detecting the usual stench of the Darkness “This is odd… at least there’s no curse in her.. but it is very odd…” Very slowly, a small vapor emanated from Jez’s wound, slowing down the bleeding.
Tying another rag around her neck and under her arm, she made most of the bleeding stop. She went carefully through every wound wrapping and cleaning, stopping bleedings the best she could. She took out another potion with her now covered in blood hands, and lifting Jez’s head up just enough, poured tonic in her lips, trying to give her body some strength back.
“Come on.. Jez… come on…” She said nervously ”Girl, be strong… Stay with me…” She insisted, poured a bit more.
She held Jezebelle’s head in her arms for several minutes, constantly checking on her breathing, pouring the tonic in her mouth in small amounts… She shook her read, such an attack leaving her at the threshold of death, but Cinn was determined. “Come on Jez, you are not allowed to die, woman!!”
Cinnamon looked at Pollywog and Grackle. “She better come back or I kill her myself…” She said, cradling Jez in her arms for a good hour, pouring tonic in her lips.
Jezebelle coughed, and groaned. “Nng.. I should be so lucky.”
“JEZ!” cried Grackle and Polly in unison.
“Gods sake, woman!!! Don’t you ever dare to do that to me again!” brushing a strand of her hair away from her face…. “Easy now… “. She closed her eyes and threw her head back in relief. She double checked Jezebelle’s eyes to make sure there was no curse in them…”What in Chiron’s name did this to you?…”
Jezebelle hesitated about telling Cinnamon, but fact was she owed her that much. “Mommy dearest got the better of me, I guess” Jezebelle said weakly, a faint smile on her lips. “How long was I…” Suddenly she started, and tried to sit up, but gasped in pain and slumped back down. “Ugh.. Please, is everyone else okay?! We have to warn the others!”
“Everyone is good… Grackle is a bit ruffled but I will check him up in a moment.. Oh don’t stand up if you don’t want to bleed to death for sure…” She helped her to lay down again. “Probably an hour or two. Your wounds are grave, young lady…” Suddenly, she furled her brow… “Wait… did you say Mommy? as in ‘your’ mother??”
Cinnamon whistled loud hoping Zipporah would hear her. She had kept her at home as she didn’t want to expose her to the dangers, but she needed to send a message urgently. A couple minutes later, a white raven flew in through the door and landed on her shoulder.
Jezebelle sighed. Time to come clean. “Yeah… I’ve had some family issues since the last war. We were all turned together, but my brother broke free. He tried to save us all, and I murdered him for it. After the war was over, my family couldn’t forgive me. Said I should have been able to stop myself. While I was passed out in the healers’ camp, my mother cursed me. They all left right after I woke up and I never saw any of them again, until tonight.”
“Oh Jez…” shook her head not knowing what to say…. “Do you think she is with Vitrollia?? I need to warn the Queen after this attack. It would mean they are here already!”
Cinnamon pulled a blanket close and bundled it to use as pillow under Jezebelle’s head. “Alright, one thing at a time…” She stood up and turned to the toad. “Clean parchment please?”
“I always wondered what became of them… I can’t say if she’s with Vitrollia this time or not, I’m sorry. But she said they were attacking today. We don’t have long” urged Jezebelle.
Polly hopped along the caravan’s interior and grabbed a scrap of parchment from the clutter in the corner. Jez was a messy housekeeper but the mess was only as big as the wagon.
“Either way… I need to send an emergency alert…” she grabbed the parchment from Pollywog, then found herself among the clutter something to write and made a note to the Queen announcing the arrival of the Dark forces, also describing the attack to Jezebelle with ample detail.
“Zipporah, please. I beg you not to get caught. Hide as best as you can. Take this to the Queen and stay with her until it’s morning. I cannot afford to lose you.” She tied the scroll in her leg and Zipporah fluffed her plumage before taking off. Then, back to it, Cinnamon laid down by Jezebelle’s side to stitch her worst wounds together. “This is gonna hurt, madame….” She said, taking thread and needle out of her bag. Jez smirked. “Oh trust me, it already does.”
Cinnamon spent the rest of the night giving Jezebelle stitches, wrapping her in bandages, and feeding her spoonfuls of tonic and even made a quick but nutritious broth to give her body strength to heal. Helped her move closer to the fire to a cleaner spot, and stayed awake at the caravan until Jezebelle finally fell asleep. In the meantime, she checked Grackle’s wings and made sure nothing was broken. “I think she will need someone to keep a close eye on her” she said to Grackle and Pollywog with a warning look. “I am afraid she won’t be able to fight. I need to go home and get ready for battle. I will come and see her as soon as I can“.