Recompense

Prophecy? Perhaps...

The lesser moon, the wolf moon, was halfway to zenith, a dull gray disk that did little to brighten the darkness. The greater moon, the silver moon, was sinking in the western sky. Soon the darkness would be near total. Already long shadows were stretching across the surface of the frozen pool below the short waterfall.

The pine grove surrounding the pool was dense with age. Briars and vines tangled the inner trunks to form a knotted wall. In warmer weather, they fought each other and the branches above for a share of the life-giving sunlight. Now, though, they hung dead and gray, rattling in the wind like dried bones.

Blackdeer Creek was drowsing in the winter darkness, but it was not completely asleep. A narrow flow still cut its way between the banks overhead. It spread out across the ice dam at the top of the falls, and trickled down in a clear sheet over the face of the massive stalactite of ice that had formed during the last month. Whatever small bit didn't remain on the ice eventually landed in the base of the pool, an eye of open water perhaps as wide as a child's spread arms. The rest of the pool was covered in a solid ice cap, all the way across to the murmuring outlet.

Crystal wind keened its way across the ice at a pitch almost high enough to hurt the human ear. It stirred snow dust and rippled the surface of the open water, which started to swirl. The swirling sped up and rose in the center, like an inverted whirlpool. The water column grew to the height of a person, then slid back down to reveal a woman in a pale leather dress. She floated upright on the surface of the icewater like some skimming insect.

The woman turned to scan the area slowly. Then she hawked and spat to the side. “You gonna show yerself or not? I didn't come here to count stars.”

The wind ceased.

The dead vines at one side of the pool rattled loudly and started twisting back on themselves. They parted like a curtain to clear a space between two huge pine trees. There was a dim impression of movement in the coal black shadow between the trees. Then a tall figure stepped to take position at the edge of the ice.

The man was at least seven feet tall. His skin was the gray of wood smoke, with hair and beard as dark as the sky between the stars after moonset. A silver band circled his head. He wore black leather armor, reinforced with silver strips and studs. A sword hung from his belt, silver hilted with a stag grip. A bow hung across his back, made from two long bones fitted together. A quiver on his right hip was packed with black fletched arrows.

His features were superficially human. But his eyes burned cold, glowing blue with the raw power of fay magic. “Human witch Betra. You risk much by your insolence. It was you who asked for this meeting, and I do not answer to your commands.”

Betra snorted. “Fay king Nakarsu. We've knowed each other too long to play games. What'd you think of the boy? Is he or ain't he?”

The king crossed his arms and brooded. “The face is the same. The form and voice are the same. The courage is the same, he met my challenge without flinching. The anger is the same, he even threw the same curse at me that Agrahain threw, six hundred years ago.” He looked closely at Betra. “Can such a thing truly be? Do the human dead return to walk in flesh again?”

“Whats the matter, fay king?” Betra spat again. “You worried by the thought that we might have our own kind of immortality? I don't know one way or the other. Sometimes I think yes, sometimes I think no. You know the prophecy about Agrahain.”

“Yes, human witch. I know the prophecy.” He looked up at the lesser moon, the wolf moon. “I also know that not all humans who claim to be able to see ahead, can truly tell what will come. Not one in ten thousand has that power. It might be that the prophecy of Agrahain was a lie, told by a human to impress other humans.”

“It don't really matter, does it?” Betra strolled across the surface of the water and onto the ice, showing no discomfort at being barefoot. She stopped a few paces short of the bank. “What matters is whether the boy can get the job done. I say he can. I know the boy. He rode my boat from Eldenford all the way to Kulhn.”

“Perhaps.” The dark fay king backed away from the pond, into the shadow between the trees. “For now, I will act as if the prophecy is true. We will see.”

He was gone. Betra sighed and walked back to the spot of clear water at the center of the pond. She flicked a finger and the icewater rose up to wrap her like a comforting blanket. When it sank down again, she was gone.
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