The thicket of roses in the pasture that once crowned the gentle hill overlooking all of the town of Niarg was enclosed for the first time by the circular stockade of the old wooden Castell Niarg. In time, it became the rose garden in the back ward of the great stone castle which followed, where Prince Hebraun courted Minuet under a late summer moon and where Princess Rose played with her kitten in the warm June sun.
Spitemorta cleared away all of that for her amphitheatre which faced across its broad and barren arena to the great stage for her public presentations which made up a corner of the back ward of her massive black castle. Here was the focus of her week long celebration. She raised her chalice to the drunken crowd as she sat back on her throne to watch her soldiers set alight the final wicker man, packed squirming tight with the very last survivors of Bernard’s Bane at Jut Ford. Pissant scurried over with his jug to top up her vessel. As screams and yodeling wails of agony burst out from the flames, she shot to her feet with cheer after cheer of triumph for the roaring multitude. As glowing cinders began to tumble, orderlies scurried into the arena and onto the streets surrounding the castle to set up trestles and boards for the feasting that was to last all night.
When daylight came, Spitemorta banged into the doorpost on her way into the bedroom of her bower and bounced when she found that the seat of the stool before her dressing table was a bit lower than it should have been. She ballooned her cheeks with a huff as she found her face in the looking-glass. She picked up a brush. “My,” she said as she tugged at her whirling head with her brush strokes. “I’m not up for much of that…” She looked up to see Demonica standing behind her in the mirror and tossed down her brush with a clatter. “And none of you, Grandmother. I’m going to bed right now.”
“Well,” said Demonica. “Fine celebration, I thought. Just wanted to tell you. And dear, you really want to see to your trolls, don’t you think?”
“Did you see how the Niarg townies joined in? They were having such a good time, I know I’ve got them. I’ve really got them. Lots of them even danced and cheered when Minuet’s soldiers were burning…”
“At least when the cider and sukee are flowing. We brought in three shiploads of sukee from Gwael for this. Stout stuff. You do need to keep that in mind. Some of them can actually count their own fingers when they’re sober. And your trolls, dear…”
“Fine, Grandmother. After I’ve slept, come back and we shall both go.”
“I’ll do that dear. Just don’t delay our departure with your handsome general. It would be best to appear just when they’re waking for the night, before they’re already doing other things, don’t you know. And it doesn’t hurt for us to still have enough light to see by.”
“And just how would I let him delay us?”
“Well,” she said, as she sat on the bed and gave the coverlet a knowing pat. “You did have a rather more, shall we say, sustained and amorous meeting during the celebration than typical…”
“Well I certainly find that easy to agree with, having been there, but does the general?”
“That’s his problem, not mine.”
“If you say so dear. Well then. To bed with you and I’ll see you before sunset.”
The evening sun was just lighting the far wall of Spitemorta’s chamber when she was awakened by voices below her window. “Damn you!” she cried, explosively ripping aside her covers. She grabbed up the full water pitcher from her night stand and heaved it out the window to land with a distant pop six storeys down. The talking stopped short. No one was there when she propped her arms on the sill and peered out. The bell in Argentowre rang. When she couldn’t sort out whether it was four or five o’clock, she covered her ears and turned away from the window.
“Oh!” she cried when the stool at her dressing table turned out to be just as unexpectedly low as before. With a squeal, she threw her brush across the room to smack the back of a chair and spin away somewhere on the floor. She labored to her feet and went hunting for it. When stooping to look under a wardrobe sent pains through her head, she went back to her table without the brush and peered into the mirror with the slits of her swollen eyes to find her hair hopelessly matted on one side, “As if I’d spent the month sleeping alongside a dead mouse.” And with that, she cast a glamourie on herself to look radiantly rested and groomed. After a spell of jerking dresses from side to side in one wardrobe after another, she gave up and cast another glamourie to make the kirtle she was wearing appear as though she had not slept all day in it. “And where’s my duck?” she shouted.
“And here you led me to believe that there was not one thing amorous going on between the two of you,” said Demonica with a gasp of surprise as she appeared.
“Damn you! Not him. My breakfast!”
“Now did you indeed tell anyone before you went to bed?”
“What are you doing with that childish halo and wings, Grandmother? You’ve been telling me all these years that no one but me sees you.”
“Who knows? Veyfnaryr has enough power that he just might.”
“Do you seriously believe he’s more powerful than Razzmorten?”
“Believe? Dear, he was every bit as powerful as Razzmorten the moment I put him in the arms of Fnayooph, the bathless fmoo who raised him. If you didn’t have the Heart and the Staff, he’d make a grease spot of you if you vexed him enough.”
“Ha!” said Spitemorta, feeling for her stool before sitting, this time. “Good medicine for the Beaks. And those four Elves. He could make grease spots out of them, too. Pooh on breakfast, Grandmother. Let’s go.”
“Good for you, dear…” said Demonica, looking up suddenly at the knock on the door of the parlour of the bower.
Spitemorta tramped to the door. “What!” she shouted as she grabbed the latch. She threw it open to find Coel. “Familiar enough all at once to wave aside proper deferential announcements by the help, are we?”
“Because of our indiscretion?” said Coel calmly, as he stepped in without the slightest bob of a bow.
“Ah!” said Demonica. “Here’s your duck after all…”
“You don’t like it referred to that way?” said Coel.
“You ought to be able recognize Grandmother by now…”
“I don’t see a soul.”
“And you bet it was indiscrete! You ought to be in the dungeon.”
“Because you invited me…?”
“I did not!”
“Well, sukee’s like that,” he said, drawing in a breath. “And had I not had some of it myself, I’d have easily deflected your tugging at me.”
Spitemorta sucked in a furious breath.
“And I reckon it’s having to recover from it that has me doing the knocking on your door instead of your service, in order to speed the delivery of the tidings you demanded I convey immediately…”
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps