The land had been cursed for centuries. Stories were spun and exaggerated over firelight after children had been put to bed. When Serdwyne heard the rumors and saw the cabin in the middle of the heavily forested land, she decided it would suit her purposes. For her “Forbidden” was a challenge she loved.
Serdwyne’s appearance in the village attracted attention. As a six and a half foot tall bolva hevitar or “cursed white” with triple scars running diagonally across her face, she was accustomed to attention. Anyone looking was stared down by Serdwyne’s red eyes. Serdwyne was apathetic to the villagers whispering behind their hands, waiting for something apocalyptical to happen.
This morning it did—sort of.
“Serdwyne, wake up,” Fligel whispered urgently, far too close to her ear.
Serdwyne swatted him away—harder than she intended; he bounced off the opposite wall, knocking down a rack of pots
“There better be a goddessdamned good reason for you waking me up, Fligel.”
“Parunvols? Really?” she rolled over. “Clean up that mess—quietly.”
Serdwyne couldn’t remember the last time she’d had seen a parunvol—five years? “Male or female?”
Serdwyne covered her eyes with her scarred hands. “The parunvols, Fligel. Wearing all red with black hats, long white beards, or all blue with red hats, short beards?”
I’m going to kill him.
“D-d-d-does it matter?”
“Yes, it fucking matters. Go look before I grab you by your topknot and throw you through the window.”
She heard Fligel scramble to his enormous feet and waddle hastily on his stubby legs to the front window. He knew Serdwyne wouldn’t actually throw him out the window—probably.
“Black hats and long beards.”
Serdwyne rubbed her hands over the ridges of the scars crossing her face. “I don’t hear you cleaning up, Fligel.”
She heard clanking pots and pans. What had she been thinking when she saved this mixed-breed from a flurry of onvula feet kicking at his odd little body as he lay helpless in the dirt? Selfless or sainted, she was not. An off day. Two months later, she alternated between irritation and sympathy toward Fligel. It wasn’t his fault that he was born to odd combination of troll, dwarf or goblin, as it wasn’t hers to be born “cursed white.” Still, a weak and uncharacteristically charitable moment.
Parunvols, right, parunvols, she reminded herself. Dammit.
Serdwyne tossed the blanket off. She rolled onto her left side, wincing at the stabbing pain in her ribs, and slowly pushed herself up with her good arm—her sword arm. She shook her left arm out. The puckered scar circling her upper arm was a painful reminder of the battle her clan had won, with heavy casualties. Many of the wounded succumbed to their injuries, the remaining few maimed; she had almost lost her arm that day—and would have if she hadn’t threatened to shove her sword up the healer’s ass if he tried to amputate it.
Cursing, she grabbed her brown tunic and slipped it over her naked skin; she reached under the bed for her black breeches and scuffed, bloodstained black leather boots. She fastened her sword belt, pulled her white hair into a bun, and strode toward the door.
“Serdwyne, the parunvols,” Fligel whispered, eyes wide with panic.
“Messengers, Fligel. All males with black hats. War parties are females. Let’s see what these walking mushrooms have to say.”
Serdwyne stepped out into the mid-morning sun. She counted a dozen parunvols. Kicking the door closed, she widened her stance and placed her fists on her hips.
A ripple of surprise moved through the messengers, murmuring to each other in Codmapar, their native language; Serdwyne could only pick out a few words. They were surprised and reconsidering their plan. Their bulging black eyes raced sideways above long noses with lumpy bright red veins; their long white beards hung to their belts, scalps bare under their hats. Their short arms were bumpy with muscles, feet flat and covered with long black hair. Dirt clung to skin, hair, and clothes alike.
Filthy little creatures. They were the ones with something to say, so she waited for them to speak first.
The tallest and presumably the senior member of the group stepped forward—a height of nearly three feet. “We bring warning,” he announced in English.
“This land, our land by right of centuries, has been cursed, forbidden, to prevent anyone from infringing upon it.”
“That didn’t work. Here I am.”
“You should not be.” His face was furrowed with consternation. “You must leave immediately.”
“Not going to happen. Anything else?”
“I warn you, if you do not leave—”
“What? What do your females intend to do?”
His lips pursed in frustration as he contemplated what to say next. This message was obviously not proceeding as expected. “There will be consequences.”
“I’m terrified. You done? Go away, talking fungus.” Serdwyne went back inside. “Fucking parunvols.”
“Fligel, stop sniveling. They’re harmless males. The morning water and firewood aren’t going to appear in here magically.”
“Still out there!” he squealed.
The high-pitched hurt her teeth. “Harmless messengers. Message delivered. They don’t care about you. Just get the damn water and chop some firewood.”
As she chewed her meager breakfast, she considered her parunvols problem. Would the females decide it was too much trouble to take their land back? They weren’t doing anything with it.
If the females did return with a war party, how soon, and how many? She could easily take out three of four, but twenty or thirty, small as they were, fighting with sturdy axes and spears-- even small weapons would still be enough to do damage. Serdwyne longed for her clan, even though she was ostracized as the cursed bolva hevitar. At least she had some of her own people, warriors like her; now she had a dim-witted trogobwarf and her horse Loki.
The obvious answer was to employ a group of mercenaries; tocfecors were the best and most common. Serdwyne didn’t know the villagers well enough to know which ones would have a tocfecor contact. Looked like a reconnaissance trip to the village tonight was in order. Serdwyne smiled.
At midnight, Serdwyne left a snoring Fligel in the cabin and saddled Loki. They circled the village to the less populated side. Serdwyne tugged her black cloak more closely around her, pulling a small piece of cloth across her face, hiding most of the scars.
She approached the section of town known as Shadowmask’s Alley, noticed an opium den, a noisy tavern, and a brothel—and that she was being followed.
Serdwyne kept pace, unhurried long strides. She found a darkened recess and ducked into it. Her pursuers looked one way and then the other before returning to the spot where they had lost her.
“Where in the Cthulhu’s name did she go?”
“Maybe she’s a witch and she—"
“Doesn’t matter now, toad-brain. Let’s find someone else.”
Serdwyne resumed her course. Activity grew sparser. She was stopped by two men with swords.
“You must be lost.”
“You don’t know where you are.”
“I know where I am. Take me to whoever’s in charge.”
“We’re not taking you anywhere but up against the wall—we’ll take turns.” They laughed.
Serdwyne remained still and silent.
One of the men stepped toward her, his hand on the hilt of his sword.
Serdwyne stepped into him, punched him in the throat, twisted his right arm at the wrist while driving her hand into his solar plexus, and sweeping his feet from under him. Serdwyne stomped her booted foot on his shoulder and continued twisting his arm until it snapped. Looking quickly toward the other one, who had shaken off his surprise, and was barreling toward her, sword drawn. Serdwyne released the first man’s arm and stood her ground until the last second, pivoting and using the man’s momentum to drive himself into the alley wall. Serdwyne grabbed his hair and slammed his face into the bricks until he slid to the ground unconscious.
The first man was lying on his back, holding his arm and screaming. Serdwyne kicked his head to shut him up.
Alerted by the noise, five men, swords unsheathed appeared. Serdwyne didn’t react. They moved closer, in a tightening semi-circle.
Making no move toward her own sword, she calmly announced, “I’m here to see whoever’s in charge.”
The men laughed.
“Who the hell are you?”
Serdwyne removed the cloth from her face and pulled her hood off. She pushed back her cloak, a hand on her sword hilt. She heard the sharp intake of breath from the men. She forced herself not to smile.
“It’s that thing.
“You said it wasn’t real.”
“I’d never seen it, thought everyone was making it up.”
The fifth man mumbled prayers to some god as he backed away.
One of them drew himself to his full height— eight inches shorter than Serdwyne—and held his sword in both hands. “I don’t care what you are.”
Two more men silently faded into the background.
Serdwyne glanced at the fifth man, who brandished his sword. In a quick motion, she embedded a throwing knife in the first man’s eye, following that with another in the throat of the other man. She advanced on the men convulsing and bleeding on the ground, slitting their throats to the spine and retrieving her throwing knives.
Stepping over the corpses, she continued to the unguarded door. Serdwyne paused to listen: voices, clinking of glass and metal. With her three knives dripping fresh blood, Serdwyne entered the doorway. Weapons slid from a dozen sheaths.
“Who’s in charge?”
“How the hell did you get in here?” one demanded.
Serdwyne held up her still bloody daggers.
“Only two of them. Two unconscious. Three ran away,” Serdwyne replied, watching as heads turned toward a shadowed figure seated at table against the far wall, the boss.
Serdwyne waited out the silence that followed.
“Others can guard the door.” A woman’s voice—older, husky, measured. “I’m surprised it took you this long to visit. Why tonight?”
“I need to hire some tocfecors.”
“Interesting. Come. Sit, bolva hevitar.”
Serdwyne strode toward the table, wiping her knives and resheathing them.
The chair opposite the woman pushed itself away from the table. Serdwyne hesitated. The woman cackled, an unpleasant, unsettling sound. This must be a test. She grabbed the top of the chair, spinning the seat away from the table and straddled it, a tactical advantage since she had the remainder of the room at her back.
The woman’s face emerged from the shadows now, her grin revealing a mouthful of black razors; her face was an unnaturally smooth, ageless mask with a waxlike quality, and her eyes were entirely black. Unseelie Dark Fae. Another test—that she not react. Serdwyne kept her face neutral as she waited and watched the woman study her.
“You must have a parunvol problem.” The Fae smiled, but the masklike skin did not ripple or wrinkle with the expression.
“Price of living on cursed land. You knew that.”
Serdwyne shrugged. She had dealings with Fae before. They preferred to do the talking and never revealed their names.
“Messengers with threats.”
Serdwyne shook her head.
“You expect a war party.” The Fae licked her lips with her purple split tongue.
“The giant cursed white warrior cannot handle a few vermin?” The room broke into a cacophony of laughter.
“Depends on how many. Figuring twenty females, why not let someone else have some fun too.”
The Fae nodded, as if respecting her reasoning.
“It would discourage survivors from returning.”
“That it would. Catsidthe,” she murmured, and a ten foot tall, three hundred pound black malk with feline features and flaming orange eyes appeared beside her.
“Yes?” Catsidthe replied flatly.
“Bolva hevitar requires tocfercors.”
Catsidthe turned its fiery gaze to Serdwyne.
Serdwyne held its stare calmly until the malk dematerialized silently.
“As to payment, cursed white, you owe me a favor.”
Serdwyne had already risen and returned the chair to its original position under the table. “No.” Never make a deal with one of the Fae involving a favor. Serdwyne shook her head, hand resting on her sword hilt.
“You don’t want mercenaries?”
“Not in exchange for a favor to a Fae. I’ll look elsewhere.”
“Where else will you look?” the Fae inquired, sardonic smile revealing her deadly teeth.
Serdwyne shrugged. “Any number of places. You were the closest.”
“Would you have come here had you known?” She leaned forward on clasped hands bearing pointed black talons.
“An Unseelie Fae? No. I have to little do with the village.”
“Perhaps that ignorance was a mistake.”
“Unlikely. I will seek a solution elsewhere.” Serdwyne began walking away.
“Assuming I choose to allow you to leave.”
Serdwyne pivoted slowly around toward the Fae. “Why bother with me? I could easily take out half your men.”
“Against me? Or Catsidthe?” The Fae grinned broadly, a second row of razors appearing in her mouth, these the color of warm blood.
“Again, why bother? One woman against a Fae or the infamous Catsidthe itself? Hardly an opponent worthy of either of you.”
“You exceed reputation.” The crimson row receded from her mouth. “Catsidthe will send tocfecors.” She named a price, and Serdwyne placed the coins on the table.
“Do visit again.”
On her way out of Shadowmask’s Alley, she noticed no one had bothered to remove the corpses, and the men she had knocked out were still unconscious. Her journey out was uneventful. Serdwyne rode Loki home under the waning gibbous moon.
It was not Fligel who woke her the next morning. Serdwyne was roused from sleep by the shifting of weight at the end of her bed. As she reached for the dagger tucked into the bed, she smelled fur. Eyes still closed, she said. “Good morning, Catsidthe. I did not expect you so soon.” There was no reply as she opened her eyes and sat up to see the giant black malk perched on the end of her bed.
“Tocfecors will be here tomorrow,” Catsidthe announced and promptly disappeared. Never interested in pleasantries, malks, let alone this one renown for both his power and his irascible nature.
Serdwyne smiled, pulling her blanket back up to her ears.
Serdwyne sat on a tree stump in front of her cabin sharpening her weapons, awaiting the tocfecors. Fligel was hiding under her bed. Serdwyne told him to cry quietly, or she’d tie him to a tree for them to eat.
Movement in the trees alerted her. She touched the hilt of her sword.
Six figures emerged-- not tocfecors. Runts and oddities of mixed creatures. Either Catsidthe was having a laugh at her expense, or a furious malk would soon make an unpleasant mess of someone.
Serdwyne inventoried the group: two grey five foot tall humanoid mammals with large fangs, two green bipedal reptilians with short arms, orange avian claws and multi-colored wings, another a bizarre combination of striped trogdlym and pumillo quadruped, and a tall eel-like thing with short legs and long arms. Not what she had been promised. Serdwyne hated to be disappointed.
The larger of the humanoid mammals stepped forward. “The cursed white abomination we have heard of,” it rasped.
The creatures chortled, clicked, screeched, and howled as they continued forward in their formation.
Serdwyne did not respond.
“We hear you have a parunvol problem,” continued the leader. “You could frighten them away with a glance.”
“Nothing to say? I did not realize the cursed white were also mute.”
“How will Catsidthe react when it realizes tocfecors sent you instead?” Serdwynne asked calmly.
They exchanged glances. Raised voices in discordant languages bounced among the group. “Be careful how you talk about The Catsidthe, the Malk who sired all malks. We will the job for the fee agreed upon,” the reptilian announced through the noise.
The leader snapped its large fangs as it stepped towards her. “You will pay us--”
“You think we cannot—”
“No. You’ll all be dead.”
Serdwyne beheaded all six—three of them still alive, writhing helplessly. She threw the heads in a pile.
“Fligel! Get your ass out here with some sharp stakes.”
Sunset found Serdwyne leaning against her cabin, gazing at the sight of the neatly lined rows of stakes bearing the heads and various body parts of her dismembered kills. Brightly burning torches that would last until sunrise displayed a satisfying afternoon’s work. She smiled to herself and watched the sun setting amidst the gore.
If you enjoyed Serdwynne, you can find another story "An Unusual Hitchhiker on an Uncommon Path" on my page.
Thanks for reading.