(Fic) Revenge of the Red Witch - Chapter 1
This is one of the things I did manage to salvage from the wreckage of my last computer. I began writing this story last year after reading a volume of the collected works of Robert E Howard, and wondering how Conan the Barbarian would react if he were forced to team up with one of the modern, self-assured women of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. (Probably not too badly; Conan respects courage, even if his social attitudes tend to reflect those of a man born in rural Texas a century ago...) The result was a crossover fic which, as usual, started small and splurged out of control. But after last week, I think it's time to bring it to a close, tie off the ending and post it.
Hope you enjoy it! (And previous knowledge of the Conan mythos isn't required. The stories are set in a fictionalised version of Earth 10,000 years ago when magic still worked; he's a barbarian warrior who travels the world having adventures; that's it, basically. )
Title: Revenge of the Red Witch
Characters: Willow, Conan
Wordcount: This chapter 2232 words. Probably eight chapters in total.
Rating: 15 (graphic violence)
Summary: An epic tale of swords and sorcery, as Willow and a barbarian warrior from the distant past travel to confront a wizard who has stolen something immensely valuable from her.
Conan the Cimmerian is black haired and sullen-eyed; a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, who came sword in hand to tread the jewelled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.
Willow Rosenberg is a red-haired Jewish lesbian wiccan who thinks that eating a banana before lunch is an act of wild rebellion.
Together, they fight evil sorcery.
Warning: 1930s-style pulp swords and sorcery. Thews will be mighty, bosoms will heave, bodices may get ripped, and firm-jawed heroes will be saved from a Fate Worse Than Death by fair damsels. Or possibly the other way around.
Revenge of the Red Witch - Chapter One
The warrior urged his horse to a steady trot as he made his way down the woodland path. He sat comfortably in the saddle, apparently heedless to the dark shadows that lurked beneath the twisted boles of the trees; but in fact senses keener than those of a civilised man constantly scanned his surroundings for the first hint of danger. And so it was that he caught the distant hints of snapping branches and running feet. He checked the horse's pace and made sure his blade was loose in its scabbard. Then a woman's desperate scream, muffled by the distance, came to his ears; and ripping out a sulphurous curse he leaped from the saddle, looped his steed's reins around a convenient branch and plunged into the dense undergrowth.
The branches clawed at his face, but he pushed steadily through the thicket until it opened out into a natural clearing. The footsteps drew closer, and then the source of the scream he'd heard burst out into the daylight that shone filtered through the green leaves. She was young and slender, with hair of fiery red and expressive hazel eyes that now were filled with fear. Her dress of diaphanous green must once have been expensive, but now it was sadly torn by her headlong flight through the grasping forest. Behind her came her pursuers; two ragged men of the woods, keeping pace with her easily as they toyed with their prey.
She glanced back to judge her distance, and that incautious movement was almost her downfall. Her foot caught on a hidden root and sent her sprawling. With low guttural laughs they sprang forward; but then the warrior was between them and her, blue eyes blazing in anger beneath his shaggy mane of hair.
"Back, dogs! Back or by Crom I'll send you to hell!"
One of them snarled in anger and reached for his dagger; but his older comrade nudged him to silence.
"We have no quarrel with you, stranger. Leave the girl to us; surely she is nothing to you?"
His only answer was the ring of steel as the warrior drew his sword. The two hunters eyed their adversary with caution. They saw a huge man, iron-thewed yet light on his feet. He was dressed in practical homespun clothes, but the glint of steel shone at neck and cuffs. The sword in his firm right hand was of blued Kothian steel, honed to a fine edge. But there was one of him, and two of them, and numbers made them bold. Pulling out their wicked knives, they leaped forward.
With panther-like grace the big man leaped aside from their initial rush, and his blade swung around almost in passing and laid open the arm of the younger man. He yelped in pain and clutched at the wound, and in that moment the sword returned in a backhand blow and slashed through his neck. His head leaped from his shoulders in a welter of crimson gore, a look of surprise still fixed in its eyes. His companion choked off a curse and brought his own knife up in a cruel disembowelling blow; but it skidded off the mail beneath the warrior's tunic, and then the big man brought his heavy fist chopping down on the back of his neck. Dazed, he staggered forwards; and moments later his own head rested on the forest floor beside his collapsed body.
Grunting with satisfaction, the warrior cleaned off his blade on the dead man's clothing and replaced it in its sheath. He then turned to the girl who'd been the object of their fight. She was pale, faint freckles dusting her ivory skin, and the hand that took his as he helped her to her feet was small and soft. She had clearly never known hard labour in the fields or cowsheds, and while her dress might resemble the holiday best of a peasant woman in its cut and style, its dyes and material were far more splendid than such could ever hope to afford. He smiled to reassure her, but she shook off his grip and looked past his shoulder at the two dead men on the ground. He was surprised but pleased to see that she did not flinch nor show any signs of disgust or fear.
"Uh, thanks.You're a - a pretty damn good fighter, mister. Thanks for your help. I'll, uh, just be on my way again now..."
"Wait, girl. Where do you think you're going, all alone in these woods?"
"I can take care of myself."
He did not speak, but raised a sceptical eyebrow and glanced over at the cooling corpses of the forest hunters.
"Well okay, so maybe I've been having a few problems lately. But I'll find a way to fix them and then... uh, in the meantime maybe I could tag along with you? If you don't mind?" She smiled hopefully, but then waved a small finger under his nose. "But no funny business!"
His sapphire eyes grew scornful. "I am not one of these borderer scum who prey on helpless women. Girls come to my arms readily enough of their own will, and it is not my people's way to take what is not freely given."
"Wow. Uh, you're actually boasting that your particular culture has a rape taboo, as if it's something special here? That makes you different from other people? What the frilly heck kind of place is this?"
He looked confused. "These are the border forests between Ophir and Koth, a land notorious for reavers and bandits. No place to travel alone."
"Uh, aren't you travelling alone?"
He laughed uproariously at that. "They would not trouble a warrior such as me - or if they would, they soon learn their lesson, like these two dogs. But why were you out here, girl? Get separated from your entourage?"
"My whatirage? I'm, uh, a traveller. I got, uh, lost and separated from my friends. I'm not even sure where I am. Or who any of you people are."
"These scum were just borderers. Halfbreed bandits who prey on Kothian and Ophirean alike, and anyone else who blunders into their net. As for me, I am a travelling sell-sword, and my name is Conan, from Cimmeria."
"Pleased to meet you, Mr Conan. I'm Willow. From, uh, America."
"'America'? I've travelled far, and yet I've never heard of your home. Is it near?"
"No. Oh, no. It's a long, long, long way from here. I'm not surprised you've never heard of it. How about you? Why are you here in these spooky woods?"
The Cimmerian was of barbarian heritage, unaccustomed to the polite dissimulation and tactful lies of the cities. He saw no reason to hide the truth.
"I came here to rob a wizard's tower, but I was unable to find a way through his sorcerous defences, curse him! So now I'm for Aquilonia, where they say Prince Almuric is recruiting an army."
He gradually became aware that his companion was glaring at him angrily, arms folded across her chest. The fact that she had to crane her neck back to even look him in the eyes somewhat reduced the threatening nature of her expression.
"So you think you can just rob a wizard, eh? Just like that? Just 'cause he's a wizard? That's anti-spellcaster discrimination. You... magiophobe!"
His chest rumbled with suppressed laughter. "I wanted to rob him because wizards always collect vast hoards of treasure in their secret chambers, gold which I fancy would do better in my own pouch. No other reason. What's it to you, little one? Are you a wizard too?"
"Yes! Or, well, a witch. And a very powerful one! Uh, usually." She suddenly looked worried. "You're absolutely sure you don't have anything against magic-using-people in general, then? You don't kill them on sight or anything?"
Now he did laugh, ignoring her angry scowl. "I've killed my fair share of sorcerors, but all of them deserved it. And all the witches I've met were ancient wrinkled crones. Are you sure you're not an enchantress instead?"
He said the last lightly, but suspicion crawled faintly into the back of his brain. Some of the witches he'd met - before sending their black souls screaming down to hell - had indeed been ancient; but to the eye their arts had made them seem young and fair, exactly like this maiden standing before him now.
"That's just... aargh!" She grimaced in frustration. "Look, perhaps you had better take me to this wizard's tower. Maybe he can help me."
Now the Cimmerian's suspicion blazed into full life. "Are you his minion then, after all? Takla Kron has a foul reputation, even in this forsaken land. Does he send you to gather his victims?"
"Victims? I've never heard of this Takla Kron in my life. Are you sure this isn't just more of your anti-magic prejudice coming out? What's this guy supposed to do that's so horrible anyway?"
"They say he sucks the lifeforce out of his victims and uses it to power his sorceries. He has lived for many centuries thus, vampire-like, preying on the surrounding people."
"Oh." The change that came over her face was immediate, and Conan, who had smiled at her anger before, now almost recoiled from the cold, angry passion that burned in her eyes. "And you were going to rob this wizard?"
"Not kill him?"
"Why the hell not? Well if you won't I will, and you can come along and help if you like."
Such was the force of her emotions that he forgot his doubts and his laughter, and shrugged fatalistically. But he was a practical man all the same, not one to thrust his head into the lion's mouth without need.
"Do you really think you can kill this sorceror, little witch? Have you the power to do that, when you could not keep yourself safe even from these dogs?"
"Stop calling me 'little'! It's patronising and rude. As for my power, it's, uh, temporarily mislaid. But from what you said about this wizard, I think we should... ooh! Ooh, I've got an idea. Quick! Do you have a map of this region?" She hesitated. "Do you know what a map is?"
He rolled his eyes. "I may be a barbarian, but I'm not ignorant. I have served in a dozen armies, aye, and commanded them too in my time. But I have no map of these lands; I was following the sun in its course, and the moss on the trees, and the slope of the land." When he saw her disappointment, he grinned, and picked up a dead branch from the litter on the forest floor. "But if a map you need, a map you shall have."
With a few swift strokes, he sketched out an outline in the dirt; the hills, the road, the river. A dot marked the nearest town, Belkath, thirty leagues to the east. He pointed to a spot just off the road. "We're here." And then he thrust his stick down hard into the earth, as if stabbing the heart of a foe. "The castle of Takla Kron."
She smiled her thanks at him, then sat down cross-legged on the earth, tucking her skirt neatly beneath her, heedless of the dirt. She closed her eyes, hands on her knees lying palm-upwards, and seemed deep in concentration for a moment. Then the Cimmerian saw little twinkling lights fade slowly into view all around the crude map he'd drawn, shining like impossible fireflies, and he drew back a little instinctively from the witch as she worked her magic. But not so far that he could not see the bright light shining just where he'd indicated their own location. And as for the branch thrust into the ground...
"Crom!" The exclamation was wrung from him as the wood seemed to shine brighter than the sun, and just as Willow opened her eyes again it burst suddenly into flame that leaped up towards the encircling trees, burning so hotly that the branch was crumbling to ash visibly before his eyes. She watched it burn, then turned to him in triumph.
"I knew it! We've got to get to that tower. You can have the treasure, I'll get... what I need to get, and we'll kill the wicked wizard. Deal?" She stuck out her hand, and after a moment the Cimmerian took it and shook it.
"Deal. But tell me what the lights meant."
"Oh, just a locator spell. I set it to show the greatest concentrations of magical power in the neighbourhood."
Conan remembered the bright glowing light that marked their place. "It seems your own power is not entirely gone, then. But... your light next to the wizard's was like a star beside the noonday sun. How can you hope to conquer him?"
"Not all of that is his actual power. Uh, I hope. It's the magic that he's been feeding on. It won't help him." She set her face into a look of resolve. "So come on then. Uh, your map has no scale. How far is his tower?"
"Two days' ride, or slightly less."
"Ride?" She practically squeaked the word, and eyes that had shone undaunted at the thought of facing a centuries-old evil wizard now filled with terror. "You mean, on a horse?"