Aimee held her breath when she heard more crashing from outside. Were the Be-innyson soldiers coming again? She wished that she was in the castle with Daddy and Grandfather. She closed her eyes and wished harder, so hard that she could feel her fingernails digging into her hands. She opened her eyes and saw she was still in Grandfather’s shop. Wishing never worked by itself– you had to go and make it work for even the littlest things.
She’d been here since yesterday, when the Be-innyson soldiers started throwing rocks at the city walls. She’d been taken to Old Town with the other children and put near the castle–but she had left something very important behind. When Grandfather picked her up and put her in the wagon to Old Town her puppy Karl had jumped out of her arms and run into Grandfather’s home.
Grandfather told her that he’d make sure to bring Karl if he had to go to Old Town too. Then she’d heard that the Be-innysons had made holes in the New Town wall and were coming in. She was smart enough to know that Grandfather would be too busy to find Karl, so she sneaked out–it was easy enough with so many children around–to find Karl.
When she got to Grandfather’s, Karl was there–but Grandfather wasn’t. The puppy was upstairs in Grandfather’s rooms. He had tipped over a jug of Grandfather’s awful, bitter drink and was lapping at it. Aimee had to laugh at the way the puppy staggered and yelped–like Grandfather did during the Melrin festival. Aimee had gathered the puppy in her arms and was about to leave when she heard marching, clanking feet.
She ran to a rope hanging over a table and pulled her feet up, dangling with one hand while the other held Karl. Slowly, the stairs to the attic came down, and Aimee climbed them. She sat on a projecting board she had fastened to the stairs (when Grandfather was away once) and pushed them closed. Then she pulled the rope up through its hole. She carefully made her way around the holes in the floor to the attic window. There she lay down to watch the street.
Soldiers were coming from her left. They marched in straight rows, making a terrible noise. She could tell that they weren’t Dargon’s soldiers. They had square shields and carried an ugly banner with a big metal bird on top of it. They had to be Be-innysons!
Aimee was nervous, but not really scared. She’d remembered hearing Grandfather tell Goodman Corambis that the attic had been made by smuggil-ers to hide in and see down below. (The next day she sneaked into the attic to see. Grandfather was right–she could see everything through the holes in the floor. Best of all, Grandfather couldn’t see her. The ceiling was built very high with rough logs and painted to make the holes look like parts of a pattern.)
Then she saw Thomas Redcap. He had been sleeping in a doorway. Thomas was always drunk and he smelled bad, so Aimee stayed away from him. But nobody ever did anything to him because he never hurt anyone. Two of the soldiers had picked him up and were shaking him awake. Thomas woke up and the head soldier–did Be-innysons have captains?–said something to him. Aimee suppressed a laugh–Be-innysons were stupid people! Everybody knew that Thomas couldn’t say his own name just after he woke up.
Thomas just stared at the soldier. When the soldier started to yell, Thomas tried to run. The soldier took his sword and stabbed Thomas in the back. Thomas kept trying to run, but the soldier kept stabbing him. Finally, Thomas fell down and the soldier stabbed him in the neck.
Aimee started shaking–these were terrible men! They were demons like Mother Clariss the Priestess had told her about! She watched the men pick up Thomas and toss him in the gutter. Some of them actually laughed! Then the captain shouted something Aimee didn’t understand and the men went into buildings.
Aimee froze, clutching Karl. Three of them had come into Grandfather’s place! If they would kill harmless old Thomas Redcap, what would they do to her? She inched over to a smaller peephole and looked into the rooms below. Karl squirmed and whimpered.
“Be quiet, Karl!” she whispered.
Karl tried to lick her face. He began to wriggle more, and Aimee was afraid that he would start to bark. She couldn’t let him go–he might fall into one of the larger holes and start to yowl. What could she do?
Karl then belched, softly. Aimee grimaced. he smelled just like Daddy and Grandfather did at the Melrin festival–of course! Grandfather kept some of his jugs up here in the winter so they would be cold when he drank them. Maybe he’d forgot to take some down this spring. Aimee looked around until she spied a pile of earthen jugs.
“Will you be quiet if I give you a drink?” Aimee whispered as she crawled over to the jugs. The clay stopper was fastened with wax, and she had to dig at it with her fingernails. Karl, smelling the beverage, was whining in anticipation.
Aimee pulled the stopper out and poured some of the brown contents into a depression on the floor. Karl lapped fast and furious. Aimee then went back to the peephole.
The soldiers had come up the stairs from the public rooms and were searching Grandfather’s rooms, turning over everything that could move. Aimee was glad that the table was heavy oak, or she would have to jump from the bottom of the stairs when she left. Finally, one of the soldiers found Grandfather’s jugs he kept by the table. They laughed and stuffed them into their packs. Then they left.
Aimee went back to the attic window and looked at the street. The soldiers were gathering together. The captain yelled something and they went back into lines and marched away. After they were out of sight, Aimee went to the board nailed to the stairs and lowered them. Then she scampered down and went immediately to a cupboard that had been ripped open. She ran her fingers on the top of the bottom shelf, along the outside rim, until she found a catch. She pulled the catch and a small door on the opposite wall swung ajar. This was another thing made by smuggil-ers, according to Grandfather. She ran to the secret cupboard and looked–it was there.
Grandfather had once been a soldier, and he had kept a few souvineers. One was a big greatsword, too heavy for Aimee to lift. Another was a decorated crossbow that Grandfather had gotten as a gift for helping in some battle or another. The greatsword was gone–Grandfather took it with him probably, but the crossbow was still there, hidden with Grandfather’s other treasures. She knew that she couldn’t wield it, but she would still feel safer if she had it with her. She grabbed the weapon and a handful of silver-inlaid bolts and ran back into the attic, withdrawing the stairs behind her.
“I know what I’ll do.” She thought, “I’ll wait here until I see some Dargon soldiers march by, and then I’ll come down and tell them I’m Aimee Taishent and they’ll take me to the castle because Daddy’s in the guard.”
She lay down by the attic window and watched the street. After a while, Karl staggered next to her and collapsed in a heap.
“Did you have enough?” Aimee whispered.
Karl emitted an enormous belch and went to sleep.
“Karl, you smell worse than Thomas Redcap.” Then she remembered–Thomas lay on the street, dead, holes poked into his body by the Be-innysons. Softly, Aimee began to cry. The tears flowed smoothly down her cheeks until they dripped on the floor. Then she began to sob, trembling. Her throat started hurting, but still she cried. Her head started hurting–still she cried. Aimee wept until after sundown. Then she slept.
She woke the next morning to the sounds of battle. She looked out the attic window to see a mob fleeing down the street. Behind them were more Be- innysons. They were hitting people, not even chasing them. Just running over them and killing them. Aimee suddenly felt terribly guilty.
“I’ll never knock over another anthill. I promise.” She whispered. “Just please, Bright Cahleyna, don’t let the soldiers come in here.”
The mob passed and the soldiers followed them, not stopping to look in any buildings. Aimee breathed a sigh of relief. How long would it be before the Dargon soldiers came by? Would they ever? There were so many Be-innysons, what if they won? Would they come and kill her like they did Thomas Redcap? She started to cry again.
She stopped when she heard Karl whining. The puppy was lying on his belly, forepaws over his ears, eyes tightly shut.
“It serves you right, Karl.” Aimee whispered. “Now you’ll remember how awful that stuff is to drink.” Aimee then realized how terribly hungry and thirsty she was. She also needed to go outside–badly. But the Be-innysons were out there! She looked around until she saw some old junk in a corner. Maybe there was a chamber pot in the pile! Desperately, she climbed into the castoffs and began to dig. The pile was huge–Grandfather never threw anything out. She began to tunnel into the heap, which nearly touched the roof.
“There’s my toy cart!” Aimee stated.
Karl stood at Aimee’s exclamation and dragged himself to the pile. He whimpered at his mistress.
“Karl, I was going to pull you around in this, but a wheel fell off. Grandfather said he would fix it, but I guess he just lost it in this mess. I’ll make him put it together when he comes back.” Aimee stopped digging. Would Grandfather come back? Would anyone? She started to cry, but her sobbing breaths reminded her of a lower call. She quested further into the heap. Finally, she caught at glimpse of glazed clay. Tossing small bits of junk aside, she found a cracked chamber pot.
After she relieved herself, she had a terrible thought–”How do I get rid of this?” she asked herself. Aimee decided that she would have to leave it here until she could think of something.
She was still thirsty, though. Aimee grit her teeth and picked up a jug. She pried it open and took a drink. Yak! It was even more awful than she remembered. But it helped her throat, so she drank more. She put the stopper on the jug and sat down next to the attic window, watching the street for Dargon soldiers. Karl wobbled over and lay down beside her. Aimee picked him up.
“Karl, I wish you were a great knight like the old Duke Clifton, then you’d put me on your horse and we’d ride straight to the castle. And if any Be- innyson soldiers tried to stop us, you’d take your sword and kill them.” Aimee thought about the Be-innysons; she thought about Thomas Redcap; she thought about the people running away, killed like ants; and a strange feeling started inside her. It was cold, but somehow comforting. The more she felt it, the better she felt.
“I hate you, Be-innysons.” she said, and for the first time in her life, she knew what that meant.
Aimee watch the street until she had to relieve herself again. She went over to the chamber pot–it stank. Aimee sighed, there was no helping it. Grandfather would understand about the smell. She walked to the chimney and unlatched a metal door. Grandfather had put it in himself so he wouldn’t have to hire a sweep to clean the flue and he wouldn’t have to go on the roof to clean it himself. The special bendy brush Grandfather used was on the floor beside the chimney.
She opened the door and poured the contents of the chamber pot down the chimney. Grandfather kept the flue closed unless he had a fire, so she knew it wouldn’t splatter in the fireplace and give her away. She would have to remember to warn him before he opened the flue next time. Again she relieved herself and emptied the pot. That was when she heard the crash.
She crept to a peephole and looked down. A Be-innyson soldier had chased an older girl into the building and up the stairs to the rooms below. He had a terrible grin on his face. He grabbed the girl and threw her onto the floor. Then he ripped her skirts and petticoats off and opened his codpiece. Aimee immediately knew that the man wanted to sex (or s-e-x, as Grandfather always said around her. She was six already–she’d heard what grownups did! Anyway, she’d seen Karl get born.), but the girl didn’t want to–the soldier was going to hurt her!
A flame started in Aimee’s heart and crept up her throat. She was going to stop him! He was a Be-innyson, and all they ever did was hurt people. She didn’t care how big he was or what weapons he had. Aimee Taishent was going to stop him! She scampered to the attic window–no one was on the street. At least it was only him. The girl had started screaming. Aimee went to a peephole and looked down. She saw the man forcing the girl onto the floor. Desperate, Aimee caught the crossbow on a nail jutting from a pillar and pulled back the string with both hands.
“Please, Father Ol, keep the string from breaking.”
Aimee pulled, leaning away from the crossbow. The string dug into her fingers, feeling like a knife. Finally, the catch clicked–the bow was cocked.
Her fingers hurt too much to move–there was already a purple line across them–but she forced herself to drop the bolt into its slot, like she had seen the guards do in practice. Then she started running toward the stairs.
On her way, a flash caught her eye. The soldier was right under one of the larger holes in the floor–Grandfather called them murder holes. It was very big, Aimee had almost caught her foot in it. She looked down and saw the soldier’s back, right below her. She carefully aimed into the hole and and gasped as the bolt slid out of the crossbow and through the hole below. You had to hold the bow straight! She’d heard Daddy tell that to his men, but had forgotten. She remembered now.
Aimee heard the soldier shout and then a crash. What would he do? He couldn’t get to the stairs, she knew that, but what would he do? She looked down through the hole. The soldier wasn’t there, but the girl was. Her head bled and she lay in a ball, quaking. Where was the soldier?
Aimee ran to another murder hole and looked down–no soldier! Had she scared him away? She ran to the stairs to lower them, but stopped dead as she saw them come down by themselves. Frozen with fear, she watched as the Be- innyson soldier came up the stairs, holding a pole-arm with a hook upon it. He smiled at Aimee and approached her, weapon held low.
Aimee stared at the soldier as he walked toward her. He was talking, saying something she couldn’t understand. When he had cleared half the distance between them, Karl charged the foreigner with a squeaking snarl. The soldier batted the pup aside with his polearm.
As soon as Karl took to the air, yelping, Aimee awoke. The soldier wanted to hurt her! She ran around the soldier, trying to make for the stairs, but he just turned and swung his polearm in front of her. She tried to duck around the weapon, but the soldier just stepped and hit her with the haft.
She fell over, bruised, and heard the soldier laugh. She looked up and saw him heft his weapon, then he swung it. The blade descended upon her like a foot upon a beetle. Aimee tensed herself for the blow, her last, when she heard a thump beside her. The soldier had missed! Was he too drunk to hit her? She looked at him and her hopes died as she heard him start to laugh. He aimed another blow at her, missing by inches. He was playing with her– just like boys played with rats!
Aimee scrambled backwards on all fours; the soldier advanced, smirking. He said something in his own tongue and laughed. Aimee still went back. The soldier stopped to watch her. Finally, Aimee hit something–it was the junk heap. She started to climb into it and froze as the soldier yelled and charged toward her, weapon lowered.
Desperate, she grabbed at the pile below her. Her hands came up with a piece of wood. It was the shaft from Grandfather’s old cloak tree. She had broken it last year by swinging from it and knocking it over. Grandfather was so mad he didn’t even spank her–he just told Daddy! She pulled up the piece of wood and held the end before her–the top with a pointed bit. It wasn’t long enough! The soldier’s weapon was easily twice as long. And she couldn’t even pick it up besides, the other end was tightly wedged in the pile.
“I’m sorry, Daddy.” she whispered.
At that moment, the soldier discovered one of the murder holes. His right foot came down exactly upon a larger one and went in. The bones of his ankle ground against each other and cracked. Yet the momentum of his charge was too great to be halted by this minor setback. Instead, his body flew the last few yards through the air and landed upon Aimee. His polearm entered the pile, headfirst, catching Aimee’s skirts upon the hook.
Aimee opened her eyes. Above her lay the soldier. Why wasn’t he doing anything? Then she noticed that her hands were warm. She looked down to where she had been holding up the end of the cloak tree and gasped when she saw it go into the soldier. She looked up at the young man. He was a youth, with a light mustache beginning to form. Aimee noticed that his hair was reddish and looked very soft. He was motionless, breath coming in ragged gasps. Tears poured from his eyes. Aimee watched the final spasm shake the soldier before he stopped breathing. Then she looked at his face. He had the same look that Thomas Redcap did when the soldiers cut him down.
Aimee went limp on the pile, sobbing. She was as bad as the Be-innysons! She thought that killing the soldier would make her feel better, but it didn’t. She felt awful, even worse than the time she had been throwing stones to knock down apples and accidentally hit a squirrel. She dragged herself out of the pile, tearing her skirt on the hook. Sobbing, she ran down the stairs.
More than anything she had to get away–she’d killed somebody. That was the worst thing you could do! Grandfather had taught her that Ol and Cahleyna valued all life, and now she had killed someone. She had to hide–go where no one could find her. She ran for the stairs to the street level when she collided with a soft form.
“Where did you come from?” Aimee heard someone say.
Aimee looked up and saw the face of the girl. Unable to speak, Aimee pointed up.
“You say you came from heaven?” The girl’s eyes were wide. “Were you an angel sent by Cephas Stevene to rescue me?”
“No.” Aimee was finally able to say. “I came from the attic. I tried to shoot the bolt at him and he–” Aimee burst again into tears. “I killed him!”
The girl held Aimee tighter. “It’s all right, honey. He was going to hurt me, and you only wanted to stop him.” Aimee felt a hand on her chin, lifting her face.
“I am Marta, what’s your name?”
“Aimee, Aimee Taishent.” Aimee said.
“Are you related to the mage?”
“He’s my grandfather!”
“No wonder you’re so brave. Living around magic must be very exciting. I bet you can even read.” Marta smiled and stroked Aimee’s hair.
“It’s not all that exciting.” Aimee said, “Usually he just sits and studies, except when he has a customer, but I can read.”
“Where is your Grandfather?”
“He’s in Old Town. He went there when the Be-innysons–when they–when–” Aimee began crying again.
“It’s all right, honey. One way or another, it will be over soon.” Aimee and Marta embraced, each comforting the other.
After a time, Aimee snuffed and said, “Go into the attic, it’s not safe to be down here.”
“What about you?” Marta asked.
“I’ll be right behind you.” Aimee said. Yesterday she had been so scared that she forgot Grandfather’s secret stash. It was where he kept all the wonderful things he wasn’t supposed to eat at his age. She crawled under the table and pushed a knothole–smuggil-ers had to be the most fun people. A small trapdoor pushed up and Aimee lifted it.
Underneath were pickled sweetmeats and fish salted so heavy it crackled. There were also some pickled plums from Bichu. Aimee liked these, even if they burned on the way down and made her feel funny. She put it all on the table and closed the trap door. Then she climbed on the table and put the lot in her torn skirt. After she climbed into the attic she sat the food on the floor and raised the stairs.
As she finished pulling up the stairs, she remembered–the soldier was up here! She couldn’t turn around, she might see him. Aimee stood, trembling, and stared at the stairs.
“It’s all right, Aimee, I covered him.”
Aimee turned around. Marta had covered him with the blanket she had taken from Grandfather’s bed to cover herself up. She was trying to pull her ruined skirts around her.
“Wait, Marta.” Aimee lowered the stairs and ran down. For once she was glad that Grandfather got cold. Sometimes she hated how he always had two blankets–it made sleeping with him too hot. She pulled the other blanked out from under the bed and brought it into the attic. When she returned, Marta had already started on the sweetmeats.
“I haven’t eaten since before yesterday.” she said.
“Neither did I.” Aimee replied. “I’ll get something to drink.” She walked to the jugs and got one. The two began to feast, only pausing to drink the over-warm beer.
When they had finished eating, Aimee went to the attic window.
“What are you looking for?” Marta asked.
“I’m waiting for Dargon soldiers.”
“Oh.” Marta sat, quietly.
After a time, Aimee looked back at Marta. The older girl was sitting, rocking back and forth. Tears flowed down her cheeks and throat. Her body shook with silent sobs. Aimee ran over to her.
“What’s wrong? Are you hurt?” Aimee put her arms around Marta.
“That man–he wanted to…” Marta put her head down.
“I could see that, but I stopped him.” Aimee was puzzled. He hadn’t been able to hurt Marta, but Marta still seemed hurt.
“I know you stopped him, and he didn’t hurt my body, but he hurt my heart.” Marta wiped her face. “He scared me and tried to do something terrible.” Marta began sobbing.
“He broke the Third Law of your Stevene, didn’t he, Marta?”
“What do you know about that, Aimee? They don’t teach the Third Law to little girls.”
“I can read. Mother Clariss is a Priestess for Stevene and she used to come around and talk to me before Grandfather chased her away. One time I sneaked one of her books out of her pouch. I kept it up here until Grandfather found it. He was so mad–I don’t know why.”
“Perhaps your Grandfather is pagan…mine was.”
“I don’t know about that, but he made me pray all day to Ol for that.”
Marta looked Aimee in the eyes, “Then you worship Ol?…”
“Of course I do. Grandfather tells me all about him.”
Marta took Aimee on her lap. “Despise not the pagan, for they may still be good of heart.” she whispered.
“What did you say?” asked Aimee.
“Just a little prayer of thanks that you were here, Aimee–What were you saying about the Third Law?” Marta dried her eyes.
“Well, I think it goes: ‘The sexyoual act is a sacrament. It is a holy gift of pleasure…’ that means good feeling, you know.”
“Yes, I know, Aimee.” Marta smiled, faintly. “Go on.”
“…’a holy gift of pleasure from God. He who violates this gift shall burn, but she who is violated…’ Why did Seefas Stevene say ‘she’ there, anyway?”
Marta sighed, “I think he had some idea what things are like in the real world.”
“Okay, anyway: ‘…she who is violated is as pure as before, by My Holy Word. Let none gainsay…’ That means disagree. ‘…this decree.”
“Thank you Aimee.” Marta hugged the young girl.
“Do you want to pray, Marta?”
“I would like that.”
Marta recited the Plea to Stevene and the Creed of Mercy. Aimee listened to the alien phrases. Stevene people prayed strangely, all full of begging and pleading. Praying to Cahleyna and Ol was much easier. You just thanked them for the good things and asked them to help with the bad things. When Marta was done Aimee looked into her eyes. They were brown and dark, just like Karl’s fur–Karl! Where was he? She looked around the attic and then, to her horror heard, at the same time, Karl barking from below and a roar, like the parade at Melrin Festival, coming down the street.
“I’ve got to get Karl!” Aimee cried as she ran to the stairs.
“No, Aimee, the battle’s come this way.” Marta grabbed Aimee and held her tight. “Anyway, you’ve already proven that the Stevene looks after brave little girls and foolish puppies very well.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Marta lied.
The two sat by the attic window to watch, fearfully.
“They’re coming.” Marta whispered.
Around the corner came a Beinison legion, banner torn, shields broken, ranks ragged. Behind them was a veritable mob of an army. Here a soldier in fine armor hacked at a Beinison shield; there three street toughs pelted a lone Beinison with cudgels. Old men threw rocks; young men wielded spears. It was a rabble, but it drove the foreigners back. Behind this line were ranks of ill-matched soldiery. Dargon personal guard mixing with town militia. Noblemen marching alongside common thugs.
The two girls watched the foreigners get pushed down the street, almost as if the stones of the city had risen against them. Then there was quiet.
“Do you think we should go out?” Aimee asked.
“We ought to wait for our soldiers to look for us. Things could change.”
Aimee nodded, and the two waited, breathlessly.
Hours later, after sundown, the girls heard noise from below.
“She’s got to be here!” They heard a man yell, “It’s the only place she’d go!”
Aimee ran to the stairs and lowered them as fast as she could.
“Aimee, stop, it could be a trick!” Marta called.
Aimee, heedless, ran down the stairs, one word on her lips.
“Daddy!” She ran into her father’s arms.
“I guess we found her, Lieutenant.” a soldier in sergeant’s livery said. “Anything else you want?”
“No, thank you sergeant.” Jerid Taishent replied. “You can go now.”
“Right!” The sergeant saluted. “All right, you crowmeat, we’ve got Beinison cowards to mop up! Move yer asses!”
The soldiers left at a trot.
Marta walked down the stairs, blanket wrapped around her. Jerid looked up at the sound of her. The first thing he saw were her eyes. Somehow he couldn’t look away.
“Who is this, Aimee?” Taishent asked.
Marta blushed and pulled at the blanket.
“That’s Marta, Daddy.” Aimee said. “Some man tried to hurt her so I killed him.”
Jerid winced at his daughter’s words.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, sir,” the Sergeant had returned, “but we’ll be needin’ ye to help wi’ the moppin’ up.”
“I’ll be right there,” Jerid said. He put Aimee down. “You stay here until Grandfather or I come for you. Will you do that? Don’t come out of the attic unless you actually see one of us.”
“I’ll wait right here.” Aimee said, seriously. “Karl!” Aimee dived under the bed and retrieved the wriggling puppy. “You’d better stay with me, or some Be-innyson will come along and cut you into gloves.”
As Jerid left the shop, his sergeant approached him.
“Me ‘n the men,” he said, “would like to say that we’re sore happy that ye lost none o’ yer family.”
“Sergeant,” Jerid replied, “Thank you–and the men–for that, but you’re wrong.” Tears frosted his eyes. “My little girl died today.”