“Please, I can’t, magic doesn’t—”
Pain. Sharp burst of agony from her wrist, hanging at the wrong angle. Nausea, and blood spilling over unforgiving stone.
A man’s voice. Can almost hear through the pain screaming at her. “ — know where it is — ”
“No, I don’t, please.” Almost slipping now.
Another voice. Softer, female. “Don’t kill her, dear. We haven’t any spares.”
First rule of magic —
“Don’t play games with us, witch.”
Can’t remember if she can let go or not. Not?
She is lying on cold, smooth stone when she wakes, torchlight flickering through the barred window in the door. There is a thin pool of blood around her, sticky and half-dry and far too much.
“Water,” she whispers, voice cracked. Nothing comes.
It’s all right. She wasn’t expecting anyone, anyway.
Shoes come in, wooden heels click-click-clicking against the stone. A gentle hand touches her hair where it’s matted with blood. “Poor dear,” a voice says. “Why do you make this so hard?”
She would laugh, but her throat is so dry. “I owe a debt,” she rasps instead.
“To whom would a witch owe anything?” There is a cruel little smile to words. “He isn’t coming for you, you know,” the voice adds.
“Find the potion.”
“I can’t, please, I don’t know — ” It’s almost true. There are things she does not know, so many things —
Waves of pain, breaking on rocky shores.
Explosions behind her closed eyes, red, all red, scarlet and crimson as blood.
“Please, it’s not possib—”
Someone with a club doesn’t like that.
Out in the world there is a potion that will grant the most desperate desire of one’s heart.
He has it now. He is safe, or, at least, not here. That was all she could give him.
When he found her, he gave her mercy she didn’t deserve, and she can hardly ask him (ask a prince) to sacrifice something like that for someone like her. He has a duty to his kingdom. Not to a witch.
She is going to die here, on this blood-covered floor, and no one will ever know.
It is late in the evening, now, and she hears voices. They are familiar and soft, all the people she has ever loved. It is not a long list.
When she hears his voice, surely that is all. Sometimes she can even see them, and she can see him now. He’s talking, murmuring to himself. “You were — ” he says, and then he stops. A moment later he says, “The drinker’s deepest, most desperate desire.” Then he meets her open eyes, and he moves toward her.
She wants to speak, to tell him, No, don’t touch, because they never can. This is a good dream. She doesn’t want it to end. But her lips won’t move, and he reaches out for her.
“Come away with me,” he says.
“No,” she whispers. “You’re not real.”
Gentle fingers brush her cheek, fingers of flesh and bone and magic.
E. A. Farley has been writing since the tender age of twelve, with a special affection for fantasy. No claims are made towards age, education, or sanity. E. lives in Illinois with an albino corn snake.