(published in 1997 in online fantasy Zine “Legends”)
She played with the spider-webs as though they were thread. Small bits of string were also her toys. Everything she could find that could possibly be knotted she turned into Lace. Yards of it… mounds of it. Shawls and capes and trim so splendid that people were willing to die for them.
I wore one of the child’s shawls on my shoulders that day. It should have been laughable — that gossamer float of flowers and dangling leaves draped on my brawny shoulders. I am an old warhorse, put to pasture now but still looking as rough and untended as a fallow field. However, even my cynical eye could see that the shawl added something to me. Instead of looking silly, I looked imperious.
That is, I looked imperious until reaching the town of Scorance. Chains take away one’s imperiousness.
The Lady of Scorance, a fluffy wench draped in velvets, had taken a liking to my shawl as I rode through the market. When I stopped to buy some thread, her guards approached.
“A Word, Ma’am” They’d been polite. So had she until I refused to tell her where I got the shawl. It wasn’t good enough to point to the charm attached to the shawl that indicated that I was under a spell of secrecy that involved the shawl.
So now we were riding–or rather, they were riding while I walked in front–toward the little village in the mountains where the child had woven the shawl.
They hadn’t bothered to torture me, of course. Instead they’d started with my horse and worked their way up to a peasant’s child. I couldn’t stand the screams. So I walked and they followed. And their spells kept me from sending any sort of messages ahead.
“I’m no magic user!” I was muddy at this point, the shawl torn.
“I don’t care. You may have friends who are magic users. The spell will keep you from warning them.” The Lady looked as though she had just stepped from her dressing room. Her gown was blue with gold and white trim. Everything about her clothes screamed of perfection. Her wizard, of course, was dressed in the same colors, the same trims. Her family had become rich through trade, and it showed.
Now they wanted the maker of my shawl. They wanted her to make cloth for them. To make shawls and blankets and dresses of a Lace so fine it could enchant even war-horses like me. Wealth was no longer enough for the family of Scorance. Now they wanted power. With the Lace they could have power.
No threats or torture could make me move fast. My legs were too old, too worn from years of battles. My boots were designed for riding, not walking, and that slowed me even more as blood from my blisters puddled in my socks. Lady Scorance becase impatient as her wizards tended me.
“Oh, just let her go barefoot. We’re close–I can feel it. It won’t hurt her.” She laughed, a light girlish giggle.
I didn’t feel hatred often. Irritation and dislike, but not hatred. My dispassionate nature had been a blessing on the battlefield, where hatred turned brilliant fighters into corpses. My steadiness of emotion had been the reason I had been head-Councilwoman in Ashlear for so long. But I was feeling a great hatred for this Lady. I understood why hatred ruled so many lives. It was power and desire all twisted into a golden molten center. In my hatred, I could walk barefoot proudly.
With each step taking us closer to the village, I could see the excitement building in the Lady, her wizards, and the four guards. The path obviously led to a town–to the Lady and her crew, the broken wheels by the roadside and the faded sign must have seemed like arrows pointing straight at a treasure.
They hadn’t asked the right questions, so I didn’t tell them.
When they topped the small rise and viewed the desolation below them, the shock was obvious. Remnants of the village buildings lay below, with blue ribbons tied to the rubble to mark the graves of those who had died there.
“How long ago…” The Lady was too shocked to be imperious. My shawl was too tattered now to be imperious. I was sad, as I always was when looking down on the village. Within sight of the village I was freed from the spell that kept me from speaking of the shawl’s heritage. I answered the real question, not the one she’d asked.
“Two rival wizards, both wanting the child who made the shawls. Neither were willing to let the village remain free, so when the child would work for neither, they destroyed the village. Those of us who survived moved a few miles away–and we all turned to making pottery and abandoned the making of Lace.” I looked down at my strong warrior’s hands, hands that had learned pottery when my muscles were no longer fast enough with a sword.
The chains and enchantments fell from me then. The wizards muttered darkly at the Lady for having brought them so far on a wasted errand. But the Lady wasn’t through.
“The weaver? Your shawl maker?”
I thought back on the child’s innocence, remembering her screams when the wizards had killed those she loved. Remembering her vows.
“Long gone.” I spoke truthfully as I rubbed my freed wrists and tugged the remnants of my shawl more firmly on my shoulders.
“My village is a day’s walk from here. I don’t suppose you’d give me a horse in trade for the one you killed?”
They turned without answering and rode away. Expecting nothing less, I turned and started toward my village of Ashlear. The name, of course, meant “Out of the Ashes.” I had chosen it when I had ordered the Lace of my childhood burned–all except the shawl that had caused me so much trouble. Happily, the thread was still in my pocket, but as usual I grabbed a spider’s web from the bushed as I walked along. And as I walked, my hands made Lace.