The Siren Meets the Sarooth

That evening, Laurel watched as a priest of fire ignited the funeral pyre for her father. From Balor’s heat we came from, to Balor’s heat we return to. His ashes were collected and given to her to bury.

Laurel muttered the most painful thing she could think of to the doe-eyed priest that presented her the clay pot of ash. “Send them back. Have them buried under the laurel tree where his wife and sons are.”

The next four days were torture. Laurel was alone. She had no desire to cook for herself, to venture into the town square and purchase necessary goods, and her one relief in the world, the sound of her hammer, only caused her so much pain. Even venturing into the forge caused her to be wracked with sobs. She could hear her father’s voice in her ears, showing her, teaching her, admiring her skill in a place so far from here.

On the fifth day, Ryo appeared again. Laurel barely stirred when she heard the trample of horses approaching. She cracked the door open only when Ryo called in, begging her to appear.

“My dear, I know your pains, but you have a life worth living.” Ryo sighed at her appearance. She was pale, eyes ringed with dark circles, her hair in unwashed clumps. “Tonight I hold a masquerade banquet. I bring you a gift, a welcoming present!” He motioned to a carriage behind him, three women dressed in the same blue dress climbing out of it. “A gown to wear, a mask to complete the outfit, and palace maids to help you prepare for this night, as well as the carriage to take you, and return you. I beg of you, enjoy this night, and live, for your father watches from Balor’s great embrace, and one day you shall meet again.”

The three maids worked feverishly. They first drew her a bath, which was a new feeling all together. She had bathed almost exclusively in the stream by her home before, going to the bath houses only when the winter snows chilled the water to a point where she feared freezing her fingertips away. Even still, a bath house was different than a personal bath for herself!

After the days of sorrows had been scrubbed from her, the women scurried around her like birds. They dried her, against her will saying she could do it herself, covered her with creams and perfumes, and pushed her into the forest green dress they had brought for her. They sighed a dreamy sigh as they stepped back, admiring it’s bellowing skirt, the tight bodice with a low neckline, and the way it shimmered in the afternoon light. After that, she was parked in a chair as they took turns dabbing at her face and hair. With the gown came a mask, for a masquerade, of course. She was to become a siren, the elegant winged creatures once of Melyion stock, tamed by Daliquorian hand. The skin of the mask, imprinted with the design of scales, was the same deep green of her dress, a plume of green and blue feathers billowing from its peak. The orange beak curved over her nose, leaving enough room for her to open her mouth unrestricted. It was fastened to her face after they had spent time dabbing paints and powders to her, then her hair was left across her back, also adorned with the green and blue plumage of a sky beast.

At the end, her feet were encased in the heeled shoes, and she stood. A mirror was produced to reflect an image of a person Laurel swore could never be her. Rare was a day she left without binding her chest down giving herself a more boyish figure. Her long hair, gone uncut simply because she hadn’t had time, looked almost golden across her back, free from a tight bun in the middle of her head. Not a single spot of soot touched her skin.

Now, here she was. The drinks dulled the pain in her feet, and her heart. She swore to use these shoes as kindling as soon as the night was over. She was thankful for the food though. Perhaps it was the alcohol that made her appetite return, but she kept returning to the large banquet tables to enjoy the heaps of meat and breads there.

The party guests all seemed interested in everything but her, thankfully. Even under masked faces, people waved to one another and gossiped in tight circles. Sometimes Laurel would swear a set of eyes had settled on her or fingers would point only to return behind whispering hands. She didn’t quite care. By her reasoning, these were people she would never actually meet. Not a single hand looked like a hardened warrior’s hand.

“The estranged wife of Melyion, tamed by human hand.” A man dressed in all black approached her. Even his hands were gloved. On his face, the visage of a sarooth, a noble and elusive beast. “Have you come from your perch to dance?”

“I’m much more of a cards girl, forgive me.” Laurel quickly took the glass and swallowed it in a single gulp, returning the empty vessel to the extended hand. She was trying to remember she was in noble territory, telling her mystery suitor to buzz off wasn’t quite proper.

“I believe if you continue to drink as displayed you will learn to dance easily.” The sarooth mask bobbed as he laughed. “I do not believe a siren to be clumsy on their feet. Perhaps a fish would suit you better.”

“Is that a challenge, sarooth?” Laurel hated having her hair loose, it heated the back of her neck uncomfortably and in her anger it bothered her even more so. She tried to puff herself to his height. “Show me how a four legged beast dances.”

“My pleasure.” His hand extended to hers. Laurel was nervous, her hands were much rougher than a woman pampered by luxury, but as she hovered it over his, he grabbed it with a surprising strength. She could feel the callouses of a warrior’s hands under his gloves. The masked man led them both to the wooden dance floor, Laurel trying to mimic the other painted woman by placing her spare hand on his shoulder. She nearly yelped as his other hand embraced her hip, drawing her into the hardened body, slowly leading her into the first steps of a dance.

As the notes passed, the alcohol hit Laurel faster than she expected. The swift movements of her partner, and her rapid stumbling in heels made her head spin. As the final notes died away and the dancing group applauded the band, Laurel’s blurred vision settled on the striking green eyes peering at her from mask of her partner.

“You dance well for a woman of low rank.” He grinned. Laurel nearly slapped him if it wasn’t for her world spinning too fast for her to keep up. “Or is it the wine?”

In a huff, Laurel pushed him away. “A man like you is always found drunk in the corner of the bar, licking his wounds.” She had enough, marching for whatever exit she could find and a proper bar to finish drinking in. Her partner grinned as she stormed away in lazy lines.

“Saeran!” A voice behind the stranger scolded. The stranger approached this man, a rounder man wearing the mask of a monkey, “I did not point her out to you for you to tease her.”

The stranger, Saeran, put his hand on the monkeys shoulder. “You expect a woman smith to survive here?” He kept walking past, down to an abandoned section of the banquet hall. The monkey followed. He lifted his mask once Saeran stopped to look out at the party raging before him.

From under the monkey mask was the green and narrowed eyes of King Ryo. “I did not bring her here for you to torment.”

“No, you felt sorry for her on this night, father.” Saeran leaned against the wall. “I wish to have her work for myself.”

“Saeran! You are older now!”

“You did not see the look in her eyes as I danced her around.” He laughed. “A woman like all others! I shall have her broken within a month.”

“I do not think so my son. She seems much like a rose. Beautiful, yet barbed. You may have her. I did intend on presenting her skill to you as a gift.”

Laurel cracked her eyes at the blaring sun through her window. The night had ended in a blur. She had stumbled into a pub somewhere, spending what little money she had on her in cheap meads that left her head in a pounding fury. With all the strength she could muster, she took in the stagnant water that waited for her in the now empty kitchen of the cottage she could call her own. She was even still in the elegant dress gifted to her by the king. With disgust, she tore it off, replacing it with the familiar cotton slacks and tunic she loved. As she peered out to the forge built for her, she ached to swing a hammer and get busy, to return to her normal days.

For now, she decided, this would be home.

Harsh knocking came from her door. She cried out saying she would only be a minute, dashing over as she tied her hair back. “Hello! Forgive the small wares…” Laurel said breathlessly as she opened the door. “I haven’t quite finished unpacking… Yet…” Before her stood a tall man flanked by guards on all sides.  Dark red hair, nearly black, hung long around his angled face, a set of half plating hung off his form like the gods carved them as a set. On his lips he wore a smug smile that stopped her heart.

“You are to be my personal smith four days of every week. Here is where you shall arrive.” He handed her a folded slip of paper. “I would be ready for long days, Madame siren.” He winked.

“You!” Laurel threw the paper at his feet. “Take your money elsewhere!”

He laughed and lifted the paper up and held it out for her again. “Now now, I do not think my father would approve of you rejecting the hand that feeds you.”

“Hand that… What?”

“Oh. Forgive me, I did not introduce myself proper last night. You shall kneel as my name escapes your lips. I am Saeran, prince to the Calinthian throne.” Laurel dropped to one knee the second she heard his title roll from his lips, he laughed as she sat there at his feet. “For tomorrow, bring a bow if you have one.”

“Yes my lord.” Laurel whimpered.

“Much better, woman. I shall see you in the morning hours tomorrow.” He dropped the paper before her, and as magically as he seemed to appear, he vanished.

Laurel followed the paper map, a longbow in her hand, for about an hour. It led her into the castle town and to the large stone gates of the palace. A guard there waved her past, saying she was expected in the training fields to the left. As she admired the pattern work on the stone, she could hear a voice harshly whipping men to run faster. She turned the corner to a large swath of open land, grass and trees ripped up, leaving the tan earth behind. A group of men, perhaps thirty or forty in total, stopped their run when she appeared.

“My lord have you brought us a whore?” One man cried out. Laurels rage flared. He was lucky she didn’t have an arrow.

Stepping forward into the sunlight from the shadow of the only building, a wooden structure lined with targets and training dummies, was the red haired man from yesterday. Prince Saeran of Calinth. “I would not reward useless dogs. This woman is my smith, so I can cease wasting good weapons on you lot. I did not say to cease your run!”

“Sire!” The men answered and dashed off at a speed Laurel didn’t think was possible for mortal men. She fell to her knee before him.

“My lord…” She held the bow up in opened hands. “As requested.”

He lifted it from her hands and plucked the string once. “I will assume you can repair this as needed.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Good. Sit and wait for you to be required.”

Laurel tensed. “My lord, I will have other weapons to work on, I can return later to collect the bow and repair it.”

“You are of my possession now, a gift from my father. I will work your hand as I see fit. You remain here.”

Laurel wanted to scream. Property? She was a living, breathing, skilled woman! She tried to remind herself that this was all she had right now. All the money her and her father had saved was gone, as Laurel had spent a fair amount on getting her father’s remains sent ‘home’. She was indebted to the king as well, who passed her off to the grinning beast over her. She began to feel foolish as well, perhaps this was all a game. She wasn’t here for her work, perhaps just her looks.

She sat and watched the forty men run laps at a dizzying speed. She spotted a tree she wanted to hide under for some shade but feared the brooding prince behind her would bark if she moved a single inch he did not approve of first.

By the end of the day, Prince Saeran had broken the bow twice. Laurel did her best, unprepared, to fix it with what the company had on hand. By the second time, it was gone. She could do nothing for it. Saeran growled and demanded she fix it by tomorrow, and to bring better supplies.

She made the walk home in silence and defeat. She was property of the crown, and with that came her new demon master.

The first month went similar. She would haul supplies back and forth along with the days ‘order’. Her back ached from the hour walk, her body weighted down with supplies, Saeran demanded more and more from her, heaping broken weapons on her to repair. Once he showed at her shop on a ‘day off’ with a month’s payment, and various ores to forge him a weapon.  The money was far less than she expected, or needed, and it weighed on her mind. She debated going to the king about it for nights, instead, repeating hellish day after hellish day, her hands raw from the constant forging and repairs. By the second month she was beside herself with misery. Saeran worked her to death.

One morning her hellish routine was broken by the sight of a familiar face at her door. It was one of the men in Saeran’s company. He greeted her with pastries, from his mother he commented, and asked if she could forge him a new weapon.

“I’ve only got so much to my name, most of my wages go to my family since my father died. Still, you make such wonderful things for Lord Saeran I was wondering…”

Laurel turned his money away. She asked what he needed and took the order. It was for a pair of knuckles, and it was an order she almost enjoyed making. His name was Baraka and he was her first real customer.

Once the weapons were finished, he took them with a childlike glee. It was a relief from the day to day pains of working for Saeran. Baraka took her by the hand and thanked her over and over.

“A nice missy like you is a treat to see all week.” He beamed.

“You’ve been wonderful company.” Laurel admitted.

“I tell the others about ya’! How nice you are and such! Would you like to join us sometimes for a drink? It don’t taste too good, but it’s cold “

“A drink sounds…. Lovely.”

The bar was a ways away from the palace, but inside it brimmed with Saeran’s companymen. They all turned when she entered with Baraka.

“Come come, we can’t turn away such a pretty face!” He beamed. “She’s sweet as a button! We need ourselves someone ‘ike her!”

“I bet she’ll drink one drink and go. Baraka has a crush!” Someone taunted.

“I can drink you under the table anytime!” Laurel spit. She didn’t have Saeran to fear here. “Bartender! Drinks!”

She started to frequent the bar with the company, in turn, they all ordered weapons from her. Some refused to leave her without payment, and generous payments at that! They all felt Saeran’s cruelty, however, they were loyal to a fault. With the money they paid for weapons, she was able to obtain rarer and better ores, which drove them to order more from her. Passing knights would hear her name whispered through the ranks, and more orders poured in.

Saeran still pushed her limits when she worked for him. She started sneaking parts of her orders with her so she could work while waiting for him to bellow ‘woman!’, her call to fix something. He would demand new weapons, mainly lances and spears, from her at her shop. It seemed to infuriate him that when she appeared to his training seasons now his entire company would come to a screeching halt and greet her. On breaks, they surrounded her.

Laurel was thankful for them. She felt a safety with them. The more she drank with them, the better she felt. She could complain about Saeran and it would be returned with similar tastes. She played cards and established herself as near undefeated. She could tell these men had an infatuation with her. Once, she bartered her bindings. She wore them only because she found it was more comfortable to forge that way, and they all picked on her for never allowing herself to have a woman’s body. Between their drunken celebrating and Laurel’s skill with cards, she never lost. She felt like she was teasing them, but they took their losses in stride, all anticipating the day she would lose.

One day, Saeran came to her, sitting in the shade of the arena, barking and moaning about something. She sighed and passed off the nearest weapon she had for him. “Don’t break it so fast! You push them so hard and they admire you!” Laurel said, quickly covering her mouth and dropping her head to the ground. “I’ve spoken out of sickness, forgive me!” Saeran sneered and marched away. Her heart throbbed in her chest. She had to remember he would always remain so far above her, no matter how close to his company she got.

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