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An outstanding collection of new fantasy stories by an extraordinary assemblage of some of the very best writers ever to continue the tradition Tolkien began with The Lord of the Rings. Contributors include Stephen R. Donaldson, Andre Norton, Robert Silverberg, Jane Yolen, Poul and Karen Anderson, Mike Resnick, Charles de Lint, and other acclaimed and popular fantasists.
After the King
Reave the Just
Stephen R. Donaldson
Of all the strange, unrelenting stories which surrounded Reave the Just, none expressed his particular oddness of character better than that concerning his kinsman, Jillet of Forebridge.
Part of the oddness was this—that Reave and Jillet were so unlike each other that the whole idea of their kinship became difficult to credit.
Let it be said without prejudice that Jillet was an amiable fool. No one who was not amiable would have been loved by the cautious people of Forebridge—and Jillet was loved, of that there could be no doubt. Otherwise the townsfolk would never have risked the unpredictable and often spectacular consequences of sending for Reave, merely to inform him that Jillet had disappeared. And no one who was not a fool would have gotten himself into so much trouble with Kelven Divestulata that Kelven felt compelled to dispose of him.
In contrast, neither Reave's enemies—of which his exploits had attracted a considerable number—nor his friends would have described him as amiable.
Doubtless there were villages across the North Counties, towns perhaps, possibly a city or two, where Reave the Just was admired, even adulated: Forebridge was not among them. His decisions were too wild,his actions too unremitting, to meet the chary approval of the farmers and farriers, millers and masons who had known Jillet from birth.
Like a force of nature, he was so far beyond explanation that people had ceased trying to account for him. Instead of wondering why he did what he did—or how he got away with it—the men and women of Forebridge asked themselves how such an implausible individual chanced to be kinsman to Jillet, who was himself only implausible in the degree to which likable character was combined with unreliable judgment.
In fact, no one knew for certain that Reave and Jillet were related. Just recently, Jillet had upon occasion referred to Reave as, "Reave the Just, my kinsman." That was the true extent of the information available in Forebridge. Nothing more was revealed on the subject. In an effort to supply the lack, rumor or gossip suggested that Jillet's mother's sister, a woman of another town altogether, had fallen under the seduction of a carnival clown with delusions of grandeur—or, alternatively, of a knight errant incognito—and had given Reave a bastard birth under some pitiful hedgerow, or perhaps in some nameless nunnery, or conceivably in some lord's private bedchamber. But how the strains of blood which could produce Reave had been so entirely suppressed in Jillet, neither rumor nor gossip knew.
Still it must have been true that Reave and Jillet were related. When Reave was summoned in Jillet's name, he came.
By the time Reave arrived, however, Jillet was beyond knowing whether anyone valued him enough to tell his kinsman what had become of him.
How he first began to make his way along the road to Kelven's enmity was never clearly known. Very well, he was a fool, as all men knew—but how had he become enmeshed in folly on this scale? A few bad bargains with usurers were conceivable. A few visits to the alchemists and mages who fed on the fringes of towns like Forebridge throughout the North Counties were conceivable, in fact hardly to be wondered at, especially when Jillet was at the painful age where he was old enough. to want a woman's love but too young to know how to get it. A few minor and ultimately forgettable feuds born of competition for trade or passion were not only conceivable but normal. Had not men and women been such small and harmless fools always? The folk of Forebridge might talk of such matters endlessly, seeking to persuade themselves that they were wiser. But who among them would have hazarded himself against Kelven Divestulata? Indeed, who among them had not at one time or anothersuspected that Kelven was Satan Himself, thinly disguised by swarthy flesh and knotted muscle and wiry beard?
What in the name of all the saints had possessed Jillet to fling himself into such deep waters?
The truth—which no one in Forebridge ever divined—was that Jillet brought his doom down on his own head by the simple expedient of naming himself Reave's kinsman.
It came about in this fashion. In his early manhood, Jillet fell victim to an amiable, foolish, and quite understandable passion for the widow Huchette. Before his death, Rudolph Huchette had brought his new bride—foreign, succulent, and young—to live in the manor-house now occupied by Kelven Divestulata, thinking that by keeping her far from the taints and sophistication of the cities he could keep her pure. Sadly for him, he did not live long enough after settling in Forebridge to learn that his wife was pure by nature and needed no special protection. And of course the young men of the town knew nothing of her purity. They only knew that she was foreign, young, and bereaved, imponderably delicious. Jillet's passion was only one among many, ardent and doomed. The widow Huchette asked only of the God who watched over innocence that she be left alone.
Needless to say, she was not.
Realistically considered, the only one of her admirers truly capable of disturbing her was dour Kelven. When she spurned his advances, he laid siege to her with all the cunning bitterness of his nature. Over the course of many months, he contrived to install himself in the manor-house which Rudolph had intended as her lifelong home; he cut off her avenues of escape so that her only recourse was to accept the drudgery of being his housekeeper since she steadfastly refused the grim honor of being his wife. And even there he probably had the best of her, since he was no doubt perfectly capable of binding and raping her to satisfy his admiration.
However, Jillet and the other men enamored of the widow did not consider her circumstances—and their own—realistically. As men in passion will, they chose to believe that they themselves were the gravest threat to her detachment. Blind to Kelven's intentions, Jillet and his fellow fools went about in a fog of schemes, dreaming of ways to persuade her to reveal her inevitable preference for themselves.
However, Jillet carried this scheming further than most—but by no means all—of his peers.
Perhaps because of his amiability—or perhaps because he was foolish—he was not ordinarily successful in competitions over women. His face and form were goodly enough, and his brown eyes showed pleasure as openly as any man's. His kindness and cheery temper endeared him throughout Forebridge. But he lacked forthrightness, self-assertion; he lacked the qualities which inspired passion. As with women everywhere, those of Forebridge valued kindness; they were fond of it; but they did not surrender their virtue to it. They preferred heroes—or rogues.
So when Jillet first conceived his passion for the widow Huchette, he was already accustomed to the likelihood that he would not succeed.
Like Kelven Divestulata after the first year or so of the widow's bereavement—although no one in Forebridge knew at the time what Kelven was doing—Jillet prepared a siege. He was not wise enough to ask himself, Why am I not favored in the beds of women? What must I learn in order to make myself desirable? How may I rise above the limitations which nature has placed upon me? Instead, he asked, Who can help me with this woman?
His answer had already occurred to a handful of his brighter, but no less foolish, fellows. In consequence, he was no better than the fifth or sixth man of Forebridge to approach the best-known hedgerow alchemist in the County, seeking a love-potion.
According to some authorities, the chief distinction between alchemists and mages was that the former had more opportunities for charlatanism, at less hazard. Squires and earls consulted mages: plowmen and cotters, alchemists. Certainly, the man whom Jillet approached was a charlatan. He admitted as much freely in the company of folk who were wise enough not to want anything from him. But he would never have revealed the truth about himself to one such as Jillet.
Charlatan or not, however, he was growing weary of this seemingly endless sequence of men demanding love-potions against the widow Huchette. One heartsick swain by the six-month or so may be profitably bilked. Three may be a source of amusement. But five or six in a season was plainly tedious. And worrisome as well: even Forebridge was capable of recognizing charlatanism when five or six love-potions failed consecutively.
"Go home," the alchemist snapped when he had been told what Jillet wanted. "The ingredients for the magick you require are arduous and expensive to obtain. I cannot satisfy you."
But Jillet, who could not have put his hand on five farthings at that moment, replied, "I care nothing for the price. I will pay whatever is needed." The dilemma of cost had never entered his head, but he was certain it could be resolved. The widow Huchette had gold enough, after all.
His confidence presented an entirely different dilemma to the alchemist. It was not in the nature of charlatans to refuse money. And yet too many love-potions had already been dispensed. If Providence did not inspire the widow to favor one of the first four or five men, the alchemist's reputation—and therefore his income—would be endangered. Perhaps even his person would be endangered.
Seeking to protect himself, the alchemist named a sum which should have stunned any son of a cotter.
Jillet was not stunned. Any sum was acceptable, since he had no prospect of ever paying it himself. "Very well," he said comfortably. Then, because he wished to believe in his own cleverness, he added, "But if the potion does not succeed, you will return that sum with interest."
"Oh, assuredly," replied the alchemist, who found that he could not after all refuse money. "All of my magicks succeed, or I will know the reason why. Return tomorrow. Bring your gold then."
He closed his door so that Jillet would not have a chance to change his mind.
Jillet walked home musing to himself. Now that he had time to consider the matter, he found that he had placed himself in an awkward position. True, the love of the widow Huchette promised to be a valuable investment—but it was an investment only, not coin. The alchemist would require coin. In fact, the coin was required in order to obtain the investment. And Jillet had no coin, not on the scale the alchemist had mentioned. The truth was that he had never laid mortal eyes on that scale of coin.
And he had no prospects which might be stretched to that scale, no skills which could earn it, no property which could be sold for it.
Where could a man like Jillet of Forebridge get so much money?
Congratulating himself on his clarity of wit, Jillet went to the usurers.
He had had no dealings with usurers heretofore. But he had heard rumors. Some such "lenders" were said to be more forgiving than others, less stringent in their demands. Well, Jillet had no need of anyone'sforgiveness; but he felt a natural preference for men with amiable reputations. From the honest alchemist, he went in search of an amiable usurer.
Unfortunately, amiable, forgiving usurers had so much kindness in their natures because they could afford it; and they could afford it because their investments were scantly at risk: they demanded collateral before hazarding coin. This baffled Jillet more than a little. The concept of collateral he could understand—just—but he could not understand why the widow Huchette did not constitute collateral. He would use the money to pay the alchemist; the alchemist would give him a love-potion; the potion would win the widow; and from the widow's holdings the usurer would be paid. Where was the fallacy in all this?
The usurer himself had no difficulty detecting the fallacy. More in sorrow than in scorn, he sent Jillet away.
Other "lenders" were similarly inclined. Only their pity varied, not their rejection.
Well, thought Jillet, I will never gain the widow without assistance. I must have the potion.
So he abandoned his search for an amiable usurer and committed himself, like a lost fish, to swim in murkier waters. He went to do business with the kind of moneylender who despised the world because he feared it. This moneylender feared the world because his substance was always at risk; and his substance was always at risk because he required no collateral. All he required was a fatal return on his investment.
"One fifth!" Jillet protested. The interest sounded high, even to him. "No other lender in Forebridge asks so much."
"No other lender in Forebridge," wheezed the individual whose coin was endangered, "risks so much."
True, thought Jillet, giving the man his due. And after all one fifth was only a number. It would not amount to much, if the widow were won swiftly. "Very well," he replied calmly. "As you say, you ask no collateral. And my prospects cannot fail. One fifth in a year is not too much to pay for what I will gain, especially"—he cleared his throat in a dignified fashion, for emphasis—"since I will only need the use of your money for a fortnight at most."
"A year?" The usurer nearly burst a vessel. "You will return me one fifth a week on my risk, or you can beg coin of fools like yourself, for you will get none from me!"
One fifth in a week. Perhaps for a moment Jillet was indeed stunned. Perhaps he went so far as to reconsider the course he had chosen. One fifth in a week, each and every week—And what if the potion failed? Or if it was merely slow? He would never be able to pay that first one fifth, not to mention the second or the third—and certainly not the original sum itself. Why, it was ruinous.
But then it occurred to him that one fifth, or two fifths, or twenty would make no difference to the wealth of the widow Huchette. And he would be happy besides, basking in the knowledge of a passion virtuously satisfied.
On that comfortable assumption, he agreed to the usurer's terms.
The next day, laden with a purse containing more gold than he had ever seen in his life, Jillet of Forebridge returned to the alchemist.
By this time, the alchemist was ready for him. The essence of charlatanism was cunning, and the alchemist was nothing if not an essential charlatan. He had taken the measure of his man—as well as of his own circumstances—and had determined his response. First, of course, he counted out Jillet's gold, testing the coins with spurious powders and honest teeth. He produced a few small fires and explosions, purely for effect: like most of his ilk, he could be impressive when he wished. Then he spoke.
"Young man, you are not the first to approach me for a potion in this matter. You are merely the first"—he hefted the purse—"to place such value on your object. Therefore I must give you a magick able to supersede all others—a magick not only capable of attaining its end, but in fact of doing so against the opposition of a—number—of intervening magicks. This is a rare and dangerous enterprise. For it to succeed, you must not only trust it entirely, but also be bold in support of it.
The alchemist flourished his arms to induce more fires and explosions. When an especially noxious fume had cleared, he held in his palm a leather pouch on a thong.
"I will be plain," said the alchemist, "for it will displease me gravely if magick of such cost and purity fails because you do not do your part. This periapt must be worn about your neck, concealed under your"—he was about to say "linen," but Jillet's skin clearly had no acquaintance with finery of that kind—"jerkin. As needed, it must be invoked in the following secret yet efficacious fashion." He glared at Jillet through hiseyebrows. "You must make reference to 'my kinsman, Reave the Just.' And you must be as unscrupulous as Reave the Just in pursuing your aim. You must falter at nothing."
This was the alchemist's inspiration, his cunning at work. Naturally, the pouch contained only a malodorous dirt. The magick lay in the words, "my kinsman, Reave the Just." Any man willing to make that astonishing claim could be sure of one thing: he would receive opportunities which would otherwise be impossible for him. Doors would be opened, audiences granted, attention paid anywhere in the North Counties, regardless of Jillet's apparent lineage, or his lack of linen. In that sense, the magick the alchemist offered was truer than any of his previous potions. It would open the doors of houses. And conceivably, if the widow Huchette was impressionable enough, it would open the door of her heart; for what innocent and moony young female could resist the enchantment of Reave's reputation?
So, of course, Jillet protested. Precisely because he lacked the wit to understand the alchemist's chicanery, he failed to understand its use. Staring at his benefactor, he objected, "But Reave the Just is no kinsman of mine. My family is known in Forebridge. No one will believe me."
Simpleton, thought the alchemist. Idiot. "They will," he replied with a barely concealed exasperation born of fear that Jillet would demand the return of his gold, "if you are bold enough, confident enough in your actions. The words do not need to be true. They are simply a private incantation, a way of invoking the periapt without betraying what you do. The magick will succeed if you but trust it."
Still Jillet hesitated. Despite the strength which the mere idea of the widow Huchette exercised in his thinking, he had no comprehension of the power of ideas: he could not grasp what he might gain from the idea that he was related to Reave. "How can that be?" he asked the air more than the alchemist. No doubt deliberately, the alchemist had challenged his understanding of the world; and it was the world which should have answered him. Striving to articulate his doubt, he continued, "I want a love potion to change the way she looks at me. What will I gain by saying or acting a thing that is untrue?"
Perhaps this innocence explained some part of the affection Forebridge felt for him; but it did not endear him to the alchemist. "Now hear me," clod, buffoon, half-wit, said the alchemist. "This magick is precious, and if you do not value it I will offer it elsewhere. The objectof your desire does not desire you. You wish her to desire you. Therefore something must be altered. Either she must be made to"—stifle her natural revulsion for a clod like you—"feel a desire she lacks. Or you must be made more desirable to her. I offer both. Properly invoked, the periapt will instill desire in her. And bold action and a reputation as Reave the Just's kinsman will make you desirable.
"What more do you require?"
Jillet was growing fuddled: he was unaccustomed to such abstract discourse. Fortunately for the alchemist's purse, however, what filled Jillet's head was not an idea but an image—the image of a usurer who demanded repayment at the rate of one fifth in a week, and who appeared capable of dining on Jillet's giblets if his demands were thwarted.
Considering his situation from the perspective not of ideas but of images, Jillet found that he could not move in any direction except forward. Behind him lurked exigencies too acute to be confronted: ahead stood the widow Huchette and passion.
"Very well," he said, making his first attempt to emulate Reave's legendary decisiveness. "Give me the pouch."
Gravely, the alchemist set the pouch in Jillet's hand.
In similar fashion, Jillet hung the thong about his neck and concealed the periapt under his jerkin.
Then he returned to Forebridge, armed with magick and cunning—and completely unshielded by any idea of what to do with his new weaponry.
The words trust and bold and unscrupulous rang in his mind. What did they mean? Trust came to him naturally; bold was incomprehensible; unscrupulous conveyed a note of dishonesty. Taken together, they seemed as queer as a hog with a chicken's head—or an amiable usurer. Jillet was altogether at sea.
In that state, he chanced to encounter one of his fellow pretenders to the widow Huchette's bed, a stout, hairy, and frequently besotted fletcher named Slup. Not many days ago, Slup had viewed Jillet as a rival, perhaps even as a foe; he had behaved toward Jillet in a surly way which had baffled Jillet's amiable nature. Since that time, however, Slup had obtained his own alchemick potion, and new confidence restored his good will. Hailing Jillet cheerfully, he asked where his old friend had been hiding for the past day or so.
Trust, Jillet thought. Bold. Unscrupulous. It was natural, was it not,that magick made no sense to ordinary men? If an ordinary man, therefore, wished to benefit from magick, he must require himself to behave in ways which made no sense.
Summoning his resolve, he replied, "Speaking with my kinsman, Reave the Just," and strode past Slup without further explanation.
He did not know it, of course, but he had done enough. With those few words, he had invoked the power, not of the periapt, but of ideas. Slup told what he had heard to others, who repeated it to still others. Within hours, discussion had ranged from one end of the village to the other. The absence of explanation—when had Jillet come upon such a relation? why had he never mentioned it before? how had Reave the Just, of all men, contrived to visit Forebridge without attracting notice?—far from proving a hindrance, actually enhanced the efficacy of Jillet's utterance. When he went to his favorite tavern that evening, hoping to meet with some hearty friend who would stand him a tankard of ale, he found that every man he knew had been transformed—or he himself had.
He entered the tavern in what was, for him, a state of some anxiety. The more he had thought about it, the more he had realized that the gamble he took with Slup was one which he did not comprehend. After all, what experience had he ever had with alchemy? How could he be sure of its effectiveness? He knew about such things only by reputation, by the stories men told concerning alchemists and mages, witches and warlocks. The interval between his encounter with Slup and the evening taught him more self-doubt than did the more practical matter of his debt to the usurer. When he went to the tavern, he went half in fear that he would be greeted by a roar of laughter.
He had invoked the power of an idea, however, and part of its magick was this—that a kinship with Reave the Just was not something into which any man or woman of the world would inquire directly. No one asked of Jillet, "What sort of clap-brained tale are you telling today?" The consequences might prove dire if the tale were true. Many things were said about Reave, and some were dark: enemies filleted like fish; entire houses exterminated; laws and magistrates overthrown. No one credited Jillet's claim of kinship—and no one took the risk of challenging it.
When he entered the tavern, he was not greeted with laughter. Instead, the place became instantly still, as though Reave himself were present. All eyes turned on Jillet, some in suspicion, some in speculation—and no small number in excitement. Then someone shouted awelcome; the room filled with a hubbub which seemed unnaturally loud because of the silence that had preceded it; and Jillet was swept up by the conviviality of his friends and acquaintances.
Ale flowed ungrudgingly, although he had no coin to pay for it. His jests were met with uproarious mirth and hearty backslappings, despite the fact that he was more accustomed to appreciating humor than to venturing it. Men clustered about him to hear his opinions—and he discovered, somewhat to his own surprise, that he had an uncommon number of opinions. The faces around him grew ruddy with ale and firelight and pleasure, and he had never felt so loved.
Warmed by such unprecedented good cheer, he had reason to congratulate himself that he was able to refrain from any mention of alchemists or widows. That much good sense remained to him, at any rate. On the other hand, he was unable to resist a few strategic references to my kinsman, Reave the Just—experiments regarding the potency of ideas.
Because of those references, the serving wench, a buxom and lusty girl who had always liked him and refused to sleep with him, seemed to linger at his elbow when she refreshed his tankard. Her hands made occasion to touch his arm repeatedly; again and again, she found herself jostled by the crowd so that her body pressed against his side; looking up at him, her eyes shone. To his amazement, he discovered that when he put his arm around her shoulders she did not shrug it away. Instead, she used it to move him by slow degrees out from among the men and toward the passageway which led to her quarters.
That evening was the most successful Jillet of Forebridge had ever known. In her bed and her body, he seemed to meet himself as the man he had always wished to be. And by morning, his doubts had disappeared; what passed for common sense with him had been drowned in the murky waters of magick, cunning, and necessity.
Eager despite a throbbing head and thick tongue, Jillet of Forebridge commenced his siege upon the manor-house and fortune and virtue of the widow Huchette.
This he did by the straightforward, if unimaginative, expedient of approaching the gatehouse of the manor and asking to speak with her.
When he did so, however, he encountered an unexpected obstacle. Like most of the townsfolk—except, perhaps, some among his more recent acquaintance, the usurers, who had told him nothing on the subject—he was unaware of Kelven Divestulata's preemptive claim on Rudolph's widow. He had no knowledge that the Divestulata had recentlymade himself master of the widow Huchette's inheritance, possessions, and person. In all probability, Jillet would have found it impossible to imagine that any man could do such a thing.
Jillet of Forebridge had no experience with men like Kelven Divestulata.
For example, Jillet knew nothing which would have led him to guess that Kelven never made any attempt to woo the widow. Surely to woo was the natural action of passion? Perhaps for other men; not in Kelven's case. From the moment when he first conceived his desire to the moment when he gained the position which enabled him to satisfy it, he had spoken to the object of his affections only once.
Standing before her—entirely without gifts or graces—he had said bluntly, "Be my wife."
She had hardly dared glance at him before hiding her face. Barely audible, she had replied, "My husband is dead. I will not marry again." The truth was that she had loved Rudolph as ardently as her innocence and inexperience permitted, and she had no wish whatsoever to replace him.
However, if she had dared look at Kelven, she would have seen his jaws clenched and a vein pulsing inexorably at his temple. "I do not brook refusal," he announced in a voice like an echo of doom. "And I do not ask twice."
Sadly, she was too innocent—or perhaps too ignorant—to fear doom. "Then," she said to him gravely, "you must be the unhappiest of men."
Thus her sole interchange with her only enemy began and ended.
Just as Jillet could not have imagined this conversation, he could never have dreamed the Divestulata's response.
In a sense, it would have been accurate to say that all Forebridge knew more of Reave the Just, who had never set foot in the town, than of Kelven Divestulata, whose ancestral home was less than an hour's ride away. Reave was a fit subject for tales and gossip on any occasion: neither wise men nor fools discussed Kelven.
So few folk—least of all Jillet—knew of the brutal and impassioned marriage of Kelven's parents, or of his father's death in an apoplectic fury, or of the acid bitterness which his mother directed at him when her chief antagonist was lost. Fewer still knew of the circumstances surrounding her harsh, untimely end. And none at all knew that Kelven himself had secretly arranged their deaths for them, not because of their treatment of him—which in fact he understood and to some extent approved—butbecause he saw profit for himself in being rid of them, preferably in some way which would cause them as much distress as possible.
It might have been expected that the servants and retainers of the family would know or guess the truth, and that at least one of them would say something on the subject to someone; but within a few months of his mother's demise Kelven had contrived to dispense with every member of his parents' establishment, and had replaced them with cooks and maids and grooms who knew nothing and said less. In this way, he made himself as safe from gossip as he could ever hope to be.
As a result, the few stories told of him had a certain legendary quality, as if they concerned another Divestulata who had lived long ago. In the main, these tales involved either sums of money or young women that came to his notice and then disappeared. It was known—purportedly for a fact—that a usurer or three had been driven out of Forebridge, cursing Kelven's name. And it was undeniable that the occasional young woman had vanished. Unfortunately, the world was a chancy place, especially for young women, and their fate was never clearly known. The one magistrate of Forebridge who had pursued the matter far enough to question Kelven himself had afterward been so overtaken by chagrin that he had ended his own life.
Unquestionably, Kelven's mode of existence was secure.
However, for reasons known only to himself, he desired a wife. And he was accustomed to obtaining what he desired. When the widow Huchette spurned him, he was not daunted. He simply set about attaining his goal by less direct means.
He began by buying out the investments which had been made to secure the widow's future. These he did not need, so he allowed them to go to ruin. Then he purchased the widow's deceased husband's debts from the usurer who held them. They were few, but they gave him a small claim on the importing merchantry from which Rudolph Huchette's wealth derived. His claim provided him with access to the merchantry's ledgers and contacts and partners, and that knowledge enabled him to apply pressure to the sources of the merchantry's goods. In a relatively short time, as such things are measured, he became the owner of the merchantry itself.
He subsequently found it child's play to reveal—in the presence of a magistrate, of course—that Rudolph Huchette had acquired his personal fortune by despoiling the assets of the merchantry. In due course,that fortune passed to Kelven, and he became, in effect, the widow Huchette's landlord—the master of every tangible or monetary resource on which her marriage had made her dependent.
Naturally, he did not turn her out of her former home. Where could she have gone? Instead, he kept her with him and closed the doors to the manor-house. If she made any protest, it was unheard through the stout walls.
Of all this, Jillet was perfectly innocent as he knocked on the door of the manor's gatehouse and requested an audience with the widow. In consequence, he was taken aback when he was admitted, not to the sitting room of the widow, but to the study of her new lord, the Divestulata.
The study itself was impressive enough to a man like Jillet. He had never before seen so much polished oak and mahogany, so much brass and fine leather. Were it not for his unprecedented successes the previous evening, his aching head, which dulled his responses, and his new warrant for audacity, he might have been cowed by the mere room. However, he recited the litany which the alchemist had given him, and the words trust, bold, and unscrupulous enabled him to bear the air of the place well enough to observe that Kelven himself was more impressive, not because of any greatness of stature or girth, but because of the malign and unanswerable glower with which he regarded everything in front of him. His study was ill-lit, and the red echo of candles in his eyes suggested the flames of Satan and hell.
It was fortunate, therefore, that Kelven did not immediately turn his attention upon Jillet. Instead, he continued to peruse the document gripped in his heavy hands. This may have been a ploy intended to express his disdain for his visitor; but it gave Jillet a few moments in which to press his hand against his hidden pouch of magick, rehearse the counsel of the alchemist, and marshal his resolve.
When Kelven was done with his reading or his ploy, he raised his grim head and demanded without preamble, "What is your business with my wife?"
At any former time, this would have stopped Jillet dead. Wife? The widow had already become Kelven Divestulata's wife? But Jillet was possessed by his magick and his incantation, and they gave him a new extravagance. It was impossible that Kelven had married the widow. Why? Because such a disappointment could not conceivably befall the man who had just earned with honest gold and courage the right to name himself the kinsman of Reave the Just. To consider the widow Huchette Kelven's wife made a mockery of both justice and alchemy.
"Sir," Jillet began. Armed with virtue and magick, he could afford to be polite. "My 'business' is with the widow. If she is truly your wife, she will tell me so herself. Permit me to say frankly, however, that I cannot understand why you would stoop to a false claim of marriage. Without the sanction of the priests, no marriage can be valid—and no sanction is possible until the banns have been published. This you have not done."
There Jillet paused to congratulate himself. The alchemist's magick was indisputably efficacious. It had already made him bolder than he had ever been in his life.
In fact, it made him so bold that he took no notice of the narrowing of Kelven's eyes, the tightening of his hands. Jillet was inured to peril. He smiled blandly as the Divestulata stood to make his reply.
"She is my wife," Kelven announced distinctly, "because I have claimed her. I need no other sanction."
Jillet blinked a time or two. "Do I understand you, sir? Do you call her your wife—and still admit that you have not been wed?"
Kelven studied his visitor and said nothing.
"Then this is a matter for the magistrates." In a sense, Jillet did not hear his own words. Certainly, he did not pause to consider whether they would be pleasing to the Divestulata. His attention was focused, rather, on alchemy and incantations. Enjoying his new boldness, he wondered how far he could carry it before he felt the need to make reference to his kinsman. "The sacrament of marriage exists to protect women from those who are stronger, so that they will not be bound to any man against their will." This fine assertion was not one which he had conceived for himself. It was quoted almost directly from the school lessons of the priests. "If you have not wed the widow Huchette, I can only conclude that she does not choose to wed you. In that case"—Jillet was becoming positively giddy—"you are not her husband, sir. You are her enslaver.
"You would be well advised to let me speak to her."
Having said this, Jillet bowed to Kelven, not out of courtesy, but in secret delight. The Divestulata was his only audience for his performance: like an actor who knew he had done well, he bowed to his audience. All things considered, he may still have been under the influence of the previous evening's ale.
Naturally, Kelven saw the matter in another light. Expressionless except for his habitual glower, he regarded Jillet. After a moment, he said, "You mentioned the magistrates." He did not sound like a man whohad been threatened. He sounded like a man who disavowed responsibility for what came next. Having made his decision, he rang a small bell which stood on his desk. Then he continued, "You will speak to my wife."
The servant who had conducted Jillet to the Divestulata's study appeared. To the servant, Kelven said, "Inform my wife that she will receive us."
The servant bowed and departed.
Jillet had begun to glow inwardly. This was a triumph! Even such a man as Kelven Divestulata could not resist his alchemy—and he had not yet made any reference to Reave the Just. Surely his success with the widow was assured. She would succumb to his magick; Kelven would withdraw under threat of the magistrates; and all would be just as Jillet had dreamed it. Smiling happily at his host, he made no effort to resist as Kelven took him by his arm.
However, allowing Kelven to take hold of him may have been a mistake. The Divestulata's grip was hard—brutally hard—and the crush of his fingers upon Jillet's arm quickly dispelled the smile from Jillet's lips. Jillet was strong himself, having been born to a life of labor, but Kelven's strength turned him pale. Only pride and surprise enabled him to swallow his protest.
Without speaking—and without haste—Kelven steered Jillet to the chamber where he had instructed his wife to receive visitors.
Unlike Kelven's study, the widow's sitting room was brightly lit, not by lamps and candles, but by sunshine. Perhaps simply because she loved the sun, or perhaps because she wished herself to be seen plainly, she immersed herself in light. This made immediately obvious the fact that she remained clad in her widow's weeds, despite her new status as the Divestulata's wife. It also made obvious the drawn pallor of her face, the hollowness of her cheeks, the dark anguish under her eyes. She did nothing to conceal the way she flinched when Kelven's gaze fell upon her.
Kelven still did not release Jillet's arm. "This impudent sot," he announced to the widow as though Jillet were not present, "believes that we are not wed."
The widow may have been hurt and even terrified, but she remained honest. In a small, thin voice, she said, "I am wed to Rudolph Huchette, body and life." Her hands were folded about each other in her lap. She did not lift her gaze from them. "I will never marry again."
Jillet hardly heard her. He had to grind his teeth to prevent himself from groaning at Kelven's grip.
"He believes," Kelven continued, still addressing the widow, "that the magistrates should be informed we are not wed."
That made the widow raise her head. Sunlight illuminated the spark of hope which flared in her eyes—flared, and then died when she saw Jillet clearly.
In defeat, she lowered her gaze again.
Kelven was not satisfied. "What is your answer?" he demanded.
The widow's tone made it plain that she had not yet had time to become accustomed to defeat. "I hope he will inform the magistrates," she said, "but I believe he was a fool to let you know of his intentions."
"Madam—my lady." Jillet spoke in an involuntary gasp. His triumph was gone—even his hope was gone. His arm was being crushed. "Make him let go of me."
"Paugh!" With a flick of his hand, Kelven flung Jillet to the floor. "It is offensive to be threatened by a clod like you." Then he turned to the widow. "What do you believe I should do when I am threatened in this fashion for your sake?"
Despite her own distress, Rudolph's widow was still able to pity fools. Her voice became smaller, thinner, but it remained clear. "Let him go. Let him tell as many magistrates as he wishes. Who will believe him? Who will accept the word of a laborer when it is contradicted by Kelven Divestulata? Perhaps he is too shamed to tell anyone."
"And what if he is not shamed?" Kelven retorted instantly. "What if a magistrate hears him—and believes him enough to question you? What would you say?"
The widow did not raise her eyes. She had no need to gaze upon her husband again. "I would say that I am the prisoner of your malice and the plaything of your lusts, and I would thank God for His mercy if He would allow me to die."
"That is why I will not let him go." Kelven sounded oddly satisfied, as though an obscure desire had been vindicated. "Perhaps instead I will put his life in your power. I wish to see you rut with him. If you do it for my amusement, I will let him live."
Jillet did not hear what answer the widow would have made to this suggestion. Perhaps he did not properly hear anything which the Divestulata and his wife said to each other. His shame was intense, and the pain in his arm caused his head to throb as though it might burst; and,in truth, he was too busy cursing himself for not invoking the power of alchemy sooner to give much heed to what was said over him. He was a fool, and he knew it—a fool for thinking, however briefly, that he might accomplish for himself victories which only magick could achieve.
Therefore he struggled to his feet between Kelven and the widow. Hugging his arm to his side, he panted, "This is intolerable. My kinsman, Reave the Just, will be outraged when he learns of it."
Despite their many differences, Kelven Divestulata and the widow Huchette were identical in their reactions: they both became completely still, as though they had been turned to stone by the magick of the name, Reave the Just.
"My kinsman is not forgiving," Jillet continued, driven by shame and pain and his new awareness of the power of ideas. "All the world knows it. He has no patience for injustice or tyranny, or for the abuse of the helpless, and when he is outraged he lets nothing stand in his way." Perhaps because he was a fool, he was able to speak with perfect conviction. Any man who was not a fool would have known that he had already said too much. "You will be wiser to come with me to the magistrate yourself and confess the wrong you have done this woman. He will be kinder to you than Reave the Just."
Still united by the influence of that name, the widow and Kelven said together, "You fool. You have doomed yourself."
But she said, "Now he will surely kill you."
His words were, "Now I will surely let you live."
Hearing Kelven, Jillet was momentarily confused, misled by the impression that he had succeeded—that he had saved the widow and himself, that he had defeated the Divestulata. Then Kelven struck him down, and the misconception was lost.
When he awakened—more head-sore, bone-weak, and thirst-tormented than he had ever been in his life—he was in a chamber from which no one except Kelven himself and his own workmen had ever emerged. He had a room just like it in his ancestral home and knew its value. Shortly, therefore, after his acquisition of the manor-house he had had this chamber dug into the rock beneath the foundations of the building. All Forebridge was quite ignorant of its existence. The excavated dirt and rock had been concealed by being used in other construction about the manor-house—primarily in making the kennels where Kelven housed the mastiffs he bred for hunting and similar duties. And the workmen had been sent to serve the Divestulata in other enterprises inother Counties, far from Forebridge. So when Jillet awakened he was not simply in a room where no one would ever hear him scream. He was in a room where no one would ever look for him.
In any case, however, he felt too sick and piteous to scream. Kelven's blow had nearly cracked his skull, and the fetters on his wrists held his arms at an angle which nearly dislocated his shoulders. He was not surprised by the presence of light—by the single candle stuck in its tallow on a bench a few feet away. His general amazement was already too great, and his particular discomfort too acute, to allow him the luxury of surprise about the presence or absence of light.
On the bench beside the candle, hulking in the gloom like the condensed darkness of a demon, sat Kelven Divestulata.
"Ah," breathed Kelven softly, "your eyes open. You raise your head. The pain begins. Tell me about your kinship with Reave the Just."
Well, Jillet was a fool. Alchemy had failed him, and the power of ideas was a small thing compared to the power of Kelven's fist. To speak frankly, he had lived all his life at the mercy of events—or at the dictates of the decisions or needs or even whims of others. He was not a fit opponent for a man like the Divestulata.
Nevertheless he was loved in Forebridge for a reason. That reason went by the name of amiability, but it might equally well have been called kindness or open-heartedness. He did not answer Kelven's question. Instead, through his own hurt, he replied, "This is wrong. She does not deserve it."
"'She'? Do you refer to my wife?" Kelven was mildly surprised. "We are not speaking of her. We are speaking of your kinsman, Reave the Just."
"She is weak and you are strong," Jillet persisted. "It is wrong to victimize her simply because she is unable to oppose you. You damn yourself by doing so. But I think you do not care about damnation." This was an unusual insight for him. "Even so, you should care that you demean yourself by using your strength against a woman who cannot oppose you."
As though Jillet had not spoken, Kelven continued, "He has a reputation for meddling in other men's affairs. In fact, his reputation for meddling is extensive. I find that I would like to put a stop to it. No doubt his reputation is only gossip, after all—but such gossip offends me. I will put a stop to it."
"It is no wonder that she refuses to wed you." Jillet's voice began tocrack, and he required an effort to restrain tears. "The wonder is that she has not killed herself rather than suffer your touch."
"Simpleton!" spat Kelven, momentarily vexed. "She does not kill herself because I do not permit it:" He promptly regained his composure, however. "Yet you have said one thing which is not foolish. A strong man who exerts his strength only upon the weak eventually becomes weak himself. I have decided on a more useful exercise. I will rid the world of this 'Reave the Just.'
"Tell me how you propose to involve your kinsman in my affairs. Perhaps I will allow you to summon him"—the Divestulata laughed harshly—"and then both you and my wife will be rescued."
There Jillet collapsed. He was weeping with helplessness and folly, and he had no understanding of the fact that Kelven intended to keep him alive when the widow Huchette had predicted that Kelven would kill him. Through a battle of tears and self-recrimination and appeals for pity, he told the Divestulata the truth.
"I am no kinsman of Reave the Just. That is impossible. I claimed kinship with him because an alchemist told me to do so. All I desired was a love-potion to win the widow's heart, but he persuaded me otherwise."
At that time, Jillet was incapable of grasping that he remained alive only because Kelven did not believe him.
Because Kelven did not believe him, their conversation became increasingly arduous. Kelven demanded; Jillet denied. Kelven insisted; Jillet protested. Kelven struck; Jillet wailed. Ultimately Jillet lost consciousness, and Kelven went away.
The candle was left burning.
It was replaced by another, and by yet another, and by still others, so that Jillet was not left entirely in darkness; but he never saw the old ones gutter and die, or the new ones set. For some reason, he was always unconscious when that happened. The old stumps were not removed from the bench; he was left with some measure for his imprisonment. However, since he did not know how long the candles burned he could only conclude from the growing row of stumps that his imprisonment was long. He was fed at intervals which he could not predict. At times Kelven fed him. At times the widow fed him. At times she removed her garments and fondled his cold flesh with tears streaming from her eyes. At times he fouled himself. But only the candles provided a measure for his existence, and he could not interpret them.
How are you related to Reave?
How do you contact him?
Why does he meddle in other men's affairs?
What is the source of his power?
What is he?
Poor Jillet knew no answer to any of these questions.
His ignorance was the source of his torment, and the most immediate threat to his life; but it may also have saved him. It kept Kelven's attention focused upon him—and upon the perverse pleasures which he and the widow provided. In effect, it blinded Kelven to the power of ideas: Jillet's ignorance of anything remotely useful concerning Reave the Just preserved Kelven's ignorance of the fact that the townspeople of Forebridge, in their cautious and undemonstrative way, had summoned Reave in Jillet's name.
Quite honestly, most of them could not have said that they knew Reave had been summoned—or that they knew how he had been summoned. He was not a magistrate to whom public appeal could be made; not an official of the County to whom a letter could be written; not a lord of the realm from whom justice might be demanded. As far as anyone in Forebridge could have said for certain, he was not a man at all: he was only a story from places far away, a persistent legend blowing on its own queer winds across the North Counties. Can the wind be summoned? No? Then can Reave the Just?
In truth, Reave was summoned by the simple, almost nameless expedient of telling the tale. To every man or woman, herder or minstrel, merchant or soldier, mendicant or charlatan who passed through Forebridge, someone sooner or later mentioned that "Reave the Just has a kinsman here who has recently disappeared." Those folk followed their own roads away from Forebridge, and when they met with the occasion to do so they told the tale themselves; and so the tale spread.
In the end, such a summons can never be denied. Inevitably, Reave the Just heard it and came to Forebridge.
Like a breeze or a story, he appeared to come without having come from anywhere: one day, not so long after Jillet's disappearance, he was simply there, in Forebridge. Like a breeze or a story, he was not secretive about his coming: he did not lurk into town, or send in spies, or travel incognito. Still it was true that he came entirely unheralded, unannounced—and yet most folk who saw him knew immediately who he was, just as they knew immediately why he was there.
From a certain distance, of course, he was unrecognizable: his clothing was only a plain brown traveler's shirt over leather pants which had seen considerable wear and thick, dusty boots; his equally dusty hair was cropped to a convenient length; his strides were direct and self-assured, but no more so than those of other men who knew where they were going and why. In fact, the single detail which distinguished him from any number of farmers and cotters and wagoneers was that he wore no hat against the sun. Only when he drew closer did his strangeness make itself felt.
The dust showed that he had walked a long way, but he betrayed no fatigue, no hunger or thirst. His clothing had been exposed to the elements a great deal, but he carried no pack or satchel for food or spare garments or other necessities. Under the prolonged pressure of the sun, he might have developed a squint or a way of lowering his head; but his chin was up, and his eyes were open and vivid, like pieces of the deep sky. And he had no knife at his belt, no staff in his hand, no quiver over his shoulder—nothing with which to defend himself against hedgerow robbers or hungry beasts or outraged opponents. His only weapon, as far as any of the townspeople could see, was that he simply appeared clearer than any of his surroundings, better focused, as though he improved the vision of those who looked at him. Those who did look at him found it almost impossible to look away.
The people who first saw him closely enough to identify him were not surprised when he began asking questions about "his kinsman, Jillet of Forebridge." They were only surprised that his voice was so kind and quiet—considering his reputation for harsh decisions and extreme actions—and that he acknowledged the implausible relation which Jillet had claimed for the first time scarcely a week ago.
Unfortunately, none of the people questioned by Reave the Just had any idea what had become of Jillet.
It was characteristic of the folk of Forebridge that they avoided ostentation and public display. Reave had the effect, however, of causing them to forget their normal chariness. In consequence, he did not need to go searching for people to question: they came to him. Standing in the open road which served Forebridge as both public square and auctioneer's market, he asked his questions once, perhaps twice, then waited quietly while the slowly growing crowd around him attracted more people and his questions were repeated for him to the latecomers until athick fellow with the strength of timber and a mind to match asked, "What's he look like, then, this Jillet?"
The descriptions provided around him were confusing at first; but under Reave's influence they gradually became clear enough to be serviceable.
"Hmm," rumbled the fellow. "Man like that visited my master 'tother day."
People who knew the fellow quickly revealed that he served as a guard for one of the less hated usurers in Forebridge. They also indicated where this usurer might be found.
Reave the Just nodded once, gravely.
Smiling as though they were sure of his gratitude, and knew they had earned it, the people crowding around him began to disperse. Reave walked away among them. In a short time, he had gained admittance to the usurer's place of business, and was speaking to the usurer himself.
The usurer supplied Reave with the name of the widow Huchette. After all, Jillet had offered her wealth as collateral in his attempt to obtain gold. Despite his acknowledged relation to Jillet, however, Reave was not satisfied by the information which the usurer was able to give him. Their conversation sent him searching for alchemists until he located the one he needed.
The alchemist who had conceived Jillet's stratagem against the widow did not find Reave's clarity of appearance and quietness of manner reassuring: quite the reverse. In fact, he was barely able to restrain himself from hurling smoke in Reave's face and attempting to escape through the window. In his wildest frights and fancies, he had never considered that Reave the Just himself might task him for the advice he had sold to Jillet. Nevertheless, something in the open, vivid gaze which Reave fixed upon him convinced him that he could not hope for escape. Smoke would not blind Reave; and when the alchemist dove out the window, Reave would be there ahead of him, waiting.
Mumbling like a shamed child—and inwardly cursing Reave for having this effect upon him—the alchemist revealed the nature of his transaction with Jillet. Then, in a spasm of defensive self-abnegation, attempting to deflect Reave's notorious extravagance, he produced the gold which he had received from Jillet and offered it to Jillet's "kinsman."
Reave considered the offer briefly before accepting it. His tone wasquiet, but perfectly distinct, as he said, "Jillet must be held accountable for his folly. However, you do not deserve to profit from it." As soon as he left the alchemist's dwelling, he flung the coins so far across the hedgerows that the alchemist had no hope of ever recovering them.
In the secrecy of his heart, the alchemist wailed as though he had been bereft. But he permitted himself no sound, either of grief or of protest, until Reave the Just was safely out of hearing.
Alone, unannounced, and without any discernible weapons or defenses, Reave made his way to the manor-house of the deceased Rudolph Huchette.
Part of his power, of course, was that he never revealed to anyone precisely how the strange deeds for which he was known were accomplished. As far as the world, or the stories about him which filled the world, were concerned, he simply did what he did. So neither Jillet nor the widow—and certainly not Kelven Divestulata—were ever able to explain the events which took place within the manor-house after Reave's arrival. Beginning with that arrival itself, they all saw the events as entirely mysterious.
The first mystery was that the mastiffs patrolling within the walls of the manor-house did not bark. The Divestulata's servants were not alerted; no one demanded admittance at the gatehouse, or at any of the doors of the manor. Furthermore, the room in which Jillet was held prisoner was guarded, not merely by dogs and men and bolted doors, but by ignorance: no one in Forebridge knew that the chamber existed. Nevertheless, after Jillet's imprisonment had been measured by a dozen or perhaps fifteen thick candles, and his understanding of his circumstances had passed beyond ordinary fuddlement and pain into an awareness of doom so complete that it seemed actively desirable, he prised open his eyelids enough to see a man standing before him in the gloom, a man who was not Kelven Divestulata—a man, indeed, who was not anyone Jillet recognized.
Smiling gravely, this man lifted water to Jillet's lips. And when Jillet had drunk what he could, the man put a morsel or two of honeycomb in his mouth.
After that, the man waited for Jillet to speak.
Water and honey gave Jillet a bit of strength which he had forgotten existed. Trying harder to focus his gaze upon the strange figure smiling soberly before him, he asked, "Have you come to kill me? I thought hedid such things himself. And liked them." In Jillet's mind, "he" was always the Divestulata.
The man shook his head. "I am Reave." His voice was firm despite its quietness. "I am here to learn why you have claimed kinship with me."
Under other conditions, Jillet would have found it frightening to be confronted by Reave the Just. As an amiable man himself, he trusted the amiability of others, and so he would not have broadly assumed that Reave meant him ill. Nevertheless, he was vulnerable on the point which Reave mentioned. For several reasons, Jillet was not a deceptive man: one of them was that he did not like to be found out-and he was always so easily found out. Being discovered in a dishonest act disturbed and shamed him.
At present, however, thoughts of shame and distress were too trivial to be considered. In any case, Kelven had long since bereft him of any instinct for self-concealment he may have possessed. To Reave's inquiry, he replied as well as his sense of doom allowed, "I wanted the widow."
"For her wealth?" Reave asked.
Jillet shook his head. "Wealth seems pleasant, but I do not understand it." Certainly, wealth did not appear to have given either the widow or Kelven any particular satisfaction. "I wanted her."
This question was harder. Jillet might have mentioned her beauty, her youth, her foreignness; he might have mentioned her tragedy. But Reave's clear gaze made those answers inadequate. Finally, Jillet replied, "It would mean something. To be loved by her."
Reave nodded. "You wanted to be loved by a woman whose love was valuable." Then he asked, "Why did you think her love could be gained by alchemy? Love worth having does not deserve to be tricked. And she would never truly love you if you obtained her love falsely."
Jillet considered this question easy. Many candles ago-almost from the beginning—the pain in his arms had given him the feeling that his chest had been torn open, exposing everything. He said, "She would not love me. She would not notice me. I do not know the trick of getting women to give me their love."
"The 'trick,'" Reave mused. "That is inadequate, Jillet. You must be honest with me."
Honey or desperation gave Jillet a moment of strength. "I have beenhonest since he put me in this place. I think it must be hell, and I am already dead. How else is it possible for you to be here? You are no kinsman of mine, Reave the Just. Some men are like the widow. Their love is worth having. I do not understand it, but I can see that women notice such men. They give themselves to such men.
"I am not among them. I have nothing to offer that any woman would want. I must gain love by alchemy. If magick does not win it for me, I will never know love at all."
Reave raised fresh water to Jillet's lips. He set new morsels of honeycomb in Jillet's mouth.
Then he turned away.
From the door of the chamber, he said, "In one thing, you are wrong, Jillet of Forebridge. You and I are kinsmen. All men are of common blood, and I am bound to any man who claims me willingly." As he left, he added, "You are imprisoned here by your own folly. You must rescue yourself."
Behind him, the door closed, and he was gone.
The door was stout, and the chamber had been dug deep: no one heard Jillet's wail of abandonment.
Certainly the widow did not hear it. In truth, she was not inclined to listen for such things. They gave her nightmares—and her life was already nightmare enough. When Reave found her, she was in her bedchamber, huddled upon the bed, sobbing uselessly. About her shoulders she wore the tatters of her night-dress, and her lips and breasts were red with the pressure of Kelven's admiration.
"Madam," said Reave courteously. He appeared to regard her nakedness in the same way he had regarded Jillet's torment. "You are the widow Huchette?"
She stared at him, too numb with horror to speak. In strict honesty, however, her horror had nothing to do with him. It was a natural consequence of the Divestulata's love-making. Now that he was done with her, he had perhaps sent one of his grooms or servingmen or business associates to enjoy her similarly.
"You have nothing to fear from me," her visitor informed her in a kindly tone. "I am Reave. Men call me 'Reave the Just.'"
The widow was young, foreign, and ignorant of the world; but none of those hindrances had sufficed to block her from hearing the stories which surrounded him. He was the chief legend of the North Counties:he had been discussed in her presence ever since Rudolph had brought her to Forebridge. On that basis, she had understood the danger of Jillet's claim when she had first met him; and on that same basis she now uttered a small gasp of surprise. Then she became instantly wild with hope. Before he could speak again, she began to sob, "Oh, sir, bless Heaven that you have come! You must help me, you must! My life is anguish, and I can bear no more! He rapes me and rapes me, he forces me to do the most vile things at his whim, we are not wed, do not believe him if he says that we are wed, my husband is dead, and I desire no other, oh, sir! You must help me!"
"I will consider that, madam," Reave responded as though he were unmoved. "You must consider, however, that there are many kinds of help. Why have you not helped yourself?"
Opening her mouth to pour out a torrent of protest, the widow stopped suddenly, and a deathly pallor blanched her face. "Help myself ?" she whispered. "Help myself?"
Reave fixed his clear gaze upon her and waited.
"Are you mad?" she asked, still whispering.
"Perhaps." He shrugged. "But I have not been raped by Kelven Divestulata. I do not beg succor. Why have you not helped yourself ?"
"Because I am a woman!" she protested, not in scorn, but piteously. "I am helpless. I have no strength of arm, no skill with weapons, no knowledge of the world, no friends. He has made himself master of everything which might once have aided me. It would be a simpler matter for me to tear apart these walls than to defend myself against him."
Again, Reave shrugged. "Still he is rapist—and likely a murderer. And I see that you are not bruised. Madam, why do you not resist him? Why do you not cut his throat while he sleeps? Why do you not cut your own, if his touch is so loathsome to you?"
The look of horror which she now turned on him was unquestionably personal, caused by his questions, but he was not deterred by it. Instead, he took a step closer to her.
"I offend you, madam. But I am Reave the Just, and I do not regard who is offended. I will search you further." His eyes replied to her horror with a flame which she had not seen in them before, a burning of clear rage. "Why have you done nothing to help Jillet? He came to you in innocence and ignorance as great as your own. His torment is as terribleas yours. Yet you crouch there on your soft bed and beg for rescue from an oppressor you do not oppose, and you care nothing what becomes of him."
The widow may have feared that he would step closer to her still and strike her, but he did not. Instead, he turned away.
At the door, he paused to remark, "As I have said, there are many kinds of help. Which do you merit, madam?"
He departed her bedchamber as silently as he had entered it, leaving her alone.
The time now was near the end of the day, and still neither Kelven himself nor his dogs nor his servingmen knew that Reave the Just moved freely through the manor-house. They had no reason to know, for he approached no one, addressed no one, was seen by no one. Instead, he waited until night came and grew deep over Forebridge, until grooms and breeders, cooks and scullions, servingmen and secretaries had retired to their quarters, until only the hungry mastiffs were awake within the walls because the guards who should have tended them had lost interest in their duties. He waited until Kelven, alone in his study, had finished readying his plans to ruin an ally who aided him loyally during a recent trading war, and had poured himself a glass of fine brandy so that he would have something to drink while he amused himself with Jillet. Only then did Reave approach the Divestulata's desk in order to study him through the dim light of the lamps.
Kelven was not easily taken aback, but Reave's unexpected appearance came as a shock. "Satan's balls!" he growled shamelessly. "Who in hell are you?"
His visitor replied with a smile which was not at all kindly. "I am grieved," he admitted, "that you did not believe I would come. I am not as well known as I had thought—or men such as you do not sufficiently credit my reputation. I am Reave the Just."
If Reave anticipated shock, distress, or alarm in response to this announcement, he was disappointed. Kelven took a moment to consider the situation, as though to assure himself that he had heard rightly. Then he leaned back in his chair and laughed like one of his mastiffs.
"So he spoke the truth. What an amazing thing. But you are slow, Reave the Just. That purported kinsman of yours has been dead for days. I doubt that you will ever find his grave."
"In point of fact," Reave replied in an undisturbed voice, "we are not kinsmen. I came to Forebridge to discover why a man of no relationwould claim me as he did. Is he truly dead? Then I will not learn the truth from him. That"—in the lamplight, Reave's eyes glittered like chips of mica—"will displease me greatly, Kelven Divestulata."
Before Kelven could respond, Reave asked, "How did he die?"
"How?" Kelven mulled the question. "As most men do. He came to the end of himself." The muscles of his jaw bunched. "You will encounter the same fate yourself—eventually. Indeed, I find it difficult to imagine why you have not done so already. Your precious reputation"-he pursed his lips—"is old enough for death."
Reave ignored this remark. "You are disingenuous, Kelven. My question was less philosophical. How did Jillet die? Did you kill him?"
"I? Never!" Kelven's protest was sincere. "I believe he brought it upon himself. He is a fool, and he died of a broken heart."
"Pining, no doubt," Reave offered by way of explanation, "for the widow Huchette—"
A flicker of uncertainty crossed Kelven's gaze. "No doubt."
"—whom you pretend to have married, but who is in fact your prisoner and your victim in her own house."
"She is my wife!" Kelven snapped before he could stop himself. "I have claimed her. I do not need public approval, or the petty sanctions of the law, for my desires. I have claimed her, and she is mine."
The lines of Reave's mouth and the tightening about his eyes suggested a variety of retorts which he did not utter. Instead, he replied mildly, "I observe that you find no fault with my assertion that this house is hers."
Kelven spat. "Paugh! Do they call you 'Reave the Just' because you are honest, or because you are 'just a fool'? This house was awarded to me publicly, by a magistrate, in compensation for harm done to my interests by that dead thief, Rudolph Huchette."
The Divestulata's intentions against Reave, which he had announced to Jillet, grew clearer with every passing moment. For some years now, upon occasions during the darkest hours of the night, and in the deepest privacy of his heart, he had considered himself to be the natural antagonist of men like Reave—self-righteous meddlers whose notions of virtue cost themselves nothing and their foes everything. In part, this perception of himself arose from his own native and organic malice: in part, it sprang from his awareness that most of his victories over lesser men—men such as Jillet—were too easy, that for his own well-being he required greater challenges.
Nevertheless, this conversation with his natural antagonist was not what he would have wished it to be. His plans did not include any defense of himself: he meant to attack. Seeking to capture the initiative, he countered, "However, my ownership of this house—like my ownership of Rudolph's relict—is not your concern. If you have any legitimate concern here, it involves Jillet, not me. By what honest right do you sneak into my house and my study at this hour of the night in order to insult me with questions and innuendos?"
Reave permitted himself a rather ominous smile. As though he were ignoring what Kelven had just asked, he replied, "My epithet, 'the Just,' derives from coinage. It concerns both the measure and the refinement of gold. When a coin contains the exact weight and purity of gold which it should contain, it is said to be 'just.' You may not be aware, Kelven Divestulata, that the honesty of any man is revealed by the coin with which he pays his debts."
"Debts?" Involuntarily, Kelven sprang to his feet. He could not contain his anger sitting. "Are you here to annoy me with debts?"
"Did you not kill Jillet?" Reave countered.
"I did not! I have done many things to many men, but I did not kill that insufferable clod. You," he shouted so that Reave would not stop him, "have insulted me enough. Now you will tell me why you are here—how you justify your actions—or I will hurl you to the ground outside my window and let my dogs feed on you, and no one will dare criticize me for doing so to an intruder in my study in the dead of night!"
"You do not need to attack me with threats." Reave's self-assurance was maddening. "Honest men have nothing to fear from me, and you are threat enough just as you stand. I will tell you why I am here.
"I am Reave the Just. I have come as I have always come, for blood—the blood of kinship and retribution. Blood is the coin in which I pay my debts, and it is the coin in which I exact restitution.
"I have come for your blood, Kelven Divestulata."
The certainty of Reave's manner inspired in Kelven an emotion he did not recognize—and because he did not recognize it, it made him wild. "For what?" he raged at his visitor. "What have I done? Why do you want my blood? I tell you, I did not kill your damnable Jillet!"
"Can you prove that?"
Shaken by the fear he did not recognize, Kelven shouted, "He is still alive!"
Reave's eyes no longer reflected the lamplight. They were dark now, as deep as wells. Quietly, he asked, "What have you done to him?"
Kelven was confused. One part of him felt that he had gained a victory. Another knew that he was being defeated. "He amuses me," the Divestulata answered harshly. "I have made him a toy. As long as he continues to amuse me, I will continue to play with him."
When he heard those words, Reave stepped back from the desk. In a voice as implacable as a sentence of death, he said, "You have confessed to the unlawful imprisonment and torture of an innocent man. I will go now and summon a magistrate. You will repeat your confession to him. Perhaps that act of honesty will inspire you to confess as well the crimes you have committed upon the person of the widow Huchette.
"Do not attempt to escape, Kelven Divestulata. I will hunt you from the vault of Heaven to the pit of Hell, if I must. You have spent blood, and you will pay for it with blood."
For a moment longer, Reave the Just searched Kelven with his bottomless gaze. Then he turned and strode toward the door.
An inarticulate howl rose in Kelven's throat. He snatched up the first heavy object he could find, a brass paper-weight thick enough to crush a man's skull, and hurled it at Reave.
It struck Reave at the base of his neck so hard that he stumbled to his knees.
At once, Kelven flung himself past his desk and attacked his visitor. Catching one fist in Reave's hair, he jerked Reave upright: with the other, he gave Reave a blow which might have killed any lesser man.
Blood burst from Reave's mouth. He staggered away on legs that appeared spongy, too weak to hold him. His arms dangled at his sides as though he had no muscle or sinew with which to defend himself.
Transported by triumph and rage and stark terror, the Divestulata pursued his attack.
Blow after blow he rained upon Reave's head: blow after blow he drove into Reave's body. Pinned against one of the great bookcases which Rudolph Huchette had lovingly provided for the study, Reave flopped and lurched whenever he was struck, but he could not escape. He did not fight back; he made no effort to ward Kelven away. In moments, his face became a bleeding mass; his ribs cracked; his heart must surely have faltered.
But he did not fall.
The utter darkness in his eyes never wavered. It held Kelven and compromised nothing.
In the end, Reave's undamaged and undaunted gaze seemed to drive Kelven past rage into madness. Immersed in ecstasy or delirium, he did not hear the door of the study slam open.
His victims were beyond stealth. In truth, neither the widow Huchette nor Jillet could have opened the door quietly. They lacked the strength. Every measure of will and force she possessed, she used to support him, to bear him forward when he clearly could not move or stand on his own. And every bit of resolve and desire that remained to him, he used to hold aloft the decorative halberd which was the only weapon he and the widow had been able to find in the halls of the manor-house.
As weak as cripples, nearly dying from the strain of their exertions, they crossed the study behind Kelven's back.
They were slow, desperate, and unsteady in their approach. Nevertheless, Reave stood patiently and let his antagonist hammer him until Jillet brought the halberd down upon Kelven Divestulata's skull and killed him.
Then through the blood which drenched his face from a dozen wounds, Reave the Just smiled.
Unceremoniously, both Jillet and the widow collapsed.
Reave stooped and pulled a handkerchief from Kelven's sleeve. Dabbing at his face, he went to the desk, where he found Kelven's glass and the decanter of brandy. When he had discovered another glass, he filled it as well; then he carried the glasses to the man and woman who had rescued him. First one and then the other, he raised their heads and helped them to drink until they were able to sit and clutch the glasses and swallow without his support.
After that, he located a bell-pull and rang for the Divestulata's steward.
When the man arrived—flustered by the late summons, and astonished by the scene in the study—Reave announced, "I am Reave the Just. Before his death, Kelven Divestulata confessed his crimes to me, in particular that he obtained possession of this house by false means, that he exercised his lusts in violent and unlawful fashion upon the person of the widow Huchette, and that he imprisoned and tortured my kinsman, Jillet of Forebridge, without cause. I will state before the magistrates that I heard the Divestulata's confession, and that he was slain in my aid, while he was attempting to kill me. From this moment, the widow is once again mistress of her house, with all its possessions and retainers. If you and all those under you do not serve her honorably, you will answer both to the magistrates and to me.
"Do you understand me?"
The steward understood. Kelven's servants were silent and crafty men, and perhaps some of them were despicable; but none were stupid. When Reave left the widow and Jillet there in the study, they were safe.
They never saw him again.
As he had promised, he spoke to the magistrates. When they arrived at the manor-house shortly after dawn, supported by a platoon of County pikemen and any number of writs, they confirmed that they had received Reave's testimony. Their subsequent researches into Kelven's ledgers enabled them to validate much of what Reave had said; Jillet and the widow confirmed the rest. But Reave himself did not appear again in Forebridge. Like the story that brought him, he was gone. A new story took his place.
This also was entirely characteristic.
Once the researches and hearings of the magistrates were done, the widow Huchette passed out of Jillet's life as well. She had released him from his bonds and the chamber where he was imprisoned; she had half carried him to the one clear deed he had ever performed. But after Rudolph Huchette she had never wanted another husband; and after Kelven Divestulata she never wanted another man. She did one thing to express her gratitude toward Jillet: she repaid his debt to the usurer. Then she closed her doors to him, just as she did to all other men with love-potions and aspirations for her. In time, the manor-house became a kind of nunnery, where lost or damaged women could go for succor, and no one else was welcome.
Jillet himself, who probably believed that he would love the widow Huchette to the end of his days, found he did not miss her. Nor, in all candor, did he miss Reave. After all, he had nothing in common with them: she was too wealthy; he was too stringent. No, Jillet was quite content without such things. And he had gained something which he prized more highly—the story; the idea.
The story that he had struck the blow which brought down Kelven Divestulata.
The idea that he was kinsman to Reave the Just.
Copyright © 1992 by Martin H. Greenberg
|Reave the Just||1|
|A Long Night's Vigil at the Temple||44|
|The Dragon of Tollin||69|
|In the Season of the Dressing of the Wells||106|
|The Fellowship of the Dragon||151|
|The Decoy Duck||172|
|Nine Threads of Gold||198|
|The Conjure Man||224|
|The Halfling House||242|
|Silver or Gold||271|
|Up the Side of the Air||307|
|Revolt of the Sugar Plum Fairies||337|
|Down the River Road||359|
|Death and the Lady||404|
|About the Authors||437|