It is well known that Lord Mavirug de Angriss is the cruelest, most foul abomination of a ruler ever to massacre hundreds of his own people. Being of a righteous disposition, I gathered a host and led a march on his stronghold.
The fortress of Angriss is a fortnight’s march away, across plains that are only a few blades of brownish grass away from being a desert. It was an arduous journey, but my men were hardy. Still, you can imagine my surprise when, perhaps three days from our destination, a solitary figure on a white horse rode up from behind us. Who would be traveling alone through this desolate wasteland? As the horse drew closer, I was astonished to see that its rider was a beautiful woman. When she reached us, she dismounted and greeted me warmly.
She said her name was Amalethia. That was all she said of herself. When I politely pressed her for her destination, she, also politely, evaded the question. She listened intently when I told her of my mission. “I have heard that this Lord Mavirug is quite a tyrant,” she commented.
“He’s pure evil,” I agreed.
She shook her head. “No one’s purely evil.”
I smiled at her innocence. “There are bad people in this world, miss. It’s sweet that you like to think the best of them, but facts are facts.”
Amalethia regarded me steadily. “I’d hardly say I think the best of him, my lord. I’ve known people who’ve been in his dungeons. All I’m saying is that there’s some good in everyone, and it would be a shame to kill it.”
“Even if you’re right, any shred of decency in the man is far outweighed by all the evil he’s committed.”
“But wouldn’t it be better to kill the evil in him, rather than killing him?”
“Well, miss, I certainly wish that could be done, but as it is the choices are to kill him or to let him continue on with his barbarities.”
I wouldn’t say she was convinced, but she dropped the argument, smiled sweetly, and said, “I wish you the best of luck with it, my lord.”
It was not safe, for a rider alone in those parts. I asked her to accompany us, and when she refused, sent Sir Dayathen, one of my knights, to accompany her. She wanted to be off immediately, so I watched them ride off into the horizon as we made camp for the night.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I was quite taken by her beauty, her mysteriousness—she never had told me where she was from or where she was headed, her naïveté, which was not that of a fool but of a sweet girl who assumes the rest of the world is that way. I hoped she never learned otherwise.
It was three days before we reached the fortress of Angriss. I was surprised, and duly suspicious, to find it seemingly unguarded, drawbridge down, portcullis open.
I commanded my men to wait and storm the fort if I had not returned in an hour, and walked over the drawbridge.
As I entered I heard noises to my left. I turned that way and found myself in a great hall, full of people feasting. They seemed to mostly be peasants, and many looked to have been hurt. They seemed… relieved, and suspicious, as if they had witnessed a miracle but didn’t believe it.
“What’s going on here?” I inquired of the person nearest the door, a woman with a scarred face and a missing hand.
“Lord Mavirug released us all from the dungeons,” she told me. “Some of us’ve been in there for years without a hope of release but death, and then yesterday he comes down, opens the gates, and tells us how he’s done wrong, and is sorry, and of course we think it’s some sort of trick, that he’ll kill us or worse if we come out, but he’s on his knees sobbing about how sorry he is, says we’re to take all his possessions as recompense and he’s off to redeem what’s left of his life or some such thing. I rather think he meant it, believe it or not, and I’m not sure I do. Maybe I just died in there and this is the afterlife.”
I made my way through the rest of the castle. It was by turns utterly deserted or full of former prisoners looting the building. I left them too it, and finally made my way to a room at the top of the highest tower. It had, I realized as I entered, been Lord Mavirug’s bedchamber. It was full of priceless treasures, but was dominated by a large, luxurious bed on which a figure was collapsed. I though at first it was one of the prisoners. It took me a moment to recognize Amalethia.
She was barely conscious. Her face was worn and exhausted, but her eyes fluttered open, and at seeing me, she managed to mumble, “I did it,” before collapsing into unconsciousness.
“Dayathen!” I called out, looking around for the knight I’d sent to guard her. He came through a door from a connecting chamber. “What happened?” I demanded.
“Well, after we left you, she had us ride straight here. I cautioned her against it, but to no avail. She told me she would do what she wanted, and I could accompany her or not, so of course I did. We arrived here at dusk yesterday, and she managed to talk her way into the keep and right into here. I’m not sure how she did it, he was outraged and I kept thinking he would kill us, but somehow he just let us right in. She told me she was going to do something; that it was very difficult and I had to promise not to stop her no matter what happened. I didn’t want to, but I promised. So then she went right up to him and put her hands on his head and… I’m not sure what she did. She started having these spasms, and it seemed to me she was fighting something. I wanted to stop her but I’d promised so all I could do was watch. She was shaking and screaming, and then he started doing the same. It was agony just to watch; I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her. Anyhow, finally they both passed out, and a couple of hours later he woke up and started sobbing and apologizing with all his heart for everything he’d ever done in his life. I don’t know what she did, but it was like what she was saying, killing just the evil in him, I guess. Anyway, he left, and she’s been drifting in and out of consciousness ever since. At one point I think she said she needs rest, though it's so hard for her to talk I can’t be sure. And she’s said, “I did it,” a few times.”
We stayed with her as she regained her strength. Finally, the next morning, she managed to sit up in bed. “I’ll be better soon,” she told me when I asked after her health. She gave no explanation of what she’d done.
“You were right,” I told her. “I thought you were just naïve, but I was wrong and you were right.”
“How do you do it?”
“It’s not something I can explain. You just have to do it.”
“Could you teach me?”
She waved an arm weakly. “Would you really want to learn?”
I could see the price, of course, but killing has its price too. “Yes.”
“Once I’m better. There’s a man in Yilthent that wants to kill all foreigners….”