Fiction Friday is a new series on Intwischa featuring exclusive short fiction, published serially. Our first story, A Daughter of the Moon, was written by yours truly (Charlie White) in 2010. The story will be published in 12 parts here on Intwischa, and when the entirety of the story has been published, the complete work will be made available in PDF and ebook format. We hope you enjoy!
A Daughter of the Moon
The final hours of the ride had concluded in silence which remained even as Clement and Rana drew near the al-Qamar camp. The sounds of battle shattered the silence: the Crusaders outnumbered the Qamarites four to one. The Qamarites fought in pairs, each woman standing back to back and facing down four or five Frenchmen at a time. Despite the numbers, the battle was going in their favor.
“Which one is Tancred?” Rana demanded of Clement.
Clement shook his head. “He is not here.”
“This doesn’t bode well for you,” the Qamarite said, loosing her scimitar.
“Your warriors are distracted with the battle,” Clement said, “and Tancred could have easily slipped into the cave without their notice. We must follow.”
“My sisters will win this battle,” Rana said. “When they have, we can deal with what is or is not in the cave together.”
“Rana, you are assuming I am Tancred. But if I am not, then there is a man in those caves attempting to harness the power of the Djinn. Al Qamar is mighty, for certain, but I am not convinced that you could outfight or outwit a Djinn-ridden soldier.” Clement drew his own sword, and offered it, hilt first, to Rana. “We will go into the cave together. You will see I am who I have said I am. If the proof is not there, you may strike me down with my own blade.”
Rana thought for a moment. There was no way a foreigner could know the path through the maze in these caves, or the layout of the cavern containing the lamp. She would have the advantage of knowing the terrain, and an unarmed foe. Even if the Norseman deceived here, and got to the lamp, the Djinn cannot meet with a host who is awakeâ€•Clement, or Tancred, would not have an opportunity to wish until he had fallen asleep.
They rode swiftly to the mouth of the cave, dismounted, and stole into the cool earth. Rana led Clement through the first tunnel and through the first large room in the cavern that served as living quarters for the Abnah al-Qamar, then opened the wooden door to the maze. Rana sheathed her scimitar and took the torch from the wall, noting that one was missing. She hoped this meant that a Qamarite had already chosen to move to the lamp room to defend it.
Anxiety shook herç”±ana had never been in the maze before. Her training required her to memorize a drawn map of the area, but Al Qamar feared and respected the power of the Djinn enough that no one voluntarily went near it. She had not slept in daysé drenaline kept her awake and ready to fight, and she knew the danger in making decisions in this state. Her instincts would no doubt tell her to seize upon whatever power she needed to win the day, and that included the lamp. But she steeled herself, and pressed forward.
Navigating the maze was slowâ€•walking through actual tunnels differed quite a bit from memorizing them on paper. The natural ceilings sloped down quite a bit, which if irritating to Rana must have been painful to Clement who stood over a head taller than her. Furthermore, a simple line on the map could not convey the difficulty of squeezing through a foot-wide crevasse with a sword and torchâ€•particularly when you also needed to share that light with another. The maze demanded careful and diligent progress, yet Rana’s state of mind urged speed and aggression. Moving ahead responsibly made her tired; moving swiftly caused mistakes.
She borrowed as much frustration as she could to remain awake.
Fighting to keep her breath even, Rana rounded what she had memorized as the last corner of the maze. Thirty paces of hand-carved tunnel, precisely straight and sloping slightly downward, extended into what Al Qamar called the “lamp room”: a circular cavern large enough for a horse to trot in, almost like a mosque under its domed ceiling. They now stood at the far end of the hallway, and Rana noticed a leather parchment case casually discarded. She recognized it as the container for training materials for new Qamarites.
Including the map.
Rana gripped Clement’s sword gripped tightly and started down the tunnel, Clement silently following. Seeing the lamp room brought on a jarring cognitive dissonance. A stone table stood in the center of the room. In front of the table sat a Frenchman in a meditative posture, his eyes closed. On his lap lay the lamp.
Tancred, seeking the Djinn in his dreams. Seeking the power of a wish.
The Frenchman’s torch rested in a wall sconce in the room. Rana lay her own torch on the floor halfway through the hallway, and, motioning for Clement to be hold his position, slowly crept down the hall toward the lamp room, attempting to hold the whole of her upper body still to prevent her mail from creaking. As she inched forward, the subtle clinking of chain sounded in the room. Rana glanced back at Clement, who stood stone-still by the torch, waiting to see if the silent gamut payed off. A look of horror played across his face, and Rana turned back to see Tancred’s eyes open, and his lips twisted in a cruel smile.
“You’re too late to stop us, Qamarite,” Tancred said.
Us. He’d met the Djinn, he’d made his wish. He remained Tancred, yet an ancient consciousness now whispered to him, inspiring him with all it had learned from previous hosts over millennia. Having met the Djinn, having made his wish, the ancient power now possessed Tancred and would speak to his body as quickly as his brain. He wielded the knowledge of a dozen warriors, or at least the portion of those experiences the Djinn would make known to him. His muscles had the memory of an immortal. And his choice of the word “us” indicated he’d given himself over fully to the Djinn.
That’s it for today–join us next week as we meet the true Tancred! Same Intwischa time, same Intwischa channel.
Think you know what’s going on? Want to spoil it for the rest of us? (Did you like my story and want to stoke my ego?) Tell us about it in the comments!