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The Lorelei Signal


A Hard Lesson Learned

Written by Selena Rosen / Artwork by Lee Ann Barlow


Agnes was too busy looking for just the right bridle to pay attention to where Danad was or what she was doing. Her horse’s bit and bridle had all but disintegrated in his mouth that morning. Aries wouldn’t take to just any bit; it had to be small and smooth with no rough edges.


Two young men came into the blacksmith shop. Big burley sorts. They caught her attention only for a moment. She gave them a quick once over and graded them mostly harmless. They wore no steel larger than a general-purpose knife—farm hands or fishermen—hardly any threat to her or her apprentice. They were mostly young and stupid, shoving each other around and loudly cursing one another. They were no problem for her, and so in Aggy’s estimation they were irritating but not an irritation that couldn’t be ignored.


She finally found a bit that would work, picked it up, and walked towards the blacksmith. Danad met her halfway across the floor, and Aggy sighed. If Danad had feathers, they’d no doubt be ruffled.


“You see what just walked in?” Danad asked, in a harsh whisper.


“I see two young farm hands, no doubt sent on an errand, nothing more and nothing less.”


“Well I see trouble,” Danad said.


Aggy sighed again. “The only way there will be any trouble is if you make it. Now calm down. Let me make my purchase, and we’ll go. Just once I would like to get out of a town without you getting us into some stupid fight.”


“Me!” Danad huffed. “I don’t start fights; I only finish them.”


“Oh, you start ’em all right, but it’s usually me that has to do the finishing to keep your pretty head from getting separated from your shoulders,” Aggy whispered, hotly. “Now please, I’m tired and my back hurts. I just want to pay for this bit and bridle and go. Preferably without having to kill some hapless farm hands.”


Danad mumbled something under her breath about how misunderstood she was and followed the older woman to where the smith was working at his anvil.


He stopped his work and looked up with a smile. He wasn’t intimidated either by Aggy’s scars or the sword slung over her back. He’d done business with mercs before, and their money was as good as anyone’s.


“Find something to your liking, Miss?” he asked, wiping his sweaty hands on a towel.


“This bit and bridle.” Agnes held it out. “How much?”


“Five silvers,” he said.


“Seems a good price.” Agnes reached in her pouch and pulled out the coins. As she was handing them to the smith, one of the farm boys shoved the other and he bumped Agnes’ hand, spilling her money onto the dirt floor.


Instead of apologizing he yelled, “Watch where you’re going, old woman!”


Aggy swallowed hard, gritted her teeth and bent to pick up her money. Unfortunately, it was a challenge Danad couldn’t let go.


“Why you stupid, clumsy oaf,” Danad spat back at him. “Have you got any idea who you have just insulted? Why this is Agnes of the Black Rock. Aggy the Giant Killer.”


“Oh, excuse me.” The lad laughed, bowing low.


“How could you have been so stupid?” the other said, sarcastically. “Why this,” he said, with elaborate hand gestures, “is Aggy the Giant killer.”


“That’s enough out of you two,” the smith said. “Now go on with you before I throw you out and tell your pa.”


“We can take care of ourselves,” Danad spat back at him.


Aggy straightened and sighed. “I’m sorry,” she said to the smith, handing him the money.” She turned to Danad. “Come on; let’s go.”


“But Aggy…” Danad protested.


“I said let’s go,” Aggy said, sternly.


“That’s right, little girl, better do what your mama says,” one said.


Before she could be stopped, Danad jumped up on the anvil and then onto the boy. She started whaling on his head with her fists, her legs wrapped tight around his waist. The other grabbed her and jerked her off his buddy.


Aggy sighed and moved quickly. Holding onto the reins, she slung the bit into the back of the head of the boy Danad been pummeling. As he went to his knees she turned quickly and landed a kick to the head of the other. He let go of Danad and swung on Aggy, his right ear bleeding from where her boot had landed. Aggie ducked out of his blow and stepped to his right, bringing her knee to rest in his mid-section and then bringing both her hands down on the back of his skull so that he fell beside his brother, moaning. Aggy bent to pick up the bit, grabbed Danad by the arm and started out of the smithy.


She looked at the smith. “Sorry.”


He smiled back. “A little lesson in manners those two won’t soon forget.”


Danad tried to pull out of Aggy’s grasp, but Aggy wouldn’t let her go. When Danad noticed Aggy was limping, she quit fighting her.


Aggy let go of her only when they had reached their horses. Aggy was silent as she adjusted the new bridle and set the bit in Aries’ mouth. He wasn’t completely happy; he never was when he got a new bit, but it was a good one and he’d get used to it soon.


“Are you hurt, Aggy?” Danad asked.


“No, I limp for the fun of it. Of course I’m hurt, you silly twit. A woman my age shouldn’t have to be doing those high kicks. I’m supposed to use my sword, fight with my brain not with my brawn. However, I didn’t think those young men deserved to die for offending me. Or because you’re always spoiling for a fight.”


“I could have taken care of them myself,” Danad protested.


“Ha!” Aggy scoffed.


“Well, I could have. I couldn’t let them talk to you that way,” Danad said.


Aggy sighed. “Learn to pick your battles, Danad. Some things just simply aren’t worth fighting for. They were nothing but young, stupid, ill-mannered farm boys…”


“They’ll never be anything else if someone doesn’t teach them a lesson or two,” Danad interrupted.


Aggy shook her head in disapproval. She looked the girl up and down. Aggy was fifty-three years old with eighty years on her body. She was too damn old to do high kicks in a fight. She was too old to be trying to train such a green kid. Aggy put her foot in the stirrup and levered herself in her saddle with the leg that didn’t feel like it had been stomped on by a horse. Not even trying to keep the anger out of her eyes, Aggy turned to look at Danad who immediately shrunk from the look her mentor gave her.


“It’s not my job to teach them. It’s not even my job to teach you. If you continue to disregard my words, I’ll leave you along the side of the road and I’ll be on my way. That is if you don’t get me killed before I get fed up with you. Remember that it wasn’t I who asked for this partnership; it was you. Now either you truly want to learn a merc’s trade, or you want to run around flexing your muscles and getting into fights that I have to risk life and limb getting you out of.”


Danad looked at her feet. “I’m sorry, Aggy.”


Aggy grumbled something and spurred her horse into a walk.


Danad jumped on her horse and followed after Aggy as she always did.


“Your leg…does it need treatment?”


“Not a healer around for a three days ride,” Aggy muttered. “You might at least consider that sort of thing before you act so rashly.”


Now Danad was starting to get mad. Aggy not only believed in beating a dead horse, but in cursing it and stabbing it as well. “Demons and sprits Aggy! I said I was sorry. If you would ever just let me fight my own battles… I could have handled those two easy enough.”


Aggy was silent, brooding. Except for slimming down a bit and putting some good stiff sword calluses on her hands, Danad really hadn’t changed. Age had made her more attractive, and practice had made her better with a blade, but neither had curbed her impulsive nature. She was a royal pain in the backside. If Aggy was as smart as she wanted everyone to believe she was, she would have waited till the girl was asleep and rode as hard and fast in the opposite direction as she could. Unfortunately, she had grown rather attached to the brash little toad. So she’d have to find some other way.


~ * ~


Three days and one village later Aggy was still barely talking to her, and it was making her crazy. Danad watched as the older woman stretched her studded leather amour out on a rock. She had spent most of the day repairing it. She’d told Danad what she was doing and how but in a cold, detached way that made Danad want to scream.


She watched as Aggy carefully oiled the leather, rubbing till it was no longer slick. Aggy didn’t take her amour off during the day much. Sometimes when they were in an area Aggy didn’t know, or one she knew to be dangerous, she even slept in it. So it was a rare treat to see her walking around camp wearing nothing but breeches and a sleeveless tunic.


It was a sight Danad could have enjoyed if only Aggy would stop being mad at her.


Aggy walked towards Danad, stopping to put the oil away in her saddle bags, but she paused. “Want to oil yours?” Aggy asked holding the oil bottle out.


Danad looked at her amour. She had bought it with her part of the money from their last job. Unlike Aggy she shucked hers every time she got a chance. Unlike Aggy she threw hers into a heap instead of spreading it out so it could dry, and so it would retain its shape. Danad shook her head no.


Aggy put the oil away and stood up. Then she put her hands on her hips and popped her back, making a sound that put Danad’s teeth on edge.


“All right, but if you don’t take care of it, it will rot,” Aggy said. She sat down on a piece of dead tree trunk and Danad jumped to her feet looking down at Aggy.


“I know that, Aggy. You’ve told me that a hundred times!” Danad spat back. “And don’t sit there and look at me like you don’t have any idea what’s bothering me. You have been purposely punishing me for days. I said I’m sorry. What do you want from me, blood?”


Just then Aggy jumped up into fighting stance in one fluid movement. Danad didn’t know when she grabbed it, but Aggy’s sword was in her hand. She looked out towards the road. Danad looked, too, although she hadn’t heard anything. Four big men on horseback rode into the clearing, and Danad suddenly realized how naked she felt without her amour and how naked Aggy looked without hers.


Danad stumbled around till she found her sword. She grabbed it and took her usual place at Aggy’s left shoulder.


The man on the end raised his hand. “Whoa, there, gentlewomen. We mean no harm. It’s close to nightfall and this is the only clearing for a ways. We are just simple migrant farm hands looking for a good place to camp close to a stream.”


Aggy nodded and lowered her sword. “Good enough then. You take that half of the camp and we will take this one.”


“We were here first,” Danad said angrily in Aggy’s ear. “Make them go.”


“There is enough room for everyone,” Aggy said through clenched teeth. “Look at them. The swords they carry are merely for protection, cheap and basically useless. They are no threat to us.”


Danad nodded, muttered something under her breath and lowered her sword.


“Go get some firewood,” Aggy ordered. “We’ll eat, sleep and leave in the morning. No sense in starting a war over a wide spot in the road which belongs to us no more than it belongs to them,” Aggy said.


Danad nodded again, shrugged her amour on and slung her sword over her back before she went into the woods for sticks. Aggy gave her a disapproving look, but Danad noticed when she returned to camp Aggy had her amour on, too.


Danad started the fire, which had no sooner caught than Aggy said, “Go get some water.”


Danad grabbed the bucket and started for the stream, mumbling all the way. “Get some wood, Danad. Get some water. Oil your amour, be nice to the neighbors. She treats me like a kid.” She smiled in spite of herself. “Well, most of the time anyway.”


She dipped her bucket into the creek. She was about to draw it out when she heard a noise behind her. She turned to see one of the younger of the men standing there.


“What are you looking at?”


“A pretty lady that needs a good man’s loving,” he said.


“You know what I see? A man who needs to be altered.” She dropped her bucket and grabbed her sword.


He put up his hands. “Whoa, little lady. I don’t want no trouble.”


“Then don’t ask for any. I’d just as soon split you as look at you,” she said.


He laughed then. “You’ve got spunk. I like a girl with spunk. Too bad you don’t have a brain to go with it. There are four of us and only two of you. We’re men and you’re women. If we wanted to, we could do anything we wanted to you and that old woman.”


“That old woman is Agnes of the Black Rock…Aggy the Giant killer.”


He laughed. “Oh, I’m so scared.”


That was it. Danad was finished being nice. She slung her blade at the man’s head. He caught it with his blade, which he drew so fast she instantly knew she was in big trouble.


She felt more than saw Aggy run through the tangled brush towards them. She saw the pummel of Aggy’s sword hit the man in the back of his head, and the man went down.


Then the other three men were there, and the fight was on. She had thought she was getting pretty good, but these “farm workers” were catching everything she could throw at them. Aggy kicked one in his groin, and he fell to his knees, gasping for breath. She kicked him in the head, and then it happened. One of the men had a tree branch about six inches around. He slung it out at Aggy and it caught her in the back, right above her hips. She swung around with the force of the blow, and then fell on her knees, slumping to the ground, motionless.


Danad forgot about the fight. She ran to Aggy’s side and stood over her, wanting to help her but afraid to lower her weapon.


The two men standing looked at her; they could take her easily. They knew it, and she knew it. Instead of coming after her, they went after their own wounded. The one with the stick threw it down. He glared at Danad.


“We really didn’t want any trouble,” he said.


Danad watched them go. She heard them breaking camp, so they were leaving. Probably to have their own wounded tended to.


Danad knelt beside Aggy. “Aggy…Aggy, are you all right?”


Aggy groaned. “What a stupid question.” Aggy hissed, her face in the leaf mulch of the forest floor. “Help me roll over.”


Danad did so, not even trying to fight her tears. “I did it, Aggy…I started the fight. He was a jerk, but… Can you ever forgive me?”


“Just help me up and let’s get out of here in case they decide to come back.” Aggy started to push herself up and stopped.


“What is it… Does it hurt that bad?”


“No. It doesn’t hurt at all…I can’t feel my legs. I can’t make them work.”


~ * ~


Danad had been frozen in terror for what felt like forever, then she finally moved into action. She dragged Aggy back to camp, and then ran back to the creek to get water.


“If I had only just gotten the water,” Danad said, retrieving the bucket from where she had dropped it earlier. “What have I done? What have I done to Aggy?” She brought the bucket back to camp, trying to think. But she came up blank. “What am I going to do?”


She gave Aggy a drink.


Aggy took it but coughed. Her eyes had a far-away, glassy look to them.


“Aggy what are we going to do?” Danad asked.


“A merc with no legs isn’t much good.” Aggy laughed, and then started coughing again.


“Damn, I don’t feel so good. I need some sleep…I’m tired, I…” She just dropped off.


Danad’s breath caught in her throat. She got down close to Aggy till she could hear her breathing and sighed with relief. Then she tried to wake Aggy up, but she was out cold.


Maybe she’d never wake up again. Maybe Danad would never get a chance to make this up to her. She took Aggy’s amour off carefully, but left her kidney belt on. After all, it might be all that was holding her back together. She covered her with every blanket they owned and then made some stew from provisions they had with them. But she couldn’t even wake Aggy by putting the bowl under her nose. Danad sat down with her back against the log Aggy had been sitting on earlier that day. She watched Aggy’s chest to make sure she was breathing. She had to figure out what to do.


“Danad! Danad!” Aggy screamed out in a terror-filled voice.


Danad dropped the stew and knelt by Aggy’s side. She took Aggy’s hand. “What is it Aggy? What do you need? You want something to eat or drink?


“No…I… If I don’t walk…Danad I want you to end it for me,” Aggy said weakly.


Danad shook. “I…I couldn’t, Aggy. You’ll be fine.”


“I’m not asking you to kill me if I’m fine. I’m asking you to kill me if I can’t walk anymore,” Aggy said.


Danad started to cry. “Don’t talk like this, Aggy. There is bound to be something we can do.”


“The sorceress and healer, Rosanda, may be able to help me, but she’s a day’s ride away. I can’t ride.”


“I’ll…I’ll make a litter. We’ll leave in the morning and have you there by tomorrow night. You’ll be fine,” Danad said.


~ * ~


Aggy wasn’t overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but she was big, almost as tall as a tall man, and well-muscled. She weighed a ton. It had taken Danad most of the morning to make the litter and attach it to Aggy’s horse. She hadn’t counted on it taking so long. But by the time she used the ax to cut trees big enough to do the job and fixed the blanket to them so it wouldn’t come off, the sun was high in the sky.


Yesterday when she had dragged Aggy here all the way from the creek she hadn’t seemed this heavy, but now Aggy’s weight tugged on her arms and it took all her strength to move her. Aggy’s legs flopped lifelessly as Danad dragged her towards the litter. It was like moving a dead body. The thought immediately gave Danad new strength, and she was able to hoist Aggy onto the litter. She strapped the fighter down and put her sword in her hand.


Aggy looked up at Danad, her face filled with pain. “Maybe…” She coughed. “Maybe you’d better go on without me.” She looked at her sword. “I’ll do what has to be done.”


“Stop it! Stop it right now,” Danad ordered. “You’re not going to die, Aggy. I’m going to take you to this witch…”


“Sorceress,” Aggy corrected.


“I’m going to take you to her, and she’s going to fix you.” Danad wiped the tears and sweat off her face with the back of her hand. Danad checked the straps to make sure they were going to hold Aggy on the litter.


Aggy winced with pain, and Danad winced with guilt.


~ * ~


Aggy seemed to have no control over her bodily functions and she wet herself twice. Danad found herself in the distasteful position of having to change her mentor’s pants, and poor Aggy didn’t seem to even be aware of the fact she was wet.


They didn’t make it to Rosanna’s before nightfall, so Danad spent another night in the woods with the wounded woman. She slept close to Aggy hoping to give her warmth. Danad didn’t get much rest; Aggy kept screaming out in her sleep with night terrors.


By morning Danad felt as if she had taken a beating and Aggy was worse. Nothing coherent left her mouth and her right arm flopped spasmodically.


It was almost nightfall before Danad found the cabin hidden in the trees. Danad had lost her way three times, and Aggy was no help. She was now completely out of her head, apparently talking to the souls of all the men she had ever killed. At noon Danad had to take Aggy’s sword for fear she’d kill herself or maim her horse swinging at spirits.


Danad hoped she had the right place.


The door to the cabin opened, and a woman stepped out. She walked towards them, a long staff in her hand. She was a tall, regal-looking woman with an ageless face. She might have been thirty; she might have been sixty.


Danad got off her horse and started to draw her sword, but stopped.


The woman held no weapon; she posed no threat. Why draw her sword? Wasn’t drawing her sword before thinking what had landed them in this awful mess to begin with?


“Are you Rosanda?” Danad asked.


“Yes, is your friend hurt badly?”


“Yes, can you help her?” Danad asked eagerly.


“We’ll have to wait and see.” Rosanda walked around behind the horse to look at its cargo. “Oh my stars…Aggy, is that you?”


“What’s left of me,” Aggy said. She seemed coherent for the first time all day. “Rosy, if you can’t help me…would you watch after the girl for me? She ain’t real bright.”


With that said, Aggy’s eyes closed and her body went limp.


“Is she…” Danad cried.


Rosanda put a hand to Aggy’s forehead and smiled up at Danad. “No, just passed out—from the pain I suppose. Let’s get her inside.”


~ * ~


The whole house was filled with the aroma of fresh chicken soup boiling on the fire.


Rosanda stripped the kidney belt and shirt off Aggy and examined the wound. “Humm,” she said, and frowned.


“What, what is it?” Danad asked.


“Well, there just isn’t that much bruising. Most of the injury must be internal.” Then, almost to herself she said, “If her back is broken, there is nothing anyone can do.”


Rosanda busied herself soaking rags in boiling water. She took them out with a stick, then she rolled herbs into them and stuck them on the wound. Aggy flinched, and Rosanda smiled. She covered Aggy with a blanket.


“You want to tell me what happened?” Rosanda asked gently as she sat down across from Danad.


Danad sniffled and wiped tears and snot on the back of her shirt sleeve. “It was all my fault. There were these migrant farm hands. All they really wanted was a place to camp for the night. One of them…he had a mouth. What he said…it all seems sort of harmless now and I suppose if I hadn’t slung my sword at him… Well, none of this would have happened, and now Aggy… Will she ever walk again? Is her back broken?”


“I don’t know; it’s hard to tell. Why don’t you get something in your belly and try to get some rest?”


“How can I sleep when Aggy may be dying? I did this to her. I did this to her as surely as if I had taken the stick and cracked it across her back myself. I was arrogant and impetuous, and Aggy’s paying for it just like she said she would.” The girl started to cry in earnest then.


Rosanda tried to comfort her, but she wouldn’t be comforted.


Danad didn’t eat, but she finally cried herself to sleep.


When Rosanda was sure Danad was asleep she walked to the bed where Aggy was lying. She sat down and shook her shoulder. “Aggy, Aggy wake up.”


Aggy turned her head to face Rosanda and smiled. “So, when did you know?” she whispered.


“Paralyzed people don’t flinch because something’s too hot. You ought to be ashamed of yourself; that poor girl is a wreck,” Rosanda said in a scolding whisper.


“That poor girl gets me into a fight every time we walk into a town. She’s not going to be happy ’till one of us winds up dead. I had to teach her a lesson, and she’s just this hardheaded,” Aggy said.


“Were you ever even hurt at all?”


“Not really.” Aggy smiled. “See, the whole thing was a set up. I had some old merc friends of mine who owed me a favor show up at our camp pretending to be farmers. I even told them what to say to be sure they’d get her goat, knowing she’d start a fight.”


“Tom just hit me hard enough to make it look good. A faked kick here, a faked punch there, Danad’s too green to realize it wasn’t a real fight.”


“All right, Aggy,” Rosanda said, nodding her head. “I understand why you did it. But I think the girl has learned her lesson.”


Aggy laughed under her breath. “Yeah I suppose she has. You know I believe wetting myself is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. In the morning you can incant some magical spell over me and I will be miraculously healed.” She looked over at where Danad was sleeping and smiled. “She’s a good kid, Rosanda. Has a good heart, just a little too rash and bad tempered.”


“Sort of like another young fighter I once knew,” Rosanda said, with a smile.


“I was lucky enough to have a friend who tricked me into changing.” Aggy said. She smiled at the mock look of shock on Rosanda’s face. “With any luck it will take her as long to figure out what I’ve done as it did for me to figure out what you’d done, and by then it won’t matter.”


Rosanda smiled and squeezed her old friend’s hand. “Some people only truly learn the lessons hardest taught.”

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S Rosen.JPG

Selina Rosen’s short fiction has appeared in Sword and Sorceress, Turn the Other Chick, and Thieves’ World anthologies among others.

Among her 33+ published books are the Chains trilogy, Strange Robby, The Holmes & Storm Mysteries, Black Rage, How I Spent the Apocalypse, and the Sword Master series. In addition to her sci-fi/fantasy titles, she has written a non-fiction self-help book, It’s Not Rocket Science, and several non-genre novels including The Pit and Vanishing Fame.

Follow her on YouTube at Selina Rosen DIY, or check out her website:

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