Nights of Steel and Fire
The Origin of the Iron Maiden
“Upon him I will visit famine and a fire.
Till all around him desolation rings
And all the demons in the outer dark
Look on amazed and recognize
That vengeance is the business of a man.”
-Patrick Rothfuss “The Name of the Wind”
“When the blameless and the righteous die,
The very gods for vengeance cry.”
Constance Tain was a person who was always torn between her desires and her duties. She had a creative soul and had wanted to become an artist, but things just didn’t turn out that way. Her father, a respected priest of the Tyrran clergy, pushed her into her profession (as a defense lawyer), and he instilled in her the morality of Tyr’s justice, and a sense of what was important. She had been taught that every person deserved an ally and advocate in their hour of judgment, no matter how far life had led them astray, for every person deserved compassion and understanding. Her job was stressful and her workload heavy. She found comfort and then love with Loras Lecarde, and together they had a baby boy they loved very much. Constance was the primary provider, but Loras gave her strength to get through every day. She carried a heavy conscience, for the fate of every person she had defended weighed on her shoulders, but that was just the nature of being a defense attorney. After all, healers get to bury their mistakes, but attorneys have to live with them. But every night, she had a loving family to go home to. and that was all she ever could have hoped for.
Constance was a person who always tried her best to do what was right, even when it was hard. She tried her best to believe in justice, and to have faith in the wisdom of the gods to see things through in the end, even when her trust was challenged. She tried her best to do what she felt was her duty to those she loved. She was far from perfect, but she always tried.
And then, one day, she was assigned the case of one Marcus Ravenlock.
Constance sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. She was frazzled, worn out from a long day, and her only companion in the room, her client, wasn’t making her headache any better.
The man across the table tittered. “Where was I? Ah, so this guy, right? Oh boy, ‘e just wanders inta the Purple Lady like i’s any old festhouse, didn’t have a clue, and…”
Constance lost her patience. “I don’t think you quite understand the gravity of your situation, Mr. Ravenlock. You were caught red handed, and even if you didn’t have a startling propensity for bold confessions, they have more than enough evidence to hang you from the castle ramparts. They’re going to convict you, but you don’t have to die. Take the plea bargain, and you’ll be protected.”
The room was stark, the gray stone walls reflecting a dusty radiance from the bleached sunlight filtering through the barred window. The spartan furnishings included a simple wooden table and two chairs. The man rested manacled hands on the table, staring Constance straight in the eyes with a bright-eyed gaze that shook her faith in the basic decency of humanity. She had been taught that every person deserved an ally and advocate in their hour of judgment, no matter how far life had led them astray, but this man tested her belief. He was utterly without remorse, and had a twisted pride in the dreadful work he did.
He grinned smugly.
“Ay, ye can’t charm me into givin’ up my brothers, sweetheart. You ain’t got anything to offer, you jist think you do. I can have what’s yours any time I want.” As if to prove his point, the bound hands shot out towards her. Constance let out a startled cry that was muffled as he grabbed her collar and forced her lips to his. She pushed against him with both hands, struggling against his remarkably strong grip, and quickly freeing herself due to the advantage of leverage. The then uncontested force sent her staggering backwards, knocking over the chair and nearly losing her balance as she retreated from the table.
“You… you fool! Can’t you see I’m the only one trying to help you!? They’re going to kill you! Slaughter you like a dog in the yard!” She seethed with anger, utterly disgusted. “Don’t you even care!?”
The man only laughed. “There’s more than one way to get out of a hole, sweetheart.”
“This counsel is over! Guards!” She called. Armored men burst through the door. “Take him away.” She pushed past them and stormed out of the room, livid.
Behind her, she heard derisive laughter. “Be seeing you.”
Constance’s sleep was troubled. Despite everything, Marcus Ravenlock had been spared the executioner’s axe, and imprisoned with a life sentence. Though she had been congratulated on a trial well fought, Constance had no such confidence in her own abilities. Her defense was feeble, drowned out by the defendant’s own remorseless ego. He had refused to cooperate in any way with the law, and outwardly bragged about his bloody deeds before the court, taunting the justices in full view of The Maimed God. Nothing she could have said could have made up for that, and yet for the crimes he had committed, life in a dingy prison was little more than a slap on the wrist. She couldn’t understand it. But Loras had comforted her, as he always did. At least, he reasoned, she would never have to see him again.
“Be seeing you.”
Constance awoke. Candlelight made flickering shadows dance on the walls. She felt next the emptiness next to her, and turned to see that Loras had risen, a gleaming dagger in his hands, tinged with orange by the firelight. His attention was directed towards the door. “Loras?” Constance murmured, shaking off the weight of sleep. “What’s wrong?”
“Stay there,” he said. “It’s probably nothing. I thought I heard something. Don’t worry about a thing, I’ll be back before you know it.” He left to investigate whatever sound he had heard, leaving her alone in the bedroom. Her curiosity wouldn’t let her stay put, however, and she rose to follow after him. She crept out of the room and into the hall. Loras had lit the lamps as he progressed through the house.
Before she knew what was happening, she felt herself being yanked backwards, and then slammed into the floor, and the world seemed to blur together in the flickering lamplight. There was a heavy pressure on the small of her back. Her hands were taken away from her, and she felt them being bound behind her. There was a flash of iron in front of her eyes, and the feeling of hot breath on the nape of her neck. “Loras!” She cried out. Something hit her in the head, and the world spun.
“I’d learn to shut up, if I was you,” a rough, unfamiliar voice rasped in her ear. She gasped as the pressure was taken off her back, and she founder herself being hauled to her feet. She couldn’t see the face of her attacker, but she could feel cold metal against her back through the thin silk of her nightgown.
“Constance!” The door of the hall slammed open, and Loras surged inside. He had retrieved his old sword from the mantle, and was hurtling down the hallway even as a shadow fell into place behind him. He jolted to a halt, stunned. His gaze slid downward, and he gagged. Blood trickled from his mouth. Her love’s imploring eyes rose to meet hers. “Constance…” He choked, the light fleeing from his eyes, as Marcus Ravenlock kicked the limp body off of his blade.
“No!” Constance cried, her voice hoarse with rage, terror, and sorrow. She spasmed, writhed, and strained violently against the other man’s grip, her hands bound behind her. “Let me go!” She howled. Her protestions degenerated into a tortured wail. If only she could reach him, if only she could touch him, she could… Tyr would… “Uhn!”
“Cor! You picked a feisty one this time!” the man behind her said. She slumped in his grasp, panting heavily, a veil of fiery gold falling across her face.
The murderer approached her, stepping over Loras’s prone form. “I told you,” Marcus said smugly, raising her chin with a finger to look at him, “I can have anything of yours I want, whenever I want it.” A wicked grin spread across his face.
“Wh-why?” She sputtered, her voice shaking.
“Mommy?” A voice came from the end of the hall. It was little Stannis, no more than 3 years old, hugging a ragged bear, his eyes wide.
“Run!” She screamed, but her son only gave a look of bewildered confusion. Amused, Marcus bore down on the child.
“Mommy!” Stannis wailed, as Marcus lifted him into the air.
“This sad little runt yours?” He sneered. He seemed to appraise Stannis for a moment, then in a single vicious movement, plunged the dagger into the his neck, and tossed the gurgling little boy away almost casually.
“Aaaaaaaaugh! Ahuh… ahuh…” Constance’s cry of rage lapsed into wracking sobs. No matter how hard she tried, the other man was much stronger than her. Marcus strode easily back to her, picking at the tip of his knife with a fingernail.
“I wonder, what else do you have? Anything… nice?” He said, pushing a strand of hair away from her eyes and over her ear. Tears poured down her face. His perverse smile was only a few inches away. Her chest was heaving, her breath a ragged rasp.
Constance lunged. The man must have relaxed his grip a bit, thinking that the fight had gone out of her. She grabbed ahold of Marcus’s ear with her teeth, and tore. It was only a second, but that’s all it took. She felt a warm sensation in her midsection.
Marcus howled, the left side of his head a bloody ruin. “You, you whore!” he roared. Constance contemptuously spit out the chunk of flesh on the floor. His backhand sent the world spinning again. “My ear! The fucking whore bit off my ear!”
“What should I do with ’er?” The other thug said.
Marcus staggered around the room, red with anger, clutching at his missing ear. “That’s how you want to play it, is it? That’s how it’s gonna be, eh, bitch? You think this is a buffet, you sick freak?” He growled. “We’ll feed the lot of them to the Quelzarn!”
It took Constance a moment to realize she had been stabbed. The world began to fade in and out of a black haze. She fought to stay conscious. The whole experience was almost dreamlike. They gagged her, tied her arms and legs, and dragged her out into the street. She was vaguely aware that there were other men in her house. Despite everything, she resisted, but that would only earn another blow, and they dragged her through the streets, ignoring her muffled sobs. She saw the unconscious body of her husband dragged along with her.
The world faded in and out of darkness. Out of the corner of her vision, one image became clear against the background of the starless night. There was a guardsman, watching. And he did nothing.
“You’re going to drown, you insidious bitch.” Marcus growled. “How do you like that, eh? I hear it’s a nasty way to go.” He laughed. It was an off-kilter, unbalanced sound. Unnatural. Or maybe her ears were failing her along with her eyes.
Constance could feel a prickling of rain on the back of her neck. There was wood underneath her bare feet, and she could feel the salty air coming off of the bay. Something was tied onto her. There was a sudden feeling of weightlessness, and a muted sound, then everything was a murky darkness, and she found herself falling, with a narrow red ribbon rising away from her. Icy cold lanced through her. Other forms were falling around her. Obscure spears of moonlight oscillated through the watery depths.
Thunder rolled overhead, reverberating in alien tones through the dark waters.
Constance squirmed, but she was weighted down. There seemed to be no way out. Precious minutes passed. Terror, hopelessness, and sorrow washed over her. Could this really be the end? She thought. Was this really all my life, my love, my struggle, would ever amount to? In the inky darkness, she felt she could see a long, dark shadow occlude the moonlight dancing on the rough water’s surface above. The immense apparition slithered out of sight. Where was justice? What had she done to deserve this, when Marcus Ravenlock walked free in the world above, in full sight of Gods and men?
Thunder rolled. A blind god cannot see.
Constance’s lungs burned, crying out for a breath of air, but there was nothing to breathe. Loras, my love… Stannis, my baby boy… The pain in her side had faded, and it didn’t seem so cold anymore. Her entire body tingled as if pierced with a thousand fiery needles. I can’t die like this. I can’t let this happen. I can’t… Constance choked, a burst of bubbles rising away from her as she lost hold of her last gasp of air. I would pay any price, bear any burden, suffer any trials, give any thing, to make him pay. Constance spasmed. She felt as if a vice was gradually tightening on her until her spinal column and sternum would break. The pressure was unbearable, but the pain seemed to be fading away. The water seemed bright and colorful, as if a fleeting illusion captured in a dream. A serpentine shadow blocked out the light above.
Thunder rolled. There will be justice.
She let it in. A new power filled Constance. New purpose gave her the strength to remain conscious. New understanding brought the world into focus. New faith infused her with feeling, and pain lanced into every fiber of her body. She knew now the Law of Hoar, and His vengeance could not be bound. No obstacle, no distance, no time could evade the pursuit of His vengeance. And she was His vessel, and had the power of His domain. The pain was incredible, but the burden of the stone tied to her seemed as nothing. The ropes slipped off of her as easily as water, for she was vengeance, and vengeance could not be bound. With every muscle in her body crying out for air, she rose towards the surface as massive jaws closed over a bound and sunken figure below her. A great wash of water bore her away from the bottom of the bay.
Constance collapsed onto the dock, coughing and sputtering wetly. Water spilled onto the wooden planks, and blood stained the timber. It was all she could do to mouth the words of the spell that would save her life. The words were little more than a muted gargle, but she felt the divine fire flow into her wound, cauterizing the flow of blood. There was a deep, low groan from the turbulent water beneath her. The storm was picking up. The quelzarn were restless, and their appetite had been whetted.
Constance attempted to rise, but the power that had compelled her from the depths was fleeting, and her elbows gave. Flaxen yellow hair was plastered to a face drenched with seawater, rain, and tears, but she gritted her teeth. Anger welled up within her.
She was angry at herself, for being so helpless.
With a grunt of effort, she attempted again, but the strength had fled from her body, and she fell heavily upon the dock with a wet crack.
She was angry at the gods, for bearing witness to fate.
Constance let out a moan of pain and despair into the night. As she lay there, she realized that someone had taken notice of her climb out of the sea.
But more than anything, she was angry at Marcus Ravenlock.
With a cry of renewed determination, Constance lunged towards the dock railing. She clawed at it and caught hold, managing to prop herself up. She hauled herself unsteadily to her feet. _There was a guardsman, watching. _
He seemed to be weighing his options. Usually, corruption was a simple affair; you just had to pretend you were blind. No one had told him what to do when a cadaver climbed out of the grave. Now, he just looked as if he was trying to find a way to disappear on the spot. When this didn’t seem to work, he approached tentatively. “Hey, you!”
Constance almost laughed. A toothy grin emerged from behind a tangled mat of dripping yellow hair. “Yes,” she said. “Me.” She raised a hand towards the man, which undulated like a serpent as she felt the surge of her new patron’s power ripple through her. The guardsman’s face froze in a look of surprise.
Constance limped across the dock, supporting herself with the railing, then gradually regaining her balance. She felt her strength returning to her in the form of a mad certainty. She approached the man, and fearful eyes swiveled in their sockets to follow her.
“Dreadful weather, is it not?” the grin said. “I hear the storms make the quelzarn restless.”
“Nnn!” The paralyzed man attempted to speak, but his lips would not move. Constance paid it no heed, and began to drag the stiff figure towards the edge of the dock, where she had emerged. A pool of blood mixed with the rain, and spilled into the sea.
“Won’t you watch the sea with me?” The dull roar of the sea was answered with a flash of lightning, bathing the night with a harsh white light that glinted off a surging arc of scales in bay beyond.
“Nnnnn! Nnnn!” The man pleaded, eyes wide and unable to turn away from bay beyond. Constance left him there, and made her way back to more solid ground.
And she watched.
And she did nothing.