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Authors: Piers Anthony

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For Love of Evil

BOOK: For Love of Evil
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For Love of Evil

by Piers Anthony

 

Chapter 1 - PARRY

 

There was a knock at the door, so hesitant as to be almost inaudible. Parry opened it.

 

A girl stood without, huddled and childlike. Her flowing honey hair was bound back from her face by a fillet: a narrow band of cloth that circled her bare head. Her frightened eyes seemed enormous, the irises gray-green. "I am Jolie," she whispered, her hands making a tentative gesture toward her bosom.

 

She had come! Suddenly Parry's mouth felt dry. He had known she would, yet doubted. He had wanted her to, yet been afraid. Now the test was upon him.

 

"Please come in," he said, his voice sounding considerably more assured than he felt.

 

She gazed at him. Her face crumpled. "Oh, please, my lord, please let me go! I never did you harm, or even spoke ill of you! I never meant to give offense, and if I have, I apologize most abjectly! Please, please do not enchant me!" She put her face in her hands, sobbing.

 

Parry was taken aback. "I am not going to enchant you, Jolie!" he protested. "I have no grievance against you."

 

Those marvelous eyes peeked from between her fingers. "No?"

 

"None. I know you have done me no harm. I want only to-" He found no appropriate word. "If you will come in, I will explain."

 

Her tears ceased, but not her fright. "The Sorcerer said I would not be hurt," she said somewhat defiantly.

 

"My tamer spoke truly," Parry said. "I mean only to talk with you. Please come in; it is warm inside."

 

She hesitated. A gust of wind tugged at her garment, and she shivered. It was evidently her best dress, but it was somewhat soiled linen, given shape only by the cord at her waist. It was inadequate protection against the chill of the fall evening. "You order me, lord?"

 

Parry grimaced. "I am no lord, Jolie. I am the Sorcerer's apprentice. I am hardly older man you. I cannot order you, nor would I if I could. I only want your company this night."

 

Her face crumpled again. "Oh, please, spare me this! To you it may be nothing, but to me it's my life!"

 

Parry had realized that there would be difficulty, but he had not properly appreciated its nature before. The girl believed that she was doomed if she set foot inside his house.

 

He could let her go. But that would mean the loss of what might be his sole opportunity, and failure in his first significant challenge. The Sorcerer had little sympathy for failure of any type.

 

"How can I persuade you that I mean you no harm?" he asked. "I swear to you that I will do nothing to you without your leave, and that I will not force that leave-giving."

 

"Will you swear by the Blessed Virgin Mary?" she asked disbelievingly.

 

"I swear it by the Blessed Virgin Mary."

 

She watched him for some sign of disaster, but mere was none. He had not been smitten for false swearing; therefore it must be safe. Still, her doubt loomed almost tangibly.

 

"Come in before you freeze," he urged. "I have a fire within."

 

That did it; her shivering was not entirely from fright. "Remember, you swore," she reminded him nervously.

 

"By the Virgin," he agreed.

 

She stepped in through the doorway, her eyes fixing on the fireplace within. There was indeed fire, radiating flickering heat. He had banked it so that it gave off little smoke and warmed the chamber without depleting the air; it was one of the arts the Sorcerer had taught him.

 

Jolie knelt before it, extending her hands to the warmth. Now the threadbare nature of her garment became evident; the light of the fire shone through, showing her thin arms, and there were holes. But she was oblivious; for the moment that warmth was all that she craved.

 

Parry closed and barred the door against the wind. It was of stout oak, and chinked around the edges, but some drafts still leaked through. He went quietly to his pantry, which was a niche to the side, separated by a dark linen curtain. He brought out a loaf of bread, a cup of butter, and a jar of blackberry jam. He set these on a tray and added a pitcher of goat milk and a knife and two mugs. He brought these to the main chamber and set them on the wooden table.

 

"I have food," he said.

 

Jolie tore her rapt gaze from the fire and turned to him. For a moment her eyes met his; then she turned away without speaking.

 

"For you," he clarified, picking up the sharp knife.

 

She looked again-and screamed. She lurched to her feet and ran for the door. She would have been out and away, but the bar balked her.

 

"No, wait!" Parry cried, dropping the knife and hurrying to join her. "I meant-"

 

Perceiving herself trapped, Jolie turned on him a stricken countenance, then fainted.

 

He caught her as she fell. It was no ruse; her body slumped in rag-doll fashion. He had to transfer his hold from her shoulders to her midsection as she sagged. She was so light she seemed indeed like a doll; there was little flesh on her bones.

 

He tried to walk her to a stool, but couldn't make it work. Finally he picked her up and carried her. He eased her down by the fireplace, propping her against the warm hearth wall, then fetched pillows for comfort.

 

In a moment she recovered. Her eyes popped open, and she glanced about like a snared bird.

 

"You are safe, Jolie," Parry said quickly. "You swooned, but you are safe."

 

"The knife-"

 

Then it burst upon him: the knife! He had been about to slice the bread, and she had thought he meant to use it on her. No wonder she had spooked!

 

"I gave my oath," he reminded her. "No harm to you."

 

"But-"

 

"I was cutting bread for you."

 

"But the sacrifice-"

 

"My oath," he repeated. "By the Holy Virgin. You can trust that."

 

"Yes," she agreed dubiously.

 

"I am going to cut you a slice of bread," he said carefully. "Or you may do it yourself, if you prefer."

 

"No . . ." she said, evidently afraid that the knife would turn in her hand and seek her innocent blood.

 

Parry picked up the knife, slowly, and oriented on the hard loaf. He sawed through it, severing a thick slice, and set down the knife.

 

Jolie's eyes remained locked on the knife throughout. She relaxed only when it left his hand.

 

"Would you like butter on it?" he inquired. "Or jam?"

 

"Oh, my lord ..." she demurred.

 

"I am no lord," he repeated firmly. "Call me Parry."

 

"Oh, I could not!" Parry smiled, a trifle grimly. "Call me Parry," he said, touching the knife.

 

"Parry!" she cried, shrinking into her dress.

 

"That's better," he said. "You know I am only a year older than you. I see you as an equal."

 

"But you are the Sorcerer's son!"

 

"Butter or jam?" he asked. "Or both?"

 

"For me?" She simply could not believe.

 

"For you. I will have a separate slice. Here, I will cut it now." He picked up the knife.

 

Again her eyes locked on it, and her breath became shallow. It was as though he were torturing the loaf.

 

"I will put the knife away," he said as he finished. He earned it back to the pantry and set it behind the curtain, safely out of sight. Only then did the girl's breathing revert to normal.

 

He used a wooden spatula to spread butter generously on both slices of the coarse black bread, then poured jam on each. He picked up the slices and walked to her, proffering one. "For you," he repeated. "I will sit on the other side of the fire and eat my own."

 

Hesitantly, her tiny hand came up, as if ready to dart away at the first sign of menace. Her whole arm was shaking. He set the bread firmly in it, then took his place on the other side as promised.

 

He had been uncertain how to proceed, but now he felt more confident. "Jolie, I would like you to understand me. May I tell you my story?"

 

"Yes, lord," she said. Then, as his glance went to the table where the knife had lain, "Parry!"

 

He smiled. "You learn quickly, Jolie. That is one of two reasons I asked for you."

 

"You gave your oath!" she cried.

 

"I asked only for your company this evening. Your father owed my father, and this is the manner of the payment: your visit here. After this you will be free; we shall never require this of you again."

 

"Oh, please-I never harmed you!"

 

"And I will not harm you!" he snapped. "Eat your bread and listen; then perhaps you will understand."

 

She looked at the bread she held as if seeing it for the first time. "I-really can eat?"

 

"Slowly," he cautioned. "One small bite at a time. Like so." He took a delicate bite of his own. "Chew it well before swallowing." He was aware that a hungry peasant tended to gulp good food, fearing it would vanish. He did not want the girl to make herself sick.

 

She took a bite, emulating him exactly.

 

"Fifteen years ago, the Sorcerer was preparing a major spell," Parry said."For this he required a blood sacrifice. So he bought a baby. As you know, such babies are for sale by poor families who have too many to feed already."

 

She knew. She chewed deliberately, watching him. "I was that baby," he continued. "It was my destiny to be cut and bled on the altar, my life's blood lending substance to the potency of the spell. I believe it was a weather spell; there had been a drought, and the Lord of the Manor feared for his crops and the wild animals on his preserve. He did not want to suffer poor hunting. So he hired this service of the Sorcerer, in the year of our Savior 1190. The sacrifice was to be private. because the Holy Church frowns on human sacrifice."

 

He paused, glancing at her. She watched him as if mesmerized, slowly chewing.

 

"But the Abbot somehow learned of it," Parry continued after a moment. "He showed up at the site in person. 'What's this noise of sacrifice?' he demanded. 'You know it is forbidden to cut a living human baby!' And naturally the Lord had to disavow it, because the Abbot could make things very difficult for the progress of his soul to Heaven. 'No, no. Abbot, you misunderstand!' he protested. "This is no human sacrifice! We have a fine sheep for that!' And he signaled his minion to fetch a sheep from the herd."

 

"Then what is this human baby doing here?" the Abbot demanded, for he was no fool. The Lord had to think fast. "Why, this is the Sorcerer's newborn son," he explained. "But the Sorcerer is not married," the Abbot pointed out. "That is why he is adopting this fine baby," the Lord said.

 

"The Abbot looked at the Sorcerer, whom he didn't like because magic was, strictly speaking, forbidden outside the auspices of the Church. But on occasion the community did need the professional touch, as now, so the Sorcerer was tolerated. The Abbot saw a way to make the Sorcerer really uncomfortable, and he pounced on it. "I am very glad to hear that," he said, rubbing his hands together. "Children are the Lord's blessing. I shall perform the ceremony of adoption straightaway." And the Sorcerer was trapped in this bed of thistles of the Lord's making; he would have to adopt and raise the sacrificial baby. Thus was my life spared, and I have not had occasion to regret it."

 

He looked again at Jolie, and caught her in a tentative smile. He smiled in return, encouraging her. She was now halfway through her feast of bread, still chewing deliberately, as directed.

 

"The sheep arrived, and the sacrifice was made," he resumed. "And do you know, the weather did turn, and rain came within the day. It seemed that the sacrifice had been effective. The Abbot performed the ceremony of adoption, and I became the Sorcerer's son. I understand it was difficult for the Sorcerer to mask his scowl, or the Abbot his smirk. Even the Lord, when he pondered the matter, considered it a fine joke. But he remained neutral, for he required the good offices of both the Abbot and the Sorcerer. He went so far as to guarantee a nominal stipend for the care of the boy, so that he might never be in want. The Abbot matched him by guaranteeing a proper and churchly education for the lad. Thus I received both material and spiritual blessings, to the discomfiture of my adopted father. It was impossible for him to renege, or to dispose of me privately; the Abbot watched like a hawk. Thus the joke became a fact, and I was indeed the heir to the Sorcerer. But do you know, I somehow never did take a liking to the notion of human sacrifice? I am not certain I ever quite figured out why."

 

Now Jolie could not prevent her laugh. Her face illuminated with the momentary pleasure of it, becoming pretty. She had finished her bread, while Parry's had only one bite from it.

 

"Here, take mine," he said, offering it to her. "I find I would rather talk than eat; you are a good listener."

 

She tried to demur, but she remained hungry, and her protest lacked force. She accepted the bread, and ate it with better confidence.

 

"Then the oddest thing developed," Parry said. "I turned out to have a talent for magic. It was as if God had chosen this way to provide the Sorcerer an heir that he would never have chosen for himself. The Abbot died when I was ten, and the Lord when I was twelve, but the need for any coercion had long since passed. My father now saw to my education and welfare with enthusiasm, and indeed, I have never wanted for either. I have long known the story of my adoption, and have no resentment on that account; I know that had I not been sold for sacrifice, I would now be a completely ignorant peasant, or perhaps dead of a fever. I believe He was Lead in his mercy and discretion did intervene to make of my life what it could be. I was never in danger of death from the knife; God knew that, if the others did not." He smiled again. "But you may be sure that when I pick up a knife, it is to cut bread, and not to harm a visitor. Do you believe that now, Jolie?"

BOOK: For Love of Evil
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