rosemary edghill: The Sword of Maiden's Tears

The Sword of Maiden's Tears


The Sword of Maiden's Tears [?]
by Rosemary Edghill
DAW Books (October 1994)
ISBN: 0-88677-622-8

Chapter 1: Never Trust Anyone Over 30

It was April 30th and it was raining. Naomi was at kendo, Michael was at the gym, Philip was (probably) torturing small animals, and Jane was at New York Public doing passionate in-depth research on a subject of which nobody'd ever heard, and about which she would insist on telling all of them about the next time Naomi made dinner. Which would be, now that Ruth came to think about it, tomorrow.

As for Ruth, Ruth was alone.

Ruth was tall and blue-eyed, brown-haired and sensible, with a face, as Naomi often said, which made her look like the better class of Flemish Madonna; oval and even, with regular unexciting features and a small pink mouth. Ruth was rather vain of that mouth, and bought it lipstick far in excess of that which is deemed needful by proto-Librarians.

People had told Ruth she was sensible from the moment she had first fallen into the toils of the educational system; so much so that by now Ruth was ready for actions senseless and insensible. Unfortunately, she didn't seem to have any talent for them at all. After all, wasn't she on her way toward a Master's in library science -- library science, for God's sweet sake, was there anything more sensible than that?

Sensible Ruth.

Sensible Ruth was out walking in the rain. Today was her birthday, and Ruth was thirty. Thirty. All alone, and on the threshold of the rest of her entire life, which would be spent solitary, virginal, and depressed in some minuscule upstate New York library where the book was on view between the hours of three and three-fifteen every other Wednesday.

Such a depressing future called for ice cream at the very least, and there was a Haagen Daas shop on Broadway.

Ruth's Columbia-sponsored housing was on 116th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive, but the streets were fairly safe this close to the college, even at night. Marooned by the changing demographic currents of New York City, Columbia University stood like a last bastion of Gilded Age Gotham in a sea of late-twentieth century chaos surrounded by a moat of chi-chi restaurants and donut shops.

Ruth hesitated between ice cream and going to the Hunan Balcony and really pigging out instead, but when Naomi got back from her martial arts class she sometimes liked to cook. So Ruth contented herself (sensibly!) with a pint of something that ought by rights to be called Death by Chocolate and turned back toward the apartment.

The fine spring rain haloed everything and dampened her skin and clothes like heavy dew. It made the slope of 116th street slippery as glass, and Ruth's attention was divided neatly between her footing and the ice cream as she wended.

But a New York pedestrian is nobody's fool. She had enough attention left over to spot the body.

Ruth Marlowe, after some practice, was a good New Yorker. She'd lived in New York since she'd come to Columbia three years ago with a fistful of equivalency credits that let her collect a shatteringly inconsequential BA in History on her way to the Masters of Library Science that might actually let her earn a living. She knew the rules: If you see a supine-or-prone body, run -- or at least walk fast -- in the opposite direction. Never interfere. James T. Kirk would not have found a lot of sympathy here in New York City for his darling habit of breaking the Prime Directive.

But this body was different.

For one thing, it didn't look like your average muggee. Even from here, in the rain-misted street-lamp-light, Ruth could see he (he?) was dressed in bright-colored tunic and boots -- maybe a medievalist wandered over from St. John the Unfinished, and thus more likely to respond favorably to an offer of help.

Unless he was dead.

Ruth tried not to think about what she'd do if he were dead, but as she minced closer she saw that he was breathing. He'd crawled out of -- or into? -- the narrow alley that ran between her building and the one behind it. If he hadn't been so fair she might not have seen him.

So fair -- and dressed in linen and cramoisy, though the linen was stained and there was blood in the long blond hair. She crouched and leaned forward, shying away from touching him for fear of hurting him further. Her heart hammered with near-exposure to violence. But at least he was alive.

He rolled over on his back then, moaning, and with the improved angle and visibility Ruth could see that his skin was not only fair, but albino-fair. He wore a belt and baldric of silver-studded leather, luxurious and theatrical.

His ears were pointed.

Good makeup, but not period costume, Ruth was thinking, when he opened his eyes.

They were bright leaf green, and when the pupils contracted in the streetlamp's glare she could see that the pupils were slitted. They flashed in the dark like a cat's.

Ohboyohboyohboyohboy. Jane is going to kill me for being here instead of her, Ruth thought automatically.

His hands roved over his body, obviously in search of something. Ruth repressed a wince of sympathy -- they looked like they'd been stepped on.

Mugged. Definitely.

Whatever he was looking for he didn't find. His eyes focused on her and he moved, painfully, to sit up.

"My sword," the stranger said. "Where is it?"

Ruth stared into his eyes and couldn't think of a single thing to say.

Mistaking her silence for a number of things it probably wasn't, the stranger-elf began the laborious process of attempting to get to his feet. Ruth backed away and looked wildly around for someone, anyone, even Philip, to enlist in the solution of her peculiar problems. Finding none, she looked for the sword.

Ruth's experience of swords was not as limited as that of other women her age. She'd never joined the Society for Creative Anachronism (though Naomi, who cooked for the local revels, had suggested it often and often) but Ruth had been a medievalist by inclination all her life -- and she'd practically lived in the Hall of Arms and Armor at the Met.

So Ruth looked around for a two to four-foot piece of metal with a handle, with X- or cross- or basket-shaped hilt, in a scabbard or without one, covered with gold and jewels and enamel or just very plain.

She saw nothing fitting the description.

When she looked back at him, the elf was standing. He was taller than she was but not as tall as Michael, which was a good height to be. Standing, his clothes were covered with a long dark cloak, making his face seem to float unsupported in the shadows. He met her eyes.

Fair, that face; fair as a flower despite the puffiness around the jaw, the split and still bleeding lip. Fair, and ageless as a nun's.

"It isn't here, is it, human girl?" The elf brushed back his hair and winced. A large plain ring on his finger flashed mirror-bright. His hand came away wet with blood, black under the streetlamps.

"Are you hurt?" Ruth asked, since one must say something, no matter how stupid. The elf sighed.

"I am hurt; I am slain; I am-- Where am I, precisely?"

Reality, Ruth kept herself from saying. "New York."


Plainly this meant nothing to him. He looked around again -- looking up, as no native-or-acculturated New Yorker would think to, and his mouth settled itself into harsh lines having little to do with the drubbing he'd received. For a moment Ruth saw the world through his eyes: a perfidious Albion of dark satanic mills, frighteningly alien.

"It seems a large place," he said. He tried to keep his voice even, but the sound of it made Ruth revise her estimate of his age downward. Younger than she, and therefore less threatening.

"Eleven million plus people -- as of the last census."

He looked quickly at her, as if hoping to catch her in a lie, and she saw the quick cat-in-darkness flash of his eyes.

It was the eyes, perhaps, that decided her, with the backward wistful logic of "If a mad axe-murderer pretending to be an elf has gone to all the trouble of getting mirrored tinted contact lenses, why don't I let him get away with it?"

That, and the fact that it was her birthday, and she was thirty, and all her hopeful attempts to climb up to the imagined sanity and perks of the adult world didn't seem to be worth the trouble. Like Oakland, California; when you got there, there was no there there. Or so Gertrude Stein had said.

"Look," said Ruth, with firm calmness. "Why don't you come back to my apartment? You can at least get cleaned up. I'll make you a cup of tea."

"I thank you, mortal girl." He looked pleased, but not surprised -- and more relieved than pleased, as if good manners would have kept him from asking for what he desperately hoped for.

"Ruth," said Ruth firmly. And besides, she could always hit him with one of Naomi's shinai.

"I am . . . Melior." He hesitated over the name, as if there had been going to be more. "Melior," he repeated firmly. He shook his head and winced.

"Come on." Ruth, belatedly awakening to the fact that where there had been muggers there could still be muggers, glanced up and down the hill. She took a few steps toward home and sanity, meaningfully. Melior followed.

He had long since lost track of how long he had sought the Sword, for the time changed with each Borderland he crossed, but he thought it had been long indeed. But never yet, in all his years of war and wandering, had Rohannan Melior of the House of the Silver Silences been so caught between joy and despair.

Despair, because the Sword was lost to him again. For a brief moment he had held it in his hands, and even though it had been spellbound to carry him into this city of dreadful night, Melior had found and passed many Gates, and with the Sword's aid he could win free of even the Last World itself.

But through foolishness, through inattention, through the cursed luck that had dogged every step of his quest, the Sword was ravished away, stolen by a brace of common footpads.

If that were all, despair would be his only companion. But there was Ruth.

He had never known her name until this moment, but it seemed to him that he had always known her face. It had been his companion on the blood-soaked battlefields of his homeland; a promise that he had once been too young to understand. Her image had burned in his heart like the brief bright lives of humans, only awaiting her presence to kindle itself past all extinction.

But to find her here, in this world, human and mortal and with no idea of the greater worlds that held her own in nested embrace--

It was difficult at times, Melior reflected, to know when you were well off. Was it better to search for his heart's-ease forever, or to find her like this?

And the worst of it was, she did not know him.