Rosalinde had nothing and knew no one. She was free, but she was so far from home, or the memories of home. She did not even know if her family lived or not. The witch Emma-Lynne, and her friends – the sorcerer el-Ahmikz, the warrior-priestess Tiphanie, and the skald Reverence – had saved her and brought her out of bondage. The others, the guard Ricimer, the other sorcerer Jon, and the fallen vala Mathildë, had departed. The friendly farmer had put them up in his home for the night. She heard a knock and the witch entered.
“It is cold here in the north,” Rosalinde said with a slight smile.
Em nodded. “Definitely.” She looked Rosalinde over. “Are you warm enough?” she asked gently and with care.
She pulled the fur over herself. “yes I am.” She paused and the asked, “Ma’am you freed me, and I thank you. You asked me what I wanted to do. I think I have an answer. I am trained in a few arts. Most have to do with pleasure, but others have to do with gaining information. I did so often for my master, especially when he needed to know something about one lord or another. But that is all I know. A few languages I suppose, but that is it. Someday I wish to go back to Vaasa, find those who kidnapped my parents and myself, and then punish them. Someday I wish to go back to Storuvahn and find those who were my friends, and free them. Someday, I wish to be someone special. I am less than twenty years of age, and I know little that is practical, but I wish to someday pay you pack for the kindness you gave me.”
Em took Rosalinde’s hand in hers. “We aren’t so different. I’m barely even 20 winters myself, and I trained my whole life to be an entertainer. The day I decided to help people who were hurt by goblins was the very first day I was given magic. I went through a lot; saved some people and risked my life many times. But then Baron Roland d’Uzec noticed me. In his way he tested me, too. But however I did I managed to interest him. Now, I really love him. I think he loves me, though that love is bound by duty and the necessities of position. I never let anyone so close to me as he. I became his lover.
“You are the only person I have let as close to me as he. Maybe… I’m foolish. You were only doing a job that you had to do, after all. Or maybe it’s because you are young and people find you beautiful and you have red hair and so you are much like me. I don’t know. I immediately trusted you and I didn’t want to leave you with no future of your own. I wanted to share what I had.
“I sought comfort with you because I was very unsettled. I can’t express how disturbing the idea of slavery is to me. Being surrounded by it… Well. Not long before I think I went a little crazy. Maybe it was just as crazy to ask you to sleep with me when I’m devoted to my Baron. But you helped me so much more than you know. You helped me really come the rest of the way back to myself. So, I would like to help you as much as I possibly can. If you want a tutor, I’ll get one. If you just want to get revenge what happened to you, I’ll help you. I only ask for your friendship.”
“Certainly. But who would teach me? You said a tutor, but what kind of tutor could teach me to survive this place, use what I know to the best of my abilities, learn how to defend myself, and learn how to gather what I need to know to someday free my friends and find my family. What kind of people teach those things?” she asked.
“I think you are unique here,” Emmeline said. “If you wish to learn to use your natural talents as a tool and a weapon, I can teach you some of that myself. Even how to defend yourself. Should you wish to learn to appear and disappear when and how you wish, then I know an elf that might teach you. In gathering information, we tend to have opportunities to make connections we need as we travel widely. In fact, I believe we will need to pass very near your homeland after Spring. If you train hard, work hard, then you could be ready to make such a journey with my friends and I and a capable and important member of our party.”
“I would be open to whatever you and the others recommend. My thrall-master was Ursula. She taught me everything I know. It was…difficult. At times at least. I can work very hard if need be,” she replied.
Em tapped her chin and though through it again more carefully. “You haven’t Tiffanie’s athleticism to make a powerful warrior, nor magic like mine or River’s to make you generally dangerous. But I know you are very nimble, quick, and flexible. You’re beauty and grace will be an asset if you find yourself in a formal or court setting, just as I have found, but while that’s an advantage here and perhaps in gathering information, it won’t help you find and survive delivering justice to your kidnappers.”
Em gave Rosalinde her analysis. “You need to learn skills of subterfuge, escape, and stealth. To free the people you wish to free, you’ll need to know how to bypass locks, too. You’ll have to be incredibly good at it if you ever try something like this on your own, or they’ll catch you and probably do worse than just kill you. I’ve met some slavers — happily killed them, too. But they are brutally ruthless and their ability in a fight shouldn’t be underestimated.
“I’m going to help you do what you need to do as best I can and I’ll start with finding you the mentor you need to capitalize on your natural talents. I don’t know who yet, but I will.”
“Thank you,” Rosalinde replied. I look forward to it.”