Barbarian’s Kiss

Knife to Throat
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 1

‘Of course,’ Coriander’s first thought was ‘of course there’s a knife at my throat.’ His second thought was wondering why his first thought hadn’t been ‘OH MY GODDESS THERE’S A KNIFE AT MY THROAT!!!!!’ Coriander almost rolled his eyes. Luckily a part of him trained in battle knew rolling his eyes might anger or insult the huge man with the knife. Whether or not you are unimpressed, annoyed, bothered, cynical, or even terrified, it is typically best to not piss off a warrior with a weapon at your jugular. Coriander wondered if training had actually taught him that or had he picked up that useful bit of knowledge in the many times he seemed to get outclassed in a fight.

Coriander was in fact afraid but fear no longer led him. Coriander was a warrior now and he wouldn’t be top of his herd at Magoge if he paused or tensed up at life threatening situations. And yet he was also a dreamer. His dark eyes searched the world for secrets and imaginings. He loved to wonder at the world and, in such, he knew the word wondered back. Frequently, well more recently, wondering won out over fear.

Coriander’s third thought had been to not parry the weapon or try to fight. The man holding the weapon was enormous. His shoulders blocked the Sun. His forearm, which Coriander could easily see as it was so close to his face, was easily as around as Coriander’s young thigh. The giant, not literally for Coriander had battled giants and this man was human, enormous, but human, knew how to hold a weapon and was easily identifiable as a warrior.
His arm was strong but pliable. His hair was long and had small bones and pieces of metal tied into it. His face was tight and his breathing steady. He wore only a small blood-soaked loincloth not unlike Coriander’s, but Coriander’s perizoma would make a nice bracelet on this bulky bull-like enemy. Coriander could not make out the man’s eyes. He knew there would be the true telling. Coriander would need to know the sort of human he was up against.

Coriander would normally not be out in the woods so far from Krokos, or any inhabited place, alone and unprotected. Again, as so frequently in the young apprentice Mage’s life, he was a victim of circumstance. He tried to be good, he tried to follow the rules, he tried to keep his head down and stay out of stinking horrible annoying classicist politicking Magoge but all too often events stacked against the handsome skinny boy. Just last Moon, Magoge had a break in studies. Coriander had wanted to leave and go into the woods, the woods he stood in now, and rest. But NOOOOOOO! He had been forced to stay at school and of course tragedy struck. Coriander had saved the day and quite a few lives, not to mention the status of Magoge itself, but was that heroism rewarded? No.

Even his best friend Vushi was concerned. She had succumbed completely to the spell that doomed them all. She thanked Coriander for his help and bravery but quickly insisted he never speak about it. He would have thought her jealous but then all the stares and judgment started. Coriander consorted with ghosts! Coriander was oddly immune to a spell that overpowered even First Teacher! What’s wrong with him? Coriander is a freak! Coriander practices the dark place!

Coriander was unfortunately familiar with his no-win situation at Magoge. He was of noble but provincial birth. His family, although wonderful and loving, were outside and unaware of the very political capital. Vushi, a slave turned Mage, was honored as the Goddess’s pet . Rho, a boy with almost no magickal ability, was viewed as a reminder of the beauty in all from She. Coriander was less than tolerated. No matter what he did, no matter how many matches he won, no matter his scores, someone, somewhere had decided he was unfit and unworthy. Coriander came to Magoge and succeed when he should not have. Perhaps that was all the people in power needed to hate him.

Perhaps First Teacher hated him the most. No not perhaps, definitely hated Coriander the most. In fact, since the spell from the Despair Demon, as they were calling it, had been broken, First Teacher had not spared Coriander a nod or even looked at him. Coriander knew the master’s pride was tainted but that hadn’t been Coriander’s fault!

The only thing First Teacher said, as he looked down his angry crooked nose, was to suggest a week off to repair the damage Coriander had done. It seemed to most, he was referring to Coriander’s bruises and wounds from battling a demon, but in fact, he was referring to under-mining First Teacher’s power. They both knew it. Vushi had helped him pack a few necessities and even offered to go with him. Coriander let her stay. The new season was back and in full swing. Coriander would miss a few weeks of lessons and he would not wish that stress on his end-friend. In turn she promised to help him catch up as soon as he was back.

Now it seemed all of that was unimportant. Maybe he would never come back. Maybe he’d leave his skinny bronze corpse out here in the woods to be eaten by animals? Maybe he’d be better off? Coriander knew such thoughts were blasphemous. He had been blessed by She! ‘Blah blah blah’ he thought. He was sick of being blessed.

Coriander was suddenly brought back from his daydreaming and self-pity sojourn by the violent piercing of his flesh. The knife tore at his skin. Coriander realized a bit too late he was going to die.

“Witch!” grunted to warrior.

Need Witch
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 2

Coriander gulped and tried to lean his neck back a bit without looking like he was flinching from the knife. He was in fact flinching from the knife but he didn’t want to anger to man wielding it. He had called Coriander witch. How did he know? Was he too a Mage? Or witch? Coriander silently cursed himself for showing off.

He had been walking from the pool and a sweet possibly-wicked little sprite, with confidence. He was happy having survived. Which is the only good outcome from sprites and faeries. Survival. One never wins with them. After having put enough distance behind him, Coriander started singing. A silly song too dirty for Magoge but probably not as offensive as he thought it was. He still had magick coursing through him and he was alone, or so he thought. Perhaps he just felt like playing. He started throwing rocks around. Not physically, mentally. Sort of like playing rock n shield with Vushi, except this time he simply set rocks sailing over trees and into boulders with his mind. It was probably an odd sight: A boy skipping through an over grown forest, singing filthy lyrics about fat bottomed girl loudly, with smallish rocks swirling all around him and crashing down to the beat. He was a one-man band. And it was completely stupid. Had Vushi been there she would have killed him! One did not display and ‘play’ with magick! It was sacred and serious!

The huge warriors’ stance weakened for a moment. Most people would not have noticed the subtle switch of feet or slight buckle of knee. Was his breath ragged or tired? These small insights were not lost on Coriander. Even weakened he could not take this man. He would have to use magick. But then again, maybe the warrior was ready for that? He had called him witch, a word not used by Coriander’s people. It had the misfortune of combining all types of magick, good bad and other, into one label. Typically that label was used in fear and disgust. There were many places in the huge wide world where using magick was not looked at as a blessing and wonderment. It was seen as a curse. All of it. Which seemed to Coriander just so completely unfair and stupid. Possibly even more stupid than showing off your Powers while skipping through unknown woods alone and without protection.

Before he resorted to more magick Coriander, in his typical sweet –boy fashion, tried to befriend the knife-man. “Greetings friend! I am Coriander. I mean no harm to you. If these are your hunting grounds I will away! If you wish your privacy, and who would not in these lovely woods, again I will away! For the love of the Goddess, may Moon shine bright and Sun warm your toes, I will away. Thrice I say.”

Silence.

Coriander wondered if the man spoke the common tongue… well, other than the single word witch. His hands were up in placating gesture. He really did not want to fight. He never wanted to fight. Part of Coriander knew how to take on a larger opponent. In fact, if threats came to blows Coriander would not easily be defeated. Unfortunately given the opponent it would mean he would have to attack viciously and immediately. The man would of course underestimate the skinny boy and Coriander would use that against him. It would end in blood shed. Not Coriander’s blood. He shook his head sorry to take a life gifted by She.

Well he would have shook his head if a knife hadn’t been pressed to his throat. Rubbing your skin over a sharp edge would be colossally stupid. The man’s hand was firm now. As if he was deciding. Deciding what? Coriander mumbled a spell to make his skin tough as lizard’s scales. He didn’t let the spell lose but held it ready. If this man knew magick he would sense the spell before Coriander got it in place. Half a lizard skin spell didn’t equal half as tough skin. It equaled nothing until the spell was complete.

Finally the man spoke. Gruffly he said, “Witch?”

Coriander knew lying would be stupid. He had just magickally juggled tons of rock. But he also knew that the term witch may or may not mean a specific idea or craft to this man. He decided to identify himself in his own terms. “Mage.” He slowly pointed to himself with his raised hands. “Mage.”

The knife pulled back a few fingers and Coriander let out a sigh as the warrior mumbled, “need witch.”

Coriander wanted to help the man on some instinctive level but at the same time wanted to run like the wind, which being a Mage, even an apprentice Mage, was actually possible. Why did he need a witch? What was a witch actually? Maybe this man needed counsel or help? Maybe he needed witch bones to sell! There were markets that offered many coins for Mage-teeth!

“Why?” Coriander asked before his mind could tell his mouth the shut up. The huge man stiffened. With the sun at his back it was impossible to read his face. He seemed to take a long breath. Maybe he was considering his answer carefully. Coriander added, “Why do you need a witch?”

The huge shadow huffed and lowered the knife. Softly, softer than a man that size had the right to speak, he said, “must be blessed by She.”

Coriander smiled. With the knife lowered he forgot to be afraid. This man obviously needed divine assistance. Isn’t that what he had been apprenticing all this time? Here he was out in the world helping his fellow human! He shone with the Sun and blurted out, “I am blessed by She!”

“You?”
“Yes! Me!” Coriander smiled wider.

The warrior took a ragged breath and in a swift motion brought the knife up again as he lunged for Coriander.

Coriander jumped away but crashed his back into a tree and banged his head. The huge man’s thrust was all the energy he must have had left for he followed the knife in a feeble attempt to tackle Coriander. Half way through the tackle the warrior’s effort ran dry and he passed out with Coriander in his arms. The two fell to the Earth, Coriander on the bottom.

Coriander could barley breath, smothered as he was, by the now unconscious ginormous man who, now Coriander could tell as blood dripped into his eyes and mouth, was badly hurt. ‘Of course,’ Coriander thought, ‘of course.’

Woods would….
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 3

Coriander slithered out from under the huge warrior. He could have used Air magick, but, as Vushi always taught, thought best to save his magickal energies when only a little physical exertion was he needed. On all fours, he took a long breath. In an odd realization Coriander realized he had been more afraid of the knife than his brain had registered. Now out of imminent danger he felt the tension in his shoulders and neck. He had been afraid. ‘Huh?’ he thought.

He saw the knife lying on the ground. A crude thing bound in leather and some stone he didn’t recognize. The leather too was purplish color. Coriander had never seen dye of that sort. The man’s leather loincloth was purple too, where it wasn’t covered in blood. He wondered for a moment, if wherever this man was from they had purple monsters? Or at least purple cows? Did they have purple milk? Coriander knew for sure he had been afraid. He only acted so nonsensically after real fear had grabbed him. He recognized the signs even if he hadn’t recognized the fear. That was wrong. ‘Fear is good.’ he thought, ‘it reminds you to be smart.” He remembered the sage advice from Teacher Akti… former Teacher Akti. He shook his head clear. That was a thought for another day. Right now he had a possible dead purple clad foreigner to deal with.

In the same manner Coriander knew tangentially, like he should have been more aware of his fear, that he should be more concerned with having an almost dead foreign warrior face first on the ground. He took it in stride. He had already seen some crazy things and knew getting upset did not change the fact that weird things were happening. In fact, panic almost always made it worse. Not to say he was nonplussed about the man, the word witch, the knife or almost suffocating. He was terribly curious, a little afraid and few other intense emotions, but he knew enough to take it easy and figure out what was happening. Things were rarely what they seemed. After all this wasn’t the first threat he had received. In fact it wasn’t his first threat today even.

Coriander had stopped sulking on the second ay of his vacation, previously thought of as banishment. He was free and outside. His very favorite place to be. Yes he would miss class and have to study extra hard when he returned, but since when was life at Magoge easy? When didn’t he study hard? He would practice his arts and academics out here, or not, and return when he was told to and nothing would change the cycles of the Sun, so he decided to be happy about it. He ate berries, made a small camp and slept soundly after falling asleep counting shooting stars.

The third morning was beautiful. He woke just before the Sun peeked over Her Lover, Earth. He watched the world get bright and warm. The Sun seemed to say ‘hello Coriander’ so he stood and with rigid form and bowed back to the Sun as he had been taught. Then in an untrained-way danced around in the daylight trying to catch a beam.

He knew he shouldn’t wander far. First teacher had said a week and he didn’t dare come back a moment before or after. Normally he’d take great joy in getting lost and finding his way back. (A hobby that did less than thrill his Mother.) He had decided on a small adventure into the unknown woods would be fine. As long as he kept the eyes on the Stars and Sun he would be in no danger of getting lost. As well, the woods themselves were fairly small for a forest. By climbing a hill outside of Krokos, he could tell the woods were no more than a three-day journey. He could cross them easy and be back on the sixth day and maybe carouse a bit in the city before returning to glares and stares that was his life at school.

The woods, which he had not explored for any real reason other than they were the opposite way from home, were usually filled with travellers. However Coriander was alone. The previous week had been festival and everybody had gone home or wherever they hung their shields, and now only the birds visited the boy. Coriander thought that was lovely.

The woods were surrounded by Krokos, a mountain that led to another smaller city, the sea and a rocky terrain that littered all over the country sides of Coriander’s home. The rocks beyond the woods were jagged and cruel-looking, and although not a desert, only small scraggily plants crawled out an existence there. Some saw faces in the oddly shaped rocks. Some said it was cursed land. Coriander wanted to see it for himself! So through the forest he wandered. He knew he wouldn’t have the time to really search the rocky area but he wanted to at least see it. He was also secretly glad that his time constrictions didn’t allow him venture very far into those unknown possibly cursed rocks.

He knew, this being his third day out, he would be getting out of the woods any moment. But on and on he walked. Perhaps he had guessed wrongly? When the Sun was high over the tall trees, Coriander heard a strange noise. A gurgle or a bubbling… Water? He still had some water left but any adventurer knew to get water whenever you had the chance! So he headed for that sound. But he kept losing the noise. If one hears a brook, as one gets closer the sound of the water gets louder! But as he moved the sound kept changing directions. He would have sworn an oath the water was just over that hill in front of him, but when he got there the sound was behind him. Had he missed it? How does one miss a stream?

He walked like that, in circles, for over an hour. Up a hill down a hill. Over a small ravine back across it. He even climbed a tree to try and see the source from above! Finally he stamped his foot and yelled, “show yourself!” He immediately felt the magick.

He hadn’t meant to spell a command. He didn’t even think he had that Power. But one minute he was frustrated and the next the Air parted and there between two trees was a pond. It bubbled and sent clean wind to Coriander’s face. He rushed to it. Half from thirst and half from knowing if he didn’t hurry it might be gone again.

He was so delighted to have won the game, for it seemed a game to him. He didn’t stop and think about what kind of water needed hiding. Safe things do not hide, but then again weak things do. And Coriander was not afraid of weak things. Then again, it was no weak feat to hide a pond. What kind of Power could do that? Why?

Perhaps if he had paid more attention to the warning signs or paused a moment to wonder about the magickal enchantments obviously running through the suddenly appearing pond, he would not have been bending over the pool of glistening water when a mottled scaly hand grabbed his leg!

Sprite Ain’t Right
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 4

Coriander jumped back. Or rather, tried to, but the hand, although small, held firmly like a vise. Coriander threw his body back against the rocky edge of the pool. He ignored the piercing razor sharp stones behind him. He was too afraid of what was in front of him. He held out his hands and mumbled a spell of two ready to protect or destroy. ‘Stupid, stupid, stupid,’ he thought. He did know better. He hadn’t even stopped to look for magickal traps or beings, but then again he wondered if perhaps that’s what the magick did. A spell to make the wanderer not worry about spells…. Coriander mentally scolded himself for letting his mind wander when danger was near. The hand clasped tighter on his ankle. The water bubbled. The creature emerged. And he was darling.

He. Coriander thought it might be a boy by his frame, but couldn’t actually tell as his features were so feminine. The creature seemed to be about Coriander’s age and yet held itself with such boundless joy he appeared younger and at the same time with such gravity he must be much older. His hair was like seaweed, which looked out of place in what must be a fresh water pool. His skin was a mottled green and blue that seemed to flow back and forth like competing waves. His eyes were huge. They sparkled a greeting. They were warm and wrinkled from laughter; they seemed wise. He smiled wide. His lips were full and spoke the common tongue, or seemed to, “hello friend! Such a visit, shall we see to what end?”

It let go of his ankle and smiled. Coriander had to make sure, as always, of what type of thing he was dealing with. If this were a nymph he would have to be very careful. Nymphs, despite the bawdy songs, were divine creatures. Blessed and conceived by Gods. To anger one of them was to anger the Sun. If this were a merperson, and Coriander couldn’t see it’s legs…or fins, certain protocol would be required. His Father was a Magistrate and thus Coriander would be perceived as a familial extension of that role, insomuch he would have to bow and treat the merperson like a visiting dignitary. Coriander really hoped he wouldn’t have to plan a truce or make alliances with the Mers.

It could also be a monster in disguise as a boy. That was all too easy, except, why then smile and chat? Monsters typically killed and ate, in that order if you were lucky. Something in its eyes read kind, or at least un-monster-ish, to Coriander. He spoke quietly and respectfully, “are you a sprite of the pool?”

The boy cocked his head as if examining Coriander much in the same way Coriander had just done to him. Finally he spoke, “A sprite of the pool? Now I’d be a fool, to tell you my name without promise of the same!”

Faerie.

Only faeries and sprite played games and spoke in that sing-song-silly way. They loved nothing more than to tease, gamble and generally be a nuisance to humans. This was not to say they weren’t incredibly dangerous. Angering a faerie could mean years of retaliation. Years. Like your great grandchildren would suffer. Faerie wrath was the stuff of children’s nightmares! Usually they could be bribed or would get bored of you before any real harm was done. However, Coriander had heard stories of lost travellers wandering into a sacred faerie circle, or tree or even river, but he had never heard of one magickally appearing in a pond. As a Mage he could sort of grasp an understanding of how much Power that would be to do. Or rather knew how very little he could grasp that much Power and thereby figure the answer was: a lot.

Coriander attempted to responded in kind, “Sorry my friend for such confusion, twasn’t intent on causing intrusion.” Well if that didn’t please the faerie! The water-logged boy leapt up into the air clapping his hands and laughing. Coriander could see his green and blue body completely as it left the water. He was a bit more confused about the creature’s gender but it was definitely not a merperson. Coriander laughed. The boy bounced up to the shore. Obviously the rough rocks didn’t bother its green bottom. Coriander hadn’t realized how small the sprite was. If it stood it would probably only come up to his chin.

He spoke again, “I know the names for Wind and Tree, Bubbles and Sun’s fire, but what to call you is what I desire?”

Coriander knew names had Power, like the way Vushi could call him, unwanted usually, from far away. He knew in spell-work knowing a thing’s name was important but it wasn’t like telling the sprite, or a Mage, his name could make anything bad happen. Everyone knew his name. Well, not everyone. And not given freely by the owner of that name. Hmmm…. In a flash of insight Coriander remembered the first thing the sprite had said is he’d be a fool to give Coriander his name. Then something was more at stake here than unwanted messages. He tried to act innocent, “You called me friend and I’ll do the same, let us not quibble about such boring things as a name!” Coriander wondered if repeating the same rhyme was bad manners.

The sprite didn’t seem offended, it clapped its hands, which made more noise than two small hands should and spoke another rhyme, “Are you human your friend would like to know, or are you a baby giant ready to grow?”

“Just a human, a man to some, a child to the city from whence I’ve come.” The sprite smiled. It said nothing. Coriander realized he hadn’t asked a question back. Was the creature bound to only answer, like Echo? No. It had asked the first question. But, perhaps some game was in play? Coriander knew he should in fact say… something quick and get away. He realized he had just rhymed in his mind, twice now, he had to leave. Fast.

He continued, “I didn’t mean to bother you, I’ll let you alone, I have things to do and they’re best done on my own.” Coriander purposely did not ask a question. Things happened to people who were bold enough conversed with sprites. Sometimes good things, yes yes yes, but often their lives ended up a mess. He was still internally rhyming.

The sprite made a sad face. He almost cried, “you came all this way and do not care to play?”
“I want to play but I daren’t delay!”
“I have games and tricks promising fun, stay for spell in the barely moving Sun!”
“How oh how I wish I could, but I must continue through the wood!”
“A quick game, a small game, a story, please? I am so lonely alone in the rocks and trees.”
“No I say, I must retreat, though it pains me to leave a boy so sweet!”

The sprites eyes grew wider than Coriander believed possible. “Me sweet? Well meet!” The sprite smiled wickedly wide! His face bunched up and then grew to a decision. He leveled his shoulders and beckoned Coriander near. He leaned over and whispered in his ear, “I find you as sweet as you find me! I’ll grant you any wish I can for kisses three!”

A Game of Rhymes
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 5

Coriander shuddered. Kisses three was one of those twisted nursery rhymes children sing as they skip around and years later realize they had been playing to a warning . He had thought adults were just weird or had terrible senses of humor. He now realized on some primal level that those silly/wicked songs had firmly embedded fear and wisdom in their playful tunes. The very mention of kisses three had filled him with more dread than a magickally appearing pool with its own rhyming sprite. Coriander remembered the song easily:

Kisses 1 your heart is spun
Kisses 2 no news knew
Kisses 3 to the bottom with me!
Sank sunk sink
Yummy water do you drink!

‘RUN!” was Coriander’s immediate thought! Could he escape? What if this magickal pool f water could grow and shrink with a command from this happy creepy sprite? What if those small yet vise-like hands grabbed him again? What if the faerie threw a curse upon his shoulders, a coward’s curse ? Could he deflect it in flight? Would his great-great-great grandchildren be born with six heads or their tongues backwards?

A second thought came, which spoke to the trained warrior. Those were children’s songs. He was no child. He was barely human. A Mage of no small Power! He should fight this creature and teach it a lesson! He could rip it to pieces before the thing dared to rhyme again! How dare it threaten him! A foot ground into the Earth ready to call upon magick and spell this creature back to what ever waters would have it! If he could best it…if.

A third thought came slower. Could he talk his way out of this? His Mother had always said he was too clever for his own good. Was he that clever? Could he out maneuver a faerie? Play tricks on the trickster? He was good at role playing and silly speak and guessing games but this was more. This was negotiating his very life. Then again he thought, if I fail this game, I can always try to beat him, or run, afterwards?

Coriander smiled, “Kisses three? From the likes of me? 1 is all you shall get and after that, a wish is well met!”
“Kisses one? You??” laughed the sprite, “Ha! Only three will do!”
Coriander took the insult in stride and laughed back, “Such as me indeed! These lips are as wine to the seed!” Coriander tried to look sexy or what he imagined looked manly and provocative. In truth, he looked mostly ridiculous.
The sprite laughed and rolled its eyes, which as they were so wide looked insane, “Seed indeed!!! Kiss two would do, little thing, if you were only a king!”

Coriander had no idea where the game was headed but played, “What then gets wishes done for simply kisses one?”
“None such as you…..”
“…then who?” by cutting him off Coriander hoped to throw the creature off. It didn’t work. In fact it got the sprite very excited!
“For wishes such as mine? Only one kiss for the eternal Divine!” The sprite was getting smug!
Coriander looked insulted, “What gods need wishes from something like you! You speak in flicking tongue, you do!”
The sprite actually looked over his shoulder as if to make sure no Divine Being had heard, “I speak true, there are some who need what I do.”
“Not I. I have all, the Sun the Moon and Spring and Fall.” Coriander got bold.
“Give us kisses three human spawn, and have your seasons and be gone!” it laughed. Did Coriander just give up his wish?!?!
“For a wish kisses three, is what you ask of me?” Coriander wanted to get the wish back on the game board.
It nodded.
‘Cheater’ Coriander thought. Then he smiled, “Kisses three for a human of any age? I am more than human I am a Mage!”

The sprite made a sour face, “I should go, back into the water dive, for you ugly Mage, kisses five!”

Coriander had never been called ugly before and he didn’t take it well, “I thought you kind I thought you sweet, But now cruel, I wish we never did meet! Your pretty smile and lovely green is turned sea-sick and should never be seen!”

The sprite looked offended, hurt and furious. It leaned into Coriander’s face. He could feel spittle flinging onto his face as it spat, “hideous human, evil brat bitch’s spawn! Away from my home, I tell you be gone!”

Somewhere Coriander realized he had won. He knew he had the natural ability to piss anyone off but never had it come in so handy as this day at the pool. But that realization was only half of his mind. The rational ‘I won now run” part of Coriander’s mind was battling with a very angry part of his mind that was reacting to the sprite’s insult of his mother.

The ‘ oh no you didn’t ’ part of his mind won. Coriander felt that tingle of magic in his toe. He glared at the sprite and yelled back, “Evil? Ugly? Well if that’s how it goes. Know you deserve this brat to punch you in the nose!” As Coriander said the last word his fist, with magick form the Earth, collided into the creature’s nose.

It went flying across the pool.

He clutched his face and screamed, “my face my face! It hurt my pretty place!” Coriander had never heard such venom before. He knew it was time to run. As he fled, he expected to hear swears and oaths against him. Instead he heard crying. He felt a bit guilty. Had he hurt the thing? Had he meant to punch it that hard? Yes. Had he realized how much damage he could do? No. A few minutes later he was clear of the magickal pool. A tiny part of him wanted to go back and apologize. But it was such a small part he ignored it.

He continued to run. He wanted to get as much space between him and the sprite as possible. He had no idea how easily one could manifest a magickal pool. He wondered if he’d ever find out. He slowed to a quick walk. He could see the rocky area in the distance. A bright light glowing in the distance. He hadn’t lost much time. He would make the area by nightfall and set up a small camp. He would have a great meal tonight!

He suddenly realized how happy he was! Coriander had just escaped. No not escaped, won! He had won a game of wits against a magickal creature! Well, ok he had just been meaner and insulted the thing more than it had insulted him. Did that count? Is being meaner something he should be proud about? Coriander dismissed the second-guessing and decided: he had won!

He also realized he had a lot of energy spinning in his head. He had called a lot of Power into that toe! He was filled with magick. He said, “rock!” And a rock flew off the ground and into a tree, not enough to hurt the tree. Coriander knew better than that. He threw another stone and another and another. Before he knew it, he was juggling dozens of rocks with his mind. A trick Vushi would be impressed with but at the same time would find away to scold him for. He sang a bawdy sing, which Vushi would also have scolded him for. He laughed. A real laugh, one full of pride and peace and joy and magick and…

Then there was that knife against his throat.

Coriander looked at the fallen huge warrior. He rolled the man over, which took a lot of strength and a little Earth magick. Coriander put his ears to the man’s lips. He was breathing. No he was speaking.

“..h..h…help…m, meeee….”

Help, Hide or Kill
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 6

Coriander knew should run. Isn’t that what you did after an enemy, who tried to kill you, fell? Or passed out? Or fainted? You ran. Or killed him. Could Coriander kill him? He would never do it with magick but there are plenty of ways to kill a human, even a huge human, without tainting the Goddess’s blessing. He knew many methods. Coriander suddenly felt ill with the all the ways to destroy life at his grasp. In fact, the number of options surprised him. Soon, as he started to consider how many actual options he had, he no longer felt ill. His mind, separated from the gory truth, became very clinical and removed. He simply organized the ways to kill into categories of lesser to greater effort. Efficient killing. He looked down at the fallen man and felt power. Not Power, mind you, a weirder more perverse kind. Life and death. Luckily, very luckily, Coriander’s next thought was shame.

The clinical do’s of coup de grâce, which it may/may not have been but it seems a nicer word, left Coriander sick again. No. He would not take a life because he could. Yes this man had possibly tried to kill him, but now Coriander was free to run. He hadn’t been hunting Coriander specifically. He wouldn’t, most likely, come and find him should he ever heal. No. If he killed him it would not be self-preservation, it would be murder. Coriander had met murderers he would not be that, this easily.

So run. Running was easy. Even without the help of Magick Coriander was a good runner. He ran all the time through the fields and woods by his home. He ran daily while training ay Magoge. He also ran the halls mostly to miss the glares from First Teacher and Teacher Onion . He could easily get to safety. He could probably even get to the rocky terrain, explore it and get back to safety again. He could probably stay there and make sure the huge man was all right and then get to safety.

Should he make sure the man was all right? Is that what a hero would do? Coriander laughed aloud. He didn’t want to be a hero. He wanted peace. A tranquil life. Farming like his Father. He had met may heroes and many more wanna-be heroes at Magoge. They were very full of themselves. Coriander did not like them or their energy . If Coriander was ever to be a hero he would do it like the everyday soldiers he had met. They were kind men and women doing a job incredibly well. They didn’t have medals. They didn’t need them. They also didn’t like to be singled-out the way “heroes” did. A real soldier knew he was part of a team. A unit. Saying a soldier stood out was an insult. Dedicated to dedication of the mission! What then should he do?

If this man was looking for witches would he be headed to Krokos? Must he, as a soldier, defend his unit? His tribe? His fellow Magi? Coriander had now circled three times back to killing the injured man. His head hurt from all the leaping what-if’s in his mind. Coriander decided if he was a soldier, he needed more information to react properly to the situation at hand. Yes the man had a knife to his throat, but had he wanted to, Coriander was positive, the man could have killed the boy easily. The huge man wanted information too. Perhaps they could share information and then Coriander could decide his next course of action. Coriander just hoped the information wouldn’t lead to this almost-giant following him to Magoge and killing everything in sight. Also, the man had asked Coriander for help. Coriander hoped he was the kind of human that helped someone in need. He looked at the man again…..

Coriander decided to tie up the man’s legs. It seemed fair.

Coriander knelt down to his mouth and listened. His breath was weak. Coriander shook him gently and asked, “who are you? What do you need? Are you here to hurt witches?”

Coriander disliked saying the word. It didn’t mean what he meant it to mean. And he had no idea what this man meant by the word, It could mean enemy. It could mean savior. Coriander said louder, “why do you need one blessed by She?”

The huge man shook. As if every fiber of his being was needed to say the single word he spoke, “…love.”

Well if that didn’t turn Coriander from enemy to savior nothing would! Love was at stake. Someone he loved needed a witch, or Mage . Love hung in the balance! Coriander knew it, just knew, he had stumbled upon a quest! A mission only he could take care of! Perhaps She, Herself, had made Coriander look to that rocky terrain and gave him the idea to walk towards it! He was Blessed after all! This was some sacred task by the Goddess!

Or perhaps the huge man’s idea of love was the slaughter of innocent blood? How could Coriander really know? He tied up the man’s ankles and knees. He would help this quest of love but he wouldn’t be an idiot about it!

After the man was bound, and not too gently, Coriander looked to the man’s wounds. He felt a pang of guilt. Every basic healing class had said to stop bleeding first. Coriander had gone straight to rope. He let the idea go. It wouldn’t help him now. What was done was done. He couldn’t help the man if he stopped to untie him or regretted it.

He took his water and poured it over the still bleeding would on the man’s ribs. He uttered sacred words and the wound closed. Coriander touched the ribs, none felt broken but the man did wince. His head was covered black and blues. His eye swollen shut. One arm, the one that hadn’t carried the knife was oddly bent, perhaps pulled from the socket. On and on Coriander could see tons of wounds he had no skill at healing. He also knew, there would be other wounds he did not possess the ability to perceive.

Coriander decided to look at the man magickally. He knew how to see auras and Power surging through anything. It was an easy spell but usually frowned upon. It was intrusive and rude. Coriander scoffed propriety and did what he could to save a life. He looked at the man in the magickal spectrum. The man was hurt, obviously…he was tainted by bane!

Not so much evil, as if the man had performed magick, but enough for Coriander to know some evil something or other had hurt this man, or tried to. He couldn’t see any permanent Magickal damage. And then Coriander looked magickally at the man’s heart. It was missing. Something, something horrible, had removed this man heart chakra. The love this man needed wasn’t some amazing quest, it was the literal kind: My heart is gone.

Coriander knew he couldn’t heal this man on his own. He wondered if he could make it back to Magoge? He wondered if they would even help this stranger. They’d probably take one look at this threatening looking man, see the bane taint to his soul and kill him. Magoge didn’t pride itself on teaching compassion.

He needed a healer and fast.

Coriander got an idea. A terrible idea. The worst idea.

He found a few large sticks on the ground and made a litter. He would actually use Magick to transport the man, no way could he drag him, but the litter would help keep the man steady and make it easier for Coriander’s spell to focus. Coriander sighed, “this is the stupidest thing you’ve done in a while Coriander.” Which, he realized, for Coriander, that was saying something.

He headed back to find the sprite.

Tricking a Trickster
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 7

Coriander was lost and tired. He thought he had followed the same route back. But now, in the late afternoon, the trees looked different and he couldn’t seem to find the two trees or the area that had held the magickal pond and sprite. He crossed the supposed area repeatedly. Using Air magick, Coriander was floating/dragging the barbarian behind him. It was exhausting. He had called, had begged, had screamed. Nothing. He was alone in the woods with a dying heart-less man. If this was the work of She, Coriander had failed Her.

“Show Yourself!” Coriander commanded yet again. Nothing. The huge man’s breath was more labored, his eyes dark and unfocused. Coriander didn’t know what to do. He wasn’t sure he could magickally carry the man to Krokos. Perhaps he should run ahead and bring a healer out here? Who would come? How could he pay? Idea after idea swirled through his mind. The man rattled a shallow gasp. Coriander knelt over the huge man and placed his hands on the injured head and belly. “Please live,” Coriander whispered, “by the Grace of She let him be.”

“What is he?” came a soft voice, “what does this be?”

Coriander looked up and found he was no longer in the woods but kneeling at the shore of a pond surrounded by rough rock. Coriander gulped at the magickal talent involved in creating this reappearing realm. He was glad it had happened and not a little terrified. Perhaps thought Coriander, this sprite isn’t even aware of how much magick he is using. Maybe to him pulling a pond out of the magickal realm was a simple as Coriander speaking to an animal or juggling rocks. That idea was less comforting once Coriander let the idea sink in. Still, he would be very careful dealing with this creature.

“He has been hurt and made ill, I cannot help him though it is my will,” Coriander whispered.
“You? Mean boy with fist,” spat the sprite, “incapable and unable, I add to my list.”
“I’m sorry.” Coriander said earnestly. The creature looked him blankly. Coriander thought quick and added, …for the hit. I am sorry, I must admit.” Coriander wondered if his terrible rhyme would work. The sprite looked at him with suspicion.

Coriander knew he shouldn’t, knew at the core of his trained gut, knew he didn’t dare, knew from every fable everywhere, he must beware…. He was rhyming internally again. He knew no one with a brain in the head would ever ask a faerie for a favor. It was the stupidest thing a human could do. And yet…..

“If I asked for a favor,” gulped Coriander, “could you be a life saver?”
The creature smiled wide, “could be I would, could, but for the cruel boy I no should.”
“But you have the skill, to heal this man if it be your will?” Coriander continued.
“Me? Silly boy man, of course I can. Heal and make better this bane tainted man!” laughed to sprite.
‘Here it comes,’ thought Coriander, ‘he’s going to want my soul or my life, I know. Will I die for this huge man I do not know? UHG stop rhyming brain!’ Coriander shook his muddled head. He had to be clear headed to handle this situation. He would not die for this man who wanted to kill or capture witches. He wondered if that was wrong or shameful. ‘My life is Blessed by She I mustn’t throw it away.’ Thoughts ran through his head again. He looked at the barbarian and sighed. He would honor his sacred life but as well, would honor all life. If life was sacred then even the breath of your enemy is a gift. “You can take away bane?” asked Coriander out loud before his brain caught up with his mouth, “besides taking away the pain?”

“Yes complete and true, I would return him to you,” the sprite said earnestly. His earnestness scared Coriander more than the wicked smile. The creature almost seemed to want to help the fallen man. Was that possible? Coriander decided to ask, “why would you sprite of the pond want to aid? After all the mistakes I made?”
The sprite thought for a bit. “You punched me in my beautiful nose. I should curse you forever so I propose!”
“You insulted my mother!” Coriander spat as his mind raced for a rhyme…. “best to curse any…umm….other?”
The sprite seemed confused. “You couldn’t offer wit so instead you hit!” laughed the sprite, “so like a human boy to break his new toy.”
Coriander wasn’t sure where the conversation was headed but at least they were talking and he wasn’t drowning…yet. “I feel bad I hit your face, but I scared and needed to leave this place.”
“Sacred of me? That cannot be!”
“And yet is true, I beg forgiveness of you.”
“Forgive I do, but not forget you.” The sprite smiled.
“I am sorry I came to blows, I would normally never hit you in the nose!”
“When faced with magickal foes, sometimes you have to punch them in the nose!” laughed the sprite.

“So can you help a human whelp?” smiled Coriander.
“As I say I can and will, but what part of my bargain can the whelp fill?”
“I have little, what do you need? What do you ask to perform the deed?”
“Not much for thee…”
“…kisses three?” Coriander finished the sentence. The sprite nodded. “WHY?” asked Coriander. His head spun, he sought a rhyme but was too upset.

The sprite saved the game by adding, “…my oh my. The mage must understand, I have no wicked desire to this man. I am what I am no more no less, each to what they are, no bane no bless.” The sprite seemed sad at this. Coriander could sense that the boy, or rather ancient magickal creature that seemed youthful, wanted to help, but, for some reason, could not.

Coriander got bold, “if, free of payment, you could, I wonder if you would?”
“I do not like to see pain, it gives me only tears it’s own sort of bane.”
“But you can’t so you shan’t?”
“It cannot be done, spells have costs: in severity or in fun.”

Coriander and the sprite eyed each other. Something unsaid passed between them. Coriander couldn’t be sure, but he felt that the sprite wanted to help the barbarian but magickally could not unless a trade was made. Would the sprite take it easy on him? Would he make the kisses less deadly? Or would he, like he had confessed, do what was required of him: to take Coriander’s life. Coriander wouldn’t throw his life away but he also couldn’t not help the heart-less man.

Coriander went over the nursery rhyme in his mind. “Yummy water do you drink.” It never said “you die.” The sad looking sprite would have to carry out the agreement to the letter, but did the letter include a death certificate ?

“Have no fear, I wish to be clear,” Coriander spoke slowly, “my friend will be as fine as can be, if I give you kisses three?”
“Yes so I said, but be quick he’s almost dead!” the sprite added solemnly.

Coriander knew he had to think and suddenly he knew the trick. Uhg more internal rhyming…. Coriander raised his voice, “I don’t want him fine. Fully restored more and more! And for this extra task I grant you kisses four!

The Fourth Kiss
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 8

“Oh what fun! Done, done and done!” The sprite did a back flip, landed in the water laughing and then swam to the edge of the pond. Coriander shuttered a fearful breath. Was the sprite so pleased because Coriander had figured out away to fix the game or was he so happy that Coriander had sealed his own tomb? Coriander had panicked and thought perhaps a fourth kiss would give him an out. Now he wasn’t so sure. But he had spoken. He had agreed, in rhyme, to a deal with a faerie. He could feel the magick binding him into the contract. It pushed on his skin, it sort of tickled. There was no backing out.

‘I’m an idiot,’ Coriander thought, ‘this is what stupid people do. This is where legends and folktales come from. A stupid boy thinking too much of himself and makes a deal and ends up some sort of corpse lover for a sprite in a magickal reappearing pond!’ Coriander paused wondering if he had ever heard any kind or type of story like his current situation. The fact that he hadn’t made him feel a bit better. Perhaps this happened all the time and noting bad happened. Or he thought again, perhaps it hadn’t heard any stories like this because either no one was stupid enough to do it or perhaps how could anyone hear the tale as told from the dead!

The spite’s patience waned, “Your friend needs magick soon, hurry or you’ll lose your boon. “
Coriander took a deep breath and said, “all right then, let’s go.” The sprite looked confused. Coriander added, “ and let the kisses flow…?” What had that meant? Coriander suddenly realized he was about to kiss, and could not get out of it, a magickal creature. What type of kiss would this be? Would not be peck on the cheek like he gave his mother. Might it be more like a small kiss on the lips Vushi gave him when they parted. A friendly kiss but full of meaning? Or would it be the other kind of kiss. The kind a deep kisses reserved for lovers. Coriander had given this type of kiss only a few times before, It been special and beautiful. He smiled remembering Akti, a teacher now ex-teacher and special friend. Coriander had of course seen people kiss passionately, especially at festival where they drank too much. Would it be that kind of kiss? Would that cheapen what he had experienced with Akti?

The sprite pulled himself half way out of the pond. His sleek blue-green body was slick and muscular. His hair continued to wave as though still submerged. Coriander knew immediately what kind of kissing would be involved. The Sprite’s eyes penetrated and his smile became even more devilish. Coriander knew it was time. The barbarian wouldn’t hold on for much longer.

Coriander decided the sprite was actually handsome, in a weird sort of way. That probably shouldn’t have mattered but it calmed him. At least he wasn’t going to die kissing an ugly sprite. That thought brought a smile to his face. He reached out and touched the sprite’s shoulders. They both shuddered. The sprite’s skin was warm. Coriander leaned down and the sprite lifted himself up. Their eyes sparkled. Fear and anxiety mixing into an odd sort of desire, as scandal turns to lust.

Their lips met.

The first kiss was small. Scared. More breath than flesh. Coriander’s heart spun. His entire body heated up as up was down, and down was good! His eyes half closed and his lips wanted more. He grabbed the sprite harder and pushed his face into the faerie.

The second kiss was longer. Their lips smooshed together and tasted one another. Coriander’s mind emptied. All the fear and worries floated away. It was bliss. He could focus on nothing. Not only could he not remember his name the very idea of names was lost to him. How could you name perfection? The kiss became longer and engulfed both of them completely. Seaweed hair flapped onto Coriander’s face. Hands grabbed his waist. Coriander pulled the creature to him slamming their bodies into one.

The third kiss happened without either of them realizing it. It simply happened like Sunset or Spring. Beauty simply occurring without silly reminders or meddlesome needs. The kiss became increasingly passionate and wet. Very wet. Coriander was puled into the pool. He sank. The kept kissing.

Somewhere perhaps, in the back of Coriander’s brain, a small voice was panicking. We’re drowning! It screamed. But the fear was lost in lust and the panic added to the exhilaration and neither could stop. Neither wanted to stop. What a beautiful way to die. Coriander drank in the sprite and his mouth filled with water. He gulped in ecstasy and wanted more. He wanted to swallow every inch of the beautiful sprite. Water slammed into his lungs.

The sprite pulled away. “NO!” Coriander tried to yell as he more water crammed into him. He pulled the sprite back wanting more. He had to die while being held, by touching him. He pushed his face forward trying for another kiss. The sprite smiled and slapped him.

BAM! Coriander was hit so hard he flew. Up and up he soared unable to stop himself and swim back down. He bubbled to the top as his arms tried to stay forever in the warm water and perfection he had felt. He surfaced and still could not breathe. His mind scrambled. Part of him tried to dive back in. Another part of him crawled to the rocks. Another part was screaming at him to focus. And yet another, knew he’d never be kissed like that again.

The sprite appeared underneath him and helped push him to the shore. He fell on the painful rocks and with their impact spat out the water in his lungs. Air came rushing back. He gasped for breath. His head ached. His lungs burned. He eyes finally found the sky and he righted himself. He sat on the rocks and tried to take long easy breaths. The part of him that wanted to dive back in was lessening and the part that wanted to live was winning.

The sprite crawled out of the water and approached him. Instinctively Coriander flinched. The sprite seemed to not notice. Coriander wondered if he could stop the sprite from taking him. He wondered if he wanted to stop the sprite. He also vaguely realized that sprite had saved him. Part of him was angry he had been saved. So confused, Coriander wept.

The sprite’s warm body touched his. His chin was lifted and his tear-laden eyes could make out a gentle smile. The sprite reached up and said, “my young human you have passion galore, but now it is time for kiss four.” Coriander nodded. He was resigned to fulfill his bargain. He gently opened his mouth and leaned forward ready for whatever. The sprite’s finger fell over Coriander’s trembling mouth. He leaned up taller and kissed Coriander on the forehead.

He smiled and spoke, “Now let me keep my word and see to your friend. There is little time and much to mend.”

Title
Coriander: Barbarian Kiss 9