A Diamond Is A Girl’s Worst Enemy
© 2000 Melissa Katherine Michael
A Diamond Is A Girl’s
by Melissa Katherine Michael
I-I’m a healer. Not a killer. But this is
how it happened.
I was daydreaming of Batchawana Bay when the demons attacked. We
hear stories of Batchawana when we’re young. Far away, beyond
the Hundred Mile Marshes, across the many rivers, and over Batchawana
Mountain where ‘tis said there are no witches, and that a
woman can make her own way by the sweat of her own brow; no more,
The demon was a winged manikin. The little hellspawn drew blood
before I noticed its claws on my cheek. Efnir handed out the demonbane
from her pocket within my cloak. I let the knotted reins fall to
the saddlehorn and took the dried herb in my left hand and touched
the ruby locket at my neck with my right. The little demon tried
a second pass. I hit it with the swatch of demonbane and it screamed
and disappeared with a loud hiss.
“Good work, Livvy,” the squirrel sprite said from my
inner cloak pocket. She was some witch’s mistake left to make
her own way; too small and furry to be human, too smart and different
to remain a squirrel.
“Good work, Efnir,” I answered. We’d been together
a long time.
Mattie May, my mare, lumbered on beneath us, oblivious to the demon,
but she snorted at the wolf’s cry, a hollow, hungry howl.
Efnir handed me the sling-shot loaded with wolfsbane. I made short
work of it, hitting him square in the eye with the dried herb tied
into a small, hard pellet.
Mattie sighed beneath me and kept moving, headed for the Ghost River
ferry where we hoped to hire on with a caravan headed north to Fort
Albany when spring thawed the mighty Albany River in another fortnight
or so. I could always find work as a ferry guide and caravan guard.
Efnir was great for climbing trees to scout ahead. With luck, some
rich noblewoman would want to pay prime silver for a personal bodyguard
so that her trips to the privy would be truly private while stopped
for the night on the riverbank.
“Someone’s let a hoard of ghosts loose,” I called
to Efnir who was dozing. I could just see the transparent shapes
floating toward us from the slowly sinking sun. Either that, or
we were days closer to Ghost River than I thought. Efnir handed
out the catnip. I waved it around overhead slowing the ghosts. Their
shadowy forms spread out in a ring around us when three things happened.
Mattie May began bucking and screaming like she never had, ever
before; something with fierce claws ran up my back and arm; and
I dropped the catnip.
It caught on the saddlehorn but Mattie May threw me then landed
beside me with a scream and a sickening crack that could be only
one thing. Luckily, I landed on my right side and momentum rolled
me onto my back. Squished sprite in my cloak would not have helped
matters. I heard Mattie May’s distress with my heart as though
she spoke human speech aloud. She was hurt and scared and trying
to stand up on a broken leg. She’d always stood on that leg,
why was it refusing to hold her now? her eyes seemed to ask. I pulled
her head into my lap and sang the sleeping song. Could I heal her?
A minor talent like me? I could splint the leg and make a fine poultice
from my store of traveling herbs.
The ghosts pressed in on us. Eager for Mattie’s fear and pain.
For mine. For Efnir’s.
Maybe we could find something to eat in the marsh for the last months
of winter and the first of spring, months it would take her leg
to heal. But Mattie struggled against the comfort of the sleeping
song. Her pain and fear stabbed from her eyes to mine. She wanted
to stand as she always had, her whole life. I could never make her
understand that she must not. I had not the power to hold her will.
But there was one thing I could do.
Tears flowed freely as I drew my short sword.
“Tell me when it’s over,” Efnir said then disappeared
within my cloak.
“Na jayate mriyate va kadachin,” I whispered. “For
the soul never dies nor is born and is not slain when the body is
At last her pain was ended. The ghosts were sated. I’d’ve
liked to have saved the saddle but couldn’t bear the weight
what with water, food, clothes, bedding, herbs, charms, and Efnir,
and me on foot now in the marsh.
A cat it had been, going after the catnip in my hands. Solid black
and small it was, now licking itself fastidiously as if it had nothing
to do with all the commotion. I left the catnip then left the trail
after a bit to make camp on a solid island of dryness. The little
cat followed and began meowing up a storm when I stopped. Maybe
it smelled Efnir, who was after all still mostly squirrel, and wanted
to try its hand at dinner. But no, the little cat frolicked away
a few paces and looked back at me expectantly them came to rub at
my ankles before hopping away again. In the fading light I could
almost see a new trail, a line of dry, built-up sod.
“Should we follow it?” I asked, opening my cloak.
Efnir watched as the cat went through its antics. She sighed and
said, “Couldn’t get us to Ghost River any slower.”
I took that for an assent and followed the cat. We had food for
a week, but Ghost River would take us four on foot. After an hour
or so it was full dark and I slowed to inspect the faint torches
before us. The cat ran ahead to what looked like a huge old castle.
Torches burned at the main gate and along the top of the boundary
wall, and in a few windows beyond.
“Hold still and we might not kill you,” a gruff voice
full of menace said close behind me. It was answered by a laugh.
Dread dropped my heart to my boots. This must be from whence all
the demons, ghosts, and assorted evils had come over the last few
days, a witch’s castle.
I felt Efnir sliding down my pantleg and knew she’d head for
the trees and help when she could. They dragged me into the torchlight
and took my bags, my cloak, my sword, my daggers, then took me into
the main hall where torches were not needed. High above in the rafters,
mingling with the cobwebs some dozen witchlights danced and spun.
Tattered stained tapestries tried to hide moldy stone walls. But
my attention was arrested by the couple dining alone at the far
end of a large banquet table. She had the power. He was a comely
dandy trying to win, or to keep, her favor. She was beautiful, no,
more than that, gorgeous, but in a frightening, overbearing sort
of way. Long black tresses curled over her red velvet gown split
to reveal the major portion of her creamy white bust. As the guardsman
pulled me along I discerned a softly glowing moonstone locket tied
at her throat with a red ribbon. Her eyes glowed green and hypnotizing
as they appraised me. Dark arched brows, berry red lips, noble features,
young and firm, yet ageless, the face of a centuries-old witch I
“Well?” she demanded.
The fop at her side displayed a piqued frown at my disturbance,
yet the lines around his eyes eased with relief.
“Found her scuttling around the gate,” my guard said.
“So? Lock her up. Why disturb my meal? No, on second thought,
Mudge needs help in the kitchen. Chain her in there, and one of
you guard her and make sure she doesn’t get hold of the knives,
like the last one.”
You don’t believe it because you’ve never been there,
but that’s how it was. Those with the power in the marshes
did as they liked to those of us without.
So they chained me to the pump back of the kitchen and one guard
checked the pile of cooking pots for knives. These he washed himself
and returned to the kitchen. When I finished the pots and pans and
cutting boards and bowls and spoons and ladles, they brought in
the serving platters and eating plates and all the eating spoons
and forks. I swear I must have scrubbed every utensil in the whole
castle twice over by the time they locked me in a cell with the
other drudges to sleep.
No sooner had I laid down when a fuzzy tongue rasped along my cheek.
“Efnir?” I said, sitting up. She wasn’t usually
that demonstrative, but I’ve learned not to be surprised by
her. I reached my hand out but it was only the cat.
Then there was smooth skin beneath my rough fingers and I snatched
them back to the sound of a muffled giggle.
“Remember me? The little black cat?” a sultry voice
whispered in my ear. I smelled fresh summer flowers. A soft glow
appeared from a globe in her hand. I looked around, but no one else
“Dweena sleeps now so I dare assume my true form. I’m
Selica. Quickly now, I’ve a bargain for you. Help me just
a little and I’ll grant your wildest, dearmost desire.”
My wildest, dearmost desire was the same one I’d had all my
life: to get out of the Hundred Mile Marshes altogether, away to
a place where magic was used only for good and I could make an honest
living without being afraid I’d wind up in some witch’s
brew. To find Batchawana Bay.
“Come. What have you always wanted? Riches, fine clothes?
Fine food? A handsome prince?” she giggled. “Dweena
has something I want and with a little distraction from you, I can
easily get it. Then you need only name your price.”
Will you slay all your kind and then your self? I thought, very
quietly, to myself. “How can I help you?” I asked, mystified.
“You’re healthy and strong and not so hard on the eye.
They’ll have you carry in her platters tomorrow night. I’m
sure of it. When they do, you drop it on her or something. Something
that will draw her utmost attention to you, while I steal her Desire
Diamond.” She looked down and I missed her expression but
I heard about a yard of cold steel quivering in her voice. “While
she has it, I can’t take her; but when it’s mine, I’ll
own the world.”
She looked up to meet my eyes again. “And you with me,”
she amended with a smile. “Don’t you see? Dweena’s
so petty and small-minded. She uses the power of the Desire Diamond
for pretty clothes and baubles, fine horses, silken sheets. She
has no idea of the uses of that diamond! It’s wasted on her!”
I could hardly refuse. She might turn me into a cat.
No. I could have refused. I chose life instead.
I managed to get a few hours sleep and a few breadcrusts before
it was time to wash all the pots and dishes from breakfast. When
I finished, there were the pots from lunch. They unchained me long
enough to sweep then scrub the kitchen floor. I thought my arms
were going to turn to rock they got so hard and stiff. All that
and only a handful of boiled potatoes for lunch. It was obvious
why all the castle staff looked so pale, weak, and sickly. They
If Dweena really had a wishing stone, why couldn’t she use
it to provide everything for her staff same as herself? Then they’d
love her and stay and do her bidding willingly, out of love. But
that isn’t the witches’ way. Not in the marshes.
“Get that one,” I heard Mudge’s voice. “She’s
hale and hearty. Unlock her,” he said to my guard. Then to
me, “You help with the carrying tonight and if you do good,
you get a full meal. And if you try anything, my knife’ll
gut you sure as his will,” he ended, pointing his eighteen
inch carver at my guard.
It was a whole hog, pit-roasted all day. My nose curled at the stench
and my gut churned at the sight of a big red apple in its snout.
“Me? By myself?” The boar must have weighed a hundred
pounds, plus the platter and garnishes.
Mudge only laughed. “No, I’ll help you. She doesn’t
like my looks, so you lead.”
At least Dweena had some discrimination.
I carried the great platter with my hands behind me and led the
way into Mistress Dweena’s dining hall. A small motion caught
my eye, conspicuous because it didn’t belong. It was a small
black cat slinking about the far door.
Dropping the platter at that instant would not have had the desired
effect. A sound beating before they flayed the skin from my flesh?
I’d heard it done in remote witch havens like this. I planned
to spill wine on Dweena’s silk dress, knowing of her attachment
to finery. And then? Either she or the cat-witch would surely kill
No, I didn’t hope to come out on the other side of midnight
alive. I kept my eyes peeled for a way out, hoping Efnir had found
it, yet knowing she didn’t have the good sense to desert me.
Mudge set about carving the beast and I lingered, unsure what to
do with no instruction, sure that whatever I did would draw attention
along with someone’s displeasure. These fools who had everything
had nothing, for they knew not happiness, peace, nor contentment.
“Wine,” Dweena said and held aloft her drained glass.
It sparkled as though cut from some blue gem.
There was no one else, so I stepped forward and lifted the wine
bottle. With a silent wish to live through the night, I began pouring,
right on her head.
Ruby wine bled all over Dweena and her snow white silk gown until
she leaped up with a shriek. I dropped the bottle and ran the route
I saw the cat take.
I hadn’t made it through the door when my feet stopped in
their tracks and my body refused my commands. I toppled forward
slowly by my momentum and as I fell, I saw a squirrel scampering
down the same hall the cat had taken.
My end is certain, I thought. My suffering over. Now I go to join
Mattie May. Would that I could swiftly. Witches are not known for
“Think you’ll ruin my day, do you? You little insignificant
animal! I’ll make you wish you’d never been born!”
Oh, I already wish that, Lady, almost since I’ve been born,
I thought to myself.
“That’s it for the new help,” Mudge grumbled with
a sigh. “And so good with the pots.”
Dweena stood over me though I could not see as my face was flat
against the cold stone of the floor.
“I’ve got a closet full of fine silk dresses, that you’ll
never have, you envious little snake. If you’d been nice I
might have rewarded your favorable service.
Yes, Mistress Dweena, like you’ve rewarded all your faithful
servants I see about me.
“But you’d rather act meanly and be punished. And punished
you will be. Just as soon as WHAT!!” Another of her ear-splitting
shrieks rent the air. “My Diamond!”
With that, she strode over me and ran down the hall, dripping red
wine from her dark tresses.
Feeling and control returned to my limbs and I struggled upright
through guards, cooks, drudges, and whatnot as jumped and straggled
over me. I suppose I should have turned and run. Efnir could slip
out of the tightest knot, but I had to know. I wanted to see for
myself if the cat-witch, Selica, was any better than Dweena with
that stone. Quickly, I ran down the hall past doors and hallways
and through a set of still-smoking splintered oaken doors into a
chamber large as the dining hall. This one had a higher ceiling
and it needed it. I stopped and stared in shock along with the rest
of the household. No spell held me but wonderment at the sight of
a huge mountain of gold and jewels in front of which the two witches
fought, throwing blazing colored lightning at each other. High atop
the pile of jewels sat a clear diamond nearly the size of that hog
we’d set on the banquet table.
Now blue lightning flashed filling the room, now yellow, now red;
in thigh-thick fingers of power. I felt the heat of each blast.
To my immediate left stood the guard who’d first captured
me. My short sword hung invitingly within my reach from his right
Dweena’s back was to me. She shrieked some phrase over and
over and that blue lightning arced again and again between herself
and Selica. Shouting with fury, Selica threw her arm toward Dweena
and a hail of tiny winged demons flew from her hand to attack.
I grabbed my sword from its scabbard and ran at Dweena’s back
planning an upthrust through her kidneys. Demon’s scraped
and clawed at me, then fire burned along every nerve, but I pushed
forward and suddenly I was at Dweena’s back. She turned, her
hand tensed into a claw. My short sword sank to its hilt in an upthrust
through her gut that must have pierced her heart for she stilled
instantly and . . . and began decaying. Her flesh was rotting away
from her bones even as I let her fall.
All near me were in shock but soon there arose a merry cackle above
us all as Selica ascended the jeweled mountain and took her seat
upon the diamond throne.
“Now all in Hundred Mile Marshes are my slaves!!” she
cried in triumph.
No, I never really thought she’d be any different.
My sword had rotted to nothing along with Dweena’s body, and
I hoped, her soul. Looking around quickly, I saw that the foppish
man held steel. His eyes met mine and I saw murder in them, not
directed at me. Oh no, he’d had his fill of witches running
the show, same as I. Had I looked like that, minutes ago? I nodded
and relieved another guard of his sword. The household was milling
about aimlessly. One witch or another, it seemed to be the same
“Ach! You little!”
I looked up toward the witch’s cry and espied Efnir in her
hair, scratching and clawing in earnest. The dandy and I wasted
no time scrambling up the pile of gems from either side. She didn’t
notice our approach, being so surprised and befuddled by Efnir’s
attack that she didn’t think to use magic on her. We made
the summit and each stuck a sword into her. She screamed for quite
some time, writhing as though trying to escape while rotting and
I was still doubled over and panting from the uphill sprint when
the man asked, “So now we fight for the Diamond?”
I looked up sharply, but saw merriment in his eye.
“I think Mudge deserves it, or the guard captain. Me, I’ll
take a load of this and head out the marshes, for Batchawana Bay.”
“My thoughts exactly,” he smiled.
We took all the finest of Dweena’s horses loaded down with
bags of gold and jewels and bought a train of mules to get us here.
We lost some mules to the marsh, some more to the mountains, but
we made it. So, that’s where we come from and why.
I really am a healer, though not very powerful. And Efnir’s
a great asset for scouting and watch duty, and Weddin, he’s
a fine worker and knows farming. Might we stay and build a home
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