Well, THAT’S a relief. Because I happened to have spent the past few days, as stress relief from working on final projects, writing a Guen backstory fanfic. A certain red haired sorceress in it just demanded to be written and wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Scarlet (because I found the perfect image for her):
Magical Guen’s POV-Age 13:
Day 1: I was thirteen when I first met Scarlet.
I had sneaked down to my father’s dungeon alone, and had just finished bribing the guards to let me with a necklace that had been choking me anyway. I barely opened the door when I saw her cell, apart from the others, with no other prisoners in the entire wing. A girl only 5 years older than me, with long bright red hair. And she looked…delicate. Innocent. Younger than her years, and she was definitely not old.
Her eyes suddenly snapped up to meet mine. “Well, you’re not Old Sir Pudgy Butt.” she said. Then suddenly her expression changed to one of desperate hope, and she opened her mouth to say in a rush “You’re not him. So you’ll listen. Please listen? Please help me. I don’t belong here! I don’t belong in this dark horrid place. I only took a piece of bread to feed my starving sister, I swear. She was so hungry. I fell asleep listening to her stomach growl every night because there was nothing to feed her. I told the duke that, but he didn’t care. He threw me down here, and he’s going to have me burnt alive. I know stealing’s wrong, but-what would you have done? I’m not a bad person. I don’t deserve this. Please, please just let me out before someone comes.”
“You’re lying. The duke’s my father. He wouldn’t do that.” I respond flatly. “I’m not lying! If you’re his daughter…look, I know you don’t want to think of your father as a bad person. And maybe he’s not, to you. But…please. Do I look like an evil criminal? Do I look dangerous?” She points to her tiny, 17 year old, pretty, delicate body. I admit that she doesn’t.
“The keys are in that drawer. Just please, please let me go. My little sister will starve, it’ll kill my mom…” Tears are running down her cheeks. Slowly I walk over to the drawer and pull out the key ring. I stop an inch away from where she could grab them out of my hands.
“Just how stupid do you think I am?” I ask sarcastically. “I read the report from the constable. You’re here because you used a fire spell to burn down your hut with your family inside. You were found at the scene, and I quote, ‘laughing maniacally’ as they screamed. You killed that ‘starving sister’ of yours along with your parents. And I READ the book where you got the stealing bread for your starving family story from-Les Miserables, right?” I continue.
Her whole face changes-all the desperation going out of it like it was never there, and suddenly a sarcastic smile appears on her lips and she actually starts to clap. “I guess the answer to your first question is ‘More stupid than you are.’ As for Le Mis…maybe. And since it seems you’re not QUITE dumb enough to die within the next 5 minutes, and you’ll need to call me SOMETHING…you can call me Scarlet. It’s not my real name, but nobody knows that anymore, and I like this one loads better.”
Scarlet cuts me off before I open my mouth. “I know who you are Guen. Don’t bother saying. What I don’t know is what you want. Why is a sweet little lady like you coming down to the big bad scary dungeons? Are you here to express your moral outrage? Here to try to torment me? Because I don’t care and it won’t work.”
Scarlet was the first person to ever call me “Guen.”
I had rehearsed this part for weeks.
“Neither. You’re the only other dark magic user I’ve ever been within speaking distance of. And while your actions sadden me greatly, I’m not here about them. I’m here…because I want you to teach me how to do a proper fire spell. I want you to teach me how to shoot fire out of my fingertips and make fireballs, without hitting anything I don’t want to.” I say, probably a little too fast.
“And why in hell would I help you?” Scarlet replied, having dropped all pretense of being a nice girl. And yet her voice had some curiosity mixed in with the dismissive sarcasm.
“I’m the duke’s daughter. If you do, and do it right, I’ll make sure you’re not executed.” I say simply.
Her eyes widened, then narrowed. She was clearly suspicious.
But in the end, what did she have to lose? “Fine. Get me some components, and I’ll see you tomorrow for your first lesson.”
If I did THAT, Scarlet wouldn’t be here to teach me, because she would have burned the place, and ME, to smithereens before the lesson started. I told her that, and she laughed. “Clever girl. You at least follow Rule #1 of Sorcery-‘Don’t be an idiot.’ Fine, bring the components for yourself. I’ll tell you what to do.” she said.
Well, I was throwing sparks. That was a start. When I made the first one, I jumped back, freaked out, and Scarlet laughed so hard she literally couldn’t breathe. I waited for over 30 seconds while she caught her breath.
“You’re a very cautious girl, aren’t you Guen?” she asked rhetorically. “You don’t take many risks in life, don’t have much fun with it.”
“That’s not true. I have fun. I’m having fun right now.” I replied.
Scarlet raised her eyebrows. “You’re having fun now…almost killing yourself with your own incompetent fire spell, which you’re learning in a musty dungeon from a murderer who you despise?”
“I don’t despise you.” I replied, meaning it.
Scarlet looked at me a bit strangely. “You’re a very strange girl, Guen.”
I didn’t know what was so strange about it. But it did strike me as rather funny that SHE, the girl who lit her own family aflame, thought I was strange. So then I started laughing.
“Are you a pyro? Is that why you did it? Because you couldn’t resist the urge?” I blurted out while I’m trying to light up a leaf.
Scarlet looked caught off guard for about half a second…then that above it all smile once again graced her face. “What in the Goddess’ name is a pyro, kid?” Scarlet asked. “I read about it in a book. It means you feel an uncontrollable urge to start fires.” I explained. Scarlet took a minute to think about it before replying “I do love fire. People are so afraid of it-and they should be. Something with the power to give life and the power to end it is certainly something to fear. Seeing it is like… seeing the Goddess. But no, that’s not why I did it. I have an urge, but if I couldn’t resist it, I’d have thrown a fireball at Cornwall Castle a long time ago. And you, little girl, would be a pile of ash.”
That was…quite the answer. I was silent for a while. I lit up the leaf. Scarlet gave me a thumbs up and a grin.
“If you believe in the Goddess…did you forget about the part about love and forgiveness and compassion for others?” I asked, completely tactlessly, but dying of morbid curiosity ever since Scarlet mentioned the Goddess last time.
Scarlet gave me a mocking chuckle. “I don’t believe in THAT Goddess. I don’t believe in any spirit in the sky that comes down to solve your problems. The Goddess was a metaphor. I meant pure power. The power to give life and deal death. Your own power is the only god, the only goddess, in this world. The others are illusions followed by fools who are too afraid o follow their own path…to be their own goddess. I am my own goddess. Are you yours…or are you enslaved? Do you believe in ‘The Goddess’?”
I was silent for a long time. Scarlet never seemed to mind-she always let me think as she brushed her hair with the brush I smuggled in for her and used the wash basin as a looking glass. Scarlet was definitely beautiful…and definitely knew it. (She wanted a mirror too-but my thoughts were filled with visions of her breaking it and and of death by broken glass. I told her there was no way. Scarlet laughed and said she “had to try.”)
But this time I was silent long enough that Scarlet asked another question. “If you believe in the Goddess, did you forget the part about not aiding and abetting known murderers? And not being friends with them?”
Friends? Was that what we were? I had never had one of those before. Nearly no-one I had ever met was worth my extended company or even my undivided attention. (And they disliked me anyway. Even if I tried to be normal and not talk about dark magic or books they were too dumb and shallow to read or my latest “weird” idea about humanity or the world. It’s as if they could sense my disdain.) Well, no-one but my father…and Scarlet.
The Goddess most certainly would not approve.
“Ah…I don’t…really take everything totally literally, you know.” I kind of stuttered out.
Scarlet’s smirk was as obnoxious as it was condescending.
“You could have gotten away with it, you know.” I mused.
“You’re doing it again. Acting like I’m supposed to know what ‘it’ is. This is the beginning of our little talk, not the middle.” Scarlet said, irritated.
I had actually forgotten that. In my head, we had this conversation at least a dozen times. I imagined a hundred different variations. Sometimes I forgot they only existed in my imagination. They felt more real than the real world.
“You could have gotten away with killing them. If you didn’t stay to laugh and gloat for so long. If you kept the evil gloating to a semi-reasonable length, or better yet did it after you got away, you’d be a free woman.” I reasoned.
I was on the receiving end of a angry glare for a minute before she smirked and said “No more evil gloating? But that would take half the fun out of the job. Why would I ever give it up?”
“Because it’s the one thing holding you back.” I retorted.
“Ha-ha. You should be my evil advisor, helping me out like this.” Scarlet said, confidence entirely un-flustered.
I sighed. “Does that mean you’re going to take my advice and dial that down a notch? And you should tone down the impulsive streak too, just saying.”
A long time passed. Then I heard a snappy, as if she resented the advice and me for giving it, “I’ll consider it.”
Sweet, hard-won success.
I was getting better-I was creating a little fireball. Not a perfect one, or even a very good one-but the ingredients had been collected, and a fireball was being created.
“Why are you HERE every day? You’re a classic beauty-you could have the knights following you around like puppies.” Scarlet asked.
“I’m…not really interested. If they did that, I’d make them stop. I’d threaten to use a fireball if I had to.” I replied, displeased even by imagining that.
Scarlet laughed. “I guess that answers that.” she said. “But sex is fun, girl. You’re so frigid Guen. God, you tensed up by my even mentioning it. I can see it from here.”
“I’m only thirteen! And I don’t want that kind of fun. It isn’t fun for me.” I said firmly. “Thirteen? And you STILL haven’t-? Well, I guess they keep you noble girls pretty sheltered. Gotta protect their investment.” Scarlet asked, sounding actually surprised. That reminder, that Scarlet was a commoner, made me wonder…how exactly, without any tutors, did Scarlet learn how to read and write and get her hands on the kind of books it takes to learn dark magic, (since it’s nearly IMPOSSIBLE to find someone who can actually teach you)?
I apparently wondered out loud again, because Scarlet answered. “I went to Avalon to become a priestess. I got an education, then I made out like a bandit in the night. Though really, all that stuff I ‘stole’ is really more of a fair payment for all the time I wasted listening to their endless prattle on the Goddess.”
This was Scarlet, but I was still a little shocked. Stealing from temples? What was next?
“Um, Scarlet…you haven’t…burned down any orphanages, right? You don’t fuel your powers with murdered fae animals?”
And for some reason that cracked Scarlet up. “No Guen. The orphanages I’ve passed still stand, and the fae animals are unharmed by me.” she managed to say through her laughter.
Well, that was some relief. She had only crossed the irredeemably evil line…4 times…probably while laughing like it was all some great joke.
“Don’t you have any friends? I mean, ones you don’t need to visit in dungeons and bribe the guards with a bauble you stole from your own house every time you visit them.” Scarlet asked, very rudely I thought.
“Do you?” I responded.
“Touche.” Scarlet said with a smile.
“Why did you kill your family?” I blurt out after a particularly terrible fire spell attempt.
“Oh, that’s a fascinating subject. Almost as fascinating as you trying to distract me from your defective spellcasting. Did you forget an ingredient or something?” Scarlet said, trying to distract me.
“You said you’re a pyro and that you hate them, so was that all there is to it? Or was there more? Why do you hate them? Or do you just hate everybody and only got the chance with them? It made you feel alive, didn’t it? Like you said before.” I persisted.
The look Scarlet was giving me could freeze lava. “I never said that. YOU said that. And I never said I would answer your 20 questions. I said I would teach you fire spells if you made sure my head stays on my shoulders. THAT was the deal, Lady Guenevere of Cornwall. I never said I would be your human study. And I certainly never said I would bare my non-existent soul to you for your viewing pleasure. So let’s just cut the crap and get back to what we promised.” Scarlet snapped.
The rest of the day’s lesson passed in tense silence.
I avoided her for days, and then I felt too awkward to say anything. When I came back, I brought apples. Scarlet wanted chicken. I told her to give me credit for not being a complete buffoon. Instead of her usual smile, she just glared at me coldly.
It was Scarlet who broke the silence with “Why does Little Miss Sunshine want to shoot fire out of her fingertips anyway?”
Before I could answer, Scarlet snapped her fingers and continued with “I can think of a few reasons. Ostracized from everyone, mother dead, father is Duke Leodegrance of Cornwall…yes, I could imagine why you could want to burn some things…or people, to ashes. And you’re obviously not as nice as you look in your little frilly dresses. You don’t care at all that you spend at least an hour a day talking to a completely unrepentant murderer. You steal valuables from your own father to bribe the guards to let you do that. In fact, you actually seem to like doing both. Yes…I think you could be Scarlet 2.”
I wasn’t sure if this is was her legitimate opinion, or if she was just getting her revenge for my prying before.
“So why, little girl? Why do you want to learn fire spells oh so badly? Just what are you planning with what I’m teaching you?” Scarlet asked, in a tone that implied she already knew the answer.
“Fireworks. I want to make multicolored fireworks.” I said guilelessly.
Scarlet, for the first time ever, looked genuinely shocked. Her jaw dropped open she just stared at me for a moment.
Then her famous Scarlet smile returned. “You are one of a kind, kid.” she said.
That day, I saw that Scarlet’s arm was injured-it looked broken, actually. “Oh Goddess, what happened Scarlet?” I asked.
“Your father’s guards happened. Jerks. Though I was trying to strangle the skinny one. He tried to touch me.” Scarlet replied while cleaning the dirt out from under her fingernails.
I gaped. Was that true? You could never tell with Scarlet. “Why didn’t you just tell someone?” I asked.
“Tell someone.” Scarlet said flatly. “Who would believe? Besides, that’s for those too weak and too helpless to defend themselves. That’s for girls like you, Guen. If anybody tried to hurt you, I bet you’d tell until you gave everyone a headache from listening.”
How did Scarlet managed to turn everything I said into a way to insult me? It truly was magic.
But her arm was very definitely broken. So I tried to heal it. It wasn’t perfect, but it would definitely at least cut her recovery time in half.
“Woah. What was THAT?! You can do light magic too?!” Scarlet exclaimed. She forgot, as she always did, to be even the slightest bit grateful.
“Of course. Why would I only want to learn half of magic? That’s stupid and limiting. It’s like only reading half of a book.” I replied like it was obvious.
Scarlet, for once, looked like she was considering what I had to say. And not just because she was trying to come up with a witty put down. “…you may actually be right about that, Guen. In fact, you definitely are. But most people don’t see it that way.”
“I am NOT not most people.” I replied, a little insulted. Most people are shallow and narrow-minded idiots. That’s why I have no use for them…except to observe their behavior and analyze it. But actually conversing with them is pure torture.
“No. No you’re not, Guen.” Scarlet replied seriously, giving me a sideways look.
Scarlet mumbles something so quickly and so quietly I almost don’t hear it. It almost sounded like “thankyou.” But maybe it was just my imagination.
I was preparing my spell ingredients when Scarlet asked “Do you know why nobody else sees it that way? About studying light and dark magic both?” She didn’t wait for me to answer. “It’s because people think light magic users are lovely and loving and kind, while dark magic users are something to fear. Someone who does both is, to them, like…one of the cart directors in the cities flashing a red and green sign at the same time. You don’t fit their formula about how the world works. And so their brains go into as much chaos as that street corner.”
I stared. Scarlet was talking like…she actually knew. I had only ever heard or seen her using dark magic, but…could she do both?
Scarlet seemed to divine what I was going to say.
“Yep. I’m just as good in light magic. Probably better. How do you think my parents and sister didn’t wake up until the fire was as good as surrounding them? Painkiller spell that did NOTHING to stop the actual injuries. Then, when they were good and trapped, I just-” Scarlet snapped her fingers. “turned it off.”
I stared, mouth open. That was-the most sick, depraved, evil usage of magic, light OR dark, I had ever heard of in all of my days.
“Oh, and my father was in for a special treat. I healed him up, then let him burn almost to death, then healed him again-ad infinitum. I perfected the trick on him. I did it 7 times. I almost did it 8 before I got so rudely interrupted.”
Correction: THAT was.
“Storytime’s over, little girl. Your ingredients are ready now. Let’s go.” Scarlet said flatly, revealing nothing.
“I did it! I did it!” I said happily. Scarlet’s clapping was only half sarcastic, and even though accompanied by an eyeroll, she did give me two thumbs up.
“Alright alright, that was pretty good Guen. I actually have a gift to celebrate you being not totally incompetent. Come here and close your eyes. It’s a surprise.” Scarlet said, relaxed and grinning.
Smiling too, I went over to her cell and did just that. Then I suddenly felt something sharp on my throat. I looked down and realized it was the wire bristles on the brush I gave her, sharpened and fastened together. “Surprise. As for the gift for not being totally incompetent, I can’t give it to you. Because you are.” Scarlet deadpanned.
“Guards! Idiot guards who left a 13 year old alone with me! GET IN HERE!!” Scarlet yelled at the top of her lungs.
Two guards rushed in-the ones I bribed to let me talk to Scarlet alone. When they saw, they started subtly panicking. They should have been-I could just imagine how my father would take the fact that they accepted a bribe from a 13 year old to let her talk to a dangerous criminal alone. Especially if I died because of this.
Then it hit me. I might actually, really die. Scarlet might kill me if these idiot guards did anything more stupid than they already had. She might kill me anyway, no matter what. Her word wasn’t exactly inviolable.
“Get the keys from that drawer and let me out, or I cut her throat.” Scarlet said flatly. Idiot #1 did just that, while Idiot #2 was too frozen with fear to do anything but stare.
She was out. Now don’t kill me, Scarlet. Please. Let me go. Let me go. I wasn’t ready to die yet. I didn’t even know if I believed in the Goddess and something after. If I did, maybe I could face this with dignity instead of with tears. Because right now, imagining it…all I could picture was blackness coming to swallow me. Well, that and utter agony beforehand.
“Now normally, I’d use a spell to kill you right about now. But without components…she’s coming with me. I need insurance. I’ll send her back when I’m far enough out.” Scarlet said lazily.
Idiot #2 pulled the whole “you can’t do that,” and Scarlet reminded him that she did have a pointy object to my neck and could kill me in half a second if he tried to pull out his sword.
Day 33-Into The Woods:
“Your guards suck Guen. Seriously.” Scarlet remarked casually, still with the sharp bristles still to my neck. We were at the edge of the woods now.
“Well, if I survive, they’re all fired. Seriously. Am…am I going to survive?” I asked, starting out snarkily but ending a little shakily.
“Maybe. Maybe not. No giveaways, Guen. You just have to enjoy the ride.” Scarlet replied, actually sounding amused.
“Were you just using me to get out?” I ask.
“Nah. I loved that rat-infested dungeon and wanted to stay there forever.” Scarlet responded, sarcasm set to the max. She makes a little arm gesture that, accidentally or on purpose, leads to her making a hot red line on my neck.
“Was everything you said a lie?”
“You’re a smart girl…usually. Figure it out.”
“Did you actually hate me?” I ask, a little upset now. Or maybe it was just the pain from the cut on my neck.
“I don’t hate you. Actually, you’re rather amusing. Smart and stupid all at once. It’s hilarious. If I ever did ‘feel bad’ about killing someone, like other people say they do, it would probably be about you. So stop the melodrama. It wasn’t personal.” Scarlet replies, with no mean edge for once.
“Why did you burn your family?” I ask. Sure, I might die any second now, but I have to know.
Scarlet looks at me then. She’s not just looking, but staring. The look is intense, and cold, and dead serious. Then she breaks out into her usual mocking grin.
"Guess. Guess right, and I let you live.
A) All that stuff I told you about the evil magic torture was fake. It sounds over the top because it is. It was an accident. It was a spell gone wrong. I was just learning how to do fire spells, and it got out of control. I was laughing because I was in shock. Laughing mad. I told them that, but nobody believed the dark magic witch girl who was seen laughing at the scene of the crime. Your father decided to lock me up like that crazy bastard Gorlois. So I decided if everybody thought I was Gorlois reborn already, I might as well roll with my reputation. Rule #2 of Sorcery-If you’re not what they expect, you’re a monster.
B) There was no reason. No reason except for I was bored and I enjoyed it. Rule #2-Save the evil gloating for after your getaway is complete."
Woah. And not just because my life was in the balance here (or was it?). I had to decide, right here, right now-was Scarlet completely, for laughs, irredeemably evil like she presented herself as? Or was it all an act to cover up what, if it was real, must have been unimaginable pain?
I considered everything I had learned about Scarlet since the moment I met her, tried to read between the lines, and said…“C) Neither of the above. It’s a false dilemma that you’re presenting because no matter what I pick, you’re going to kill me.”
“Well, you’re half right. And half wrong. The correct answer was D) You will never know the answer. Deal with it. Rule #3-Accept that you will never know everything. Though I think you’ll break this one every day.” Scarlet said, actually shaking her head at the end.
She was talking like I’d actually have more days available to me to break it. Could it be that…I was going to live?!
Sure enough, Scarlet took flipped her hair, and, tilting her head towards the sun and making a sigh of pleasure, said “Now go. Go because Rule #4 is…anyone will stab you in the back if given the chance. Go before I decide to give you a personal lesson in that literally as well as figuratively.”
“You’re actually going to let me go? Seriously? After burning your own family to death, and stealing from the temple, and the magic torture, you’re just letting me go? Why?” I asked, shocked.
“Are you seriously complaining about it?” Scarlet asked in a bored and irritated tone. “What’s it to you? My motivation is irrelevant as far as you’re concerned. That’s what is, and you benefit. Anyone else in Britain, ANYONE, would have took off running. You-you act like you either don’t give a damn about your own life, or you don’t believe you can die.”
“You’re crazy, you know that Guen? I would have offered to let you come with me and free you from that gilded cage you call a home, but I can see now I would never be safe as long as you were around. You have no survival instincts. None at all. I don’t know what it is that motivates you, Guen-what drives you to spend your days in dungeons and shun healthy relationships. But I do know that if you don’t learn to resist THAT, whatever it is-it. will. kill. you. So just get away from me before you kill us both.” Scarlet tore into me. It felt so wrong-like, wasn’t I supposed to be condemning HER? It felt like a slap in the face.
“But…where? We’re in the middle of the woods. And there’s…dangerous animals in the woods. Dangerous fae a-” I asked, panicking a little.
“And that sounds like a you problem. So YOU solve it.” Scarlet cut me off.
“But what if they come to eat me?” I ask fearfully.
“Run fast…and scream loud so I can hear” I was about to feel relieved, when she finished with “-and come watch.”
Goddess. I had saved her life, been (albeit accidentally) responsible for setting her free…and all she wanted me to do was to die horribly, eaten by a fae wolf while she watched?!
I guess there was nothing to say to that. I wouldn’t dignify it with a response it didn’t deserve. Nothing to do but start walking.
“Ohfortheloveof-THE OTHER WAY, YOU IDIOT!” Scarlet screamed.
Many Days Later:
Yep, those were the last words I ever heard out of Scarlet. We never had a long sappy goodbye, or any goodbye at all really. That’s not either of our styles. And it suited us just fine.
Was she my friend? Was she my enemy? I guess that all depends on your perspective.
And on Scarlet’s. Which I will never know. I will never know if she was just pure evil, or if she was some sort of evil but had her reasons, or if it was all an act to survive and hide her pain. I will never know how much she meant of what she said. I will never know where she went or what she did after that.
I do know she never returned to my father’s dungeons. I don’t think peace and Scarlet exactly mesh, but I hope she found enough of it not to need to do the horrible stuff she did. (The other possibility is of course that she took my advice, and now does it well enough not to get caught.)
She rather liked me…I’m at least mostly sure of that.
I kind of liked her too. I liked her more than I’ve ever liked anyone. She was definitely really mean, and might have been seriously evil, but I liked her. After all, isn’t there just a little bit of Scarlet that we’d all like to have?
@jeantown Obviously you’d never include something like that in the story, but theoretically, would Scarlet’s magic torture be possible? Just curious.