Eleventh in our Heroes series, by our own Robert Rhodes. Art is courtesy of Imogen Cane.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

So many nights I simply wish I were normal. Almost every other young woman in Port Royal, rich or poor, is in bed now. Perhaps they are gossiping with a sister or friend, offering consolation for a day’s sorrow or whispering hopes and plans for the midsummer carnivals. Perhaps they are with a man. Or perhaps they dream.

I never remember my dreams. I did once, as a small girl in the crumbling orphanage on Barrel Lane. Often, I’d dream of my mum, of chasing her through the alleys behind the lane, from the city, into a field while the sky darkened and rumbled. Rain would pour, and my bare feet would slip and sink in mud. Always she’d run ahead of me, her bright hair like a banner, finally darting into a forest as wide as the sky. Goddess, it was dark. I’d scream for her yet have no voice, or my voice would drown in thunder. Briers would snag my tunic, scratch my legs, and in a blast of lightning, my mum would vanish. Sometimes then, if I were lucky, I’d wake. If not, the Black Wolf would come.

Dreams and dreams. The Lady of Blessed Darkness sends them to amuse and instruct, to illumine our hearts — so I was taught by my foster parents, ardent devotees of the Lady. But the truth is, once they plucked me from the orphanage, my dreams ceased. Perhaps it’s a blessing of the Lady. Or perhaps my heart is cloaked, or my mind can only endure so much. Certainly, if any of the other young women of this city were in my skin now, prowling these rooftops, they’d never doubt it was a dream.

How else would a lady explain her presence on a rooftop at midnight? Her rapier and dagger and familiarity with both? And of course there, arrogantly leaning against a chimney, the candied apple in the pig’s mouth, waits my bloody partner.

He can, Lady forgive me, be such an ass. If he were stupid, it would be so much easier to tolerate him. But he isn’t. In the two months since our investiture, we’ve answered each petition assigned to us, and only once have I felt compelled to draw steel. The fact that it was on him still pleases.

“Lord Joke,” I say, joining him beside the chimney.

“Lady Missed,” he replies with an elaborate bow. It’s become our traditional greeting. One night, he’ll deviate with a Never-Kissed or by switching a P for the M, only to have his words punctuated by the impact of my boot.

“Where shall we start?” I ask. I fold my arms and listen to music and laughter from a nearby tavern, breathe the cool salty air blowing inward from the sea. “The Cuts?” The alleys southwest of the Iron Market crawl with thieves and brokers, and at least three semi-skilled gem cutters. Besides, it would be refreshing to cross blades with someone outside of our temple.

“My thoughts exactly.” He winks and sweeps his cloak toward the southern edge of the rooftop, a rooftop under which a normal young woman likely sleeps. A confusing thought, but one at which, not facing my partner, I smile.

Perhaps my waking life is dream enough.

Author’s note: Phineas and Ophelia represent a tiny contribution to the tradition of the swords-against-sorcery duo, best epitomized perhaps by Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. As a lifelong Dungeons & Dragons player, I also see them as my attempt to create, in story, an elusively believable blend of the cleric and thief classes. (I recently played an avenger in my first 4th edition game, though, and really enjoyed it; and as hinted in these sketches, retribution is not excluded from Lord Smoke and Lady Mist’s repertoire.)

Ophelia © Robert Rhodes, 2010. All rights reserved.
art used with permission: “Thief” by Imogen Cane


  • Rob Rhodes

    ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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