Tenth in our Heroes series, by our own Robert Rhodes. Art is courtesy of Christine Martino.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

Of course I understand my life is hardly normal. And yes, it’s perfectly fair to call me touched. Mad is a bit strong, I think, and deranged is simply offensive. But it’s not my fault. Not entirely. I suppose I am partially responsible now, since I rather enjoy how my life runs widdershins to almost everyone else’s. But if anyone is responsible, it’s the Lady Herself — and who am I to question a goddess?

True, to the teeming masses of Port Royal, the Lady of Blessed Darkness is all but forgotten. Of the countless merchants, sailors, fishwives and errand boys who smooth the cobbles of Ice Street each day, few could tell a stranger the significance of the crescent moon and stars carved above the doors of the ancient bluestone chapel abutting the Branscombe & Pratt Icehouse.

But some remember. Minstrels, of course. Merchants’ cuckolded wives. Youths pining for the slightest sign — a dropped handkerchief, a raised eyebrow, a smile! — from the ones who, like blindfolded archers, have unknowingly pierced their hearts. And remembering, they enter the chapel in the quiet hours between dusk and dawn. They bow or curtsy before the statue of the Lady — palest marble, black silk tunic, a cloak of cloth of silver, a harp and knife of gold, onyx fox beside her slim sandaled feet — before stepping into any of four lamplit alcoves and drawing a velvet curtain behind them.

In each alcove is an angled desk at which they may kneel. On each are strips of parchment, quill and ink, a handbell, and a small coffer of oak and iron, bolted to the desk and double-locked. The petitioner writes the reason for his or her visit and slips the parchment — and a number of coins befitting the petitioner’s status and urgency — into the coffer. (Those who cannot write ring the bell, summoning a masked priest or priestess to take up the quill.) The petitioner then departs the solace of the chapel with, perhaps, a new sense of peace or purpose.

A new shadow as well.

Enter myself and my brothers and sisters in the Lady’s service. There are now only six of us, only three duos to serve all of Port Royal, where once there were four times as many. When a petitioner departs the chapel, one of us follows to learn more of his or her identity and circumstances. (Indubitably, it would be so much simpler to require each petitioner to provide a name and street of lodging. But who would believe in a goddess ignorant of such trifles?) At dawn, our elders — the two arch-priestesses and arch-priest — recover the parchments and meet in the secret Chamber of Stars, deep in the chapel’s catacombs. They decide how each petition should be answered and which duo should answer it.

The thrill of a new challenge! Before my memories begin, I was orphaned in this city — one for which the word deranged, if offensive, is nonetheless precise. The elders chose my siblings and me for our promise, so they say, covertly adopting us and training us in all the skills needed to succeed as night-roaming angels of a goddess sublime.

We serve her in the defense of beauty, you see, of art and music, dancing and fair dreams, and all things which bless and refresh when a day’s work is done. Most of all, we strive for love. Love! For those who aspire to it — to truly give of themselves — we are their secret guardians and advocates. But those who betray or dishonor, slight or corrupt — they are, in essence, our prey.

I carry a saber and cudgel, you see, and when cloaked and masked in my guise as Lord Smoke, can wring my eyes and brow into a most fearsome scowl. My partner, Lady Mist, wields a parrying dagger and rapier as well as any guardsman I’ve ever seen — to say nothing of her forked and poisonous tongue.

And here we are. The bells are tolling midnight, and her cloaked form is gliding toward me on the nearest rooftop. Tonight we begin the fulfillment of a new petition, one involving the theft of wedding jewels. It is a good night, with both stars and swift-scudding clouds, and drunken laughter spilling from a tavern below.

I cannot imagine, thank the Lady, being normal.

Author’s note: In two weeks … a date with Lady Mist.

Phineas © Robert Rhodes, 2010. All rights reserved.
art used with permission: “The Brother” by Christine Martino


  • 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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