“Madder Root and Rampion” by Sean R. Robinson

She has heard of you, scar breeder. Your names are stories in the rampion yards of Rasia and each one whispers down the caravan roads. She listens. You have laid tracks down the wrists of old women. Young men boast in their mead halls that they do not fear your phoenix-bone knife, though they live in the shadow of your tower and will not speak your name.

She has come to your city by moonlight, tracing your feet. She wears a madder-root cloak and the stones do not tremble when she walks. Her skin is pale, her eyes the green of poison apples. They call her the Saint of the Dreamless Sleep, scar breeder. She has come for you.

She watches for days, you are so terribly strong. As you lead your nightly caravan through the streets, the palanquin carried by a dozen child-brides, she stalks the rooftops. When your little girl-child Marga cannot keep up, and is whipped for her weakness, she digs half-moons into her palms. The girl’s eyes are green like beryl. As you drink black plum wine from the vintner, Argise, she hides in the thick-beamed roof darkness. It is the last keg from the year his daughter died, long-saved against the hard times. She watches as you do not pay for it. You do not see him cry and whisper his daughter’s name to the empty cask.

She makes herself watch you in the serail. She keeps to the shadows as you loosen the belt around your waist and let it fall in a spray of discarded bones. The women are frightened by your footsteps, you can taste their fear and it makes you drunk. You roll it on your tongue.

She had painted the inside of your cup with poison, scar breeder. It will not kill you, you are too strong, too mighty for that. Scar breeder, you let your squid-skin robe fall. You are beautiful in the lamplight.

She traces the scars on your skin with her eyes. They make a coat along your wrists, woven like fine linen, and trails up your elbows, down the contours of your chest. They are thick where you have tried to carve out your broken heart. There are chasers up the hollows of your neck, small ones around your eyes and lips.

She knows they are your power. Each cut of your skin has made you stronger, as they grow like vines up the lattice of your bones. No needle, no garrote, no blade will take your life. The Saint of the Dreamless Sleep watches you stride across the pale marble floors, seeking.

She waits as you find dear dark-haired Immat, hiding in the shadows. You can smell her private spice of fear. Like sycamore, sumac, and hot sand. Immat is your favorite, with her dark hair and bottomless eyes. She spoke seven languages and you have taken each from her, a night at a time. Scar breeder, you have taken Immat’s polyglot tongue.

She watches as you leave the girl unharmed. The lights shine strangely to your eyes. It is red and green and you are growing warm, you remember a girl with green eyes that you loved once. It is the poison—oak gall and the crushed hair of a unicorn. It is a draft to make men mad and as you reach the door to your tower, there is nothing left inside you but swimming vision and memory.

She catches the door when you kick it closed. No one has seen her take the stairs behind you. There is no one in the tower to watch what follows. You do not bother to light the candles. You throw yourself on the bed and then, you remember nothing but the press of her flesh, the heat that burns beneath your scarred skin from remembered kisses. You mean to take your knife to Immat that night, but forget as need takes thought and action and there is nothing left but her and you.

She is there, on the bed, the Saint of the Dreamless Sleep. She has watched you long enough. You do not care that she has made deathcraft an art. You reach for her, unknowing, and she turns to you.

She does not fight when you press your mouth to hers. You taste her tongue, which does not belong. It tastes of grit and Argise’s plum wine, the fall of the whip on Marga’s back, the shallow cut of your phoenix-bone knife against Immat’s tongue. You open your eyes. It is too late, scar breeder. You whisper her name from the bottom of your broken heart. You had never thought to see her again.

She is astride you when you feel it. There is pain inside your throat and you try to claw it out. It grows inside you and as you try to get air to scream, it is too late. She is green eyed in the darkness. Your mouth erupts—green trailing vines. They pour from the edges of your lips and down across the bed. You cannot contain them.

She reaches forward and runs her fingers down the thick ridges of your forehead, down the bridge of your nose. The assassin touches the vines, which have begun to carpet the floor. Purple flowers have grown too, which she caresses, then down and across where you have tried to cut your heart from your chest.

She leaves you as she did before, but now the rampion grows up the walls. Her madder-root cloak leaves no trace of her. She is a master of her profession and you are her responsibility. The rampion seeds take root in the darkness of your stomach and grow and grow until there is nothing left of you, the bedroom, and the tower, but the stories of the scar breeder whispering down the caravan roads. You have left a scar upon her heart.

She loved you once, before.

Sean R. Robinson is a science fiction and fantasy author who calls the White Mountains of New Hampshire home. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction and is forthcoming from Apex Magazine. When not writing, he works in social services. Sean is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA. You can follow him (sporadically) on Twitter @Kesterian.

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