Guiverna's Gauntlet (12 Aug 1227)

Ève waited in her bedchamber, as patiently as she could. The room was barely big enough for her bed (which years of experience told her would sleep two, if not comfortably), and what valuables her domina allowed her to keep. She was more nervous than she had been in years.

Today was the day that Luce Nibelung ex Miscellanea would determine if Ève was ready to join the ranks of magi of the Order of Hermes (and, more importantly, to follow in her footsteps and become one of Cleopatra's Bane).

Ève had asked her, of course, what her Gauntlet would consist of, what she would have to know or do. "It's nothing that should be beyond your capabilities," was the only answer that Luce would give, although Ève could not help but catch the slight emphasis on "should," as though Luce had her doubts.

What made her even more nervous was not knowing when Luce would come for her, whether morning or afternoon. Only that it would be some time that day. If she knew more precisely when her Gauntlet would be, she could find someone to pass the time with.

Her stomach was telling her that it was almost lunch when Luce opened her door. "It is time," she said before leading her to Luce's laboratory, Ève following dutifully.

"You know the significance of this date," Luce said, more of a statement than a question.

"Yes, domina. It was on this date that the wizard Epaphroditus, under orders from Gaius Octavius, assassinated Queen Cleopatra in the form of an asp. He was the first of our line, and in memory of the event, all Cleopatra's Banes take their Gauntlet on August 12th."

One of the pallets in the laboratory was occupied by a young man, who was leaning over the side and retching into a pail. Ève knew him, or had known him. Quite a few times, in fact; most recently, just a few days before, when they had passed an exhausting afternoon in the hayloft of the covenant's stable.

"Daniel, what's wrong?" Ève asked, starting to take a step toward him before Luce held out an arm to bar her path.

"He has been poisoned," Luce replied in Parseltongue. "His life, and your future, are now in your hands. Your Gauntlet has begun." With that, Luce cast the spell that allowed her to take the form of an asp with a smile that didn't touch her eyes. Ève knew that it had always rankled Luce somewhat that she had had to study for so long to do something that Ève had been able to do her whole life.

Ève started to cast Revealed Flaws of Mortal Flesh to determine what poison had been administered, when she felt a sharp pain in her leg. She looked down and saw that Luce had buried her fangs into her. Although Ève knew that her domina's venom would have no effect on her, the bite was still quite painful.

"No magic!" Luce hissed.

Ève opened her mouth to protest, but snapped it shut. It would do no good. She would have to follow whatever rules Luce laid down.

She knelt next to Daniel. "How long have you been like this?" she asked as she checked his forehead for fever.

"Maybe half an hour," he replied. Ève carefully checked his hands and feet, his arms and legs, looking for any pain or numbness.

As she did, she glanced down and saw a cup that had fallen under the pallet. She picked it up and saw that there was still some ale in the cup. She slowly took a sip and rolled it around in her mouth before swallowing. She felt certain that she knew what the poison was, and thought she knew about how long he had to live if she couldn't get him the antidote.

She leaned over and kissed his ear. "I will make this up to you when you've recovered," she breathed before she stood again and went to the laboratory's stores.

Ève froze when she opened the cupboard doors and saw that all the shelves were bare. "You have no stores," Luce told her. "Everything you need to make more is still in the cabinets, but today your supply of finished goods is exhausted."

Ève strode to the cabinets and pulled out what she would need, setting them out neatly on the tables. She closed her eyes and said a quick prayer to Isis before she started to work. Luce questioned her every incessantly about the properties of various poisons and antidotes, as well as their ingredients and the history of Cleopatra's Bane.

She had no idea how much time had passed when she finished, but judging by how much light was streaming through the windows she knew it wasn't as long as it felt.

Daniel's eyes were closed when she entered the room again, but they fluttered open when he heard her footsteps.

"I can't feel anything," he said, his voice little more than a whisper.

She knelt next to him and pinched along his arms and legs. The numbness had spread almost to his shoulders and to his hips, but hadn't reached his chest. The end was not yet here.

Ève cradled his head in her arm and slowly poured the concoction down his throat. He choked and gagged a couple of times but managed to keep it down.

"Rest, let the elixir do its work, and you will be fine, with time." As she stood up, she could hear Luce (who had resumed her human form) casting a spell. Ève had heard it often enough to recognize it as one that would allow her to know Daniel's condition.

"He will live," she said in Parseltongue. Even after fifteen years, Ève had a hard time judging her mood sometimes. But it sounded to her like Luce might have been just a hair...disappointed?

"Have I passed, domina?" Ève asked in the same tongue.

"The first part. There is more to come yet." Luce hurried out the door, the iridescent scales on her robes and cloak reflecting a rainbow in the sunlight. Even followed hurriedly as Luce led her to a cell in the guardhouse.

"You recognize him," Luce said as she and Ève looked through the window.

"Yes. Richard. One of the turb, has been for some time."

"Two nights ago, he got into rather a heated argument with one of the tradesmen in town. Words were exchanged, then blows. Finally, young Richard here drew his knife and killed Maurice. Unfortunately, there were too many witnesses for us to make it as though nothing had happened.

"Fortunately, Her Grace has agreed to let us carry out his execution, seeing as how he is our responsibility and we would be able to come up with a more creative method, being wizards."

Ève turned to Luce as Richard scrambled to his feet.

"You will carry out the sentence," Luce said. "This will be the final part of your Gauntlet. The only requirement is that whatever you devise must be fatal."

Ève looked through the window again, only to see Richard's face pressed against the bars. "So, that's how it is, eh? Take me to bed, then take me to the gallows? I should have known you'd find a way to get rid of me once you were done with me!" She moved just as he spit at her, avoiding the worst of it. She wiped the glob from her hair and cleaned her hand on her robes.

She stepped back and took a deep breath. She recited a short hymn in Parseltongue, one whose words she had always known but had never been taught, and her body changed. Her arms and legs withdrew into her body as she fell to the floor, and her hair disappeared into her head. Within moments, an asp slithered out of her robes, her tongue tasting the air before she found a gap where the cell door met the wall.

Luce moved to the window to watch the proceedings.

It wasn't long before Richard yelped in pain, as Ève's fangs latched onto his calf. She let go and waited before she struck again and again. The third strike drove him to his knees. Ève reared up one last time and struck again, her fangs this time finding his neck.

She slithered into a corner of the cell and coiled there, watching Richard intently. Luce chanted in Parseltongue, and Richard's skin took on an iridescent sheen for a moment.

"That will do," she said before chanting again. Luce appeared in the center of the cell and knelt next to Richard, who was curled up in a ball and gasping in pain.

"You do realize you're about to die," she said calmly. "Your life, your death, belong to the Covenant of Beauxbâtons. Is that not right?"

"Yes...yes, Maga," Richard gasped.

"We are protective of what is ours, but we are also merciful when we are called to be so. Do you wish that I show mercy?"

"Yes, Maga."

"Say it! Ask me to show you mercy."

"Please. Mercy, Maga. I beg you, mercy!"

"My mercy is not without price. You agree to accept my mercy, whatever the cost?"

"Yes! Please, Maga, I'm begging you, I'll do anything!"

Luce cast another spell. "You will not die. Not today, anyway. But it will take a while for you to fully heal.

"Your sergeants will be instructed to treat you as a new recruit. Fitting, with your newly given life. You will have to earn the rank and privilege you held before. You will not be allowed to leave the covenant except as part of a guard detail. You are never to set foot in the city again. Violation of any of these conditions will result in my taking back the gift I have give you."

Without another word, Luce turned and cast the spell that allowed her to leave the room. Once outside, she waiting for Ève to take her human form and get dressed.

"Congratulations, sodalis," she finally said with a grudging smile. "You are now a maga of the Order of Hermes. Come with me to my laboratory, and I will finish your instruction."

"Thank you, domina...mater."

She followed Luce through the covenant yard, deep in thought. "May I ask a question, Luce?" she finally said.

"Of course."

"Why did you save Richard, after you had me execute him?"

"Because the men of the turb cost time and money. He was one of the better turb members, and the resources that Beauxbâtons would have put into locating and training a replacement would have been better spent elsewhere."

"So, all that about showing mercy was..."

"True, as far as he's concerned. Now, let us erect your magical defences so you can return to your laboratory."