Aesma and the Red Eyed King

Part 4

Aesma was in such a great rush when she arrived at the battered iron gates of the Crucible that she made a very ungainly landing and sent the whole fortress swaying side to side. She rushed through its dreary halls, thick with the howling of the evil beings imprisoned within, and arrived with great haste at the tiny red-hot cage of the Red Eyed King.
“I’ve come back!” gasped Aesma, out of breath.

“What are you doing?” said the Red-Eyed King, for indeed he saw Aesma was trying to accomplish something that she seemed to greatly struggle with.

“I’m trying to prostrate myself,” said Aesma. It took her the better part of the morning, and even then she could only manage it for five seconds at a time. But in those five seconds she said this: “I promise you that if I become your wife, I will tend to your meals, and darn your clothing, and obey your every command without question. In return, you must be my protector, guide, and counselor, and you must not lift your hand against me in violence.”

The King mulled this offer over, and saw that there were many fine things for him to exploit, for his wicked mind was as twisted as Aesma’s, and he too could bend the world into shapes to his choosing. This was the source of his power.

“I accept,” he said, and his evil red eyes burned every brighter. Aesma could barely contain herself, and jumped for joy, which only sent the entire fortress swaying and shaking more violently. “What should I do, oh husband of mine?” said Aesma. “Let me out of this cage,” said the Red Eyed King. So Aesma struck the cage with all her might, and bent the bars asunder with a shower of sparks. The bars were very hard and white hot, and Aesma was burned quite badly, but Aesma was so love-struck she hardly noticed.

“Ah, I am so weak,” whispered the Red Eyed King as Aesma carried him out of the cage. And Aesma saw that this was true, for the King’s form was charred and pitifully thin from his confinement, so that he could barely stand. She cradled him and fussed over him. “Oh what I can I do for thee, my husband?” she said, desperate for his affection. “Please make for me my favorite meal,” said the Red Eyed King.

“Your favorite meal?” said Aesma, who hadn’t anticipated ever having to actually cook.

“Yes,” said the Red Eyed King, and his eyes flashed with an evil glare. “It is a plum from YISUN’s private garden. I used to eat them all the time when I was free, and I crave their sweetness now. If it is thy wish to be my wife, then that is the succor I crave.”

“Oh, that’s easy!” said Aesma, who was privately very relieved she wouldn’t have to cook, and didn’t give one thought to what the king had asked for. For the plums of YISUN’s garden could grant eternal life, and their juices nourished the flame of the body to an immense, roaring brightness, so that any who ate one would be almost impermeable to harm. Aesma dropped the Red Eyed King with very little ceremony and leapt to it, and very shortly she had returned with a glistening plum from YISUN’s garden, plump and ripe. Normally the garden was guarded by a red ten-antlered buck, who was resolute in his duty, exceedingly calm, and the most powerful fighter in the universe, for the wide trunks of the plum trees were littered with the bones of his foes. But when Aesma had arrived there and asked for a plum to please her husband, the buck had been so taken aback by the notion of Aesma submitting to marriage that he was completely stunned for a whole three seconds, which was more than enough time for Aesma to snatch a plum and leap out.

“Ah, excellent,” said the Red Eyed King, “Now feed it to me, wife.” And Aesma did, bit by bit. And bit by bit, the Red Eyed King fleshed out, and the char and scabs fell away from his flesh, and his wounds sealed, and he grew more and more in stature until he stood three times Aesma’s height. And Aesma saw that he was a tyrant king with night-blue skin and a wild mane of hair like a tangle of shadows, and great fangs and tusks jutting from his black lips. His nails were wicked claws, his arms were like corded iron, and his hands were large so as to easily snap men’s necks. For this reason Aesma fell in love just a little bit more.

“Oh but husband,” said Aesma, blushing and giggling, “You are quite naked.” She was thoroughly enjoying being a wife so far.

“Yes,” boomed the King, and gave a mighty evil laugh. “Wife, attend me!”

“Oh what can I do for thee, my husband?” said Aesma. “Mend my clothing!” commanded the Red Eyed King, “I had one time a hauberk made from the scales of the Ur-serpent that coils beneath the ash of the world. The feathers of the screaming Roc I took for my mantle, my shield was of the tail-hide of the Leviathan that haunts the deep, and my sword was carved from the bone that is found in the heart of a World Tree.” This was all a fantastic lie, of course, for the King had never had such fine or rare clothing. And if he had been girded in such armament, so empowered by the plum he had eaten, the Gods of justice would never have had any hope at all of defeating him in battle. He would have laid such waste to the universe had never been seen before, and burnt it to a cinder, so that his red eyes could lay their baleful gaze on only smoldering ashes. This was his one and true desire, for like Aesma, he was an idiot and did not understand the true nature of Royalty.

Aesma, of course, did not detect his hidden intentions, for she was smitten with love. “At once, my husband!” she said, almost tearful in her joy, and strode off to gather what she could. She was so focused in her matrimonial bliss that she scarcely gave any thought to the monumental scale of the tasks she was accomplishing. First she dug until she found and tugged upon the tail of the mighty Ur-Serpent, whose body was thicker around than a city. Yanking it from the earth, she wrestled with it for three days, during which she bashed enough scales from its body for her purpose. Then she dove into the black and limitless ocean, and swam until she found the leathery and ancient Leviathan of the deep. Aesma was very bad at fighting underwater, and couldn’t hold her breath for very long, so the battle went very poorly for her at first. But very shortly, she became so fed up that she summoned a score of transcendental fist arts and rained such horrific blows upon the water around her that she beat it back for a full day, turning the bottom of the ocean into dry land for a short while. The Leviathan was very slow on land, so Aesma bludgeoned it into unconsciousness and stole it’s tail while it slept.

Next Aesma tracked the Roc, and clung to its back for a full week while it pecked her viciously, but she was able to pluck enough feathers to make a fine mantle. Then she rode her chariot to the edge of the universe, and fought through the howling winds, the scouring cold, and the limitless demons that poured in from the edge of existence there. And after a harrowing journey, she was able to hack out a heart-slice of the fourth World Tree that held up creation using a vorpal shard of void-ice. The tree was mighty enough to withstand its mutilation, and it recovered in time. But until that time it was injured enough to bow, just a little, so for a while an entire corner of the universe sagged quite terribly. This caused great consternation in YISUN’s speaking house and among the multitudes of star-gazers, astronomers, sorcerers, and techno-saints that measured such things, but Aesma was scarcely aware of this. In a fervor, she fled to Koss’s workshop and stole his lesser chisel when he wasn’t looking. Then she crouched over a public hearth for a full week and banged her husband’s armaments into shape.

When Aesma returned, she was truly a terrible sight. Her skin was puckered and swollen from the venom of the world serpent, she was frost burned from her trip to the edge of the world, and she was bitten and punctured all over from her great battle. But she was beaming, for she was still terribly lovesick, and in her arms she had a great hauberk of shimmering dark scales, a glorious feather-mantle, a mighty hide shield, and a white and curved sword carved from the iron-hard heartwood of the world tree.

“Here is your armament, O husband,” she said, out of breath and beaming with joy. “This is a sword that will cut thirty six ways at once!”

The king was greatly pleased at the gullibility of this poor fool, and he donned his impermeable garb.

“Oh what else can I do for thee, my husband?” said Aesma, totally consumed with love.

“I am not thy husband yet,” said the satisfied King. “I think it is time for my return to the surface world. Who are the sorry fools that sent thee?”

“Oh yes, I almost forgot!” said Aesma, prancing about in joy, “Will you return to the Temple of the Disc of the Sun with me and join me in marriage? We can have a massive wedding ceremony and I’ll invite everyone in YISUN’s speaking house to attend.  No, everyone in creation! We can have drinking, and dancing, and fighting, and fighting and dancing, and afterwards I can build us a great big house and we can have lots of magnificent and gigantic children!”

“Yes, let us attend this ceremony,” said the King. “Make of thee a beast I can mount and we will be there promptly.” And Aesma did. She turned herself into a massive black beast with wings of the darkling sky and talons the size of a man. And the king sat astride her back and rode her out of the pit, his red eyes flashing the entire way.