The Man Who Was Too Many
by Rachel Parsons
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“More blood,” Grizelda declared. She squatted down, let Zusanna sniff it.
The lycanthrope clicked, meaning “No.”
The men’s head start shouldn’t have been that great, but it had been enough. From eyewitness reports, their heads, precariously balanced on their necks, kept falling off, and they left pools of blood wherever they went. Still, there had been time to place notices, to have a cash reward for the cravens with the severed heads who did kill small children for sport.
Rhiannon had declared both men guilty and had written a bill of attainder for Chester Sprung, a man with a severed head who had a twin, Chester Sprung, a man with a severed head and hand. As not too many men are still alive after their heads are severed, and fewer still who meet that description are doppelgangers, it should have been easy to find them.
Only it was not.
The queen had to be restrained from pursuing. She hadn’t listened to the sensible point that Rosalyn had made that the temperatures were plunging, there was frost on the ground and a naked woman would very possibly die on the road from the chilblains. It was only after Ioseff, Grizelda, Zusanna and Rosalyn had ganged up on her that the princess relented.
Grizelda had heard from a raven about the Land of the Twins and assumed that Chester Sprung might have gone there. Another reason why Rhiannon should stay out of it. It was a borderland, her authority was shadowy there, and a woman without clear authority or clothes would very likely not survive, even with a death sword and a werewolf companion.
So Grizelda, after browbeating her husband, followed the raven with Zusanna as her companion.
“It takes a witch to fight a demon,” she announced.
“Just be careful,” he admonished.
She kissed him as she mounted her mare and took off for the Land of the Twins, following the blood trail. Only it had grown cold. The last pools were anything but the blood they were looking for. Orangutan blood, some human, but not a Sprung. Nothing in common with either doppelganger except the coppery smell.
The village ahead was typical; it had a dirt road leading to its main street, which had its temple, its chapel of the man-God, its livery, smithy, dress store, general store, granary, and many shops in between.
Also typical is the reaction of people as Grizelda rode in. Men gaped at her bare legs, some clutch their members at the sight of an exotic woman. Only a whore would ride alone, or show her legs. Women, thinking the same thing, that Grizelda was some kind of whore, looked contemptuous and scuttled away. Other citizens stared in fear as they recognized that the bare-legged black-clad woman’s companion was not a dog, or a wolf, but a cynocephalus.
Grizelda could tell she had come to the right place. But she also could tell that hard task wasn’t going to be an easy one. For all the men looked like Chester Sprung and all the women looked like Joan of Arc.
Grizelda rode up to the town marshal’s building. She dismounted, flexing her knees and wincing as her bare feet touched the gravel; she tied up her horse. She rubbed her buttocks, made grouchy by the days on the horse. She could use a bath, but business came first.
She checked in with the town marshal, or in this case, marshals.
“We decided it would be less confusing if we both became marshal, as we are brothers,” said the man in buckskin pantaloons and chain mail.
“Aye, we didn’t want to confuse anyone,” said the other man in buckskin pantaloons and chain mail.
“Now, what can we do for you ma’am?”
Grizelda presented her paper and her badge of office.
The marshals peer at it and frown. “You are on the queen’s business?” said marshal # 1.
“Aye. I’m looking for a man,” but before she can say ‘actually, two men,’ she is interrupted.
“Have you tried an escort service, m’lady?” marshal # 2 said.
“No, I haven’t tried an escort service,” Grizelda said acerbically. She finished her sentence that she was looking for two men, both identical, and both looking exactly like the marshals. Or any other man in the town, for that matter.
“Any distinguishing features?” marshal No. 1 asked.
“Aye, any distinguishing features?” marshal No. 2 asked.
“Well, they both have severed heads,” Grizelda mentioned. “That will verily distinguish them.
“You’d be surprised, m’lady,” said marshal No. 1.
“You’re embarrassing yourself, Chester,” said marshal No. 2. “That’s like calling a lieutenant a captain. She is a duchess, not a lady.”
“Chester? Oh, no, don’t tell me that all the men here are named Chester?” Grizelda cried.
Zusanna made clicking noises at this thought.
“And why not?” Chester said, removing his bandana and taking off his head. “We are all the same person, are we not? Now, m’lady, your sorcery and your werewolf might be enough to take on two Chester Sprungs. But a whole town of them? I think not.”
The marshal whistled, and a mob of Chester Sprungs came in through the door. Many, buoyed with confidence that their fellows would guide them in the retrieval, started throwing their heads at Grizelda.
Grizelda stepped aside and started kicking. She developed a plan; kick the head at a man who still has his, and knock him out. She began rolling heads with her feet, kicking them at the temples of the still-embodied, and body-slamming other men. The werewolf was biting through the throats of some of the Chesters; more heads for Grizelda to kick. It was almost perfectly coordinated. Zusanna sliced through the throats of the men, the heads would fall off; Grizelda would punt.
Grizelda, battered, stumbled out of the marshals’ office, stepping over or on the bodies of Chester Sprung. Her only thought was that the women were looking at her, as she wiped some of the blood of their men off of her at the watering trough. She wiped the sweat off her face with her dress, pulling it up as she did. She was exposing more than her legs, but she didn’t care.
She yelled, “This can only end if the men I am looking for come forth!”
“What if they are already dead?” yelled back one of the women. “My man has been dead for years, at least from the waist down.”
“Might explain why she looks so glum,” Grizelda said to Zusanna.
The werewolf chuffed.
Grizelda realized the solution. “The men must fight each other in duels; the gods will spare the innocent and take the guilty.”
A man came up to Grizelda, gave her a scroll. She looked at it.
“You promote fights?”
“Aye, only I prefer to call them duels. I can be your man, m’lady.”
“How do I know you are not one of the two I seek?”
“Here, put your hands on my throat and yank.”
Grizelda did that. Aye. His head is firmly attached to his body.
“Very well, sirrah, direct me to the town hotel; my companion and I will bathe, eat, drink, make merry, and then tomorrow we will have the duels.”
“Tomorrow? That doesn’t give me much time to prepare. “
“You say you are the man for the job. You must show me just how much of a man you are,” Grizelda said, aware that she was being flirtatious. The earl, after all, is a long way away.
He took a look at Grizelda’s legs and smiled. “For you, duchess, anything.”
Grizelda’s mood was cheerier than it has been in days. Her bath was heaven-sent, after a long trip, with the dirt of the road and the blood of her victims on her. Zusanna wanted to romp, dance and play that night; it put Grizelda in a fine spirit. Grizelda ate some fine, spicy iguana for dinner and a fine omelet of chicken embryos for breakfast. Zusanna happily shared both Grizelda’s breakfast as well as her own bowl of chopped steak.
Chester Sprung, the fight manager, was good to his word. He had an arena where the beheading block usually resides, which Grizelda finds appropriate under the circumstances. She sat down at a special seat made just for her; Zusanna plopped at her feet.
Chester Sprung does have a fine masculine form, and it shows off well, naked, as he fought another Chester Sprung, who shared the same male pulchritude. Grizelda’s lips part and she yelled as loud as anyone, as one Chester after another, hit the ring floor. She didn’t once think of Ioseff and what he and Rhiannon might that moment be doing.
The fights took all day. Many of the Chesters were already dead from the massacre; many of the remaining had confessed to crimes they did not commit in order to not have to fight. Grizelda sent a boy to her husband, commanding him to come and arrest these men.
The condemned men are all in a corral, unaware that they have confessed to capital offenses. After all, what a man does with his pig may be of crown business, but it is of little consequence, they felt. It was for Rhiannon to sort out, in any event. Grizelda smiled to herself. The princess-regent wanted to dispense justice; let her dispense justice. She’ll be too busy to mess in the duchess’ affairs for a while now.
Two men refused to take their clothes off and Grizelda saw why. They had thick necklaces around their necks; they look like long necked swans with jewelry. She went over to them, oh, blithe as you please, so they don’t recognize who Grizelda was and what she was doing; she seized their necklaces and their heads fell off.
“In the name of the princess-regent, I arrest thee,” Grizelda proclaimed.
So as to not stop the fighting, which had become very popular, especially among the women folk, who have secretly bet on who had the more attractive masculine form as they got revealed, Grizelda took the men with the severed heads and had some men march the bodies in one direction as she took the heads, one held by its hair in each of her hands, to the opposite end of town, where she tied the scalps to trees. She commissioned two boys to use the heads as practice for sticks and balls should they somehow escape.
They were hanging like that for days, nourished by the apples people throw at them. The bodies, at the other end of town, were pelted with pig grease.
Finally, Ioseff showed up. He noticed how Grizelda had the men pinned.
“Isn’t that a little harsh, Grizelda?” Ioseff asked..
“Ioseff, these men tortured, raped and killed two sweet little girls. It is only right that their heads be dangling from trees and their bodies be tied to the same.”
“At opposite ends of town?”
“Didn’t want them fraternizing.”
“I suppose. I’m just glad that you’re not the dispenser of justice “
The earl had brought two baskets; one for each head. He had also brought two spare horses; the bodies were tied to them..
The royal couple rode out of town.
“Did you miss me, Ioseff?”
“More than you can know,” said her husband, who reached over to kiss her.
From the nature of his response to his question, Grizelda knew that there would be no need of bees — at least for a while.
Copyright © 2010 by Rachel Parsons