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The Girdle of Youth

by Jennifer Guerra

Seven years of watching, waiting, had all come down to this moment. He breathed in the dank air of the alley, wincing at the overpowering stench of unwashed bodies, stagnant water, and rotted scraps of food. All for this, this moment. He exhaled, expelling his breath to the bottom of his lungs; he was dizzy, light-headed with anticipation. He fancied he could already smell her, her high-wafting perfume. Lilies. He began to chuckle, caught it on the edge of his cracked lips. Lilies.

Seven years, this night. He rocked, balancing lightly on the balls of his feet, flexing his calves. Ready to spring. No; he could not yet smell her. But soon, soon. The scarred knuckles of his right hand clenched around the leather-wrapped hilt of the dagger. A fine instrument, well-weighted for its duty.

A mumble from the far, dark corner of the alley. He started, realised it was just another snoring drunk. Shuffled his feet. The night was cold.

Suddenly, in a wash of magical incandescence and the shrill gaiety of celebration, the stage door burst open. Various personages - all of whom he recognised, after these many years of watching - poured out through the narrow portal. Wonderful opening night, a triumph, indeed...Celebrations at the manor - yes, well, he had better come! No one spared a glance for the drunk in the far corner of the alley, though he stared, bleary-eyed, at the frozen shadow crouched behind the stage door, well out of sight.

The celebrants moved on, hurrying away from the anonymity of the alleyway, toward the preferred glare of the canal row. Fans awaited, after all.

They, in their edged doublets and velvet bodices, interested him not at all. He regarded their passage from the crack between the door hinge and the wall with a sneer of contempt, and not much else. Peacocks; feathered puffs of vanity, all. No, his treasure still lay within the theatre. Again he flexed, gripping the knife. And smiled.

It took her another hour to emerge. He had expected no less - after all, a lady must maintain her beauty and decorum. Alone, she stepped gingerly out onto the first step. A silk-slippered toe led from beneath an old-fashioned, slash-sleeved gown. Sure of her footing, she stepped fully out. The one-way iron door closed behind her. He breathed: lilies.

In a single swift move, he was out from the shadows, pinning her against the wall, mouth covered, knife at her throat. She screamed; the desperate sound died beneath his clamped hand. He heard the drunkard turn his back to the scene and feign snoring.

Leaning in close to her tender white throat, he inhaled her perfume, and the heady scent of cold fear. She was intoxicating like this. Grinning like a wolf, he ran the tip of his tongue from the base of her throat to just below her left ear. She squealed once more, struggling hard against the knife and his pinning body. Throwing back his head, he laughed.

"Surely, my dear, you do not think that I would ravage you? Don't flatter yourself." She scowled beneath his hand. Keeping a firm grip on her, he brought the edge of the knife down, slitting the fabric across her bosom just enough that it parted, baring her to the clammy night air. "My, but you haven't changed a bit in all these years. I wonder how." He stared at her body with a cold, cynical detachment; whatever games he played upon her fears, they were only that: games.

"Even your taste in clothes hasn't changed." He clucked disapproval. She glared at him; her hatred was palpable. He felt a rush of elation.

"Now, milady, I hate to cut our little encounter short, but I believe you have something that does not belong to you?" He brought the knife downward, slitting the dress from bodice to abdomen. Screaming behind his hand, she tried to bring a knee up between his thighs. He pivoted deftly out of position; her kick rebounded harmlessly (though not without pain) off his inner leg.

He tore the dress away from her creamy skin, pushing it back on her shoulders to let it fall artlessly to the littered ground. Pinning her harder against the bricks, he reached down, slipping a hand around her waist.

It hung low across her hips, its gold and green glinting dangerously in the dim light of the alley. He had not forgotten the trick of the clasp, even after all this time; he thumbed the catch, and the two halves of the chain parted without a sound.

Throwing her body to one side, she slithered from beneath his hand. The prize, jarred, slipped through his grasping fingers to the dirt and grime below. He dove for it with both hands; she hitched a quick breath and gave voice to an air-rending scream.

Snatching the treasure from the ground, he braced his shoulders and shoved her, hard. She fell against the bricks, her head snapping back against the wall with a most satisfying thwack. Her eyes glazed, even as she stared mournfully at her rapidly-aging hands. The veins stood out like ropes on her no-longer-kissable throat.

Voices, alarmed and curious, drew close to the mouth of the alley. Brandishing the jewel in one triumphant fist, he grinned at her. "You don't look so good, my sweet. Perhaps you'll need that understudy tomorrow night." Her low moans turned into hysterical sobs as he jogged to the end of the alley and easily vaulted the low wall there.

He did not pause, slinking from alley to alley, evading the magical searchlights of the guards' gondolas, until he reached the drab stone tenement in the heart of the Boldavian quarter. Bidding good evening to neighbours, he climbed the stairs to the small, dark flat, let himself in, and bolted the door behind him. Only then did he withdraw his hand from his pocket, with its gleaming secret. He crossed the room to the rocking chair.

The crone sat staring, wreathed in a halo of brittle white hair, supported by swollen-knuckled hands on wooden armrests. Gently, he helped her to her unsteady feet and held her close as he undid the buttons of her robe with one hand. He kissed her as he balanced the chain delicately about her waist.

"Never again shall you suffer, my love," he whispered into her neck as he hooked the clasp.

The Girdle of Youth

Also known as Giselle's Golden Circlet of Undying Youthfulness, this finely-wrought item is rumoured to have been crafted in the late tenth century AC by the Darokinian wizardess (and Glantrian immigrant) Giselle Davermere, during her brief but scandalous affair with Prince Etienne d'Ambreville. As legend has it, whatever damsel wears Giselle's Circlet will have her feminine charms magically increased [CHA +2, in game terms], and will have the ability to charm all heterosexual men within a fifteen foot radius. According to this same legend, the Circlet was last seen upon the person of Giselle Davermere as she left Glantri for the last time (having been framed for a minor crime by Catherine d'Ambreville and expelled from the country forevermore).

The real history of the Girdle of Youth is perhaps less scandalous, but nonetheless more intriguing.

The actual power of the Girdle rests not in the long, finely-crafted golden chains which expand to fit any waist size and whose clasp cannot be broken by mortal means mundane or magical, but in the large and flawless emerald centred within. This emerald, about the size of a human eye, is perfectly round, and set in a filigreed metal of indeterminate origin. The gem is unbreakable, as is its mount and the attached chain. The clasp of the chain will only close about the waist of a human or demi-human female.

When the Girdle is so clasped, the gem bonds magically to the navel area of its wearer, emitting a faint, healthy-greenish glow detectable (after the first turn) only by magical means. No means, short of Immortal magic, can separate the Girdle from its wearer for seven years (to the day) after this Binding. Should the wearer die, the Girdle shall still not be released for seven full years. No time-related magics are effective in shortening this Bond, though time travel seven years into the future is, for obvious reasons, effective.

Once Bonded to the wearer, the Girdle works its magic: the wearer is returned to the beauty of the prime of her youth. This change includes physical or mental health (ie, freedom from age-related disorders such as rheumatism, poor vision, or even dementia) as well as comeliness. There are a few limitations to the Girdle's magic:

On the last day of the seven-year Bonding cycle, the gem loosens from its wearer. The clasp may be undone now, and the gem removed (thus facilitating its "procurement" by another wearer). If the gem is not removed by the end (midnight) of the final day, it vanishes from the wearer's body, to turn up 2d20+10 miles away.

When the gem is removed (manually or by vanishing), the former wearer suffers the agony of the years returning upon her in a crush (make a system shock roll at -10% or permanently lose 3 points of CON; plus, regain all age-adjusted ability scores and lose the CHA bonus). The Girdle may be worn by the same person any number of times in their life, provided that one full seven-year cycle intervenes between each wearing.

History. The Girdle is, in fact, not a magical item, but a minor relic of the Immortal Valerias. She created the Girdle relatively recently, in the fifth century AC, after being touched at the story of an elf of Clan Alhambra (and secret worshipper of Valerias) who loved his human wife, but was losing her to the ravages of time. Valerias presented the relic to the elf in a dream, cautioning him that he had gained only seven years' extra time with his beloved. At the end of this time, on the last day of the cycle, the elf held his wife as she died of the shock of the returning years, then fell upon his own rapier.

Since the original wearer's death, the Girdle has been used countless times, spurring women and the men who love them to great acts of greed, passion, vanity, lust, ambition, and (occasionally) selfless devotion in its use. Although it has left the Principalities a few notable times (for example, the expulsion of Madame Giselle), it is usually to be found about the hips of a Glantrian lady.