Magic And The Heart
Part Two of Four
by McCamy Taylor
closed his eyes, took a deep breath and recited a prayer to Seadra,
water and patron of his seagoing ancestors. He prayed that the clouds
longer be able to contain their moisture. He prayed that a river would
from the sky. He prayed for rain.
the rain came in a narrow column centered over the wagon, he was not
just relieved that enough water had come in time.
fire was extinguished almost as quickly as it started. When the last of
blackened, steaming boards were pulled away, a cube of darkness was
Sammual banished the enchantment, revealing a metal cage packed with
frightened but healthy children.
of them was Marc’s brother, Kelvin.
magistrate of Errlie was delighted to have her grandniece home. While the child
was being pampered, her
relatives celebrated her return. There were many toasts to the two men
engineered the rescue. Sammual was required to repeat the story of the
gnome to every new family member who arrived.
No one seemed to remember the violent confrontation
earlier that day,
or, if they remembered, they preferred to act as if it never happened.
of the rescue spread. Late
evening, the father of a little girl with brown curls appeared to claim
insisted that the earth
mage accept a reward.
Wanda would want you to have this,” the portly, middle aged
man said as he
pressed a small brooch into the elde-mage’s hand.
“It’s the only valuable thing she
Sammual pinned the brooch to the
girl’s smock. “Then
her daughter should keep it.” He
smoothed her curls. “I
take it her
mother passed away?”
girl’s father nodded. Tears streamed from his eyes. “Died in
here is all I have left of my wife. I thought I would die when she went
all the celebrating, it
midnight, before they finally got the remaining
children to bed. The
daema princess was still asleep. They had wrapped her in a
smuggled her into inn, in case any of the villagers still harbored
about the odd looking girl.
the remaining children were bathed, fed, diapered and put to bed---a
almost as monumental as their rescue--Sammual turned to Marc.
“We need to talk.
voice was soft, but
there was a hardness around his
eyes and mouth that Marc had not seen
earth mage took the prince
by the arm and lead him into
where he forced him back against a
did you lie to me?”
are you talking about?”
Even to his own
ears, Marc sounded guilty, though he had no idea of what crime he was
me you had no magic
third eye was wide and
haven’t!“ The prince locked his knees to stop them
from trembling. His
wrist was throbbing where the mage had
grabbed it. A little more pressure, and the bones would have snapped.
“I saw you
summon rain.” Sammual made it
sound like a crime.
That wasn’t me. It
was Seadra, the
water goddess. I prayed to her, and she answered my prayer.
Don’t look at me
like that. I’m telling you the truth.
kings of Suunland pray
for rain in
times of drought. My father usually does it, but when he’s
sick or out of the
kingdom, I take over for him. I’m better at it than Father.” He
offered this bit of information as a simple fact
rather than a boast. “Uncle Corwyn--that’s
Father’s step brother -- can’t do it
at all, though he’s good at finding wells.”
stared at him for several minutes.
implausible as it sounds, you’re telling the truth. The truth
as you understand
did not realize that he had been holding his breath, until he breathed
of relief. “Why would I lie?”
the kings of your country are forbidden to study magic.
A prince who is also an adept would be
unable to inherit the throne. Tell me, can any citizen of Suunland
though she’s more likely to answer if the plea if it comes
from a member of the
Morgany ever make such prayers?”
She married into the family. Only those who are born
felt like a fool not to have thought of
it before. “They
told me over and over
again that it was Seadra who brought the rain. I
heard it so many times while I was growing up, that I
questioned it. You
think there’s magic
in my family’s bloodline?”
was the last mage-king
The Fire King, as he was
known, had conjured a sea of flame to destroy an invading Shirazian
won the war, but his people were so horrified by the way he did it, that they deposed him
and made his
younger sister queen. “That was almost two hundred years ago.
been any mages on the throne since then.”
shook his head in exasperation.
always amazes me how easily mortals can convince themselves that the
wish to believe are true.”
only ones guilty of wishful
thinking,” the prince replied irritably, rubbing his sore
wrist. How dare Sammual
try to bully him, using the same tactics he had used with the spark
must have been pretty sure that you could win Mama’s love to
change from a
woman to a man, just to please her.”
soon as the words were out of his mouth, he wished he could take them
back. It was a
cruel thing to say.
looked Marc in the eye, not bothering to hide his pain.
“True. I was a fool,
and I suffered for it. I won’t make that mistake again. Now,
if you’ll excuse
me, I have a daema princess to
He returned to their rented room, with Marc following close behind him.
sleep spell was easily reversed. The
Darkhall princess yawned once, stretched her skinny arms over her head
up, immediately alert. “Ah!”
as her amber eyes alighted on Marc.
friendly smile lit up her face. She
pretty, in a feral way.
Marc replied with a courtly bow that made her giggle.
flirting you two.” Sammual
nose. “The princess needs a bath. And so does the
her face with her hands, the feral girl shrieked “No water!
Water bad! Water
stroked her hair. “I’m not going to clean you with
water, princess.” He
reached into the fire. When he withdrew
his hand, his fingertips were coated with cool, blue flames.
She cringed as the
me,” he murmured.
voice soothed her. She closed her eyes and sat still while he ran his
fingertips across her cheek. The dirt was stripped away, revealing
her face and hands were clean and her hair had been brushed, Sammual started peeling
away her rags.
She stared pointedly at Marc. “He go.”
doesn’t want to undress in front of a
man. Step outside for a moment. I’ll
call when we’re done.”
the door closed behind the prince, the girl let her rags fall to the
was a delicate creature with a slender waist, narrow hips and a flat
place of pubic and underarm hair, she had triangular patches of
. A stripe of
similar fur ran down her
back from her neck to the base of her spine.
She shivered, hugging herself.
will warm you up.” Sammual
scrubbing the dirt from her body with flames.
“What do they call you?” He asked the
question first in the high and
then in the low speech of the Darkhall. Both times, the princess stared
blankly. He repeated the question in the low speech of the Seven
Her face screwed up
as if she was going
to cry. “Creature. Devil girl. Child stealer.”
the stupid people in this village. Your own people. Your family. What
call you? What did your mother call you when you were nestled in her
waiting to be born?”
She relaxed. A
dreamy expression came
over her face. “Darli.
Mama called me
Darlinjahara, no doubt. A
favorite name among royalty of the
She reached for her clothes.
can’t put those filthy rags back on.”
He searched his pack and found a shirt made of heavy,
crimson silk. “I don’t know why I brought it.
This shade of red makes my skin look sallow. It should do
Darli stroked the
like to try it on?”
Her eyes widened.
She held up her arms.
shirt fell to her ankles. With
sleeves rolled up and a belt knotted around her waist, she looked like
elegant, miniature lady. Sammual
her wiry, red hair back from her forehead and fixed it in place with
like to see how you
held up a mirror.
scowled at her own reflection. She looked from her face to
Sammual’s then back
to her own. She
touched his silky
smooth black hair, then her own coarse red hair.
With a fingertip, she traced the delicate curve of his
she tugged at her long,
not beautiful like magic
your own people, you would be
considered a great beauty.”
Darli continued to
magic lady is wife of Prince Marc?”
smothered a laugh. “No,
a family friend.”
magic lady love Prince Marc?”
Darli smiled. “Good. Darli
think to love prince. Very brave prince is. Very
“I am sure
that the brave and lovely
prince will be delighted to hear that he has won your favor,”
the earth mage
next morning, the travelers resumed their journey south towards the
Two of the remaining children rode with Sammual.
Kelvin and Darli rode with Marc, the infant in front of
prince, Darli behind. The
a tight grip on his waist, as if she was afraid of falling, but it soon
apparent that she had other things on her mind.
save Darli.” She
rubbed her face
against his back. “Darli grateful.” One of her
hands crept up his thigh towards
The prince blushed
and pushed her hand
touched a lock of his hair. “Pretty.
Like gold. Marc almost as beautiful
as beautiful magic lady.” She snuggled closer to him.
you see what Darli tried to do to me?” Marc demanded, as they
sat down to lunch
in the Marfour Inn later that day. In a few hours, they had covered
distance from Errlie to Suunweiss, ordinarily a journey of several
days. The elde- mage’s
magic appeared to have no
ill effects on either the children or the horses.
infatuated with you.”
A girl in a tight
white blouse and full
blue skirt appeared to take their order.
Marc protested when the serving girl was gone.
“She’s just a child.”
older than she looks. Possibly
than me. And the daema are born
hardly knows me.” Marc
leaned over to
scoop up one of the toddlers. The child had tripped over its own feet
to the floor, where she lay sobbing.
“There, there,” he murmured. When the
girl stopped crying, he sat her on
his left knee. She smelled faintly of sheep. Kelvin already occupied
the right knee.
third child, a boy of three or so, with black hair and a red birthmark
his lip was playing peek-a-boo with the
elde-mage’s hair. “She
knows enough. You‘re the
prince who risked his life to save her.
You’re a man, and she’s a woman.
element is water. Hers is fire. Which
reminds me of a question I meant to ask you last night.
You can make it rain. Can you also make the
rescued one of his earrings from the dark haired boy . “The
day you came to see
me on the mountain, it rained. You were soaked to the bone. You could
caught pneumonia. Why didn’t you make the rain stop
late, Marc realized that he walked into a trap. He ducked his head and
didn’t catch that.”
‘I was so nervous about meeting
you, that it never crossed my mind.’”
the elde-mage could reply, Darli
looked wistfully at
Marc’s lap, but since it was already occupied, she settled
for the chair which
Sammual offered her.
they were eating, a couple of sheep farmers arrived at the inn.
that a mage and a knight have rescued some
stolen children. We wanted to see if our niece is one of
The inn keeper
pointed to the far
girl’s kinfolk approached nervously. When they saw the girl
sitting on Marc’s
knee, they were so relieved that both of them began to cry at once. This made their
niece cry, which made the
two other children start crying too.
these babies to their families is harder than rescuing them,”
after the young couple and their niece departed. “Speaking of
the children, this
diaper smells like it needs a change.”
A sorcerer of my age and experience shouldn’t have to waste
his time with such
Sammual appeared in
good spirits when he gathered up
the children and carried them off for changes and a nap. For all his
the earth mage was very good with the children.
you have kids of your own?”
later. The babies
were asleep. Darli
was inside trying on Sammual’s jewelry
and clothes. The two men were outside, sitting under the shade of an
oak, enjoying the pleasant weather. Marc lay sprawled on the grass, his
crossed at the ankles, his hands folded across his chest. Sammual had
more dignified posture. He sat with his spine straight and his legs
hand resting lightly on each knee.
of them,” Sammual
replied. “Twins, who
will oon celebrate their one
hundredth birthday. Another who is just shy of ninety. They live in Shantuun, so I
don’t see them as often as
Oh, they’re like you.
the mother or father?”
to the twins, mother to the younger child.”
He sighed. “I
wish it had been
the other way around. The twins’ mother was mortal. It was too much for her.
She died in childbirth. I swore I would never let myself
love a mortal
woman again, and I kept my promise. Until
I met your mother.”
nodded his head in sympathy. “Love
supposed to make life worth living. More often than not, people in love
words from one so young. Are
speaking from personal experience? Or did you learn this lesson from
He had been feeling guilty all night.
This seemed like a good time to make amends. “I
shouldn’t have said
what I did about you and Mama. I’m
sorry, too. I
shouldn’t have accused you of lying about
your magic abilities.”
Marc took a deep
stared down at his hands “I did lie. Not about the magic
training. You asked me
why I didn’t try to stop the rain that day in the mountain. The thought crossed my
mind, but I decided
not to. I was hoping you would feel sorry for me and invite me
hand closed over his. “That
wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Startled, the prince
glanced up. “You
an elde-mage. I
deduce the truth, but I can spot an out and out lie.”
“So, which part of me are
you going to turn to stone?”
have to think about it.”
prince rolled over on his stomach. Propping himself up on his elbows,
plucked a blade of grass. “Sam?”
had borrowed a razor and a comb. With his smooth face and lustrous
looked like an angel which had fallen to earth. “Did it ever
occur to you that
maybe Mama was afraid to love someone like you.”
leaned back against the tree. Closing his eyes, he murmured “The thought crossed my mind. I would
prefer to think it wasn’t so.”
a woman as brave as your mother was afraid to live with me, what hope
do I have
of ever finding another wife?”
“Why not a
One eyebrow rose. “Is that a
blushed. “No, I was just--I mean, you do have more options
than most people.
And you are going to live a hell of a lot longer than anyone I know.
later, someone’s bound to come along to mend your broken
that it can be trampled again? No thank you.” The earth mage
lingered long enough. It’s time we
got back on the road.”
Marc climbed to his feet. He always seemed to say the wrong thing. He was trying to think of
a way to repair
this latest rift, when Darli came running from the inn, wearing
many jewels and scarves . She performed a little dance for the prince.
applauded when she was done, but apparently his response left something
desired, because she burst into tears.
“Marc no love Darli,” she wailed.
recalled the way the bird had fallen dead from the sky.
“We need to talk,” he told her gently.
get the children ready.”
they were alone, Darli threw her arms around Marc’s neck and
tried to kiss him.
He arched his neck to keep his head away from hers, so she began
body against his. Her
smooth, amber colored
skin was as warm as sunshine, and its fire seemed to penetrate through
himself, he was aroused.
cool, detached part of his head advised him that this was some kind of
magic. In the short
run, it might be easier
to succumb to her charms, but in
long run, it would lead to complications.
Not to mention all the dirty looks he would elicit from
mortals, who looked
at her and saw a child. There were two men on the far side of the
watching them with open disapproval at that very moment.
but firmly, Marc
pushed her away. It
was like stepping from the sunlight into a dark, cold cellar.
Her smile vanished.
“You no love Darli
for Darli no beautiful.”
love beautiful magic lady. I
you. You hold hand
under tree.” She
stuck out her lower lip. The
fire behind her pupils began to glow
“What---? Darli, I can’t
be in love with the
‘beautiful magic lady’ as you call her, because
Sammual is a man.”
eyes widened. “Beautiful lady man? But lady such soft skin.
Such long hair.
Such pretty clothes.”
I’ll admit that Sammual’s very
pretty, but he’s just as much a man as I am.”
held her hand to her mouth. “Now Darli understand. You no
love woman. You love
was an easy way out of his predicament.
“Yes, that’s it. If I could ever love
a woman, it would be you, Darli.
But--” He sighed dramatically. “Nature
didn’t make me that way.”
seemed satisfied with this explanation, though a little saddened. That evening, she sat at
the far end of the
table, and that night she
“accidentally” roll into Marc in bed.
next morning, the travelers met a wealthy merchant and his two grown
on the road. The merchant turned out to be the father of the boy with
birthmark. He was clearly delighted to find his young son, though the
seemed less than pleased.
never did like my second wife,” the merchant confided to Marc. “I was half
afraid they were
the ones who stole the babe, so he
couldn’t claim a share of their
did not know how to reply to this confidence, so he said
“Your wife will be
glad to have him home.”
old man shook his head. “She’s
poor thing. Baby was too big for her.”
He blew his nose. “The next one I marry will be
big in the stern, like
my first wife.”
the travelers were gone, the prince told the earth mage what he had
of the children’s
mothers died giving birth, and the other two live with relatives, which
me think they might be orphans, too.
not. Children whose
mother’s die in
childbirth have a special link with the Darkhall. “
priests say such children are born with
one foot in the grave. They said prayers for Kelvin for weeks after
died, so that she wouldn’t call him to join her.”
snorted. “As I’ve said before, priests talk a lot
of nonsense. However, in this
case, there’s a grain of truth to their ramblings.“
He leaned forward in
his saddle to stroke the young prince’s downy
hair. It was several shades lighter than Marc’s and as fine
as silk. “You’re a
very lucky young man to have such a devoted brother,” he said
to Kelvin in a
infant twisted in his brother’s arms, trying to get a better
look at the earth
mage. He responded
to Sammual’s smile
with a broad grin which revealed two, tiny teeth on his lower gum.
never seen him take to a stranger
shrugged off the compliment.
”Children always like me.
Shall we stop in the next town for the night
or press on to the capital?”
prince considered the question. “How
fast can you get us there?”
do you want to get there?”
reach the capital by nightfall?”
will be a relief to get out of these dirty clothes.
I do take a bath, from time to time.” He tousled his
“I know someone who’s going to be very
glad to see you, sprout.” His
expression clouded. “Father’s been worried sick. I
wish there was some way to
a message to him.” He gave the mage a sidelong
I could tell a bird and send it south, but I’m afraid
there’s no one in
Suunweiss who would be able to understand what it was saying.”
Marc sighed. “I guess a few
more hours won’t make that much difference.”
after dusk, the
travelers reached the northern gate of Suunweiss. The capital
of Suunland was perched on a ridge overlooking
the port city of Suunsea.
outer wall had been
times in the last two hundred years to accommodate the city’s
were six gates,
only two of which were open after dark. One of these
marked the southern terminus of the Nobal Road.
northern portion of the city was dominated by establishments which
travelers. Business was brisk. The
restaurants were crowded. The brothels were just beginning to open
Most of the inns had posted signs indicating that they were full.
one recognized the prince in his civilian clothes.
Sammual’s exotic beauty attracted some
attention, until he donned
a veil. With her
pointed ears covered
by her wiry hair and her hands with their sharp claws folded in her lap, Darli appeared to be an
unusually plain but
otherwise ordinary child.
they came within sight of a massive
granite building which stood on the highest ground of the
to brighten up the old fortress with flags, trees and paint had not
successful. A stranger viewing the place for the first time, would have
able to guess that Suunland’s history had been a bloody one,
and that her
ruling family had not always been loved by all her citizens.
they neared the gate, Marc hailed one of the guards, a short, stocky
clad in regulation marine blue. “Send word to the King. Tell
him that his son,
Prince Marcellus has arrived. I’ve brought my brother
guard squinted up at him. “Is that
you don’t believe me,
call your captain. I---” Two spears appeared, both pointed at
his throat. “What
the Captain,” the second guard, a taller, thinner version of
the first yelled
to someone inside the gate house. “Tell her the prince has
see here---” Marc began.
One of the
blades touched his throat. He swallowed his protest.
Captain of the Guard, Sarah Hanly must have been asleep when they
Her deep blue, uniform jacket was unbuttoned, and the shirt and pants
underneath were wrinkled. Her short, brown hair stuck up in all
hurried towards the
gate, buckling her sword belt as she ran.
“Sarah!” Marc called. “Tell
this soldier who I am.”
halted a few feet away from the prince.
“He knows who you are.” Her
voice was cool, her expression inscrutable.
is he trying to skewer me?”
orders to arrest you.”
got to be kidding. Who
gave the order?”
this some kind of joke?”
ignored him. “You will need to come with me, too,
Miss,” she said to Sammual.
I know nothing,” he murmured in a convincing falsetto. He
softened his consonants
in a way that was common to natives of southern Shiraz. His third eye
firmly shut. “I met the man today. He offered to escort me
and my niece…” He
stroked Darli’s hair.”… to Suunland. I
have a digestive condition, and I’ve
come to take the waters.”
it to the King,” the
captain replied, a
One of the guards
tried to take Kelvin,
but the child screamed and clung to his brother. “What about
with the prince,” Sarah
least until his father
arrives. Just be sure to keep your eyes on Marcellus. Let me know if he
you think I’m going to do?” Marc
demanded. No one answered him. He might as well have been talking to
girl?” The taller of the two
guards pointed to Darli.
along. And someone see to the
was stripped of his only weapon, a knife. Apologetically, one of the
a cursory search of Sammual, who giggled and pretended to be ticklish. Then, the
travelers were escorted at spear
point into the guardhouse and from there down a narrow flight of stairs
lead to the castle dungeon. The prince tried to get Sammual’s
the elde-mage was flirting with the guards. What
was going on behind that lovely face? Why was the mage
doing nothing to free them? All he had to do was reveal his third eye,
guards would back off.
was distracted by the sight of his uncle.
Prince Corwyn stood at the bottom of the stairs,
attempting to block the
entrance into the dungeon. The king’s half brother was a
slender man of medium
height with straight black hair and a smooth, pale, clean shaven face.
mother, the Lady Joland, was the previous King’s second wife,
a noblewoman from
Sarahajuun whose dowry included an
exclusive contract to sell Suunian lumber to the Sarahajuun navy .
Kelvin’s father had been dead almost eighteen years, the
victim of a broken
neck suffered in a riding accident, her wedding contract still brought
a small fortune each year. She
to being fifty, looked thirty and was rumored to
be closer to seventy.
shared his mother’s good health and youthful appearance. As a
result, he looked
young enough to be Marc’s brother rather than his uncle. He
was a mild mannered
man who liked to spend his time writing poetry, playing the harp and
attractive young women into his bed.
Attempts to interest him in political discussions always
failed. “I have
no political opinions,” was his usual response. Marc had never heard him
raise his voice to anyone--until now.
can’t be serious!” the king’s younger
brother exclaimed to Sarah. “You
aren’t really going to arrest Marc? What
would your brother say?”
It was a low blow,
and Sarah flinched, but
she quickly regained her composure. “King’s
the young prince.”
shook his head in exasperation. “How
can you accuse him of kidnapping his brother, when it’s as
clear as the nose on
your face that he’s rescued him?’
sir, we must secure the
call him the prisoner. He’s Marc.
Your friend, Marc. Your brother’s---”
The voice which came from the top of the stairs was deceptively sweet. “This
is hardly an appropriate place to
discuss such matters.”
Corwyn flushed. “Mother,
they’re trying to arrest Marc.”
Slowly, Lady Joland
descended the stairs. Like
Corwyn, she had dark hair, fair skin and a slender build. Though she had lived in
Suunland for two
decades, she continued to wear the elaborate hair styles, wide skirts
colors favored in the Court of Sarahajuun
orders, Captain Hanly?” She
addressed the question to Sarah.
order of the King, ma’am.”
Joland turned to her son. “Then
you wasting your breath arguing with the guards?
It’s your brother you must convince.”
Sarah let out an
sigh of relief.
bowed his head and stepped aside. “You’re right, as
always, Mother. Marc, I’ll
talk to Kel. We’ll
straightened out, I promise.”
prisoners were escorted down one corridor, then another, until they
deepest, most secure cell in the dungeon, a squalid room devoid of any
except for a thin layer of rank straw on the floor.
The prince was the first to be shackled.
Both manacles and leg irons were used.
As the cold iron closed about his wrists,
he gave Sammual an imploring look. He might as well have appealed to
Kelvin continued to refuse to be parted from his big brother. He treated the chains as
slipping his own wrist through one of the links, then rattling them.
it was time to chain the Shirazian “lady”, the tall
guard was apologetic. “If
your story checks out, ma’am, I’m sure
you’ll be released.”
He applied only
one light manacle and fastened it to the wall with a long chain.
Sammual murmured a
polite “Thank you.”
turned to Darli and held out her hand. “You can wait upstairs
with us, if you
like, little girl. A dungeon is no place for---!” She howled as Darli sank
her teeth into her hand. “You bitch!”
a snarl, Darli dodged the blow which one of the guards aimed at her
crouched next to Marc in the straw.
prince,” she hissed. “You not prince. Not prince
chain prince to wall, not
prince be dead woman.” She drew one finger across her neck. “Darli cut off
head and shit down
eyes glowed in the shadows like two burning coals.
Sarah backed away.
“What is she? Some
kind of monster?”
a demon. I hear the prince used sorcery to---” At the sound
of footsteps, the
guards stopped whispering and came to attention.
door of the dungeon flew open.
broad shouldered man stepped into the room. He had flowing red hair, a
beard and a nose that had been broken and reset more times than anyone
velvet coat strained
across his back. His
shirt was open at
the collar, revealing a
thick pelt of
red fur on his chest. Hawk
searched the faces, until they found what they sought.
Purposefully, he marched forward. He raised
his hand and was about to strike his eldest son with his fist, when he
that Marc was holding the young prince in his arms.
the expression of fury on his father’s face,
Kelvin began to cry.
with shock and rage, the King
on his guards. “You
Captain of the Guard stepped forward. Head high, shoulders back, she
stiffly “The child became hysterical when we tried to
separate him from his
brother, your highness. I
to traumatize him unnecessarily. I knew that he would come willingly to
King’s anger subsided. He nodded once.
He had always liked Sarah Hanly.
At one time, he had hoped that Marc would marry her.
he turned back to face his sons, King Kelvin’s expression was
benign. He held
out his arms. Laughing, Kelvin let go of his brother and reached for
he exclaimed. He
tugged at his father’s beard.
several minutes, King and infant stood together. The big man showed
gentleness, as he kissed the boy and,
under guise of tickling him, checked him for injuries. “He
seems well. Call
short, heavy set woman appeared almost immediately. She must have been
in the hall. Kelvin
seemed reluctant to
leave his father’s arms, but when his
nanny--”Na” he called her---took him, he
did not object too loudly.
to the nursery. Get him some
food and clean clothes.”
nanny examined the boy. “He looks clean to me. And well
eyes lingered on Marc’s face. She had
been his nanny, too.
it! And have the doctor check
gave the King a dark look, but there was nothing more she could do.
anxious smile and a nod in Marc’s direction, she left
carrying the young
King waited until woman and child were gone, then he turned on his
Why did you do it?”
dream, Marc told himself. This
be a bad dream. If only he could wake up.
“I wanted to find Kelvin.
that only a mage could unravel the mystery of how he was taken, and
His father slapped
him. “The truth!”
ringing in his ear added to the sense of unreality. What was the truth?
true that he was here in the dungeon? Was his father really staring at
eyes full of hatred? “Didn’t
my note? I left to find Kelvin---”
This blow was
harder. His father had used
his fist this time. Marc
The King grabbed him by the
was close to tears. “I’m trying to tell you. I
wanted to find my
brother---” A blow to his stomach knocked the wind
from his body. He doubled up as far as his chains would allow. “Why are you
He did not care that tears were leaking
from his eyes. He
just wanted the
nightmare to end. “We
his father said. He
stepped back. “If
not for that, your head would be on a
pike on Traitor’s Wall.”
fought the urge to vomit. “Do
him so much?” he gasped. By “him”, he
King misunderstood. “I
hate what you did. ”
very tired. “Captain, bring
in the other prisoner.”
had several minutes to compose himself. No matter how much his father
Sammual, what he was doing made no sense. A man would turn to his worst
for help if it meant saving the life of his child, would not he?
was clear that the king had no idea that the earth mage was his
was sitting with his back against
the wall. His legs were crossed, and his eyes were modestly lowered. He looked exactly like a
lady who had unexpectedly found
herself forced to sit on the floor of a dirty dungeon.
What was he waiting for?
With a single word and a wave of his hand,
he could end this
guard returned, leading a prisoner, a short, skinny man, dressed in the
tattered remnants of the tricolor coat which was awarded to the
the Three Goddesses School of Wizardry.
Two white robed mages flanked him,
one a tall
man with snow white
hair and sun bronzed skin, the other a short, slender woman with brown
him.” The wizard lifted his manacled hand to point at Marc.
“He paid me to cast
a spell of invisibility over the young prince and then kidnap him. I took him outside the
city and gave him to
a slave trader from Shiraz, just as Prince Marcellus
This earned Marc another blow from the king.
your mouth shut, until I ask you a question. He confirmed his story
torture. Two mages
have also sworn that
he’s telling the truth.
He had this---”
He dug in his pocket and pulled out a pearl earring, one of a pair
belonged to Morgany, “--in his possession. You gave it to him
along with gold.
He was caught when he tried to pawn the pearl. The jeweler recognized
it. The wizard
confessed voluntarily to
kidnapping and sorcery,
when he could
have kept his mouth shut and spent a few years in the mines for theft. Why should I doubt
world was spinning out of control.
closed his eyes and took several slow deep breaths.
“Because I didn’t do what he
was proud of how calm he managed to sound. Inside, he was
anything but calm. “Think, Father. If I arranged to have
Kelvin kidnapped, why
would I bring him back?”
King frowned. “That’s
what I can’t
his hands behind his
back, he paced. “Is this part of some more sinister plan? Are
you trying to
prove your loyalty so that I won’t suspect you if something
happens to Kelvin,
later? Do you want
the throne so badly
that you can’t tolerate a rival, even your own brother? Is
that it?” He
turned to Sarah. “Captain,
take the wizard back to his cell.
Then escort Prince Marcellus to the interrogation room and prepare the
rack. Call me when
he is ready. One way
or another, we’ll have the truth tonight.”
face turned pale. “Sir?”
heard me.” He
dropped his voice. “I
realize that you’re close to Marc. If you can’t
bring yourself to supervise his
interrogation, you have my permission to find someone else who
waiting for an answer, he moved
towards the door, only to be stopped short by Darli, who had stepped
not king,” she said haughtily, her head high, her eyes full
of naked fury. “You
fool. You worse than fool, because fool know he fool, but you think you
If you want be king ask self who want
king be fool. Who grow strong when king be fool?”
The King raised his
Marc called out a warning.
she lifted her chin. She received a blow that would have knocked most
off their feet. Darli’s
only a fraction of an inch. A slight red mark appeared on her jaw, no
one would expect from a light slap.
was the King who cried out in pain. He clutched his hand, which was
across the palm. The
burn began to
blister almost immediately. “What kind of creature are
of Darkhall. One day
you die, and you be in my kingdom. One day I chain you to wall and put
rack and make you cry, and no one hear or care.”
a shudder, the King turned and hurried from the cell. He was followed
guards, who gave the daema princess
Sarah lingered for a
moment. “ Marc,” she
got to believe me, Sarah. I would never do anything to harm Kelvin. Or
I wish---” Abruptly,
she turned away
the castle, King Kel averted his eyes as he passed his wife’s
portrait. He knew
what she would say if she was here.
However, it was his duty to protect his younger, weaker son, even if
meant hurting the older.
He went to the
nursery first. He met the
physician as he was leaving. “How
things considered, he’s doing very well. A few bruises, but
no more than you’d
expect in a toddler. When I left a few moments ago, he was
King nodded. He crept softly into the room. For several minutes, he
small boy sleep. The child’s hair was the same pale gold as
Morgany’s. He tried
not to think of the other fair haired child who had once slept in this
please help,” he whispered
aloud. “Help us all.”
his back and shoulders, he turned and headed back towards the dungeon.
looks like Darli is regaining more of her daema
lightly, once the last of the guards were gone, leaving the prisoners
the cell. With a
simple twist of his
hand, he freed himself from his manacle.
Marc’s irons were as easily dealt with--the elde-mage
used a spell
which turned the metal to rust.
“Anything broken?” he asked. He ran
one hand over the prince’s ribs
while the other probed his bruised cheek.
Marc turned his head
and spit out a
mouthful of blood.
earth mage examined the
The inside of his left cheek was deeply lacerated.
“You were lucky,” he murmured, as he
healed the wound.
wasn’t forced to kill your father or any of the guards. Where
there’s still hope of reconciliation.”
Seeing the despair
eyes, he added
“Yes, I know it hurts.
But you have to be strong for a little while.”
Blinking back tears,
Marc nodded. He did
not trust his voice.
boy.” Sammual turned to Darli. “Did
he hurt you, princess?”
looked offended. “Mortal no can hurt Darli.”
She made a fist. “Darli rip out fool king heart and eat it.”
won’t be necessary. Marc, cover
was too stunned to obey, so Sammual covered his ears for him. The door to the dungeon
blew open with a bang
and a crash. Moments
could be heard, running towards the cell.
move or speak,” the elde-mage ordered.
the guards entered the cell, it appeared to be deserted. They saw the
dangling from the wall
and a pile of red rust where the other prisoner had been standing. They
see Sammual creep up behind them and lift each man’s sword
from its scabbard.
He tossed one to Marc and kept the other for himself.
can move now.”
prince appeared in front of them, seemingly out of thin air, holding a
one guard’s throat. The other guard felt something press
against his left
kidney. He looked over his shoulder and saw the black haired beauty.
was gone. It
took a moment for him to
register the fact that she had three eyes.
“An elden !”
he whispered. He
was more distressed by this than by the
blade aimed at his vital organs.
right,” said Sammual with a nasty smile. “I can
turn you to stone like that.”
He snapped his fingers. “So don’t do anything to
annoy me. I need weapons. Fresh
horses. Food and
water. The prince will need a uniform. Make that two
uniforms. The ones you’re wearing will do.”
He paused. Turning
to Marc, he
said in a low, urgent whisper, “This is important, so
don’t lie. Who gave you
the scar on your chest? Was it your father?”
“My father? For love of Seadra, no! He
never do something like that.”
me for doubting him, but a few moments ago, I heard him tell the
Captain of the
Guards to prepare you for torture. If your father didn’t do
it, how did you get
Marc looked away. “I did it
myself,” he said softly.
elde-mage’s third eye widened, but he
made no reply.
Turning to the guards, he said “I will also need pen, ink and
paper. I’m going
to leave a message for the King.”
was halfway to the dungeon, when he was stopped by the
Captain of the
can I speak with you a moment?”
about Marcellus, isn’t it?”
King Kel looked very tired.
“Yes, sir. Do you seriously intend to
put your own son on the rack?”
king rubbed his eyes. “Pardon
don’t think I’ve slept more than eight hours in the
he could say more, one of the cadets appeared. “Your
Highness! “ she called,
her voice shrill with alarm. “
you must go back to the castle. It isn’t safe for you
In my own city? In my own
castle? Are we under attack?”
the prisoners, sir. They’ve
King’s face flushed deep red.
“Escaped!” he roared.
“How do a
woman, a child and a man in irons escape from a guarded
woman wasn’t an ordinary woman.
an elden mage.
broke the irons,
then opened the door. When two guards went to investigate, she made
invisible and stole their swords.
before the prisoners left, she cast a spell on them, so that they
sound the alarm. If I hadn’t gone to check on them, we still
wouldn’t know that the prisoners were missing. ”
they leave on foot?” Sarah demanded.
Which direction were they heading?”
horses are missing. No one saw
them leave. “
the mage.” This
from the king.
hair, green eyes. One
of the guards
says he heard a name. Sam. “
The King swore under
more thing, sir. The elden left a note.
She gave it to one of the guards before putting him to
sleep. She said we
were to deliver it to you and
only to you…”
Give it to me?”
young guard swallowed. “Your
it. They wanted to examine it first to make sure there was no poison or
contained within the paper.”
King nodded. “A
wise precaution. Tell
them to bring it to me, when they are done.
be in the nursery with
hour later, the tall, white haired mage, Felixx tiptoed into the
examined the note. It’s
fairly straightforward. No poison. No
hidden spells. Would you like to see it?”
offered him a sheet of paper. King
glanced at the first few lines. “For your sake and the sake
of your two
sons, read the rest
of this letter when
you are alone. If asked what you
have read, say you saw the words ‘I will have my
revenge.’ That is all anyone
besides you will see if they examine this paper...”
Felixx attempted to
peer over his
shoulder. “Your Highness, what do you see?”
King crumpled the sheet into a ball which he tossed to the floor.
thing you saw. ‘I will have my revenge.’ The
bastard. Leave me now. I want to
the mage was gone, the King locked the door, retrieved the note and sat
beside the fire. He smoothed the wrinkles from the letter and began to
Darkhall princess is right.
Someone is playing you for a fool. The wizard who
‘confessed’ to helping kidnap
your son is under a spell. He is compelled to tell the
enemies want him to tell. If you do not believe me, ask to see the
alone. He will suffer an unfortunate, fatal accident, before you have a
to question him.
will say that our sudden departure from Suunweiss is a sign of guilt. Pretend to agree with
them, if you
wish. You will
probably be safer, if
those who plot against you and your sons believe that you have fallen
white haired mage who accompanied the prisoner in the dungeons is not
trusted, but do not tell him that you suspect him. His partner seemed
enough, though I suspect she is being manipulated. Both of them are
this game. Eliminate them, and your enemy and will find others to take
am going north to Shiraz to
the sorcerer who stole your son and to rescue the other children he
sacrifice. That is what fate had in store for your youngest son, had
oldest not intervened. You should be proud of Marc. He put himself in
danger to save his brother’s life.
don’t know if those who plot against Marc arranged the
kidnapping, or if they
merely took advantage of it. I do not know if their goal is to hurt
Marc or to
drive a wedge between him and you. I
hope to be able to tell you more the next time we meet.
you want to send troops after us, go ahead. They won’t catch
up with us. I can
travel faster than the fastest
cavalry. I suggest that you send troops to look for us in Gold Mountain
If you do so, I
will tell Marc that
you have come to your senses, and no longer believe him capable of the crimes of which he is
your decision. If
you would prefer to have only one son, I
will take Marc into my care. He is a good boy and deserves better than
received at your hands.”
King read the letter three times.
he folded it, placed it in his pocket and stepped out into the hall
guards had been posted to protect the young prince from the escaped
“I want to
see the wizard who kidnapped
behind his back, the King paced back and forth in front of the nursery
was still waiting for the prisoner when his half-brother, Corwyn found
him. The slender,
dark haired man
approached him cautiously.
The King waved him
away. “Not now.”
have to talk. The wizard’s lying. I don’t know why,
but it has to be a lie.
King Kel roared.
blanched, but he stood his ground.
hear you plan to question Marc on the rack. How could you? Your own
he?” the King demanded softly.
was shorter and much slighter of build than the king.
His older brother could knock him down with one
Kel had demonstrated many times when they were growing up. However, Corwyn refused to
be cowed. “You
know he is.”
King’s shoulders slumped. He shook his head. “I
don’t know anything anymore.
Please, leave me.”
a fool, Kel.” Corwyn
braced himself for
an angry response. When
none came, he
you want to torture Marc,
you’ll have to get through me first.”
the heroics. No one is going to be interrogated
tonight. Marc has
was interrupted by Sarah. “Your
sounded breathless, as
if she had been running. “There’s been an accident.
The prisoner was being
brought here as you ordered when he slipped on the stairs and broke his
He died instantly.”
The King nodded. Just as the mage
Corwyn looked from
the captain’s face to
his brother’s. “What’s going
now,” the king said impatiently. “I
need to consult with the captain.”
you have any orders, sir?”
She knew the king too well to be alarmed by his show of temper.
cool, level headedness had a calming effect on him. “Yes.
Send a regiment to
follow the prisoners.”
direction shall I send them, your
considered his answer carefully. “Send them to Gold Mountain.
The fugitives are
heading for the mage’s mountain lair.
feel it in my bones.”
Sarah. Once that’s done, come back
have been --unexpected
developments. I need to talk to someone I can trust.”
riding for half the night, the fugitives
set up camp in a gully out of sight of the road. Sammual checked their food
and water for
poison before allowing his companions to
eat. No one said
much during the meal,
except for Darli, who kept coming up with new, creative ways to punish
people who had imprisoned them in the dungeon,
wished she would stop. The
ache in his
jaw was reminder enough of his ordeal. By tomorrow, his face would be
beyond recognition, and his gut hurt every time he took a breath. What
had internal injuries? What if he died? Would his father feel sorry?
felt a hand upon his shoulder.
should get some sleep. ”
defenses crumbled. He covered his face
with his hands. “What am I going to do, Sam? Where will I go? If even Father thinks
I’m guilty, how can I
expect anyone else to believe in me?”
know you’re innocent. Together,
discover who’s behind this.”
How can I clear my name, if I can’t show my face in Suunweiss
enemy is in Shiraz, not Suunweiss.”
don’t know anyone in Shiraz.”
the attack isn’t aimed at you personally.
By getting rid of one heir to the throne and placing the
blame on the
other, someone in Shiraz may hope to destabilize Suunland’s
it could be political?”
we’ll know more when we reach Shiraz. I know
time for you to rest.” .
Sammual’s urging, Marc stretched out on his makeshift bed. Though he closed
his eyes and counted
sheep, sleep eluded him. “Is
spell that can make
me forget what
“Sorry, no. Amnesia spells
aren’t selective. You could wind up like poor
this?” He rubbed his jaw.
“It’s starting to swell.”
knelt beside him. He placed his
fingertips on either side of the prince’s face. For a second, Marc’s
jaw burned, then the pain vanished. He rubbed his chin. The swelling
and the flesh was no longer tender.
And about my stomach---”
mage slipped his hand down the front of the prince’s shirt.
barely grazed the bruised flesh.
Marc sighed. “Much better.
Sammual pulled a blanket over him,
tucking it under
his chin. As he
murmured the words of a
sleep spell, he brushed Marc’s hair back from his face. “Remind me to do
something about those
tangles when we have a spare moment.”
mother,” Marc murmured drowsily.
He giggled. His own quiet laughter
soon lulled him to sleep.
Marc opened his eyes the next morning, he found himself staring into
emerald green eyes of a Suunian cavalryman. Automatically, he reached
you looking for this?” The dark haired young man tossed him
Is that you?” He
The elde-mage had
elegant clothes for a pair of serviceable military issue trousers, a
and sturdy boots. They
perfectly, as if they had been tailored especially for him. “What did you do
to your hair?”
ran his fingers through his hair, which had been cropped to within a
of his scalp. “I
was getting tired of
brushing it twice a day. Do
you think I
can pass for a soldier?”
fooled me.” The
impressive, and it was not just the clothes.
Sammual walked, talked
in a way that was entirely masculine.
Even his beauty seemed to have a harder edge.
Before, he had been as smooth as silk. Now, he was as
smooth as a finely
polished steel blade. It
was easy to
see why Marc’s mother had been attracted to him.
Morgany, Marc’s thoughts strayed to his father and brother. As he chewed on a sandwich
of stale bread
and cold sausage, he recalled the disturbing events of the day before. His wounds--emotional as
well as physical---
were less raw, which allowed him to think more clearly.
night, he had thought himself the only victim of the conspiracy, but
talking to Sammual, he was convinced that his father was a target, too. A chill ran up
his spine, and he choked on
his sandwich. The memory
father’s angry, accusing face was replaced by an even more
his father lying in a pool of blood,
eyes open but blinded by death, mouth forever fixed in a shout of alarm. And Kelvin--how easy it
would be to dispose of a helpless child
and blame the fugitive prince, clearing the way for someone else to
throne. Who? The
King’s half brother?
Corwyn had never given any indication that he envied Kel his crown.
plot was hatched by Pryytan rebels, the native inhabitants of the land
still considered the Suunian’s barbarian invaders. Or, perhaps the
Shirazians were planning another holy war
against their neighbors to the south.
possibilities and very little
concrete information. However, one thing was very clear. The king and
youngest son were in more danger than anyone realized.
Marc threw down his
food and scrambled to
his feet. “I must go back.”
Suunweiss? Are you mad?”
in danger. I have to warn him.”
mage laid a hand on the prince’s forearm.
“Calm yourself. I warned him of the danger in
the letter I left for
if he doesn’t get the letter? He has enemies within the
castle.” Marc began
saddling his horse. “Take
head north. If
I’m able to convince
Father of my innocence, I’ll send you a message. If I
send me your head in a box? Marc,
child, I understand your worry, but I can’t let you return to
have to find the sorcerer who
brother kidnapped. You heard the spark gnome.
His master is sacrificing children to build his bloody
Innocent lives are at stake. Not to mention the chaos he could cause
of that magnitude. With the blood of innocents from the Seven Kingdoms
could do almost anything, grant himself invulnerability and eternal
an army of the dead from the grave to wage battle, open a door between
world and the Darkhall---”
had been so preoccupied with his own problems that he had forgotten
right. The sorcerer
has to be stopped. But you
don’t need my help to do that. Take Darli. She’ll
be safer with you than with
go home and look after my
father and brother.” Noting the stubborn set of
Sammual’s jaw, he added “I
promise not to take any unnecessary
the man who is about to throw himself into the lion’s den.
foolish boy who is about to throw himself into the lion’s
without appearing to move, Sammual
had managed to position himself between Marc and his horse.
have sense enough for both of us.”
look at the elde-mage’s cool,
implacable face convinced Marc that
arguing would be a waste of time.
Fighting was out of the question.
He would have to wait until Sammual’s back was
turned, then he would
make his escape.
composed himself. “You’re
won’t do my family any good if I end up
getting myself killed.”
his warily. “Are
you planning to sneak off once my back is turned?“
surprise. “Don’t be silly.”
his head, Sammual said “I told you that
I can always spot a lie.
Promise me that you won’t go back.”
did not count when
made under duress, he told himself, half believing it.
lie. I was hoping I wouldn’t
have to do this.”
sleep spell took Marc by surprise. He wondered why the earth was rising
him, then realized that it was he who was falling...
he woke, Marc was lying face down in the dirt.
He spit out a mouthful of dust and blinked to clear the
grit from his
eyes. He glanced to the left and right. There was no sign of the elde-mage. Now
was his chance.
tried to leap for the closest horse, but when he made his move, all he
flop on his belly like a beached fish. “What the
hell!” he exclaimed. His
arms and legs were securely bound.
looked around the camp site. Where was his sword?
If he could find it, maybe he could cut his bonds before
rocking back and forth, he managed to roll over onto his back. From
was able to sit up. He spotted Darli. Relief flooded through him. “Darli. Help get
me out of these ropes.”
The princess smiled. “Beautiful magic
lord say no cut rope.”
shook her head. “Darli
game. Marc say cut
rope, but Marc no
mean it. This silly
game Marc play with
beautiful magic lord.”
sighed. “Darli no understand game, but Darli understand love.
searched for a word. “...grab
laid her hand over her
chest. “It make want do silly, strange thing.”
she trying to tell him that Sammual was doing this for his own good? “Sam’s
wrong. I can’t run
away and let---” Abruptly,
his head tipped back . The
world turned, then turned again. When
things stopped swimming, he realized that he had been slung over the
squirming. You’re going to fall on your head.”
Sammual secured the ropes.
day you’ll thank me.”
I will ! Sam, if you don’t let
me down, I swear I’ll kill you!”
I’ll make you wish you could die.”
earth mage shook his head. “If
moving around like that, you’re going to get hurt. I’ll have to put
you to sleep again.”
he woke, he was
lying on the ground
did not recognize any of the
nearby landmarks, and
there was no sign
of the Nobal Road. His
ached, his clothes reeked of horse sweat and there was a crick in his
could not feel his hands or feet.
over him. “Water?”
He held out a flask.
hundred miles farther away from
your death than you
were this morning.”
hundred miles? This
morning? It all
came back to him, then. The argument, the ropes, the humiliation of
over the back of a horse like a sack of grain.
He tried to flex his
arms and legs.
bother. They’re still bound.
Water.” It was not a question this time.
drank and ate what was offered to him. Or rather, what was forced upon
him. Anger seethed
just below the
surface. He fought
to control it. “I
have to piss.”
He was lifted onto
can’t do it with my hands behind my
could not remember the last time he had felt so humiliated. The dungeon
better than this. At
least in the dungeon,
he was treated like an adult.
please, I won’t run away.”
the elde-mage agreed.
“You won’t. “
He lowered the prince back onto the ground.
“No.” He spotted Darli on the
other side of the
camp fire. She was watching them with
open curiosity. “What
Sammual sat down
beside him. “I
told her not to untie the ropes.”
It was something more. She kept going on about games.
Damn it! There’s a rock the size of a melon
pressing into my
Marc’s head onto his lap.
it’s not better. What did you tell
my word for it. You don’t want to know.”
Idly, he pushed sweat
strands of hair back from the prince’s forehead.
did you tell Darli?”
did you tell Darli? When she found me binding
you this morning,
she asked if you enjoyed being
tied. She seems to think we were lovers.”
closed his eyes and groaned. “Sam,
If I promise not to go back to the capital, will you untie
“Will you promise on your
The prince pressed
his lips together.
thought not. In the
letter I wrote your
father, I promised to take care of you. If your father were here, and
you were planning an idiotic rescue that would do no good and might cost you your
life, he would do
exactly what I did.”
take care of myself!”
was true, we wouldn’t be having
conversation? You aren’t listening
to a word I’m saying. Sam?”
little to the left.” He
can’t keep me like this all the way to Shiraz. Sooner or
later, you’re going to
have to untie me.”
Sammual stared at
pretending not to hear.
Listen to me.”
was the last straw. Bitterly,
“You treat people like---like children. No, like things. Yes,
I know you’re
older than me and smarter than me, and you can make the ground shake
people to stone. But you don’t understand people at all. You
can’t tie someone
up and throw him on a horse, because he won’t do what you
want him to do.”
Sammual closed his
knife was in. Might as well give it a turn.
“Now I know why Mama left you.”
Marc enunciated each word carefully.
“She never could stand a bully.”
his eyes still closed, Sammual murmured. “Have you ever seen
an elde-mage get angry? It
isn’t a pretty
sight. Go to sleep.”
had anticipated these last words, and he fought the spell. He had time to mutter the
word “coward,” before
he lost consciousness.
woke up in the early hours of the morning.
The sky was dusted with stars. A thin wisp of cloud sailed
slowly by. As
the wind touched the earth, he shivered. He tugged at his blanket,
surprised that he could move his arms so easily. That was when it all
to him, the ropes, the argument with Sam. He moved his feet. The ropes around his
ankles were gone, too.
“Sam? I know you’re
there somewhere, watching me. “
ark shape which he had assumed to be a
rock stood up.
struggled to a sitting position. His
arms and legs were stiff. He
them to restore the circulation.
Sammual sat down
horizon was a blur of gray against the black of the sky. The prince could hear the
soft breathing of
the horses and smell Darli’s enticing scent, but they were
out of sight. It was
as if he and Sammual were completely alone, just the two of them and
“Thanks for untying me.”
sorry about what I said.”
you said was true.”
I was angry.” He paused. “Tell me, what kind of
traps have you laid to prevent
me from going back to Suunweiss?”
He felt the mage
makes you think I laid traps?”
well, it seems. I
had a talk with the
horses. I told them not take you south unless I’m with you.
If you try to head
south by foot, drowsy-caps
can talk to mushrooms and horses?
that you can’t talk to me. What are you drinking?”
mage offered Marc a flask containing some sort of pungent liquor. It made his throat burn,
but it also warmed
What did you write in the letter to my father?”
told him the same thing I told you. That he was acting like a fool.
a slightly older, more experienced fool, I assumed he would see reason
than you would, so I told him we’re going to Shiraz and
advised him to watch
out for traitors at home.”
told him where we’re going?
Now who is acting like a fool?”
so loud. You’ll wake Darli.
It was a
test. He passed it when he decided not to send troops after
do you know he didn’t send troops?”
an earth mage. If
we were being
followed, I would know it. We
him. Speaking of trust, will you tell me
why you decided to brand yourself with
your family crest?”
Marc groaned. “You’re
not going to stop asking until I tell you, are you?”
if I say ‘It’s none of your fucking
business’, you’ll say ‘That’s
tomorrow you’ll ask me again.”
another drink. He
had never tasted
liquor so strong. After only a few sips, his head began to spin. “It’s
a long story.”
plenty of time.”
took another drink from the flask, then another. “It happened
when I was
fourteen. Mama and Father were having one of their arguments. The ones that always ended
up with Mama
taunting Father with the fact that he would never know whose son I
times. Only to Father. And
she was very, very angry at him. Anyway, Mama threw that in his face,
he called her a
whore and said a
woman who would declare her own son a
bastard wasn’t fit to be a mother.
Mama reminded him of the time when I was seven. I fell from my horse
my collarbone. Father didn’t believe me, and he made me keep riding. Then Father
brought up the fact that
Mama let me sleep with her until I was six and accused her of trying to
me or coddle me. There
were two versions
of that story. I don’t remember which one he told that
took the flask. “I’m
beginning to get
the picture. How
did you survive
growing up in a house like that?”
was a very big house.
And they didn’t talk to each other much. The argument that
day was worse than usual.
They started throwing things. Mama
I was her son, and she was going to take me home with her. Father said
riddance. And I...I lost my head. I went down to the cattle yard where
were branding calves. It was early summer, so the brand had seen a lot of use. It was still red hot. All
I had to do was unbutton my shirt and press it to my chest, over my
didn’t hurt for the first second or so. By the time I dropped
iron, the heat had done its job.
guards just stared. I don’t think they believed what they
were seeing. Very
buttoned my shirt again. I
went back into the castle, up the stairs to the room where my parents
still arguing. I
walked inside and said
‘There’s something I want to show you.’
By this time, the burn was starting to
hurt. My fingers fumbled when I tried to unfasten the buttons. This
angry, so I tore the front of my shirt.
and Father both stopped talking at the same time. They were staring at
chest. In this strange voice that seemed to come from some place
outside of me,
I said ‘You can stop fighting about where I belong.
I’ve made up my mind. I
belong here.’ Then, I
became hot and dizzy. I
threw up all over the rug and fainted. “
handed him the flask.
“Thanks.” Marc’s head was
swimming, and the stars
overhead were dancing. However, the strangely potent liquor made it
talk . “Is this some kind of elde-mage
What’s in it?”
honey, dragon blood wine. Did
they stop arguing after that?”
no! After that, they argued about whose fault it was that I branded
didn’t really start
getting along until the last two years. Then Mama got pregnant and had
a bloody awful story.”
is, isn’t it? The
funny thing is out of
the handful of people who’ve heard it, only two have said
that. You and
Simon. Everybody else tries to get
me to look on the bright side.”
the Captain of the Guards? Sarah?
was her brother.”
I thought you and the young woman seemed close. Is she your
laughed until his sides hurt.
I be flattered that you find my conversation so amusing, or angry that
me such a fool?”
isn’t that. Sarah isn’t my lover. Father wants me
to marry her, but she and I
are just friends. Simon was my lover.” For a moment, he was
the night Simon died. His face was so pale. His dark hair was plastered
forehead with sweat. Near
the end, he
regained consciousness for a few minutes--
pushed away the memory. Lightly,
said “Did I mention that one of my parents’
favorite things to argue about was
whose fault it was that I prefer men to women?”
was a brief pause, then Sammual murmured, “That explains
voice was so soft that Marc almost
missed his words.
Forget I said it.”
“No. Here you are plying me
with drink and prying
into my personal life, uncovering all my dark little secrets as if
kind of interesting new bug that you’ve just discovered. I
want to hear some of
your secrets. I
hope they’re really
awful. As bad as being trussed up like a chicken and thrown on the back
speech was slurred now.
course, I’m drunk. I wouldn’t have told you about
Mama and Father otherwise.
Spit it out. ”
morning when I woke
up, I was seized by this strange impulse to cut my hair.”
took Marc several minutes to realize that this would make no sense even
sober man. “I
think you’re drunk, too.”
don’t get drunk.
haven’t cut my hair in decades. Not since I met your mother. For the first few years
after she left, I
continued to dress like a man. I even had a lover for a while. A woman.
However, as time passed, I returned to my old habits. I’ve
spent more years of my life as a woman
than a man.”
giggled. “I figured
that out already.
The ankle bracelets and violet perfume tipped me off.”
took the flask from his hand. “No more for you, my child. We
have to ride
tomorrow, whether you have a hangover or not.”
not too drunk to notice that you just changed the subject. What does my
weakness for men have to do with your hair?”
changed my mind, I don’t want to
talk about it.”
I spilled my guts. Now it’s
“It’s too embarrassing.”
talking to someone
who had to ask for help to piss. Not to mention the fact that Darli now
I’m some kind of pervert who likes to be tied up. Nothing you
can say is going
to be more embarrassing than that. You’d better hurry up. The
sun will be
rising soon, and if it’s this hard to say it in the dark,
think about how much
worse it will be in the----”
“Oh, hell. I’m too tired to talk
anymore.” He lay down, but within moments he
sat back up again. “You’re wrong. You said Father
would have done just what you
did, but you’re wrong. Father would have told me how much he
loves me and how
much he wants to protect me. He would have made me feel so guilty, that
have promised him anything. And then, when his back was turned, I would
done what I intended to do in the first place. That’s how
parents and children
Simon might have tied me to a horse to keep me from leaving.”
He thought about
this for a moment, before adding “I should say he might have tried
to do it. I outweighed him by thirty pounds, and he
didn’t have any
special magic powers, but he....Oh.” He covered his mouth
with his hand. “
I think I understand now. “
He began to laugh. “This
is too funny!”
don’t see anything funny about it,”
it is. You said you
weren’t ever going
to change for anyone again, and now you’ve changed your hair
for me. Your just
my type, too. I love a man in
forward. He was aiming for the mouth,
was so drunk that he
ended up kissing Sammual on the ear.
patted him on the cheek. “You’re sweet. I think
I’ll forgive you for tying me
these words, he lay back down
and began to snore.
before dawn, Darli woke. The elde-mage was sitting by himself,
some distance from
the camp. The
slump of his shoulders
and the expression of sadness on his face touched her heart. She went
“Beautiful magic lord sad?”
Sammual shook his
head. “Not sad. Just
peered into the metal flask which he held in his hand.
“What that smell? Smell bad.” She held
nose with two fingertips. “Marc
like bad. You give Marc?”
sighed. “Yes, I gave it to Marc.”
knew at the time that he should not do it.
Muriseal, a potent
from fermented dragon’s blood and the crushed seeds of the
tendrial weed, also
know as Tell-No-Lies, was too strong for
words---Now I know why Mama left you--
were still ringing in his ears. This
mortal child understood him too well.
It seemed only fair that Sammual be allowed to understand
him. So he dosed
him with muriseal, and he was rewarded
with a stream of confidences which Marc never would have shared if
then, like the king’s wife in the old tale about the locked
was punished for his curiosity.
one consolation was that ordinary mortals who drank muriseal
seldom remembered much afterwards. If only the beverage
had the same effects on elde-mages.
Marc staggered to his feet, several hours after sunrise, his face had a
greenish tinge. Darli
offered him some
breakfast. At the sight of food, he turned his head and vomited.
goddess!” he groaned. “What
happened to me last night?”
Darli opened her
mouth, then closed it
again when she saw Sammual’s face.
drunk,” the earth mage told him.
seemed to realize
for the first time
that his bonds were gone. As
his wrists, his eyes met Sammual’s. “Thank
elde-mage looked away “ You
shouldn’t be thanking me.
What I did was inexcusable.”
excuse you anyway,” he said with a lopsided grin.
“You were only trying to do
what you thought was best. If
you, I’d still be in the dungeon. You saved Kelvin, you saved
be a fool not to follow your
glanced at Sammual out of
the corner of his eye. “You’d better tell me what
kind of magic traps you’ve
laid for me, so I don’t stumble into them
he did not remember their late night conversation.
“There’s nothing to keep you from
going back to Suunweiss, if that’s
what you want to do.” It was true. He had canceled the trap
except common sense. I
wish I could
warn Father that he and Kelvin are in danger.”
him in the letter.”
he didn’t get the letter?”
got it. The letter was read, and I wrote it in such a way that only he
read it.” He
pretended to be busy adjusting
a stirrup. The
memory of last night’s
kiss kept popping up at the most inopportune times. Like now. Marc
a lion, his thick mane of blonde hair touched with gold by the morning
sun. His scent was
had been years since Sammual felt so attracted
to anyone. Twenty
willed his voice to remain cool.
“Do you feel up to traveling today?”
Marc replied. He clutched his head between his hands. “But we can’t delay
our journey for something as
minor as a hangover. Funny, alcohol
effect me like this.” He
turned his head to look at Sam. “Do you
have a magic cure for hangover?”
on Marc’s temples. Sitting
to the prince made him tremble. He
acutely aware of the cool flesh beneath his fingertips.
Marc’s hair smelled like sweat and some
other subtle scent that was entirely his own.
prince caught the elde-mage’s eye.
“You’re thinking how much I look like
my mother, aren’t you?”
Sammual agreed. It was a lie. This morning, when he looked at
Marc’s face, he
saw only Marc. “Is
the headache getting
You could make a fortune in the barracks, curing soldiers before they
took his hands away.
stared down at his own feet. “I’m sorry about what
I said yesterday. About Mama
hating bullies, I mean.”
shouldn’t be. It’s the truth.”
I was just angry. I don’t usually snap at people like that. I was scared for Father
and Kelvin. And for
myself, too. Sam, what am I going to do?”
elde-mage put his arm around the
prince’s shoulders. Immediately, he knew that he had made a
heartbeat quickened. It was difficult for him to control his breathing.
did not seem to notice his agitation.
As he relaxed into the curve of the mage’s arm,
he murmured “You
left your home and put yourself in
danger to help me. Well, maybe not danger.
Inconvenience. In any case, if not for you, I’d
be in the dungeon,
nursing my wounds. I wish there was some way I could thank you
closed his eyes and tried to calculate the exponentials of seven in his
However, his concentration snapped, and his eyes flew open, as he felt
ruffling his short hair.
“I like it
this way,” Marc said, smiling.
I did it, the elde-mage thought.
But you are not supposed to know
stood up. “We should go.”
their late start, they made good time that morning. In mid afternoon,
stopped to eat and water the horses at a stream. There had been plenty
in the last month, and the surrounding countryside was green and lush. The first planting
of corn was almost ready
to harvest. Children
armed with sticks
and stones kept watch in the fields, ready to drive away crows. They
travelers with open curiosity but kept their distance.
Marc finished his meal, he stretched out in the grass and lost himself
expanse of blue sky.
you thinking?” Sammual asked.
this and that. Darli rides as if she was raised in a saddle. Do they have horses in the
but they ride fierwolves, winged, fire breathing beasts twice the size
dragon’s, except with fur instead of scales?”
exactly,” Sammual replied, smiling.
had regained his self control. The passion he had felt this morning was
the after effect of muriseal, he told himself. That, combined with
Marc’s resemblance to his mother and the
perfectly natural paternal urge to
comfort a young
person in distress. “”Fierwolves
are kin to ordinary
are more closely
related to men than they are to any other animal. Or rather, they are
you know that one
in a thousand elden births results in a dragonling? No one knows how
dragons give birth to eldens,
since those infants are quickly devoured
by their nest siblings.”
isn’t as bad as all that.
generally eat the last born. It helps keep down the dragon population,
gives the newborns a ready first meal.” He gave the prince an
full of questions,
been full of questions since we started this journey, but I was too
nervous to ask them.”
aren’t nervous anymore?”
after last night. I guess getting drunk with you made you seem less
like an all
powerful sorcerer and more like an ordinary person.
You said that you could teach me some magic. Were you
was. However, a little magic training is worse than none at all. Like knowing how to hold a
sword but not how
to use it. You can
get drawn into
dangerous situations that you
have the skill to handle. Except for a few harmless spells like
or opening locks, its best to leave magic to those who have made a
study of the science.”
this. “What do you mean
by ‘a careful study’? Six months? A year?”
twenty years. That’s the
average apprenticeship for a human mage.
We eldens live longer, so we can study at a more leisurely
rolled over and propped his
chin up in his hands. “But that means a mage spends half of
his life just
mindedly, Sammual plucked a blade of grass from the prince’s
hair. “Human mages
generally live longer than other mortals, unless they use up their life
spells that are beyond their control.
The oldest mortal mage lived to be over a thousand years
old. It isn’t
uncommon for talented mages to live for two or three centuries. Mind
not talking about the graduates of those universities that claim to
become a true mage, one
must study with a true mage.”
considered this. “You’d
make a good
teacher. Have you
ever had an
of them. One was my third child, Catria.
She turned out quite well, though she spends too much time
much easier to call gold
from the ground than to make it.”
about the other student?”
elde-mage sighed. “That
mistake. He was my
first pupil, a
mortal. I was little more than a
child myself, barely ninety. Perrin
came to me to learn magic. He was a frail boy, with weak lungs. Living on the verge of
death made him dream
of eternal life. After
he had learned
the old High Elden tongue, he secretly obtained a copy of a certain
that is usually given only to mature
elde-mages of a thousand years or so.
A book that mortals are never supposed
to see, because it contains a spell for closing the door to
eyes were almost as wide and blue
as the sky. “Does the spell work?”
mean how is it performed?”
I mean what are the consequences?
said the spell closes a door. I
assume another door must open somewhere.
And there has to be a price. If it was simple, everyone would do
you read that?”
Marc flushed. “I
sense. At least, it seems like common sense. If
I’m talking bullshit, just tell me.”
correct. In order
to seal one death
portal, another must be opened. Human
sacrifice is one way. Perrin
opted for a
technique which seemed more humane, at least initially.
opened a crack between this world and the
that allows demons
to enter the world
of the living. The
portal is called a world
rift. It’s the same principle as human sacrifice but in
reverse. As long as
demons are pouring into this world, the mage does not have to leave
balance between life and death isn’t a ledger. It’s
more like a waterfall that
feeds two rivers. If
each river has its
own mill, it doesn’t matter which direction the water flows.
Either way, grain
will be ground into flour which feeds those who maintain the mills. Now apply the analogy to
life and death. It
isn’t the number of souls on either side of the gate that
matters. What counts
is movement of spirits through the gate.
demons are allowed to escape
from the Darkhall, then fewer living spirits have to go into the
prince frowned. “If the water flows into only one river,
eventually that mill
will break under the strain, and the other will rust from
brow cleared. “I get it.
If the flow is too one sided, the balance between
the worlds shifts. The
empty, and the
world of the living
begins to bulge at its seams. Why
you looking at me like that? Did I say something stupid?”
Sammual replied slowly. “You
didn’t say anything stupid. Are you
absolutely certain that you have never studied with a mage?”
in this life.” Marc chuckled. “Maybe I was a mage
in another life. Maybe I was
nothing like Perrin. In any case, reincarnation is very rare. Most
enter the Darkhall after death stay there forever, unless they are
back to this world with sorcery.”
expression became solemn. “Don’t
that to the priests in Suunweiss.
use the promise of another life to persuade peasants and manual
rejoice in their poverty. If they knew that this life was the only one
would get, they might start demanding the luxuries that other citizens
food, clothing, someplace warm to live.”
philosophy for a king-to-be.”
surveyed the nearby farmhouses.
who traveled the Nobal Road received a false impression of Suunland.
leaving the main highway, they had seen a much darker side of his
kingdom. Most of
the peasants they had
passed today wore homespun garments. Few had shoes.
Children often went naked. Their houses were not fit for
much less people. “Sometimes
that I don’t want to be king.
imagine me sentencing someone to death? Or, worse yet, telling a mother
the best interest of the kingdom that her husband be conscripted, even
it means he could die, and she and the children will be left to
gave the elde-mage an
appraising look. “Have
you considered taking
a new student?”
heart skipped a beat. Ruthlessly,
suppressed his emotions. “No,” he replied firmly.
was not deterred. “You should.”
smiled. His eyes
caught the light of
the sun and reflected it. “It
give you someone to bully. Pardon me. Someone to instruct.
You know how much you like doing that.”
eyes narrowed, except for the third eye which was still wide.
“You’re a bit of
a bully yourself, aren’t you?”
Marc smiled amiably.
“Bossy is the term
Nanna used. “
don’t suppose there would be any harm in
teaching you a few magic spells. They might come in handy. That trick
with the rain could be very useful, if we run across any more fire
creature who kidnapped Kelvin said
five of the seven were spark gnomes.”
I’m surprised you remembered that.
Do you remember everything you hear?”
ducked his head to hide a smile. “Oh, I sometimes forget a
few things. I’m
still having a hard time recalling
everything we talked about last night,
I was drunk.”
elde-mage froze. “You
couldn’t remember what happened last night.”
couldn’t. Not when I woke up with hammers pounding inside my
skull and eels
churning around in my belly. I feel much better since you did that
remember drinking something a lot more potent than grain alcohol.
liquor doesn’t have much effect on me. I
remember telling you entirely too much about my family.
I remember thinking how much you look like
Simon with your hair cut short. I
feeling very sad, and then, suddenly, very---” He bit his lip
and looked away
but not quickly enough to hide his
lucky that I met you.”
eyes met. Before
either of them could
say more, Darli appeared, leading a full grown, massively pregnant fox. With its red hair, sharp
chin, pointed ears
and bright eyes, it bore an uncanny resemblance to the
princess. “Look what Darli find.
Fox Lady be having cubs, soon.
She want Sammual bless the babies.”
Sammual fell into conversation with the
fox, Marc could not
help wondering why
his life, which had seemed so ordinary for twenty years, had taken such
turn in recent weeks. It had begun
the arrow that should have killed him. Then, Kelvin disappeared before
eyes. Then, he met Sam. Then Darli, then the Spark Gnome, then
the events in the dungeon---
not think about that. He
focus on the moment. The
day was warm,
he was rested and well fed. He had two companions of whom he was
more than fond, he thought, as he watched Sammual.
Could there be a plan behind all the madness? Was he destined to---?
thought was too silly. He stood up and began readying the horses for
2007 McCamy Taylor
After a number of
years as Assistant Short Story Editor for Aphelion and occasional
of remarkable short fiction of her own, McCamy was sidelined by
made prolonged sessions at the keyboard impossible. But now, at last,
ba-a-ack. She also
tells us "I
have been doing political cartoons for almost two years and then I
working on my first comic book, Drug
two chapters are done so far..."
with the September 2007 issue of Aphelion, McCamy
will take over as the
new Serials Editor.
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