Magic and the Heart
by McCamy Taylor
Part Four of Four
returned to the oasis, he
the prince sitting beside the dying
him. The others had
already gone to bed.
want to talk about it?” Marc had
the muriseal bottle
beside him. It would
have been easy to take a drink or two, but he owed it to Perrin to tell
story sober. Haltingly, he began.
a century, the
earth’s wounds were
still fresh in Shiraz. So
Sammual’s memories. Perrin
when he died. The elde-mage
the boy clearly. In
most respects, he
was a typical Shirazian, beardless, with deep brown skin and straight hair as black as night. However, a
Suunian ancestor had given him eyes of gray which seemed to change
colors, depending upon the weather. He
also had a gift for water magic.
mages were common in
northern Shiraz. Rivers
Shantuun Mountains kept the fields fertile.
Much of the land was covered with marsh, which bred
swamp fever which infected Perrin shortly after his birth. Though his natural magic
ability kept him
from dying as a child, the infection stunted his growth and weakened
lungs. The village
healer predicted he
would die before reaching the age of thirty.
was all so clear.
Perrin had manipulated him. Or rather, her. For Sammual was Sammuelle
time. The worst
part was that she knew
that something was going on. The boy spent too much time alone in the
reading arcane books on death and the Darkhall. She assumed--rightly,
out---that he was looking for a spell which would increase his life
However, she never dreamed that he would go to such lengths.
Perrin used a
safer kind of magic, he
might have achieved a normal human life span.
Perhaps, he would have lived as long as one hundred years. He wanted more, and so he
Sammuelle’s library, the
young apprentice found the formula for eternal life, the one which
door to his own death. With
recklessness of youth, he cast the spell without giving thought to its
consequences. And consequences there were. Within a few weeks, other
began to open, and strange things began to happen around him. The
the dead returned to walk the earth. Animals went mad and attacked
cold wind blew across Shiraz
in the height of summer, killing forests and crops. Streams and lakes
froze then dried up. Farmland
desert. One day,
the sun failed to
finally understood the
truth, she confronted
her pupil. As she
stared into his wide,
storm grey eyes, she tried to feel
anger or revulsion, but all she could find within herself was pity.
Please. Help me.” Perrin
his shoulder at the maelstrom that was swirling behind him in the sand. “I
don’t want to go into the Darkhall. I’m
too young to die. Please. There must be something you can do.”
was something she could do. She did not want to do it, but the time for
what she wanted was long passed. She
raised her hands. Hope appeared on Perrin’s face and vanished
again when she
moved, not to embrace him, but to push him away.
Softly, she began to work the spell of sending.
her apprentice cried. His
brimmed with tears, which the howling wind tore away and hurled into the abyss.
“Don’t let me die! Don’t let
it was over,
Sammuelle had changed
from woman to man. Why, he had never understood.
The shock of what he had seen that day temporarily sealed
third eye shut. He
did not use high
magic again for over a year.
survived the storm
called it a miracle, and they dubbed their savior Ser Shiraz---the
Shiraz. They called
the spring which
flowed from the site of the rift between the world of the living and
of the dead a miracle, too, and attributed it to Ser Shiraz, not
it was Perrin who created it. In
final, desperate act, the apprentice had unleashed every bit of his
in a futile attempt to defeat the
forces of the Darkhall which hungered for his soul.
city of Al
Shiraz was built around
the sacred spring, according to Ser Shiraz’s orders. The
Saint also prescribed
prayers and purification rites. Over a century after Perrin’s
rituals were still being followed. Few understood their purpose. The
spring that was a source of life giving water for so many people in the
was also a doorway to another world. When Sammuelle hurled her
through that door to his death, she sealed it, but the rift would never
completely healed. There would always be a weakness there, a point of
intersection between the World of Decay and the Darkhall, a place where
forbidden magic could be cast and where things not of this earth could
an unknown mage
was attempting to
exploit that rift. Using the soul of a Darkhall princess and the blood
innocents, he---or she if the one eyed bandit’s remark about
an “old witch” was
accurate---was attempting one of the most ambitious and dangerous acts
sorcery. A warded fortress could give a mortal eternal life or
dead. A warded
fortress could make an
entire nation embrace a new leader---or cause every man, woman and
child in a
country to kill themselves in despair. Theoretically, it could turn
time---and if such an attempt were successful, it would erase the
its own construction---
“Hold on. This is the
part that takes twenty years to understand, right? I’ll just
take your word for
it that it would be bad if the warded fortress gets built. Sam, you
stop blaming yourself for what your apprentice did. If he knew enough
the spell, then he must have known the risks.”
older than me. I may be young,
but I know better than to play with fire in a gunpowder
all desperate sometimes. Sooner
or later, people have to learn to
accept that everyone dies. Otherwise, we waste our lives running from
an old wise man.”
“Old maybe. I’m not so
sure about the wise part. If I was wise, I would be in bed, getting
for the journey tomorrow. I
desert. When this journey is done, promise me that we can go somewhere
lots and lots of water.”
woke the next
morning to the sound
of wings, large,
powerful wings which
made a deep, thrumming sound as they cut
through the air. He rolled over and
sat up. There was no
sign of Darli or
princess’s pillow was still warm and bore the impression of
her head and the
scent of her skin. The elde-mage’s pillow
looked as if it had not been used.
trousers, he hurried to the
door of the hut. Cautiously,
outside. A dozen or so feet away, he saw a confusing jumble of wings,
heads that resembled some kind of hideous mythological beast.
blinked, and the
monster became two
separate creatures, dracon-kyn, commonly
known as dragon-men.
Each was roughly the height of a tall man, with wide,
wings emerging from the scapular
area of the back. They had human heads with thick,
black hair worn loose around their shoulders. Their faces
almost identical, except one
skin and the other
was as white as snow. They
were dressed in short tunics sewn from
animal skins. Their
and chests seemed normal, but below the waist was a different story. The pale dragon-man had
legs below the
knees were covered with fine, copper colored
scales. The bronze
dragon-man had normal
legs and feet but a powerful tail, four feet long, tipped with a sharp
claws and the
tail would be deadly
weapons, if the dragon
in an unfriendly mood. Luckily, they were smiling. The pale
one was hugging Sammual. The bronze one was on his knees, kissing
in a courtly manner that made her giggle.
dragon-man spotted Marc. His
eyes were bright and mischievous.
closer. I won’t bite. Unless you want me to.”
glanced up sharply. “Flayme! Behave yourself!”
companion a dark
behave yourself’,” he
tired of behaving
myself hasn’t found me
to both of us.”
it’s you she loves. I
want a woman of my own, someone with fire.
eyes sought out Darli’s.
Almost purring, he murmured. “Someone like
this lovely princess. You could give birth to a nest of dragonlings
batting an eye, couldn’t you , my love? What do you say we
stroked her cheek with the
back of his hand, making her shiver and
too far. Though Sammual claimed that she was an ancient, in her current
Darli had the mind of a child. Marc
corner’s of Flayme’s lips curled
upward in an expression that was part smile, part sneer and part snarl.
barbed tail twitched. “It
lovely lady has a protector. What
you think, Fyre? Should I challenge him?”
shook his head
impatiently. “I think
you should grow up. You’re one hundred years old--”
one hundred. Either way, you’re too old to act like an
Fyre’s face to
had the same delicate features,
the same dark hair and pale skin, the same green eyes, though Fyre had
to Sammual’s three. Except
difference in coloring, Flayme’s face was identical to
Fyre’s. The ages were
right. He recalled something Sammual had told him about the
between dragons and elde-mages , and he made a wild guess.
be the twins,” he blurted
out. No wonder
their mortal mother died
giving birth to them. Those claws and that barbed tail would have torn
all smiles, Flayme
your service. Who,
may I ask, are you? No, don’t tell me.
You must be my new stepfather. Mom likes the rugged, rustic
Sammual said. “Fyre,
Flayme, this is Marcellus. He’s the
eldest son of King
Kel of Suunland. For
political reasons, he is traveling incognito, so call him
“I wanted to call him Dad.”
anything you want, except Prince Marcellus.”
about you?” Flayme
gazed down at the elde-mage fondly.
“I suppose this means
you’ve become Mom again. When are we going to have a little
brother or---” His
jaw dropped. “Did
you say Prince
Marcellus of Suunland? But that means he’s----”
used to lecture me about playing
with fire.” The
dragon-man gave Marc a
dark look. “If
you trifle with my
mother’s affections, I will hunt you to the ends of the
interrupted. “Sammual is still our father.”
frown was comical “This
is....unexpected. But don’t think this
let’s you off the hook, Prince Marcellus of Suunland. Love is love, whether or
not it leads to the patter of little
rest,” Fyre told
his brother. “And Dad
asked you not to call him that. Why must you always do what
you’re told not to
some people I know, I’m not an insufferable goody-two
crossed his arms and settled into a sulk.
let out a long
suffering sigh. “Marc,
pay no attention to my brother. If he
gives you any trouble tell me, and I’ll see that he behaves.
“He turned to his
father. “We’ve been searching all over for you. Did you know your mountain
in Suunland is crawling with soldiers?
There’s a price on your head.
of trouble have you gotten into this time?”
sons a brief account of
their adventures, starting with the abduction of the infant prince. Fyre listened attentively. Even Flayme stopped
exclaimed when his father was done.
“Royal intrigue, missing heirs,
succession in limbo. Not to mention the poetic justice.
The man who
stole Dad’s lover has lost his son to him. No wonder King Kel
wants your head
on a platter. Does
he know that if he
cuts it off, it will only grow back again?
Assuming you don’t turn the axe into dust or
change the headsman
into a statue.”
touched Sammual’s arm. “Where
swept the oasis. “That’s a good question.
Go see if you can find them.”
Marc located the priests and their servants and convinced them that
in no danger from the “dragons” which had invaded
their shrine, Sammual had
learned another piece of important news from his sons.
heading towards the oasis.
surprised to see you, that I almost forgot why we stopped here in the
place,” Fyre explained to his parent.
was something very odd about that caravan. For a single wagon and two
horses, it kicked up quite a sand cloud. And it was easier to see it
corner of my eye. When I looked at it straight on, the horses were
transparent and the edges of the wagon wiggled, like the lines of a
He made a wave like motion with his hand. “I think if I had
been looking at the
wagon from the ground and not from the sky, I might not have been able
detect it at all.”
magic was being used to disguise it?”
shrugged one broad shoulder. His
up a small cloud of sand around his scaled feet. “Magic
is your specialty, not mine. Flayme and I decided to stop
here to warn the keepers of the oasis to be on the lookout for
considered his son’s words for a moment. “Marc,
Darli, Fyre, you three stay
here. If there is any sign of
trouble, Fyre can have you airborne and out of here in seconds. Flayme
are going to investigate the caravan which does not want to be seen.
me your ring.”
hands were much broader than the earth mage’s, but as Sammual
slid the gold and
ruby ring on his index finger, it reshaped itself to a perfect fit. As
metal made contact with his flesh, he caught his breath. His third eye
“This use to belong to Morgany.”
took Marc a
moment to identify the unfamiliar pain in his chest. It was a stab of
an emotion he did not usually associate with his departed mother.
going to be a problem?”
interfere with the energies. As long as I have this ring, if anything
to you while we’re gone, I’ll know it. But stay
close to Fyre, just in case.”
His hand brushed a stray tangle of hair from Marc’s brow. “Does that scar
still bother you?”
arrow? No. Why?”
it with my third eye, it glows so brightly, as if there is a fire
inside of you
trying to burn its way out. The
should be getting dimmer as the wound heals, but it has gotten brighter
last night. I wonder why.”
had no fear of falling, since
the force of impact with the ground was a function of gravity over
which he had
perfect control. In
any case, he could
command the earth below him to become as soft as down or as hard as
his whim. However, he detested flying.
It threw off his sense of inner harmony.
Sometimes, it made him physically ill. Only the need to
the enchanted caravan as quickly and stealthily as possible persuaded
use an aerial approach.
avoided flying with his younger and more reckless son. However, if he
leave Darli and Marc, he wanted them with someone he could trust, and
meant Fyre had to stay behind. So, he found himself clinging to
back, as his son performed feats of aerial acrobatics that were, in the
mage’s opinion, unnecessary.
magic to you, and you leave the flying to me,” the dragon man
said tartly. “I’m
riding the air currents to save energy. It isn’t easy
nothing!” Sammual protested. It was true. He had severed all
contact with the
earth when they left the ground. It was one of the reasons he felt so
disoriented. Were he to let go of Flayme right now, he would float
can make yourself lighter with magic,
but you can’t do anything about wind resistance.”
not know how to fly, he could not dispute his son’s claim.
“Are you sure we’re
heading in the right direction?”
have brought Fyre. You wouldn’t be asking him every two
minutes ‘Are you sure
this is the right way? Are you sure this is the right
down and to the right so suddenly that Sammual almost lost his grip on
He pointed. “See that
wavy line in the sand? One moment it looks like a wagon and two desert
and the next it looks like—like sand. Whoever cast the
invisibility spell on it
did a half assed job. There’s
behind it. And that
smudgy blur, like a
tiny sandstorm leading the wagon, nothing natural would cause that.
peered at the ground. Dracon-kyn
had sharp eyes for spotting prey from great heights. All
Sammual saw was sand.
However, he sensed
and earth magic. “Bring
Straight down from above?”
over the next dune. Let me talk to the earth before we confront the
was a relief
to the ground beneath his feet again. For a moment, he allowed himself
in the comfortable sensation of having a center with mass and weight.
He ank to his knees
and scooped up a handful of
sand and held it to his ear to listen to what the desert had to say
caravan on the other side of the dune. All three eyes widened in
spot that’s leading the wagon, it’s a sand
equally amazed. “For
real? I thought
those were fairy tale creatures. Aren’t they supposed to be
capture, but if you do catch one, they have to grant you three
the three wishes, correct about being almost impossible to capture.
an earth mage or a fire mage.”
you’re both. Do you need my help?”
would say that. I
suppose you want me
to stay out of the way, as usual.”
out of sight.”
to be hard to do, unless you plan to bury me in the sand.”
a flick of
the wrist, the earth mage constructed a sandstone wall. “Hide
Don’t come out, no matter what you see or hear, unless I call
for you.” For
himself, he summoned a sandy veil so that he could keep watch without
seen. Dressed in pale linen, with a white scarf wrapped around his
blended almost perfectly with the desert.
are going to need me for something besides taxi service,” his
younger son said sourly.
great help,” his parent assured him. “I could never
have found the wagon or the
sand sprite without you.”
the same thing, and he would do it without making you sick to your
yourself to your brother. You both have your strengths.”
flashed with against his bronze skin. “I guess mine is my
Speaking of personalities, what about Prince Marcellus from Suunland?
said anything yet, but you know that he’s going to complain.
I can just hear
him now. ‘Cradle
robbing’, that’s what
he’ll call it.”
does like to nag,” Sammual said glumly.
you a hard time, tell me, and I’ll do something outrageous to
hush. I have work to do.”
predicted, the wagon was difficult to detect when viewed from the
supernatural companion did not even register to the eye. The sand
sand in a sea of sand. However, it had a life energy that was
heart, a pulse---- though sand flowed through its veins rather than
also generated heat and made subtle sounds that told Sammual exactly
the element which surrounded them both, he did not have to approach the
directly. The desert was an extension of the earth mage’s
body, much like an
extra limb. He need only will the ground to form a claw with which to
the creature’s leg, and it did so. Desert
sand rapidly encased the sprite in a thin, flexible shell, strong
keep the creature from dispersing into a cloud of dust.
appeared seemingly out of thin air in mid stride. Of medium height, it
tall on account of its extremely thin build. Its face was smooth and
Its head was bald. Its limbs were long and slender.
Though it was naked, its gender could not be determined,
lacked breasts or any other sexual organs.
sand sprite’s expression was one of annoyance.
“Mistress,” it said. “I asked
you not--“ Then its two eyes met Sammual’s three
eyes and panic set in. The
creature became semi-solid as it
attempted to revert back to its cloud form with a ferocity that took
mage by surprise.
Sammual ordered. He thickened the sand casing on the sprite by a
fraction of an
inch, enough to cause the creature suddenly to go rigid, its arms
from its sides, its head arched back as if in pain. “You know
what I am. My
specialty is earth, but my grandfather was daema.
There is no way that you can escape from me, and if you make this
use fire. Daema fire. You know what demon fire does to a sand sprite,
don’t you? You’ll turn to glass. I
won’t transform your whole body. Just bits and pieces. The
parts that change
will never change back to sand or flesh. You’ll be a freak, a
dragging your solid pieces through the desert like skeleton bones
go for the rest of your life. “
gnomes, sand sprites were not by nature belligerent creatures. On the other hand, they
were vain. They
delighted in dancing across the desert with the speed and grace of the
And they valued the ability to shape shift above all things. The phrase for
“death” among sand sprites
was “final form”.
ceased struggling immediately. From the twitching of its lips, Sammual
that it was trying to speak. He thinned the shell casing around the
head, neck and chest so that it could draw air and talk. “You
will protect me?”
it demanded. “Mistress won’t tolerate betrayal.
earth mage guessed that the sprite was cursed. The memory of the spark
was fresh in Sammual’s memory. Fortunately, the
sprite’s mistress only seemed
to know one way to booby-trap her henchmen. Finding the trap spell was
Disabling it was a bit trickier. He had to pause in the middle of his
bring back the wagon, which had slowly continued on its journey, as if
driver was oblivious to the plight of its supernatural companion. When
saw the driver, he understood why. It was an automaton constructed from
and metal, the reins sewn to its hands, its sightless eyes fixed upon
disabled the automaton, then he freed the desert horses and gave them
to wait. He briefly
wagon’s exterior. The door to the interior was padlocked.
Opening it would be a
simple task, however to do so safely, he would have to probe for trap
first, which would take considerably longer. A cursory magic
revealed that someone had cast a spell upon the wagon, puppet driver
two desert horses to render them close to invisible. However, no effort had been made to disguise
the contents of
the wagon. He could detect nothing living inside. On the contrary, from
within, he detected the psychic stench of recent violent death.
disturbed, he returned to the task of freeing the sand sprite from its
mistress’s curse. He
worked as quickly
as he could. He was all too aware of Marc’s vulnerability.
The ruby and gold
ring showed that the prince was well, but that could change at any
Sammual was an hour away from the oasis by air.
the interrogation with an easy question, in case there were any hidden
had not disarmed. “Why go to all the trouble of using a
puppet to drive the
wagon? They are costly to build, difficult to maintain, even for a
human drivers kept asking questions.
About what was happening to the children they were delivering to the
corners of the desert and why the wagons were always empty on the
to al-Shiraz. They spread rumors. Sometimes we had to kill them to
them. It was simpler to use the puppet.”
wanted honesty, but this cool recital made his skin crawl.
“What was happening
to the children they were delivering to the four corners of the
been slitting their throats,” the sprite replied amiably.
“You’ve got to have
fresh blood for the kind of magic spell she’s been
been listening and watching from behind his stone wall, growled. His
to lash back and forth, kicking up a cloud of sand.
attempted without success to crane its neck around so that it could
look at the
dragon man. “How long has he been here?”
dracon-kyn isn’t your
kind of spell is your
rolled its eyes. “Dark magic, what else? I’ve lost
count of how many screaming
brats she’s butchered---“
of spell is she casting?”
the sprite’s body as the sand shell constricted and then
relaxed. “Don’t do
that! It’s a resurrection spell! She’s bringing her
dead dad back to life. It’s
no big deal, right? Some dead guy comes
back to life, a few orphans that no one wanted anyway die so that he
is she mortal?”
otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you. I know she
doesn’t stand a chance
against an elde-mage. “
had made a mistake teaching mortals magic. When would the fools learn
could not cheat death?
inside the wagon?”
knives and some
slaughter was the nastiest yet. Mistress promised it was the last. Said
could do whatever we wanted with the leftovers.”
remind himself that he had promised to protect the sand sprite in
information. That he needed information.
that Mistress doesn’t need. Some of them are quite pretty.
She wouldn’t let us
touch any of them before, since
have to be virgin. Now that she’s finished with the blood
letting, she’s moving
on to the hard part. Or so she says.
don’t know anything about water magic.
Though I guess it’s pretty hard to do in a
desert. Must be why
she told us to meet her at the
oasis. She ought to
be there soon---“
Sammual barked. “Get over here! We’re leaving!
that?” The dragon man pointed at the sand sprite.
eye glowed brighter than desert sun. “What about
what?” he asked through
Just a moment before, the sand sprite had looked like a living human
more or less. Now, it appeared to be a statue made out of solid
that?” he asked his parent.
didn’t turn it to glass and then blast it to hell.
locked his arms around his son’s
powerful wings cut the air, lifting them high above the ground, the
gazed down at the immobile figure of the sand sprite, caught forever in
of betraying its mistress and itself. “I don’t
understand. Don’t you need it
alive to tell you where the surviving children are?”
Though before I’m done, it may wish that it were dead. It
will do it good to
stand there and wait and wonder if I will return or if it will slowly
the desert wind until there’s nothing left of it but
nervously over his shoulder. “You’re scary
festival was approaching in Shiraz, and it was a busy day for travelers
towards the capita city. Twice,
spotted parties approaching from the west. When
the first set of strangers appeared, he flew out to inspect
them. The group consisted of a dozen pilgrims
who were so terrified by his wings and scaled feet that
they fled into
the desert before he could he could speak.
to the shrine guardians. “In the mountains of Strailyte,
people are used to the
dragon-kyn. I forget that
seen in the other kingdoms. The
pilgrims are on foot. If you borrow Dad’s horses, I think you
can catch them.
We can watch the shrine for you.”
priests and their two servants left in search of the pilgrims. A
joined Marc and Darli beside the lake.
beneath the shade of a desert apple palm, his bare feet dangling in the
a fishing line loosely knotted between his fingers. His
nose had begun to peel. His hair was several shades lighter
than it was a week ago thanks to all the time he had spent in the sun.
looked younger than his twenty years.
stayed as close to Marc as possible while keeping far away from the
had cast off most of her clothes and was bathing in the sun. The heat
skin brought our her natural musk. She seemed unaware of the effect
had on men. She
flashed Fyre a
pleasant, innocent grin.
working on magic,” she said in her odd, sing song voice.
closer. She was correct. Marc
making a small pebble roll across a water slick rock with the power of
suggestion, a feat that required his full concentration.
too,” the princess boasted. She
a tall blade of marsh grass and hurled it like a spear across the lake,
it burst into flames. “Magic is pretty,” she
giggled. “And fun!”
a hell of
a lot of hard work!” Marc complained. He rubbed his forehead. “Fyre, what kind
of magic do you and Flayme
Dragon magic is an arcane art. In order to understand it, I would first
learn the old dracon tongue,
something that’s nearly impossible to master for a half blood
like me. Our
sister, Catria is an elden mage, like
Dad. She does earth
married. Is your wife also dracon-kyn?”
expression clouded. “Meara is a mortal woman. Her family owns
a spa in
Strailyte where people come to take the waters and soak in the hot
used to manage the family business, until her arthritis made it
her. Luckily, there’s a nephew who is running things
that there was more that was not being said. He let the pebble lie
where it was
and folded his arms around his knees, waiting for Fyre to continue.
at the edge of the lake beside the prince. His wings folded behind him.
is sixty-three years old. We’ve had three children, but none
of them survived
childbirth. The last delivery almost killed her, and it left her
blessing really, though I know that she regrets not being able to raise
of her own.”
Fyre looked like a young man of twenty-five, though his real age was
closer to one
hundred. What was it like for him having a wife who looked old enough
to be his
grandmother and who had one foot in the grave?
if he could
read Marc’s mind, Fyre
continued, “As a
dragon man, I won’t live as long as Dad or Sis, but I should
four or five hundred years, if I don’t fall to my death or
get killed by
hunters who mistake me for a dragon.
used to mind, but now that the years are weighing upon her, I can sense
envy. She envies me my health, my youth. She envies me my wealth of
doesn’t understand that I would give up all those extra
centuries of life to
buy a few more years of life with her.”
His eyes searched Marc’s face. He looked a lot
like his father, though there
were subtle differences that made him merely handsome rather than
hard to watch someone you love die of old age while you stay young. I
go through it with Catria’s father, but
I never understood how hard it was on her until now.
I had hoped to see her---him settle down with another
expecting something like this from Sammual’s eldest son.
Though Flayme had
tried to pick a fight, it was clear from the first moment he met the
which of the two was the overprotective one. “There are
heartbreaking than watching your lover die.” Marc held up his
hand as Fyre
tried to object. “Don’t interrupt. I know what
I’m talking about. My lover,
Simon died in my arms, but that wasn’t as hard as what my
parents went through
for close to twenty years.
making a false assumption. People don’t choose whom they
love. If they did, no
woman would ever marry a man who beat her and no man would ever remain
to a woman who was unfaithful. We don’t go looking for
comfort or happiness
from those we love. We
searched for the word he wanted.
leaned back until his head was half lost in the tall marsh grass that
surrounded the lake. “You look so young. I was going to
lecture Dad about
cradle robbing. But you’re much more mature than you
a compliment. If
you’re serious about
your magic studies, you can extend your life by several hundred
other hand, you’ll have to give up your chance to be king of
“You don’t have to tell me that.”
over onto his stomach. He plucked a blade of grass and fashioned it
into a reed
harp. “You would give up your throne for Sammual?”
me an outlaw. I think we can assume that means I’m also
take care of that misunderstanding. He can fix anything. Except matters
heart. You won’t break his heart like your mother did, will
so engrossed in their conversation, that they did not notice that noble travelers from
Sarahajuun had arrived
at the oasis until Darli pointed out that a
dust cloud kicked up by the caravan had floated over the lake.
of his parent’s instructions, wanted to carry his charges a
safe distance away.
your arms around my neck.
Marc, grab hold of my back.” However,
before he could launch the three of them into the air, Marc recognized
crest on the lead wagon.
to my grandmother!” he exclaimed. He loosened his grip on
Fyre’s waist just as
the dragon man was beginning to flap his wings. It was a short drop to
must be looking for me.”
exclaimed. “Dad said----“
not listening. He
headed towards the
familiar crest. Would Aunt Joland have news from Suunweiss? What was
out here in the desert? Had the web of intrigue made the capital of
too dangerous a place even for her? Maybe she carried a message from
father, the King.
party was a
small one, by the standards of Sarahajuun, a country whose nobles often
traveled with entire villages in their wake. In addition to a single
noblewoman, who was easily distinguishable from the rest of her party
width of her skirt, the height of her coif and the king’s
ransom in diamonds
which she wore around her neck,
were two ladies in waiting who appeared to be close to a hundred years
attendants were skeletal creatures with sagging grey skin, cloudy eyes
expressional faces. Had Marc encountered them in a graveyard at night,
have easily convinced himself that they were ghosts.
was a giant of a man who stood at least seven feet tall. His head was
bald. He carried a scimitar in each hand and had a third stuck in his
belt. Marc wondered
how he wielded
three weapons at once. Did
them? Or maybe he used his feet?
other servants, including two drivers, a cook and a pot boy went to
camp, while their lady came forward to look for the keepers of the
called. “Is anyone there?”
gone for the moment,” Marc called back. “There was
an emergency in the desert.
A misunderstanding. Some pilgrims got lost.
noblewoman threw back her lace veil. She was dressed from head to toe
silk taffeta. Her bodice was low cut and tight, revealing firm, white
The skin of her throat, which usually belied a woman’s age,
was smooth and
supple. The diamond choker which she wore was not meant to hide
it spoke to the world of fabulous
wealth. Her skirt was ridiculously wide in the fashion favored by
from the westernmost kingdom of the Shavrian continent.
dark eyes and sharp features resembled the Lady Joland. However, she
crinkles at the corners of her eyes from laughing and a perpetual smile
her lips. Though it
had been close to
eight years since Marc had seen her last, she did not appear to have
she exclaimed. She threw open her arms and hugged him to her ample
smelled of tobacco and wine. Aunt Roland smoked a pipe, and she drank. The latter vice was said
to be the reason
why she had never married. She
to be sober at the moment. “I had a letter from Joland. She
told me what
happened. Your father is a beast!” She held him at
arm’s length. “Is that
really you, Marcellus? You’re so big! The last time I saw
you, you were barely
up to my knee!”
taller than you, the last time you visited Suunweiss, Auntie. You must
thinking of the time before that.”
“Maybe so. When you get to be as old as I am, you forget
things. I’m almost as
old as my sister, Joland, and she is older than she lets anyone
touched the scar above his eye. “What happened
nothing. An accident. What are you doing in Shiraz, Auntie?”
you, of course.” She took a small gold vial out of her breast
pocket and poured
a single drop of foul smelling, black oil onto her fingertip. Like her
Roland dabbled in the magic arts. It was how both of them were able to
their youth and beauty. “Hold
she daubed the oil
onto the scar above his eye. “This should help erase the
mark. No, don’t touch
it. Let the potion do its work. You’re
too handsome to carry a scar.”
peered over his shoulder. In
voice, she reminded him “It’s polite to introduce
“Sorry. Aunt Roland, this is Darli. Darli, this is my great
aunt. I met Darli
while I was searching for Kelvin. She’s lost her memories.
Sammual says that
she’s a Darkhall Princess.”
curtsy. Her eyes were as wide as saucers. She kept looking at the
hoop skirt. Marc
could only imagine
what she was thinking. As a small child, Marc had thought that such
hide legs as big as elephants’.
sagely. “I see. And she
has lost her memory. How unfortunate.” She turned to Fyre.
Still smiling, she
kicked Marc in the shin undercover of her skirt.
Fyre, Sammual’s son.”
Yes. Where is the inestimable
elden mage, Sammual?”
go check out something in the
desert. He should be back soon. Won’t you come inside? This
sun is murder on
“Dear, I haven’t suffered
a sunburn in years. I’m sure that you have noticed by now
that your friend
Sammual isn’t burned by the sun, either. Magic has its
know. Sam’s teaching me.”
How delightful!” She clapped her
milk white hands.
you find Marc?” Fyre interrupted.
These were the first words he had spoken to
the noblewoman. The question was so unexpected and the accusation
within it so naked, that Marc could only gape.
Lady Roland replied
“Find him? I didn’t find him. Rather say I stumbled
upon him. I was on
my way to Al-Shiraz. From there I
plan to visit my sister, Joland. She is understandably distraught. Her
is acting like a beast. Her family is falling apart.
She needs a shoulder to cry on.” She linked her
Marc’s and began walking along the edge of the lake.
“Now, tell me more about
your magic studies. I didn’t realize that you were interested
in such things.”
didn’t know that I was either, until I
met Sam. He’s been teaching me how to make fire and how to
ladies in waiting
tottered along behind their mistress, carrying the trail of her dress
the mud. Since the
path through the
marsh grass was narrow, Darli
were forced to follow several paces behind.
can make fire and move rocks.
It’s a start. However, I would have guessed that your
specialty would be in the
area of the aquatic arts. The Suunians used to be a seafaring
“That’s what Sam thinks,
too. He says I’m a natural water mage, but someone else will
have to teach me,
since he doesn’t do water magic.”
magic? None whatsoever?”
Lady Roland arched one perfect black brow.
grandfather came from the Darkhall.”
fortunate,” she replied
wondered if he
had missed something
important. Maybe it was because of the headache that had set in above
eye, at the site of the healed arrow wound. His great aunt’s
medicine was not
as innocuous as it first seemed. “Fortunate that his
grandfather came from the
lucky for us that your friend isn’t a water mage. This should be a good
spot. Watch carefully.
You will never see this again.”
as a child,
Marc has witnessed a
tidal wave approach the southern coast of Suunland from the safety of a
military watchtower. That was nothing compared to the awe he felt now
entire body of the lake rose from its bed and hovered over him like a
giant. The tower of water rose so high in the sky that he could not see
of it. The rushing sound deafened him.
His mage senses, primitive as they were, could not help
but awaken to the
sheer power of the colossus.
made a grab for
his arm. A wave
lashed out from the giant and pushed
the dragon man high into the air and far away. If not for his wings,
he was able to slow his descent, the fall to earth likely would have
him. The two ancient ladies were nowhere to be seen. Maybe they had
there. The Darkhall
princess cringed in terror at the sight of so much water rising above
burns!” she shrieked as droplets
rained down upon her.
tried to shield
her with his body.
Her claws dug into his arm.
Make it stop!” he shouted above the roaring of the water.
my love. The worst is almost
Roland stood with her hands
folded across her waist. The only
the tremendous struggle that it must have cost her to control
the risen lake was a
slight furrowing of her brow.
dear, I’ll have to borrow a little of
your power. Since it isn’t really yours to begin with, you
stood on tip toe so that
she could touch her great nephew’s brow. Pain lanced through
his scar, as if
the wound had been violently reopened.
he shook her
off, it seemed that a
mere touch was all she required. “Ah!” she
exclaimed. “Watch this, Marc! You
will do the same type of magic yourself, one day, but never on such a
the lake once
stood, a building
made of water began to take shape. Marc, who was trapped inside, could
appreciate the liquid construct’s final form. However Fyre,
who had been thrown
one hundred yards away and who was still trying to catch his breath,
perfect vantage to watch the structure rise from the lakebed.
castle—a fortress made of liquid
water which continued to flow even as it adopted the form of towers,
turrets and walls. The structure was vast, easily large enough to house
of people. The water was too murky to allow the dragon man to see the
interior. He had no idea what had become of Marc or his great
that the woman really was his great aunt and not an imposter. The daema princess had also vanished from
cursed his own
stupidity. His first
instinct was correct. He should have taken Marc and Darli far from the
that he could question the new arrivals alone.
He searched frantically for a door or a window through
which to enter,
but the fortress had none. He flew overhead, hoping to find access from
but the roof was covered with a dome of water. He
tried diving through the roof as one would dive into a pond,
but the water spit him back out. Stubbornly, he repeated the process,
same results. The
spell which forced
the water to assume the shape of a castle also enabled it to keep out
noblewoman’s servants went
about their work as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. There
use questioning them. They spoke only an obscure dialect of Sarahajuun that Fyre had
never heard, and
the bodyguard was too big even for a dragon man to tackle. When his
there, he might have more luck with them, assuming that they knew
spotted a dozen
or so figures in the distance,
several on horseback. The
priests had finally returned to the oasis with the pilgrims. His father
brother were not among them, so he turned his attention back to the
fortress. A stone thrown at its walls disappeared for a moment but then
again, several feet from its point of entry.
Another stone vanished for a longer period of time and
reappeared at a
different location. He repeated the process but could find no pattern.
priests and the
pilgrims arrived at the oasis. Fyre
landed on the lake bed beside them.
Fish, which had been exposed to the air and sun when the
drained, lay on the damp earth dying. Their pale eyes stared up that
elden mage!” the head priest exclaimed after the dragon man
explained that the
castle was the work of a witch from Sarahajuun, not a miracle sent from
rarely lost his
temper, but he also
seldom encountered a crisis like this one which he could not handle. He
one scaled, clawed foot . It made a squelching sound in the mud. “Damn it,
don’t you understand. Dad doesn’t
have any water magic! The castle is made of water. It won’t
apprentice, the water mage,
where is he?”
pointed at the castle. “In
there, with the witch.”
Shiraz save us!” the head priest
exclaimed. “What are we to do?”
don’t know. Pray?”
Flayme arrived not long
afterwards, they found the priests laying face down on the muddy lake
surrounded by pilgrims, praying. The air reeked of fish. The buzzing of
and the chanting of the Shirazians formed a dissonant melody that added
surreal nature of the scene.
sorry, Dad,” Fyre began.
“I made a
mess. “ He was only halfway through his explanation, when
Sammual’s third eye
opened. The ground beneath the water fortress began to shiver. A fissure appeared in the
earth. The split
widened to form a tunnel which ran directly towards the front of the
and then underneath.
here!” the earth mage told his
sons. He climbed into the tunnel and followed it to the base of the
was hoping that Lady Joland had skimped on the floor, however, he found
base to be as soundly constructed as the walls. When he tried to rise
the floor, he became disoriented. Soon afterwards, the liquid matter
rejoined his sons. His
hair was plastered to his scalp. Water made the flimsy
material of his clothes indecently
diaphanous. A flame spell could have
dried him in seconds, but he was too worried
about Marc to notice his own appearance.
haven’t been able to detect Marc’s
energy for over half an hour,” Sammual told Fyre, fingering
he disappeared, he didn’t
seem to be afraid, though his old wound was giving him some pain. I
anything as dramatic as death or even the kind of injury that would
vanished. As if he
had moved from this
world to another. I
assume that’s about
the time the castle went up.” His son nodded confirmation. “There’s
still a void where he ought to be,
however, if he is in there---“ He glared at the magic
fortress. “I might not be
able to sense him. Goddess, I hate water! It can’t answer the
question. It never stands still. It
exists just to vex---“
laid his hand
on his parent’s arm.
took a slow,
deep calming breath.
“You’re right. I’m letting my emotions
get the best of me.” He smiled ruefully.
“Just like a water mage.
me, how did he and
Darli look when you last saw them?”
said something about the water
burning her skin, but she didn’t seem to be physically
injured. Marc looked
fine. However, he’s mortal. He could drown in
Lady Roland. She’s mortal, too,
even if she does have unsuspected magic talents
There’s almost certainly an air pocket inside.
The castle is
meant to keep me out and Marc imprisoned while she
does….what? Did she say
anything else? Was there any other clue? Tell me everything!”
gone over Marc and
Roland’s encounter in his own mind while waiting for his
parent’s arrival, so
he had his response ready. “She was pleased by the progress
he’s made with his
magic studies. That surprised me. Suunland has that ridiculous
against royal mages. Marc can’t inherit his
father’s throne if he’s a mage.”
doesn’t want him to inherit,”
Flayme suggested slyly.
“The old witch in Suunland is the
stepmother, remember. She
has a son of
her own. If Marc
dropped out of the
line of succession, that would put Joland’s son one step
been watching too many three act
dramas,” Fyre told him.
both of you!” Sammual said sternly.
“When Kelvin was kidnapped and Marc was blamed, I considered
that Joland and her son were behind it.”
stuck out his
tongue at his
brother behind their parent’s back.
that doesn’t explain Darli and
the warded fortress and now this castle. Why go to so much trouble just
eliminate two heirs? Assassination is much cheaper and easier. Think, Fyre. Did she say
didn’t seem surprised to see Darli,
and she knew that you were helping Marc. I thought that was suspicious,
claimed that she had had a letter from her sister.”
some ointment on Marc’s eyebrow,
on that little scar he has here,” Flayme touched his own
forehead just above
his left eye. “She said it would make the scar
third eye blazed the color of
the sun. “The
of his sons took a
step back. They knew better than to draw attention to themselves when
of fire raged within their parent’s magic eye. Things had a
tendency to ignite
spontaneously when the elden mage’s dormant daema
blood was up.
spells never lasted
long. The red fire
quickly changed back
to its usual green. “She
to kill Marc. She’s trying to transform him. All this time,
he has been
changing. He told me himself that he had never been able to summon rain
easily before. “ Sammual
covered his mouth
with his hand. “Goddess, I have been so blind, only seeing
what I wanted to
see. The man who
came to find me on
Gold Mountain---was he the same man who was struck by that arrow---or
process already begun?”
Fyre put his arm around his
parent’s shoulders. “You aren’t making
making perfect sense. It’s just that
you don’t know enough about transformation magic to
understand. A mortal is not
cast in steel. He grows, he changes, finally he dies. Events affect
passage of time changes him. Magic can change him.
There are spells that can change a man to a woman
make a young man old before his time. You can erase his memory. You can
genius into an imbecile. You can even change an ordinary man into a
doing so, you do not merely endow
him with a little knowledge and a few new powers. You change his very
You alter his soul. You can not give something without taking something
away. Maybe you take away something as trivial as fear of the dark.
something as important as love---“ He choked on the last word.
bitch!” Flayme exclaimed. “The
sand sprite said his mistress was trying to resurrect her old man. Do
she’s going to use Marc---“
vessel? Yes. One of the hardest
parts of resurrection magic is finding a host. Use a corpse, and there
brain damage. Use an infant and memories may be lost. A healthy living
breathing man makes the perfect vessel.”
will be the king of Suunland
one day,” Fyre said. “Dad, where is the closest
It will take you a day to get
there and back by air---“
we know, the spell Lady Roland
is working on will take a week. I will fly to Al-Shiraz. Flayme, you
with Dad. The Holy Days are coming. Maybe you’ll get lucky
and a water mage
will happen to pass through on the way to the capital. Don’t
give up hope,
ok? Maybe the old
witch will make a
mistake or you will think of some way to get inside the castle. She
pretty fond of Marc. Maybe he can make her listen to reason.”
had always like
his Aunt Roland. Unlike
her sister, she knew how to entertain
children. When she journeyed to Suunweiss to visit, she had always
great nephew presents, beautifully illustrated story books and
and even a tiny canon that fired real pellets. She was a wonderful
teller. Once, he had confided to his Uncle Corwyn that he wished that
was his grandmother instead of Joland, to which Corwyn had replied
I agree with you.”
it not been for
Darli, Marc might
have marveled that his great aunt was able to construct a castle using
but water. The room in which they stood was an exact replica of the
of the palace in one of his favorite story books, a tale from
a prince who rescues a sleeping princess with a kiss. Lady Roland had
reproduced the pair of carved thrones, one slightly taller than the
where the king and queen were meant to sit when they held court. The walls were covered
embroidered tapestries. Glass chandeliers dangled from the ceiling.
palms were spaced evenly along the floor.
It was perfect in every detail---
every object in
the room, every bit
of furniture and every ornament was made of water, as were the floor,
and walls. The
liquid was cool to the
touch, and it left moisture on his skin, but it was not frozen. It held its shape by
magic. It was a
spectacular creation, a childhood fantasy come true for a man who, as a
used to spend summer days at the beach and then dream about visiting
kingdoms at night.
Darkhall princess, the
water castle was like the darkest pit of hell. The moment the walls of
structure closed upon her, she began to shriek. Recalling the bird
dead at the sound of the daema
princess’s keening, Marc plugged his ears with his fingers,
but her cries were
so intense that he could not block them out. After a while, when he did
from listening to her, he gave up trying to muffle the sound and tried
comfort her instead.
love, it’s alright. See, there’s
no water where we are. You’re safe in this room.”
He held her in his arms so
that she would not have to touch the watery floor with her feet.
“Try to calm
down, Darli. I won’t let anything happen to you. I’m sure Sam will
be here soon to save us.”
was like trying
to reason with a wild
animal. Before long, his arms were covered with lacerations from her
his clothes were scorched from the many tiny fires she started in a
effort to insulate herself from the damp which surrounded her.
looked to his
great aunt in
desperation. “Why did you bring her here? You saw how much
she hates water.
What do you need her for? What do you need me for? What are we doing in
question at a time, dear.”
Lady Roland stared at the Darkhall princess,
a very slight frown marring her otherwise perfect features.
“What am I to do
with you? You really are making quite a fuss. Here.” She
mumbled a few words
under her breath and a canopied bed appeared. In contrast to the rest
room, this piece of furniture was made entirely out of flame, from the
to the mattress to the curtain that could be drawn around the bed to
snug cocoon. It was a replica of the bower in which the sleeping
waited for the kiss which would free her from the curse of the wicked
her down here.”
bear to approach the
bed, which was as hot as an oven, but as soon as he laid Darli on the
coverlet, she stopped crying. Her
were still as wide as saucers, and she kept a firm grip on
her curly hair.
“There, there child. It will be over soon. Sleep.”
yawned and curled up
with one hand beneath her cheek. Her eyelids grew heavy. Soon, her
was slow and even.
herself. “Come. Let’s
get away from this heat.” She took Marc’s arm and
lead him to the far end of
the room, where she sat down on the smaller of the two thrones.
arranged her skirts. She
every inch a queen holding court. “You needn’t feel
sorry for her. She’s here
of her own free will, it’s just that she doesn’t
remember the bargain we
made. When the
spell is over, she will
be good as new, and then I promise you, Lady Darlinjahara of the
have no regrets.”
bargain? What are you talking
of the two
appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. She carried a silver tray and
two crystal goblets. Lady Roland poured a glass of red wine and offered
Marc. “It’s from my own vineyard. An excellent
raised the glass
to her own lips and
sipped. “See? Perfectly safe.”
a mage. You could drink pure
poison and survive. What kind of bargain did you and Darli
sit down. It hurts my neck staring
up at you. Sit down
and stop glaring at
me, and I’ll tell you everything. “ She took a long
drink from the goblet, then
another. “There, that’s better. Lady Darli and I
made a deal. She loaned me her
soul—temporarily---so that I could use it to cast a magic
spell to bring her
mortal lover back to life in this realm.
Since her lover happened to be my father, the rightful
king of Suunland,
it seemed like a good idea to use the next king of
Suunland—you—as the vessel.
That way Father could reclaim his throne. I knew that he
wouldn’t be happy
returning to this life as a mere nobody.”
needn’t look at me like that,” his
great aunt tittered. Was she slightly drunk? She drained her glass and
not insane. Joland and I
are the daughters of Elias III. I know you’ve heard of him.
The monster king,
they call him. After he was kicked out of Suunland, he moved to
where he met our
born centuries ago!”
live hundreds of years,” Lady
Roland reminded him. “Father didn’t live as long as
most. He was never
particularly interested in life prolonging magic. However, Joland and I
made a careful study of the art. Did you think that Joland was only
seventy? Try one hundred eighty. I myself will be one hundred seventy
tried to make
sense of what he had
been told. “I don’t understand. If you want me to
be the next king of Suunland,
why did you turn my father against me. That was you, wasn’t
it? You’re the one
who had Kelvin kidnapped and then pinned the blame on me.
I’ll be lucky if I’m
allowed to return home again after what you’ve done. How does that improve
my---or Elias’ chances of being king?”
that!” She giggled like a silly
schoolgirl. “Our goal wasn’t to kidnap Kelvin and
blame you. We were trying to
get rid of the brat. We couldn’t take the chance that Kel
would decide to
disinherit you in favor of his real, blood heir. Who
would guess that you would manage to find your brother and
bring him back? Joland only had the blame for the kidnapping shifted to
keep anyone from suspecting her. I admit, it was a stupid thing for her
but she had to think fast. You showed up with that bloody elden mage,
all sorts of questions---“
What do you mean ‘real blood
heir’? Sam swears that I’m not his son.”
isn’t your father.”
can you say that I’m not my
her mouth with her
hand. “We should talk about this later.”
talk about it now, Aunty,” Marc
suggested smoothly. “We don’t have anything better
to do. Here, let me pour you
some more wine.”
glasses, Lady Joland was
in a better mood for reminiscences. “Don’t take
this the wrong way, Marcellus, but
your mother was a bit of a slut. Though she was engaged to Kel, the
prince, she had an affair with Corwyn, his brother. That’s
how you were
conceived. Are you sure you wouldn’t like some of this wine,
looking a bit green.”
wine. What makes
you think that Uncle Corwyn is my father?”
cast the runes, love. She’s
never wrong. She knew that Morgany was
pregnant and that you would be a healthy baby boy—all this
before the girl had
even missed her first monthly cycle. My sister was overjoyed. Kel’s son and
heir would actually be her grandson.
Elias’s descendents would regain their rightful throne.
mother realized that she had
conceived a child with Corwyn, she was less than delighted. Corwyn was dark. Morgany
and Kel were fair.
If she bore a dark child, Kel would know the truth, and being Kel,
there was a
good chance that he would kill his brother. Though Morgany
didn’t love Corwyn
enough to elope with him, she didn’t want to see him dead.
You get your soft
heart from her, Marcellus. Neither of you knows how to say
‘no’. It kept her
moving from one bed to another, even after she married
Kel…” Her head nodded
forward. For a moment, it seemed that she was about to drift to sleep,
she jerked herself awake again. “Where was I?”
was worried for Corwyn’s sake.”
right. Kel had
threatened to kill his
brother if he touched his fiancé. She had every reason to
believe that if she
married Kel and gave birth to a child with dark hair and eyes it would
husband into a murderous rage. Her worry was baseless. Joland would
Kel into a newt before she would have let him harm her precious son,
Morgany didn’t know that.
So, she fled
from the capital.
Mountain, she met Sammual. I
think you know the rest. She flaunted her affair with the earth mage in
that Kel would break off their engagement, but Kel still wanted her. And she still wanted him.
Or at least, she
wanted to be queen. Thanks
her pregnancy was no longer a problem. If her child was born dark, she
name the elden mage the father. Kel would never try to seek revenge
Sammual—he wouldn’t dare---and Corwyn would be safe
end, you were as fair as your
mother, so no one could say who your father was.”
could not be
true, Marc thought.
Roland’s story had to be another lie,
intended to drive the wedge deeper between him and his
father. And yet
if it was true, it
would explain so
much--the arguments between his parents,
his mother’s taunts, his father’s
anger towards Sammual. Did Morgany tell
Corwyn the truth? Did Sammual know that the woman he loved carried
man’s child? How could an earth mage not know something like
resolved to ask Sam directly, once he was freed from this water prison
two of them were face to face. Assuming that he was still himself the
the two of them met.
wine had finally
much for Roland. Her head fell forward.
With her chin on her chest, she began
to snore loudly. The
slid from her slack fingers and hit the floor where it disappeared
before emerging a few feet away from the spot where it had entered the
best idea for escape was
looking increasing slim. However, he had to give it a try. He could not stay here while
attempted to resurrect a dead man by placing his soul into
Marc’s body. What if
her scheme worked? What would happen to Marc? Would he have to take
place in the Darkhall? What would become of his father and brother?
happen to Suunland?
four walls of
the throne room looked
identical, since Lady Roland had omitted windows and doors, but Marc
the door was supposed to be. He made a dive for the wall, hoping to
find a thin
liquid barrier separating this room from another room. Instead, he
himself in a sea of fresh water that dragged at him, tossing him this
that until it finally spit him back out into the room from which he had
come. He lay in a
puddle on the floor, panting for
breath, gazing up at the ceiling. Another thought struck him. There had to be a hole
somewhere, for ventilation.
Darli’s flaming bower should have used up all the air in the
room by now,
unless there was some way to replenish it.
thinking like a scientist, not like a sorcerer, said a voice
close to his ear.
there?” He propped himself up on
his elbow. His aunt was still snoring. The old women who served as her
in waiting were standing as still as two statues beside her chair. “Did one of you
old women stared
past him, as if he
was invisible and mute.
aunt’s magic beginning to affect
him? The scar on his forehead, which she had anointed with oil, felt
hot to the touch. A
popped into his head. Perhaps his great grand father was inside his
trying to find a way out and the heat which he felt was
coming straight from hell.
with the pain made
him physically ill. He vomited. The floor absorbed the contents of
and, mercifully, brought them back up on the far side of the room, so
he was not lying in his own filth when he lost consciousness.
Sammual had studied the fortress in which Marc was
it for weaknesses, finding none. At
same time, he kept fiddling with Marc’s ring, hoping to
detect some sign of the
prince. However, just as he could not command the castle to move or
shape, he could not order it to speak. Or
maybe it was telling him everything he needed to know, and the
fault lay with him, because he could not understand the language of
the end, he was
forced to admit that
he was wasting his time. Should he have accompanied Fyre? Would the mages in
Al-Shiraz listen to his
son and lend him the help they needed? Ser Shiraz would have been able
command assistance from the most powerful water mages in the city. Here, he was accomplishing
nothing. When he
tried to bend the water to his will,
it eluded him. It
was like a woman,
like Morgany. He could chase it and cajole it and try his best to charm
it had a mind of its own.
decided, was very much
like the human heart.
lengthened and then faded,
frustration gave way to desperation. Once his back was to the wall and
himself face to face with despair, a sensible little voice at the back
head said. Stop thinking like an earth mage.
was one of the
favorite sayings of
Elice, his master.
knew quite well
what he could not do.
He could not command water to change its shape. He could not tell it
to being a lake.” That did not mean that there were not
things that he, with
his own peculiar talents, could not accomplish.
about it that way, the
problem no longer seemed so insurmountable. There were many things that
could do to water. He could boil it. If he had more air magic, that
the obvious solution. Turn water into steam, and then treat it like
could freeze it---
of a way that an
earth mage with no water magic might take down a water castle.
“It’s a long
shot,” he told his son. “It’s going to
take all my daema powers, and
I’ll have to get it done tonight, because once
the sun rises and the desert begins to warm up again, it will be
I’ll need your help.”
you need me to do?”
everyone at least a mile away from
the castle. That includes Lady Roland’s servants. If they
give you any problem,
tell me, I’ll see that they obey. Get
horses and goats away, too. Very soon, the sand around this oasis is
be too hot for anything mortal to walk upon it.”
eyebrows rose comically. “You’re
going to smoke them out?”
going to freeze them out. Daema magic
doesn’t merely start fires.
It steals heat. If I were full blooded daema,
I could feed on the heat myself. Being elden,
I’ll need somewhere to store the heat I extract
from the water
fortress. That’s why the surrounding desert is going to get
very, very hot.”
I’m not a mage or anything, but
won’t turning the castle to ice just make it
a tricky element. It’s the only
one that is three elements in one. Boil it and it becomes steam. Air.
it, and it becomes ice. Rock. If I can make that water stop moving, I
able to do something with it. But sucking the fire out of so much
water---that’s going to be a
labor. If only Granddad were here. For a daema
lord this would be a piece of cake. ”
dark, shivering. The
only light in the throne room was
Darli’s flaming bed, which was also a welcome source of
warmth. How had it
grown so cold, he wondered?
found his great
aunt still sitting on
her throne, fast asleep. Someone had tucked a blanket around her. She
much older than before. Presumably
work of maintaining the castle or Elias’s resurrection or
maybe both were
taking a tremendous toll on her. The
prince wondered what would happen if he were to strangle her. Would the
disappear? Would the pain in his head cease? He wished that he were
person. Darli would not hesitate to kill the old woman, if Marc were
was a moot point.
A mage capable of
performing magic feats like the ones he had witnessed today would not
no talent mortal like Marc to kill her with his bare hands. Sammual
done it. Sammual could have turned her to stone with a wave of his
finger. That was
why she had built the water
Darli have the
strength to stop Lady
Roland? Apparently not in her present state, paralyzed with fear,
memories and soul. He recalled what Lady Roland had said about Darli.
great aunt was correct, the Darkhall princess had set this in motion,
could not find it in him to hate her. Look at all the heartache his own
had caused for love. It was the old women he blamed
what of Elias?
Was the Darkhall so
terrible that he would risk his daughter’s youth and his
lover’s sanity and
sacrifice his great grandson in order to regain a few years of mortal
blame me. None of this is my doing.
Who are you?
Damn it! Get out of my head!”
get out of my head! Why
feel so wet? There is no water in the Darkhall, and yet I smell mildew
damp. And it smells like someone threw up their breakfast and
didn’t bother to
clean up. Do you know how long it has been since I have had to face a
like that? Go away!
don’t want to be resurrected?”
Joland said that Darli wanted
I need to talk to her.
can’t right now. Aunt Roland used a
sleep spell on her. If I wake her up, she’ll start crying
again. She’s afraid
of the water.”
do you mean she is afraid of the water? You aren’t making any
sense. Look, boy.
I’m going to muck around in your head a bit, since someone
has left this door
open between the two of us. I don’t mean you any harm, so
please don’t try to
fight me. I just want to know what the hell is going on.
late. It’s done.
can’t just peek at my thoughts like
already have. Console yourself, Marc. I have already taken your secrets
grave. So my silly daughters couldn’t live without me. It would serve them right
if I came back.
However, I have no intention of leaving the Darkhall. I like it here.
owe it to poor Darli to make sure that their plan fails. Resurrection
is strictly taboo.
Darli could be
banished from the Darkhall forever if it succeeded.
me, but doesn’t the fact that
you’re talking to me right now mean that it’s
could mean that you are going crazy.
welcome. So you and Sammual are a couple. Funny. I courted Sammuelle
ago, but she objected to the fact that I already had a wife. I wonder
were already starting to think like me when you met him---No, better
doesn’t have a whit of water
magic, but he knows his way around a daema spell.
I think I know why it is so cold in there. Don’t say anything
aloud that Joland
might hear. You need to wake up Darli. With her help, Sam’s
plan just might
work. But only if Darli becomes Darli again. I think I’ve
figured out where
Joland hid the poor girl’s soul.
How. Sammual tried and tried,
and he couldn’t----“
said don’t talk about it aloud! I have one advantage that
Sammual lacks. I
taught Joland and Roland everything they know.
the sand glowed red
hot. From the air,
the fire made a
circular pattern whose outer edge slowly expanded as Sammual sucked the
heat from the water
and fed it to the desert.
It was a slow,
tedious process. Shortly
after midnight a thin crust of ice appeared around the base of the
but there was still a long way to go.
the plant life
of the oasis was soon scorched
by the blaze. The
buildings went up in
flames. The fire
spread, turning sand
to glass, which cracked as the heat intensified, breaking into slivers
forming molten glass again.
animals had been lead or
carried to safety by his son. The humans watched in awe. From time to
groups of desert nomads would arrive, attracted by news of the magic
which was taking place around the holy shrine. Rumor had it that Ser
herself had returned to earth to rescue the sacred lake from
Occasionally, an especially devout pilgrim would try to get too close,
Flayme would swoop down from the sky to herd him back towards the
he convinced them that he was Ser Shiraz’s
“angel,” it became easier to get
them to obey.
intervals, Flayme flew over
the castle to check on his parent, ready to carry him to safety if the
proved too much for him. Though
that elden mages were immortal and that they were impervious to most
physical harm, he could not help feeling alarmed at the sight that met his eyes.
earth mage stood
sunk to the ankles
in burning red sand, oblivious to the deadly heat.
His hair stood on end, framing his pale face in a dark
third eye rivaled the molten sand in its color and fire. His clothes
since burned away, but he did not notice. He had even tossed off all
jewelry, except for the one gold and ruby ring, so that there would be
to distract him from the task at hand.
prince had better be worth
it,” Flayme muttered as he flew away.
“So cold,” she
murmured. “Why is it so cold?”
stopped in his
tracks. “It’s night,
Auntie. The desert is always cold at night.” He sat down
beside her. After
tucking her blanket more securely around her, he refilled her glass.
some more wine will warm you up. I’ve
been meaning to ask you. Why does this scar hurt so badly? This is part
had made her
maudlin. A tear slid
down her cheek. She leaned forward to plant a sloppy kiss on her grand
brow. “I’m so sorry about that, dear. To get the
spell started we had to almost
kill you. Resurrection
necromancy, after all.”
has turned into a lush! Elias
suppose it wasn’t an ordinary arrow.”
no. The barb was made from Father’s
breastbone, and we dipped it in his semen before firing
seed? How the hell did they get that?
Joland attended you afterwards.
But the most important ingredient came from the Darkhall princess.
we never would have been able to create an opening between the worlds, no matter how big or
powerful a weapon---”
The old woman—for she truly looked old now—yawned.
“I think I’ll take a little
nap. Wake me when it’s morning. It should be almost over by
she was safely snoring
again, then he hurried to Darli’s bedside. Bracing himself
against the heat, he
leaned over her sleeping form. “Darli, honey.
It’s me, Marc.”
eyes opened. She
blinked once, twice. At
the sight of
Marc’s face, a smile lit up
her face. She was
so innocent. He could
not believe his great aunt’s accusation.
on. Do it.
just a child!” Marc protested
She is older than you, me, Sammual and Roland combined. You have
belongs to her. Unless you give it back, she is never going to be whole
again—and neither will you.
The warmth of the bed
increased her intoxicating aroma.
face was inches from hers. She stared up at him, eyes unblinking. Her
parted. Their mouths touched, tongue met tongue, a razor sharp tooth
his lower lip----
screamed, as the marrow was
sucked out of him along with his breath and his strength and every bit
joy. He collapsed
like a rag doll, a
creature stitched together from pain and bitterness and nausea. The
above his left eye reopened. Blood gushed from the injury and flooded
vision in that eye. He
backwards, clutching his hand over the wound.
and pain, Marc could
not stop staring at Darli. The
daema princess rose from the bed.
lips were stained red. She licked them. Her eyes began to burn. So did
hair. Her body went through an astonishing array of changes, in size,
One moment she had scaled skin like a dragon, the next, she was almost
transparent like smoke. She was a serpent. She was a bird. When she finally settled
upon one form, she
was a tall woman, lithe, with mottled copper skin that shimmered
brightly as if
she were made of a mixture of flame and flesh. Her ankle length hair
waterfall of pure fire.
“Elias!” she cried.
“Marc!” Her voice had a harsh quality that reminded
Marc of a crow mimicking
the prince replied weakly.
princess knelt beside him and lifted his chin. Her
touch scorched his skin, but it also sent waves of pleasure
down his spine. She examined his eyebrow which was still bleeding. With
lightest of kisses, she cauterized the wound. Then she licked the blood
his face and arms. Everywhere
tongue touched, his skin tingled and burned, but the lacerations which
left by her claws
earlier healed. The
blisters which he had sustained from leaning over the fiery bed healed.
licked the old scar on his chin and the brand scar on his chest, both
vanished. Finally, she sucked at the wound above his left eye. The pain
subsided. When she
drew her mouth away,
he touched his brow and found the flesh knitted with only the tiniest
she croaked. “Elias.”
aroma made him
giddy. So this was the
difference between a full fledged Darkhall princess and the girl with
seemed the most
natural thing in the
world to press his body close to hers and let her hair cover them both.
flames did not burn. They merely warmed him. He had never wanted any
man—as much as he wanted the daema princess.
He let her ride him, to protect her from the watery floor and so that
revel at the sight of her rising above him, phoenix like---
aunt woke with a start. “What are
you doing you foolish girl!” Lady Roland exclaimed struggling
to get to her
overturned the empty wine
flask. “We aren’t finished
yet—“ Her next words were lost forever. Where
great aunt had been, there now stood a statue made of cinder which
to white ash.
mood was broken.
The sight of his
favorite aunt’s corpse had an immediate cooling effect on
“Elias!” he demanded, disentangling himself from
Darli’s embrace. “I woke Darli
up, the way you told me to. Now, how the hell do we get out of
changed within the castle.
Some balance had shifted. Sammual did not try to guess at the nature of
change which had caused the ice to thicken rapidly even though the
lava around the fortress was not widening at all. Something or someone
the structure was sucking all the heat out of the building. The result
that mattered. Ice spread like lightening, enveloping the towers,
very center of the colossus.
was weary after
his night’s labor, but
he gathered his power and reached out to the ice.
responded to him. It
spoke to him exactly
the way that any
other crystal would. He learned its secrets. He used Marc’s
ring as a conduit
and felt the prince’s presence---alive, subtly changed but
not so changed as to
be unrecognizable—at the center of the castle.
Ruthlessly, he began to demolish the ice castle,
shattering it from the
outside, taking care only to leave the single, innermost room intact. Huge chunks of ice flew
through the desert
and landed upon the sand where they quickly began to melt. Fortunately,
priests and pilgrims were still too far away to be hit by the flying
otherwise they would have been crushed by the boulders.
took mere minutes
to destroy the fortress.
When he was done, a single room remained. This he opened with greater
cracking the ceiling and walls like an eggshell and causing the two
fall lightly to the earth.
remaining of Lady Roland’s
castle were a pair of thrones cast in ice. On one sat a mortal man with
tattered clothes and tangled blonde hair.
On the other, slightly larger throne sat a daema
skin and ankle length red hair. Her mouth was set in a sneer and her
with barely contained anger. Though she wore a flimsy garment made of
flame, her mortal
shivering and his lips and fingertips were blue, perhaps because the
princess was absorbing all the warmth around her.
Sammual’s. In the high
speech of the daema she said,
this mortal out of my presence. His stench sickens me.”
to read the future in
a crystal ball. At least, that was the point of the lesson which Sam
assigned him. There was a pail of water nearby, and from time to time
glance at the bucket. He was not actually cheating. Since no one had
taught him how to scry in water, he did not realize why he kept looking
direction for answers.
things that he did not
know that he knew. Knowledge kept coming to him, seemingly out of
since the night he had spent in Aunt Roland’s water fortress. One day, he might happen
upon a clump of
flowers in the meadow and remember that they were good for plague. Or,
meet a badger in a dangerous situation and think of just the right
The rock was very
pretty and shiny, but it was just a rock. Again, he found himself
the bucket of water. The surface shivered at the slightest breath of
a thought could make it move. It reflected a man’s face. Why
not the future? If
he called. “We’re going to have
visitors! A party from Suunweiss and another group, dressed in clothes
identify. I think
the two groups are
emerged from one of the
back rooms of the cavern, where he was conducting an experiment. His
grown back longer than it was before he cut it. Today, he wore it in a
keep it out of the powders and potions with which he was working. A white linen apron
protected his clothes. He
stripped off his gloves and cupped the crystal ball with his hands.
dark,” he said, frowning.
“I didn’t see them in the
crystal,” he admitted. He pointed to the pail of water.
top of his head. “I’ll
have to find a proper water mage to teach you.” He breathed
on the crystal to
warm it. A scene
came into view. Two
Suunian soldiers were being lead up the mountain by a local guide. “They’ll
be here, soon. Do you want me to send
probably another message from my
father. It won’t hurt to read what he has to say. It
isn’t as if I’m going to
change my mind. What about the others? Do you recognize them?”
scene in the
shifted. Two men
and a woman, dressed
in russet colored robes were rapidly making their way through the
forest on the
north side of the mountain. They rode winged beasts that looked like
they were the size of ponies.
from the Darkhall,” Sammual
say. If you don’t want to see
her, I can tell them that you’re away.”
shook his head
stubbornly. “No, I
owe her better than that. “
Come! You may not be Prince
Marcellus of Suunland anymore, but that’s no excuse for
greeting your guests
looking like a street rat.”
barely had time
to change his
clothes and comb his hair, before two of his father’s royal
along with Brion. He was glad to see the Pryytan woman. She was his
drinking companion, and one of the few in the local village to whom he
confide the nature of his relationship with Sammual, since Pryytans
open minded than Suunians.
had intended to
message his father had sent him and then send the soldiers on their
since Brion was there, he decided to offer drinks instead. One of the
a short, stocky man named Earl, had trained with him, and they were on
terms. Soon, all four of them were pleasantly jovial from
better stop,” Brion warned, even as
she poured herself another cup. “If we don’t leave
soon, we won’t make it back
to the inn before night.”
no rush,” Marc told her. “You
can spend the night here.” He looked to Sammual for his
the merrier,” the elden mage
said with a slight smile. “But have you forgotten the other
visitors who are
set down his
sorry. You’ll have to leave. We have
some people from—from---they’re not really
are approaching. It would be safer for you three if you were far from
before they arrive.” He offered Brion a stone charm.
“Carry this, and you’ll
find that your journey down the mountain takes a fraction of the usual
turned the two Suunian royal guards. “I
believe you have something for Marc?”
laughed at his
“That’s right. It wouldn’t do to come all
this way and forget.” He rummaged in
his leather travel bag until he found a document sealed with red wax.
it to Marc. “This is from the King.”
handed it to
Sammual who tore it
open and scanned the document. “Your father says that they
have overturned the
prohibition against royals practicing magic. He says that there is
prevent you from returning home to Suunweiss---“
father ‘No’”, Marc told Earl.
you want to think about it---?”
is ‘no’.” He folded his arms
across his chest.
squinted up at
him. “You’re different
than you used to be, Marc. Not
bad, way, mind. You
seem a lot older.”
tell him you read it, and you’ve
decided to stay here on Gold Mountain and keep working on your mage
won’t know how to interpret that.”
diplomatic,” Sammual said
you for coming all
this way to deliver the good news. I’m sorry that we had to
cut our hospitality
short. Please, take this with you.” He
pressed a wine jug into Brion’s arms.
“I’ve sealed the cork so that it
won’t open until you reach the valley,” he warned
her softly. “I don’t want to
have to come out tonight and rescue drunken travelers who are stranded
waved until the visitors
were out of sight. They
were still standing
in front of the cave when the second party of travelers arrived.
relieved and disappointed
to see that Darli was not among the visitors from the Darkhall. He
apologize to her for the way he had acted the last time they had met.
behavior was inexcusable. Rutting with her one moment, like an animal
and then rejecting her the next, because she did what any sensible
Aunt Roland was
a monster. Just how
much of a monster she was he did not discover until after her death.
learned about the score of children which she had personally sacrificed
order to resurrect her father. As
and Sammual had gathered up the handful of remaining orphans and
to their families or found them new homes, he had found his dreams
images of all the little ones whom they had not managed to save.
he and Sammual
children, the elden mage’s daughter Catria took care of the
crisis in Suunweiss.
She flew to
the capital city of Suunland with her brother Fyre, intending to
Joland. However, Joland had fled and covered her trail.
All that was left for
Catria to do was to was uncover the old woman’s allies and
the conspiracies which she had left in place---an easy enough task for
mage who could detect lies like her father.
of course. People said
that Catria was in league with Sammual, who was defending his son,
Marcellus’s claim. Some
spoke of a
return of Elias, the monster king.
spent two days and one night in Suunweiss, watching people whisper
behind his back before he decided that enough was enough.
regretted his decision to
come to Gold Mountain with Sammual.
the Darkhall brought
their beasts to a halt in front of Sammual’s cave. On close inspection, these
were the fire-wolves which Sammual had
once described. They were long, muscular wolf-life creatures with
wings. Smoke coiled from their nostrils. Their eyes were covered with
golden cloth. Did the bright light of this world frighten or hurt them?
riders were no
less remarkable. Red
brown hooded cloaks only partially concealed creatures whose mottled
appeared to be made from a mixture of flame and flesh.
Like their fire-wolves, they wore
blindfolds. Two of the visitors were men and one was a woman. This was
because underneath their open robes, they were naked except for
garments made of flame. The woman carried a bundle in her arms.
was about to
suggest to Sammual that
he bring their guests inside one of the deeper caverns, where it was
the light would not bother their eyes. Then, he had one of his flashes
knowledge. Once invited into a dwelling, supernatural creatures could
greetings from our mistress,
Lady Darlinjahara of the daema to Lord Sammual, of the
elden,” croaked the
taller of the two males. Daema voice always startled Marc. Their
harsh quality seemed so unrefined compared to the elegance of their
Like the cawing of peacocks.
earth mage bowed
send my regards to the lovely and mighty Lady Darlinjahara. The
darkness is but
a setting in which the jewel of her beauty may shine.”
upper lip twitched. Was he going
to get a greeting? Probably not. Even if she did not have reason to
him, Darli could hardly acknowledge the existence of a mere mortal like
creature of corruption.
the earth mage. She
was short, with fiery red hair, pointed ears and a streak of fur down
A natural, a daema who either could not or chose not
to make use of a glamour. Marc
was reminded of Darli, the way she
looked when they first found her in the village of Errlie. He felt a pang of regret.
He missed sweet
little Darli. This
woman was not her,
but she might have been her big sister or her mother.
She even had the same intoxicating aroma.
mistress has come upon this.” She
thrust the bundle into the elde-mage’s
understands that you have made a study
of such things. Perhaps
you would be
interested in it.”
three eyes widened. “Marc, get
prepared Marc for what
he saw nestled in the blankets in Sammual’s arms.
baby boy gazed up
at him with blue-grey
eyes. Its skin was pale pink. The hair which framed its face was the
spun gold. It seemed perfectly normal in every way, except for two,
ears which peeped from its golden curls.
dog ears!” Marc exclaimed. “How
that,” Sammual said, turning
the infant over in his hands. At the base of its spine was a bushy
eyes met Sammual’s. “Do elden
mages sometimes give birth to were-wolves?”
the daema do. Particularly when
they breed with mortals.” He addressed
the daema woman. “Is
giving me this child to raise?”
“Raise it. Study it. Eat
it. She has no use
the longing look
which she gave the child belied her harsh tone.
had a sudden
hunch about the daema woman.
“Darli? That is you, isn’t
it? I’m so glad you came. I wanted to thank you for what you
did in the desert.
I was wrong----“
hand covered his
lips, silencing him.
“I will give my mistress your message,” she hissed,
her mouth close to his
good care of your son.”
she turned. The two
males followed. They mounted the fire-wolves, which spread their wings
to the air, leaving Marc and Sammual alone on the mountain with the
2007 by 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..."
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