As soon as I get the cover recreated, the book is going to be renamed to The Sword of Dalamare: Order of the White Feather: Book 1
Suppose, just for a moment, that you realized one day that you had a special power such as being able to see the future or move objects with just the power of your mind. Now add to the mix that you exist with many other humans as well as imps, brownies, and elves, who hate humans with such powers. Just think how difficult it would be to guard against revealing your powers to someone who might react in a hostile manner to such a revelation. This is the daunting task facing the young Wizards Alberon, who grew up on the streets doing anything necessary to survive, and Anjur, who was the daughter of a rich merchant and lived a life of luxury until her power was realized. Fortunately, Alberon and Anjur are located by Mondrian and Andela who will mentor them on how to control their powers. But, just as the pair has settled into their relatively calm life in the valley of the Wizards, the ultra-powerful weapon, the Sword of Dalamar, is stolen. Now the Wizards must find and defeat the thief if they are to survive.
The first five chapters:
Chapter 1 ..... Attack
Trees. Trees and the heady scent of road dust. For the better part of a day there had been nothing but. Within the coach, delicately crafted of fine, highly-prized ebony, Anjur arranged and rearranged the surplus of satin cushions that were supposed to be allowing her some measure of comfort. They were doing no such thing. She hated traveling in the coach. She had absolutely no desire to put up with this crude contraption not fit for a peasant. That was her father’s miserable idea. She squinted at the sunlight filtering through the overhead canopy of foliage. She glowered at her mother sitting quietly opposite her in the coach. To Anjur’s disgust, Francial seemed to be enjoying the monotonous scenery. “Mother,” she spat, “how can you stand it? This is taking forever. I’m simply bored to tears.”
“Love, we’ve still a good journey ahead of us. If you’re bored, why not play with your new puzzle, or draw me a picture?”
Anjur rolled her vivid green eyes, “I can’t draw while we’re bouncing along in this awful thing.” She made a dramatic gesture around her and wrinkled her nose in distaste. “And as for this puzzle,” she reached across the length of the coach and produced a plump velvet pouch, bound tightly at the top with a leather drawstring, “What do you think I am, a child?” She loosened the knot on the bag and upended it. The rainbow of brightly colored tiles spilled to the floor.
Francial just sighed, thinking better of mentioning that at the age of thirteen her daughter was hardly an adult. She did have to admit, however, that Anjur had outgrown many of the simple pleasures of childhood, which undoubtedly added to her boredom with everyday things.
“She is simply too quick for her own good, and ours...” she recalled her husband’s words as she fumbled in the tight confines of the coach to pick the puzzle pieces. As she thought of her daughter’s short-lived childhood, Francial welcomed the memories of her daughter when she was so much easier to please...
“Mother! Mother, are you listening to me?”
Francial, shaken from her reverie, looked at her daughter. “Yes, dear,” she sighed heavily.
“I asked you how much further to Habberdac!”
“Anjur, you know we won’t reach the city until early tomorrow, even if all goes well.”
Anjur heaved a sigh of her own then, growing ever more annoyed with her mother’s complacency. “This is ridiculous! I do think Father’s gone completely mad! Does he really think I enjoy being bundled off at his every whim?”
“Anjur, I don’t think...”
“That’s the problem, Mother, you don’t think. You never think.”
“Sweets,” Francial began, overlooking Anjur’s sarcasm. “Perhaps you should relax for a time. A nap might make the hours pass faster.”
Anjur huffed in response as she reluctantly accepted her mother’s suggestion. To her surprise, the satin felt pleasantly soft beneath her head and the jostling of the coach seemed to lessen as she closed her eyes...
“At last,” Francial thought as she watched Anjur’s breathing soften into the peaceful rhythm preceding sleep. She had put up with Anjur’s quick temper for as long as she could remember. But lately it had grown all the more mean-spirited and had become increasingly more difficult to accept. If she hadn’t had Mardel to help her, she might not have been able to hold up. Mardel had been nursemaid and then governess to Anjur from almost the moment Anjur was born. She wished Mardel could join them in the coach and perhaps Anjur might act a bit more civilized. But that was just not possible. First there really wasn’t room for a third person in the coach as Anjur took up one full side with her pillows, blankets, and what-not, and second, because it just wasn’t done. Servants simply didn't ride with their patrons no matter how much they had become a part of the family. Instead, Mardel either road in the open wagon with the few servants that it could carry or she walked alongside with the others that it couldn’t. The right to ride rather than walk rotated among the servants based on a timetable that they had all agreed to long ago. In that Francial knew she was lucky. Her servants had a good rapport and always seemed to cooperate easily. She knew of many households where that wasn’t true. It was also fortunate that her servants were able to travel well together as trips far from the estate were common. Norlamac, her husband, was a trader who traveled here to buy and there to sell. Though he had a shop in Lorcast, where they lived, and another in Boridan, a half days ride from Lorcast, he worked in them only a few days each month. The rest of the time he was on the road doing what he truly enjoyed and where his business acumen proved especially profitable. His philosophy was profoundly simple; “Anyone can run a shop but it takes a special expertise to know what to pay for goods so that you don’t pay more than they’re worth nor pay less than is fair so that the other party won’t be reluctant to do business with you again and to know what to sell those goods for so you make a fair profit without gouging your customers such that they will take their business elsewhere the next time.” He lived by this philosophy, which dictated he be on the road much of the time and he often took Anjur and Francial with him. When he did, many of the household servants went along also. In such times, the single wagon that Norlamac would ordinarily travel with became a caravan of three; a wagon for the goods, another for the servants, and the coach for Anjur and Francial. In either case Norlamac always brought along a cadre of at least ten guards to protect against the hazards of the road. This time, because the goods he was transporting were especially valuable, the protective cadre numbered 25.
“Ah, love,” Francial thought, studying the oblivious girl, “You’re more like your ‘mad’ father than you would ever admit.”
It was true. It had been Norlamac’s courageous superiority, and, yes she had to admit, arrogance, that had first brought them together. Francial smiled at the memory.
Anjur’s singular beauty, at least, had mostly been Francial’s doing. Even though the set of her eyes and angled jaw had been Norlamac’s, Anjur wore her mother’s delicate complexion, and waist-length wealth of pure golden locks. Her eyes were the only things that didn’t seem to fit. The playfulness of that otherworldly green, where had that come from?
Dark... The festering damp of the earth so close... The poignant stillness of the air... Uncomfortable silence in his ranks as they waited, never moving, not a stray blink. It’s coming... Impatient hearts thudding within as they hungrily await the coming battle... The sounds become louder, more audible. The thudding boots of the cadre. The creaking of the coach wheel. Ever closer. Still they wait... Closer yet… The most opportune moment is not yet, so they wait in silence, motionless. Closer... So close... “Now!”
Anjur jolted awake, the eerie images from the dream still in her mind. “No!” she screamed, pressing her hands to her temples as if her head was about to explode. Francial nervously grabbed Anjur’s shoulders. “Mother!” the trembling girl cried, flinging herself into her mother’s arms.
Francial suddenly found herself with the weight of her child, as tall as she, in her arms. She stumbled, and tried to stabilize herself with some handhold. She didn’t find one in and the two tumbled to the coach floor.
“What’s going on back there?” Norlamac called from where he sat atop the coach with the driver.
Francial watched Anjur pull herself onto her seat a startled look on her face. Francial joined her, forgetting Norlamac’s question the moment that Anjur’s eyes met hers. Were those tears?
“Anjur... what…?” Francial said.
“Francial! Anjur? What the Oracle is going on?”
Anjur was tossed forward once again as the coach lurched to a halt. She didn’t understand what had just occurred, but she did know one thing… “Father…” she poked her head out the window just as Norlamac dismounted the coach. She stared straight ahead at their path and said, “We can’t pass through that canyon.”
“What is it Anjur? You aren’t giving your mother trouble again are you?” There was accusation in his tone, but his warm eyes held no malice.
“We can’t… If we go on… They’re waiting for us in there,” she nodded towards the mouth of the dark canyon ahead. “Father, please.” She didn’t know how nor why she had just witnessed what she had, but she instinctively knew that it was much more than a simple nightmare and also that they would be in imminent danger if they continued on their current path. She was certain that an enemy lay in wait. She even knew the face of that enemy. The small, pale, calculating, and cruel face. The face she would not forget. The face she could not forget.
The desperation in her voice took Norlamac buy surprise. “What is it Anjur? Who is waiting for us?” He forced a smile trying to calm her and deduce what was happening.
Anjur stepped out of the coach, hands clenched, her face a mask of fear. “I don’t… know… But Father, they’re out there, hiding, waiting for us...”
“Who’s waiting? Where? And how the Oracle do you know?” he asked and then followed her intense gaze as she slowly scanned the depths of the canyon. Of course… Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Where better than the darkness of the canyon walls to observe your quarry without being seen! In the name of the Oracle, this was just what those little forest rebels had been waiting for. They’d been following the trade routes for months, just so they’d know precisely when and where to...
“Dearest, what is it? Do you see something?”
“Yes Francial, something I should have seen months ago. I don’t know how, but our lovely daughter has brought my attention to a treachery I had completely overlooked. I think the forest imps that we have observed following us for months mean to attack us in the canyon.” Norlamac gently stroked Anjur’s her silken locks and bade her to return to the coach where Francial still held the door open. “Don’t you worry now; I’ll take care of it. And,” he added under his breath, “I’ll see to it that those rat-eaters get what they deserve...”
Francial hadn’t even had the chance to put one foot on solid ground before she found herself being herded back inside the coach with Anjur close on her heels. It might have eased her nerves somewhat if she had any hint at all of what was going on, but as it was, she was forced to sit in wonder with scarcely a view of anything but the warriors in front of the coach. This was the standard formation used wherever there was a hint of danger. Four of the guards in front of the carriage, four more on each side, and another four to the rear. The others Norlamac would take with him to scout out the danger.
Anjur hid, wrapped in blankets, as she peered out at the pattern of men. Francial couldn’t even guess what was going with Anjur. She didn’t know what to say so, instead, she folded her hands in her lap and simply watched and waited for…what?
Francial was also afraid for her husband. With scarce a word to either of them upon understanding the meaning behind what Anjur was saying, he had gone to seek out a hidden party of rebels, on the off chance they might actually lie in wait. He left only after first installing the dense, protective wall of cadre around the coach. It always seemed that once Norlamac seized on an idea, nothing or no one could break his grip. Most of his obsessions were harmless enough such as when he had to own the best fighting dogs, have the fastest horses, build the finest castle, but this… This was…dangerous…Besides, Norlamc was a businessman, not a fighter.
“Sire, what drives ye to conclude that an enemy lies in wait in the canyon?” Zameal was First Warrior of Norlamac’s guards, and by rights, he could question his patron’s intentions. Besides, Zameal had been with Norlamac for many years and they had been fast friends for all but a few of those.
“What?” The noble regarded his First Warrior over his shoulder, his vision straying temporarily from the canyon ahead.
“I just wonder what makes ye think anyone is out there that might pose a threat.”
“It was something Anjur said that made me immediately realize the potential danger. And I never said I was certain that anyone is out there. I simply said that I thought we should go check it out, just in case, since it’s such a perfect place for an ambush.” He picked his pace and the shorter warrior and the guards that followed them had to almost jog to keep up.
Zameal cleared his throat, and tried another route of protest. He knew his patron wasn’t a coward, but he also knew he wasn’t as adept with a sword as even the greenest apprentice guard and felt an obligation to try to keep him safe, even if Norlamac seemed to wish otherwise. “I would agree that the canyon would be ideal for an attack but I and the others are more than is needed to determine if there is any possible danger. Besides, what about yer ladies…”
That caught the trader’s attention. He stopped short and whirled about to meet Zameal’s eyes directly, “What about them?”
Zameal sputtered in the shadow of the noble, his confidence suddenly abandoning him. By the Oracle, how this man could be intimidating! “Well, Sire… I… was only thinking that it might be unwise leaving them?”
“Zameal,” Norlamac sighed, “Over half my guards have circled the caravan, reluctantly, mind you, armed and prepared for anything.”
Norlamac considered. What was Zameal thinking? “And you have a better suggestion?”
“It isn’t that, Sire. I just think ye would feel them safer if ye were with them.”
Ah! So that was his ploy. Norlamac smiled, silently applauding the warrior’s loyalty, “So,” he teased, “You think your noble should wait with the ladies for fear of danger? Should I also find myself a skirt and take up embroidery.”
Zameal’s eyes widened, hurt by the sarcasm rampant in the accusation. “Sire, come now. All I meant was that there is simply no need for ye to endanger yerself,” he straightened his shoulders, pulling himself to his full, unimpressive height. “If there are bandits out there, these men,” he indicated the eight men following them, “can handle them. What have ye hired us for, if not to mind yer safety?”
Norlamac slowed his pace a bit, reflecting upon his warrior’s words. He knew they were wise. He also knew he really wasn’t much of a fighter. He recalled his pitiful and painful showing the time when a street thug grabbed Francial’s bag. He did little except get himself beaten soundly and loose his money pouch as well as Francial’s bag. With that memory his attitude altered abruptly. His eyes narrowed, once again trying to penetrate the darkness of the canyon. He spoke softly to Zameal, “Of course you are right, my friend, and I trust you completely. Take my men… your men, and survey every cranny of this confounded place. If you find anything, I trust you will handle yourself bravely, as always. I’ll wait with the coach and,” he added with a wink, “with my ladies.”
“Thank you, Sire.” Norlamac’s response was only a slight nod, and Zameal watched as his employer moved through the trailing line of fighters back to the coach. He thanked Norlamac, under his breath, for the minimal argument he had raised. He was a good employer and a good friend though he could be a bit lofty at times. But then, why shouldn’t he be? The noble had a full head of trader’s wits about him, a wife and daughter of beauty beyond reason, to say little of the bounty of gold and property to his name. It shouldn’t bother Norlamac so much that he is no warrior. After all, one can’t have everything...
In the shadows of the canyon Portial and his crew waited. As he watched the procession of guards, he wondered why the caravan had stopped. They had been following Norlamac’s caravans for several months and this was the first time such a tactic had been used. He knew it would do little good to attack these few guards. If he did, the element of surprise that was one of the most important aspects of his plan would be gone. He would stand little to no chance of success against the caravan in the open as it was and the caravan would certainly not venture into the canyon once it was known he and his band were there.
How could they have known? Or did they know? Maybe this was just some new tactic Zameal had devised. Portial knew that Zameal was a good tactician. Almost as good as he was. Perhaps Zameal had decided to check out canyons such as this before risking the caravan. Or, perhaps this was a particularly rich cargo. Or perhaps one of his men had moved and attracted the attention of one of the guards. If anyone had and he was able to determine who it was, he would cut off his thumbs and feed them to him. He looked around as well as he could without moving his head but couldn’t see anything or anyone. No. It couldn’t be that. His men were too well trained to make such an error. But why then…?
Zameal’s gaze was never stationary as he approached the entrance to the canyon but he had still not seen any trace of an enemy. Still, Norlamac seemed to be adamant about the need to at least check out the canyon and perhaps he was right. This canyon certainly was an ideal place for an ambush. He glanced up and down the steep walls covered with brush that an enemy could conceal himself in and small caves and outcroppings that one could easily hide in and under.
“All right, men,” he said in a voice that echoed up and down the canyon, “Spread out and be alert.” He felt no need to be quiet. If someone was in wait, keeping quiet would be of no value for them as the enemy would have already observed them as they approached the canyon.
Portial didn’t like this at all. It was obvious that all chance of surprise was gone and it was only a matter of time before one of the guards stumbled upon one of his hidden men. He really had no choice. He had to attack now, before they were discovered. Without a further thought, he yelled, as loudly as he could, “Now!”
The shout was followed by the sound of arrows streaking though the sky, and the sour hiss of metal as the little band of soldiers hastily unsheathed their blades.
“Bloody demons!” Zameal screamed. “Ambush!” More arrows then and a dull thud as at least one archer hit his mark.
For a moment Zameal was aware of the battle cries and the rattle of armor as their unseen attackers seemed to materialize out of the very hillside. Then, his world narrowed before him as a long, pallid face pierced the darkness. The warrior gasped as his smaller enemy unsheathed an arrow and fitted it to his bow, then withdrew almost entirely, back into the darkness as he realized he’d been spotted.
In a few calculated steps, the distance between himself and his attacker was gone and with one swift stroke, the archer’s weapon was on the ground in pieces. “No more of that now, dwarf!” he growled.
The little man, his face rife with panic, stumbled backward over himself, as Zameal paused just a moment to gloat over the swiftness of his attack and victory. As he did so, his victim shrank back into the shadowy veil along the canyon’s wall, and was gone.
Zameal paused just long enough to hurl a few of his favorite oaths at his invisible assailant and at himself for letting him get away, before returning to his comrades. With a practiced glance, Zameal knew two of his men lay dead while several others still battled, wounded though they were. Although there were many more of the enemy than of the guards, the guards were nearly twice the size of the attacking imps and the battle quickly seemed to turn. The other archers had apparently fled just as his had. Either that or they ran out of ammunition as there were no more arrows splitting the air. And the remains of the war party wasn’t but a dozen or so desperate rebels clad in dull gray armor and armed with what seemed to be nothing more than a short spear tipped with a sharp iron rod.
Zameal leapt into the center of combat, dispersing the enemy, and made a sure slice with his long sword, catching a rebel just below the ribs. He cursed as his vision blurred with the blood of his enemy, and he quickly wiped it from his eyes. Only then was he aware that another was upon him, this time striking from behind. He spun on his heel to see, too late, the glint of metal as a thin shaft leapt through the air, and, with a hot flash of pain, embedded itself in his shoulder. Ah, by the dust of dragon’s, how he’d underestimated that little spear. He felt a sickening warmth drench his side, and, gasping for a breath through the suffocating pain, he felt himself stumble, and fall. The world danced before him, the sweet scent of blood making him dizzy, the last of his energy spent to regain his stance. But soon enough, despite his struggle, the light failed his eyes, and the First Warrior slipped into darkness.
Anjur kept her vigil through the surrounding shield of guards, even as the clash of metal and the fierce battle cries rained down on them, muffled though they were because of their distance from the canyon. Her mother began to weep with terror and her father curled a comforting arm around her.
“There now Dear,” he whispered as he kissed her lightly on the side of the head, “Nothing to worry about. The devils won’t attack all the way back here.”
They sat for a time, huddled together, trying as best they could to comfort each other. Soon, the din of battle seemed to fade and then die out completely. They waited in silence for a while before Anjur tentatively stuck her head out of the window.
“Can you…” Francial started to say.
“Mother,” Anjur cried, “They come.”
And indeed, they were on their way back to the coach. Though the battle was short, it was obvious that it had also been vicious. Many of the solders coming back were spattered with blood, some of it their own, but most of it of their enemies and one of the guards was being carried on a litter improvised from, as near as Anjur could tell, two spears and a few tunics. Francial forced herself out of Norlamac’s grasp, looked out of the window, and paled. Norlamac immediately jumped out of the coach on the other side.
“Mother, I don’t see Zameal. They’re carrying someone. Is it Zameal? Are they carrying Zameal, Mother? Mother?” It was no use, her mother had seen all she was going to for now. She had withdrawn from the window.
The guards broke ranks and spilled out towards their comrades. Norlamac pushed his way through the men and also headed for the victors. Anjur slipped unnoticed from the coach and followed her father.
As she approached the man that was being carried, her heart was hammering so hard that she thought it might burst from her chest. “Zameal,” she thought, “It just couldn’t be Zameal.” Of all the guards her father had hired over the years, Zameal was the only one she had gotten to know well. Probably because he wasn’t only First Warrior, but also a friend of her father. He had sat at many family meals as a guest rather than a servant and he and her father had many a spirited conversation about trade when Norlamac led the discussion and the battles he had fought when Zameal led them along with the tales about women they had conquered when they thought Anjur and Francial were long gone to bed. Anjur heard the latter by sitting at the top of the stairs, around the corner so she couldn’t be seen from below. The life and spirit of the house seemed to grow whenever Zameal was there. He had even been allowed to hold and play with her when she was a baby and join her, Mardel, and her parents in the games they played infrequently. She had come to think of Zameal as a member of the family and the thought of him lying in that litter almost brought her to tears before she could get close enough to discover whether it was him or not.
She started and even yelped a bit as a hard hand suddenly clasped her arm and she heard a voice she knew well say, “And just where do ye think ye are going, Little Lady?”
“Zameal!” She squealed as she whirled and hugged the warrior who was slightly shorter than herself. And despite the arm that was bound in a shoddy sling he hugged her back. “I thought that was…” she choked out.
“Did I not tell ye once that I intend to die in bed of old age,” And he smiled at her.
She looked at him closely. His arm was in a sling and he had an ugly bruise on his forehead but otherwise he seemed all right. Certainly he wasn’t dead. But who then? She had the strangest feeling she knew who was being carried. She knew when she looked at the body on the litter she would see the face she had seen earlier. That cold, calculating, cruel face.
She hugged Zameal again, almost as an afterthought, and pulled herself free, or almost free. “I’ve got to see…” She began but Zameal didn’t completely let her go.
“My apologies, Lady, but you should wait...”
“Wait? But I want to see; I need to see…”. She had to see who had been killed. She had to see if it was the face she knew… The face she had seen before.
“Anjur, no…” Zameal tried to hold on but she broke free. In a few steps she was to the litter borne by the warriors. Her father reached out to stop her but it was too late. There, before her was that strange, pallid face. All the color was washed away by death but it was the face she’d seen before. Dead. This man, or rather imp, was dead. But his was the face she had seen in her vision. Somehow, some way she knew it would be. She was dazed. She was dizzy. She turned away from the body, took two steps, and everything faded into darkness.
“Stop! Thief!” the shopkeeper screamed after the running boy. He started after the boy, but gave up quickly. The shopkeeper was fat and could scarce walk ten paces without being short of breath. He quickly realized he had no chance of catching the boy just as he hadn’t many times in the past. Besides, the boy had already disappeared down the crowded street. “Faltz,” he swore loudly and turned back to the shop.
“Hey Inuit,” hollered a man leaning against the building next to the shop, “I see the boy got the best of you again.”
“Aww, eat dragon dust,” Inuit, the shopkeeper, yelled back.
The man poked his companion and both laughed heartily.
Inuit waddled back into his shop swearing under his breath. “That miserable street rat,” he said mostly to himself. “‘Tis high time someone did something about him. At least,” and he smiled slightly in spite of his sour mood, “he only took some of that worthless Pawc.” Then, loudly, “Tordin, git yer lazy half-breed butt out here!”
“What’d yer want now, ye fat wallow-rat?” Tordin gritted his teeth and hurled his own favored epithet for his boss from the back room. He knew calling Inuit a “fat wallow-rat” was appropriate retribution as Inuit hated it as much as he himself hated the term half-breed. He had learned after working for Inuit only a short time not to take any abuse from him. Tordin was a good worker and Inuit needed him. Besides, Inuit had such a bad temperament that few others would work for him.
Even though Tordin despised the term half-breed, it was accurate. He was a Half-Imp. His mother was an Elf and his father an Imp. His lustrous, pale green fur covered all but his hands and his handsome face with its pale, flawless complexion and soft angles. His sparkling blue eyes simply added the finishing touch.
Even though he didn’t appreciate Inuit’s method of summoning him, Tordin did, considering Inuit’s disposition, think it best in this instance to come out of the back room as instructed. Though, he had to admit, Inuit’s current mood wasn’t unlike his mood on any other day.
“I want ye to go report that little rat-bastard to the Provident” Inuit demanded as soon as Tordin emerged.
“I don’t think...”
“I don’t pay ye to think, Imp brain. Just do as I say and report him.”
“Yes, Sir, yer grace,” Tordin responded with a small bow of mock submission.
“By the Oracle’s breath,” Inuit shouted, turning to face Tordin. “if ye don’t...”
“All right,” Tordin said holding up his hands as if trying to ward off a blow from the much larger man. He knew Inuit would never attempt to strike him as, even though Tordin was a foot shorter than Inuit, his strength and reflexes would easily let him best Inuit should the need ever arise. He also knew Inuit was well aware of this. “I’ll report him. But I doubt if the Provident’ll care one way or t’other.”
“He better do something or the next time the tribute gatherers come ‘round...”
“I’ll be sure to tell him how yer feel,” Tordin said with a smile.
“Just get yer miserable hide outta here,” Inuit said with a grunt as he began to straighten one of the counters.
Without another word Tordin left. As he walked toward the Provident’s office he thought again about Alberon, the boy who had stolen the Pawc. He had to smile. Alberon had been stealing bits of food from Inuit for quite some time without Inuit being able to catch him. Good thing too, for if Inuit had caught him, Alberon would have immediately been turned over to the Provident for punishment. Tordin didn’t know what that punishment would be, but he was sure it wouldn’t be pleasant. He had witnessed several instances when thieves had their hands or feet chopped off in a public ceremony. He always felt that this was more to show the power of the Provident than to exact punishment, but that fact was of little use to those receiving the judgment. Though he doubted the Provident would be that ruthless with a boy such as Alberon, the type of punishment would probably depend on the mood the Provident was in when Alberon was brought before him for sentencing. Tordin didn’t know Alberon that well, having spoken to him just a few times, but what he did know he liked and he wouldn’t enjoy seeing Alberon punished for just trying to stay alive.
Such thoughts quickly made Tordin decide to ignore Inuit’s orders about informing the Provident. He would, instead, try to find Alberon and warn him of the possible hazards of stealing more food from Inuit. He would even be willing to pass some food to Alberon if he would promise not to steal anymore. After all, Inuit’s one saving grace as a merchant was his insistence on his food being fresh and he always disposed of any that wasn’t. Since it was Tordin’s job to get rid of any food that was no longer sellable, it should be easy enough for Tordin to save out some of it. Inuit had given him precise instructions about how the dated food was to be feed to the pigs that were kept out back. It wasn’t just thrown away as Inuit didn’t want any possibility that anyone might end up with it and then have no incentive to buy fresh food from his shop. Besides, the pigs had to be feed and this was an easy way to come up with food for them. But since the pigs generally devoured the food as quickly as it was tossed into their pen, Inuit would be none the wiser should Tordin set aside some of the better bits. Tordin smiled as he thought about the tirade Inuit would have should he ever find out what Tordin had in mind or ever caught him at it.
Though Tordin had no idea where Alberon had run off to, he felt if he just wandered around for a few minutes he should be able to locate the boy. After all, he had seen him several times in what he felt were probably some of the boys favorite hiding places. Yes, he would find and convince Alberon to stop stealing from Inuit. It should be easy enough. After all, Alberon had always seemed to him to be quite smart and should be able to grasp the realities of the situation.
He was pleased with himself and whistled a bit as he began his search.
Alberon stopped running as he ducked around the corner of a large building. He wasn’t even breathing hard. When you lived on the streets of a village like Taberdon, you were either fleet afoot, you starved, or, worse yet, you were captured and sold as a slave. Thus far, he had been lucky. He had been on his own for a long time and the few times he had been caught, he had been able to escape before being turned in. He had even been captured and sold once when he and his uncle, who he had been staying with, were attacked and the Elves killed his uncle. But that was before he came to Taberdon.
Here, he was one of only a handful of children on the streets. They always seemed to be caught and turned over to the Provident where they were used as servants or sold as slaves. Over time, he had made friends with a couple of the older children, but they had, one-by-one, disappeared. Currently he knew of only three others living on the streets, but he hadn’t been able to be with them long enough to get to know them. He hoped he would soon be able to. Life on the street was more bearable if shared with others in similar circumstances. But, even as difficult as his life was, he had to admit he rather enjoyed it. It was, after all, a continual series of adventures and he could come and go as he pleased with no one to answer to.
He leaned against the wall of the building and slid to the ground, taking a bite of the pilfered fruit as he did so. He ate slowly, savoring each flavorful bite, trying not to dribble too much juice down his chin. The Pawc had that slightly bitter-sweet taste common to such fruit when it wasn’t quite ripe. But, hungry as he was, the sweet was appreciated and the bitter ignored.
He took a moment to look around. He was in familiar territory having hidden in this same alley several times before. The building he leaned against was an inn with a rather unsavory reputation though, he had to admit, he had heard more than a few unkind words about most of the inns in Taberdon. The building across the alley was a business and residence owned by a musician who gave lessons to the children of the upperclass. That was one of the reasons Alberon liked to stop in this particular alley. He loved music. Even the badly played music of those taking lessons. He didn’t know how to play any instrument and didn’t feel he sang any too well, but he did love listening. At the moment, however, all was quiet.
The lack of music did, however, allow his attention to be drawn by a soft sound from the other side of the alley. He smiled as a small mouse raised itself up on its hind legs and sniffed the air. “Ho friend,” he said softly so he wouldn’t scare the mouse. “Join me in a bit of breakfast?” The mouse, by way of answer, skittered up his leg and nipped at the proffered fruit.
Alberon had always had a strange affinity with animals. They never appeared to fear him nor acted hostile in any way. It seemed, at times, that he could almost communicate with them. He got vague impressions of their feelings, their fears, their needs and some would actually come to him when he beckoned them with his thoughts. Originally he had thought his skill was common place, that everyone had a similar empathy. But he had soon come to realize such wasn’t the case. The few times he had expressed himself about the feelings and impressions he received, the people always looked at him strangely. The last time it had even been hinted that if he could talk to animals he must be some kind of Wizard. Fortunately he was able to talk his way out of that predicament, and was careful not to make such comments again.
The most prominent example of this kinship was his relationship with Bantara, the white panther he had befriended. Bantara lived in the forest just east of Taberdon and Alberon visited her as often as he could, with seldom more than a few days between, at least until winter set in.
Alberon found Bantara, or, to be more precise, Bantara found Alberon about a year earlier when Alberon had been climbing a large tree to get at some of the last fruit of the season still clinging high in the top. As he reached a bit too far, the branch he was on gave way and he plummeted about a hundred feet, slamming into several branches on his way down. As he crashed to the ground at the base of the tree, he lost consciousness. In his injury-caused delirium, he mentally called out for help and when, after many hours, he groggily awoke, Bantara was holding vigil beside him. When he stirred, the cat roused and looked directly at him. Alberon was more than startled but, considering his condition, there was no possibility of flight. So, instead, he reached out with his mind and, sensing only calm compassion from the cat, he spoke softly. “Hello, girl. How did you get ... here?”
In response Bantara crawled a bit closer and he reached out tentatively and patted her head. She seemed to enjoy the attention and nuzzled his arm. A slight sound off to their left caused Bantara to jerk her head and perk up her ears. In an instant she was up, silently stalking whatever prey had roused her. Alberon watched her as best he could, but as it was difficult for him to move either his body or his head, she soon passed from his field of vision. Shortly she was back, dropping a freshly killed rabbit beside him where he could easily reach it.
“Thank you girl,” he said and thought calming thoughts that he hoped she would be able to interpret since he knew his words were more for his benefit than hers. He looked at the rabbit and sighed deeply. He hated eating any type of meat, especially raw meat, having had the experience a time or two, but he also knew he was badly injured and if he didn’t get some nutrition, he would probably die. Thus, with an effort he pulled the rabbit onto his lap. When he tried to raise his other arm to pull back the hide to expose the meat beneath, he winced in pain. Apparently he had landed on his arm when he fell out of the tree and it was, at present, next to useless. He felt the arm with his other, but couldn’t find any broken bones. He must have just stunned it and, he hoped, it would be back to normal soon. Without the use of his other arm, he had no choice. He raised the carcass to his mouth, bit into the hide, and pulled with his good arm. It wasn’t easy, but, with effort, he was able to pull the hide back far enough to expose a goodly portion of the meat beneath. He forced himself to eat, desperately willing himself not to regurgitate the meal in disgust. He ate only a few bites before he had to stop and rest. Shortly he roused himself again and had a few more. After several such episodes, he felt he had enough and tossed the remainder to the panther who eagerly tore into it.
He smiled at the beast and grimaced as he shifted position, trying to get a bit more comfortable as he figured to be here for a time. Fortunately it was still late enough in the fall that the days weren’t overly hot but the nights hadn’t become overly cool. He determined he should be all right for at least a few days.
“So,” he said, and the beast raised its eyes to him. They were a startling pink and betrayed a warmth that Alberon found almost as startling. “Just where did ye come from I wonder?” He had visited this section of the forest many times but couldn’t recall ever seeing a panther of any kind, much less a white one. He didn’t even think panthers were indigenous to this area of the country. That didn’t mean, of course, that one couldn’t have roamed here in search of better hunting grounds or to flee some peril. “Well, wherever it was, I’m sure glad ye came.” He smiled as he watched the cat finish its meal. Suddenly he was overwhelmingly tired and drifted off almost immediately.
When he awoke, he couldn’t see the cat. He scanned the immediate area as best he could, but didn’t catch sight of his new friend. He reached out with his mind and sensed that she was nearby. Shortly she trotted into view and lay beside him gently dropping her head in his lap.
“Thank you,” Alberon said as he scratched her behind the ears, “for not abandoning me.” He smiled. “You know, I think I shall call you Bantara. It means ‘White Warrior.’ Is that all right with you girl?”
As if she understood, she nuzzled his arm.
Alberon stayed in his spot beneath the tree for several days before he felt he could get up and move around. All this time Bantara kept him fed and was his constant companion, leaving only long enough to hunt. Alberon surmised she was protecting him from whatever other predators might be found in this area of the forest. He appreciated the company, but the protection was probably unnecessary as he had never run across any animal that he couldn’t soothe by simply thinking calming thoughts.
After a couple of weeks Alberon found himself mobile enough to return to Taberdon. He was reluctant to leave Bantara behind, but knew he couldn’t take the large cat with him. She would throw the village into a panic should she suddenly appear on the streets. Thus, he tried to convey his thanks to her and the fact that he would return another day. He couldn’t be sure, of course, but he felt she understood and, as he walked away, she turned and bounded off into the depths of the forest.
He worried as he walked away that he might never see her again, but the next time he came to the forest, he mentally reached out and she was suddenly and silently beside him, just as if she were expecting him.
They had great times together. They hunted together, though Bantara generally made the kill; they frolicked in the fallen leaves; they wrestled in the rain. When the snows fell, Alberon’s visits grew less often, but he still managed to made the trek out to see her at least once a month. He simply waited for a reasonably warm day.
Yes, there it was again. The sensation that had drawn him to this village. He had experienced this mental attraction several times before but never this strong. “The power is strong in this one,” he thought to himself. He squinted slightly against the bright sun, but what he could see wasn’t nearly as important as what he could sense. He stopped for a moment. His target was moving. When he was outside the village, such movements weren’t noticeable as his range of sense was narrow, but the nearer he got to his quarry, the wider his range became and the more difficult it became to find the precise location.
Left...then right...then down a narrow street. He followed as if someone was tugging on a mental rope. Closer...Stronger...Closer still...His senses were almost tingling now. Soon he knew...Soon.
Alberon shared the rest of his meal with the mouse, and when they finished he gave the pit to the mouse who scurried off to an unseen hideout. He sighed deeply taking in the many odors that drifted on the air. He could distinguish the sweetness of the pile of hay he sat next to, the harshness of the sewer rising from the covered opening father down in the alley, and the aroma of freshly-baked bread emanating from the bakery across the street. He loved freshly-baked bread though he had to think hard to recall the last time he partook of such a treat.
He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, scooped up a handful of dirt which he rubbed on his hands to dry the juice and take away the stickiness, and wiped them on his tattered shirt. It made little difference since the shirt was already much dirtier than his hands could ever be. He absently ran his hand through his blond, almost white, hair and stretched. He was slim, though finely muscled for his age, both being a consequence of his difficult life. Startling emerald eyes sparkled from his thin, just short of gaunt, face.
Closer yet. Now he knew he was near...Very near...The power...So strong. Around one more corner and...Yes!
“Ho! Boy!” he said.
Startled, Alberon turned to see a man standing at the edge of the building across the alley. His immediate instinct was to flee, but he paused long enough to take a good look. The man wasn’t one of the Provident’s guards, and not the shopkeeper from who he had just escaped. He didn’t wear the clothes of a commoner, but not those of the elite either. He had a soft, kindly face and, even from this distance, Alberon could see the piercing green eyes that seemed to reach out and beckon for his attention. The man’s broad smile made Alberon relax a bit and, though he could see no urgent need for escape, he rose slowly, without taking his eyes from the stranger, prepared for anything. He didn’t speak.
“Ho,” the man said again.
“Sire?” Alberon answered tentatively.
“How would you like to earn a meal for a bit of honest work?” The smile was broad and friendly.
“You do eat, don’t you?” The smile didn’t dim.
“D’ye poke at me Sire?”
“No, boy, I’m not making fun of you. I just need some help with a small task and I thought you looked like you could use a good meal.”
“What am I to do?” Alberon took a short step back.
“I’m a stranger to this village and need someone to tend my horse while I take care of the business that brought me here.”
“I know little of horses, Sire.”
“Doesn’t matter. I can easily show you what to do. My business won’t take long and when I return, you can partake with me.”
Alberon was still unsure of the man. Seldom had a stranger offered to do anything for him and when they did, there had generally been a catch. “Why me, Sire? Are there not stable hands for such?”
“There are,” the man still smiled, lending a softness to his face. “But they’re all occupied with other tasks and I need someone to tend my horse now so it’ll be ready when I return. But, if you don’t want the job, I should have no trouble finding someone else nearby that would be eager enough to accept my generosity.” He turned as if to leave.
“Hold, Sire,” Alberon took a few steps toward the man but left enough distance between them to allow room for escape should the man become threatening. “I’ll do it.”
“Good,” the man beamed, and reached out his hand in welcome. “Then come along.”
Alberon hesitated slightly, then, with a slight shrug, he walked past the man into the street, ignoring the proffered hand. The man turned and followed him.
They walked the short way to the stables in silence. The man led the way into the stables and over to a horse that was tied to a post. “There now, Shandra,” the man patted the horse on the nose, “This young man is going to take care of you while I’m gone.” The horse nuzzled the man’s shoulder. “What is your name lad?” he turned back to the boy.
“Well Alberon, my name is Mondrian and this,” he rubbed the horses nose, “is Shandra.”
“‘Tis a fine animal, Sire,” Alberon said as he approached the horse. He had never ridden a horse, having lived most of his life on the streets, and the only one he had ever taken care of at all was a work horse that had pulled his Uncle’s wagon, but he had seen enough of them to know that this was indeed an uncommon steed. She had massive hind quarters that Alberon imagined allowed her to outdistance all but the fastest and her glossy ebony coat made the four point star on her nose stand out. She tossed her regal head with a nervous air as Alberon approached and he could sense her anxiety. He thought calming thoughts and, after a few moments, reached out to stroke the horses nose as he had seen the man do. The horse not only didn’t pull away, she even nuzzled Alberon’s shoulder a bit.
“Ah, I knew you’d get along,” Mondrian said, visibly pleased. Then he reached down beside the horse and pulled a large rag out of a bag that was laying there. “The first thing you need to do is wipe her down with this cloth.”
“Yes Sire,” Alberon took the rag from the man.
“Then you can get some grain out of that bin over there,” Mondrian pointed to a large bin by the far wall, “put it in the small bag laying there,” he indicated where he had picked up the rag, “and hold it so Shandra can eat.”
“That’s it. Now you just wait until I return. Think you can handle those two tasks?”
“I’ll do my best Sire,” Alberon began to wipe down the horse.
“I’m sure. I’ll take my leave now, but I’ll be back shortly. Take good care of Shandra for me.” He patted the horse lovingly on the neck as he turned to leave the stable.
“I will Sire,” Alberon said without turning around.
Alberon wondered about his good fortune. A meal for these small tasks was quite good payment. He couldn’t be sure, of course, if the man, Mondrian, would actually live up to his bargain. People didn’t always do as they promised. But somehow Alberon instinctively trusted him. He knew Mondrian would be back and he would receive his payment.
Alberon rubbed down every bit of the horse with the rag before he felt satisfied. He put the rag down and picked up the small bag to put the grain in. As he walked to the grain bin, he suddenly felt strange. His skin tingled. He had a sensation of danger...of something heavy...of some impending disaster...
For some reason, he looked up. At that instant a board that was stacked in the loft above the stable fell. It plummeted directly towards his head. Instinctively he reached out to push it away. But it never reached his hands or arms. It seemed to move away of its own volition. One moment he was in imminent peril and the next the board was resting harmlessly several feet away.
Alberon whirled around to see Mondrian standing in the doorway.
“Marvelous,” Mondrian said again as he walked over to Alberon.
“Wha...What happened?” Alberon stammered.
“Sit down. You look a bit shaken.”
“I’m right enough Sire. But I don’t understand what happened.”
“Come, let’s both sit and I’ll explain it to you.” He led Alberon to a stall piled high with hay and seated himself, leaning back in the hay.
Alberon sat as far away from Mondrian as he could while still sitting in the stall, and turned so he could look at Mondrian. He said nothing.
This was the tricky part. The first contact. Mondrian was never quite sure of the best approach to use. He recalled once, many years ago, when he almost lost one of his students before he could become a student because he was too abrupt with his introduction. He didn’t loose him only because it wasn’t really possible to loose one. The students simply couldn’t survive on their own, without the proper training, once they knew the truth. But, if his approach was wrong, gaining acceptance by the student could become more difficult and the process might take much longer. So, his job at the moment was to win Alberon over while imparting the truth.
He took a deep breath and began. “First,” he said, “I must apologize for the trick I just played on you.” He waited for Alberon to respond.
“Trick? What trick Sire?”
“The board...I caused the board to fall.”
“Ye Sire? How could ye make a board fall from the loft when ye was by the door.” Alberon rubbed his forehead absently, massaging the wound he didn’t receive, and involuntarily glanced at the loft. “And even if ‘twas true, why’d ye wish to harm me? I done nothing to ye.” He peered at the man, wondering if he was merely poking fun at him or was seriously deluded.
“Yes, I did drop the board at you.” He looked truly sincere. He had even stopped smiling. “How, we will leave for another time.” He paused just a moment and then continued, “Do you understand how you avoided the board?”
“I guess...” Alberon considered for a moment, “I pushed it away with my arm.”
“You aren’t sure?”
He shrugged. “I don’t remember doing it, but I musta. The board was falling towards my head...and then...” he shrugged again, “It weren’t. I musta pushed it away.” Alberon looked dubious.
“Oh, you pushed it away all right,” that smile was back, “But you didn’t push it with your arms.” Mondrian deliberated for a bit, trying to frame just the right words, decided he couldn’t find them, then continued on a different tack, “Tell me, Alberon, have you ever heard of the Order of the White Feather?”
“The Wizards?” Alberon virtually whispered. He had, of course, heard of the Order of the White Feather. Everyone had heard of them, but no one knew much about them. All Alberon had ever heard was rumor and innuendo. Anyone you might ask about them would have a different story to tell than anybody else, if you could even get them to talk of the Wizards at all. Most people were afraid to speak of them openly for fear that some terrible retribution might befall them if they inadvertently spoke ill. Mostly, though, he had thought they were just a myth. What little he had heard of them had seemed so fantastic as to be unbelievable and most of the feats that had been attributed to them were just to incredible to be true.
“Yes, the Wizards.” the man said, “I know this may be hard for you to believe and maybe even harder for you to accept, but I’m a member of the Order.”
“Ye Sir,” Alberon was taken aback. “But ye look...”
“Normal?” Mondrian finished his thought. Alberon nodded. “Wizards don’t look any different than any other human. What is different is inside, not outside.” Whereupon he pulled up his sleeve to reveal a small mark on the inner part of his upper arm in the shape of a feather...a white feather.
Alberon immediately bowed his head and muttered, “Master...” He still wasn’t necessarily convinced, as having a birthmark didn’t actually prove anything, but, in this case, he decided that an error on the side of caution was much better than the reverse.
Mondrian frowned upon hearing the term “Master,” but his tone was gentle, “No, I think not, Alberon. Arise.”
“I cannot Master...” He didn’t look up. This was one of the few times in his life that Alberon had felt humbled by the mere presence of another person. Humbled and a little afraid. Even if he wasn’t actually convinced the man was a Wizard with strange powers, he couldn’t help how he felt.
“Look at me, Alberon,” Mondrian said gently. When Alberon didn’t respond, he repeated his injunction in a voice that was firm without being harsh but demanded compliance. “Look at me.”
Alberon raised his head slightly, avoiding Mondrian’s eyes.
“Look at me,” Mondrian said a third time. He knew why Alberon wouldn’t look at him. It was one of the many skills that the legends passed from generation to generation had attributed to the Wizards. “I cannot bewitch you just by looking into your eyes.”
“But I’ve heard...”
“Much of what you have heard isn’t true,” Mondrian said, not smiling now. “Now look at me.”
Alberon timidly did as he was told. There was that beckoning gaze again. He felt no malevolence in that gaze and as he relaxed slightly, a warm feeling washed over him. He began to feel safer, more secure. He had a thought that perhaps a feeling like this was the way a Wizard did bewitch someone, but that thought faded, pushed aside by the peaceful calm that was overwhelming him. It was...those eyes.
Alberon snapped back to alertness the moment the man began to speak.
“As I said, my name is Mondrian and I’m a member of the Order. But we aren’t the evil spell casters that many believe us to be. We do have certain abilities that other people don’t, but that doesn’t automatically make us evil any more than having a bow makes every archer a killer of men. Certainly there are those with the power that have used it for dark purposes, but members of the Order only use their skills for worthy purposes.” Mondrian looked at Alberon as sincerely as possible. He had used his uncommon powers of persuasion to calm Alberon down but knew that the calm was temporary. He had to win Alberon over enough to get him to listen, really listen, and understand about his own power and his own importance.
Alberon thought all this sounded more like a sermon than an explanation, but decided to play along, at least for the moment. He felt sure he could still escape should the need arise. “But what d’ye want of me Master?”
“First of all, “Mondrian replied, “Stop calling me Master. My name is Mondrian and I would appreciate its use.” As long as Alberon used that onerous title, he would never be able to relax enough to truly appreciate all that Mondrian was about to impart.
Alberon simply nodded.
“Now, as I have said, those in the Order have uncommon skills. Most of us can do many simple tricks such as making that board fall,” Alberon involuntarily glanced at the loft again before shifting his gaze back to Mondrian. “But we all have at least one special talent that we are particularly adept at. Myself, I can tell when people aren’t telling the truth. Others can...”
Alberon looked skeptical. “Ye can tell when people are lying to ye?” Strange powers was indeed one of the things he had heard about the Wizards. But he wasn’t ready to simply take the word of this...Mondrian yet.
“Yes,” Mondrian responded, “and I’ll probably get the chance to prove it to you someday. But let me continue. As I was saying, other Wizards have other special skills they are especially proficient at such as seeing visions or moving things simply by the power of suggestion such as you just did with that board.”
“What...” Alberon was taken aback. “I moved...” What Mondrian was getting at was just starting to sink in and Alberon’s head was starting to swim in those depths. “Are ye saying...”
“Yes, my boy. You are a Wizard.”
The caravan was on its way again when Anjur awoke. She was back in the coach with her mother staring at her intently. She felt she should say something, but didn’t have a clue as to what that should be. Her experience had truly shaken her. Could she have really seen what was going to happen before it happened? Or was it really just a nightmare? No. She knew it wasn’t just a nightmare. She had seen the dead Imp’s face. It was, admittedly, the death mask of a face, but she knew without question that it was the same face. And what if it was the same face. Had she changed what was to be by seeing the future and relating it to someone else? Had she done something she shouldn’t have? All she could remember about her vision was the face of the Imp waiting in ambush. His cold, calculating, cruel stare. She saw none of the ensuing battle. She didn’t see what the outcome was to be. Thus, she couldn’t know if she changed what was to be? There was no way to know.
“Dear,” Francial said tentatively.
“Yes Mother,” Anjur sighed tiredly. Her ordeal was wearying and she hadn’t completely recovered from her faint.
“Are you all right?”
“I will be. But I’ll need time to sort all of this out.”
“All of what Dear?”
Anjur was already beginning to recover as she frowned at her mother and said, “Now if I knew that I would already be mostly done now wouldn’t I?”
Francial didn’t even try to understand that. She just shook her head and turned to stare out the window. She desperately wanted to know how Anjur had known something was going to happen before it had and why seeing the dead Imp affected her as it did. Anjur had seen dead bodies before. Some in much worse shape than that of the Imp. But since Anjur was as Anjur always was, she decided she would just have to accept that Anjur couldn’t or wouldn’t explain and allowed that, at least for now, she would let it pass as one of those events in life that just cannot or would not be explained. So, they traveled the rest of the day with Francial pointing out interesting things she saw and trying to engage Anjur in conversation; and Anjur basically ignoring her.
Anjur was far from silent, however. After brooding over her experience for a brief time, she returned to normal and complained about the boring sameness of the trip (which was, of course, not true as the coach passed through many interesting parts of the country, but Anjur couldn’t let her guard down long enough to take notice), the roughness of their ride in the coach (though it was the most comfortable that money could buy and grander than even those owned by the provident), how hungry she was (it seemed that none of the huge amount of food they had brought with them was proper), and about when they would finally arrive (which Francial patiently recited to her each time Anjur grumbled the question). If an impartial observer had been watching, he couldn’t have helped but admire Francial’s infinite patience with Anjur’s incessant complaints. Or, perhaps he would have merely noted how a good spanking might have adjusted her attitude. It wasn’t, however, in Francial's makeup to deny her daughter anything or to rebuff her in any way, so a spanking was unthinkable. Unless, of course, she could pass the duty along to Mardel for, though neither Mardel nor Anjur had ever said so directly, Francial suspected that more than once Mardel had taken a hand to Anjur’s backside.
And Norlamac, for his part, was probably worse than Francial when it came to discipline. He not only didn’t inhibit Anjur in any way, he scarcely dealt with her at all. He loved his daughter but didn’t seem to be able to communicate with her. When she was first born, Norlamac spent as much time with her and her mother as business would allow. But, as Anjur had grown, his business had prospered and consumed more and more of his time. This left precious little of it to spend with Anjur or Francial. He brought them with him on his trips so that he might be able to see more of them, but he had discovered that there was just too much business and too little time. Virtually none for personal concerns. He had decided, even before this trip began and they had the trouble with the Imps, that it would be the final one he would force his family to accompany him on and he had vowed to squeeze some time for them between his meetings with the importers he bought from and the merchants he sold to. He just hoped he would be able to live up to his vow. Especially now.
As he settled back into his seat for the rest of this leg of the journey, he tried to relax and not dwell on Anjur’s new aberration, whatever it was. Perhaps, he thought, it was his fault. Perhaps if he had spent more time with her. Perhaps... But speculation was a waste of effort. If one is to determine why something has happened, one must first learn what has happened and how it happened. Norlmac had nary a clue about either. He resolved to do whatever it took to get some kind of an answer out of Anjur as this was just too strange to let pass. His daughter with visions, or, at least, a vision. Just too strange. He had originally thought that perhaps she had seen something out of the window that made her think there might be a problem, but the more he mulled over the things she had said, the more convinced he became that she really had seen something. And whether she saw it when she was awake or in some state of unconscious awareness, it was too accurate to be mere coincidence. Accurate and a bit unnerving. Anjur with visions. He just shook his head and watched the road.
The rest of the day was uneventful except for the short funeral service held for the felled guards when they stopped for the night. The Imps they left where they died in the canyon to be a feast for the vultures or so their comrades could find them if they choose to return for the dead. They returned the Imp leader to lie with his comrades after they removed all insignia and weapons as was the custom of victor over vanquished. Zameal doubled the guard around the camp just in case their attackers came in the night, but all remained quiet.
The quiet didn't help Anjur, however, as she had difficulty getting to sleep. Partly because of her adventure but also because she had done nothing during the journey to make her tired. She had kept herself busy complaining while in the coach, but, now that she was alone in her own tent, she had nothing to keep her mind off her vision. She thought back to her experience and tried to gather some meaning from it. Why did she have the vision? What caused it? Did she have some special power, or perhaps curse, that allowed her to see into the future? Why had the Oracle singled her out? Was she special or unique in some way? And, if she was, how did she become that way and why? She thought about her parents. They weren’t special. They weren’t any different from any of the other parents she had visited on her fathers many trips. Not different in any important fashion anyway.
She tried to concentrate on the vision itself, but she discovered that the passage of time had caused the vision to fade and it was more difficult to picture the precise images. She could still recall vague feelings and impressions, but most of it was gone. The only part of it that was still clear, that was burned into her mind as if had been branded into the very flesh of her brain, was that face. She knew she would never forget that face. The rest of the vision might fade away into nothingness, but that face would always be with her.
The more she thought about the vision, the harder she tried to remember, the dimmer the vision became. As it dimmed she concentrated harder but found that concentration actually made the vision fade that much quicker. If she relaxed and just drifted around the vision, it was actually clearer and easier to visualize. The more relaxed she became, the more lucid what was left of the vision became. Relax she told herself. Be calm and relaxed.
Suddenly she was inside a violent thunderstorm with sheets of rain pummeling her and spears of lightening ripping apart the sky. The rain was so heavy that it was difficult to breath. She almost felt as if she were drowning. Every breath drew in not only air, but rain also. She was in the coach and every turn of the wheel pitched it one way and it recoiled back the other, tossing her around inside as if she were a ball of string between the claws of a playful kitten. She tried to look out the window to get her bearings, but the fierceness of the storm continually drove her back. Then, in a sudden eruption of iridescence, a large cave loomed before her. The coach was halted by a blinding slash of lightening tearing into a large tree on the hillside above the cave. In its weakened condition, the gale easily wrenched it from the ground and heaved it towards her.
She sat up with a start but, with her concentration broken, as quickly as the vision had arrived, it was gone. She lay back down for a moment shaking and sweating though she was actually cool as was the night. Another vision. Another violent vision. And she knew no more about how she drew it forth than she had of the other. She sat up carefully and gingerly lifted aside the flap of her tent, but the night sky was clear. No storm at all. She breathed a tentative sigh of relief. Maybe this time it wasn’t a glimpse into what lay before her. Maybe this time it was just a nightmare. She looked out again. Nothing but stars. Stars and not even a whisper of a breeze. If this was another vision, at least she hadn’t seen the immediate future. There was certainly no storm out there. She lay back down and tried to relax. She had discovered earlier that floating around the vision, massaging it, coaxing it worked much better than trying to attack it. Even with this approach, however, she had no luck recalling the vision, but by relaxing thus, she soon drifted into a restless sleep where she tossed and turned much of the night.
Anjur was awakened earlier than expected by her father. He stuck his head into her tent and said, “Hurry and get ready to leave. There is a storm brewing and we want to be well on our way before it hits.” He didn't wait for a reply knowing full well he would hear a howl of protest. He wasn't in any mood to put up with her headstrong and willfully disobedient attitude, nor did he have the time.
Anjur shook her head. Did she hear what she thought she heard? A storm is building? A storm? She wondered if it could be possible. Could another vision be destined to come true? She shivered slightly at the prospect.
She dressed quickly. She knew storms in this part of the country could be fierce and didn't want to be caught still dressing if a storm was truly eminent. As she dressed the sides of her tent ruffled and the tent itself tilted more than once from the pressure of the wind.
As she exited her tent she was almost blown over by a strong gust of wind. A couple of servants, who had been waiting by the tent, immediately began tearing it down. Anjur glanced at the sky to witness ugly, gray-to-black clouds moving rapidly overhead. Okay, so there was going to be a storm. She wasn't about to let it interrupt her day. She would have her breakfast.
“Mother,” she called as she saw her mother hurriedly putting things into the coach, “Where's my breakfast?”
“Sorry, Dear,” Francial said without stopping, “There isn't time for breakfast just now. We will eat when we are on our way.”
“But I'm hungry now,” Anjur almost had to shout to be heard over the rising wind.
“But we need...”
“Mother, I said I'm hungry. I want my breakfast now.” She stamped her foot and glowered at her mother.
“Oh all right,” Francial said with a surprising, for her, impatience in her voice. She looked around briefly and then said, “Mardel...”
Mardel stopped on her way by, “Yes ma'am.”
“See what you can find for Anjur to eat.”
“But I want something hot. I want...”
“Don't be silly, Mistress,” Mardel said taking control of the situation instantly. After having been instrumental in raising Anjur, she knew better than to allow Anjur to get started in the direction of a tantrum, as it was all the more difficult to turn her to another path. It was easier to just point her in the proper direction to begin with. “We can't have a fire in this wind.”
“I don't care about the wind. I want...”
“Come with me mistress, “Mardel said, “I'm sure we can find something for you.” And she grabbed Anjur’s arm none too gently to lead her away. Mardel had been designated Anjur's governess as soon as Francial had decided that caring for an infant took more effort than she was willing to expend. Francial didn’t, however, completely ignore her growing child as some of her friends had done with their children. No, she played with Anjur and even feed her much of the time, but the unpleasant tasks such as changing, bathing, and disciplining the baby were left to Mardel. Because of this, Anjur grew up thinking, despite herself much of the time, of Mardel as parent and Francial as playmate.
“Oh all right,” Anjur trailed Mardel, not that she was given any choice in the matter. She had learned that it did little good to argue with Mardel or to give her orders. Mardel would always do what she felt was best for Anjur whether Anjur agreed with her choice or not. And, though Anjur would never admit it openly, Mardel’s choices were generally better than the ones she would have made herself.
What was interesting was that Mardel always seemed to be around whenever Anjur was ready to embark on an adventure that might be a bit more dangerous than she herself would recognize. Mardel would then use her will and considerable negotiation skills to talk Anjur into making a more appropriate decision.
One such time, Anjur had been reading a book about Wizards and how they had constructed wings that allowed themselves to fly. She liked the idea of flying and decided that if Wizards could do it, so could she. She ordered several of the younger, and bolder, artisans to help her construct wings and swore them to secrecy with a promise of a few extra gold pieces when they were finished. The plan worked to perfection until she was ready to launch herself from one of the turrets of the castle.
“What, pray tell, do ye think ye are to do?” Mardel had said as she grabbed Anjur's shoulder. Anjur was alone as the artisans had stolen away after helping her attach the wings. They didn't want to be associated with her or the wings, as none of them really believed they would work. Several of them had tried to talk her out of this foolhardy attempt, but they weren’t much older than she and didn’t carry much weight with her.
“I’m going to fly,” Anjur smugly tried to shrug off Mardel's grip.
“Who put that fool notion into yer head?” she didn't let go.
“I read a book about it, and it's not foolish.”
“’Tis not, huh?” Mardel said without a trace of a smile. “And just what makes ye think ye can fly? D’ye think ye are a bird?”
“No I’m not a bird. But we designed and built these wings very carefully. I spent several hours watching how birds fly and how their wings work and then designed these just like theirs.”
“And to be sure, the artisans ye bribed to make them for ye were just as careful.” She made a mental note to find out who had manufactured them and have a long and serious talk with them about their obligation to the safety rather than the desires of their young mistress. Though she really couldn’t blame them overly much, Anjur could be quite insistent and, after all, they did work for her. “But, let's assume, just for a moment, that the wings’ll actually enable ye to fly. Do ye think birds are born knowing how to fly? Of course not. It takes them many attempts to get the hang of it. D’ye remember that nest we found a couple of years ago?” Anjur nodded. “And do ye remember how we watched and waited for the babies to be born and then to fly away?” Anjur nodded again. “And d’ye also remember watching a couple of them fall to the ground when they attempted to fly?”
“Yes,” Anjur admitted, “But a couple of them flew the first time also.”
“The first time we saw them,” Mardel corrected. “But we didn’t watch them all hours of the day and they probably had already tried and failed a few times. Besides, birds are born with instincts that help them learn how to fly quickly. Ye have no such instincts. Ye don't have any idea how to fly so, even if the wings will work, ye still don't know the appropriate techniques.”
Anjur mulled all that over for a moment or two. “I don't care… I’m…”
“But I do,” Mardel interrupted softly. “I care about ye and don't wanna see ye get hurt. If ye are bound to this idea of flying, ye should at least start at a lower height.”
“Oh all right,” Anjur relented and stepped back from the edge. “But where? This is the only high spot on the grounds.”
Mardel winked and said, “Not quite. Follow me.”
Anjur followed Mardel down into the courtyard of the castle. Mardel took as many back passages as possible to reduce the chance of running into anyone else. She didn't want any other witnesses as she knew Anjur would be unable to fly and wanted to save Anjur any undo embarrassment. She knew such things were just not possible but knew the only way she was going to convince Anjur was to let her try. The best she could hope for was to get Anjur to attempt her folly from a height that wouldn’t be dangerous and she knew just where that could be accomplished.
Shortly they were standing in front of the stables.
“Do you mean for me to jump from the hay loft,” Anjur pouted.
“No, Mistress. There be no wind in the stable. Ye need to launch yerself from the roof.” With this Anjur brightened a bit. “Come,” Mardel moved towards the back of the building, “I'll help ye climb onto the roof. That should be sufficiently high to allow ye to spread yer wings.”
“I guess that'll be okay.”
Anjur struggled up the ladder to the roof. It was difficult going as the wings restricted her arm movements but, finally she was there, ready to launch herself into space. “Hold,” Mardel said as she hurried back down the ladder and around to the front of the stable. “Just hold a minute,” she said as she forked a large pile of straw under where she envisioned Anjur would come down. “Okay, ye can try it now.”
Anjur spread her wings and leaned forward until she was about to fall. There she waited, trying to summon the courage that had began to wane. Suddenly, a strong gust of wind caught in her wings and lifted her off the roof. For a moment, just a moment, she was suspended in the air. Then, the wings lost their lift and she plummeted into the straw.
Mardel rushed to her. “Are ye all right Mistress?”
“I...I don't know,” a dazed Anjur said. “Ah just look at my wings,” she cried out in disgust.
“Well, at least it’s yer wings that are broken and not yer arms,” Mardel said seriously. Then she smiled at Anjur and winked. Anjur looked at Mardel, at her wings, at herself lying in the huge pile of straw, and began to giggle. Soon they were hugging each other and laughing heartily. Afterwards they burned the wings and never mentioned the incident to anyone else, though it was a private remembrance between them and they chuckled about it from time to time.
Anjur had always wondered why she was unable to properly thank Mardel for saving her life for she realized that was exactly what Mardel had done. Somehow she just couldn't bring herself to admit how wrong she had been about the wings and to thank Mardel would have been such an admission. Instead, she tried to be on her very best behavior for the next few weeks, doing everything Mardel asked of her, without complaint or protest, and even doing a few chores around her room, such as making her own bed, to save Mardel the trouble. Mardel was suitably impressed and said so, several times. Anjur was pleased.
Anjur was shaken out of her reverie by Mardel shoving a couple pieces of fruit into her hands. She muttered a half-hearted thanks as she watched Mardel dash away to help Francial pack the coach. Anjur had scarcely begun eating when Norlamac called for her to get into the coach. She glanced at the sky again and decided against arguing. She wanted to finish eating, but the wind was blowing harder, the clouds looked ever more ominous, and she really didn't want to be out when it started to rain. She recalled the fierceness of the storm in her vision - or was it simply a nightmare and the current storm merely a coincidence - and thought it wise not to be outside the coach when the storm began. She climbed into the coach, cradling the remainder of her breakfast against her chest, and settled opposite her mother. Norlamac signaled for everyone else to get into their places and, with a lurch, the caravan was on its way again.
Almost as soon as they were underway, the sky burst forth with a barrage of lightening and the storm began in earnest. The rain didn't build from a drizzle, but immediately threw torrents at the travelers. In her seat, Anjur realized that she was indeed witnessing what she had seen in her vision. The darkness of the clouds and the fierceness of the downpour were precisely as she remembered and each time she tried to look out the window the storm beat her back. This was all too familiar to simply be the memories of a nightmare. Yes, she reluctantly decided, she had had another vision.
Anjur thought about telling her mother about her vision, but decided against it. Her parents might consider her first vision a one-time fluke and forget about it over time or simply toss it off as the overactive imaginings of a young girl, but, if she told them of another, it would be much more difficult for them to let it pass. She had little time to muse over this problem, however, as it took much of her concentration just to hang onto the coach as it was buffeted about by the wind and listed from side to side because of the rough and rutted road.
Suddenly they were no longer on the road. Her father had guided the caravan off the road and they were traveling through the forest. Anjur again tried to see where they were heading but every time she got close to the window of the coach, she was forced back by the slashing rain. From one intense burst of lightening she got the vague impression of a hillside off in the distance. Instinctively she knew what it meant. They were heading toward the cave she saw in her vision. She was certain of it and knew just as certainly that there would be a tree on the hillside above the cave that would be struck by lightening. She didn't feel in any danger from the tree herself. Instead, she felt a terribly foreboding of danger to someone else in the party. She had to warn her father. She had to stop the caravan. Regardless of the consequences to herself, she couldn't just ignore what she knew would happen. She couldn't let someone in the caravan get hurt or possibly killed when the tree came plummeting down from the hillside as she knew it would. But how could she warn him? She couldn't possibly talk to him over the noise of the storm. She doubted she could talk to her mother in the coach with her, much less her father riding atop the coach. But, difficult though it may be, she knew she had to tell him; convince him that danger awaited them at the cave. Convince him to stop the coach until the lightening had already struck the tree. Then, she had a thought. Chances were that the guards and servants would be made to wait outside the cave until she and her mother were safely inside. If that were the case, she could simply hold back until after the lightening strike and then go into the cave. She could have one of her famous tantrums, pretending that she didn't want to go into the cave because she would have to get out of the coach and would get wet on the way into the cave. If she could delay long enough, perhaps she could avoid the pending catastrophe; she could keep someone from being injured. Her deliberations were interrupted as another flash of lightening revealed the mouth of the cave looming just ahead. In her vision she had had no frame of reference, no way of knowing how large the cave was. But now that she saw the entrance, she realized the cave was quite large. Large enough, in fact, that her father was going to drive the entire coach into the cave. They were driving into the cave! “No...Wait...” Anjur screamed, to no one in particular.
Suddenly, just as she knew it would, lightening struck the tree above the cave. It hovered there for a moment or two, fighting the will of the wind to rend it from it tenuous grip. Quickly, the gale proved too much and the tree crashed down. It missed the coach that had passed into the cave before the tree fell, but, based on the screams Anjur heard, it didn't miss whoever was following the coach at that particular instance.
The driver drove the coach well inside and Norlamac jumped down the instant it stopped. “You two stay in the coach,” he said to Anjur and Francial as he hurried past the coach window toward the cave entrance.
“What happened,” Francial asked but Norlamac was already gone. She turned to Anjur.
Anjur couldn't say anything. She was numb. She could have stopped this from happening. She should have stopped this from happening. There had been no time. Everything had happened so quickly. More time. She had needed more time. Given more time she could have figured out some way to stop the caravan. Some way to stop this from happening. Some way to stop…What? She couldn't wait. She had to see who had been hurt. She opened the door.
“Anjur, Dear, your father...” The look on Anjur’s face made Francial stop short.
“I...” Anjur started to say something but words failed to come. She simply climbed down from the coach and hurried to the mouth of the cave. There she saw Norlamac leaning over and the guards lifting a large portion of the tree from a body. “Oh no...” Anjur screamed. “It can't be...” But it was. Mardel's shattered body was now exposed. Anjur pushed her father aside and knelt down, gently cradling Mardel's head in her lap. The deluge had already soaked her to the skin but she took no notice. Mardel's eyes opened slightly and she smiled through the pain. “I'm...” she choked out.
“Don't try to talk,” Anjur whispered. “We'll take you inside the cave and...”
“No...” Mardel whispered, “My time has passed...My duty complete...” A small bit of blood escaped from the corner of her mouth, mixing with the rain. Anjur wiped it away with her scarf and then wiped the tears and rain from her own eyes.
“I'm sorry,” Anjur cried, a missed tear trickling down her cheek. “I knew the lightening was going to hit the tree. I saw it. I could have...”
“No child...” Mardel tried to raise her arm to comfort Anjur, but her crushed muscles wouldn’t function. “Ye cannot blame yerself...”
“But you don’t understand.” Anjur sobbed, “I saw the lightening. I saw it strike the tree...”
Somehow, Mardel knew what she meant. “But...” she coughed slightly and a bit more blood appeared on her lips only to be washed away. “Ye didn’t know that the tree would fall on me, now did ye?”
“No. But I...”
“’Tis just as much my fault. I...” she coughed again.
“I don't understand. How could it be your fault?”
“I didn't protect myself...well enough...” she tried to take a deep breath but was stopped short by a brief fit of coughing and more blood oozed between her lips. She coughed a few more times and then was silent. Her head slumped in Anjur's embrace.
“No...” Anjur screamed. “No...No...No...” and she clutched Mardel to her.
“Anjur,” Norlamac said as he gently tried to pull her away. “You're getting soaked and...”
“No,” Anjur screamed and shrugged her father’s hands off. “I need to stay with her.”
“We need to move her into the cave too,” Norlamac said as gently as the storm would allow. He grabbed her again, with more force this time. He indicated to a couple of guards and said, “Take her into the cave.”
The guards raised Anjur as gently as they could against her protestations and led and carried her back into the cave. Norlamac had a couple of the other guards help him and together they carried Mardel's body into the cave.
“Such is not possible, Sire,” Alberon said. Again, he wasn’t even sure that Wizards existed, but he was certain he couldn’t possibly be one even if they did. He wasn’t special. He wasn’t any different than any other kid who lived on the street. At least he wouldn’t let himself admit that he was.
“Ah, but it is,” Mondrian said. “How else can you explain what happened?”
Alberon thought for a moment about his recent experience while remembering other, similar incidents in his past, still afraid to admit what he was now coming to realize just might be fact. “Ye moved the board Sire. Ye said so yerself.”
“I said I made the board fall. I didn’t say I stopped it from hitting you.” Mondrian was accustomed to such resistance. Every apprentice he had encountered in the many years he had been mentoring had heard the legends of the Wizards, but none would readily admit it was possible for himself to be one. Alberon was no different than anyone else and certainly no different than Mondrian had expected.
“Such a thing is just not possible. I can’t be a Wizard,” Alberon shook his head. “I don’t even know what it means to be a Wizard.”
Mondrian looked at the boy and smiled. All new students had the same reaction, disbelief. All needed explanation, and most, reassurance. Reassurance that they weren’t crazy. Reassurance that they weren’t being somehow deceived for some dark purpose. But, most of all, reassurance that they weren’t cursed. That, instead, they faced a wondrous new life with many adventures ahead. With most, realization of their newly discovered situation was easy, acceptance was difficult. Alberon should prove to be no more challenging than most that had been so apprised. “Being a Wizard isn’t a state of mind, it’s a physical reality.” Mondrian said. “We don’t choose to become a member of the Order. We are chosen.”
“No...’Tis some kind of trick.”
“I see you shall require more proof,” Mondrian said. He contemplated for a few seconds and then finished with, “And you shall have it.”
Mondrian closed his eyes briefly and Alberon felt his arms being pressed to his sides as if someone were holding them. But there was no one there. “Wha...” he said as he struggled against his invisible foe. “What’s happening?”
“I’m sorry, my boy, but it’s necessary.” Mondrian got up and walked over to pick up the board that had fallen from the loft. He walked back to stand in front of Alberon. He closed his eyes briefly, grasped a crystal amulet that hung around his neck, and spoke a few words under his breath. As he did so, Alberon noticed the crystal radiated a faint blue aura.
Mondrian knew, without a doubt, that Alberon was who he had been searching for, but he wasn’t sure just how strong the boy had become. Thus, he had just placed a protective shield around the boy and another around himself, just in case. He took a deep breath, raised the board, and then swung it forward quickly, aiming it at the middle of Alberon’s face.
“No!” Alberon screamed and pushed...
Mondrian was a powerful Wizard, one of the most powerful, and the shield he had placed around himself was strong, but it was like a leaf before the hurricane of power Alberon flung at the board and, by consequence, him. Mondrian flew across the room and smashed into the wall. His shield was the only thing that saved him from serious injury. The board struck the wall with such force, it fell to the floor in pieces.
Upon Mondrian’s collision with the wall, he lost control and the pressure holding Alberon’s arms released immediately. Stunned though he was, Alberon got to his feet and rushed over to Mondrian. “Are ye all right Master?” he croaked, dropping to his knees. “What happened?”
“You happened,” Mondrian groaned, raising himself. “And I wish you had ‘happened’ a bit more gently.” He wriggled around touching himself here and there; satisfying himself that nothing was broken. “But, I guess I deserved it. Besides, there seems to be no permanent damage.” He was already smiling again.
“What do ye mean ‘I happened?’...Ye mean...I...I did that?” Alberon was incredulous. Maybe it was true. Maybe, just maybe he was...
“Yes, my boy. You did that.” Mondrian quickly decided it was a very profitable experiment, if he was any judge at all. Such an instance should leave no doubt that Alberon did, indeed, have powers that the normal person simply didn’t have.
“But how is this possible? I never...” He paused a moment and looked away. Then, more softly, “Never...done such a thing before.”
The skin on the back of Mondrian’s neck tingled slightly. He stared at the boy for a moment before saying, “You and I both know that isn’t true.” There was no accusation in his tone, just a bit of concern.
Alberon looked at him questioningly.
“I told you I could tell when someone wasn’t telling the truth. You have used the power before haven’t you?”
The boy looked away. “Yea, I guess so,” He answered meekly. Then, with more force, “But I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“I’m sure you didn’t, my boy,” Mondrian said soothingly. “Tell me about it.” Mondrian could scarcely believe his luck. Most new students had had experiences with the power before they were located by their mentor, but few realized they had had such experiences and fewer still could actually pinpoint them. If Alberon could truly remember such experiences, Mondrian’s job would be so much simpler.
Alberon hesitated. He did indeed remember an instance, but he had always dismissed it as merely a twist of fate, not as something he was responsible for.
“Come on,” Mondrian insisted, “There’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Alberon took a deep breath and let it out slowly before saying, “Not long ago, I took some food from a shop on the other side of the village...”
“The shopkeeper was faster than I thought. He was gonna catch me. He would have turned me over to the Provident...
“Possibly,” Mondrian said. “Continue please.”
“I passed a cart loaded with firewood...” Alberon paused, struggling to come up with just the right words. He was admitting to something he was ashamed of and it wasn’t something he found easy to do. He wasn’t at all proud of the realization he had just come to about the incident as he now saw that it was his doing. “I sorta thought how it would be if the wood fell outta the cart in front of the shopkeeper,” he continued finally. “I didn’t mean him harm, I...I just wanted to slow him down...I just wanted to get away.”
Mondrian just nodded. He could sense that Alberon was sincere. He really did regret what had happened and, of course, Mondrian knew, Alberon had no idea what he was doing at the time.
“The next thing I knew, it did. I just thought it was my good fortune; the wood falling outta the cart like that. I didn’t realize until now that I caused it...to...” Alberon cleared his throat, “to happen.”
“And now I am most sorry.”
“Because you stole the fruit?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” Alberon said unconvincingly. “But mostly because the shopkeeper fell and broke his ankle. I heard they had to...cut off his leg.”
“Oh,” Mondrian said softly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize...” This was a turn of events that he hadn’t anticipated. He hoped that such an instance, remembered so vividly, wouldn’t be a negative. He hoped it wouldn’t affect Alberon such that teaching him how to use the power would become more difficult. Mondrian didn’t get that impression of Alberon, however. He seemed to be quite resilient.
“Neither did I until now. I always felt bad about it because he wouldn’t have fallen over the wood had I not stole the fruit, but now ye have shown me it wasn’t just luck that the wood fell outta the cart. I threw it out myself. I...I caused him to fall...I hurt him.” It was true. He hadn’t realized he had caused it to happen. And now that he had accepted it as fact, he could scarcely believe how easily he had tossed it off before. It had never even occurred to him that he might actually be responsible.
“You mustn’t blame yourself, Alberon,” Mondrian said soothingly. “There’s no way you could have known. You were just reacting to the situation. You didn’t realize the power you have.”
Alberon just shook his head. He knew Mondrian was right. He really shouldn’t blame himself. He couldn’t have known he possessed such powers. Until now he hadn’t really even believed such things were actually possible. Of course he had heard the stories. One couldn’t grow up in a village like Taberdon without hearing the stories. They were bandied about in the taverns and whispered about on street corners. He’d even witnessed a hanging where the one hanged was accused of stealing a man’s wife by casting a spell on her. But then he’d also heard stories of fire-breathing dragons and spirits walking through walls and hadn’t believed them either. But now… Perhaps everything he had heard was true. Perhaps there were fire-breathing dragons and... But wait, Mondrian had said that much of what he had heard about Wizards wasn’t true. What then, was true? What parts of what he had heard were fact and what parts were just somebody’s fanciful tale? His head was swimming. He couldn’t sort any of it out now. He would just have to let Mondrian explain it all.
“I...I...” Alberon sighed deeply.
“You just relax for a minute and let me tell you a bit more about your heritage,” Mondrian said smoothly. He could tell Alberon was confused. This was typical. “Wizards have been around since long before remembering. Time was when we were revered as the guardians of all that is righteous, noble, and honorable. We were mentors and guides for all who cared to listen and didn’t impose ourselves on those who didn’t. But, alas, some weren’t content to just guide others towards the goals that the Oracle had decreed for them. No, they didn’t want to guide, they wanted to lead. They wanted to rule. Nay, they wanted to be gods,” he spat out the words. “They made the people build temples to them and for them. They expected sacrifices. And when someone protested, he was dealt with severely. They...” He looked pensive for a moment. “I could go on, but I think you understand.” He looked at Alberon who nodded. “This situation continued for many years with the good Wizards, if you will, warning the ruling Wizards that repercussions were inevitable, but they wouldn’t listen. Eventually the warnings held true. When the people would suffer the abuse no longer, they struck back. And strike back they did. Though the ruling Wizards were small in number, they did have an alley in the elves. As the elves felt themselves superior to the imps and humans and all others already and the Wizards never tried to rule over them, the elves felt it was in their best interest to help the Wizards retain control. But, there were also relatively few elves by comparison with the mass of humans, imps, and various half-breeds. As the ruling Wizards were powerful and the elves ruthless, the battle was long and the toll was heavy. The Wizards that weren’t part of nor agreed with the policies of the rulers, did what they could to lessen the damage, but their efforts were, essentially useless. Outnumbered as they were, the Wizards and elves were ultimately defeated. The remaining Wizards were driven back into their mountain stronghold to live out the rest of their existence and the elves slunk back to stay within the borders of their Culmanadom.”
“The Valley of the Wizards, as the stronghold of the Wizards is called, only has one entrance and, originally, the humans placed a number of guards at that entrance to make sure the Wizards didn’t leave. But, after many years, the people grew tired of watching over them and since no Wizard attempted to venture out of the valley during these years, the postings of the sentries grew fewer with more time between and finally ceased all together. Over time, most seemed to forget about the Wizards. Probably because they didn’t want to remember the horrors of the war but also because it’s easier to put something out of your mind rather than harbor it as a constant source of concern. Now, most even deny the existence of Wizards. They contribute any mention of us to legends or as a scapegoat explanation for something that occurs that they cannot easily understand or explain. Even with all that, we still try to help whenever and wherever we can, but only when such help can be somehow concealed so those involved don’t realize they have received our assistance.” Mondrian paused, waiting for the inevitable questions.
“But...” Alberon started, shook his head, looked at his feet, and didn’t finish.
“Go ahead, boy. Ask anything you wish,” Mondrian said sincerely.
“If the people don’t want yer help...”
“Why do we do it?” Mondrian finished and Alberon nodded. “Everyone must play his part in life. Everyone needs to feel his existence has meaning. Everyone needs to accomplish something. Some people are born with the gift of music and must spend their time playing an instrument or singing. Others are great hunters. Still others tend the fields or take care of animals. Everyone has their own special talent. Ours just happen to be a bit more special than most and we find that the most satisfying way to use ours is in helping others.”
Alberon just shook his head. It was all too much. Mondrian’s speech was eloquent and believable, but didn’t prove a thing. He still wasn’t ready to lay aside all his beliefs and just accept what Mondrian was saying. “Say, Sire, that I grant the existence of Wizards. That still doesn’t prove that I’m one. Why, I don’t even have a mark like yers.”
Mondrian smiled. Perhaps the moment of truth had arrived. Every other time Mondrian had become a mentor to an apprentice this had come up. Unfortunately, not everyone’s mark showed up at the moment of the first or second use of their power. Some had to use the power many times before the mark could be seen. But since Alberon had used his power in the past, maybe...just maybe...Mondrian decided to find out for himself if it was there. “Give me your arm, boy,” Mondrian said reaching for Alberon’s right arm.
Alberon didn’t move. What if Mondrian was right. What if he did have the mark of the Order. He shuddered slightly at the thought. He wasn’t sure he really wanted to know. Perhaps it would be better if he didn’t know. Perhaps...
“Come on, I won’t harm you.”
Reluctantly, Alberon decided he did have to know. He knew if he was a Wizard his life would irrevocably change. Whether for the better or worse he had no way of knowing, but he was certain it would change. But then again, maybe he didn’t have the mark and if he didn’t maybe Mondrian would go away and leave him in peace. Maybe... But no. He knew what the result would be. After the last experiment Mondrian had performed on him, any lingering doubts about whether he had special powers were dispelled. He sighed deeply and placed his arm in Mondrian’s outstretched hand. Mondrian pushed Alberon’s sleeve up and carefully examined his arm. Seeing nothing he let the arm drop and indicated that Alberon should let him examine his other arm. Alberon hesitated only a moment and then complied. Mondrian pushed that sleeve back. There, on the inside of his upper arm was the image of a white feather. It was larger and more pronounced than the one on Mondrian’s arm.
Mondrian seemed a bit taken aback and Alberon was visibly shaken. Neither spoke for several minutes.
Finally Alberon found his voice. “How is it, Sire, that I have never seen this before?” he whispered.
Mondrian said nothing. He was still staring at the mark and he hadn’t released Alberon’s arm.
Mondrian shook his head as if recovering from a daze. “I’m sorry,” he said, letting the arm drop. “What did you say?”
“I wondered that I ain’t seen this mark before.”
“The mark doesn’t show up until the power has been used a few times. It’s like how the sun browns your skin, except that once the mark is there, it doesn’t fade.”
Alberon raised his sleeve and looked at the mark again. “‘Tis something amiss Sire?” He asked. “Ye seem bothered by the mark.”
“No...” Mondrian said slowly. He wasn’t smiling. “It’s just that... Do you know who your parents are Alberon?”
“No, Sire. I been without them for many years.”
“You don’t remember them at all?”
“Were you born in this village?”
“No Sire. I came here a few years ago on my own.
“And how did you come to be on your own?” Mondrian wasn’t sure how much Alberon knew about his past, but after seeing the mark it was important for Mondrian to learn as much about him as possible.
“I was traveling around with my Uncle starting when I was about three. ‘Twas a peddler. He would travel to one place and buy some goods and then travel to another place to sell them. He told me my parents had left me in his care when they had gone on a journey and that they had never come back. He was running a shop for them but sold it when they didn’t come back after about a year.”
“Where was this shop?” Maybe this would give him a much-needed clue.
“Don’t know,” Alberon said reluctantly. He really did want to be able to answer Mondrian’s questions. These were some things he also wanted to know. Perhaps if he knew who his parents were he could track them down.
“Your Uncle never told you about the village?”
“I suppose he didn’t think it important. To him, being on the road was everything. He got nervous when we had to stay in any one village more than a day or two. I once asked him how he managed to run the store for my parents for an entire year, but never got much of an answer.”
“How did you come to be on your own then?” Mondrian wasn’t ready to give up.
“When I was about eight, we were attacked by a gang of elves and, though he fought hard, there were just too many of them and they killed him. I tried to fight, but I was too small. I couldn’t...” Alberon shook his head.
“That’s all right,” Mondrian said, “I’m sure you did what you could.”
“The elves took me to this small town near the river called Veldon and sold me to a man who owned a tavern. He made me clean up and serve the customers. He was mean. If I ever spilled a drink or dropped any of the food he would...” Alberon’s voice dropped, “he would beat me.”
Mondrian nodded but didn’t say anything.
“At first he kept me locked in a small room at night,” Alberon continued, “but, after a time I discovered a couple of loose boards in the wall and began to sneak out into the main room to get extra food. He didn’t feed me much. I was allowed only the food his customers didn’t finish. One night he had rearranged a few of the chairs after he had locked me in the room and I bumped into one and knocked it over. He caught me before I had a chance to get back into my room. He was so angry he beat me til I thought I was gonna die. I couldn’t walk proper for at least a week. ‘Tis when he took to chaining me up to a post in the stable in back of the tavern. It didn’t matter the weather, he always chained me up.”
“So how did you come to be here?”
“One night he had drunk a bit too much and, as he started to put the chains around my wrist to chain me to the post, I pushed him away. As he fell he musta hit his head on the post because he didn’t get up. I knew when he woke he would beat me again and this time maybe I wouldn’t live through it, so I just turned and ran. I lived in the forest during that summer but made my way here before winter set in. I been here ever since.”
Mondrian didn’t have the information he was really after. He still needed to know about Alberon’s parents. “Do you remember anything about the village you were living in before you left with your Uncle?”
“No...” Alberon looked thoughtful, “I was pretty little. Wait… I do remember that it was on the sea shore. I remember going to the beach with my Uncle a few times. He liked to fish,” Alberon smiled slightly at the memory.
“What was your Uncle’s name?”
“Masif,” Mondrian repeated. He mulled the name over but it wasn’t one he was familiar with. He continued, “You said that the village you escaped from was on the river. It was called Veldon?” Alberon nodded. “Hmmm...I’m not familiar with that village. Was it on this or the other side of the river?”
“On this side I guess since I never crossed it.”
“Hmmm...” Mondrian said again. “Still doesn’t mean anything to me. How about the village of your parents. Do you remember the beaches? Were they wide? Was the village on a harbor?”
Alberon reflected a moment. He really did want to remember. Maybe just a single detail might be enough to help Mondrian. But no. “I just don’t remember,” Alberon shook his head. “I’m sorry.”
“No, no, that’s all right. You’ve done fine. Let’s try this. I’m going to name some places along the sea shore and you stop me if one sounds familiar.”
“Okay,” Alberon said, “But I probably won’t recognize any of them.”
“Just do what you can,” And Mondrian began naming villages on the seashore where he had heard Wizards settled. He had gone through only a few when Alberon stopped him.
“What was that one again?” he said.
“Borogone,” Mondrian repeated.
“That sounds familiar,” Alberon smiled. “I seem to remember my Uncle mentioning it a time or two. Maybe that’s where I was before I left with my Uncle. But then again, maybe it was just a village he liked to visit to buy things. Or maybe to sell them.”
Mondrian brightened a bit and shook his head. “No...I think maybe that’s it.” He looked at Alberon intensely for a bit. “Yes,” he said finally. “I can see the resemblance...and it fits.”
“I think you are the son of Thorian of Borogone. His wife was called Thela. Thorian was a powerful Wizard. It was said that Thorian had the power of motion; the same skill you have just exhibited. He could move things just by wishing them moved. And Thela was a Wizard as well. Her power was...I seem to recall...Yes,” he said finally, “She had the power of link. That is, she could speak through her thoughts to other Wizards. Those with the ability to do so, of course.”
“Speak without talking?”
“Yes. Many Wizards can link over short distances for limited periods. Others, like Thela, can link over great distances effortlessly. Have you ever felt vague impressions that you couldn’t focus, thoughts that didn’t seem to be your own?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Alberon said. “I thought them the simple wanderings of the mind, but sometimes they seemed almost to shout at me. To demand my attention. Once or twice I even looked around because I thought someone was talking to me.”
“Good,” Mondrian said. “You shall learn how to control those wanderings and focus such thoughts. You shall learn that and so much more.”
“I’ll learn? Are ye to teach me Sire?”
“I and others,” Mondrian replied. “But enough of this, we must make ready to leave.”
“To leave? Where are we to go?”
“To the Valley of the Wizards and a village called Saren.”
“Are my parents there?” Alberon asked earnestly.
Mondrian shook his head solemnly. “No, son. Neither Thorian nor Thela have been seen or heard from in years. I’m sorry, but we believe they were killed.”
“Oh,” was all Alberon said. He had long ago resigned himself to the idea that he would probably never see his parents again, but he had always clung to the smallest glimmer of hope. But now, even that glimmer was fading.
Mondrian read the look on Alberon’s face. “I…,” he started to say.
“‘Tis all right Sire. I didn’t really believe they could still be alive after all this time.”
“There is no proof that they are dead. We just think it likely since they haven’t been heard from for such a long time.”
“Anyway, In Saren, you will meet other Wizards like me and other young people like yourself. You will be schooled in the ways of the Order. You will learn to control the power that is so strong in you. You will learn to live as a Wizard.”
The storm was over but the day remained gray. Anjur’s mood, however, was black. She blamed herself for Mardel’s death. She could do little else. She had known about the storm. She had known about the lightening. She had known about the tree. She had known. She had known and had done nothing. If only she hadn’t been so slow to react. If only she hadn’t decided that she really didn’t need to react except to throw a tantrum to keep from going into the cave. If only she hadn’t been so stupid. If only she had told her father…Or her mother…Or anyone. Maybe Mardel would still be alive. If only…
Her thoughts were disturbed by the words of her father. What was he saying? She hadn’t been listening. She had been too busy wallowing in self pity and self recriminations to take time out to listen to the eulogy.
“…more than a nursemaid, she was a friend.” Her father’s words broke through her stupor. “She was a friend not only to Anjur, but Francial, myself, and the rest of the staff.” He smiled briefly as Francial and others nodded in agreement. “I’m sure we’ll all miss her.”
Norlamac turned to Anjur. “Did you want to say anything?” He asked gently.
Anjur started slightly when he spoke directly to her. She tried to say something. She wanted to say something. She knew she should say something, anything. But, in the end, she could think of nothing she felt would be appropriate to say and just shook her head and looked at her feet as she absently kicked at a small rock.
“That’s all right,” he said and nodded to the guards who gently lowered Mardel’s shrouded body into the shallow grave. Each of the guards in attendance, in turn, grabbed a handful of dirt, which was mostly mud, and tossed it onto the body, muttering a word or two as they did so. Zameal followed suit though he paused long enough to intone a short poem to the dead as was the custom of his people.
“May you see only beauty and light,” Norlamac said as he scattered his fistful over the body. Some of the moister bits stuck to his hand and he accepted the towel that was being passed around as everyone had had the same problem.
“May you hear only harmonious melodies,” Francial sniffed out as she sprinkled her handful and then grabbed the towel as Norlamac offered it to her.
“May… May you touch and be touched only by grace and goodness,” Anjur struggled to finish the ages old farewell to the dead. She wiped her hands and then stood beside the grave as the guards began to cover it. The last few shovelfuls were more mud than dirt and a pool of water immediately began to gather around the edge of the mound.
“We’d better be on our way, now,” Norlamac said as he put his arm around his daughter and his wife joined him on his other side.
“I killed her,” Anjur’s voice was barely a whisper.
“What did you say, Dear?” Francial said.
“I killed her,” Anjur said with no more force than the first time.
“What do you mean you killed her?” Norlamac said. “A tree fell on her.”
“But I knew it was going to fall,” Anjur said.
“What…” Norlamac and Francial said in virtual unison.
“I knew it was going to fall.”
“Ah that’s silly,” Francial said. “How could you know the tree was going to fall? It was hit by lightening.”
Anjur shrugged off her father’s embrace and turned to face them both. A look just short of terror crossed her face. “I saw it happen. Just like I saw the imps that were going to attack the caravan.”
“What do you mean you ‘saw it happen?’ How did you see it happen?”
“I…I don’t know,” Anjur had a slight tremor in her voice. “The images just sort of appeared in my mind as if I were dreaming, and it happens when I’m sleeping, but I know that what I see is much more than simply a dream. It’s much more vivid and twice now what I have seen has come to pass.”
“And when did this begin?” Norlamac said.
“I don’t remember…” Anjur frowned slightly, thinking back, searching for any similar incident. She could recall none. “I don’t think it’s ever happen before…Before yesterday that is.”
“You’ve just been through a terrible ordeal,” Francial said soothingly as she put her arm around Anjur and began to lead her toward the cave. “Anyone would be upset and…” she reached for just the right word and then said, “confused.”
“I’m not confused,” Anjur’s said with a bit more force than she intended, “At least, I’m not confused in the way you mean.” She added a bit more softly. “I knew what was going to happen. I don’t know how or why I knew, but I did know. I did see the imps attack the caravan. I did see the storm, I did see the lightening, I did see the falling tree. I just…didn’t…realize it would land on Mardel,” She choked out the last.
“Perhaps we had better postpone any further discussion of this matter until you have had a chance to rest a bit,” Norlamac said sensibly. “Maybe then we will all be able to understand this a little better. In the meantime,” he looked at Anjur seriously, “We had better keep this to ourselves. There’s no sense upsetting the staff with…with this…this whatever it is.”
“Maybe you’re right Father. I do feel kind of worn out,” and her shoulders sagged as if in evidence to her statement. Anjur let herself be led back to and inside the coach without further protest. Maybe her father was right. Maybe if she rested a bit…And she was so tired…
Francial said nothing as Anjur settled in the carriage, though the look on her face betrayed her concern. She just didn’t understand. How could Anjur be seeing what couldn’t yet be seen…what had yet to happen? Was it possible that Anjur was in fact glimpsing future events? Such a thing didn’t seem possible and, yet, Anjur seemed so adamant. Well, after Anjur had time to rest they would discuss it again. Francial knew that she would have to probe deeper into what seemed to be troubling her daughter so much. She just wasn’t sure how to do it. This was more than a simple skinned knee or a bruised ego. She might actually be able to deal with those though she had had little enough practice assisting with even those minor situations as Mardel had always been around to handle them. But this. How do you discuss something you’re not even sure you believe is possible? And what if it was possible? What would that mean about Anjur? What kind of a person would she be? Would she even be a person at all? Would she still be Anjur or would she be more?
Where was Mardel when she really needed her? Mardel usually handled such things. Such things? Nobody handled such things. Such things didn’t happen. Such things weren’t possible. Even Mardel couldn’t handle the impossible. But that scarcely mattered anyway. Mardel was gone. Could that be true? Could she really be gone? How would she handle Anjur without Mardel?
Finally the horses had been hitched to the coach, the guards aligned to the front and rear of the caravan and the staff wagon repacked. With that, the caravan pulled out. The gentle rocking motion of the coach as it moved slowly out of the cave helped Francial relax a little and she settled back, ready to endure the rest of the trip though she wasn’t sure how she was to manage it. As the coach moved, she relaxed more and more. Before long she too had drifted away.
The rest of the trip to Habberdac was uneventful. Francial tried several times to talk to Anjur but Anjur either ignored her by staring out the coach window or got angry with her. Finally she just gave up and both spent the remainder in silence.
“Greetings, Tolmar,” Norlamac said to the innkeeper as he, Francial, Anjur, and Zameal walked into the lobby followed by some of the servants carrying their bags.
“And you, friend Norlamac,” Tolmar said. He was a jolly man, more than a bit on the heavy side with bright red hair and a wide, red mustache that curled on the ends. It stayed curled as Tolmar had the nervous habit of twirling the end of the mustache around his finger. “Francial, your beauty, as always, is beyond compare,” Tolmar fairly beamed as he grabbed Francial’s hand, bowed slightly, and brushed it with his lips. As always Francial had the distinct impression of being kissed by a wet sponge.
“Are our rooms prepared?” Norlamac said.
“As they always are, Friend.”
“Good. Show everyone to them. I have to go meet with Jalmak and I’m already late.”
“Yes, of course,” Tolmar said as he clapped his hands twice. Immediately three young boys appeared. “My sons will help with your bags,” he said as he always did.
“That’s not necessary,” Francial said as she always did. “The servants will handle the bags.” This was the normal ritual that Tolmar and Francial went through. Tolmar would always call forth his porters, which would generally be a couple of his many sons, and Francial would always decline the offer.
“As you wish, my lady.” And Tolmar waved his sons away. “This way then.” He led the way as Anjur, Francial, Zameal, and the servants followed. Zameal always accompanied Francial and Anjur because he was their designated body guard and also because he would be able to show the rest of the staff where they were to stay. Tolmar, as always, showed them to one of his most luxurious suites. The walls were painted a pale blue and each of the fine tapestries hung in what seemed to be the perfect location. The divan and matching chairs were upholstered in a fabric of soft, silken gold, and the dining room table and chairs were of the same highly polished marble as the floor. Strategically placed pedestals were topped with exquisitely carved sculptures and where there were no tapestries on the walls, there were paintings. Although the suite was on the first floor of the inn, the balcony overhung a high cliff and the view of the sea was breathtaking.
“Does the room please?” Tolmar said expectantly.
The splendor of the room was lost on Francial. First because she was used to such luxuries and second because she was still concerned about Anjur. “It’ll be fine, Tolmar,” she answered. “Please show Zameal the rooms for the staff.”
“I’ll do so immediately My Lady,” he said withdrawing.
Zameal followed Tolmar into the hallway as the servants brought their bags into the room, set them down in the main room, and then quietly exited.
Francial sighed then forced herself to brighten a bit as she wandered to the balcony and said, “Anjur Dear, come and look at the sea. It’s really quite beautiful at this time of day.”
As if in a daze Anjur followed her mother to the balcony. “Yes Mother, very nice.” She glanced at the view and immediately turned back into the room. “Where’s my bedroom.”
“Well,” Francial said as she looked around. “Let’s see where the bedrooms are.” She moved off to the left and pushed open a large wooden door that was partially hidden behind a silken drape. The room was wide with a huge canopied bed in the middle. The walls were done in off-white with a silken drape covering the entire wall behind the bed. To the right was another balcony overlooking the sea and to the left was a doorway into a large bathroom.
“I guess this is meant to be for the master,” Francial said. Anjur said nothing but immediately turned around and headed across the expansive living room. The bedroom on the other side was only slightly smaller though the furnishings were no less lavish. Without a word Anjur lay down on the bed, staring out the doorway to her private balcony.
Francial started to say something but heard a noise in the main room. “They must be here with the rest of the bags,” she said and took the opportunity to leave her daughter to her brooding.
Zameal had returned with several of the staff. Francial directed her bags to the master bedroom and Anjur’s to the other.
“How is the little princess?” Zameal said quietly.
“I don’t know,” Francial said. “Mardel’s death hit her pretty hard.” Zameal nodded. “I think if we give her a few days she should be okay. At least,” she glanced at her fingers that she was constantly lacing and unlacing, “I hope she will be.”
“As do we all Mistress,” Zameal said.
As Anjur lay on her bed she could scarcely hear the conversation going on in the next room. She really didn’t care one way or the other, however, as she wasn’t trying to listen. She just kept going over and over in her mind the events of the preceding days. Where did the visions come from she wondered? How did she make them appear? Or did she? Perhaps the visions just appeared randomly. Or perhaps they weren’t visions at all but were, as had first been suggested, simply nightmares. Or maybe she just imagined it all. Or maybe she was simply losing her mind. It took little thought, however, for her to convince herself they weren’t nightmares. They were too vivid for that. Too vivid and too accurate. Also too accurate to be imagined. And she really didn’t believe she was losing her mind. That she simply wouldn’t accept.
As she thought about the visions her mind began to wander. She remembered that it was easier to call up the memories of the visions if she relaxed and let them flow back rather than try to force them. As she relaxed she thought of the lobby of the inn and recalled seeing the elegant dining room off to the right as she came through the door. With that thought she realized she was hungry and she began to picture one of her favorite meals, venison stew with pearl onions, freshly baked bread with hawberry jam, and hot apple pie for dessert. See could see the table laid out, ready for the guests and could almost smell the food.
“Anjur Dear,” Francial stuck her head in the room, “it’s time to go down for supper.”
“What…What are we having,” Anjur said, slightly surprised.
“Tolmar just stopped in to tell me it was ready and,” she smiled broadly and finished with a note of hopefulness in her voice, “He said we were having…”
“Oh my…” Anjur said, sitting up abruptly.
“What’s wrong Dear?”
“Before you tell me what Tolmar told you we are having, let me tell you.”
“What…?” Was all Francial could say.
“I said I can tell you exactly what we are having for supper.”
“How can you do that,” Francial smiled indulgently.
“I can because it’s happened again.”
“What’s happened again?” Francial asked though she was sure she knew what Anjur was talking about.
“I had another…another vision.”
“What do you mean you had a ‘vision?’”
“I mean,” Anjur was quickly losing patience with her mother’s ignorance of the obvious, “That I just saw our next meal in my mind.”
“In your mind?”
“Mother,” Anjur said in exasperation, “Just how dense are you? The imps that attacked the caravan, the storm…What else would you call them but visions? I have been having visions.”
“Visions?” was all her mother could croak out.
“Relax Mother,” Anjur sighed. “I’m not losing my mind. At least…” she reflected for a moment, “I don’t think I am.”
“No, of course you’re not Dear.”
“Well, think about it for a minute. Did I not rightly predict the attack of the imps.” Anjur paused for her mother to mull that over and then nod though she didn’t say anything. “And though I didn’t say anything beforehand, I also saw the storm, the lightening, and the falling of the tree. And now…” she paused for emphasis, “I know I just saw the meal that is going to be served downstairs.”
“All right,” Francial said, unsure of just how to respond, “What are we having then?”
Anjur smiled slightly triumphantly through her concern for what was happening to her and said, “Venison stew with pearl onions, freshly baked bread with hawberry jam, and hot apple pie for dessert.”
Francial gasped in spite of her concerted effort not to. “How…how in the…”
“I told you,” was all Anjur needed to say. “I take it, then, that I’m correct?”
Francial nodded slowly. “Yes,” she breathed deeply, “Yes you are.” She stared at Anjur for a moment before continuing. “Then you really did see the attack and the…storm and cave and…and tree.” Anjur nodded and Francial sat down heavily on the bed. “Oh my,” she sighed, shaking her head.
“If you think it’s overwhelming from your point of view, just think how I feel. I don’t know why or how, but all of a sudden I see these things in my mind. I have no idea what causes them to appear. I don’t know how to make them appear or how to make them stop when they do appear.”
Francial reached over tentatively and stroked her daughter’s hair. “I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to realize what’s been going on. It’s just that…”
“Oh Mother,” and Anjur collapsed into Francial’s arms.
Francial was a bit surprised by this as it was one of the few times since Anjur was born that Anjur had actually come to her for comfort. Mardel had always been first on the spot when Anjur was distressed. But now, Mardel was no longer with them and she would have to take over this duty as well as many others. As she stroked Anjur’s hair and whispered soothing things in her ear, Francial decided that this might not be such a bad thing after all. It might be kind of nice to be Anjur’s emotional support.
“Francial,” Norlamac said from the living room, “are you still here?”
“In here Dear,” Francial said.
In a moment Norlamac stuck his head in the room. “What are you two…” He paused when he saw the two of them holding each other on the bed and Francial put a finger to her lips.
“We’ll be down in a minute,” Francial said quietly.
“Is there anything wrong?”
“We’ll talk about it later.”
Anjur roused herself and looked straight at Norlamac. “I think Father should know now,” she said.
“And just what should I know?’
“I just had another vision.”
“By the Oracle not you too,” Anjur said with exasperation.
“I had a vision when I saw the imps attacking the caravan. I had another when I saw the storm, the cave, and the tree. And I just had a third one. I saw the meal that is set out downstairs.”
“I thought it strange that you correctly predicted the attack by the imps, but a ‘vision?’” Norlamac shook his head slightly.
“Well just what would you call it when someone can ‘see’ things happening before they happen?” Anjur said.
“Well, I never gave it any thought, but I suppose ‘vision’ is as good a term as any other.”
“Thank you for that anyway.” Anjur stood up and walked slowly towards the balcony. “I guess I can console myself with the idea that at least this vision wasn’t violent like the other two.”
Francial and Norlamac looked at each other as Anjur stared out the doorway towards the sea and Norlamac shrugged indicating he didn’t understand any of this any better than Francial did. They didn’t say anything as neither could think of anything to say.
Anjur turned slowly to face her parents. “Have either of you ever known or known of anyone who had visions?” The look on her face showed her question was completely serious.
They looked at each other again. Francial shook her head but Norlamac said, “Well, I do recall my grandfather telling me about…But no, that’s silly.” He interrupted himself abruptly.
“What?” Anjur said with rapt attention.
“I said it’s silly,” he said and then added, “I think we had better go down to supper before it’s all gone.” He tried to smile lightly but failed.
“Father,” Anjur said with a stomp-of-the-foot intonation, “I do think that this is a bit more important than supper.”
Norlamac looked at Anjur’s serious expression and knew he wasn’t going to get out of this easily. Yes, his grandfather had told tales of someone who had visions. But that someone was known to be a Wizard. That’s what made him stop his speech so abruptly. A Wizard. Surely not. Anjur couldn’t be a Wizard. After all, Wizards were just the stuff of myths, legends, and bedtime stories. They didn’t really exist. At least he didn’t believe they did. As a boy he had always enjoyed the tales his grandfather had told him, but as soon as he was old enough, he had put them in the fanciful tales category with those about the big fish that was almost caught and, in later years, the tales of the sexual conquests his friends bragged about. Thus, he first of all found it hard to believe that Anjur was actually having visions and, if he accepted that as fact, that there wasn’t any way she could be a Wizard. There simply had to be another explanation.
“Father,” Anjur interrupted his musings.
“I guess you’re right,” he admitted. “This is more important than supper. Come back to the bed and sit down. I’ll tell you what I can remember.”
Anjur did as instructed and looked up expectantly.
“Well,” Norlamac began, “my grandfather Vasit told me of this man who could see things before they happened.” He decided immediately not to mention that the ‘man’ was supposed to be a Wizard. Since he didn’t really believe in Wizards and was sure that Wizards really had no place in the story anyway, he didn’t feel it was a pertinent point and didn’t want to add extra and unneeded stress to this already stressful situation.
“What sorts of things?” Anjur said.
“All sorts of things, I guess. He apparently used some type of large crystal to view these visions and people would come from all around to have him look into their future. I guess he was pretty accurate with his predictions.”
“He could predict storms that were going to destroy crops, dangerous hazards to family members, and simpler things such as what sex an unborn baby was going to be.”
“How did he do it?”
“Yes. How did he cause his visions. Mine just seem to come and go when they please. I don’t have any control over them.”
“By the Oracle, I don’t know. Grandfather never told me anything about how the visions were done. He probably didn’t know. He only told me about the Wiz… ahh… man who had the visions. Not about how he was able to create them and I don’t suppose I ever though to ask.”
Anjur looked at her father earnestly. “You don’t really believe I’m having visions do you?”
“I believe you believe you are having visions and that’s good enough for me.”
“Well it’s not good enough for me,” Anjur said emphatically. “I need you to believe me. This is more than a bit overwhelming and if I’m to get through it, I’m going to need you and Mother to help me. I…I don’t think I can do it alone.”
“Oh Darling,” Francial finally spoke up and gently put her arm around Anjur’s shoulders. “You’ll never be alone. You’re our daughter, part of our family and we love you. We will always be here to help you through anything. No matter what it is.”
“I hope you are serious about that Mother because…” She abruptly sat up as if she was in a trance. “Zameal is at the door.” Was all she said.
“What…” Norlamac said as almost at the same moment he heard Zameal calling from the living room.
“Sire…? Mistress? Is everything all right?” Zameal said from the slightly open doorway.
“We’re in here,” Norlamac said, “and everything is fine.”
“Tolmar sent me to tell ye that he can’t hold the meal much longer. The rest of the guests are getting impatient.” He came into the bedroom.
“Tell him to go ahead and serve them. We will probably be down in a few minutes though we may not come down at all.”
“What do ye mean ye may not be down at all? Is someone ill? Is there…”
“Just do as I said,” Norlamac barked and then, more gently, “Please, Zameal, just tell him.”
Zameal looked at them and thought it best not to ask any further questions. “As ye say Sire,” he withdrew.
When he was gone, Norlamac turned to Anjur and said, “How did you know he was coming into the room?”
“I saw him at the door.”
Anjur just nodded.
“Forgive me,” Norlamac knelt down so he could look at Anjur directly, “I’m trying to understand, but it’s difficult.”
She nodded again.
“What do you mean when you say you see things?”
“I really don’t know,” Anjur looked out across the sea again. “It’s almost like having a dream except that I’m wide awake. The nearest similarity I can come up with is when you close your eyes and can sort of see an image you have seen in the past. You can create a picture of it in your mind. The difference is that the images I see aren’t out of the past but are things that have yet to happen and my visions are much clearer and more distinct than a visual memory.”
“And these visions just sort of appear?”
“That’s right,” Anjur acknowledged. “I don’t know when they will appear nor do I have any idea of what the vision will be about.”
They continued to talk for a few more minutes with Norlamac asking pointed questions and Anjur answering as directly as she could, but Norlamac quickly realized that Anjur really didn’t know where the visions came from nor how or even if she caused them. Shortly all three of them decided that it might be wise to have something to eat before continuing to probe deeper. Thus, they went downstairs to join the other guests who had indeed begun their meal.