Chapters 01 – 08

 Chapters 1-8 are all on this post. You may print and read at your leisure.

Entrapment

Chapter 1

Long Live the King

At least, he died doing what he loved best, Samard thought bitterly, fighting his adored war. Not loving me or my mother.

The war had hacked Samard’s oldest brother to death. The second brother received two arrows in the back and one in the chest, piercing his heart. The third brother disappeared.

“Kidnapped,” the old king had bellowed. “We must kill the bastards for taking my son!”

Everyone knew the boy would rather live as a peasant than die as a prince, but the king would not hear it.

The queen would not allow the war-loving king to raise Samard as a warrior. He lived in her chambers where he learned to read, write, cipher numbers, and take a bath no less than once a week. He was required to learn the manners of court, dress in silk, make friends with noble sons, and flirt with noble daughters.

But Samard preferred to spend his time working, playing, riding, hunting with stable boys and flirting with peasant girls.

His brothers rose before dawn to learn how to sword fight, on foot and on horse, so they could one day go to war and kill their enemy. Samard slept until mid-morning, ate breakfast, and after his studies, he’d help his friends finish shoveling horse manure, and replace old hay with new. The sooner the boys finished their work, the sooner they and Samard could play.

The stable boys’ fathers taught them and Samard how to ride horses, hunt with a bow and arrow, and how to be a man of honor. That life and friends Samard had loved so much was now no more than a faded memory.

On his fourteenth birthday, Samard was hauled out of his mother’s chambers and brought before his father to become the next to sit on the throne. All his brothers were dead or missing; he was the last heir.

Three years later, a week shy of Samard’s seventeenth birthday, the old king had been brought from battle mortally wounded. The doctors said he’d not live till nightfall.  He’d die doing what he’d loved best.

As soon as he was named king, Samard would be slave to the throne.

Samard sat staring out the window as his mother paced and cried uncontrollably. He should be crying, but there were no tears. What was there to cry about? Lost love? His heart was devoid of emotion. Samard wasn’t sure he loved the king. “King.” He thought of him as king not father. He didn’t know him well enough to call him father. They never took the time to know each other. Now they never would.

“I will be king in the morning,” Samard said, softly. It hardly seemed real.

His mother blew her nose. “It will take three weeks to prepare for the coronation.”

“I will be king in the morning.” Samard spoke with such conviction his mother whirled around to face him.

“Your father is not yet dead or buried,” she exclaimed. “At least, let him die before you make such claims.”

He turned from the window to look at his mother’s grief stricken face. She’d lost three sons and a husband to that war. And what did they battle over? Land and water rights in the valley that separated two kingdoms.

The Prairie Kingdom claimed all the land to the west of the river. The Sea-Side Kingdom claimed all land east of the river. But the river moved from east to west depending on the amount or the lack of rainfall. Their claims were always shifting, giving them a perpetual reason to clash.

They could have ended the war, but the old king refused the opposing king’s repeated efforts to negotiate peace. Samard’s father loved war.

Soldiers from both kingdoms expected the farmers who lived in the valley to feed them, and their daughters to entertain them. Farmers left the valley taking all their possessions, livestock and daughters with them. Few lived or farmed in the valley any more. Food was scarce and had to be imported from far away lands.

Both kingdoms fought only for the glory of battle. It mattered little of the money or lives lost. It mattered little what Samard had lost. The only fathers he knew belonged to stable boys. The only brothers he remembered were the sons of blacksmiths and horse trainers.

“I will be king in the morning.” Each time he said it, it became more real. He would be a better king than his father. He would not neglect his family or peruse idiotic glory. “My first act will be to end the war. Then we will bury your husband.”

“How will you do this?” she asked.

“Does King Ingvea have a daughter?”

“I believe so, yes. Several in fact.”

“I will send a messenger to the king and will propose a marriage of peace with whichever daughter is not already betrothed. I will have sons who will rule the two kingdoms as brothers.”

“What if his youngest daughter is the only one available?”

“The I will wait until she is old enough. From this day forth, we will live in peace.”

His mother’s face changed from the disbelief at her son’s brazen words to hopeful surprise then to approval that this hateful war would finally be over. She wiped the tears from her face and stood erect.

With the determination to end the life of the one who had stolen so much from her, she said, “I will see to the necessary arrangements.”

Chapter 2

Namia Zora

Blue sparks danced like a light mist. It swirled over Namia Zora’s hand, around his wrist and disappeared into his forearm. It continued up his body igniting like tiny lighting bolts in his brain. Magic was strong this day. With his hand on the cave’s wall, the wizard took a deep breath, calmed his mind, and listened.

Ah, that feeling. His heart swelled with pride at the loving touch of Matron Earth as she gave up her secrets. He inhaled the aroma of success. No other wizard living in the mountains could accomplish such a feat as this.

The dwarf didn’t exactly hear the words, but felt an impression on his mind. He needed the milk, life, and blood of the land.

The war was over. This was a monumental wedding and the beginning of a new era of peace, ending a twenty-three-year war between two kingdoms. On the day of the wedding, there would be a gift giving procession. Unfortunately, the war had left the Prairie Kingdom poverty-stricken. It would not do for all gifts to be of lean cows and scrawny chickens. There should be at least one gift of such value so as to awe the Sea-Side Kingdom.

Namia Zora, the wizard-dwarf, would present the new king and queen with a jewel beyond compare.

The wedding was also a new era of wealth and prosperity. Now that war was finally over, farmers would be turning to the valley. Food would be plentiful again. It would once again be safe to trade with the over-sea merchants who come to the Sea-Side harbor. Everyone in the Prairie Kingdom, including Namia Zora, was excited over upcoming prospects.

Deep in the caves, white limestone dripped into stalactites and stalagmites: Milk of the Land. Deeper still, there rested an underground lake: Life of the Land. At the depths of the mountain flowed a stream of lava: Blood of the Land.

He placed a bit of each in a caldron on a fire in his home caves. Finally, he dropped in the handful of small rough diamonds along with powdered zinc and tree sap. The mixture would simmer. The zinc would soften the diamonds. The tree sap would combine the smaller stones into one large jewel. The brew would cook, and in three days time, it would be ready. Perfect.

***

Tabisya just wanted to be useful, helpful. He didn’t want his master’s brew to settle and burn. He’d just stir it, a little. Just a little.

He tied a rope at his thin waist to keep the hem of his robes from dragging on the cave floor. A pouch hung around his long neck filled with things only a gnome would value: a head of a dead rat, a cowbird feather, a coyote tuft, a rabbit paw, and a piece of cinnamon stick. He tucked the pouch in his rope-belt.

The spoon he used was made from the root of a geewry tree that grew on the side of the mountain. The tree’s roots were long, thick and strong and dug deep into the ground and tightly held on, preventing the tree from falling.

If he’s stirred it the day before the stone formed, or a few hours later after the stone had formed and settled into its new shape, it would not have mattered. But Tabisya chose the exact moment the brew was combining the smaller diamonds into one large jewel.

Tabisya heard the sound of glass breaking and the pieces drop to the floor. He looked over his shoulder to see what had broken. Nothing. It must have been his imagination. In that exact instant, the spoon dissolved. Magic seeped from the geewry tree’s ability to latch onto the mountainside and gave the forming gem long, thick and strong, magical tentacles that could dig deep onto a mortal’s heart and hold on tight.

The ground beneath his feet seemed to shake. The gnome slipped and just barely caught himself before he fell in.

His pouch plopped out of his belt and quickly sunk into the white mixture. Blue mist drifted like smoke from the liquid. Craftiness from the dead rat brain, deviousness from the cowbird feather, trickery from the coyote fur, covertness from the rabbit foot leached out and attached itself to the gem. Finally the color of the cinnamon stick turned the forming jewel orange. In that instant, the diamond changed into an agent of Magic.

Tabisya pulled himself up and the pouch out. He shook it free of moisture and tucked it inside his robe. Then he noticed the end of the spoon was gone. Evidently, the mixture was not meant to be stirred. He decided to make rabbit stew and thought no more of his master’s brew.

***

On the third day, Namia Zora poured the mixture out and reached into the caldron to retrieve his magical creation and stared at it in bewilderment.

Tabisya gasped. “What is it?”

“Topaz,” Namia Zora said. “I thought to make a diamond, but this is better than I imagined. A blue topaz is far more valuable than a diamond, but an orange topaz is so rare, it is priceless. I have out done myself.” He proudly held the orange jewel, the size of a man’s hand, up to the lantern. Deep in the jewel’s facets, threads of red, yellow, and white swirled as if dancing.

“I have never seen anything like it. You have outdone yourself,” Tabisya complimented. “The king and queen will be pleased and all will be amazed at the magnificence of your talents.”

 ***

Gnomes and Dwarfs, like all creatures of the earth, desire, crave for, lust after precious jewels found in the ground. But Namia Zora and Tabisya knew this gem was made of magic and knew it was no more valuable than a trinket. Humans could not tell true value. If it looked valuable, they believed it was valuable.

 

Chapter 3

Contract for Peace

Abiya was King Ingvea’s firstborn daughter. He had five girls. The sixth and youngest child, not yet weaned from his mother’s breast, was his only son and next king.

Ingvea still remembered how he’d paced and worried all night and well into the next morning waiting for Abiya to be born. The first time he saw his baby girl, his heart no longer belonged to him. It was the same with each child, and even though he loved all equally, he had only one Abiya.

Although his wife often insisted it was for her good, Ingvea infrequently disciplined his firstborn daughter. No request of hers was too difficult for him to fulfill.

When she was five, he brought her a pony, but she wanted to ride a full grown horse. A special saddle was crafted just for her and the horse of her choice. She cried every day for a week until the saddle was ready. She rode the horse until her thirteenth birthday. On that day, she declared, “I am a lady. Ladies did not ride horses.” She never set foot in the stables again.

He knew someday, he’d have to marry his daughters off. Girls made for good political strategy.

He planned to keep Abiya close by marrying her to a noblemen’s son who frequently visited the castle. Abiya was seventeen. Ingvea thought he had time, one more year, at least. If only he’d made the marriage arrangements before Samard’s messenger arrived.

It had been a long and difficult war. His kingdom was small and his soldiers few. All his treasury had gone had to hire mercenaries. Most of his land was dry and sandy. The valley was his most fertile farmland, but most of his farmers had moved away and now lived in the city surrounding the castle. The food supplies were low. Food from merchant ships, from far away lands, was expensive. Ingvea desperately needed his farmers to return to their valley fields.

“You want me to do what?” Abiya had asked, when he’d told her of the wedding.

“It is for the good of the kingdom,” he said.

“And what about my good?” Abiya angrily asked. “Don’t my feelings count? Don’t I have a say in the matter?”

Ingvea suddenly realized how wrong he’d been. He’d spoiled his children with love instead of teaching them the responsibilities of queen and kingship. One’s life belongs to the people, not to one’s self. He’d failed Abiya, but it was not too late for the others.

“To not go would be to insult him.”

“Then I will insult him!”

“He might send troops to our castle gates,” he pleaded with her.

“Then we will fight and send him back mortally wounded,” she defiantly declared.

Ingvea sighed heavily. “We do not have the troops. He will come and devastate the land and plunder our goods. His soldiers will rape the women, your sisters and your mother. Go for their sake.”

“So you will sacrifice me to save them? Am I so unimportant to you that you prefer them over me?”

Her words were like a spear to Ingvea’s heart.

An arranged marriage between his daughter and Samard was the perfect strategic move to end a meaningless war. Still, it broke his heart to give his baby girl away like that. Tears still came to his eyes when he thought of her so far away; married to a man he knew little about. He could only hope Samard was a better man than his father, since he was willing to end the hostilities.

On the day Abiya left, Ingvea held his emotions in as long as he could. He smiled in the hope of encouraging her. But when he tried to give her a good-bye hug, she angrily turned from him. She didn’t even give her mother a farewell kiss or look at her sisters.

To her little brother resting in his nanny’s arms, she said, “Do not grow up to be like your father who gives his daughter way to the first mongrel who summons her.”

As she stepped into the carriage, Ingvea could stand it no longer. He turned away so she would not see him crying. He didn’t want that to be her last memory of him.

The heartbroken father wrapped a consoling arm around his equally heartbroken wife and pulled her close. Together they entered the castle weeping.

Chapter 4

Second Thoughts

This was a bad idea. How could Samard take back a marriage proposal without starting another war?

At the wedding ceremony, when asked if she would accept Samard as her husband, after a long pause, Abiya merely nodded. She’d not spoken to him since the day she’d arrived. What would their wedding night be like?

Samard had tried to include Abiya in all the wedding decision-making, but her only response was, “As the king wishes.” He’d not actually spoken to her or seen her since her arrival. All communication went through Abiya’s handmaiden, Yamie. It was said she’d not spoken to anyone in the castle, except Yamie.

He glanced at his queen; she sat on her throne as if she were not there. He hoped her attitude was not permanent. They needed an heir to seal the peace between the two kingdoms.

This will be a difficult marriage, he realized. I should not have been in such a hurry. I should have thought of a better solution to our predicament. I should have courted her as a lover does.  

It was not too late. They had a lifetime together. Samard could court his new bride. He would make up for his inconsideration until they did become lovers.

He turned his attention to the procession of guests who brought wedding gifts to the newly wed king and queen. Nobles bought fine gifts such as bulls to improve the king’s herd and wheat to feed the royal family. Peasants brought what they could afford, such as: baskets of bread, finely crafted jewelry, pottery to decorate the castle and a tapestry of the wedding. Samard was pleased with the gifts.

Before the war, when the castle was at its most prosperous, more than a thousand people had lived and worked in the castle and surrounding town.  After the war, all mercenaries left, looking for another paid battle to fight. Now only a few hundred subjects still loyal to the king remained. Samard valued each and every one of them.

Seven men leading two horses walked up the aisle. It took a few minutes for Samard to realize they were the stable boys from his childhood. They seemed shy and unsure of themselves. Were they afraid their king might not remember them? Samard smiled broadly. They straightened and walked forward with more confidence.

“What is this?” Samard asked, leaning forward.

One man stepped forward. Epercun said, “We bring a mare for the queen and a stallion for the king so you might ride together, my lord.”

“They are fine horses.” He didn’t bother to inquire what Abiya thought. “The stallion looks like a runner,” Samard said, remembering the times he used to ride with the men.

“Indeed, my lord,” Epercun said. “He runs well through fields, over hills and into forests.”

Samard looked at each man in turn. Would it be possible for him to ride with them again? Yes. He was king and could do as he pleased.

“I remember a time when I used to ride like that,” he said. “It would be good to do it again.”

The men broke into wider smiles. They understood his meaning. He wanted to ride with them. Their joy warmed Samard’s heart.

Epercun said, “Your horse will be saddled and ready at your word, my lord.”

“Then soon, I will take such a ride.”

“At your command.” Epercun and his friends bowed, turned and led the horses away.

Truly, the mare belonged to the queen. The horse lifted her tail and deposited a large pile of manure in the aisle. Samard stifled a smile.

Two stable boys quickly ran over to clean up the mess.

His childhood came flooding back to him. He’d been happy then. He’d much rather shovel manure with his friends than rule a kingdom or be trapped in a loveless marriage. If only the stallion could fly and take him away from all of this. Better yet, if only he could sprout wings and fly away.

He stole a glance at Abiya. Her cream colored, flawless skin looked as if it had never been marred by the sun. Her dark brown eyes that always darted away from him, blinked slowly as they stared straight ahead, focused on nothing. One might have thought she was a marble stature. She was perfect, soft and smelled of fragrant flowers. If she smiled, she could be pretty. He decided not to go to her bed that night. He would wait until she was ready.

Abiya leaned forward.

Samard realized a dwarf-wizard and his gnome-assistant were kneeling before them.

The dwarf held something in his outstretched hand. With his other hand, he reached over to pull back a black cloth. Samard just caught a glimpse of an orange topaz the size of a man’s hand before Abiya snatched it away. He caught another glance of the jewel as she tucked it in her sleeve.

Chapter 5

Gift Worthy of a Queen

Queen Abiya could barely breathe, eat or sleep at the tragic turn of her life.

She might have thought King Samard handsome, with his thick tussled, sandy hair, unwilling to be tamed by a brush, his bright green eyes, and his crooked smile. He was not pretty like so many nobles with pale skin and soft hands. He was rough like one who worked and lived outside. Abiya might have admired him, if circumstances were different.

That morning, she’d been married. Later, after the festivities, the king would come to her bed and forcibly take that which she did not want to give him. This was not a marriage of romance, but one of convenience. She had not been courted by a lover or consulted for her opinion. Instead, she’d been summoned like a Heifer to improve a herd of cows.

On the day Samard’s father died, and was crowned King, he immediately sent a letter to Abiya’s father with a proposal of peace in marriage between their warring countries.

“It will end the war,” her father had whined. “You will save lives.”

Lives? He was not concerned for the lives saved, but the money saved in not financing a senseless war. After twenty-three years, no one remembered why or how the war had started. Nor did they care.

The day her father received the letter, he began packing Abiya. The next morning, he sent her to Samard. Less than a month later, she sat on the throne as Queen accepting wedding gifts from peasants and their futile attempts at giving useless gift after useless gift. Cows, ducks, breads, hand-woven baskets, bolts of cotton worthy to be worn by her ladies in waiting. No silks for Abiya. Jewelry made from clay, nothing to adorn her hair, neck or arms. How she wished she were dead.

She looked down the endless procession and resisted the urge to sigh. Cackling chickens gave her a headache, pig smell disgusted her, but it was the cows she envied. They relieved themselves where and when they liked.

The room was stifling hot. The smell of people and sweat, animal fur and hide, made her nauseous. She was hungry, but couldn’t taste the bread. She was thirsty, but couldn’t taste the wine. She was tired, but couldn’t stretch. As queen, it was improper for Abiya to so much as squirm. She was slave to these peasants and their gift giving.

The line was endless and laborious. They dressed in drab browns, grays and blacks with a few yellows and reds splashed in. The procession looked like a wounded worm trying to slither its way to the throne to devour her.

Why do they even live in this godforsaken, perpetually drought stricken land? She came from a city of 5,000. It was a harbor where merchants from around the world came to trade their goods. No one came here. There was nothing to trade for or with, certainly, nothing to war over or to sacrifice her life for.

A red bearded, overweight dwarf waddled like a duck as he made his way up the aisle towards the throne. His eyes twinkled with the excitement of the event. At his side, a thin gnome hopped-walked from one foot to the other like a rabbit, nervous about his surroundings. They looked clean as if they’d bathed recently, but as the came closer, they smelled of musty soil, mushrooms and fungus.

The dwarf knelt before the king and queen. He held his right hand up. A piece of black velvet draped over his stubby fingers and a large bulge in his palm. If this gift was of any value, he should have placed it in an engraved silver case. A wooden box would have been better than to let whatever he offered touch his skin. With a permanently, dirt-stained left hand, he reached up to pull back an edge of the cloth.

Abiya instinctively leaned forward. Something about the dwarf’s demeanor said his offering was worth considering.

Before he had fully pulled the cloth away, Abiya glimpsed a topaz the size of a man’s hand. Jewels that size didn’t exist. A blue topaz was beyond compare, but an orange topaz was priceless. Where had he found it? Truly, it was a gift worthy of a queen.

She reached out a trembling hand. The moment her fingers fully wrapped round the stone, her hand relaxed. Taking the jewel, she gracefully leaned back, slipped it into a pocket her sleeve and placed her hands in her lap.

A soothingly warmth flowed up her arm. She felt it encircle her chest and traveled down the other arm. At the same time that it moved up her neck into her head, it also moved down through her body, to her legs and feet. Her knot in her stomach eased. The dull ache in her lower back was gone. Her head stopped throbbing.

Instead of the commotion of talking, laughing, babies crying, cows baying, horses neighing, she heard the melodious sound of chimes blowing in the wind. Instead of the stench of animals and body odor, she smelled lilies. All discomfort of the day’s ordeal evaporated.
 

Chapter 6

Royal Thief

“How much do you have?”

Dor reached into his pocket and dropped several coins in Rheaux’s hand. She leaned in close to him and inconspicuously dropped the coins down the front of her blouse.

In this crowd, that was safer than any pocket. Dor knew. He’d been picking pockets for most of the morning.

He never took all the money he found, just a few coins. That way, if someone did check their pockets just after Dor passed them, they wouldn’t think he’d stolen anything.

“Is that all?” she asked.

“No.” Reluctantly, he gave her the rest. He’d have nothing left to gamble with later.

“That’s more than 100 quid,” she said. “Good. We can go now.”

“What?” Dor almost forgot to keep his voice down. “We can’t go now. Look around.”

Rheaux looked at the cows, bulls, chickens, horses and crowd of people. “It smells.”

“Livestock does that.”

“This is the king’s room, for god’s sake. They should have done this outside,” Rheaux complained.

“Can’t ask the queen to sit in the sun all day while people present their wedding gifts to her,” Dor said.

“The king’s servants could have built a canopy.” Rheaux focused on the queen. “I don’t know how she does it. Sitting on her throne as if there’s no smell and it’s not stuffy in here. I’m ready to vomit.”

“She’s the queen. Royalty don’t vomit; not in public anyway,” Dor said.

“She will when she sees me do it.” Rheaux pulled on his arm to leave. He pulled back.

“Rheaux, there are so many more pockets.”

“Don’t be greedy, Dor. Stop before you get caught.”

“Look, the wizard comes.” He pointed to the dwarf. “At least, let’s see what he’s brought.”

She gave him that “let’s go now” look.

He gave her his best “please” look. It usually worked.

She gave in. “All right, but we leave when he does.”

“Good enough.”

Rheaux turned from the procession and watched the crowd as she leaned her back against Dor’s side. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close. She fit as smoothly as if she were silk against his bare body. She laced her arms around his. He kissed the back of her blue-black head of hair.

“I’m safe,” he said. “No one suspects me of anything.”

“I’ll keep watch anyway; wouldn’t want to be caught unawares.”

She didn’t like Dor thieving, but times were tough. Her father was a farmer. Now that the war was over, he and she hoped to move back to the village and their farm.

Dor wanted to stay in town. Now that the war was over, wealth would be returning and thieving would be profitable again. But if she left, he’d go with her and do as she wanted. He’d become a farmer.

Rheaux nudged him.

“What?” he asked.

She pointed at a big man, slightly taller than Dor. He was fat, as in he’d never missed a meal. He sweated in his fine, black sateen clothing. From his gold belted sash, hung a leather pouch, bulging with coins. The pouch hung from a silver catch. But it wasn’t the coins that Rheaux was showing Dor.

The man was obscuring a small boy about eight or ten years old from seeing the procession. As the boy tried to get around him, the man stepped in his way. He laughed as he stuffed his mouth with fried bread.

“Excuse me, sir,” the boy said, as he tried to move to the man’s other side.

The man laughed and stepped in his way.

The boy should have walked away and found another route, but he was too young to think of it. He tried again and again the man continued to laugh as he blocked the way.

Rheaux stepped away from Dor, her sign Dor was to help. He slowly moved towards the man, who was too preoccupied with the boy to notice a thief at his side.

Dor slipped the man’s money pouch from his sash and purposely bumped the man. He forgot about the boy and reached for his coins. They were not there.

“Thief,” the man yelled. He rounded on the boy and loudly declared, “Thief. He stole my money.”

That was not what Dor had intended. He thought the man would forget the boy and seek out his coins and their thief.

Two guards appeared from out of the crowd. “What’s the matter?” one of them asked.

“That boy stole my money pouch,” the fat man said.

“That boy?” the guard asked.

“Yes. I demand you search him.”

The boy didn’t run or deny the theft.

“You must be wrong,” the guard said.

“I’m not!”

“That boy is the son of the king’s captain. He’s no thief.”

“I say he is. You call me a liar?” the man demanded, indignity.

“Is that your coins?” the second guard asked, pointing to the man’s side.

He reached for and found his pouch. “He must have replaced it.”

“Yes, sir, have a good day.” The guards melted into the crowd.

The boy remained where he was.

“I know you did it,” the man accused. “I just do know how.” He turned back to the procession.

Dor reached for the pouch again, he carefully lifted the leather straps off the silver hook. This was a man of arrogance. Instead of hiding his silver and gold protectively inside his shirt, he held it out for all to see how rich he was. Then in his inflated importance, he thought no one would steal from him?

Opening the pouch, Dor slipped half the coins out and replaced the weight with rocks.

Before he had time to replace the pouch, the man patted the place where it had been hanging. Dor just barely stepped aside as the man wheeled around to find the boy still rooted in place. He again yelled in indignation.

The guards reappeared. Only this time, when the man accused the boy, and the pouch was again at his side, the guards grabbed the man and forcibly dragged him from the room.

The boy smiled up at Dor. “Not nice man.”

“No.” Dor agreed. He stepped aside for the boy to slip into the front of the crowd.

Dor gave him a silver coin. “I believe the fat one dropped this when he the guards escorted him outside.”

“Have sister and baby comes soon,” he said.

Dor gave him two more coins. “You will share?”

He nodded yes.

“What will you tell your father?”

“A bad man mean. Another man kind.”

“Will he believe you?”

The boy nodded yes.

Dor nodded and returned to Rheaux.

“Can we go now?” Rheaux asked. She sounded tired, but of late, she was always tired. Dor thought she used it as an excuse to control him.

“After the dwarf,” he said.

The wizard dwarf waddled up the aisle swinging his arms as if they were propelling him forward. His gnome walked at his side. Dor figured the dwarf must be extremely patient or completely oblivious. Gnomes’ greatest talent was turning the simplest task into a monumental disaster. No matter how hard he tried, the gnome would never be able to master the simplest of spells.

“That dwarf has no class,” Dor said softly.

“What?” Rheaux asked.

“He carries his gift in his hand instead of placing it in a box worthy of Royalty.”

“Can we go?”

“In a minute.”

Rheaux sighed; a sign she wanted him to hurry.

The dwarf and gnome knelt before the king and queen. The wizard dwarf extended his left hand. A black piece of velvet was folded over his hand. Dor saw a bulge under the cloth. With his other hand, the dwarf reached over to grab the corner of the cloth.

The queen leaned forward.

The king watched the queen out of the corner of his eye.

Dor couldn’t tell if he was annoyed with her or pleased. There seemed to be no personal connection between them. They’re newlyweds, he thought. Well, this is a marriage of politics. They’ve only just met. He didn’t court her as a lover might. It will take time for them to get to know one another. He hoped they’d love each other as much as he and Rheaux did.

As the dwarf lifted the black cloth, the queen snatched an orange gem from his hand and hid it in her sleeve.

“Did you see that?” Dor asked.

“See what?” Rheaux looked over her shoulder at the queen.

“He gave her a topaz the size of my fist.” He held up his fist for her to see.

“Is that good?”

“Rheaux, gems are usually the size of my thumb.” He showed her his thumb. “Not the size of my fist.” He showed her his fist again.

“Oh. Can we go now?”

It would be fun to reach up her sleeve to see what else she’s hiding there, and take the topaz, Dor thought.

Rheaux pulled on his arm. “Her guards won’t let you near her.”

“How do you always know what I’m thinking?” He finally allowed her to drag him away.

“I’m your wife.”

“Well, if I can’t search the queen’s sleeve, can I search your blouse for my coins?”

Her mouth curved in that crooked smile he loved to kiss. “You have to take me home first.”

Chapter 7

Magic Calls

The fire still blazed as tall as a house. In the darkness of night, the sisters still danced around it looking like live shadows. Danced? There was no grace in their movements. They stumbled, flayed their arms as if a puppeteer carelessly yanked on their strings. They foamed at the mouth. One sister jumped into the fire, exiting a few seconds later unharmed. Another followed, and another. A disgusting show of power.

The forty-two sisters came for the magical ecstasy. The uncontrolled festivities were a waste of energy. Tamerad came to the new moon Gathering of Darkness for knowledge. Magic was always strongest in a group setting.

Sitting by herself, Tamerad allowed the magic to melt over her, seeping into her skin, reaching for her soul, and pulling her into a trance. Sometimes, she concentrated on a subject like Sidrea , the greatest witch who had ever lived. The old crone had died over 200 years old. Even though Tamerad could no longer sit in the witch’s physical presence, there was still knowledge and insight to be learned from the spirit of one so accomplished in her skills.

Tamerad’s mind would fold over the witch’s name. She’d imagine the old one sitting with her, ask Sidrea  a question, and wait for the answer to come. The answer never failed in its wisdom.

But on this night, Tamerad had been meditating on nothing, allowing her mind to travel where the magic directed her. Then she saw it; but it was so faint, like a spark of light in fast darkness, she thought she’d imagined it. Then it spoke her name, “Tamerad,” as if it knew her.

Tamerad was suddenly, unexpectedly jolted out of her trance. She concentrated on the spark in the hope of regaining a connection and understanding what it was, but in her excitement, the image eluded her.

“What to do?” she wondered. Then she knew.

She slipped unnoticed from the Gathering and hurried along the stone path away from the fire through the forest to consult the Well of Knowledge.

It was a bowl large enough to bathe a child, though no one would dare to do such a thing. As usual, the bowl was empty.

Tamerad pulled her white gown up as she knelt on the kneeling rocks, so old and worn, there were two smooth indentations for one’s knees to comfortably rest. She tied her waist-length, cinnamon hair in a knot at the back of her neck. One strand of hair touching the water could alter the vision and future.

She held her wrist over the bowl of knowledge and spoke the magic word, ”Mockit.”

Dips of blood splattered on the bottom of the empty basin. As if the bottom of the bowl had opened for a spring to bubble up, water began to seep in. But there were no springs in the immediate area, and the bowl sat on a six-foot by six-foot rock slab. This water was supernatural and was called forth by blood.

The water gurgled, blood splashed down, water swept up the bowl as if it might over flow, but just as the water reached the brim, it stopped. Tamerad pulled her arm away, the blood stopped. Her wristed was clean of cuts or scars.

Blood swirled, the water … changed. Tamerad waited for the water to settle as she settled her excited nerves.

“Emotions will cloud magic,” Sidrea had once said in a vision. “Always remain clam and you will always be in control.”

Tamerad breathed deeply and relaxed as she let her mind go blank.
Placing one hand on either side of the brim, she leaned forward getting a full view of the water. Then in the some ancient language of magic, she said, “I have seen something while in a trance. Tell me what it means.”

Her bright hazel eyes studied the water as it turned black, then swirled with colors of sapphire, aqua, teal and orange. Images appeared and disappeared so fast, she was unable to distinguish anything. A dragon snapped at her. She jumped in surprise, but with a blink of her eyes, it was gone, if it was even there in the first place.

A man’s right hand appeared and on his ring finger was a king’s ring; the head of a dragon. That was the dragon she’d seen earlier.

The hand trembled as it held something. She couldn’t see what the artifact was because the light expressing the power was too bright, the more intense the light, the more powerful the magic. The pale hand trembled.

The king who wields this magic is unable to control it, Tamerad mused.

Tamerad’s hand appeared. She recognized her long fingers and the rings on her fingers.  She reached for the magic, but her hand could not touch it.

I am not to touch the magic. Grave disappointment threatened to distract her. She closed her eyes for less than a second to regain her calm then opened her eyes.

Both her hand and the other were still there. The hand placed itself in Tamerad’s hand. Her fingers closed over the back of it hand. She could not touch, but her hand determined the fate of the one who welds the magic.

Again, she heard her name, “Tamerad.”

“I will guide the hand that holds the magic,” she whispered to herself.

Excitement rose up so fast it almost choked her. She sat back on her feet, clasped her hands together in pleasure, closed her eyes, and rested her forehead on her hands. She could barely believe her good fortune. Emotions welled up from her heart and slipped into her mind. Relief. She was destined for something greater than sitting by a fire watching her sisters make fools of themselves.

***

While caught up in her thoughts, assured she understood the full meaning of the vision, Tamerad missed the rest of the vision in the Well of Knowledge.

Chapter 8

Heart’s Desires

Like every princess, I dreamt of the day my prince would ride to our castle. He would be handsome, generous, funny, and attentive to my every need. At our first meeting, we’d know our love was true.

Dreams are for the naive.

For years my father pleaded for peace, but was denied. Now one word from the young warmonger king and I was packed up like a prize won in a card game. Neither my feelings nor desires were taken into consideration. A flood of tears did not stop my father. He turned from me and walked away, taking my weeping mother with him.

I was married and given wedding gifts of chickens and cows as if I was a farmer’s wife. And a horse; I was given a horse! Did they actually expect me to ride the beast?

I fear for the wedding night. That brute would take what he wants – by force. Our marriage will be devoid of tenderness and love. I am no more important than the spoils of war.

In the morrow I saw my wedding gown, pale green, for blessings of fertility. Am I farmland?

I pulled at the dress and the petticoats and ripped them to pieces. But the blouse was too well sewn. As I searched the vanity for something to cut it off me, a bottle of perfume fell to the floor, shattering; giving me a sizable piece of glass.

In my rush, I cut my hand. I used bits of wedding dress to stop the bleeding.

The truth of my situation swept over me. Tears of frustration welled up. There was no one to hear my heart’s wail; no one to console me or rescue me. I cried until I could not breath. I used the green sateen to blow my nose. Once calmed, I gathered the bits of cloth and threw them out the window; seventy-five feet to the courtyard below.

I could follow. It would be so easy just to ….

I have no idea how long I stood staring at nothing; thinking of nothing, for I no longer had dreams of hope.

It was growing dark.

He would come with his hot breath, drunken smell, rough hands, and food greased lips.

Swiftly, I moved to bolt the door expecting him to kick it in when he found it locked. He did not come.

In the vanity glass, bits of green dress and petticoat still hung over my bloomers. The blouse was smeared with blood. I’d forgotten to rip the sleeves off, for which I was grateful. Topaz was still in the sleeve pocket. I took it out, but it was difficult to see in the fading light.

I retrieved a candle from the mantel and lit it with the embers in the fireplace. I lit every candle and set them in a semicircle on the floor and sat in the light.

I heard silver bells chiming, but I didn’t have such chimes in my room. I thought perhaps it came from outside, but when I looked there were no chimes. It almost sounded like laughter, as if someone was mocking me.

I returned to the topaz and tried to concentrate on it. Ribbons of colored light danced inside the jewel. They leapt out, and circled and moved up and down, and around me. I’d never seen anything like it before. The topaz seemed to draw the ribbons of light back into itself. It drew me closer.

I smelled the sea-slated air of the ocean of my homeland. She heard seagulls as if they were right outside her window. The safety of security swept over me as if my nursemaid had placed a blanket over me to protect me from the cold of reality.

I felt as if I were falling into it … no, I was being welcomed in to where the lights caressed my body and mind. I thought I heard someone call my name. I gave into the sensation and allowed my self to be completely accepted in to where no one would ever find me again.

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Published in: on June 18, 2011 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

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