Racing the Wind, Part 6

wedding-wed-girls

Photo via Visual Hunt

The skies were gray, but Angharad didn’t care. It had taken three long months but the day had finally come. Her mother fastened the lace covered gown and ran a brush through her daughter’s golden curls.

“You look beautiful, Angharad,” Lady Moirea said. “I think this is the first time I have seen you in anything so fine.”

“Yes, and unless my husband insists I go to court I won’t wear anything like this again,” Angharad said. “This is too easily damaged.”

“You are too rough and wild,” Lady Moirea said. “Your father did you no favors by letting you run free.”

“Mother, you’ve been saying that for years. Nothing will change the past, and I now have a husband who loves me for my spirit and will let me be who I am,” Angharad said. She turned and smiled at her mother. “You’re a wonderful chatelaine and absolutely brilliant when it comes to solving problems for the tenant farmers. I can only hope that, when the time comes, Eridan and I will be able to do half as good as you and father.”

Lady Moirea laughed and hugged her daughter, keeping an eye on the dress. “You two will rule in your own way, and do a good job. You work well together and know how to compromise, though sometimes you don’t right now.”

Angharad smiled ruefully. She and Eridan had their fair share of arguments over the past few months, mostly because both were equally as stubborn and when one got an idea in their head they didn’t want to give it up.

There was a knock on the door. Lord Idwal poked his head in. “Moirea, I need Angharad. She has one last custom she must fulfill before the ceremony. Eridan is already outside.”

“What does she have to do?” Moirea asked, puzzled.

“The Heir’s Climb,” Angharad said.

“Not the pyre,” Moirea said, her face aghast. “She’ll destroy her dress and injure herself. She could die.”

“If I’m careful I won’t,” Angharad said. “I can do this, Mother.” Lady Moirea still looked doubtful but followed when Idwal led his daughter out of the room.

Eridan stood not far from the huge pile of wood. “Your father told me about the custom. Are you sure you can do this?” he asked.

“It’s not as hard as it looks,” Angharad said. “I’ve scaled this thing dozens of times, even though I wasn’t supposed to. I knew my day would come and I wanted to be prepared.”

“Yes, but you weren’t constricted by a gown with a long, flowing skirt,” Eridan said. He gripped Angharad’s shoulders. “Please don’t make me watch another person I care about burn to death.” This was whispered in her ear.

“I won’t,” Angharad promised.

Angharad joined her father at the edge of the towering pile of wood. “Are you ready for this?” Lord Idwal asked in a low voice. Angharad just shrugged. Lord Idwal cleared his throat. “Angharad, daughter of Idwal, granddaughter of Oran, it is time to take your place as the inheritor of these lands.” He handed her a lit torch. “Climb as high as you can and light the fire.”

Angharad stared at the oil soaked wood. She looked down at her skirt and train. She reached down and looped the delicate lace over the arm that wasn’t on the side with the torch and began to climb.

Eridan had been right. It was much harder with the dress than her usual outfit. She didn’t get very far up before she realized if she went any higher she would tear something. She paused and then dropped her skirt. She let everything flow around her. “I am Angharad, daughter of Idwal, granddaughter of Oran. I claim Heir’s Rights as proclaimed by the ancient Laws of Blood.” She took a deep breath and hurled the torch as high as she could. It struck the wood and lit it immediately.

Angharad grabbed her skirt again and started climbing down. She moved as fast as she could, but between her gown and her more fragile shoes she was slowed more than she’d expected. She felt the heat as it got closer. She looked up and saw the flames were crawling closer to her outstretched hand.

She increased her speed, trying not to tangle herself in her skirt. Though she hadn’t climbed as high as she’d planned, the branches snagged at the fabric and she had to work it loose. It was slowing her descent just enough that the fire was catching up to her. The roar was drowning out everything below her.

She paused to untangle her skirt for the hundredth time when her upper hand erupted in pain. She screamed and yanked it down, forgetting her skirt in an attempt to brace herself. Her hand was badly burned. It wouldn’t hold her weight anymore.

She looked up. The flames were coming for her like an eager monster seeking to devour her. She glanced down, saw Eridan’s stricken face, the horror on her mother’s, the glee on her brother’s, the pain on her father’s. She gauged the distance to the ground. Taking a deep breath she let go of the wood and jumped.

She struck the ground and rolled. Eridan was at her side in a moment. “Angharad, Angharad, answer me,” he said.

Angharad dragged herself to her feet. “I’m alive,” she said, holding her hand against her chest. She took a moment to assess the rest of the damage to her body. “I’ve been burned badly, and I’ll be a lovely shade of purple in several places, but that’s it,” she said, leaning against Eridan as he held her.

“Let me see the hand,” the house mage said. Angharad held it out while Eridan only shifted his position enough to let her do it. The mage held his hands over it and muttered some strange words under his breath. The pain faded and as she watched the angry red color vanished. The blisters sank back into her skin, though they left behind terrible scarring. When the mage pulled his hands back, the only sign of the burn was the severe scars. “I can’t get rid of the scars. You’re stuck with them for life. But now the wedding can continue as planned.”

“After that fall? Angharad needs to rest. We have to postpone the ceremony until tomorrow,” Lady Moirea protested.

“If we do that, she’ll have to do this again,” Lord Idwal said. “She might not survive.”

“I’m fine, Mother,” Angharad said. “I want to go through with this.”

“All right,” Lady Moirea said.

Eridan wrapped one arm around her waist and held out his other so she could brace herself on it. “You’re hurt worse than you’re saying,” he whispered.

“I am, but as father says, I’d have to do this tomorrow and I don’t want to risk my life two days in a row,” Angharad said.

“Then let’s get this over with so I can get you to the healers,” Eridan said.

“That sounds like a great idea,” Angharad said. She rested most of her weight on her almost-husband and smiled. The gods had finally answered her prayers, though they’d tried to claim her life as their payment. Life with her beloved would be interesting, but it would definitely be worth every moment.

 

A gift of freedom

natural-horses-nature

Photo via VisualHunt

Aleesia flattened herself behind a small rise in the ground. The herd was still grazing, though the grass was limited. The branches and dead trees provided a hazard to Aleesia and her team as they prepared to attempt a capture. Her client had specified which horse they wanted. She’d already located it and her team had a plan how to separate it from the rest of the herd.

“Jessa, Liesel, are you ready?” she whispered.

The elven twins flashed her a gesture, indicating their readiness. They didn’t speak the human tongue though they understood it. They considered it too crude to even attempt. Aleesia found that opinion amusing and accepted their peculiarity with good grace. Few other wranglers would have done so. But the twins made capturing animals much easier so she dealt with all of their odd habits.

Breton squirmed closer to her. His dark skin was a blot on the terrain and he was keeping himself even farther down the hill. “Are you sure you know which one it is?” he whispered.

“Yeah. It’s pretty distinctive, considering it’s the darkest one there,” Aleesia said. “Are you ready?” He nodded. “Jessa, Liesel, go.”

The twins slipped over the hill and vanished, using their magic to turn invisible. They would be moving into place on either side of the dark mare. Aleesia called her magic to her hands. She took a deep breath and gestured at one of the dead trees. It shattered with a loud noise.

The horses screamed in terror and took off running. The dark horse lunged after her herd but suddenly found herself unable to move. She strained against the invisible bonds holding her but couldn’t break them.

“My turn,” Breton said. He scrambled over the hill, the halter and rope in his hand. He approached the horse. The twins’ magic held it in place as he slipped the enchanted leather over the mare’s head. He attached the lead and took a good hold of it. “Okay, I’ve got her.”

The twins shed their invisibility and released the mare. The horse tried to rear but Breton’s great strength held her down. She snorted and struggled but he stood fast. Aleesia climbed over the hill and joined the others. “She’s beautiful,” she said.

“She’s really spirited too,” Breton said.

Aleesia felt a pang. The client who’d demanded this horse was brutal when he broke them. They were truly broken when he was finished. She’d be utterly without spirit or personality. “I hate turning her over to him,” she said.

Liesel made a few hand gestures. “Liesel has a point,” Breton said. “If we don’t we’ll lose our reputation and we won’t have work.”

“I know,” Aleesia said. She put a hand on the proud beast’s neck. “I’m sorry sweet lady.”

Don’t be sorry. Don’t do this. The voice echoed in all of their minds. All four of the wranglers jerked back and stared at the horse.

“You can speak?” Breton asked.

Yes. All of my herd can. The horse snorted. Did you think we were the ordinary dumb creatures who roam the plains to the east? They could not survive in these lands.

Jessa looked at Liesel. They spoke in their own language for a moment. Then Jessa made a face before turning to Aleesia. “This is not a horse,” she said, her words heavily accented. “This is a sithana.”

“What’s a sithana?” Aleesia asked.

We are kin to the elves and fae, the sithana said. We have existed in this world for millennia. We can take many forms, from gentle creatures such as my herd to those beasts you call imaginary – dragons, gryphons, and chimera to name a few.

“We should let her go,” Liesel said. “We will lose reputation but we will save a life as precious as our own.”

“How will we eat if we don’t deliver?” Breton asked.

Should you release me you will be granted good fortune, the sithana said. That I swear.

“She has the power to do that,” Jessa said. “She has more magic than us. She can do what the fae do.”

Aleesia was silent, thinking hard. “Breton, take off the harness.”

“Aleesia, we’re going to lose out on a lot of money,” Breton said.

“I won’t enslave a sentient being,” Aleesia said. “Release her.”

Breton scowled but did as he was told. The sithana shook her head and reared up on her hind legs. Good fortune is yours, wranglers. You will find it as you pursue your future. Farewell. She took off chasing after her herd.

Aleesia sighed. “Let’s go tell our client we couldn’t catch his horse. At least if we lie we can save some face.” The other three nodded and the wranglers headed back to their own mounts, each lost in their thoughts of the beautiful being they’d just set free.

Interesting travels and mysterious encounters

fashionable-coin-pack

Photo via Visual hunt

Corinne tossed her backpack into the corner and flopped onto the bed. Her feet and back hurt, but she was very satisfied with her day’s hike. She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and rolled onto her stomach. She checked and saw that she actually had a signal. She dialed her best friend’s number and waited.

“Cor? Where are you this time?” Seth asked, amusement in his voice. “You freaked out your sister again, by the way.”

Corinne laughed. “She should be used to this by now. I’ve been doing it for how long? And I’m in Scotland.”

“Ah, someplace neutral then,” Seth said.

“Neutral my ass,” Corinne said. “Do you have any idea how much power runs through this country?”

“Is it as much as Egypt?” Seth asked.

“More in some places and less in others,” Corinne said.

“Did you find anything interesting?” Seth asked.

“Yes,” Corinne said. “I’m at a really tiny inn in a small village right now. When I get to Glasgow tomorrow and into an area with wi-fi I’ll send you the details. I think I’m on to something here.”

“You said that when you were in Turkey. And again in Kazakhstan. And in Greece,” Seth said.

“I know,” Corinne said. “But wait until you get the pictures and my notes. I think this time you’re going to want to bring the team here.”

“Cor, you know we can’t just drop everything every time you make some random discovery,” Seth said. “The rest of us have day jobs we can’t abandon.”

“S, trust me. You’re going to want to see this,” Corinne said. Her phone crackled. “I’m losing signal. I’ll call you when I get to Glasgow.”

“All right. I’ll talk to you then,” Seth said. The line went silent.

Corinne rolled off the bed and went over to her laptop case. She pulled out the slim machine that went everywhere with her. She grabbed her camera out of her backpack and attached it with the USB cable. She turned on her computer and logged in. She uploaded all the pictures she’d taken before shutting everything down again and putting it all away.

She stretched and decided to take a shower. Using a bit of her personal store of energy, she warded her room and sealed everything. She jumped in the shower, wishing the water would get hotter than a few degrees above lukewarm. She got out, toweled off, and changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. She exchanged her hiking boots for her knee high leather ones, tucking knives into the backs of each. She also shoved her runes in her pocket, just in case.

She went to the pub and grabbed some food before going back to her room. As she approached the door, she could feel something odd. Someone was attempting to break her wards. Corinne reached down and slipped one of her knives out of her boot. She moved forward quietly.

A wizened old woman stood outside her door, hands outstretched and eyes closed. “Is there something I can help you with?” Corinne asked, keeping the knife out of sight.

The woman jumped and the feeling of opposing magic ended abruptly. She turned and glared at Corinne. “Ye shouldna be diggin’ in matters that don’ concern ye,” she said, her brogue thick and full of anger.

“Neither should you,” Corinne said coldly.

“Yer presence does matter tae me,” the woman said. “Yer messin’ wi’ things that do better tae be left alone.”

“Why?” Corinne asked. “It’s a source of power that can be harnessed to make the world better.”

The woman spat. “Ye young mages. Ye have no respect fer the old magic. Ye’ll rue the day ye got involved wi’ it. Yer in over yer head and ye don’t even know it.” She stalked off. Corinne sighed, sheathing her knife. This wasn’t her first encounter with antagonistic locals and she doubted it would be her last. She’d just have to add a note to her report warning the others about it. They’d need to be prepared. She went into her room and locked the door behind her. She opened her laptop and got back to work.

 

Blue eyes and crimson blood

paint-drop

Photo via Visualhunt

Helene bent backwards, stretching her spine. She put the brush down and shook out her hands. She’d been working on the portrait of her client’s daughter for the past three days and she needed a break, mostly to get away from the blue.

There was so much blue in this painting. Sabrina Jones was a blond haired, blue eyed, angel faced child with doting parents and a love of the color blue. In the photo Helene was turning into the painting, Sabrina was wearing a pale blue dress with darker blue flowers on it and bright blue ribbons in her hair. She’d even been wearing a pair of earrings that Helene suspected were actual sapphires, given just how wealthy the Joneses were.

The wiry artist made her way to her favorite chair and sat down. She picked up her glass of tea and took a few swallows. She’d long ago learned iced tea, or other cold drinks, were her best bet for when she got into the “zone.” Hot drinks got ignored until they were tepid at best, and often had to be reheated. As Helene no longer had a working microwave, she went with cold drinks to save the headache.

She took another sip of her tea before closing her eyes. Sabrina’s portrait was waiting for her, but she didn’t know if she could look at more blue that day. The little girl’s blue eyes were chilling when you saw them in person, though they looked perfectly normal in the photo. While her parents haggled on the price of the portrait, Helene had watched Sabrina wander around, looking for something to steal. The young empathic artist was able to read the preteen girl far better than her parents. Sabrina wasn’t able to find whatever she was looking for, and had left very disgruntled.

Helene glanced at the predominately blue painting again and sighed. She put the tea down and stood up. The sooner she finished, the sooner she could have the family out of her life. As she started across the room, someone pounded on her door.

Helene lowered her shields slightly and tried to test the mental state of whoever was out in the hall. There was a sense of emptiness behind her door, but a little farther down the hall was the raw emotional turmoil Helene tended to equate to a young mind.

Helene shook her head. She opened the door just enough so her voice would be heard. “You might as well come out, Sabrina. I know you’re there.”

The blue eyed girl, now more of a demon than an angel, came into plain view. “You shouldn’t have known I was here,” she said, petulance in every inch of her petite frame. “I was hiding. No one can hear thoughts if the other person isn’t in the line of sight.”

“Who told you that?” Helene asked. She reached over to a small shrine next to her door and set a small rune in the center of it before opening the door all the way. “Thoughts are easy enough to hear if the person is broadcasting them no matter where they are. And you, my dear, are broadcasting on every level possible.”

Sabrina scowled. There was blood spatter on her normally pristine school blouse and the navy wool of her skirt was saturated with the sticky crimson liquid. “My mother told me I was too powerful to be heard that way. She said no one would ever know.”

“Obviously she never met another psionic,” Helene said. “So, what made you decide to kill them?”

Sabrina tossed her hair back, sneering. “You wouldn’t understand. You, with your pretty colors and your broken furniture, couldn’t comprehend it even if I explained it in small words.”

Helene snorted. “My guess is your parents told you no when they usually told you yes, your mother stopped you from using your gift to control them, and in the end you lost it and slaughtered them. I’d say you used one of your dad’s guns to do it. You probably did your mother first so she couldn’t stop you from killing your dad. Then when he ran in to see what was going on, you shot him too.”

Sabrina’s jaw dropped. “You can’t have known that unless you were watching me. Is that why my mother gave you that stupid school portrait of me? Because she wanted you to spy on me?”

“No. I’m an artist. I paint portraits. I just happen to also be able to hear thoughts and sense emotions,” Helene said.

Sabrina stomped her foot. “You’re lying,” she screamed. She drew a gun and aimed it at Helene. “Now I’ll have to find someone else to blame the murders on.” She pulled the trigger.

The gun didn’t go off. In fact, from what Helene could tell, the trigger itself didn’t even move. Sabrina shrieked and pulled hard on the gun. Suddenly she went rigid, eyes wide with a mixture of rage and fear. Elric materialized behind her. His soldiers took the more mundane option of coming up the stairs.

“She’s rather precocious, isn’t she?” Elric said, his lightly accented voice full of amusement.

“I’d say blame her mother, but since she’s dead there’s no real reason for it,” Helene said. One of Elric’s soldiers took the gun from Sabrina. Elric used his power to force Sabrina into a wheelchair, where she was strapped down and taken away. “She’s going to start screaming as soon as she’s out of your sight.”

“I brought my son,” Elric said.

“Ah.” Helene shook her head. “Spoiled, moderately gifted, and convinced she can do and say as she pleases without consequence.”

“This is what, your fourth this month?” Elric asked.

“Sixth, but you missed the other two. The humans took them down,” Helene said. Elric shook his head. He slipped into the shadows and vanished while his men took the stairs. Helene shut her door. She went over to the painting. She decided it was sufficiently far enough along she could deal with the cops when they arrived to question her, and returned to her tea. She picked up a book on psychic phenomena and resumed reading where she’d left off when the Joneses first arrived earlier that day.

 

 

Forbidden verse

fountain-pen-text-leave-white-spring-lightweight

Photo via Visualhunt.com

Darkness falls
My eyes grow dim
The keyhole blazes
My hand trembles as I lift
The ancient key to the crumbling gate
I hear her weeping
She begs me to set her free
I turn the key
I am the gate

Reina stared at the strange verse her teacher showed her. She fluttered her wings impatiently. “So when do I start copying this one, setai?

“You don’t,” Talya said, her wings tucked behind her. “You asked me about the Forbidden Verses. This is one of them.”

“So what does it mean?” Reina asked.

“A thousand years ago, the twin sisters Seraiah and Meraiah joined their magic together to create our kingdom. They proved to be wise, compassionate leaders for a time. But soon Seraiah’s heart twisted and she wanted all the power for herself. She murdered Meraiah and her husband and seized the throne as the solitary ruler,” Talya said.

“I’ve heard this story before, setai,” Reina said impatiently. “Meraiah’s daughter and a group of nobles rebelled and cast Seraiah out. She was imprisoned until she died. Queen Marijeta and King Khariton restored the balance, where the child of each of the twins sat in power on the thrones, and peace returned.”

“You are partially correct. Seraiah was deposed, but she was not cast out. Nor did she die. She was imprisoned for eternity, alive and immortal, but unable to do anything to influence the world around her,” Talya said. “These words are the key to her prison. There have been a few Scribes foolish enough to imbue them with their power. They have either gone mad or died. Seraiah reaches through these words into the Scribe’s mind, forcing them to attempt to set her free.”

“So why do we even keep them around? Why not destroy all copies of them so she can’t be freed?” Reina asked.

Talya sighed and set the ancient document to the side. “Reina, we have destroyed them. Every time they reappear they are burned and their ashes spread with salt. It doesn’t matter. A Scribe corrupted by Seraiah will write the words regardless, if she has reached into their mind. So now each Master Scribe keeps a copy – reproduced by magic so no one is lost to the spell – in their archives to show their apprentices, to teach them what to look for and what not to write.”

“So when do I get to see something I can write?” Reina asked, already showing a lack of interest in the parchment, though her eyes flickered to the cabinet where Talya put it away.

Talya shook her head. “Nothing. Your impatience has earned you a mark. Go about your day and remember that a Scribe must be patient as well as precise.” Talya spread her wings and flew up to her private library. Reina flew outside, glaring at her teacher through the large window that provided most of the light in the room.

The sun set and Reina returned. She ate the simple fare Talya insisted on keeping in the house and went to her room. She didn’t read as was her normal tradition. Still seething about how she’d been dismissed, Reina put out the light and went straight to bed. She closed her eyes and attempted to go to sleep.

A soft strain of music, just barely audible, played in the night. Reina sat up, pushing her blankets aside. It was moondark, so she wasn’t sure of the time. She slid the curtain back on the opening to her room and looked out into the rest of the house. It was dark, so Talya was also in bed.

Reina spread her wings and flitted downstairs. The music grew louder, and now she heard a woman’s voice. She was singing a song in the ancient language. Reina only recognized a few words. It seemed to be coming from the cabinet where Talya kept the original documents she wanted Reina to practice on.

Reina opened it. The sound stopped. The young apprentice frowned. As she went to close it, a single sheet of parchment fluttered down to the ground. She bent and picked it up. Curiosity led her to light one lamp and see which one it was. It was Seraiah’s prison key.

Reina bent down and picked it up, intending to put it back into the cabinet. A voice whispered in her mind, singing of the kind of power that could be hers if she released Seraiah.

A bitterness welled up inside of her. Talya was holding her back. Reina was a skilled and powerful Scribe. Talya was jealous of her gift. That was why she wouldn’t put her name forward to be lifted into the ranks. Her hand clenched around the parchment. She whirled around and headed to her desk.

She laid out a piece of her finest parchment and lit the lamp above the writing surface. She looked at her selection of inks and chose the gold. She dipped her sharpest pen in the ink and began copying the words, imbuing them with all the magic she had. Each letter flared with a golden flame as it seared itself into the parchment. As the last stroke of the pen ended, she felt a searing pain rip through her body, and then knew nothing but darkness.

Talya came downstairs the next morning, startled to see her normally lazy apprentice’s lamp burning. She frowned. There were spots of blood on Reina’s stool. She went over to see what she’d been working on. Sighing, she collected both pieces of parchment and tucked them in the cabinet. She went to her mirror and drew a rune on it with her finger.

The Royal Scribe, leader of all the Scribes, appeared on the reflective surface a moment later. He saw her sad face. “Another one?” he asked sympathetically.

“Reina,” Talya said. “At least she was more creative than the last. She used golden ink.”

“Was there any sign of Seraiah?” he asked.

Talya shook her head. “A few drops of blood on Reina’s stool was all I saw. Everything was still locked tight.”

The Royal Scribe sighed. “The world needs a revolution. When will we be able to summon her again?”

“When the time is right,” Talya said. “The curse can’t hold forever.”

“I hope you’re right, Talya.” The Royal Scribe glanced over his shoulder. “I have to go. Their Majesties have summoned me. Keep faith, Talya. We will find a way.” The image wavered and vanished. Talya’s shoulders and wings drooped for a moment before she straightened up and turned to clean up the blood. She had another apprentice to find.

Delivering your own death

font-lead-set-book-printing-gutenberg-letters

Photo via VisualHunt

Matthaus rummaged through the small basket of metal bars. His fingers ran across the raised letters, seeking the right words. “Matthaus, is that plate ready?” The voice of his master, Hermann Lauritz, sounded irritated.

Matthaus put the final bar in place and locked everything in. “Yes Master Lauritz.”

“Then bring it here,” Hermann said, waving his hand.

“Yes Master,” Matthaus said. He stood and carried the heavy tray over to the printing press.

Hermann snatched it from his hands and set it in the machine. He tightened all the gears and secured it in place before slathering it with ink and slapping a large piece of parchment on top. He turned the great wheel and the heavy weight lowered on top of the parchment. He continued turning the wheel until it couldn’t move anymore. He let it sit for a few seconds before lifting it back up.

He pulled the parchment off of the press and scanned it. “At least you didn’t misspell any words this time,” Hermann said with a grunt. “Take this to Journeyman Benedikt for copying. Tell him we need one hundred copies.” He gestured to the leather pouch on the side table. “That’s his payment.”

“Yes Master Lauritz.” Matthaus set the parchment down well away from everything as he took off his apron and hung it up. He tucked the scroll in an oiled leather case, pulled on his winter gear, and headed out. He was at the citadel housing the Mage Guild within the hour.

He tapped lightly on the gatekeeper’s door. A wizened old fellow with one eye and gnarled hands opened the top half of the green split door. “What do you want?” he rasped.

“I am an apprentice of Master Hermann Lauritz,” Matthaus said. “I’ve come to hire Journeyman Benedikt for a particular job.”

The old man wheezed. “He’s Inquisitor Geiszler now. But he might be willing to do the work, since your master has long been a good client of his. I’ll send him the message.”

It took almost an hour for a blond muscular man in the crimson robes of an Inquisitor appeared. “Matthaus, how are you?” Benedikt asked.

“I’ve been better,” Matthaus said, shivering beneath the cloak.

Benedikt frowned. “Didn’t Gottfried invite you into the gatehouse?”

“No he didn’t,” Matthaus said.

“I’ll have a word with him about that. If someone is waiting for one of us they’re supposed to be treated as a guest,” Benedikt said. “I suppose he still considers me a journeyman at times.” He smiled and motioned with his hand. “Please, come inside out of the cold and we’ll talk about what that bastard master of yours wants from me this time.”

Matthaus followed the mage into the citadel and made his way to what appeared to be a newly furnished study. Benedikt pointed and Matthaus sat down. “Master Lauritz needs a hundred copies made of this broadsheet,” Matthaus said.

“I’m sure he does. What is it, another one of his political diatribes?” Benedikt asked, taking the scroll case from Matthaus. As he skimmed it, he frowned. “Matthaus, do you know what this says?”

Matthaus shook his head. “I can’t read.”

“How can you work in a print shop without knowing how to read?” Benedikt asked sharply.

“By touch and general appearance. Master Lauritz showed me the shapes and taught me what certain things feel like so I could help him but I never learned what any of it all meant,” Matthaus said.

“Did he send my payment?” Benedikt asked. Matthaus nodded and handed the mage the pouch Hermann had given him. Benedikt opened it. He stared at its contents for several moments before setting it to the side. “Matthaus, I’m going to be honest with you here. This document is a request for me to kill you, and what’s in the pouch is enough money to cover your execution.”

“Why would he do that? What have I done?” Matthaus’ voice cracked and he noticed it had gone up a few octaves.

“I don’t know. He doesn’t say,” Benedikt said. “I’m conflicted. As an Inquisitor, I should be looking into this. It’s illegal, after all. But as your master is a long time client, I am obligated to honor his wishes.”

Matthaus got up and bolted for the door. It slammed in his face. He started pounding on it. “Let me go,” he screamed.

“Be quiet. There are mages studying and I don’t want to listen to their complaints about noise from my rooms,” Benedikt said. A slow smile spread across his face. “I know how to resolve this. I’ll ask him for more information as to why he wants you dead, and still kill you anyway.”

“How are you going to do that without getting caught?” Matthaus asked, still looking for an escape.

Benedikt’s smile broadened. “I’ll make you into an experiment. You’ll die eventually, and I’ll get valuable information on how certain magics affect human flesh.” The mage made several gestures with his hands. Matthaus whimpered as he slowly fell to the ground, his world going dark.

Music lingers in the memory

woman-writing-in-music-sheet

Photo via Visual Hunt

Johanne sat at her desk, the sheet music spread out in front of her. She stared at the black dots and bars on the pure white paper for several minutes before burying her face in her hands.

The composition wasn’t good enough. She was supposed to be presenting it to the Emperor in three days, but she knew it wouldn’t be ready. She slid her chair back and wept, not wanting to get her tears on the ink even though she was considering burning the entire thing.

Someone knocked on her door. She looked up, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. She frowned. Very few people knew where she lived, and she’d told all of them to leave her in peace so she could work.

She stood and walked over to the door. She unlatched the top half and swung it open. The sun was setting and the ancient forest she lived at the edge of cast long shadows onto her garden. She only had a moment to admire the beauty before her eyes were drawn to her visitor.

He was tall and thin in an unnatural way, with wide midnight blue eyes and delicately pointed ears. His hair was the color of ice and fell in two braids. She could only see to his waist, and the braids went down below that. He was dressed all in black and silver, and there was a quirk to his lips, as if he were amused by her disheveled appearance.

“Can I help you?” Johanne asked, eyeing him warily.

“It is I who can aid you, Johanne of Tal Istar,” the creature said. The odd inflection in his voice gave the name of her old home a strange lilt.

“I am not of Tal Istar. Not anymore. And what can you do for me that I can’t do for myself?” Johanne asked in spite of her misgivings.

“You are still of Tal Istar, even though they no longer claim you,” the creature said. “As for what I can do to assist you, I can grant you the ability to compose that which you struggle with now.” He smiled broadly. Johanne shivered. “You will bring tears to the eyes of the Imperial family, draw the nobility to their feet, and command the attention of all those who hear the melody.”

“Yes, and what do you want for your aid?” Johanne asked.

The creature shrugged. “Nothing that much. A lock of your hair and a few drops of your blood. That’s a small price to pay for the fame that would come from this, don’t you think?”

Johanne snorted. “And give you complete control over me whenever you wish? Your ‘help’ comes at too high a price. Leave my home now. You are not welcome here.” She closed the top half of the door and made sure both were bolted. She returned to her desk and ignored the sounds outside.

She picked up her pen again, but something the creature had said stayed with her. He’d called her Johanne of Tal Istar. She hadn’t thought of her home in years. Being driven out at the point of sword and spear for choosing to marry a man not of her people made it so she never wanted to remember where she came from.

Johanne frowned as a trickle of melody filtered into her mind. She took the sheets of already written on composition paper and set them to the side. She took fresh paper and set her pen on the first bar. She closed her eyes and thought of her olive skinned husband – dead these last five years- with his strong fingers intertwined with her pale ones as she defied the Council of Sisters. She heard the lullabies she’d sung to her children, the same ones her mother had sung to her and her siblings.

She opened her eyes. Memories flowed onto the page in the form of musical notes. She would give the Emperor a glimpse of her people, her home. This was something no one in this isolated kingdom would ever see, other than the merchants. This was her life, her passion, and now she could share a part of it that had long lain forgotten. She smiled and continued working. This would be her finest work yet.