White cliffs fringed the border between the moor and the river that flowed from far in the depths of the mountains. The landscape was vivid with earthy tones of brown and deep greens. The low mounds of the mountains were a soft, muddy purple. The glittering brown snake of the muddy river slipped through the earthy purple moor. Sun shone down in a warm, enlivening gold. The white cliffs were bright against the sleek gray river.
Two people stood by this fringe, staring out towards the mountains. The spring wind whipped the woman's golden reddish-blonde hair into a small tornado. The long red cloak she wore was draped lazily over one shoulder, so that the bulk of the cloth lay down her back and so that the cool breeze could reach her skin. The hood was laid across her shoulders. The hemming of the hood and the sleeves had been embroidered with white symbols. The other person--a boy verging on young manhood--looked vaguely out of place. He was clutching the woman's arm, as though afraid he might fall without her support. He had red hair like the woman and he had the same fair, freckled skin and clear gray eyes. He wore a shirt and stiff jacket overtop. The starched collar and shiny boots seemed oddly out of place on the windy moor.
"What's here?" he asked seriously, looking over the moor. "Is someone supposed to be here?"
"Don't ask questions until you've seen everything," said the woman patiently.
She smiled down at him. He was getting to be nearly as tall as she was, and it filled her with of mingled dread of the future and pride in the boy. He would be taller than her someday; he was only thirteen and already she could look him in the eye without stooping. It was amazing to think that he would someday be tall, and mature, and a man.
"But you said that I would learn how Father died," he said softly. He looked at her with a frown. He didn't like the moor very much; it was too wide and too open. He instinctively disliked the wide open moor with the same sort of fear that a rabbit might have of an open lawn. He glanced about nervously. Perhaps it was only the wind, but he thought he felt danger all around.
"You will learn," she answered. "Now don't ask questions."
"But why?" he demanded.
"That was a question," she said tartly.
"But . . . but Mum."
She looked at him sharply. "I thought I made you aware of the fact that you are not my son. I thought I made it understood that you do not exist. Are you listening?"
"Are you trying to get rid of me?"
"I am going to have to ignore the fact that you just asked me a question . . . " she said peevishly. Then she sighed and said, "I couldn't do it, Blair, I couldn't stand it. I couldn't let them all remember, I couldn't let them . . . I couldn't let them whisper about me and your father, about how sad it was that I had run away to him and now he was dead."
Blair stared at her, open-mouthed.
"Answer me," he demanded. "I want to know whether you're trying to get rid of me."
"I would never hurt you, I would never let you die."
He seemed to be satisfied with this as he glanced nervously about the moor.
"Are we waiting for someone?" he demanded again.
She gave an irritated sigh as he glanced over his shoulder. She took his shoulders in her long fingers and turned him to the right.
"You must learn to look harder," she said simply, pointing towards three moving dots that were moving across the moor. They appeared to be three horses and their riders.
"They're Dark Mages!" Blair said archly. "They would never tell me what happened to Father, they--"
"No, they wouldn't, but you said you wanted to know. There is a difference between being told and knowing. This way you will know. Your father was no coward. You've known since you were born what Dark Mages can do. I've taught you always to avoid them, to be wary of any strange letters, of runes. Dark Mages killed your father. I want you to have no illusion about their power. Your father died nobly."
"I'm plenty old enough now," he said.
"You're thirteen," she returned coldly. "You know how to read runes and you know about magic and you know about things that the villagers never could dream of. You think you're clever, Blair, but you haven't seen anything. You've been told many things, but you know very little. Right now, you will begin to know things."
The three dots were progressing quickly.
"Does this mean I have magic, too?"
"Of course, and your sister Amaranth. You both will make fine Mages. Once you learn, once you know, you may be the Lord Mage, you may lead all the other Mages of the Light."
"I may?" he said eagerly. Then he became suspicious. "What do you mean I may?"
"There are thousands of other Mages."
"Yes, Blair, I realize very well who I am. I'm the Fairy, one of the Seven who rule the Light--"
"And so was Father!"
"--but that doesn't mean that you are entitled to anything."
The pounding horses came closer, and they finally saw the faces of the Mages as they neared. They were fierce-looking men. Their horses were dappled. Their weapons glinted in the sun as they came roaring forward, their eyes trained on Blair. Blair felt his heart beat fast.
"I can't fight them!" he said.
"You have to, because I will not."
"They'll kill me! I don't have a weapon. They'll cut me to bits! How am I supposed to stop them?"
"Well, aren't you a mage?" she demanded.
She uncurled his hand from her arm and backed away from him. He stared towards the riding Dark Mages and was suddenly mystified. Every thought cleared from his mind and he stared blankly, trying to stand and trying even harder to think. The Dark Mages glared at him, then one gave a loud cry. Blair had read about the screams of warriors on the battlefield and how it had chilled the hearts of opponents. He had thought this foolish; suddenly, with the Dark Mages bearing down on him, he didn't think that it was foolish at all.
He came up with one idiot plan in the space of one hoof-beat. The horses were arranging themselves and now were careening towards him. He breathed and the necessary spells rose to his mind. The runes of the magic flittered before his eyes and then he was muttering words and they were flowing from his fingers. The Dark Mages stopped. He glanced at his fingertips, but he had seen magic, he had felt magic, and it was no great jolt to see it coming from his own fingers.
The three warriors came galloping forward with laughs as they realized the spell had done nothing to them. Halfway there, however, the horses' front legs buckled beneath them and all three horses slammed to the dirt in a confusion of hoofs, saddle, and man. Two of the Dark Mages were groaning and cursing loudly. The third had managed to free himself from the saddle and was retrieving his weapon.
Blair's mind was blank and it buzzed with exhaustion. He gulped, felt the lump travel down his throat, making his blooming Adam's apple bob up and down. His eyes went unfocused, and he stumbled once or twice. He cringed and clutched at his knees.
"I can't do it!" he cried loudly to his mother, who was no longer standing with her arms folded over her chest. She was looking concerned and worried, and her arms were at her side. She looked ready to spring in at any moment.
He got to his feet in time to divert the Dark Mage, who returned the favor by slamming Blair into the ground. Blair screamed as his body exploded with pain. The red-robed Fairy suddenly bolted forward to him as the Dark Mage ran for a sword on the ground.
"I shouldn't have let you . . . I should have known you would be hurt," she began.
"I'm fine!" Blair said scathingly. He pushed her gently aside. He got to his feet with a grimace and eyed the Dark Mage, who had returned. The Dark Mage laughed.
"You're awfully weak for a magician of the Light!" said the Dark Mage, swinging around a long sword.
Blair glared at him, hatred in his eyes.
"I'm not weak," Blair said. "I'm not weak."
"Blair, you're sick!" implored his mother.
He ignored her and rushed forward on foot. The Dark Mage seemed slightly surprised by this tactic and swung too late. Blair had struck under the blow with a spell that incapacitated the Dark Mage, who quickly became frozen in place. But magic still flowed from the Dark Mage's fingers, and fire dripped from the long sword towards Blair, who scrambled out of the way. He leapt towards the blade as the motionless Dark Mage's eyes followed him. Blair plucked the sword from the Dark Mage's hand. Then he stared at the blade, and then at the Dark Mage, uncertain of what to do.
"Kill him," said the woman in red.
He stared back at the Dark Mage. The others were beginning to free themselves from under their horses. Blair hesitated a moment, then looked back at his mother, who was demanding him to kill with a glare. With another gulp, he eyed the Dark Mage, whose fury was piercing through the air from his eyes. Blair struck the sword through the Dark Mage's heart and the Dark Mage fell backwards, the spell broken. The man was dead almost instantly. Blood flowed in a river from the hole, and the Dark Mage was alive just long enough to stare at the hole and gape. He flailed for a few seconds, then lay very still.
One of the other Dark Mages had freed himself from under the horse and was hurrying to help the other.
"Do I have to kill them both?" he gasped.
"Yes," she said shortly, eyeing him with concern. "Take this."
A mound of folded gray cloth had found its way into her hands, and she hurried forward and handed it to him. He took it and unfolded it and saw that it was a cloak of gray with white runes all around the hems. He pulled it on. His muscles suddenly weren't weak, his head suddenly quit hurting, and his knees were no longer hot with excruciating pain. He looked at the cloak in wonder.
"It's . . . it's a Mage's robe," he said. "The runes are healing . . . "
"You're a Mage of the Light, aren't you?" she asked, and there was definitely pride in her tone. "Kill them, then."
And he did. He had always thought that killing a man would be a horrible, scarring experience that would burn into him and sear his heart, make him hard and villainous. He found that it was much simpler than that, that it really only took the stroke of an arm, a few words of magic. It was nothing, really, to slay two Dark Mages at once. He had power. He felt no pangs of guilt, and he felt no exhilaration. He simply felt relieved that he wasn't dead.
He laid down on the sunny moor and panted. She hovered over him, looking down into his face.
"You see, your father was not a coward."
"Then why did the Druid say that he was?"
"Your father and the Druid never got along very well," she answered. "He did not find a love like the one between me and your father. He has always been jealous of that. He's very irritated that both of my children will become Mages of the Light. Only one of his children shows any signs of magic; he's jealous. He wants his son to be Lord Mage, and if not him then the son of Birth and the Grim . . . he means well, though. But his son doesn't have the same magic as Birth's son. And he isn't as astute as you. The Druid is not a fool, he is merely disappointed."
"I don't see why he has to take it out on me," said Blair dully. "You're the Fairy, you have same say. Tell him to shut his over-large mouth!"
"I only represent the forgotten fairies, and he is just as much one of the Seven as I am. He can have an opinion, just as the Nix, Nymph, Grim, Birth, and I can have an opinion. And the Elf, too, when he or she is found."
Blair glanced down at his feet and gasped. He sat up suddenly and scuttled backwards. The Fairy looked at where he was staring with wide eyes. Her gray eyes swept the ground and a glint of sunlight blinded her. In the grass there was a round metal plate with runes etched around its edge and with a scene of elves, the mountains, and the hunt etched in the center. He eyed it with suspicion, as though afraid it was a trick of the Dark.
"An elvine relic," said the Fairy instantly. She leaned over it. "I recognize it, I saw it a long time ago, when your father . . . "
There was a silence. Blair did not say anything more about his father. Instead, he leaned over the plate and stared at the runes. He was not stupid enough to touch it without knowing what it was.
"It says that the new elf has been found," Blair reported, his eyes running slowly along the edge of the metal plate. "It says . . . it says that the new Elf will be the Last."
"The last what? The last of his generation? The last one to live in this area?"
"No. The Last. The Last of the Seven."
"Does it say where he is?" she asked, suddenly very brisk and worried.
"It isn't a he, the new Elf is very specifically feminine," Blair said distractedly, obviously paying more attention to his reading. "She will cause the downfall of the Dark."
"How?" said the Fairy quickly.
"It also says that she will cause the downfall of the Light."
"It can't be both. We've been at war for millennia, we can't both fall or both triumph."
"No, no of course not," he said, as though she had missed the point. "It implies that the outcome is uncertain."
“It speaks of . . . of a battle with great deeds of heroism . . . and sacrifice and victory, to be followed by decline and finally . . . and finally . . . the . . . the end of either the Light or the Dark.”
“You stumbled over the words.”
“It’s chipped,” he murmured. She looked over his shoulder.
“No it isn’t.”
He stared up at her without any sign of emotion, and this was significant enough that the Fairy merely nodded.
“We all have our story to be told, Blair,” she said. “We all have an epitaph.”
He did not dare to blink. He merely stood.
“Aye, Madam Fairy . . . aye.”
Suddenly, her eyes narrowed and her brow furrowed. Her thin red lips turned downwards in a frown. She gripped his arm tight and began to lead him towards the edge of the moor, where trees sprouted from the earth. She tugged him. An auto was idling near the edge, waiting to whisk them back across the moor.
Blair stood still, scanning the land, not allowing her to move him.
“What is it, Mum?”
She gripped his arm.
“Enough of this petty jest, son, we had better away—“
“Speaking in tongues again, Mum? What do you sense?”
“Something which you do not want to know of.”
“But I do want to know of it.”
She grabbed his other arm and shook him roughly, staring into his eyes.
“I will not let you die. It was all a good bit of fun to come tramping into the open and to wait for the Dark Mages to flock to us. It was even mildly entertaining to see those Dark Mages killed—heaven knows they kill without provocation often enough. But now it is over, Blair, we must go home. We’ll be safe there.”
Blair’s gray eyes stared solidly back into her. He smiled defiantly.
“Safer, but not completely safe. What is it that you sense?”
She dropped his arms and slapped him hard across the jaw.
“Get in the damn car, Blair, or I will force you.”
“I have magic, I can stop you.”
“You are inexperienced.”
“I am powerful.”
“If you don’t get in the car you will die, no matter what power you possess. I cannot hold off the danger that approaches, and neither can you. There is only one who can.”
“What danger? Who can hold it off?”
She scratched runes into the air and they glowed briefly before fading. As they faded, Blair’s feet began to move towards the car. He protested loudly, but his feet moved him forward.
“Mum! This is stupid, this is—“
“Necessary! It is necessary. Get in the car of your own volition or I will be forced to use the spell again.”
The runes slipped into oblivion and Blair stood at the door of the idling automobile. He straightened out his shirt and jacket and got into the auto with as much dignity as he could muster. The driver turned to him and gave him a small smile. The Fairy slipped into the auto a moment later.
“To Rhos Manor, and quickly, Percival,” she demanded flatly. She turned to Blair; wisps of hair had fallen from her coiffe. “The Dark Wizard brooks no Mages of the Light. He would have killed us both on sight.”
“The Dark Wizard? The one who leads the Dark?” Blair said. “He has that much power?”
“Yes, and more. He has been known to kill thousands at a time. But he isn’t all-powerful, he only appears from time to time . . . well, he has appeared now. We must be wary.”
“What about the one person who can defeat him?”
“It is a legend, Blair, probably nothing but a myth. It is said that one person, the last of the Seven and the greatest magician of the Light, will have the power to defeat the Dark Wizard. And I pray it’s so, because we need such a miracle. The world is in peril if he has returned.”
“So we run from him?”
“Better a living dog than a dead lion, my boy. And a living lion is better yet.”
Blair raised his eyebrows and frowned, and opened his mouth to protest, but she silence him with an impatient motion.
“Later, son. I think that all your questions will be answered soon. It looks as though the final battle is brewing. Pray that it ends the war, and that it ends the war in our favor.”
CONTINUE READING 'THE LAST' IN MY PORTFOLIO.