Epic tale of magic, political intrique and forbidden love
Prince of Sorcery
Commander Gasklin strode along the parapet, a gust of cold wind whipping his steel-grey hair into snarled snags, as he surveyed the enemy below. Several spears rattled against the walls, and one sailed over, to come to a clattering halt near his feet. Gasklin picked up the offending item and flung it high over the wall with a nonchalant air. “Try again,” he shouted down to the gathered might of the Kel’Da Clans to the uproarious laughter of his men. An act of bravado he knew but it was what not only his men, but the people of Harvadon needed. They needed to see their commander calm and confident, to bolster their flagging morale. It gave them hope that all might end well; a hope he no longer shared.
Immaculately dressed he exuded an air of supreme confidence, occasionally stopping to offer a word of encouragement to the men manning the city walls. Before continuing his leisurely walk an open target to the enemy below in his burnished armour. For nine days the city had been besieged by the Kel’Da a fierce warrior race whose fanatical hatred of most other races knew no bounds. Food and water were not a problem; there was enough to last out any normal siege. Kel’Da shamans ensured this was no ordinary siege.
It had been suggested by some members of the city council to try and treat with the Kel’Da. Gasklin snorted some lived in vain hope that they might survive under the rule of the Kel‘Da. The commander knew, as did many of the hardened veterans under his command there would be no treating with the Kel‘Da all they wanted was to raise the city to the ground and kill every man women & child. The Kel’Da shamans had rained fire and lighting down on the city parts still burned they even hurled rocks by use of sorcery there was no pattern to the attacks, no picking of targets military, or otherwise, they attacked day or night their sole purpose to terrorise, wound and kill.
Gasklin frowned, he was not without his resources six sorcerers had stood in defence of the city two now dead one near-death one exhausted and hardly able to go on. The fifth a disreputable and unreliable character though he had been of some use so far Gasklin wasn’t sure if Tatter Jack as he was known as wouldn’t cut and run when the mood took him that’s if he could drag himself away from the inns and brothels he frequented at any chance he could get.
The last was a mystery to him Ebron Maskel had come just before the siege began and the other five deferred to him from the start yet the man had shown little inclination to use his power in defence of the city. The commander knew the sorcerer to be no coward Maskel had defended against attacks with his sword taking down more than his share of the Kel‘Da as they attempted to scale the walls his men had attested to his skill as a swordsman, Gasklin wondered if he used sorcery to enhance his ability. The commander sighed maybe Maskel was saving his power for the last he doubted it would be enough to save them though against the gathered strength of Kel‘Da shamans. The uneasy quiet sent shivers down his back three hours had passed since the last attack sorcerous or otherwise. The sun slowly set in the eastern sky as the Commander made his way back to his quarters.
At the same time as the Commander sat at his desk to read the day’s reports, Ebron Maskel made his way to the commander’s quarters no more had the commander settled himself than a knock sounded at the door. Gasklin gave curt acknowledgement if the sorcerer noted Gasklin’s sharp tone he paid it no heed as he entered and took the few steps across the carpeted floor to stand before the city’s high commander.
The lean sorcerer stood at medium height, and ruggedly handsome Ebron’s features seemed cut from stone. Brown-haired with grey eyes he had more than turned a few women’s heads since his arrival, but the sorcerer from Tiris remained aloof. His manner unassuming and quietly spoken bespoke a dignity that outmatched many of the city-bred folk of Harvadon.
“Commander I believe the time has come for me to act,” Ebron spoke with grim determination, as he faced the commander.
“Not before time, gods man it may already be too late, what you plan better be good,” the commander spoke in stinging reply. Nerves worn thin with the burden of his responsibilities and days under siege, he had slept little if at all since the Kel‘Da had arrived to lay siege to the city. Ebron paid the commander’s tone no mind were many such as he, may have taken offence, he could see the strain imposed on the commander's taut features and understood the need let go pent emotions. Nevertheless, what he had to say next may well tax the overwrought commander to the breaking point.
“The Kel’Da shamans are creating a war rune,” at seeing the commanders puzzled frown Ebron elaborated. “War runes are created, by use of a magic circle, symbols drawn in blood etc. It takes time to construct and will take most if not all the strongest they have on hand to complete. When it is it, however, it will call down such a rain of destruction it will level the city,’ Ebron said grimly. The commander swallowed, sucking in air, he cut to the quick of the matter
“I trust you have a way to counter it?”
“No,” came the shocked reply, Ebron remained unruffled as he spoke on “I lack the know-how to defend against such a spell, certainly not alone anyway.” The commander sat back in his chair aghast at Ebron’s calm acceptance of what undoubtedly meant defeat
‘Then, all is lost,’ the commander said in reproach. However, the sorcerer seemed not to be listening, when he spoke a grim smile crossed his face.
“I lack the knowledge to defend against the war rune, but I have a few friends who do,” Ebron said as he finished speaking. A ruckus sounded from outside; the duty guard all but fell through the door followed by three ancients, which could only be the friends Ebron mentioned.
“Sir they said they had to see you I told them you were busy but..” the guard blurted in red-faced dismay his speech coming to an abrupt end as the elderly sorcerers pushed past him
“That’s all right Vane, these gentlemen, are expected no fault of yours,” the commander answered, waving the man back to his post.
“Ebron, how goes it, my boy?” Asked one of the elderly sorcerers a tall, gangly fellow with silvered hair and white flowing beard that seemed ubiquitous with most sorcerers expect Ebron who was clean-shaven. The other two had shorter beards one was of medium build with a round jolly face and corpulent frame while the third seemed average in about everything except his eyes they where black and colourless
“Not good James, they are raising a war rune. Don’t let Cartayis blindness fool you, commander, he doesn’t miss a thing,” noting the commander's scrutiny of his friends Ebron smiled to his former mentor. “He taught me all I know,” Ebron concluded with affection.
“Not enough though it seems, that you can’t manage without our help Ebron,” Cartayis put in.
“So what have you in mind for us to do a counter warding spell I presume, so the great battle mage can go, and decimate the enemy,” the corpulent sorcerer said cheerily. At seeing the commanders dumbfounded look, the sorcerer continued. “Oh yes commander our Ebron here is a full-fledged battle mage no less,” the aged sorcerer concluded.
“I couldn’t show my hand sooner commander; if I did likely they would have sent for reinforcements, even more, shamans then we would be undone for sure. As it is the outcome is by no means certain,” Ebron explained quickly; giving the fat sorcerer a displeased glance and hoping the gallant commander would understand.
“You are playing a deeper game here I perceive,” replied Gasklin with a sudden flash of foresight.
“Best you do not know commander,” answered the corpulent sorcerer no longer smiling his round face set in grim lines
“I think you are aright sorcerer; I don’t want to know, I have had enough sleepless nights as it is,” again the astute commander cut close to the bone.
The three aged sorcerers giving him scrutiny for his remarks hit home closer than even he realised there were greater nightmares abroad the Kel’Da were only a part of it, they where the hammer used to bludgeon and weaken the victim, while the real enemy bided waiting to strike with lethal intent.
Two hours after leaving the commander and his fellow sorcerers Ebron walked down a lonely side street, darkness had not quiet descended, alerted by a harmonic chime in the ether something that his colleagues would have missed as they busily set about creating the runic structures, that would generate the warding spell to protect the city. The keynote of harmonic disturbance held the distinct ring of the Balsheen seeresses which lived far to the south on a desolate island guarded by spells that sunk any ships that came too near.
Only twice in recorded history had a Balsheen seeress left the Isle of Balshee, they were known to be meddlesome at best according to his fellow sorcerers, and even though they stayed aloof in their island temple, they had plenty of followers who worked on their behalf.
Ebron let out a pent breathe he could do without the added complication though he believed the seeresses mostly meant well with their meddling oft times they only succeeded in muddying the waters. The intervention of a Balsheen seeress was not what put him on edge though another note had rung through the ether simultaneously a strange off-key thrum, which set his teeth on edge, though strangely compelling for all that.
Ebron stopped under the light of an oil lamp the street was silent the people huddled in their homes fearfully awaiting what was to come he was keenly aware that their hopes rested on him and his fellow sorcerers. Turning to face a darkened alley on the opposite side of the street, he squinted and peered into the gathering gloom.
Two dark figures emerged from the alley the shorter of the two took the lead and stepped into the light of the lamp the second stayed in the shadows that one he guessed had caused the discordant note in the ether
“Hail Ebron of Tiris,” intoned the first lowering the hood from her head that cloaked her features in shadow. The seeress was short and stockily built with silvered hair cut just above her shoulders her eyes icy blue though seeming old her face remained smooth and unlined.
The ring on her left index finger made Ebron stop aghast before making his speech on the ill-timed meddling off seeresses. The seeresses of Balshee where known as the serpent circle each wore a stylised ring wrought in gold with seven serpents entwined around the base of a large green gemstone only the matriarch wore one with a women’s head replacing the snakehead of the third. The seeress he now faced was none other but Saim Penak the matriarch herself.
“You recognise my ring I see those old rascals have taught you well, relax Ebron I don’t bite,” though small of stature the matriarch exuded a power that commanded attention. Self-contained and supremely confident she stood all poise and grace wrapped in a will of iron.
Though taken momentary of guard Ebron was quick to recover realising he had lost the initiative he cut straight to the chase.
“What ill omen brings the Matriarch of Balshee herself to this sorry place I warn you matriarch the sorcerer's circle will brook no interference,” Ebron said with grim resolve. Nerves already taut, he had no time for fencing words with a seeress matriarch or no. The figure still in the shadow made to move forward, but the matriarch raised a hand to be still.
“Tetchy aren’t we, but I can’t blame you for the circumstances,” the matriarch answered.
Ebron gave no reply; he waited patiently in stony silence, the lamplight casting his features in hard lines, while the seconds ticked away. The matriarch nodded. “What plan you, Ebron of Tiris for the seeresses of Balshee will not allow you to risk yourself, this world’s only true battle mage and hope against the coming chaos,” the matriarch intoned, her voice resonating with the combined power of all seven seeresses.
“Ha, so the seeresses do not know everything after all, in spite of their much-vaunted foresight,” Ebron thought. He refused to be intimidated without preamble he cut straight to the gist. “As you may now be aware my colleagues are busy preparing a defence against the war rune which will allow me to do what I must,” Ebron stated. He refused to say more. The matriarch would surely know that he would be left alone, with only one other sorcerer to fight the Kel‘Da and their remaining shamans
“The warding would draw the magic’s of the remaining shamen you would hope,” stated the matriarch astutely assessing what he hoped would be the case. Ebron nodded, and the matriarch took a quick intake of breath as she essayed his chances against long odds.
“You would risk yourself and all you represent alone,” the matriarch said, seeing to the crux of the problem. His fellow sorcerers would not be able to help him the power required to keep the warding in place would drain their strength it would be days before they could recover completely. That left Ebron alone and an unknown sorcerer of dubious power, that he would risk his life to save these people who he hardly knew lay beyond little doubt duty to his sworn oath as a sorcerer to protect and guard all the people under his charge left him little option. His in-grained compassionate nature sealed the matter beyond further doubt. His homeland the matriarch knew was an island far to the west were of a peace-loving gentlefolk. The seeress also knew as few outside his own country did that he was of noble birth none other than the crown prince of Tiris.
“I say no, you shall not stand alone against the storm,” the matriarch spoke in ringing tones.
“So are the seeresses going to come out from hiding at last,” Ebron shot back scathingly.
“The Seeresses of Balshee cannot directly intervene as you well know Ebron,” the matriarch replied calmly shaking her head.
Returned to calm Ebron steadied himself there was more at foot here than what seemed for the matriarch to take the unprecedented step of leaving the temple instead of sending another he coached himself to patience though time wore on the oil lamp overhead flickered in a sudden cold breeze that died almost as soon as it came. The mystery person moved restlessly but remained in shadow. The matriarch smiled at Ebron’s silence; he had neither gainsaid nor agreed to what she had said she would not tax him further.
“I brought with me one who might be of help,” the matriarch said finally beckoning the figure in shadow to step forward.
The woman who came from shadow was no seeress as he had expected, slightly taller than he dressed in plain worn but well looked after leather armour and high boots. Her jet-black hair flowed at shoulder length and brushed back from her face, her green eyes seemed to laugh, and she gave him a brief smile as she stepped into the lamplight with cat-like grace. No beauty Ebron conceded, but not unattractive in a simple way what got his attention the most were the two swords strapped to her waist only the women who lived on the Firale Peninsula were skilled in the use of two swords and their skill if all he heard was to be accurate, was legendary.
‘This is Elena of Firale she has some power besides her skill with swords, so keep her close. As I have said you shall not stand alone farewell Ebron,” the matriarch said she reached inside her cape and brought out a crystal sphere holding it in one hand she spoke words of power a nimbus of light surrounded her accompanied by the distinctive chime he detected when she arrived then she was gone.
‘Hail and well met Ebron of Tiris’ Elena said bowing curtly that she knew his lineage is evident though she seemed to be mocking him.
“Please don’t, here I’m Ebron, the sorcerer besides I had enough of that back home,” Ebron raised an eyebrow as he spoke he wondered what mischief the seeresses planned by sending him, Elena.
“Not just a sorcerer though surely Ebron,” Elena said teasingly arching an eyebrow at him.
“My reputation as a battlemage is overrated nor am I the only hope against the gathering darkness this world has in spite of what the seeresses of Balshee think,” Ebron answered in modest reply
“I’m glad to hear you say that, crown prince or not, I would have to take you down a peg or two if you thought you were,” Elena said folding her arms in a business-like manner.
“You are saying you don’t believe all the seeresses say, yet you were prepared to act in the matriarch’s defence moments ago,” Ebron cut back, studying Elena’s reaction carefully she blinked and smiled mischievously.
“I wouldn’t have hurt you; at least not much just enough to mind your manners,” Elena replied she lightly laughed.
Ebron refused to be baited further, he turned to leave, time was pressing, and he needed to get some rest before sunrise. He had expected Elena to follow and had started down the street before he realised she was still in place under the lamp watching him.
“Well!” Ebron said, keeping his calm while pondering why the woman was proving so difficult.
“Well,” Elena replied, still unmoving.
Ebron sighed in exasperation, “I am going back to the city centre. Do you wish to accompany me?”
“Seeing as I am going that way anyway thanks I will,” Elena replied, walking up to him, she took his arm.
Ebron flushed, and Elena again laughed as together they walked up the empty street. The sorcerer and the crown prince of Tiris was not intimated by the young woman clinging to his arm, though they started of wrong-footed. He soon recovered his aplomb brought up a backwater prince and educated by sorcerers more knowledgeable than any the world of Evan had to offer he walked along with Elena as if entertaining at court.
“So Elena is this your first time outside the Firale Isles?” Ebron asked, mildly. Elena smiled coyly she knew he was fishing, deciding she had teased him enough for now she demurred.
“No, I have been on several errands for the seeresses over the past few years,” she answered as they turned into another street. Which was not empty as an inn stood at the top, and a few people could be seen entering and leaving music and singing emitted from the Inn though still far off.
Elena studied the sorcerer; she already felt she knew him quite well, for she had watched him from afar through the scrying crystal. The matriarch had encouraged her in preparation for this meeting though she had warned her in one such viewing not get too attached. Elena was afraid though that the warning came too late. Even then she felt she had already fallen in love with the sorcerer and now that she had finally met him. Her heart missed a beat every time he so much as glanced at her, hence Elana had tried to hide her feelings by outrageously teasing him. Strong-willed and stubborn she refused to give way to her heart's desire and bear all in the hope he would return her love in kind, she knew all too well that both might not live another day their survival depended on his ability to do what he must he did not need any further complications.
“Ho there Ebron got yourself a doxy have you?” May as well, might be your last chance,” laughed a dirty little man with a twisted leg coming out of the inn as they approached. He dragged his deformed leg along in an offensive manner as if it was a badge of honour leering at Elena as he approached them
“Ho, there Jack not retiring already the night’s still young,” Ebron replied, laughing in return.
“Ah, work to do tomorrow and more than enough for you too, eh,” Jack answered. Tatter Jack was the western circle of sorcerer’s agent in the city.
“Sorry about Tom and the others Jack,” Ebron said, becoming solemn as he spoke of the sorcerers who had died defending the city.
“Ah, they did well enough give all they had, Hain and Mickael will live to tell the tale though that is if we can beat the Kel‘Da and their dammed shamans replied Tatter Jack he shambled nearer taking a closer look at Elena.
“Well I’ll be dammed a Fire Dancer, what are those meddling seeresses up to sending us this one,” Tatter Jack explained, giving a low whistle.
Elena gave a cheeky smile and laughed, “Why I’m here to pull your sorry asses out of the fire,” Elena said pouting she blew the dirty little man a kiss.
Tatter Jack laughed uproariously and slapped a hand on his knee. “By the god's gal if we live through this, you and I will have to go for a few drinks then we shall see what we shall see,” Jack said winking and leering at Elena outrageously.
“I’ll hold you to that you old lecher,” Elena said also laughing she gave him a gentle push with her hand
“Well, time to get a little rest,” Jack said, “See he gets some to gal - rest that is,” Jack finished laughing he waved a hand and shambled off down the street. Ebron stared at Elena in puzzlement.
“What,” Explained Elena as she noted him staring, “Just having a little fun no harm in that,” Elena said tartly. Believing Ebron to have taken offence by her behaviour she felt angry that he would think so little of her yet she knew he hardly knew her.
“Oh, gods what a muddle I want him to like me and yet I cannot help but make a spectacle of myself, what am I to do.” She thought in bitter reproach facing stark facts that she loved this man from afar may have seemed like some girlish fantasy. She even suspected the matriarch knew and felt as much herself. Believing once finally meeting him, she would eventually be disillusioned. Ellana half hoped it herself for she thought a sorcerer and one such as she, brought up and educated under the watchful eye of the Balsheen seeresses had no chance together; their opposing peers would not allow it. There was no hope for it although she knew she loved him beyond life itself come what may she would do all in her power to keep him alive through the hours ahead regardless what he thought of her. She would guard her love for him in secret and watch in the hope that he may one day return her affection.
“Oh that, Oh no it was just what he called you, fire dancer that puzzled me I’ve never heard that before I know of the reputation of the women from the Firale isles that their skill with two swords is unmatched but I have never heard the name fire dancer before. Ebron said as they turned another corner ahead laid the main street with the market square as they approached now in full darkness. Beyond the market square, they could see the well-lit open thoroughfare where a group of people stood watching his fellow sorcerers at work, drawing a large circle with intricate runic symbols within. The city commander stood nearby also watching the three sorcerers at work he had assigned several of the garrison soldiers to keep curious onlookers back.
“Oh sorry I snapped guess I’m a bit tense too,” Elena said. Fire dancer is what some people call us who live near the Peninsula, guess Jack must come from there also or has been there at some time to have picked up that name.” Elena concluded as they walked into the lamplight to stand near the city commander. She let go of his arm but did not move away as they stood watching the sorcerers at work. Ebron felt her explanation was part evasion but did not press the matter further. Sometime between first meeting Elena and now he had decided he liked her; he could not think when this happened, and it startled him to realise he did.
“Why do you need all these drawings when you can cast your spells without them,” the commander asked the blind sorcerer in puzzlement who had just stood to look where Ebron and Elena had come to watch. It was the tall sorcerer who answered however still bent at work patiently marking runic symbols.
“Indeed you are right commander we can bandy spells about at the drop of a hat but what we are doing here is a little different, from an ordinary spell as is the one the Kel’Da shamans are creating,” Began the sorcerer in a lecturing tone.
“You’re in for it now commander, James is in a lecturing mood hope you’ve got a few hours to spare,” put in the fat sorcerer grinning fatuously. James gave him a disgusted look before continuing.
“As I was saying, and I’ll keep it short a large spell such as the one to protect a whole city or even destroy it as the Kel’Da hopes takes a lot of power,” He paused. A sorcerer cannot cast it in the usual manner; it needs to be earthed to sustain it for any length of time. The runic circle draws the power needed and can hold it for some time and drawing it on the ground earth’s it, of course,” again he paused looking to the commander as if lecturing a student. “That is an oversimplification, but there you have it,” James explained, and he cocked his head at the fat sorcerer and stuck his tongue out.
“Are they always like this,” Elena said laughing at the byplay between the sorcerers
“Oh yes, most times,” Ebron said, “You probably know which is which but let me introduce you formally. The fat one is Elyas Camberdane, the tall one James Vesali, then my mentor Cartayis Gandarif. Next to them is the city commander lord Carlin Gasklin gentlemen allow me to introduce Elena of Firale.
“What mischief are those seeresses planning, sending you here?” asked the tall sorcerer all humour went as he stood his expression stern.
The commander frowned in puzzlement looking from face to face for some explanation.
“What is this?” He asked, finally.
“Ah, commander,” began Cartayis who had been strangely silent until now, as you know, doubt heard this young lady hails from the Firale Peninsula an area where the Balsheen seeresses have a lot of influence; she is undoubtedly here at their behest.” The blind sorcerer said,” he paused. Come closer young lady holding his hands out for Elena to approach Elena shrugged and moved closer to the sorcerer who passed his hands over her face and down the length of her body without touching. Lowering his hands, he muttered an oath, which caused his fellow sorcerers to glance at him curiously. “What, oh nothing she is one of the fire dancers to be sure,” Cartayis explained by way of explanation to the questioning looks he sensed from his fellow sorcerers.
Ebron frowned it was an all too obvious evasion and not like his old mentor and that name again fire dancer. He glanced at Elena and caught her staring at him she flushed and looked away quickly he had already admitted he liked her, but trust her that was another matter, she seemed to create more mystery wherever she went.
“So young lady, what do the seeresses plot by sending you to us?” James asked returning to his earlier question.
“Why to keep you hopeless males from falling on your rear ends as I already told Jack,” Elena said laughing she stepped up to the tall sorcerer, and to his astonishment tugged at his beard.
“Keep away from that lecher Tatter Jack young lady,” snapped Cartayis suddenly he was about to say more but realising he had already said more than he wanted to shut his mouth turning, went back to work.
Ebron had managed to find a room for Elena in an inn not far from his own most of the inns were full due to all the people from the surrounding district moving to the city before the siege started so he had been lucky to find someplace for Elena to stay at all. The commander had offered to put Elena up with his family, but she had insisted she had to stay close to Ebron to guard him as she put it. Not that he thought he needed defending, but Elena maintained if anything happened to him while under her charge the matriarch would flay her alive. To his dismay, she had refused the room and insisted she would sleep on the floor in his place. He offered her the bed, but she had shaken her head doggedly mumbling something about not being a soft city-bred woman.
Ebron sighed try as he might he couldn’t sleep lying awake for what seemed hours he could hear Elena’s soft breathing as she slept near the door how she could sleep still clothed in her armour was a wonder her swords lay by her side within easy reach. Ebron sighed again and decided to get up; it would soon be dawn time to prepare. He slept with just his shirt and boots removed and had no sooner put them on than Elena stood ready and waiting.
Ebron arrived with Elena to greet his fellow sorcerers who had worked non-stop preparing the warding spell and were ready to finalise. The three stood in the centre of their night's work grasping one-handed a tall pedestal with a mounted sphere.
“Not a moment too soon, my boy,” said James part turning his head and waving his free hand at Ebron.
“I have a company of my best soldiers ready and waiting for you Ebron,” Gasklin said calling over from where he stood as smartly dressed as ever in his burnished armour. “I’m going up on the wall that foul-smelling lecher Tatter Jack is there also, says he has some surprises up his sleeve,” The commander said. “Good luck to us all,” the commander added as he turned and strode off.
“Good man that,” said Cartayis his blind eyes tracking the commander as he left.
“Yes,” said Ebron, watching as the commander left. “I like him, well time to go hope to see you all later,’ Ebron said.
“Of course, you will silly I’ll make sure you don’t fall flat on your face,” Elena said, flashing him a cheeky smile as she clasped her hand round his arm.
Ebron shook his head, turning they headed towards the stables suddenly the ether thrummed with a loud vibration the air became still and hot followed by a howling gust of wind. Ebron turned looking back, and Elena followed his gaze where the three sorcerers stood. The runic circle glowed with energy that raced along the ground, and up the pedestal. The sphere began to rise slowly at first then with increasing speed a latticework of energy spiralling out from it creating a dome-like structure that gradually encompassed the whole city
“Let’s hope they can maintain it long enough,” Ebron said as they continued.
Ebron dismounted his horse at the base of a small hillock no more than few hundred yards from the enemy so far they had been lucky the Kel’Da too occupied with what his fellow sorcerers had done to notice the small group slip out of a side gate of the city. Some of their shamans were busy hurling fireballs at the warding spell to no avail
“Looks like they have finished the war rune, Ebron said looking skyward over the city the sky which had just lightened with the dawn grew ominously dark again thick black clouds massed over the city the air became oppressively hot and still, the ether thrummed with a discordant note that gave Ebron a headache.
“Gods!” explained one of the soldiers stood behind Ebron as hailstones almost as big as boulders rained down on the city followed by massive balls of fire, clashing against the protective warding. The whole air outside the warding erupted in flames which swirled around the warding dome like some living, fire-breathing monster licking tongues of fire and trying to find a way past the protective warding. Inside the city, there was some panic, but most people just huddled in terror looking skyward and praying for the warding to hold
“Hold steady men,” Gasklin called some of his men were near panicked even some of the hardened veterans looked terrified, but they held firm. He took a quick glance down to where the three sorcerers stood like motionless statues clasping the pedestal with both hands they stood like that since they raised the warding spell
“Takes a lot of concentration to hold that spell together,” remarked Tatter Jack who did not seem the least bit afraid.
“Doesn’t nothing bother you,” snapped the commander nerves worn to a razor's edge
“Not really if your time has come there’s nothing you can do about it, so no use worrying over it,” answered Tatter Jack as the ground began to shake parts of the city wall began to crumble and fall, but the warding held and gradually the raging inferno around the city slackened.
“I should be ready for an all-out attack soon they ain’t going to be too happy there mighty spell failed,” quipped Tatter Jack.
“What about Ebron?” The commander asked.
“When they attack that’s when he’ll get them hot-footed give them a bit of their own medicine will our Ebron,” replied the disreputable sorcerer laughing.
The moment the war rune spell finally died away Ebron starting climbing the hillock with Elena at his side followed closely by the crack squad the commander had given him.
“They’ll see us soon as we get to the top sir hope you know what you're doing,” queried the red-faced sergeant leading the men.
“Shush, don’t ask stupid questions, he knows what he’s about and needs to concentrate right now be ready to keep those stinking Kel’Da of him while he casts his spells,” snapped Elena before Ebron could answer.
The sergeant flushed angrily but made no word in reply. Ebron was grateful to her for that for he needed quiet to formulate his planned spell correctly if it was to succeed as he hoped. As they topped the hill, Ebron could see the shamans had resumed casting fire and lightning spells at the city but the warding still held. The Kel’Da was grouping for a mass attack one of the shamans spotted them straight away and pointed in their direction a formation broke away as the main body moved at a slow trot towards the beleaguered city
Elena drew sword and shield and ran forward to meet the oncoming Kel’Da who had broken to attack them, followed closely by the soldiers. The Kel’Da wore lightweight armour which didn’t give too much protection they preferred weapons were two-headed axes, mace and spears which they could throw with lethal force they relied on brute strength and numbers rather than skill and detested using a shield as being cowardly.
Ebron could see Elena skilfully swinging her sword in cutting arcs around her with every stroke an enemy fell the company of soldiers had not done so well, and half their number had fallen until they noticed Elena then they gathered around her the red-faced sergeant standing at her side he gave her a nod of approval.
Elena laughed manically her shield battered with the blows she had skilfully fended off removing the shield she flung on it the ground and brought her second sword into play. Dancing forward the swords blurred in motion, cutting arcs through the air the swords began to glow red and fire erupted along the length of the blades and lanced out in arcs searing the Kel’Da with flame.
“Those are runic structures she’s creating with the swords,” Ebron thought as he saw her now, he knew what fire dancer meant. With no time to think how Elena faired he gave himself over to the task at hand. As a battle mage, and one of a kind where most sorcerers needed more time to construct large destructive spells and often required the use of some focus. Ebron could build precise spell structures in his head the symbols flared in his mind's eye as he gave them thought. Precise diction needed for a powerful spell unlike the Kel’Da shamans war spell which used the forces of nature against one, and other Ebron’s was more subtle and borrowed from one to balance the other. Fire, earth and air blended in perfect harmony a harmonic thrum vibrated through the ether as Ebron unleashed his spell.
A wall of fire almost the height of the city walls sprang up in front of the advancing Kel’Da and ran the full width of the advancing army. The advancing front ranks were, immediately incinerated. The heat from the sorcerous fire caused those close to it to burst into flame terrifying screams could be heard as men burnt alive. Kel’Da spread out to avoid the fire as it advanced hungrily through the ranks turning the battlefield into a charnel house. The Kel’Da realising that Ebron was their immediate threat called a retreat while they regrouped, still enough remained to overwhelm the city.
Ebron could see some had evaded the fire to make it through the breach in the city wall, as he watched, Tatter Jack added his magic to thwart the Kel’Da. Near to exhaustion as the warding spell over the city finally gave way, and some of the shamans began hurling fireballs. Ebron hastily created a warding spell around the area he stood as fire arched up and over towards him
“To me,” Ebron called to Elena and the three remaining soldiers Elena was first to reach him her expression grim, but she still managed a wan smile
“I have a magic shield around this area so stay close,” Ebron explained as the soldiers arrived one of them the sergeant who nodded wordlessly he positioned himself and the remaining two soldiers in a defensive circle around Ebron and Elena. Fire splashed over his shield making it glow a vivid red and giving of blue and yellow sparks. The remaining Kel’Da that had broken off to attack them stayed back letting the shamans cast their spells.
Elena had a pensive expression as if she wanted to say something but wasn’t sure. “What, if you’ve got any ideas, let’s hear them as I’m all out and near done,” Ebron said.
“Can you do a lightning spell?’ Elena asked succinctly.
“Yes but it’s too random,’ it will miss as many as it kills not efficient enough to get the job done,” replied Ebron with candour
“Trust me, but say the words aloud so I can follow,” Elena said. Ebron raised an eyebrow thought about it a second and nodded the Balsheen seeresses had foreseen something connected with Elena that’s why she was here so he had to trust it would be for the best.
He began saying aloud the words each word precisely spoken rang through the ether with a harmonic chime and seared the air to an electric stillness hair stood on end, skin rose in goosebumps. A couple of heartbeats behind Elena repeated the cantrip in counterpoint. Ebron noticed Elena placing a hand on his shoulder; it felt hot enough to burn through his skin. She held a sword aloft he almost laughed she reminded him of a statue of some long-forgotten warrior. As he finished the spell everything seemed to stop motionless in expectancy he realised Elena had not said the final word her sword glowed white with pent-up energy the spell had grounded in her sword Elena seemed untouched by the forces trapped within the blade. He nodded for her to finish as she spoke the word the sky darkened thunder rumbled above them, dark clouds gathered above the Kel’Da. Lightning flashed from the sword into the ranks of the Kel’Da vivid white and red; dazzling streaks lit up the darkened sky where they hit, men vaporised into ash. Nothing else remained not even the armour or weapons they carried. On and on the lightning flashed and danced along the ground vaporising even rock and stone until the remaining Kel’Da finally broke and fled.
Elena moaned softly her arm shook as she lowered the sword and staggered back Ebron just managed to catch, and lower her gently to the ground then he collapsed beside her. He vaguely heard the grizzled sergeant say something to his men about leaving them be a while before shutting his eyes.
When he finally came to opening his eyes again, Elena was stood nearby talking to the sergeant and his two remaining men who seemed in awe of her even the red-faced sergeant was most deferential calling her my lady and referring to him as my lord Elena half-turned to look down at him and winked.
“Shall I tell the sergeant who you are Ebron,” Elena said smiling cheekily Ebron ground his teeth and flashed her a warning look as he got to his feet
“What’s this?” asked the sergeant curiously
“Nothing Robby just a little joke between me, and the mighty sorcerer here,” Elena laughed as she turned to walk back down the hillock to where the horses waited.
The mood of the city had been one of great relief as they returned and many had already started celebrating. Gasklin had told Ebron that two of the ancient sorcerers had returned home only his old mentor remained. The commander had insisted that Elena stayed in the guest rooms in his house and had offered Ebron a room. Ebron had shooed Elena off to meet the commander’s family and declined his hospitality for himself.
The last he saw of Elena was with the commander's wife taking her in hand Elena had turned to stick her tongue out at him. Ebron wondered why the woman was so bent on trying to torment him half the time and other the half she could be such good company maybe it was all part of the seeresses plan he liked Elena most of the time anyway, but he still couldn’t bring himself to trust her completely. Ebron scowled it was now late evening and the celebrating continued, Elena had disappeared, the seeresses would probably want her back they hadn’t come for her, yet he was sure they undoubtedly would soon and possibly blame him for her not being where she was supposed to be. Ebron decided to make his way back to his room at the inn he was nearly halfway when he spotted a familiar face running in his direction the young soldier almost went past on his left then suddenly turned on recognising him.
“What gives Jimmy?” Ebron asked recalling the young soldier’s name that had stood with his sergeant guarding Ebron and Elena on the hilltop
“My lord, the sergeant, says I should find you quick her ladyship is with Tatter Jack in your room and... Ah they ah’ the young soldier stammered to a halt becoming mindful of where he was and that people had stopped to look
“Come on, let's go,” said Ebron needing no further explanation.
The matriarch entered the small study she called her own, scented candles lit the room, an oak desk, and chair stood to the right near a small stained window. The floor was cold stone, though Saim had a sheepskin rug placed under the desk. A log fire burned in a hearth against the back wall closing the door, the matriarch went to her desk, smoothed down her white dress shook off her sandals and sat placing aching feet onto the sheepskin rug. She had no sooner settled herself than a glowing nimbus of light appeared in front. The light turned to a mirror-like opaqueness through which she could see a scene. The blind sorcerer stood in a standard room; his very stance suggested anger and outrage.
“What do you think you are doing Saim,” the blind sorcerer’s eyes seemed to home to the precise place where the matriarch sat.
“Hello, Cartayis nice to see you too,” Saim spoke in calm reply.
“Stop evading and answer me what’s the meaning of sending our daughter into mortal danger you have plenty of others to do your meddling for you,” the blind sorcerer raged; he took a deep breath while struggling to calm himself.
Saim waited while the sorcerer brought himself under control, remembering only to well how hot-tempered he could be. She knew him only to well when they had first met they were both younger. He was not blind then, but dashing and handsome their liaison had been a closely guarded secret the seeresses knew of course. She suspected that at least one of Cartayis colleagues knew but could not be sure. The sorcerers kept themselves well warded against the seeresses’ wiles. When Elena had been born Cartayis had left the upbringing to her they had agreed to foster her to a family from the Firale isles and as far as the matriarch knew Cartayis had no contact with his daughter until now.
“It turned out well did it not,” the matriarch answered finally.
“Had you foreseen this possibility?” The sorcerer asked, taking a deep calming breath he finally brought himself under control.
“You know as far as Ebron is concerned, we cannot foresee the future he is anathema.
“Yes that’s why you wanted him kept under close guard you and those meddling seeresses,” the blind sorcerer answered in disgust
“I realise that was a mistake, but we did recently foresee some possibilities concerning the city and people of Harvadon,” the matriarch said
“Oh, such as?” The sorcerer asked.
“Without Elena’s help, the city would most likely have fallen; we can't say what would’ve happened to Ebron, of course, expect it did not bode well for his chances
“You saw this from Elena?”
“No,” the matriarch paused letting out a pent breath, “if you had bothered to look in on your daughter now and again you would have realised she is a lot like Ebron,” concluded the matriarch.
“Wait, what are you saying,“ Cartayis shook his head and paced the floor, “you are saying she is anathema also aren’t you,” he concluded.
The matriarch nodded, “the other seeresses will try to bring her back, my opinion on this matter is void, as you would know,” the matriarch said blandly.
“Ha, it is what you are not saying that speaks volumes; you wouldn’t be telling me this if you believed Elena should return. If she is anathema also it might be best if she did return, the two of them gods the potential for disaster,” The blind sorcerer paused reflecting on some inner turmoil of his own finally he sighed. “You apparently believe she should be with Ebron so much so you would put all at risk to that end. In spite of all that has been between us, I can still see into your heart. There I trust your instincts may the gods help me; I will see to it that your seeresses don’t get her back. The matriarch remained impassive only a small tear glistened in one eye to give away her true feelings, but she had not quite finished what she had done so far had gone beyond what any seeress had done or would approve of yet she took one last step
“Elena knows I’m her real mother I told her before I sent her to Ebron, I leave it to you to tell her you’re her father if you so wish, perhaps Ebron can show Elena Tiris soon. After what they have been through, it would do them both good.” The matriarch said in conclusion
The blind sorcerer raised an eyebrow, “we must do this again sometime, Saim.” The matriarch sat back at her desk as the sending vanished satisfied she had done all in her power to stay back the encroaching chaos that threatened to consume all she held dear. Even here in the temple, the agents of darkness had penetrated there was few she could trust anymore that was another reason to send Elena away she would be safer with Ebron than here.
Ebron reached the door to his room the red-faced sergeant stood outside it was strange Ebron thought how the sergeant and young Jimmy had taken the job of being their guards without being asked.
“They’re inside my lord and both roaring drunk I found them at an inn in the lower part of town brought them here thought you should know right away,” explained the sergeant.
“Thanks, Robby you did right,” Ebron said, remembering what Elena had called him he tapped the sergeant on the shoulder. The sergeant straightened and seemed to grow in stature.
Ebron shook his head as he entered the room both Tatter Jack and Elena sat around a small table Jack had his head on the table and was snoring loudly Elena sat across from him and seemed to be nodding her head kept lolling forward. She was not that far gone, that she didn't notice him enter the room, she turned to face him tried to stand then sat back down again
“Come to, res.. rescue me have you,” Elena said, her voice slurring, she finished with a hiccup.
“From Jack no, his reputation is well-founded. I grant you, but he would never force himself on any woman. Besides, I think you could well take care of yourself; it’s what the matriarch will do if she sees you in such a state that bothers me,” Ebron said.
“Bah, I thought you weren’t scared of moth... matriarch... And them seeresses,” Elena slurred looking at him bleary-eyed
“What’s this sounded like she nearly said mother if that were true it would explain why the matriarch came in person, which only makes things more complicated I’m beginning to realise what James and the others meant by the seeresses meddling,” Ebron thought astutely drawing the right conclusions. His training as a prince and then sorcerer had helped him in no small way to derive truth from little evidence.
“Well, it’s time you went to bed to sleep this off my lady,” Ebron said he went to help her up from the chair, but Elena grabbed her sword.
“Keep your hands off me yo… yo.. hi.. high and mighty high. Highness,” Elena slurred her sword clattered on the floor, and Jack gave a start in his sleep before continuing to snore. Elena hiccupped loudly and then pulled Ebron to her and kissed him on the forehead he just managed to catch her as she fell and lifted her gently on to his bed.
Elena woke her head throbbed terribly with every movement, and her mouth felt stuffed with cotton not to mention her stomach churned she groaned in misery, clutching her aching head in both hands. Belatedly she realised she was under the covers in Ebron’s bed pulling the sheet down someone had removed her armour and she had only her slip-on
“Oh no, I didn’t I can't have,” Elena thought quickly glancing around the room and groaning as her head hurt there was no sign of her armour, and the room was empty. The door suddenly creaked open Elena gave a startled yelp pulling the cover-up again.
“Now you show a bit of decency wouldn’t have believed it after last night,” said a plump woman with greying hair tut-tut ting as she carried a tray across to Elena. She remembered her as the innkeeper’s wife.
“What… I did no... I mean I’m not like that - how dare you do you know who I am,” Elena stammered she just had a few drinks got a bit drunk that was all nothing else happened she was sure of that now at least nothing serious anyway.
“Aye well I know who you are the one who helped his grace save our city and daughter to the matriarch of the Balsheen seeresses,” replied the innkeeper’s wife Elena glared at the woman dangerously,
“You know a lot for an innkeeper’s wife.”
“Drink this, and don’t get all suspicious of me Ebron prepared it himself it will cure the after-effects of last night. This inn is kept by the sorcerers of the west if you must know that’s how I know about him. As to your lineage, you let it slip last night, so Ebron says, good job there was not too many people around to hear you. This city may be in debt to you, but there are some if they found out you were the daughter of a Balsheen seeress would turn things around and blame you for bringing the Kel‘Da down on them,” the plump woman said her tone scolding.
Elena downed the draft in one gulp and gagged on the foul-tasting stuff her eyes smarted. She coughed and choked as the innkeeper’s wife watched impassively. Elena spitefully wished she made innkeeper’s wife drink the obnoxious brew, but after a few minutes she found her head ached less, and her stomach began to calm down
“Better?” asked the innkeeper’s wife
“Yes, thank you, I’m sorry if I caused you much trouble,” Elena replied. Beginning to feel better she thought how she had behaved the night before and that Ebron knew who she was. “Oh… what have I done he must hate me now,” Elena cried. Tears began to roll down her cheeks; she buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
“Ah, like that is it, fond of his grace, Ebron are you? Yes, I can see you are, explains a lot that does,” The innkeeper’s wife said answering her own questions, her expression softening she sat on the edge of the bed enfolded the sobbing Elena in her arms.
“So what did the matriarch have to say about sending your daughter to you?” Asked the fat sorcerer looking at Cartayis through the mirror-like glow of sorcerous energy suspended in the air in front of his desk. Cartayis stood stock still unmoving at the others pronouncement.
“I have known for some time about your liaison and your daughter,” Elyas continued, and no the others don’t know figured you would tell us when you were ready,” expanded Elyas with a wave of a hand.
“It has been over twenty years,” stated Cartayis raising an eyebrow.
“That long bah! Time is meaningless to me besides I only found out some years later I have my agents as you know all this is beside the point though,” he paused in thought. “ I am more interested in the matriarch’s reasons for sending Elena and at such a time,” Elyas said. Cartayis went on to explain what the matriarch had told him what the seeresses had foreseen regarding the siege of Harvadon and finishing with her last words regarding Ebron and Elena
“She said that most curious we had a better look into what is happening in Tiris I know that Masdala and Faerin have been at war with one and other in the past but nothing in recent times they both once tried to claim sovereignty over Tiris as you know.’ The fat sorcerer shrugged thoughtfully
‘I believe Faerin has an alliance with Tiris at the moment that gives them lucrative shipping rights and access to the Tiran channel I believe the baron of Masdala was most unhappy with the situation,’ explained Cartayis pacing the room.
“The matriarch has given a lot away, more than seems prudent, she must be anxious; we need to look into this, and you better see to it that Ebron and Elena go to Tiris soon,” stated the corpulent sorcerer.
“I have the seeresses to deal with first, and there seems to be some difficulty between Ebron and Elena,” replied Cartayis coming to a standstill
‘I am sure you will manage, do not worry about Ebron and Elena they will sort themselves out be sure if they don’t come to blows in the meantime,’ answered Elyas with a laugh.
Ebron made his way through the crowded street after seeing Tatter Jack, who had confirmed that Elena had let slip more than once that she was the daughter of the matriarch. He also said she seemed to be holding back something some secret that made the young woman most morose, but he couldn’t get to the bottom of it. Ebron swore under his breath; the woman was most disconcerting everywhere she went mystery seemed to follow and surround her. A harmonic chime rang through the ether and Ebron swore aloud this time, and quickened his pace towards the Black Horse Inn. He entered to the sound of a single voice raised in anger.
Elena stood facing a seeress flanked by two temple guards the innkeeper and his wife stood behind the counter warily watching as Elena confronted the seeress to his surprise Cartayis sat at a nearby table facing Elena but seemed not to be interested in the tableau taking place but absorbed in eating the food in front of him. No one else was in the inn in spite the hour still being early Ebron wondered if the people had left when the seeress appeared he also considered if he should just let the seeress take Elena back. The crown prince and sorcerer sighed in dismissal, of such thoughts, if Elena did not wish to return as Tatter Jack had indicated then he felt duty-bound to help her regardless
“I will not return with you; I am not your cats-paw to move around as you see fit. I have helped the seeresses in the past because the matriarch has asked it of me, but no more I am done with your kind,” Elena shouted her voice shook with barely controlled rage.
“We will see,” the seeress replied her tone conveying one of tolerance when confronted with a rebellious child. The seeress lifted a hand, and Cartayis stood from where he sat in one fluid motion before even Ebron could act.
“Stop,” Cartayis voice rang with authority; his blind eyes rested on the seeress.
“For one that is blind you see well enough old man,” the seeress said into the quiet that followed.
“I see well enough to know you would use your arts on this young lady to bend her to your will, that I cannot condone nor can I allow you to take her where she does not wish to go.” Answered Cartayis he raised the staff he used as a walking stick, which also served as a mage staff and tapped it on the floor to punctuate his words. The seeress made no move to leave or advance but merely nodded and the temple guards moved menacingly towards Elena.
Ebron acted, a simple spell cast short and precise sent the temple guards staggering back momentarily blinded
“Thank you, my boy,” said Cartayis turning in the direction of Ebron and nodding with a sardonic smile he turned back to face the seeress who still stood in place her expression one of frustration. All the while Elena stood poised tense, ready hands at her side belatedly she realised she wore a dress given to her by the innkeeper’s wife and her armour and swords wherein Ebron’s room after being cleaned.
“This young lady is now under the protection of the sorcerers circle any attempt against her free will by any seeress or agent of, will be dealt with most severely,” Cartayis stated in commanding tones.
The seeress stood in thought; she could not risk going against the sorcerer's circle sighing she spoke. “So be it,” she replied, with that she and the temple guards vanished.
Two days since the seeresses, failed attempt to bring Elena back under their control Ebron sat at the guest table in the manse of the city mayor the sizeable throne-like room had many tables and guests. He and Elena came as guests of honour when he had called at commander Gasklin’s house, where Elena now resided most of the time. He was pleasantly surprised to see her dressed in an elegant blue gown trimmed, with lace she wore blue slippers to match the gown, and her dark hair brushed back shone. She spoiled the whole effect by scowling at him as she took his arm and they left followed by the commander and his wife.
Apart from during the dinner, he had seen little of Elena since their arrival at the mayor’s mansion she had spoken little during the dinner and had quickly vanished among the guests. Some guests still sat around tables; others stood in small groups conversing quietly. Many of the lords and ladies had tried to curry favour with him praising him; for saving them from the Kel’Da. Ebron had been charming as he skilfully kept himself disentangled from the many ventures and intrigues that came his way; not to mention several lords daughters that had tried to snare him with thinly concealed marriage offers.
It was almost as if being in his court back home although there was little intrigue and the people more forthright. A commotion from the back near the door made everyone suddenly turn to look. Ebron groaned as he heard a familiar voice raised in angry retort as a tall sandy-haired man dressed in Tiran maroon military uniform barged his way forward.
“Out of my way fools I am captain of the guard to the crown prince of Tiris I must speak with his grace at once,” protested the man. Forcing his way past the doormen trying to restrain him he glanced around the room searching there were mutterings and astonished gasps amongst the guests and inquiring glances some had already made the connection and looked towards where Ebron sat. Not least, of which the lord high commander who no longer seemed surprised but raised an eyebrow as if to say what next.
The crown prince and sorcerer sighed in resignation and stood to call his captain to him any hope he held of playing down his position would now be lost beyond recall. Elena appeared from amongst the guests smiling sweetly.
“The jig’s up Ebron better brace yourself, and take your due,” Elena whispered then loudly for all to hear “Your grace,” bowing gracefully before him.
A while later, Ebron met with his captain, the commander, and Cartayis in the commander’s library. Ebron felt irritated with Elena’s behaviour