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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Fantasy · #2155986
A boy is raised by a magician to become a powerful magician himself
Magician's Bane

Chapter One

Circle of Fire, Circle of Magic

“Quick Del, run, hide in the tree hole,” the boy’s father shouted to make himself heard above the clamour of battle. He gave the terrified boy a push in the right direction before turning to cut down another raider with his sword. The raider screamed clutching his stomach as he fell from his horse.

Kyle Treymar had no time to feel pity for the man as he writhed on the ground; he left him to die in agony. His home once a peaceful village now became the scene of a massacre. Fires burned all around, seeing his home destroyed and his people being slaughtered rage overtook him. Looking one last time at the boy as he ran terror-stricken through the melee of battle, and seeing him disappear unnoticed behind the large oak. He sighed and whispered goodbye to his son hoping he at least would survive to see just retribution for this day’s foul deeds. Then with a battle cry, he turned and charged his nearest foe.

Breathlessly, Delfar hunkered in the tree hole trembling with fear if any of the raiders were to find him he would be too afraid even to move. He put his hands to his ears to block out the tumult of battle. Tears blinded his eyes as he clamped his mouth shut to stop himself from sobbing aloud. The sound of horses and coarse voices nearby made Delfar push himself further into the hole. His whole body shook convulsively, hot urine ran down his legs; holding his breath, he forced himself to be still until the sounds of men and horses passed.

Small fires still burned here and there as the tall man moved like a wraith through the burnt out village; smoke hung like a fog swirling in pockets over the scene. The stench of burning flesh assailed his nostrils, making him grimace and twitch his nose in disdain. He passed unseen through a small group of villagers still fighting desperately against overwhelming odds. The spell of invisibility that cloaked him meant he could not help them without revealing his presence. He had a higher purpose and trust to keep though it pained him he left the villagers to their fate. He hoped this time at least he would not be too late for the one he sought, reaching the far end of the village he stopped standing still as stone. A single gesture dissipated the spell of invisibility. The sounds of battle had at last grown quiet; eyes black as coals surveyed the scene before him. The dead lay sprawled and twisted some with grotesque wounds; others with dismembered limbs, faces that were frozen, in pain mixed with horror, rage or terror.

Sick and saddened beyond reconcile Yandar Leng the master magician bent his mind to his task. Long steel grey hair blew in the gentle breeze, which wafted smoke around him stinging his eyes; still unmoving he reached out with his senses. The mind of the one he sought was not hard to find. Even young, untrained and filled with terror; the aura of raw power around the boy, was a beacon to anyone trained in the arcane arts. The magician stirred and strode purposely towards a gnarled oak tree. On the far side facing away from the village a boy lay in a hollowed out hole; quaking fearfully the boy looked up at the magician with tear stained eyes.

“Don’t be afraid boy; I will not harm you; come,” the magician spoke softly, his voice calm and reassuring. Tentatively he reached down and offered a hand to the boy. “Come now Delfar; it’s all right. I was a friend of your father.” Though not strictly true Yandar Leng had met the boy's father; he saw Delfar's face light with a glimmer of recognition.

“I’ve seen you before, you’re the magician,” he said in a trembling voice. “Is my father...? Is he....’ his words trailed off as he looked into the magician's sad eyes.

Yandar Leng would not lie to the boy any more than necessary. He shook his head slowly. "Alas I came too late to help your father, but he died bravely in battle, of that I am sure," Leng lifted Delfar into his arms. Tears damped the shoulders of his blue robe as the boy clung tightly to him.

“I... I want to see him,” Delfar sobbed lifting his head he looked at magician with all the resolve a small boy could muster. The magician’s eyes misted slightly, his face though sharp-featured with a beaked eagle-like nose, seemed somehow kindly, and reassuring. He nodded gravely, setting Delfar gently down; he led him by the hand to where his father lay. Wiping tears from his face, Delfar stared down at the lifeless form of his father. There were several wounds on his body, but the one that killed him had been a spear from behind. It was apparent even to Delfar’s young eyes that this was where the villagers had made their last stand several of his fathers' friends lay nearby, and more than a few of the raiders. He had indeed fought well and had made the raiders pay dearly. Memories of better times came flooding back making him weep all the more.

“Can’t you do something,” Delfar pleaded bitterly between racking sobs, gesturing at the lifeless form that was once his father.

Yandar Leng understood. The boy did not want his father’s body left for carrion he nodded solemnly and took Delfar a short distance away from the scene. Briefly concentrating lifting one hand; fire leapt from his fingertips and hit the ground where Delfar’s father lay. He made a circular motion with his hand, and the fire spread out in a circle covering the whole area. For a long time, the boy and the magician stood silently as the fire burned all within the circle; only ashes and bones remained as the fire began to die.

“One day I will find them and make them pay,” bitterness again etched Delfar’s tone as he spoke.

The magician turned Delfar to face him resting both hands on his shoulders; kneeling to look directly into his eyes. “Do not harbour vengeance in your heart Delfar Treymar lest it is your undoing.” Delfar blinked and stepped back from the magician’s grasp. Though he had barely spoken above a whisper, his voice carried a commanding air Delfar had not noticed before, and his eyes seemed to burn into him. Yandar Leng stood, his gaunt features softening again.

“We must go now lest the raiders return, they will have seen the recent fire and be curious as to its cause, ” taking the boy by the hand. They walked towards the setting sun, from one step to the next without warning they disappeared from the burnt out shell of the village, and reappeared outside a tall tower. Delfar gasped in astonishment looking up at the magician with a mixture of awe and fear. Yandar Leng ignored Delfar’s expression; as he regarded the boy business-like.

‘This is my home where you will be staying.” He pursed his lips studying the boy’s appearance, ‘Hmm ... we will have to get you cleaned up first then some fresh clothes. You can have your first two days to look around and get used to things before you start studying.” Stepping towards a large heavy wooden door that seemed to have no keyhole or handle; Leng raised a hand with palm outstretched. The door outline glowed with light briefly then opened silently; the two stepped through.

“Studying,” Delfar’s said sounding bemused as he followed the magician up winding stone steps. Looking behind he saw the door had shut again.

“You want to be a great magician like me don’t you?” Leng asked speaking without turning as he climbed the steps two at a time. Delfar hurried behind to out of breath to answer when he reached the top he found himself in a circular room “Well you do don’t you?” Leng lit an oil lamp as he turned to face Delfar. It had not yet grown dark, but the room being enclosed had no windows. Though strangely it seemed dimly lit with some form of light other than the oil lamp.

Chapter 2

The Magician’s Tower

“Y ... yes, I guess I do,” Delfar still spoke between sobs, but the tears had stopped, he looked around with open curiosity. He had always dreamed of being a magician able to perform great feats of magic slaying dragons and defeating evil doers. Though as far as he knew dragons were only mythical creatures; that did not stop him dreaming about such things though; In his dreams, it had always been a great adventure, and good had always prevailed over evil.

Now he was learning real life was not always like that sometimes good lost and evil reigned crushing all who opposed its dark path.. You either embraced the evil and became a part of it or stood against it as best you could. He thought that was what had happened with his father and his village they had stood against evil and had paid for it with their lives. Only he had survived thanks to the magician. Now he considered also he had a debt to pay. He owed it to his father’s memory. It was no longer a matter of vengeance to him but a duty.

This was a leap in understanding in one so young, but Delfar had always shown a surprising maturity and wisdom beyond his age. He remembered when he had helped his father solve a particular domestic problem. The villagers had ever brought their problems to his father he was their leader; no one had elected him as such. They just naturally came to him because he had a way of thinking through problems and coming up with a workable solution. Delfar had mentioned what he fought was a logical solution to this particular problem and his father had automatically seen the right of it. There had been other occasions too, he now realised; when his father had latched on to an idea initially his. He also realised that this was what had attracted the magician’s attention to him; thinking of his father brought fresh tears to his eyes.

Yandar Leng looked at Delfar gravely “You know Delfar your father was a man of great vision he was making decisions of great importance long before you were born.” The magician said quietly, “he was also gifted with a partially empathic mind. That meant he could pick up the thoughts of those close to him. He knew you were also gifted, but in a different way.” Leng wiped a tear from Delfar’s cheek with a bony finger. “Your father and I had spoken of this on several occasions, and he had agreed to apprentice you to me. I was already on my way to get you when the village was attacked.” The magician explained. “I’m sorry I arrived too late to help him,” Leng said studying Delfar's face sadly.

“Is that why they killed everyone, because of me?” Delfar asked letting out a big sob.

Leng raised an eyebrow, " the boy has a quick mind," he thought..

“In part yes,” he began. ‘Some people are afraid of anyone with the gift like you or me. There was another like you not far from your village. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to save him.’ The magician let out a heartfelt sigh “The raiders sought to kill anyone with the least bit of potential I’m afraid I may have been partly responsible for drawing attention to your village.” Yandar Leng concluded his eyes had a faraway haunted look as he reflected on the burden of his responsibilities.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Delfar said gravely taking the magician's hand in his.

Leng looked at Delfar and smiled warmly, “and wise beyond his years,” he thought.

Delfar woke to strange surroundings the past day’s horrors still fresh in his mind. He felt an emptiness, within him, left by his father’s passing. He pushed back the memories and found he could block them out then let the memories flood through again and make himself grieve. He decided he would allow himself to remember and cry only when alone; now he had a new life to begin. He had bathed before going to bed in a hot tub the magician had prepared for him and now feel refreshed and clean sitting up he found clean clothes at the bottom of the bed. A green leather tunic with gold bordered cuffs and collar and matching trousers; a pair of brown boots stood nearby on the floor. Quickly getting up he tried on the clothes, the tunic and pants seemed a little on the large size, but the boots fitted perfectly. A washbasin stood on a small bedside table with a bar of white soap and towel. Delfar splashed cold water on his face and washed his hands.

“Breakfast ready,” the magician knocked on the door as he called out.

Delfar quickly dried himself then peered out through the small portal seeing the sun had barely risen. The magician had said he would have two days to explore and get used to his new surroundings; eagerly he went to the door and stopped to get his bearings. The door opened into a narrow circular passage. The design of the tower was unusual from what he could remember the central living area was where they had entered the night before; after climbing the stairs. It had to be somewhere in the centre.

There was no other door visible as far as he could see but the tower was round so if he followed the passage in one direction he would eventually return to his start position. There had to be a door on the opposite wall. He turned right along the passage ambling; he walked halfway round without finding any door. As he walked further, he felt a strange sensation after a few more steps he stopped and looked around. He seemed to be no farther on than before. He took note of a mark on the wall and walked on; again the strange sensation. He looked at the wall; there still was the mark!

He pondered the situation the magician had to be playing some trick on him, or maybe it was part of some elaborate tower defence. The magician had forgotten to warn him about either way his stomach was beginning to rumble, and he wanted to find his way quickly; he could call out, but he didn’t want to seem foolish. After some thought, he decided to go left passing his room he stepped on a raised stone on the floor. Suddenly a rumble sounded ahead, and a circular hole opened in front of him! He stepped back, and the hole closed. Again he stopped to consider the problem, looking around he noticed a small circular bump on the outer wall like a button. He wondered if it might have something to do with the puzzle he faced; he pressed it.

“Click,” He stepped forward this time the hole opened two paces in front of him; another button,

“Click,” A hole behind and in front, he seemed to be trapped! Looking ahead he saw another floor plate on the far side of the hole in front of him he frowned considering what to do; taking off his tunic, he threw it on floor plate ahead.

“Click,” The hole ahead closed he stepped forward “W-w-w--r-r,” a passage opened ahead on his right. Delfar stepped forward picked up and donned his tunic.

A door faced him at the far end of the passage; opening it, he entered the inner room. The magician stood over an open hearth cooking he half turned and smiled craftily at Delfar.

“I see you fathomed out my little game,” the magician no longer wore his blue robes but a white shirt, black trousers, and shiny black boots; an amulet hung around his neck on a gold chain. “Sit down Delfar over there at the table,” Delfar sat while the magician brought him a plate of eggs and bread. He then went to a draw and fetched some eating utensils.

“I don’t have to go through that every morning do I?” Delfar asked between mouthfuls of egg and bread. Leng laughed heartily.

"No I think not; you got through it quicker than some of my previous apprentices though," Leng brought himself a plate of eggs and bread; then got two tumblers of milk from a pitcher setting one next to Delfar and one next to his plate.

"I was hungry; I’m going to be your apprentice then?" He asked before wolfing down another mouthful of an egg; he drank nearly half his milk before grimacing at the taste.

"Goat’s milk," Leng smiled sitting at the table. ‘You have to get used to the taste, but it’s good for you." He began eating before he thought to answer Delfar’s question. "Umm... Oh! Yes, you are my apprentice, you can call me Master or Master Leng. Eat up boy I’ve got something to show you when we’ve finished; then you can go exploring," Leng continued eating enthusiastically. Delfar glanced around as he finished his meal. Most of the furnishings in the room were arranged to suit the shape; chairs and cupboards arranged around the outside. The hearth Delfar now realised was in the centre built into a large pillar-like a chimney that seemed to go through the ceiling. The table where they sat, was positioned near the centre close to the fire. Now Delfar noticed the other source of light high on the wall; sconces placed in which contained what looked like glowing stones.

"Phosphorus stone," Leng explained seeing Delfar gape at the glowing stones.

“Oh,” Delfar had never seen or heard of anything like the glowing stones before.

“Right come on,” Yandar Leng finished his meal and stood as Delfar rose to follow. The magician pulled a lever on the wall; a trap door opened and and steps led down to another part of the tower. Leng went down the steps as Delfar followed close behind; they entered a half circular room filled with books. All arranged neatly on shelves around the wall, with a single desk and chair in the middle of the floor.

"My library, it is here where you will do much of your studying,” the magician explained. Though he didn’t stop there crossing the room, he went through another door. Delfar stared in wonder; here again was a circular room as big as the room above. The room was empty of all furnishings, and ornately decorated. The ceiling was like looking up into a clear night sky filled with stars; on the floor painted in blue and gold was a sizeable six-pointed pentagram. Apart from the ceiling, the whole room seemed to be in colours of blue mixed with gold red and the slightest hint of green. Delfar’s skin prickled as though been bitten by hundreds of stinger flies.

“What is this place master Leng?” Delfar stood gaping he noticed the design of the pentagram was the same as on the amulet the magician wore.

“It’s a summoning circle, other magician’s like myself have one similar in their towers and we can travel between them,” Leng explained smiling indulgently.

He let the boy wonder around the room for a while before telling him he could go outside exploring, but not to go far. Delfar walked all the way around the outside of the tower it was much bigger than he thought and seemed wider at the top. Looking about the tower stood in a small clearing in the middle of dense wood several narrow, and well-used paths disappeared through the trees. A cluster of small buildings caught his eye not far away. As he started walking towards the buildings, he felt something brush against his leg. He stopped and looked down into large green eyes staring up at him. The cat was the blackest Delfar had ever seen; even its whiskers seemed black against its silky fur. The very blackness of the cat made its green eyes even more startling in contrast. The cat purred as it sat looking at Delfar.

“Hello where did you come from, I wonder what your name is. I bet it’s not snowy anyway.” Delfar knelt stroking the cat giggling at his joke.

Chapter 3


“My name is Shula human child.” Delfar nearly fell over in amazement the cat seemed to be speaking in his head while continuing to purr.

“Of course, I can mind speak, human child don’t you know anything,” Shula’s tone conveyed irritation though she still purred.

“No I didn’t know I’m only a magician’s apprentice,” Delfar replied getting over the shock. “Are you master Leng’s cat, err I mean the human that lives in there?” Delfar asked pointing to the tower. He wasn’t sure how much the cat understood human language or how he should speak to the cat.

“I’m not anybody’s cat the human spirit weaver is my friend. He sent me to watch over you. I am not so sure that I won’t just leave you now; you will probably get yourself lost without me,” Shula stood hackles raised her tail wagged angrily

“I’m sorry Shula please I’m sorry I want to be your friend too. I’m just a dumb village boy, who doesn’t know anything,” Delfar’s words came out in a rush in spite of the promise he made to himself. The loneliness he felt since his father's death overwhelmed him. Tears flowed he numbly sat on the ground head bowed letting the tears sink into the ground beneath him. Shula sat curling her tail under her and began purring loudly. The purring seemed to permeate Delfar’s very being soothing and relaxing him. Finally, when tears would no longer come, he wiped his reddened eyes and looked up at the cat.

“At least you’re still here, does that mean you will be my friend?” He asked, again in control of his emotion’s though he wanted to stroke Shula, yet he waited for her answer.

“I am your friend Delfar I have known that from the first time I saw you. A cat knows instinctively whether a human is compatible or not – meow,” Shula replied still purring; she fussily began washing her front paws. Delfar stroked Shula gently then stood; the cat stopped cleaning and rose stretching all fours.

“Where are we going Delfar?’ She asked, her tail going in the air as she held her head up looking at Delfar.

“I thought I would see what is over there,” he replied pointing to the buildings.

"There is no need to speak aloud unless you prefer it Delfar; I do not understand the sounds that come from your mouth only your thoughts." Shula stretched her legs out and scampered along beside Delfar.

"You mean I only have to think what I’m going to do or say in my head and you can understand me." Delfar said, he noticed there were less cat-like sounds when Shula spoke considered now than when she first talked to him.

"Yes, that is so, as you have just demonstrated, eventually you will not notice any difference in speech,” Shula mind speech occasionally broke up into meowing and purring so that Delfar had trouble understanding. “Sharing each other's thoughts will become natural,” Shula jumped up onto a wooden fence as they reached the buildings

“Oh, I didn’t know that,” he said. This might not be such a good idea as he thought; he didn’t want to share all his thoughts with Shula something’s he would like to keep secret. What if he thought something to offend Shula without meaning to she indeed seemed to take offence quickly.

"I’m not that easily upset I was only making a point earlier to ensure we get off right footed." Shula seemed to have an amused look if such was possible for a cat.

Delfar’s mouth fell open he got the distinct impression that Shula was talking to him like a grown-up talk to a child hardly able to walk. Then he scratched his head frowning. “You mean on the right foot don’t you, to get off on the right foot,” Delfar explained, looking around. The wooden fence Shula sat on was a pen with several goats inside. There were three buildings in all; the largest looked like a barn or stable.

“That is, so that is what I said Delfar,” answered Shula. As Delfar walked towards the large building with Shula close behind, inside horse enclosures ran the length of one side. All but the last two were empty in one corner hay was piled up; tools and other implements hung on nails on the wall. A ladder went up into a hayloft.

“If you are worried about private thoughts I will not intrude on any thoughts you do not wish me to.” Shula took Delfar’s long silence as uncertainty about sharing his thoughts with her.

“Yes, that would be good Shula,” Delfar replied he picked up some hay and gave it to a large chestnut horse in the end box. The horse ate the haymaking loud munching noises as Delfar reached up and stroked it. After leaving the barn, Delfar inspected the other buildings. One was a storeroom the other a hen loft.

“I would like to eat one of those, but the spirit weaver would not be pleased.” Shula licked her lips as the hens started squawking and fluttering about in panic at the sight of a cat peering through the loft door.

“I wouldn’t let the cat lose in there if I were you,” said a voice from behind him.

Delfar shut the door with a start and turned to face a thin brown haired girl only slightly taller than him. Round blue eyes looked at him curiously. Delfar stood staring back at the girl his face growing redder by the second. Try as he might, to talk his words only came out nonsensical.

“My name is Narela the magician lets me come here to help look after the animals.”

Narela seemed not to notice Delfar’s predicament, and carried on talking, about herself her family and village. By the time she stopped to ask his name, he had learned a lot about his new surroundings. And because Narela did most of the talking, he was able to answer her questions without getting to tongue-tied. Narela looked at him with sad eyes when he told her about his village.

“I’m sorry Delfar you're so brave about it all.” An awkward moment passed as Narela took Delfar’s hand in her own sympathetically; then she began talking again. Delfar helped Narela with the feeding of the animals and milking the goats; by the time she left much later they had become fast friends.

“She is not for you Delfar,” said Shula as they walked towards the tower.

"What do you mean, she is nice, I like her,” he replied a little defensively. He thought Narela was the prettiest girl he had ever seen not that he had seen many, coming from a small village in Faymar. He knew from what Narela had told him that he was now many leagues from his town. The village of Taylen where Narela lived was on the outskirts of Pyrna the capital of Pyrn and largest city in all of Epyrn. Narela said she would like to go to Pyrna one day and he boasted he would take her there himself. She had smiled at him wistfully and then kissed him on the cheek. Her only fault was she seemed to talk too much all in all she looked charming Delfar thought.

“She talks too much, but she is nice,” Shula answered echoing Delfar’s thoughts as she scampered along at his feet.

“See even you think she is nice,” Delfar stopped as they reached the tower door.

"She is not compatible Delfar." Shula suddenly leapt upon Delfar’s shoulder ‘You don’t mind if I ride on your shoulder, I don’t feel like trekking up all those stairs right now.’ Shula balanced herself delicately on Delfar’s shoulder.

"You mean not compatible with you?’ Delfar asked the door glowed then opened seemingly by itself. Delfar stepped through and began climbing the stairs.

“That too, but mainly for you, purr,’ Shula hung tightly to Delfar’s shoulder though surprisingly her claws did not dig into his flesh. Delfar chose not to question Shula further about why she thought Narela was not for him. Maybe the cat was jealous, cats could get that way when their human companions paid more attention to other humans, and less to the cat, either way, Narela was his friend, and that was that.

‘"I see you two have got acquainted,’ the magician stood cooking dinner over the stove as Delfar entered the room. Shula jumped down and ran to a bowl of chopped meat the magician placed on the floor. ‘It’s your favourite Shula,’ Leng said aloud he bent down and stroked the cat affectionately.

"Chicken thank you spirit weaver,’ Shula half turned her head up to look at Leng, then turned back giving the bowl of chopped chicken her full attention.

‘Why does Shula call you spirit weaver master Leng?’ Delfar asked before taking a large bite of his chicken leg and attacking his potatoes and greens.

"It’s the nearest interpretation in her language Delfar," Leng answered as he tucked into his food with at least equal enthusiasm if not more so than Delfar.

The rest of the day and all of the next past to quickly for Delfar Narela had come again and with Shula not far behind they had explored the surrounding woods; and had ended up at Narela’s village. Delfar had been surprised by how big it was while Narela had explained it was more like a small town but still was not even a quarter the size of Pyrna. To Delfar it seemed big enough to be a city with its narrow cobbled streets full of people bustling too and throw. White-fronted houses and shops of various descriptions seemed arranged haphazardly; there was even a small market square in the centre. Delfar had gone to bed that night dreaming of streets overcrowded with people; he thought he saw his father down one of those crowded streets.


Time passed and seasons changed, the boy sat at the desk his face creased in concentration as he studied a book. A cat lay curled at his feet and through the small portal snow fell. In the magicians, tower time seemed to have no meaning. Time passed and seasons changed. The boy now growing tall walked with the magician on a bright summer's day. The magician talked and demonstrated certain arcane spells that the boy tried to imitate. Sometimes he succeeded sometimes he failed; the magician corrected the boy's mistakes patiently. Time passed seasons changed the boy now a young man walked with a young woman on a bright spring day. Time moved and seasons turned the young man sat at his desk his face set in concentration over a book; through the portal autumn leaves fell. Time passed! In the magician’s tower time seemed to have no meaning.

Chapter 4


“I wish you would forget this notion of finding your father's killers Delfar I seem to remember telling you before not to harbour vengeance in your heart,” Leng spoke a little irritably as he regarded his student. His aged face had a few more lines to it but looked no older than when he had found Delfar in the tree hole, years ago. A side benefit of the constant use of the arcane arts Delfar remembered from one of the many books he had read.

“Lest it is my undoing, I know but as I’ve said many times since. I do not foster vengeance in my heart; I only seek justice that is all master.” Delfar smiled warmly at Yandar Leng; he pulled his chair a little closer to the fire warming his hands over the stove.

“Your initiation is only two days away; if you are not truthful about the reasons for finding your father's killers the circle will know. Even if you believe you are honest they will root out even those thoughts you are not aware you have; you may still fail.” Leng went on, outside the wind howled and driving rain washed the stone walls of the tower. Only a faint murmur could be heard within the tower as the two men sat over the fire talking.

“Ah yes, the circle have a recently initiated empathic sorceress, the daughter of Lord Idyna. I remember when master Petro came with a haughty, bad-tempered little red-haired girl. Who did nothing but order me about and make my life a misery, the whole time she stayed here.” Delfar’s face remained placid as he spoke he wondered what Zendella looked like now; he hoped she was a little less bad-tempered.

Leng scratched his eagle-like nose thoughtfully as he studied Delfar. “Zella is quite an attractive young woman now. If I was a few years younger....” He left his words unfinished grinning mischievously.

“What only a few years,” Delfar teased seeing that Leng’s mood had mellowed, he decided it was time to retire. Anyway it’s time I got some sleep I’m taking Narela to Pyrna tomorrow, and I want an early start,” as Delfar stood a blur of black fur darted in front of him.

“You ready for bed to Shula,” he opened the door saying goodnight to Leng and made his way to his room. Delfar lay on his bed unable to sleep while Shula lay at the foot of the bed purring loudly. He had long since discovered one of Shula’s talents was the ability to calm and soothe by purring. ‘I don’t think your purring will help me sleep tonight, Shula,’ Delfar commented suppressing a yawn.

Tomorrow he would keep a promise made when he was a boy; he would take Narela to Pyrna. It was not going to Pyrna that kept him awake, however; he had long since got over his awe of large cities having been to Pyrna and Kania with Yandar Leng on several occasions. Instead, it was the prospect of telling Narela he would soon be leaving. He had grown very close to her over the years, and she to him, yet he was still unsure of his real feeling towards her.

“She is not for you,” mind speak Shula still purring.

“You have told me that often enough Shula, but I’m not yet convinced, that it is so,” Delfar answered the thought of leaving Narela hurt like a knife in his side.

Delfar searched his conscious if he did care that much for Narela why was he leaving because of debt to his long-dead father; surely the living came first. Maybe he should do as Yandar Leng said, and forget about trying to find those responsible. He could not; it was as he had told the aged magician. Something within him, some part of his makeup drove him on to seek justice not only for his father’s death but the whole village. He could see no peace until he did.

In spite of his restlessness, Delfar eventually fell asleep, although he woke to feel little rested, after breakfast, he set out for Narela’s house. Her parents greeted him warmly as they always did; they deemed it a great honour having a magician under their roof. He had long since given up trying to tell them he was only an apprentice as yet. Magicians in these parts were highly respected and treated like lords or even kings by most of the ordinary people. Delfar’s training as a magician had heightened his awareness; so that he was able to sense when Narela was about to enter the room. He stood expectantly.

“Well I’m ready, I hope I didn’t keep you waiting too long Del,” explained Narela entering the room. She wore a pale blue cotton dress trimmed with white lace at the sleeves and bordered at the bottom. A matching wool cardigan and black calf length riding boots finished with what Delfar knew to be the usual practical approach Narela always had to dress. There were only two differences in Narela’s appearance that caught Delfar’s attention. One was that her brown hair tied in a knot at the back, and hung down her back rather than cascading around her shoulders like it usually did. The second made her mother scowl at her, and her father beam with pride; around her waist was a thick leather strap with a scabbard and short sword.

Delfar had never been too happy with the idea of Narela becoming one of the local militia. Along with her mother, he had tried to dissuade her on several occasions, but she had laughed it off telling him she had joined looking for adventure. Surprisingly Narela had become an accomplished swordswoman and highly respected member of the local militia recently rising to the rank of captain; the reason her father felt so proud of her. Delfar frowned at her as they left the house. He had never approved of weapons his only concession was the stout oak staff he usually carried.

“I don’t think you’ll need that today Narela,” he said pointing at the sword as they mounted their horses.

“I’d feel naked without it Del; besides you never know. There has been an increase in banditry on the roads lately;” Narela replied smiling at him.

Delfar shrugged his shoulders conceding the point not that he expected any trouble. The road to Pyrna was a busy road where no bandits would attack at least during daylight. They pointed their horses down the main street of Taylen still wet with the previous night's rain. Though the hour was still early, the town was already bustling with activity as shops and businesses started opening. The sound of the blacksmith's hammer could be heard ringing in the distance. Narela pulled her coat tightly around her and shivering against the chill biting wind, as they left the town behind them.

The road to Pyrna was a wide winding road that passed through the Taylen Forest, then suddenly broke through into the open and wound gently downhill through fields dotted with homesteads on either side finally crossing over the river Taye before reaching the walled city of Pyrna. As they rode, they passed people coming from Pyrna merchants, carters and travellers all busily going about their own business. At first most seemed to come from the city but as they rode further more and more people were heading towards the city. On either side, the now mostly bare trees of the Taylen forest dripped moisture onto the forest floor. A thick clawing mist shrouded the forest and road as they rode, people appeared ghostlike out of the fog the sounds of their voices, horses' hooves and wheels rattling on stone, carrying ahead of them in the still damp air. The sun broke through as they finally crossed over the bridge and entered Pyrna.

Narela looked around the crowded streets in wonderment though she lived so close to Pyrna all her life this was her first time in the city. Not that she hadn’t the chance to go before a few men had offered to take her, but she had waited, knowing that Del wanted to keep his promise; now she was here. She had heard many stories and had heard many descriptions of what it was like, but nothing matched being here. It was beautiful and colourful, noisy too with the clamour and bustle associated with a thriving city. The part they entered was the poor quarter houses were drab and shabby, and beggars could be seen on street corners, alleyways were littered and often exuded foul smells. Shops and businesses reflected the area they were in, as did the people, but even here not all had given into the poverty and misery that surrounded them. Delfar could tell those they passed that strove to rise above their circumstances. Their faces were hard and careworn through years of hard struggling to etch out a living. They had a proud, defiant look and held their heads high enough to look any man in the eye. Delfar commented on this as they passed into the wealthier part of the city.

“You’re too idealistic Del,” Narela replied, her eyes glittered with wry amusement. “I know it would be nice if there were no poverty, but there is. It's a part of life no matter what you did to try to change it there would always be some people better off than others.”

Delfar shook his head doubtfully "That does not mean we have to accept it or not try and make it better. I may be idealistic, but you are fatalist Narela;” he answered smiling at her. He always enjoyed the duel of words he had with Narela it would be one of the things he would miss most once he left.

Delfar tossed a few coins to a thin stable boy as they dismounted at Grangers Stables telling him to look after the horses well; then they continued on foot. It wasn’t long before they entered a large market square. This was one part of the city where peoples of all walks of life and race mingled freely.

They bought some chestnuts from a trader roasting them over an open fire leaning against a nearby wall they gingerly cracking the hot shells to get the sweet meat inside while watching the people. Delfar thought he spotted one or two of the Dreyan people in the crowd he had only ever seen any of the Elvin race once before and even then not close-up. He, however, did spot quite a few Tordans in the crowd. The cat-like features of the Tordans were unmistakable though their faces were smooth and hairless apart from the shortened whiskers under their noses. They had round catlike heads oval, pointed ears and the distinctive green eyes. They also stood a head taller than your average man and maintained though somewhat better adapted the paws for hands and feet complete with claws and the agility of the cat they had evolved from making a Tordan a formidable foe and a valuable ally.

A jewellery shop caught Narela’s eye just at the side of the market as they started off again. Seeing a gold bangle with an intricate pattern etched on it; Narela admired it longingly. Delfar promptly bought it for her in-spite of her protests; it cost much more than he had expected. But he hoped it would help smooth the way for what he had to tell her later. Apart from that, he wanted Narela to have something to remind her of him. As midday drew near Delfar guided Narela towards an inn he had visited before with Yandar Leng; as they picked their way through the press of people, a commotion ahead caught their attention. Several men stood in a circle watching what seemed like an almost comical sight.

“I’ve never seen such a giant before, what manner of man or creature is he?” Narela asked, staring at the giant who stood in the centre of the circle of watchers; a gaudily dressed man positioned to face the giant shouting abuse at him, and occasionally hitting him with a stick. Though of average height, the man was dwarfed by the giant; who merely stood to look down at him placidly.

“I think he is a Pelmar but it is rare to see one this far from Pelmaria.” Delfar replied studying the heavily bearded giant; he was lightly dressed for the time of year in plain brown buckskins and wore sandals. Delfar surmised even though it was nearly winter in Pyrna, it would seem warm to the Pelmar coming from a much colder climate.

“It seems the fancy dressed trader employs the giant; apparently, he has dropped and spoiled some of the trader's goods,” Narela said after speaking to one of the watchers; there was a derisory note in her tone as she mentioned the trader.

“It’s time to put a stop to this before it gets out of hand,” said Delfar pushing his way into the middle. Narela groaned shaking her head lightly as she followed Delfar.

“That’s enough,” Delfar deftly snatched the raised stick from the man’s hand before he could hit the Pelmar again. The man turned to look at Delfar puffing himself up with indignant self-importance.

“How dare you sir,” he spluttered to a halt when he saw the one that stopped him looked young. "Why you upstart I’ll have the city guards throw you in the dungeon for molesting an honest trader about his business." The trader glared at Delfar his face turning red and blotchy. He rose himself up to his full height so he could look down on Delfar.

"This man is a magician trader; the city guard would lock you up and throw away the key on his say so," interjected Narela her voice carrying an air of authority.

A murmur spread among the watchers, and they began to disperse. The man stood speechless thrown off balance by this new development he looked around for support seeing the crowd dispersing he turned back to face Delfar.

The trader struggled for a way out without losing his pride. “Well, how was I to know...? I mean you don’t look like a magician, that is to say, I’m sorry Excellency I was punishing this oath for spoiling goods that I had expected to make a considerable profit on so as I could feed my poor wife and six children,” the trader beseeched. His tone became fawning until Delfar could stand it no longer.

“I take it the Pelmar is in your employ,” Delfar interrupted his manner brusque.

“Ah, yes Excellency I had the misfortune to run into this oath on my way south, and he more or less pleaded with me to give him a job. He said he had to get to Pyrna; I mean what could I do I took pity on the wretch, and this is all the thanks I get.” The trader started to ramble again; for the first time, the Pelmar looked down at Delfar. His deep blue eyes peered out from his bearded face bespoke wisdom beyond that associated with his race. To Narela there seemed to pass a look of recognition in the giant’s' eyes. Then he looked at her though it was difficult to tell the Pelmar appeared to smile. He took a step forward to stand near Delfar; Narela got the distinct impression the giant had found what he had been searching for

Delfar seemed not to notice the Pelmar he frowned rubbing his chin with a finger and thumb as if considering then he brightened with a feigned look of pleasure. “I have it,” he began as if he had just thought of a bright idea. “Since this oath has caused you so much trouble the solution is simple you should pay whatever you owe him to date and dismiss him. Then you won’t have to suffer his incompetence any longer.” Delfar smiled as he finished talking and looked expectantly at the trader.

The man stuttered and stumbled, but relief showed on his face; he maintained he was about to dismiss him anyway and got some coin from his purse. Delfar frowned at how little he gave the Pelmar the man sighed and gave him several more coins until Delfar smiled again. The giant thanked the trader in a booming voice and bowed his head towards Delfar, with a smile.

“Thank you too wise one my name is Halban,” The Pelmar said in his deep voice.

"No thanks necessary you are free to go Halban,” Delfar said. As he turned to wave goodbye to the Pelmar who remained standing; he caught a glimpse of the trader who seemed to be studying his back intently.

“You handled that well Del,” Narela said as they reached the inn.

“Well, I thought it wise to leave the trader some pride, that way you are less likely to make enemies,” Delfar concluded as they entered the inn the innkeeper smiled recognising Delfar and ushered them to a table.

“You’re leaving then,” said Narela after Delfar had finally explained what he intended to do. He had gone through it several times in his mind while they ate in silence. Still, it had not come out quite as he had planned. It seemed hard and cold to him what he had said. Narela looked at him thoughtfully her expression portrayed nothing of her feelings.

“After my initiation yes,” he replied after a brief pause.

“What if you fail will you still leave?” asked Narela sipping her wine.

“Yes, It’s something I must do I can’t explain it I have to. I’ll return soon as I can,” looking around awkwardly as he spoke.

The inn was nearly empty now except for one man sat in a corner, and three mercenaries sat together at a table close to them who looked to have been steadily drinking. One of the men looked at Narela in a way Delfar didn’t like. His companions laughed at some remark he made; then he stood and walked over to face Narela.

“How about coming and having a drink with some real men pretty lady,” the man said his speech slurred.

“The lady is with me; I suggest you go back to your friends and let us finish our meal in peace,” Delfar said coldly.

“And what If I don't, what are going to do about it?” the man turned to his friends laughing. “The boy thinks he’s a man, you gonna show us what you can do boy,” he said turning back.

“If I have to,” Delfar answered.

“Leave it, Del he is not worth it,” Narela pushed the man away as he grabbed her. That was enough for Delfar he was on his feet catlike as the man grabbed for his sword, Delfar grasped his hand and twisted it around. Before the man knew it, he was somersaulting through the air and landing hard on his back.

The innkeeper stepped forward two burly men with cudgels at his side before the drunks companions could come to his aid they were all quickly pushed out of the inn door shouting their protests at not having finished their drinks.

“Better watch your backs those three don’t like to lose, they’re a spiteful lot,” said the innkeeper as Del and Narela left later.

The rest of the day passed uneventful, and the incident at the inn all but forgotten Delfar thought he caught a glimpse of the Pelmar once or twice and wondered what he was doing still wondering around the city. They left later than they intended so by the time they reached the Taylen forest it was nearly dark.

A rustling from the bushes ahead brought them to a stop. The three mercenaries from the inn jumped out in front of them grabbing the horse’s reins before they could make a move.

Chapter 5

Summoning and Initiation

“Well now it’s been a long wait, but worth it, I’ll have my vengeance for humiliating me so boy. Then maybe I’ll let you live, but the woman is ours eh boys,” he smiled showing yellowing teeth. All three were now sober and wary of having seen what Delfar did at the inn.

“Get you down off your horses, slow like no sudden movements.” His sword pricked Delfar's chest as he slowly dismounted Del suddenly reached for his staff and turned in one fluid motion as the man stepped back. Narela saw her moment while the men were still surprised by the swiftness of Del's move and drew her sword.

“I see this might be an interesting fight,” said yellow teeth as he closed on Delfar followed by his companions. They seemed to ignore Narela until she moved in beside Delfar and caught one man a glancing blow with a side of her sword. The man yelped and turned his attention to Narela.

Delfar swung his staff in a blur of motion striking blows across his face, arms and chest as he tried to get within striking distance. Then the other man decided to circle him. Delfar stepped back suddenly pointing his staff at the man trying to creep behind him a flash of light erupted from the staff, and the man hurdled backwards landing in a heap.

“So it’s a magician you are, makes no difference to me,” he said. trying to sound confident as he had earlier; though that did not stop him from seizing a momentary distraction to thrust under Del's guard only to come to a dead stop as his sword came up against Del's magic shield. Delfar rapped his staff across the man’s skull and with a moan he crashed to the ground in a heap. Narela stood smiling at Del the third man lay unconscious at her feet.

“Might be an idea to tie these meatheads up, someone will come along, and undo them in the morning,” Narela said laughing.

After they tied the still unconscious men, Delfar left Narela at her home and made his way back to the tower. Once or twice he looked around as if someone were following him Delfar could neither see, nor sense anyone and they had left the mercenary and his friends safely tied up.

Narela didn’t go to bed when after Del had seen her home, but gathered some of her belongings and food into her travelling pack. Leaving a note for her parents, she quietly slipped out again, walking her horse until safely away from the house. Then she headed towards the magician’s tower. Narela believed Delfar capable of looking after himself when he had to in a fight but felt he didn’t know much about people living in the tower for so long; he would need her help. Though she had lived in a small town most her life, she had met many people and had studied different folk and what motivated them. Narela reckoned she had become a good judge of character and Delfar though he had travelled a little had a mainly sheltered life. The initiation would be in the morning Narela decided to hide in the woods until she saw Del leave then follow. She smiled at how annoyed he was going to be when she came upon him and told him she was going with him, but she would deal with that when the time came. So wrapped up in her plans was she that she didn’t hear the footsteps behind her until turning then it was too late.

Delfar stood in the centre of the circle around the outer edge stood master Leng his face smiling and reassuring then master Petro a short fat faced podgy man. Next to him Master Marsely tall and lean, not unlike Leng with the same eagle-like nose; Delfar had never met him before. Next was Anders, a pale, thin man whose bones seemed to stick out making him look like a skeleton he had met him once before. The one they were all waiting for of course was Zendella. He hadn’t seen her since he was a boy. A bell suddenly chimed as if far away and a faint smell of ozone filled the air. A flare of light burst forward from the empty place amidst the magicians and Zendella appeared smiling serenely. Red hair flowed down in ringlets over her shoulders, her piercing black eyes regarded the magicians around her, and she nodded to each.

Then her eyes met his, and her smile broadened, but she didn’t speak. Delfar almost stopped breathing and found it hard to take his eyes off her. He took in every detail from her fiery hair to her rosy cheeks her face still seemed to hold that childlike quality with small nose pale lips and dimpled cheek. She wore a white satin gown that clung to her figure alluringly. She was he surmised slightly taller than he and very beautiful but did she still have that temper he wondered.

‘Well now you are finally all here Zella we can begin,’ Petro said a little agitatedly.

"I’m sorry I’m late Petro, gentlemen, but it’s a woman’s prerogative after all." She gave a sly wink to no one, in particular, Del had to restrain himself from laughing she was as mischievous as ever.

Petro scowled whereas master Leng smiled back and the others chose to remain aloof. Silence fell as master Leng began the opening ceremony the surrounding magicians joined hands, and the air suddenly became electric. Delfar stood rigid as he felt probed. The room seemed to dissolve into blackness his mind becoming detached from his body and floating free; looking down on himself as if from a great height. He hardened his resolve against mounting panic and breathed slowly.

He felt them testing him each in their own way, one by one they, appeared before him in the blackness of space. Each asked soul-searching questions of him each ensnared him in magic that he had to find a way out of based on what they had asked him and what he had answered if he had responded incorrectly then he would never see his way out alone and he would fail. He was vaguely aware of the passage of time within the void though it had little meaning to him. He considered carefully, slowly each question put to him and equally slowly his response then the ensnarement would begin each time he managed to find his way out each time the ensorcelment would be more complicated more difficult. Then finally his eyes opened everything came back into focus He frowned a little bemusedly one person had not faced him in the void as yet, Zella. Had he failed already he looked around at the magicians’ impassive faces?

"You have done well so far Delfar Treymar, in fact beyond our expectations,’ Anders said in his gravelly voice although Delfar detected a note of grudging admiration in his tone. ‘We thought it best to give you a little more time to prepare yourself for the final test," continued Anders with a wry smile.

A moment of silence followed as Delfar nodded up till now he had thought nothing about whether he passed or not. He realised he wanted to succeed more than anything; needed to prove himself to show master Leng that he was a worthy student. He glanced over at his mentor and saw him smile reassuringly he smiled back trying to seem more confident than he felt; then Zella spoke.

“So far you have been tested in ways which have stretched your knowledge, mental agility and skill Delfar Treymar,” she began her voice echoed around the chamber musically yet it had a soft silken tone that could ensnare any strong man. Delfar resisted the temptation as Zella smiled at him “Good, now is the test of truth and trust the trial of your real character. You must open your mind to me fully any resistance could mean failure,” she intoned solemnly.

Delfar closed his eyes taking a deep breath he thought he might have a slight advantage here because of his relationship with Shula. Then he felt Zella slip into his consciousness’ felt her mind merging with his he realised this was far and away different. As he thought back the urge to resist her touch feather-like though it was, she took him down into the darkest reaches of his mind. Delving deeper and deeper into his innermost being. Time stopped as Zella probed into his innermost secrets. She witnessed again what had happened in his childhood she stayed long there searching for any sign of bitterness for what had happened to him. Then as she came back Delfar thought he felt tears well up in his eyes he realised it was Zendella’s tears as much as his own. He understood with crystal clarity as she withdrew that she had deliberately let him glimpse her feelings at what he had been through as a boy as he opened his eyes something else momentarily flashed across her beautiful face as she composed herself, a look of bewilderment or embarrassment Del thought.

“Well has he passed,” master Marsely spoke for the first time in his high pitched voice he gave Zella a penetrating stare.

“Yes I find no fault in him,” Zella made as if to say more but hesitated.

“What have you seen regarding his possible future,” he continued as all eyes fixed on Zella.

“I... I would speak of that later suffice to say he must seek out his bane and lay it to rest,” she concluded. Delfar looked sharply at Zella thinking that she had just confirmed his intentions. Then everyone was congratulating him as the final rite of the magician's circle was read. Master Leng stepped forward placing a gold amulet over his head and shook him warmly with both hands

“Well done my one time student, you have confirmed my faith in you, and more for you have made an old magician very happy. You were my best student, and no better am I likely to get again.” Delfar thought back tears at such praise and depth of feeling from his old master

“I’ll never be as good as you,” was all he managed to say. Leng watched as Delfar spoke with the other magicians

“You are already better than I ever was or could be,” he said quietly to himself.

Narela crouched low against the trunk of an ash tree; she turned briefly to see were Halban was hidden. She had been surprised at how quiet the giant could be; it was, no wonder he had come upon her so quickly the night before seemingly out of the shadows. She would not have believed so big a man could be so stealthy, but she had not heard a sound until he was almost on her she grabbed her sword, but the giant held her hand and spoke his name so that she recognised him then; now they waited together for Delfar. The giant stood so still against a gnarled elm tree that he seemed to blend in with it; she wondered how he did that shaking her head lightly she turned back to watch the tower. Halban had wanted to go straight to the tower; it had taken some persuasion on her part to make him wait with her. He still didn’t understand even though she had explained it to him that Delfar would not be too pleased to have them as travelling companions at first. That they must wait to follow and pick their time to approach him.

“Well old friend I guess this is goodbye for now,” Delfar took Leng’s hand in his as the two stopped a distance from the tower

“Where will you go first,” Leng asked thoughtfully as he shook Delfar’s hand.

“Kanryn, maybe I’ll go and visit Zella at Kania,” Delfar answered smiling.
‘She’s quite a woman isn’t she, and I think she likes you. You could have used the summoning circle to get there.” Leng said as they walked on a little.

“I’d miss a lot of exploring that way and you know I like exploring,” Del began. “I’ve got Stomper and Shula for company, so I’ll not feel lonely,” Delfar concluded. Turning to stroke the horse’s mussel; the animal shook its head and nudged Delfar’s chest.

“That horse will stomp on you if you’re not careful,” said Shula at Delfar’s feet. There was not much more to say, as Delfar mounted he assured Leng he would return when he could. He swept Shula up and nestled her in front of him, both horse and cat had grown accustomed to one and other, and Stomper seemed not to mind as Shula clung to his mane. With a final wave, Del set off following the path west through the woods.

Leng waited till he had disappeared out of sight before turning back to his tower; he glanced to his left a moment smiling before entering the tower. Petro Denago was waiting for him by the fire, “he’s gone then?” He asked frowning thoughtfully at Leng

“Yes and I think he’ll have company soon,” Leng paused as he sat by the fire. “Did Zella say what she saw in his future, she seemed a little shocked there for a while?” he rubbed his hands warming them over the fire.

“It’s all to the good he’ll have company he may need it before he’s finished, is it that girl what’s her name. Narela isn’t it?” Denago avoided Leng’s question neatly, but Leng hadn’t finished yet.

“Yes, and a Pelmar also, but you still haven’t answered my question old man, don’t try sparring words with me it won’t work?” Leng demanded sternly although he smiled at Denago as he spoke.

“Oh it was just the usual stuff mainly, what we already had guessed he must confront his father’s killer,” he answered giving Leng a fierce look.

“Less of the old man you are older than I....” Petro Denago grinned viciously at his old friend he had in effect answered the question without really telling Leng anything and felt very pleased with himself. Leng became a little exasperated losing his smile he scowled at Denago.

“You know very well that’s not what I’m getting at, why was Zella so shocked?” He pressed. Seeing his old friend wasn’t going to let the matter drop Denago gave in, his expression became serious.

“To be honest, she was somewhat troubled, and though she said she had told me everything, it was clear she held some of it from me,” he paused in thought. She mentioned that young Treymar’s path and hers would cross again and it would bring grave danger to both of them,” he cleared his throat considering. She also mentioned a death to someone close; she wasn’t sure who. This would only be the beginning, though many would die as he began his journey,” he paused again looking intently at his colleague. “She also mentioned something about those who wait or watch. Watchers in white she said,” Denago fell silent; both men seemed suddenly shrouded in shadow all their previous humour gone. At last Leng broke the morbid silence clearing his throat meaningfully.

“Hmm... Yes, well I think maybe this business of watchers in white refers to the sorceresses of Lynsh; the southern circle has not made its presence felt for over four hundred years. Perhaps they are going to come out of the woodwork at last.” Leng speculated frowning in thought.
“What about the rest of it?” Petro Denago asked rubbing a hand across his stubbly chin he stared intently at his fellow magician; both eyes met and a silent understanding past between them.

Del woke to a grey misty morning, looking up at the sky he felt the dampness in the air, it would rain before the day was out he thought. Shula came padding into the camp, a fair sized rabbit in her mouth. He got impressions of her hunt, a long wait before daybreak several possible victims had been passed by as she sat crouched in the underbrush with all the patience of a cat. Del was surprised how selective Shula could be when hunting.

He knew for a cat Shula was most unusual often displaying human emotions even when it came to hunting food. She would not kill indiscriminately or kill for the sake of it; though she did enjoy the thrill of the hunt. She would not hunt the young or any animal that looked already injured, but would only pursue the strong and healthy. That was too the good Del thought as an injured or sick animal maybe easier prey, but who knows what decease or infection it may carry. Del stretched his legs then made a fire cooking breakfast.

“I’m going to miss Leng’s cooking,” Del said as he finished eating; he swilled his dish out with some water from his canteen then checked on Stomper.

“I to will miss the spirit weaver Del, but it’s good to be roaming free again; I’ve stayed too long in one place. We cats are born to roam free and hunt at our leisure.” Shula’s thoughts carried an air of longing and excitement that surprised Del with their intensity.

Chapter 6

Meeting at the Inn

As Del predicted the sky grew steadily darker until shortly after midday he felt the first drops of icy rain spatter on his face. A traveller he passed earlier had told him of a way station ahead, huddling in his cloak Delfar headed towards the way station. He found the place just a short distance of the road; stabling Stomper in the adjacent barn Delfar entered just as the rain began to come down in sheets. The owner of the way station was a small bearded man who looked Delfar over with a casual eye.

“A tankard of your best ale, hot food, oh and some milk for my cat,” Delfar said picking the dripping Shula up off the floor and letting her climb onto his shoulders. Shula let out a mournful yowl as she perched on his right shoulder.

“Don’t overdo it Shula,” Del bespoke Shula with wry humour.

“No animals allowed on the tables. That will be one gold and one silver,” the innkeeper growled he held out a hand, as Del got the coins from his belt and handed them to him. The man quickly disappeared through a door behind the counter as Del went to a table in the far corner of the room. He sat looking at the other occupants while waiting for his order.

Two men sat talking together near the centre of the room and seemed not to have noticed him at all, another sat alone a short distance away and studied Del with a practised eye; seeing Del regard him in turn. He nodded his head slightly before returning his attention to the drink before him. Del returned the nod just as the owner brought his food and drink. A small elderly white-haired woman followed him with a small dish of milk. The owner put the plate of hot steaming food on the table and a tankard of foaming ale which spilt slightly before turning and returning to the bar.

“For your cat sir,” the women smiled as she put the dish on the floor near were Shula sat. Shula meowed her thanks, and the women’s smile broadened she bent down and stroked the cat that began purring loudly. “He’s lovely and seems so intelligent too,” the women said as she stood again.

“He’s a she, and yes she is reasonably smart for a cat,” Del explained with a smile.

“I resent that remark,” Shula answered Del’s slight to her intelligence, as the women apologised for calling her a he and bent to give her another rub behind her ears before leaving. “I like the old one,” Shula said as she began lapping her milk.

“You’d like anyone who would rub behind your ears for you,” Del answered teasingly. Del turned his attention to the meal before him, a hot stew with generous chunks of meat and potatoes lightly spiced, with some bread on the side. He didn’t know who cooked it, but it was very wholesome indeed after Shula finished her milk he put some of the delicious stew in her dish.

“It has the smell of the old one on it, it’s her cooking,” Shula said greedily eating the stew.

The door banged open suddenly, and two cloaked and hooded figures stood dripping water as they looked around the way station. Del looked up from his drink and groaned as the shorter of the two characters pulled down her hood and made her way to his table followed by the taller man.

“Why so surprised I noticed them following us since this morning,” Shula remarked as Narela approached followed by the Pelmar.

“Why didn’t you tell me they were following us? I could have talked some sense into them,” Del replied with some annoyance; Shula remained unperturbed by Delfar’s outburst.

“Why? They are no danger to us, and neither were they in any danger. It is obvious they want to travel with us so why not just accept it.” Shula stated in typical cat logic, she sat licking her lips and meowed a welcome to Narela as she reached them.

"Well at least your cat is pleased to see us,” Narela gave a small tight smile as she sat opposite Del,

Halban took a seat beside Narela; his giant frame hardly fitted in the chair. Looking up at the giant Del was struck by the Pelmar’s eyes set deep in his bearded face, which seemed to shine with a burning intensity of purpose. There, wisdom, understanding, gentleness and a quiet acceptance reflected in the Pelmar’s features. Del wondered why Halban had travelled so far from home to follow him. He shook his head there would be no reasoning with either of them. Once accepted they would be going with him, it didn’t seem to be a bad idea. He would enjoy the company especially Narela’s Halban was an enigma though. He hardly ever talked. Narela explained how they had met up, that night after Del had seen her home and how they had waited for him to leave Yeng’s tower. The Pelmar had given no reason to Narela for coming along as far as Del could ascertain yet she had accepted him willingly. Halban peeked Del’s curiosity he needed to have some idea of the giant’s motives.

“So tell me Halban what has brought you all this way from your home and why do you want to travel with us?” Del asked frowning at the giant his expression blank. Halban smiled childlike as he looked down at Del.

“You are wise one yes,” Halban said. It was not a question but a statement Del waited quietly. The room suddenly seemed hushed even Narela sat still her face turned to face Halban expectantly. Halban seemed unaware of the sudden quiet as he continued in his booming voice. His features became grave and lost their usual gentleness.

“Sometime ago I felt I had to leave home to find something or someone,” he paused scratching his beard. “I knew I would need to travel far and south seemed the right direction.” Halban broke again his face seemed etched in stone as he considered his next words. “When he spoke, his voice was unusually quiet. “As I travelled I eventually became aware I needed to find a wise one. I came to that city where we first met, and I knew when I saw you I had found the one I was looking for.” With a deep sigh, Halban fell silent; his face once again gentle and open.

Del pursed his lips, the near silence of the moment broken, and the usual din of people’s voices and the clatter of pots from the kitchen intruded again. What Halban had just told them sounded like some form of compulsion had been put on the Pelmar. Narela ordered some food for herself and Halban as Del lost in thought considered who and why would put a geas on Halban to find him. He did not know a lot about the Pelmars, but they are gifted in some way. Perhaps that was all it was just some gifted intuition on Halban’s part. It still left why him though he asked as much.

“Why me Halban, why had you to seek me out, to what purpose?” Del looked deep into Halban’s eyes; the Pelmar considered a moment his face unflinching as he met Delfar’s gaze.

“Because the pattern weaves around you, and because of this great things will happen near you,” Halban said his voice became even quieter than before and seemed laden with awed respect.

“There is something in what he says; you are special I think,” Shula said in the silence of Del’s mind. The cat sat on Narela’s knee her head just peering above the table looking across at Del with inscrutable eyes.

Delfar shook his head bemused, “patterns I don’t know anything about that. Anyway, I suggest we stay the night here as the weather seems no better and get an early start in the morning.” The others agreed, as their food arrived and they ate in silence as, Del went to enquire about rooms for the night.

Chapter 7

Zella In Danger

Zendella, stood still hardly breathing; it took all her control to stop from screaming. At the far end of the hall, a shadowy shape stirred, eyes like red-hot coals peered out from the head of the soul reaver. The reaver had no real form it was a thing of shadow, insubstantial elusive as mist yet its touch would suck the life out of any living thing in less than a minute.

Fear, grief and anger raged in her breast; her heart beat its slow rhythm years of training of controlling her fear kept her heart from beating faster, as she hid behind one of the marble pillars. She dared not take her eyes off the reaver as it hovered attentively to the slightest sound. Nor could she look directly at it lest she drew its attention; instead she observed it from the corner of her vision.

Zendella could hardly believe that only a few days ago this hall had been filled with light, song and laughter her father had sat jesting with his men with herself at his side. Now only darkness and the silence of the dead filled the hall; bodies lay decaying where they had fallen. Although there was no sign of her father’s body Zella, feared the worst but dared to hope he might have escaped somehow. A great battle had taken place here she had no doubt men had fought in a vicious, bloody struggle. By her reckoning her father’s forces should have held off the invaders certainly there seemed more of the enemy slain than her father’s soldiers. The invaders had left a path of destruction and death through the city leading up to the palace. Though a large part of the town was left untouched, the invaders who seemed mainly made up of mercenary bands were in control of the city and had declared martial law. Magic had come into play someone had summoned the soul reavers and set them loose in the city.

There was more besides this one, whoever had summoned them must have powerful magic indeed to keep them under control. If the summoner lost control of the reavers, they would run amok draining all life around them. Even turning on the summoner, going further afield as they grew stronger leaving nothing but death and decay in their wake, this did not seem to be the case here. The reavers appeared to be selective and have a fixed agenda. Responding to any use of magic, that's what had drawn this one back to the palace. When Zendella had used the portal, a nearby reaver had sensed the magic and came to investigate.

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