Country invaded by forces who want to eradicate all magic who can stop them?
Born of Magic
Isabella struggled to break free twisting herself as the man pinned her to the damp ground. Her arms and legs were bruised, and blood trickled down her right arm where he had dug his nails into her as he forced her to the ground. Her face stung where she had been slapped, and one eye seemed swollen almost shut. Her screams were drowned out by the raucous revelry of soldiers celebrating their victory over the town. She was taken along with many other young women from Marlden, the spoils of war. She was to become a soldier's whore; She hoped she would die before that. The man knelt over her leering at her with bleary eyes. Three more stood behind him with tankards of ale cheering him on and giving advice on the best way to take a woman.
“I don’t need your advice, Sam I’ve had more women than you’ve had breakfasts,” the man said in a slurred voice; with a hint of annoyance.
“Which isn’t many,” another said, they all laughed. The man started pulling her skirts up around her waist and began to unfasten his pants.
Tears flowed hot down her cheeks, she tried to scream again, but all that she could manage was a whimper. Somewhere deep in her subconscious mind, she remembered a time long ago when she was just a little girl when a wizard had visited. He stayed in the Inn her parents owned; the Bluebell Inn. The thought brought back vividly the horror of their deaths burned alive in the Inn they lived in and worked hard to keep all their lives. She remembered them as they were before happy and proud. The Bluebell Inn had been the best-kept Inn in Marlden. She tried to picture her parents happy and content. They had loved each other dearly and their daughter more than life itself. The image of the wizard kept protruding into the vision she tried to picture.
Through eyes blurred with tears, she saw the man struggling to get his pants off. Then her mind flashed back to the wizard again, something that he told her as he bounced her on his knee his red face smiling at her. He bent close to her ear; his hot breath, smelling off cinnamon and wine he whispered something to her something she had not understood then. She could have been no more than four or five at the time. She tried to brush the image aside again to think only of her parents as she struggled. She heard a rip and realised the man was ripping her undergarments in his frustration to take her.
The memory of what the wizard said flared in her mind; she heard the wizard's words now.
“In a time of great need when virtue's flower is about to be taken call my name, and I will be there,” In desperation, she screamed his name.
“Must have been someone she was sweet on,” said one of the watchers laughing.
Nothing seemed to happen at first, and then she heard an urgent voice in her head.
“Lie still; all will be well,” Isabella felt suddenly detached from her surroundings as another took control of her mind. She watched calmly as the man began to descend on top of her forcing her legs wide apart his eyes filled with lustful need. Suddenly her left leg was free and came up under the man with bone-crushing force. The man screamed as he fell backwards into the onlooker's blood-spattered her skirts the lamp suddenly went out sending the tent into semi-darkness. The men cursed, stumbling about in the darkness. By the time they re-lit the lamp, Isabella was on her feet with a sword in her hand.
“Gods, the witch, look what she’s done to poor Jack,” said the one called Sam. She heard the man’s groans saw the men turn to her with lethal intent. The sword in her hand came up her body not her own to control. She was a puppet controlled by the wizard. Isabella watched in horror as the sword swung in a full arc. Heads toppled to the floor; blood spattered the tent in a fountain then all stilled she could hear the revel making going on outside as if far away; she wanted to run from the horror before her. Her stomach heaved, and her mind rebelled against what the wizard had made her do.
But he would not let her go; he held her fast, his mind crushing her own will, pushing it aside. She was a watcher in her own body, forced to do the bidding of another. The wizard whispered to her what to do, and like the puppet she had become, she jumped to his tune. She found herself calmly walking to the horses, silently she unhitched a small dun mare. She heard sudden shouts of alarm from the tent. The voice whispered more urgently, as men started rushing about. She cut the picket rope shouting wildly at the rest of horses, before mounting the mare and galloping into the darkness.
When the sounds of the camp fell far behind, and no pursuit could be heard the wizard loosened his grip on Isabella’s mind; though not completely. He kept her going at a steady pace through the night; she pleaded with him to let her go to let her die; all that she had known and loved was gone. She fought his will, fought against what he had made her do. The horror of what she had seen and done became a constant nightmare that dogged her waking thoughts.
All this time the wizard soothed her offered her reassurance told her it was them or her, that he had helped her do what she needed to do to escape. Several times he let her stop so she could be sick her body shuck with delayed shock, but always the wizard drove her onwards. Finally, she gave in completely to his will and asked where they were going.
“To friends," said the voice in her head, as she rode through the night it was still dark when she glimpsed a clearing ahead. Wood smoke rose above the trees as she drew nearer a dim light appeared through a gap in the trees. “You will be safe for now,” said the voice now seeming to come from a great distance. The dark outline of a house loomed before her a crack of light appeared silhouetting a figure against the darkness. Isabella could see the glint of steel. Then the ground seemed to rush up to meet her, but before she reached it, somebody caught her.
‘This is the wizard's doing and will bring us nothing but trouble,” said the old woman scowling as the dark haired man carried Isabella into the house.
“The girl needs help mother looks like she’s been in a fight,” replied the man. “She can stay in my bed I’ll sleep on the kitchen floor.” The man carried Isabella to a small room laying her down gently on a narrow bed.
“Bah, you’re too soft David taking in every stray the wizard sends this way,” Despite her harsh words, the grey-haired woman looked at the girl sympathetically. “Her clothes are covered in blood, but most of it doesn’t seem to be hers.” The old woman said, she turned to her son and chased him out of the room; as she busily tended the prone girl.
David went out of the house the sky began to grow light as dawn approached he went to the barn to tend the horses. His thoughts turned to the girl she had been through much by the way her clothes were torn and the amount of blood on her. She must have fought some men as they tried to rape her no doubt. Beneath all the blood and dirt she looked a pretty young woman, he wondered who she was and why the wizard had guided her here. His mother was right about that; rarely anybody came to this part of the woods unless guided by the wizard and that usually meant trouble. Having tended the horses David went back into the house, his mother stood over the kitchen stove busily cooking.
“How is she?” he asked speaking softly.
“She’ll be okay in body anyway;” David gave his mother a sideways look. “She has been through much her mind may not be able to take it,” she answered.
He opened the door to his room and looked in. His mother had cleaned her up and put her under the covers. Blonde hair spread over his pillow her lips were narrow her skin pale, scratch marks marred the porcelain-like skin of her arms as they lay on the cover. She was more attractive than he had first thought. Why was she here? He hoped the girl would wake later and tell them why the wizard had brought her here.
“I’m going to see if I can pick up her trail it may tell us where she came from,” David buckled on his sword and gathered his bow and quiver before leaving.
“Don’t be too long; breakfast will soon be ready.” His mother called after him; he waved a hand in acknowledgement before disappearing into the trees. It wasn’t long before he found the horses' tracks coming from the south he was examining them when a bright light caught his attention a short distance ahead.
Cautiously he made his way towards the light which, faded before he reached the spot he had seen it; carefully stepping around a large spruce. In front of him stood a man dressed in brown robes. The man scratched at his bearded face as he regarded David through piercing blue eyes. His lined and leather-like face cracked in a wry smile. For the wizard to show himself in this way meant whatever he had to say was very important indeed. David bowed slightly to the wizard and waited for him to speak.
“Good to meet you again, David Xee.” the wizard said in a, gritty voice.
“And I you wizard, I take it you are here concerning the woman,” David said turning his reply to a question.
“To the point as always,” the wizard laughed lightly. “Yes, I’m here concerning Isabella how is she doing?” He asked he folded his hands in front.
“Mother says her body will heal, but she is not sure about her mind she has suffered much,” David answered frowning.
“Her mind is intact of that I can assure you, David,” The wizard sighed taking a deep breath before continuing as David waited. “However I have to tell you that you will not be safe here for much longer, you must leave with Isabella before another day passes,” the wizard said gravely, his eyes fixed on David’s expectantly.
“What! You mean the girl Isabella is it,” David said, startled somewhat by what the wizard said. The wizard nodded gravely. “You mean Isabella must leave and you want me to see her safely through the forest.” He concluded the wizard shook his head sadly as David expression darkened.
“No, I mean you all must leave,” the wizard raised his hand to stop David’s protests.
“Listen to what I have to tell you, David, then you can decide what you must do,” the wizard said..
Isabella sat upright letting out a half-strangled scream before stopping and looking around. Before she could take in her surroundings properly, the door opened, and an elderly woman entered. "Feeling better girl," the woman carried a bowl of broth and wooden spoon which she handed to Isabella while scrutinising her dispassionately. Isabella took the bowl her eyes going from the bowl to the woman; then darting around the room suspiciously.
‘Well go on eat it, girl it’s not poisoned. No harm will come to you here," the woman spoke huffily. Isabella began eating while eyeing the woman nervously who stood over her while she ate. She was surprised how hungry she felt and cleaned the bowl up in short order.
‘Cat got your tongue or don’t you know how to say thanks,’ the woman growled. Isabella jumped and stammered a belated thank you.
“Humph... Nothing but trouble,” the woman muttered as she left closing the door behind her.
Isabella considered her situation however hostile the woman seemed, she had at least tended her and given her food. The wizard she remembered had guided her here so that the woman had to be a friend or at least obligated to the wizard in some way as she seemed to give her help grudgingly. Isabella found her wounds tended and, wearing fresh clothes looking around the room she suddenly felt alarmed as her eyes fell on a man’s shirt and trousers over a chair. Other things in the place indicated that the room appeared distinctively used by a man. Isabella’s fears rose again and thoughts of what she had barely escaped returned; her hands clenched and tightened around the sheet as she pulled it to her. She watched the door fretfully considered whether to try and escape through the small window, but before she could consider it further, she found her eyes going heavy with sleep. Had the old woman drugged her she said the food wasn’t poisoned she hadn’t said anything about it being drugged. Too sleepy to think anymore Isabella drifted into a deep sleep awakening sometime later to heated voices from the next room.
“So he has told you at last and given you the amulet, and now he wants us to leave our home because of this girl, bah, what nonsense,” David’s mother poked the fire with a stick as she spoke, sending sparks up the chimney.
“Why didn’t you tell me that the wizard is my father, why let me believe he was dead all this time I don’t understand, Why mother?” he asked, Mertyl Xee turned to face her son; she had grown old and crotchety she knew. Since her husband, Zach had gone of doing whatever wizards do she had been left alone to bring up David with only the occasional appearance from Zach, which usually meant trouble. So she had become embittered that he would choose to leave them alone, rather than being with her and his son. It was her that refused to tell the boy the truth about his father even when he had pleaded with her to do so. She knew, eventually that he would tell him the truth if she didn’t. She shook her head tears welling up inside. In spite of herself she still loved him and could not find it in her heart to fight what he was any longer, and if he said it was no longer safe here, then she knew they must go.
“Forgive an old fool, David, your father wanted me to tell you once you were old enough but I was too angry with him for leaving us, he would have come more often to see us if not for me; I made him feel unwanted.” She sobbed; her body shook violently tears rolling down her cheeks. David rushed to her side folding her in his arms; it had been a long time, as far as he could remember that his mother showed any emotion.
“Its okay mother, I don’t blame you, I just needed to understand that’s all,” he said trying to comfort her. Mertyl pulled away from David reaching for a cloth to dry her eyes she smiled wanly fidgeting nervously with her hands.
“I’m glad you know, at last, David, know too that I’m proud of you and will love you always,” tears threatened to overwhelm her once more. She fought them back regaining her composure turning businesslike. “And the maker help me, I still love that old goat of a wizard too,” she muttered more to herself than anyone, but David heard.
“Well, we had better prepare to leave soon as possible, go and see if the girl is awake while I pack some things.” She shooed David of and began gathering their belongings together.
Isabella sat on the edge of the bed nervously watching the door while considering whether to escape through the window. She could hear the old women crying and a man’s voice fearing the worst, she bolted upright when the door opened and backed towards the window.
“You’re awake, I hope you are feeling better as we must leave soon,” Isabella stared at the man wide-eyed, he made no move towards her and, she relaxed a little taking in his features. He was tall and slim but muscular with black hair blue eyes and a slightly crooked mouth; he was quite handsome she thought, and his manner seemed to reflect kindness and concern. Isabella was no fool though; she had seen enough men, to know that they could be virtue itself when it suited them until they wanted something then they usually showed their true colours.
“There is no need to be afraid Isabella you are among friends, but we must leave now as men are looking for you,” David said, his voice soothing.
“How do you know my name...? What did you do to the old woman I heard her crying?’ Isabella asked suspiciously she tried to see beyond the man to see if the old woman was still there.
“Oh so that’s it, I don’t think mother would take kindly to being called old; she is just upset because we have to leave here, and the wizard my father told me your name.” David spoke softly, he stepped away from the door to let her pass. “My name is David Xee, and this is my mother, Mertyl,” he gestured towards his mother as she came up behind him.
“You two going to spend all day jawing or are you going to help me pack,” Mertyl put in testily.
“Don’t take any notice of mother she always acts grumpy; it’s just for show underneath it all you’ll never know a kinder-hearted person,” David smiled at his mother who gave him a scornful look.
“Bah, I’ve been too soft with you that’s for sure, should have put you over my knee long ago,” Mertyl answered, Isabella burst into tears, and Mertyl rushed to her side folding her in her arms.
“What’s the matter child, don’t cry David is right I can be a bit crotchety at times I don't mean any harm, it’s just my way,” Isabella shook her head tears flooding down her cheeks.
“No, it’s not that, it's seeing you two... My parents were burnt alive,” Isabella began, both David and his mother stood horrified as Isabella quickly recounted what happened between sobs.
“The trail leads towards the woodcutter's house Captain,” the small lean man said. His narrow eyes darted from the burly captain to the faint horse tracks; he pointed northwards spitting on the ground, he waited while the captain considered what to do.
“I would not have thought anybody lived in these woods,” captain Tele scowled. He looked back at his men all hardened soldiers and loyal to Duke Jacal.
They like him had followed the Duke into battle against the northlanders and their evil witchcraft. He didn’t like these northern lands, with its thick forests and treacherous mountainous terrain. He liked the people even less and thought nothing about killing them when needed. He didn’t approve of taking their woman though considering it beneath him. He understood his men’s needs though, and it was after all he thought the right of the victors to take what they wished. That brought him back to the scene in the tent the night before; he cursed vehemently he had seen many a gruesome sight in battle it wasn’t that which sickened him, like some of the other men. What appalled him, however, was the loss of three good soldiers two of which were due for a promotion. Men like that were hard to come by realising the scout and his men were waiting for his orders. He made a show of brushing the dirt from his now dulled mail shirt while deciding what course to take.
The Duke himself had ordered him to hunt down this witch who single-handed had killed three of his men and injured a fourth. He had tried to keep what had happened in the tent from the rest of the men swearing those with him to silence, but rumour had somehow spread and most now had some idea all be it highly exaggerated of what had happened. In that lied his main problem, the Jaguar guard where the most feared soldiers in all of Tanymi they were, in fact, a fifteen thousand strong unified killing machine, ruthless, relentless and merciless. Their one weakness, however, was the belief, that a soul could be stolen with magic or witchcraft and the body brought back from the dead to do the biding of the magic user for all eternity. With this in mind, he knew his men would rather be back with the Duke leading the primary battle against the northerners, rather than chasing after one of the witches. Unlike his men, though, Hermin Tele was not superstitious, he would carry out his duty to the bitter end even though it galled him to be chasing a lone woman witch or no when the real battle lay elsewhere. Still, she had killed three of his best men that, was reason enough for him.
“You are sure this woodcutter’s cabin is there, Gor?” He asked looking sharply at the scout.
“I passed this way two days ago scouting for supplies, it’s there all right,” the scout replied as he sent another stream of spittle, he grimaced gathering his horse’s reins as he remounted.
“All right lead on, lets head straight there and not waste time looking for further tracks we can backtrack later if we need to.”
Gor threw his captain a questioning look and was about to say something then changed his mind he looked up at the dark clouds gathering above them. “If it rains it will wash out any hope of picking up her trail again if you’re wrong,” he said finally.
“You said she was headed for this woodcutters place so that’s where we’ll go, it’s a chance we’ll have to take, besides if it proves wrong, I’ll gut you myself for the worthless scout you are,” Tele replied his voice low but menacing. Gor cackled and shook his head kicking his horse into a trot.
“What’s so funny Gor do you doubt what I said?’ The captain snapped irritated by the scout’s unusual reaction to his threat.
“No Captain I don’t doubt you will gut me if I’m wrong, but it won't save you from what the Duke will do to you if you fail this mission. Besides, I’m sure that’s where she headed, but that does not mean she will still be there now, does it,” Gor concluded more seriously. He did not like this mission any more than the rest of the men, though like the captain he was not superstitious. Still, he had a bad feeling about this; maybe he thought, he could pick a good time and disappear it was something to dwell on.
How are you doing?” David asked grabbing Isabella by the hand he pulled the girl up over the rocky incline. Dislodged stones went tumbling down the slope as he finally heaved her over the top. His mother waited with the horses he had taken them up first his mother was hardy and used to mountain terrain and had managed the climb almost effortlessly. The horses too were of a hardy mountain stock specially bred for the purpose even Isabella’s horse. Isabella, however, had lived in a town and had a reasonably comfortable life until now. She struggled, sweat running down her face and her breath coming in ragged gasps, unused to the thinner mountain air.
“I’ll manage,” she gasped her face showing the strain she took a deep breath and slumped on the grassy hilltop; looking around she surveyed the scene below them.
The view was beautiful, below was the Forest Of Night that they had just passed through; to the east were the Wetland Plains and Fenlands. Further north Isabella knew where the Rand Mountains and the fabled Valley of the Farae folk; she looked up as David slumped beside her. In spite of herself, and what she had been through, she found she was growing to like this soft-spoken man with his quiet strength and confidence. He had a relaxed manner that made her feel comfortable and safe in his company. Mertyl to was terrific and reminded Isabella of her mother in spite of her cantankerous nature.
“When you two have finished lazing about we still have a long way to go before dark,” Mertyl said almost in answer to Isabella’s thoughts. Isabella jumped up and hugged the old woman tightly. Mertyl stood flustered a moment then smiled with genuine warmth at Isabella
“Ah child, how you melt the heart of this bitter old woman,” she said patting Isabella on the back gently.
“You are not old or bitter Mertyl, David is right about you it’s just a show underneath it all your as soft as a cuddly kitten,” Isabella replied. They both laughed, David smiled to himself it was the first time he had seen Isabella smile since she had come to them not that he didn’t know she had little reason to smile. Still, it was good to see her smile, and her laughter was like music. They were good for each other, his mother and Isabella
Isabella had an inner strength and spirit that he could almost see radiating through her. He remembered then what his father told him about her and the amulet.
“When the time is right, give the amulet to her,” he had asked when that time would be, but the wizard only answered you would know and so would she. They set off across the hilltop as the sky darkened and rain clouds gathered above. Then as David looked down to the forest below that had been his home for so long he saw the faint whisk of smoke which gradually grew into a thick pall as he watched. Beside him, his mother brushed a tear from her eye and gave a shuddering sigh.
“What’s wrong, Mertyl?” Isabella asked suddenly alarmed by the older woman’s distress
“They have set fire to my home, I had hoped...” she left the words to go unfinished. They all knew what she meant. Isabella drew close to her leaning over to put her arm around the old woman.
“We had better get moving they are not far behind us,” David said, grimacing as he tried to suppress his anger in these people that had forced him to leave his home and for what they had done to Isabella, her folks and the town. A time would come he thought bitterly when he would run no more, but stand and fight them come what may.
“I warned you something didn’t look right about the place,” Gor spat as he stood beside the captain watching the cabin burn.
“I know, curse it Gor there is no need to rub it in, at least they’ll have seen the fire and know we’re on their trail. I want them to know I’ll be breathing down there necks so that it will strike fear into their black hearts,” Tele replied bitterly. He had lost another man to a trap as he entered the house and another had been injured. In his rage, he had ordered the cabin burnt to the ground.
“So now there are three of them you say the woodcutter if that’s what he is, and another,” Tele said as he gave the command to mount up again.
“Yes and they’re headed off towards the hills to the north, that’s a rough looking country, as new to me as it to you,” the scout paused spitting on the ground. “You sure you want to go on?” he paused again giving the captain a sly look. “Ashalen is a big country, bigger than Tanymi you could lose a whole army in it,” he finished.
“We go on, don’t get any Ideas about getting lost yourself Gor or I’ll hunt you down myself, and you know what I’ll do to you when I find you,” he stared menacingly at the scout.
“Of course not, Captain,” the little man had already made his mind up. He felt sure they were all going to die before they could complete their mission and catch the witch; Malen Gor intended to be long gone before that.
Zachary Xee, last of the high wizards of Ashalen and keeper of the Oracle, stood in the ruined courtyard of what had once been a mighty citadel. The city of Ashalda once teeming with life, now stood in silence, with only the echoes of the long dead to give testament to its former glory. The Ashalda race had been at its height four hundred years past, and no city since had rivalled its majesty or splendour. The influence of the Ashalda’s and their magic had spread throughout the entire known world.
It was at that time that the Oracle had first come to light. It was here too that his mentor and first guardian of the oracle had finally decided to hide it beneath the city and where he like his mentor before came to consult it when the time seemed most prodigious. He sighed and looked around to make sure no one had tampered with the wards around the ruined city. The wards kept most people away, but there was always a brave few, who from time to would risk the traps, and snares in the hope of finding, lost treasure within the city. Over the years those that had attempted entering the ruins had turned back terror-stricken telling tales of ghosts and ghouls wandering the city. Some few had not returned at all falling victim to the wards Lanbar had first put in place and that he had strengthened and added to over the years. Further fostering the fear and rumour which he helped to foment in the ruined city.
Of course, he had overlooked the fact that the very legend that had grown up surrounding the ruined city tended to make it an irresistible challenge to would be adventurers. The Oracle itself had warned him of this possibility in its usual obscure way.
“Fear is a two-edged sword in time both sides can be whetted,” it had told him long ago. Younger then and less experienced he fought himself smart in helping to foster the rumours, and did little to interpret what the oracle had said to him. The wizard looked up to find he was almost to the door within which rested the oracle without realising it, so wrapped up in his thoughts had he been.
“Enter First Wizard,” said the oracle, as usual, sensing him near; the door opened seemingly of its own volition.
“They’re still close behind us,” David said, entering the camp, after spotting the smoke earlier they had ridden hard to keep ahead of their pursuers. David knelt by the campfire the flickering firelight casting eerie shadows across his face. The darkness beyond the camp looked brooding and filled with menace Isabella shuddered moving closer to the fire.
“How many of them are they? How I wish the wizard hadn’t made me kill those soldiers maybe they would have left us alone,” she paused as tears threatened to overwhelm her again. “At least they wouldn’t be after you now as well,” Isabella said with genuine regret.
The past day’s events were taking their toll on her emotionally and physically, and she could see no end to it. Both David and his mother looked at one another with concerned expressions. Isabella had told them little of what happened before she escaped though David had the rest from his father. It was a shocking tale, and he wasn’t sure if it had been entirely necessary; maybe there could have been another way to help Isabella escape, though he couldn’t help thinking the soldiers got what they deserved.
“Don’t threat so Isabella David will lose them soon enough; they may even give up the chase themselves this is rugged country, and they’re not used to it like we are. Have faith all will be well you’ll see,” Mertyl comforted the distraught girl as David rose and went to inspect the horses.
“Isabel has settled down now, we tend to forget she still hasn’t had time to recover properly or even to grief for her parents,” began Mertyl as she joined David.
“I know, and it makes my heart ache to see her suffer so. There is something about her some inner strength something I can’t quite explain, but mother I can see it I can see that inner glow; I can see her spirit radiating through her,” he paused perplexed. “Father said my gift was different to his, but what does it mean?”
Mertyl stood shocked for a moment forgetting what she was initially going to say. She knew of course that David like his father would one day inherit a talent for magic, but she had expected it to be the same as his father. David was different more gentle and caring, at once she knew where his talent lay.
“I think David that your gift lies in healing, it seems to fit with what you just told me and it certainly fits with your character,’” David seemed less sure shaking his head doubtfully, but Mertyl felt certain and pressed her point home. “Think about it David when you were just a boy no more than knee high, remember that wounded hawk you took in and nursed back to life. I would have sworn that hawk wouldn’t have lived a day it was so badly hurt, yet it not only lived you returned it to the wild all those other animals you nursed even just a few weeks ago there was that wild deer that you found limping.”