Knight's journey of loss, and a shared destiny with a shapeshifting princess
KNIGHT OF MAGIC
Falcon stood by the bedside of the old magician, in all of Falcon's life Malybar, was the best friend he had ever known; now he lay dying. Falcon remembered that day a lifetime ago now when Malybar caught him using magic to fend off bullies. Malybar had taken him under his wing; Falcon was only nine at the time. Although more recently training as a knight by order of baron Galpin, he spent most of his free time with Malybar
“You must leave here soon, Falcon,” Malybar’s voice came as a soft whisper, barely audible. Tears rolled down Falcon’s cheeks; he turned away, looking around the dimly lit room. Torches burned in wall sconces at each corner, and through the window, dusk approached. The distant Aldrak mountains seemed dark and menacing as he stared out the window his thoughts in turmoil. Malybar waited, with grim determination; at last, Falcon turned back to face Malybar.
“I can’t leave Castle Karn, yet it’s the only home I’ve ever known; he paused wiping away tears. “I must at least finish my initiate as a knight,” Falcon’s voice cracked with emotion as he spoke. He brushed his brown hair from his forehead with a hand. His whole world seemed to be collapsing around him. He had always felt safe and secure at Castle Karn; Malybar had been part of that, always calm, patient and reassuring. Falcon glanced at the flickering candle near the bed, its soft glow casting an eerie light on Malybar’s face. Suddenly the candle flared! Falcon’s eyes widened in surprise, for he knew this was an effect Malybar created, to lend emphasis to what he was about to say. He had seen him do it many times; it was one of the few excesses Malybar allowed himself.
“It made people pay attention,” Malybar had told him once, and he had seen the effect it had on people, mainly when Malybar was in a heated discussion with someone and wanted to make a point. That he had strength left to cast even such a simple spell, was what surprised Falcon.
As Falcon waited, Malybar studied his young friend’s face; he wished he could offer some reassurance but could not. Time had run out too quickly on him before he could finish teaching Falcon the skills needed for what may lie ahead. Mustering as much strength as he could Malybar lifted himself up.
“You can not stay here; you must leave; there is great danger if you stay you will be dead within a week!” Malybar said, with fire in his voice as he spoke. The candle flared, even more, then faded to a dim glow. Falcon felt appalled at what he had just heard.
“Please don’t exert yourself so Malybar,” he replied, tears threatening to overwhelm him despite his best efforts. Falcon swallowed hard, a lump catching in his throat. He blinked away tears as he spoke and gathered his thoughts. “What is this danger you speak of?” Falcon asked. “Is it to me, or is it some other greater peril?” He further asked he couldn’t think why anyone would consider himself much of a threat.
Malybar lay back on his pillow his face pale eyes sparkling in the dim light, his breath becoming shallow. “The danger is to all of Darlyn, a great evil stirs in the world,” replied Malybar in a faint voice. “You...” stopping in mid-sentence Malybar closed his eyes his face a mask of intense concentration; a smile crossed his face as he opened his eyes again.
“Someone is coming to see you, my boy, to help you on your way,” announced Malybar his face became serene as he spoke. Falcon wondered if the old magician’s wits were finally leaving him as did sometimes happen to someone close to death. Malybar hadn’t called him a boy since he was fourteen now twenty-three and near completing his training. Putting away such thoughts Falcon couldn’t think who could be coming to see him; perhaps it may be another magician. He could think of no one, the only people he knew were here at the castle there was one or two who lived in Cadyon. Falcon had been many times to the nearby village on errands for the Baron. He had become friendly with the blacksmith Parvill, and the innkeeper Larson, but they wouldn’t leave their homes and families; nor was there any reason for anyone here to wish to help him. The Baron wanted him to stay to finish his training, what could he tell him. The baron would surely be against him going, more so if he knew what Malybar had just told him.
“Ask the Baron to come in now Falcon,” Malybar said as if reading his thoughts; wordlessly Falcon opened the door and motioned to the baron. Entering the room, the baron nodded gravely at Falcon, who stepped back near the window while the two spoke quietly. Falcon studied the baron a tall, well-built man with receding grey hair, thin eyebrows, and a face like stone. His misshapen nose broken in some past fight. Falcon remained quiet as the baron and Malybar talked he could only hear an occasional word from where he stood, and he didn’t wish to eavesdrop. At length, they stopped talking; Malybar waved a hand limply at Falcon beckoning him nearer. Falcon could see the spark of life in Malybar’s eyes fading as he came and stood beside the baron.
“I’ve been trying to warn Karl not to trust this Aldrakon delegation coming tomorrow,” Malybar said. His voice almost a hoarse whisper now. Both men had to lean over to hear what he said.
Falcon’s mind raced he had forgotten the Aldrakon delegation, they were coming to open trade negotiations, but rumours had spread that they had amassed an army just inside their borders. Could this have some connection with what Malybar told him earlier?
“Don’t fret magician,” the baron was saying as Falcon came to himself again. “I can’t stop them coming for legitimate trade talks, they have done nothing wrong as yet, but I don’t trust them one bit. The garrison will be on full alert during their stay here,” the baron said. After a brief pause added more softly, “Rest easy old friend,” the baron’s usual stony expression broke sorrow showing on his face. Malybar sighed as if accepting what the baron said
“Karl has agreed to knight you now so I can see you knighted before I leave this plane. Also, he has graciously granted you a few days to yourself from tomorrow,” he paused, gasping for breath.” Get the sword from the chest, Falcon,” he continued. Falcon went to the chest and retrieved the sword, holding it up he had long admired the sword since Malybar had first shown it to him. He knew it had to be a magic sword. Malybar had always said when he became a knight, it would be his.
“It’s my parting gift,” Malybar said, a smile crossing his face.
“Thank you; I’m honoured, old friend,” Falcon replied. The lump in his throat threatened to choke him. He swallowed hard as the baron beckoned him to kneel, and drawing his sword knighted him; touching first his right then the left shoulder.
“Arise Sir Falcon Tamin,” the baron said a brief smile on his face before the usual stony look returned. Falcon stood, briefly forgetting the sadness that surrounded him he felt proud and elated, then a sigh came from Malybar, both turned to look at him.
“Thank you, my friends, for being with me at this time,” he said faintly. “And good-bye,” sighing his eyes closed. Both the baron and Falcon stood in silence, locked in their grief. As they stood looking down at the dead magician, a dazzling light surrounded him; getting brighter as the two men stepped back in astonishment. The light spread all over the magician’s body growing in intensity; until it engulfed the whole bed so that they had to shield their eyes and look away. As quickly as it had begun, the light faded.
Malybar’s body vanished!
“Well he was a great magician, trust him to go out with a show,” the baron said, looking at Falcon as if that explained it.
Falcon only nodded he felt empty and desperately alone, and yet there was something more to what had just happened, but he couldn’t think what it might be now. The baron gently put a hand on Falcon’s shoulder.
“There is no shame in grieving my boy but not overlong you have future ahead of you,” the baron began. “I’ve got some extra coin for you, now that you’re a knight, you’ll need to be away from for here for a while. Come and see me early the morrow; I’ll give you your pouch,” the baron finished softly.
“Thank you, Baron,” Falcon still held the sword Malybar gave him. Bowing woodenly he left for his room; hardly noticing those around him. As he made his way through the hallway; a guardsman spoke sympathetically as he passed. Others looked on solemnly; word spread quickly of the magician’s death. Falcon knew that not all would mourn Malybar’s passing, magicians were often treated with suspicion, and magic feared. Darlyns being a people of simple believes, magic was not among them. He heard of other lands where magic is more widely accepted Aldrak for one. That thought brought him back to what Malybar said about someone coming to see him. Maybe that person will be amongst the Aldrakon delegation. Reaching his room, he entered shutting the door; he went to where his scabbard hung. Removing the short sword, he replaced it with the magic sword. He sat at the end of the bed. A great sadness washing over him laying back, he stared numbly around his small room. A newly replaced torch burned brightly in the corner wall sconce. Closing his eyes, Falcon fell into a troubled sleep.
He woke with a start! Something had awakened him without moving he looked around, the torch had burned low. Near darkness filled the room and a shaft of moonlight shone through the narrow window. Between the moonlight and the light from the torch, a dim circular glow caught the corner of his eye. It had been there since he woke, but he had just become aware of it. Slowly he rose, reaching for where his sword hung; the glowing orb steadily grew brighter. Sword in hand Falcon stood tense; the sphere lengthened, and a shape coalesced within, as the sphere of light began to dim a woman stepped from it.
“Fear, not Falcon Tamin I am the Guardian, I am here to aid you in what must be done,” The woman smiled serenely, as she spoke.
Falcon relaxed as the woman smiled; he felt somehow safe in her presence. She looked like a goddess dressed in a long flowing gown of deepest blue. Curls of blond hair fell to her shoulders; her face creamy white and soft delicate skin. She had a look of noble bearing; hazel eyes glittered in the dim light. An amulet hung around her neck on a gold chain. Although she stepped away from the glowing orb, her body still emanated a soft white light, that seemed bluish at the edges.
“Guardian?” Falcon said finally; he felt he should be kneeling before her. He stood, wondering what to do or say.
“Nay Falcon I am no goddess, I do not require you to pay me homage,” She said, putting him at ease.
“You read my thoughts,” Falcon said, “You must be a sorceress then, and you are the one Malybar said would come,” he concluded intuitively.
“I am the one, but I am more than any mere sorceress,” she said in a forceful voice then added smiling, “Less than a goddess though.”
“You caused the light that took Malybar’s body, didn’t you?”
“Well-deduced noble knight,” replied the Guardian, “now time grows short,” said she. “You must leave this day and go to the Farlyn Forest; there you will meet another I’ve sent to help you.” The Guardian’s voice sounded commanding as she spoke. “Be warned, however, as I am the Guardian, there is another like me, but opposite she is evil. She will seek to deceive you, win you over; or destroy you,” the Guardian finished solemnly.
‘”f she is like you how will I know,” Falcon asked thoughtfully, “And who is this person I’m to meet.” He realised it wouldn’t be long till daybreak somehow he felt the Guardian would have to leave before then.
“As I am light, she is dark, that is how you will know. I cannot tell you more to do so may alter the balance, noble Falcon. Hold the sword in your hand up for it is the Sword of Flame its power needs be invoked,” The Guardian said. Falcon thought her speech seemed strange. He held the sword up, and the Guardian held out the amulet and touched it to the sword, blue light flickered along its length with a crackling sound. Falcon felt the power of the sword come alive, and flow to him; it felt hot quickly he sheathed the sword.
“You will learn how too master it in time. Now I must go, we will meet anon noble Falcon,” said the Guardian stepping back; and as she had come, she vanished within the orb of light.
Falcon lay back on the bed he couldn’t sleep, and it would soon be light anyway. There were still a lot of unanswered questions and some of what the Guardian said he didn’t understand; what was the danger? Who was the person he was to meet? He couldn’t figure out how he was to find this person the Farlyn forest stretched for many leagues; it was easy to get lost. What the Guardian said about not being able to tell him more because it would alter the balance was most confusing; and what did she mean about recognising her from the evil one, light from the dark, it seemed like a riddle.
Feeling little rested in the morning, Falcon set out on foot after seeing baron Galpin. The baron had offered him one of his finest horses; Falcon, declined, he would choose a horse when he returned. He followed the well-worn path toward Cadyon the morning air brisk, with a hint of autumn. The green farmland of Darlyn, spread out before him, dotted with occasional trees, to the south in the distance a hazy mist hid the Aldrak Mountains. Reaching the village, Falcon visited his friends.
“So it’s a knight you are now, I hope you do honour to your brother knights, and to the baron,” Parvill said grabbing Falcon’s hand in his own and shaking it vigorously as he spoke. Parvill stood over Falcon his huge frame dwarfing him. Though tall as a giant and stronger than any man he knew. Parvill could be gentle as a lamb when with friends; he was slow to anger not that anyone would dare anger him, one blow from his fist could kill a man.
“That’s a nice looking sword you got there,” said Parvill noticing the jewelled hilt of Falcon’s sword. The blacksmith had a keen eye for a good weapon even though most of his work was mending ploughshares and horseshoes. Falcon unsheathed the sword it came out with a hissing sound; Parvill lifted an eyebrow at the sound, but said nothing; as Falcon rested the sword on the anvil
“It’s an unusual sword,” Falcon said. He wondered if Parvill would feel the heat from the hilt as he did. Parvill eyed the sword up and down, his expression showed nothing, nor did he touch the sword.
“Malybar gave you that didn’t he,” Parvill stated looking Falcon in the eye.
“Why yes; how did you know,” Falcon said a little surprised though he thought he might already know the answer.
“It’s The Sword of Flame, Malybar had me do some work on it once. Still hard to believe the magician’s dead not many people around here like magicians but Malybar seemed all right to me,” answered Parvill his rugged features scowling as he spoke.
“Yes, he was a good man,” replied Falcon sadly.
“There is one thing though,” Parvill said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully; “he said something about the power of the sword,” he continued looking at Falcon.
“Oh...what’s that?” Falcon asked his interest rising he looked at the blacksmith, trying to hide his excitement. Maybe he would have one of his answers now.
“Bit hot to hold isn’t it,” Parvill mentioned casually; he paused, looking at the fire. He put one hand in the flames and held it there. Falcon gasped wanting to pull the blacksmith's hand out, but the look on Parvill’s face made him think otherwise. After what seemed an eternity, but was less than a minute, he took his hand out of the fire.
“You have to absorb the heat Falcon when you can do that; then you will have mastered the sword,” Parvill said, taking the sword and handing it back. His hand looked a little sootier than before but otherwise unaffected by the fire or the sword.
“Sounds like something Malybar would have said,” Falcon replied starring at Parvill’s hand incredulously.
“It was,” Parvill began, “those were the exact words he told me, to tell you, boy,” he continued. Pausing to recall the time Malybar had come with the sword. “He said you would come one day with the sword after he died, and I was to repeat his words to you. That work I did on the sword I had to keep putting my hands in the fire before I could even touch the sword; otherwise, I could’ve never held it. It was the only way he said for me to be able to hold it. Lucky I’m used to working with heat in the forge like I am,” he finished.
Falcon was swearing under his breath “That’s not going to be much good to me, Leon. I can’t find a fire every time I need to use the sword, that’s ludicrous,” he explained in frustration his voice tinged with irony.
“Not so fast boy Not so fast!” Parvill chided, ‘he said for me to hold it, he didn’t say anything about you needing to put your hands in the fire, besides you can already hold it. You know I once tried holding the sword without putting my hand in the fire first,” spoke Parvill, holding a hand up to stay Falcon’s protests.
“What happened?” Falcon asked calming himself.
“I let go real quick my hand started smoking almost instantly, burnt most of the skin off too,” Parvill answered wincing slightly at the memory of it.
Falcon went pale; the sword had only seemed very hot for him to hold; it didn’t burn him; another thought occurred to him also. The Guardian had said the sword’s power needed evoking when he first took the sword from the chest it had seemed like any other sword. It wasn’t until after the Guardian touched it with the amulet that it became hot. That would mean that Malybar had probably activated it before taking it to the smithy, likely as a safeguard. That didn’t help him much now, though.
“Anyway it must be like the magician said, you have to absorb the heat of the sword somehow. A bit like me putting my hand in the fire,” explained Parvill.
Falcon frowned it didn’t make much sense. How could he absorb the heat of the sword, for the moment he let the matter drop saying good-bye to Parvill he walked toward the Red Dragon Inn. Larson and his wife fussed around him as usual, and as he sat finishing his meal Merla their daughter came, though only fifteen she looked a woman full grown. With dark blue eyes, long black hair, and a figure to match her looks most of the village boys of suitable age had tried to walk out with her, but she had spurned their advances. Merla only seemed to show Falcon and a boy named Tom any interest. Falcon liked Merla though more like a sister than any other way. He knew, however to his embarrassment on several occasions that Merla’s attention was something more; He braced himself as she approached.
“Hello, Falcon glad you came, do you like my new dress?” Merla asked swirled in front of him; showing of the white lacy dress then suddenly she put her arms around him and kissed him firmly on the cheek before he could react.
“Please Merla I wish you wouldn’t,” His cheeks reddening, “And yes your dress is nice,” he finished still blushing.
“Oh, you have broken my heart,” she returned in mock grief; clasping her hands in a pose of supplication. “What am I to do woe is me,” she continued, Falcon suspected that not all of it was an act. She gave him one of her most beguiling smiles. “Father tells me you are going to the Faryln forest,” she said, sitting down next to him; she clasped her hands over his a serious look on her face.
“Be careful won’t you, I’ve heard terrible stories about that place,” she continued her lips trembling a little as she spoke.
Touched by her concern, Falcon sought to reassure her. “Don’t worry, I have been there a few times with the baron; I know all the main trails, I’ll be just fine,” he said.
‘But it’s such a vast forest; you may have to travel trails unknown to you to find whatever it is you are looking for,” she said, not satisfied with what he said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be just fine,” he reassured more firmly. Larson had only told her about going to the Faryln forest, not that Falcon was to meet someone. In turn, Falcon had told Larson about some danger to the land and having to meet someone who could help him counter this peril leaving out any mention of the Guardian. Larson would never believe that part being a man of rigid believes to him magic didn’t exist.
“All right, but you will be careful won't you,” Merla said at last seeming satisfied with his reassurance.
“I will, and I’ll see you when I get back okay,” Falcon answered firmly. At that, she said her good-byes and left him in peace. Falcon finished his meal quietly lost in thought, he went to see Larson again, buying a pack and supplies; Larson wouldn’t take the fair price offered, accepting only half, telling him, he would need it to purchase further supplies later.
Falcon followed the path north from Cadyon leading toward the Farlyn forest; the sun neared midday as he looked up, shading his eyes against the glare. The trail began to climb slowly as it twisted northward. Falcon passed a few travellers going in the opposite direction, and only one going his way who eventually turned towards a small farm on his left. Just after midday, he crossed the north-south road and headed towards open countryside. Ultimately, the path narrowed to a short but well-used trail leading down to a meadow, with tall grass; smatterings of bushes grew here and there. All around wildflowers grew in a riot of colour; butterflies flitted from flower to flower. At the far side of the meadow, the trail disappeared under a canopy of trees.
The beginning of the Farlyn forest stretched out before him rising to the foothills of Camira. Falcon paused, looking back across the peaceful meadow, turning forward again, he breathed deeply hitched his backpack up and entered the gap between the trees. He kept to a well-used trail all-around a mixture of maple birch; beech with the occasional oak tree grew. Stretching their branches skyward, birds sang overhead, and small creatures scampered about in the undergrowth. Shafts of afternoon sunlight broke through the gaps in the trees; further in Falcon knew the forest would be so thick little or no sunlight would get through.
At sunset, he decided to rest a while sitting on a tree stump he ate some cold meat from his pack. In the distance, he could hear a lone wolf howl; after a few minutes, he picked up his backpack and continued. He would have to find a somewhere to camp before dark; knowing a place not far away just off the trail where a small stream came down from the hills, he headed towards it. It was a well-used place for travellers and had a makeshift shelter between two trees. He hoped there would be no one there now unless, it was, the person he was to meet. The past day’s events weighed heavily on his mind. Reaching the campsite just as the light failed, to his relief no one else was about, unpacking his things Falcon started a fire, fetching some water from the stream with his small cooking pot. He put it on the fire, adding some cold meat and dried vegetables. Sitting back under the shelter, he listened to the night sounds as he waited for his stew to cook. After eating the hot stew, Falcon got out his bedroll and lying down made himself as comfortable as possible.
Rising before sunrise, he ate a light meal and started out once more the forest became denser, dry leaves crunched underfoot as he went, a damp mist hung in the air, cobwebs sparkling with dew. He saw few travellers; the only sounds that of the birds and creatures of the forest. At midday he topped a rise looking down through the trees he could see a glade with a large oak tree in the centre, something moved in the clearing below.
Baron Galpin stood on the battlements he had been a fool not to take more seriously what his old friend the magician had told him before he died. The Aldrakons had cloaked the approach of their host army in a magical mist, and slipped black mage’s in with the delegation; they had killed have his guards before being killed themselves. Now they were demanding that he hand over Malybar’s apprentice, saying they would withdraw if he did so. He didn’t believe them, and even if he did, he wouldn’t hand Falcon over to them; by now they may have guessed he wasn’t here anyway. He had noticed a detachment of troops and a mage head toward the village earlier. What did they want with Falcon anyway? That he had promise as a magician, he knew, but that surely wouldn’t be enough to want him so badly. Captain Lonn came along the battlements and stood to face the baron.
“Sir you must think of leaving soon their black magicians are about to launch another attack we can’t hold out much longer; you must live to rally the people,” his voice showed concern as he spoke.
“We are completely cut off from the outside Captain, how do you propose we breakout,” the baron said bitterly. As he spoke, he could see smoke rising in the distance in the direction of Cadyon; he hoped Falcon was long gone. Suddenly the air crackled with electricity as bolts of lightning flashed all around the host army rushed forward the sound of steel upon steel, and battle cries going up.
“Please my lord a small force could slip out the postern gate unnoticed,” the captain began, ignoring the baron’s bitter tone. “We could dress someone up as you and have him stand up here and rally the men around him. While they’re concentrating on your look alike you could be away,” the captain continued quickly.
“Thought of everything haven’t you James,’” said the baron a grim smile briefly crossed his face.
“Yes, my lord, and I will stay behind and delay them as long as possible,” he said with a faint answering smile. “Now please go my Lord, there is some plainclothes in your room, and I’ve got hand-picked men waiting in the stables,” the captain said. He turned barking orders as the baron left. The baron looked around at what had been his home for the last time. He wanted to stay and fight to the last drop of blood in his veins; it galled him to have to run like a coward to leave his men behind to die. James had been right. However, the people would need him in the dark days that lay ahead.
Captain Lonn stood inspecting the soldier in front of him. “Stand a bit straighter Cully look as if you’re in command,” he said. A fireball seared the air as it passed overhead. Landing in the courtyard fire rained down, men screamed in agony; as the fire stopped, the Aldrakons broke through the last defences fighting their way towards where the two men stood. Captain Lonn rushed an Aldrakon coming toward him his sword running the man through he took a quick look around. Cully was already down; a few soldiers remained standing. He parried a blow from the left back stepping cleaved a man’s head, with a vast overhand swing. Two more rushed him at once he ducked low chopping one man down as he rolled over; his sword held high. The second man came in more warily circling his sword ready. Lonn feinted a thrust to the left and cut right, slicing through the leather armour the man winced in pain a long red line across his chest he backed away. Lonn closed in parrying the man’s blows with ease; he waited his moment as the man tried to defend himself. He aimed an overhand swing to the head; the man lifted his sword to block; Lonn went under it. The man realised his mistake too late as Lonn’s underarm swing near cut him in half spilling his entrails on the ground. Captain Lonn stood breathing hard, his sword drenched in blood, and running down his arms. He did not see the magician across from him, nor was he aware of what happened when the bolt of lightning struck him.
As Falcon drew nearer, he caught glimpses through the trees of what was in the clearing he was sure now it was a horse, and so it must have a rider. Perhaps, at last, it would be the one he was to meet. As he neared the clearing, he got a clear view of a white horse, with a long flowing mane. It was the most beautiful animal he had ever seen. As he entered the clearing, he saw the mare disappear behind the giant oak. A woman stepped from around the tree as Falcon approached she stood still feet apart, her right hand resting on the pommel of her sword. Long silvery hair cascaded around her shoulder’s; eye’s emerald green. She wore a green outfit to match her eyes, gold bangles around her wrists; breeches tucked into black travelling boots. She waited as Falcon drew nearer, her eyes appraising him. Finally, she locked eyes with him as if searching for something; calmly, she waited for him to speak first.
“Well-met lady, I am Sir Falcon Tamin,” he inclined his head slightly as he spoke but didn’t take his eyes off her.
“I am Leyona Sandara, Sir Knight,” she said her voice soft and clear. “Well met, you took your time getting here; I expected you yesterday.”
Falcon realised he had been holding his breath and let it out, next to the guardian this was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. But he wasn’t expecting a woman maybe she wasn’t what she seemed. He decided to remain cautious for the time being.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand you were expecting me you say, we have never met before now; how can that be?” He questioned watching her closely to see what her reaction would be. She arched an eyebrow at him, then smiled sweetly.
“No fool I see, the Guardian has chosen well,” she answered calmly. Her smile warmed him and melted most of his cautious resolve but not quite all.
“The Guardian you say you have seen her, tell me what does she look like?” He asked he stepped closer to her standing only a couple of hand-spans apart he noticed an unusual circular mark on her forehead like a birthmark, but larger and, to well-formed to be one. He fixed his eyes on hers, waiting for her to answer. She casually folded her arms and lent against the old oak; she began telling him how the guardian had appeared to her several nights ago. Describing what the Guardian looked like, what she had told her telling her where she had to go, and even briefly describing him so that there would be no mistake. She finished by saying him she came from Camira and mainly lived in the High Vales of Camira.
“So what of this place the High Vales where you live what is it like Leyona?” He began asking “and what do you do there,” he further asked, finally deciding she was indeed the one the Guardian sent. He liked the sound of her voice; realising, he was studying her too intensely, he looked away. A flush is coming to his face. Leyona showed no reaction to his embarrassment as she answered.
‘It’s a mountainous region, though not very high some of its highest peaks are covered in snow all year round. The forests there are mainly pine and spruces, unlike this one. There is a long valley between two peaks with a lake spanning most of its length;” she paused with a faraway look, in her eyes, as if picturing it. “It’s called the Enchanted Lake most Camirans visit it one time or another. As to what I do, I’ve hired myself out as a guide a few times; and I act as a hunter supplying food for a nearby town,” she said at length, a small sigh escaped her lips, as if in answer to some past remembrance.
“A guide to the Enchanted Lake I presume,” Falcon stated, the hunter bit surprised him she looked more like a lady than a huntress.
“You’re quick all right, Sir Knight,” she replied, giving him that sweet smile again.
“Please don’t,” groaned Falcon lifting his eyes skyward.
“Don’t what’ Sir Knight,” Leyona replied before he could explain.
“There you go again,” he clapped his hands at his sides in exasperation. “Please don’t keep calling me Sir Knight; my name is Falcon Tamin,” he explained. He didn’t think he looked much like a knight anyway; with his grey shirt matching trousers and brown travelling boots. He wore a light, serviceable mail jacket with a heavy cloak, the only thing that looked of any quality. He surmised he must look a sight; in any case, he was only newly knighted and hadn’t got used to the idea of being called sir knight.
“Oh,” she answered a sheepish grin spreading across her face, she laughed a short girlish laugh. “I’m sorry Falcon in Camira we don’t have knights I wasn’t sure of the correct address to call you, I didn’t want to offend you,” Leyona said. They sat down having a meal together; he felt at ease with her, his usual shyness with women melting as they spoke. A few things she told him about herself didn’t ring true. She was holding something back; whatever it may be he thought it none of his business; so he didn’t press the matter. They finished their meal-packing their belongings. Falcon had forgotten the white mare he had seen, and started to ask her when he looked up; in the distance to the south smoke rose above the trees. There was too much smoke for it to be just a campfire. Falcon’s blood ran cold; he noticed Leyona had seen it also
“From what you have told me wouldn’t that be where the village is,” she said with a worried frown.
“Yes and over there, further back to the right that's Castle Karn,” he said as more smoke rose in the distance; then he noticed something much nearer hovering between the trees at the far side of the clearing; a silvery transparent orb. He had not seen a wizard’s eye before, but he knew what it was; the sudden stillness cut like a knife.
A group of armed men broke the canopy at the far side, swords in hand shields up; Falcon’s sword came out instantly with the familiar hissing sound. He felt the heat from the sword; it glowed faintly, and small flames licked around the blade. The men momentary hesitated, seeing the sword then rushed on. Falcon stole a glance at Leyona; she too stood sword in hand calmly waiting; he returned his attention to the man leading the charge. He could see by his armour that he was no ordinary soldier. The others also seemed similarly armoured; these men were elite soldiers; they meant business.
The man rushed as Falcon held his ground till the last second then catlike sidestepped as the man tried to turn he ran him through sparks crackling from the blade the man screamed falling away from the sword as Falcon withdrew, the sword. He could see Leyona from the corner of his eye; one man lay at her feet two more rushing her suddenly they seemed confused and hesitant before they could come to their senses she had the advantage. He killed two more, each time the sword burned as it touched the enemy the blade coming away clean-burning blood from it more men entered the clearing; the odds were not pleasant, he needed to do something; quickly he backed up shouting to Leyona to do the same. She looked around, seeing him backing away gave him a scornful look, and turned her attention to the nearest soldier. She thought he was running, turning coward he couldn’t blame her for that; she didn’t know him that well. Still, it stung him that she would think so little of him.
At last, having enough space, he held his ground holding out his free hand he concentrated his will and whispered a single word. His hand glowed, and fire sprang from his fingertips spreading to a ball it hit two men running toward him; they fell screaming as the fire consumed them. Another fireball caught a man coming in on Leyona’s blindside. Understanding at last coming to her, she quickly backed toward him, standing a short distance away gasping for breath. The remaining men were no fools spreading out they kept a safe distance. Slowly advancing his next fireball missed its mark; he wasn’t a skilled enough magician and couldn't keep casting spells for much longer.
He saw the wizard’s eye watching, a short distance away. This time a blue light flashed from his hands arching up until it hit the wizard’s eye. On contact, the wizard’s eye glowed with tiny pinpoints of light then disappeared in a puff of smoke. The remaining Aldrakon soldiers were nearly on them; he knew they had to be Aldrakons. That they must have planned treachery, he feared for the baron, for his friends in the village. Hoped against hope they still lived but feared the worst. He thought his time had also come, glancing at Leyona; she stood proud and calm. She nodded to him her look showing she too was prepared for whatever happened. Anger rose within him; he would not die quickly; he held the sword in both hands, ignoring the heat. As the Aldrakons came within reach, he lifted the sword, wishing he could burn them all with fire, as he began to swing the sword in an arc.
The sword erupted in flame!
The Sword of Flame answered to its owners need becoming a fiery scythe; flames gushed out consuming all in the swords’ path. Time slowed as he saw the sword come around in his hand; every detail became clear. The Aldrakons screaming, falling consumed in fire some broke and ran in terror. The sword continued its path of destruction, forming a wall of flame spreading out hungrily. The hilt felt unbearably hot. He saw Leyona standing, a body at her feet stunned to stillness as he unleashed the magic of the sword. Then silence, all that was left before them scorched smoking earth and blackened bodies. He lowered the sword and quickly sheaved it, his hands blistered from holding the sword. He knew it wouldn’t be long before the Aldrakons regrouped and returned and they had a magician. Turning to Leyona, he saw she wasn’t there.
The white mare came out of the smoke; he heard her voice tell him to get on the horse, he leapt on the mare without a second thought. Shouts came from the other side of the clearing; they were coming again. The horse galloped off down a narrow trail; he kept his head low to avoid hitting low branches. Shouts came from behind him; he tried to see were Leyona was, but the horse was going to fast. He needed to concentrate on staying seated; his heart pounded as the mare raced at breakneck speed, seeming to know where it was going. He had enough to do just avoiding branches without worrying where he was going. Time became meaningless trees past in a blur of motion; he was vaguely aware of the growing darkness; he would need to stop soon. He hoped Leyona was behind him the mare gradually slowed to a trot then came to a halt in a small hollow. Falcon slipped off the horse looking around there was no sign of Leyona.
Suddenly the mare shimmered its shape-shifting, and then Leyona stood before him. He gaped in amazement as she swayed in front of him; reaching out he caught her before she fell. He wasn’t sure how far they had travelled, but there was no sign of pursuit. So he decided to risk a small fire, the way Leyona looked worried him. She was pale, hardly seemed to be breathing; putting his cloak around her, he sat thinking about what she was. He had heard tales of shapechangers, most superstitious nonsense or so he had thought. He could not doubt her though; they might not have got away, but for her. He inspected his hands they were only slightly blistered thankfully getting bandages from his saddlebag he bound his hands and sat by the fire, thinking about what he was to do now. The thought of what had happened back in the clearing sickened him; men had died burned alive, screaming in agony. He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone, especially not like that. No, that was a lie, he wanted them to die, to burn and the magic sword had done his bidding.
He knew they would have killed them without remorse; they most likely killed his friends. He felt justified it was, them or him it didn’t make him feel any better though. His attention turned to Leyona again, the round mark on her forehead seemed to glow dimly; he touched it with his hand, instantly it grew brighter. He felt the energy draining from him, for a brief instant time seemed to stand still; he heard a ringing sound in the depths of his mind. Alarmed, he jumped withdrawing his hand, she stirred moaning a little; her eyes opened briefly, then she lay still once more.
Leyona opened her eye’s stars shone above; pinpricks of light in the night sky the moon’s casting long shadows in the hollow. The embers of a fire glowed close by; in the darkness, she could make out a shadowy figure. Falcon, what would he think of her now; shapechangers were considered to be soul stealers by many. Able to take the form and soul of anyone they touched. Camira is a country of mostly shapeshifters, isolated and shunned by outsiders because of such superstitious believes, and most people in Camira by in large preferred it that way. That could be no longer be the case, Leyona knew; no matter what Falcon thought about her now, they needed to work together. He turned towards her his face showing relief at seeing her awake.
“I’m sorry,” she said, sitting up.
“About what,” Falcon replied she couldn’t make out his features too well in the dim moonlight, she thought he was frowning.
“That I thought you were about to run back in the clearing,” she answered, he still seemed to be frowning.
“Oh, I’ve forgotten about that, Leyona I can’t blame you for thinking what you did after all you don’t know me that well,” he said his tone quietly reassuring.
“I didn’t know you were a magician as well as a knight,” she began “isn’t that unusual being a magician, and a knight I mean?” She asked curiously.
“I suppose so, though I’m only an apprentice magician,” he answered. “Leyona that spot on your forehead.”
Now it would start she thought, he would no longer be at ease with her; she was a shapeshifter some magical freak at best. She sighed, why were people so narrow-minded, and superstitious. She waited as he struggled with his thoughts, expecting the worst.
“It’s got something to do with you being a shapeshifter hasn’t it.”
“Yes,” she began, “look Falcon, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I’m a shapeshifter, but well, I’m not some weird freak. The Guardian has brought us together, so you’ll have to put up with me like it or not,” she blurted out. Her anger rising, green eyes glittered in the darkness.
“Wow,” he replied, lifting his hands in a placating gesture. “I’m sorry if I have upset you, I don’t think you are some kind of freak; nor do I believe half the stories told about shapeshifters. It’s, well, I touched that spot on your forehead, and it seemed as if it absorbed some of my strength. I’ll admit it startled me, and seeing you change like that, well I want to get things in perspective that’s all,” he finished lowering his hands again.
She let out a deep breath. “Oh, I’m sorry too Falcon I shouldn’t blame you for other peoples prejudices,” she paused frowning. “Forgiven?” She asked.
“Forgiven,” he replied she thought he had a calm, reassuring voice it made her feel safe.
“Perhaps I should tell you something about shapeshifters that might help you understand,” she began gathering her thoughts.
“Yes I would like that if you don’t mind,” he answered sitting across from her she could see his face more clearly now, he ran his hand down the back of his head smoothing his hair.
“l would like to tell you,” she took a deep breath before starting again. “Shapeshifters aren’t born they are chosen when young and taken to the Enchanted Lake it is something of a ritual ceremony; they are immersed in the waters, and the mark develops as they get older. However, not all those chosen develop the mark of the shapeshifter. Nobody knows why it’s just one of those things,” she paused, looking at Falcon.
“In your case, I’m glad it worked,” he said, putting a hand on her arm gently with a look of open sincerity she almost cried. He accepted her for what she was. She could see it in his gaze; he didn’t know all of it yet though.
“Anyway, the disculis as we call it imparts the ability of shapeshifting. It only allows the shifter to become a living creature contrary to what most people think, and then usually only one. You have to study the subject considerably in my case I more or less lived with horses; I was very fond of a white mare.”
“Is the shape you take an exact double, and what of taking human form?” he asked with an expression of keen interest.
“You’re quick aright,” she answered, arching her eyebrow at him. “Every shifter usually adds their own subtleties; it is not possible to exactly duplicate a form. As to taking the shape of another person, it is possible, but because you need to study the subject at great length, it's not practical. You can’t change sex either,” she replied.
“And what happened when I touched the disculis as you call it?” He asked, getting to the point that troubled him most.
She sighed a distressed look on her face picking a piece of wood on the ground she handed it to him. “Hold this up,” he did so holding it at eye level. She concentrated, the disculis began to glow. The wood disintegrated in his hands. “The disculis draws on the strength of the shifter if the shifter is under undue stress or weakened. The disculis can draw energy from just about any source; all the shifter has to do is concentrate, on drawing the needed energy---“
“Wait,” he interrupted. ‘You were not conscious when I touched it, so how could you draw energy from me;” he asked frowning thoughtfully.
She shrugged, becoming more troubled. “Perhaps it was my unconscious need that caused it,” she answered with a slight tremor in her voice. “As I was saying the energy can be drawn from most sources, but there is a sort of safeguard that does not allow the strength drawn from another human being. Unless given willingly, and usually only in exceptional circumstances,” she paused. “What happened to your hands?” She asked, changing the subject.
“Oh, its this sword, you’ve seen what it did it gets almost too hot use.”
“I see,” she began with a concerned expression, “Do you want me to have a look I know some healing?” she asked. He nodded, and she inspected the bandages
Falcon stretched his bedroll out and lay down thoughts swirling through his mind like a maelstrom. He didn’t know where they were going, what they were going to do next. They had escaped the Aldrakons but had no clear idea of where to go next. He ached to go back to find his friends if they lived still or to take his vengeance on the Aldrakons if they were dead. Knowing also to go back would be likely death, and what of Leyona one thing was apparent she still hadn’t told him everything. His last thoughts before sleeping were off a white mare and a woman who were the same.
The guardian stood at the end of the long hall with marble pillars, lanterns burned on either side along its length. The walls decorated ornately, with strange ancient carvings, and pictures speaking of past elegance and glory. In front of the guardian stood a sizeable ornate mirror its antique frame decorated with rare stones, and strange markings. The glass appeared opaque, and mists swirled within. Behind the Guardian stood a woman patiently waiting she was only slightly shorter than the Guardian with red hair cut short. Her thin lobeless ears, brown eyes and slight green tint to her skin gave her an unusual and exotic beauty. The Guardian moved her hand over the mirror; the mists cleared, revealing a scene; Darl, the capital of Darlyn, stood besieged by the Aldrakon host. Outlaying homes and farms destroyed; to the south-west of Darl twenty leagues distant, nestling next to the river Darl lied Larin a small port. The Guardian focused the mirror on a tall, grey-haired man who stood in the town square around him were a mixture of soldiers and towns’ people.
“The Baron rallies the people, mistress?” Asked the woman in a musical tone that rose and fell as she spoke
“Yes Andri, but his time is short I fear,” the guardian moved her hand again the scene changed to the now ruined village of Cadyon smoke drifted up to the night sky obscuring the view. On the path leading north from the town, a lone figure strode with long slow strides.
“Perhaps I can help a little,” mused the guardian studying the scene. She closed her eyes in concentration when she opened them she changed the view again this time the view centred on the Faryln forest.
“You have chosen your champion well mistress; he has accounted himself well in battle this day,” Andri said in her musical voice. As she studied the scene in the mirror, a woman stood on watch nearby. “And she is a match for him I vouchsafe,” Andri concluded.
The Guardian smiled “Nay Andri; the choice was not mine, the fates themselves have decreed it so. Since the beginning of time, the world has awaited him,” said the guardian turning at last to face her loyal servant.
“They are a match though, I believe,” the guardian finished; her hazel eyes sparkled as she spoke.
“The giant will join them, mistress?” Andri asked thoughtfully.
“Yes, eventually,” she answered. “Now Andri it is time for you to begin your task, you must be at the appointed place when the time comes,” The guardian said. Looking at Andri with a stern expression, her voice, although gentle.
“Must I mistress surely you could send someone else; I do not wish to leave you who will tend your needs,” Andri spoke in an anguished voice.
“Alas you must, your path also has been chosen by the fates, your sister Janri knows my needs nearly as well as you, she will tend me while you are gone,” said the Guardian sympathetically.
“Will I return mistress?” Andri asked almost pleadingly her voice, losing its musical tone trembled with emotion.
“That I do not know gentle Andri, maybe you will not wish to return once you have seen the outside world for real,” the Guardian said, her voice soothing as she spoke. “Now you must go,” she finished.
“I will return mistress,” Andri replied, regaining her composure, she turned and walked down the long hall; her footsteps echoing as she left.
“We will see, We will see,” the guardian said quietly turning back to the mirror once again; she moved her hand over it. The mists swirled, and an elderly man appeared, within, he lay outstretched seemingly asleep on the ground. Anyone approaching would notice his body floated a few handspans above the ground. He wore baggy brown trousers tied with string at the waist and tucked into scuffed and well-worn brown boots. A grey cotton shirt and a white cloak; with a hood pulled over his head. The guardian smiled in all the time she had known him Temboly Moondark had never changed. Suddenly the old man's body tilted upright, and his eyes snapped open his feet coming to rest on the ground.
“Must you disturb me while I’m resting Casandra,” said the old man grumpily. His voice had a deep throaty tone; he seemed to be talking to thin air. The Guardian sent her image to him, at the speed of thought it stood before him.
“I’m sorry I disturbed you Temboly, but I bring you news most dire,” the guardian answered through her image. Temboly scowled his hood had fallen back on his shoulders, revealing a thick thatch of grey hair neatly cut above the shoulders seeming at odds with the rest of his shabby appearance. A thin hand reached up to scratch his head. His dark blue eyes had an intensity that would make strong men tremble.
“I know of the mischief the Aldrakons have caused I scryed their army; the boy did well though,” Temboly answered his grouchy mood, dissipating.
“They are laying siege to Darl; it will soon fall,” Casandra stated sadly.
“It can’t be helped I suppose, and what of the second part of the sceptre is it there?” Temboly asked his hand, stroked his white beard thoughtfully.
“Nay it is not, or our old enemy would have it by now,” Casandra said, she paused pensively. “You must hasten to meet Falcon and Leyona; I have other pressing matters to attend too. I will see you anon Temboly,” she finished her image wavered and vanished.
“Till later,” he said, sending his thought to her.
Parvill strode down the path with grim determination; he killed more than a dozen Aldrakons before they decided to leave him alone. The magician with them, shouting for them not to waste any more time. So they merely by-passed him, leaving a wake of death and destruction in their path. The magician seemed to be looking for someone, or something and not finding it moved on; there had been few survivors at the village. Parvill buried his old friends the Larsons but did not see their daughter Merla amongst the dead. So he believed the Aldrakons must have taken her with them.
He vowed over their graves, he would find her if she still lived, and would look out for her himself, or bring her body back. Parvill packed what supplies he could salvage and set out; over his shoulder, he carried a war axe and a wicked-looking mace. Darkness made the path hard to follow. He came to a narrow bend, seeing an abandoned house on the right; something made him decide to take a look; thinking he might be able to spend the night under a roof. Approaching the house, he heard voices coming from the back; he instantly became alert reaching over his shoulder for the mace. Giant, as he was stealth, was not an option; so he stepped around the end of the house mace at the ready.
In a field, three drunken Aldrakon soldiers stood over what looked like a pile of rags on the ground; laughing, and joking. Parvill knew it was a woman, with a terrible battle cry he charged. The nearest soldier went for his sword, Parvill’s mace came around caving the man's skull in the man collapsed soundlessly in a heap. The second moved too slow, drink dulling his wits. Parvill swung the mace, hitting the man in the face smashing it to a pulp; a gurgling sound came from his throat as he fell over backwards. The third ran Parvill dropped the mace and reaching for the axe he threw it at the fleeing man. The axe somersaulted through the air with a whooshing sound and struck the man in the back. He screamed and fell riving on the ground then lay still. Parvill retrieved his weapons and walked back to where the woman lay barely alive. Her tattered white dress covered in dirt and blood. An anguished look of recognition crossed his face. It was Merla; picking her up gently in his arms he carried her to the abandoned house.
Falcon felt uncomfortable with the idea of riding the white mare, knowing it was Leyona, the night before was different then he thought he was riding a real horse. Once mounted, although something deep within him seemed to be telling him that it was meant to be. Somehow they seemed to fit together the white mare that was Leyona and himself. When they ate at noon, Leyona told him how much she enjoyed having him as her rider. He felt the same in reverse, and the ability to speak without words made them react almost instinctively as one; it was an uncanny feeling. Falcon could remember Malybar telling him about speaking without word’s telepathy he called it; he hadn’t thought it would be like this.
Leyona had persuaded him that they needed to go to Camira saying she knew some people there who would help them against the invading Aldrakons. He wasn’t sure what the Guardian wanted them to do, but what Leyona said made sense. For he didn’t think the Aldrakon host would stop at taking Darlyn. It didn’t seem likely they would try for Camira just yet though, that gave them some time. Falcon looked around as he rode at an easy gallop they had passed through the Yarl Forest heading north-east now close to the Camiran border. The landscape looked bleak with rolling hills covered with bracken and long grass, and only the occasional tree.
A cold wind blew across the open fields. Falcon drew his cape around him, feeling the wind go through him; he wondered if Leyona could feel the cold and asked as much. She replied saying that a horse’s coat keeps most of the wind out. As evening approached, they rode down into a small valley sheltered from the wind a small stream ran down from the surrounding hills.
“A good place to camp,” Falcon said, sending his thought to Leyona. He dismounted near a thicket of pine trees. The stream gurgled and splashed over rocks coming to a halt in a small clear pool that looked as if it might go underground. The mare shimmered, and Leyona stood in its place.
“Since I’ve carried you all day you can do the cooking,” Leyona said, arching her eyebrow at him and giving him her unique smile. He smiled back.
“Okay, but you cook breakfast,” he replied, unpacking the cooking utensils. Leyona laughed and started gathering wood for a fire.
He got water from the pool, as he returned Leyona had the fire started and was adding more wood. The sweet smell of burning pine filled the air, and smoke rose lazily up into the night sky.
“It's going to be a cold night,” he said as he put some small potatoes in the pot adding dried vegetables and herbs. She sat across from him, staring down at the pan as it started bubbling; she looked up, dreamily her green eyes sparkling, for some reason, his heart leapt as he looked at her.
“You’re almost as good as a cook as I, the food smells wonderful,” she said shivering slightly. “Why don’t you sit beside me, the night is cold,” she huddled closer to the fire.
He moved to sit beside her as he sat she snuggled closer to him he could feel the warmth of her body. His heart seemed to be beating unbearably loud as he stirred the pot. Her silvery hair brushed against his face as she rested her head on his shoulder. Without thought his free hand brushed back a strand of hair that fell across her face, she gave him that smile that always made him feel at ease. They sat quietly, eating their meal, neither speaking, content to enjoy each other’s company. It grew even colder; stars twinkled in a clear sky, sparks hissed and leapt from the fire.
Falcon stared intently into the dark. Leyona looked up suddenly concerned by the way he studied the nearby trees.
“What is it?” She asked, staring off into the trees.
“There is somebody back there watching,” he answered, still looking into the darkness.
“How can you tell it’s too dark, everything seems quiet to me,” she asked. Falcon rose to his feet as she spoke, and Leyona followed suit.
“It’s to quiet, no night sounds. Also, I can sense someone back there,” he answered. His voice low; quietly moving back from the fire, Leyona following. The Sword of Flame came hissing from his scabbard, breaking the silence; he wished it wasn’t so noisy. Leyona also had her sword at the ready.
“Mind if I join you,” said a voice in an amused tone; an old man of medium height appeared from among the trees. Falcon studied the shabbily dressed elder, taking in his dirty boots, trousers tied up with string. The white cloak made him seem almost ghostly like in the darkness; he lent on a long gnarled staff what gave Falcon pause the most, was the faint white glow surrounding the old man and those intense blue eyes. Falcon was sure he was a magician.
“Hold fast old man, what are you doing spying on us,” Leyona said tensing she raised her sword menacingly. The old man’s expression looked even more amused.
“Wait, Leyona,” Falcon began cautiously, “he’s a magician,” he observed the old man as he spoke; Leyona tensed even more but stood still.
The old man stepped almost into the firelight. Close up Falcon could see he had a rugged, tanned face and a neatly trimmed white beard.
“Well met Princess Leyona,” the old man said with the slightest bow of his head and turning to Falcon, “and well met Sir Tamin, any food left I’m hungry,” said the old man his expression becoming a broad grin.
Falcon turned to Leyona in utter astonishment. “Princess,” was all he could manage to say, forgetting the strange old man stood in front grinning, Leyona’s expression darkened.
“Look will you stop gaping at me, we still don’t know who this old man is, and how he knows our names,” She glared menacingly at the old man.
“Temboly Moondark is my name,” replied the old man grandly his voice rising and falling as he spoke with an almost mesmerising effect. This time Leyona looked stunned, virtually dropping her sword Falcon saw the look and turned to face Moondark.
“I see you’ve heard of me princess,” Moondark said he went to the fire, warmed his hands and helped himself to some food.
“Well, Ley... I mean princess,” Falcon began. “Are you going to tell me who he is, I know a couple of things about him already, but it seems you know more. Perhaps we should get everything out in the open,” anger tingeing his voice he felt betrayed. He knew there was something proud in her bearing all along but a princess. No doubt she enjoyed toying with his emotions when this was all over she would go back to her palace, or whatever telling all her grand friends about the poor knight she had met.
“What is it that you know about me, boy,” interjected Moondark raising his eyebrows with a questioning look. Falcon recognised Moondarks tone, the questioning look on his face; it was so like Malybar.
‘The Guardian sent you Temboly Moondark, and I think you knew Malybar, the magician. You are after all a magician yourself;” Falcon said, cutting straight to the point.
“You’re quick, boy,” Moondark replied, “he’s quick isn’t he,” he repeated, looking at Leyona.
“I... that is yes I’ve thought so too,” she answered, coming to her senses. The name Temboly Moondark was something of a legend to her, a great wizard who had helped save her country in time of need, a story told to all Camiran children; but it had happened a long time ago he couldn’t be the same one.
“You want to tell him about me I’m a bit tired right now,” Moondark said finishing off the last of the food, he lied down near the fire closed his eyes and nodded off.
Falcon waited, watching Leyona his anger gone, regretting the way he had spoken to her. He felt confused, embarrassed for talking to a princess as he had; foolish for thinking she would think so little of him, after what they had been through he ought to have known her better than that by now. He wanted to tell her he was sorry but felt unable to, she was still a princess, and that left him feeling a little confused and uncertain.
“Well, where to begin,” Leyona said, her voice trembling as she spoke, she bit her bottom lip her eyes had a pleading look to them. Seeing that Falcon said nothing, she sighed. “A story told to children in Camira, which is mostly believed by the people. Tells of a great wizard called, Temboly Moondark who came to the rescue of our country at that time shapechanging was virtually unheard of, and Camira traded openly with other lands.” She paused in thought. “To the far north lies a nation surrounded by a great sea, little was known of this land or its people, that is until their ships crossed the sea and started to invade our nation.” Again she paused considering. “Their numbers were vast, and they outnumbered us. Leading them was a great warlord shrewd, cunning, and utterly ruthless. At his side was an even more dangerous man, a black mage of awesome power.” she paused, letting what she had said sink in watching Falcon’s face, he nodded to continue.
“Anyway we were nearly overrun when an old shabby dressed man appeared at the palace seemingly from nowhere,” she took a deep breath. “He told the King and Queen he had come to help them, they were sceptical at first, but when he demonstrated his power by burning a dozen of the enemies ships with magic fire; they no longer doubted him.” She paused, looking at Moondark. “He gave Garfane the kings son a magical weapon telling him to rally the army. Moondark then led all the shapechangers advising them on how best to use their abilities against the foe,” she paused again gathering her thoughts. “To cut a long story short, they rode out to the approaching invading army who were about to lay siege to the palace. Garfane killed the warlord, and Temboly Moondark defeated the black mage. The invaders repelled before he disappeared again, Moondark took the King and Queen to a lake he put his staff into the water, giving them specific instructions he then vanished,” she concluded taking another breath.
“Two questions,” began Falcon thoughtfully. “What happened to the black mage, and if the lake wasn’t enchanted before Moondark made it so, I assume we are talking about the Enchanted Lake, how were they already shapechangers then?” He asked he couldn’t bring himself to look at her direct, knowing she was a princess still made him uncomfortable.
“You are right about the lake, but as to your other questions I do not know; only Moondark would know. But he can’t be the same one that would make him nearly two hundred years old or more,” Leyona answered still suspicious of the old man.
“He is a magician maybe that has something to do with it,” Falcon said he found it hard to believe himself, but what mattered most was that he was here to help. The guardian had sent him; that was enough for him.
“Wizard,” came Temboly’s voice suddenly he hadn’t moved or opened his eyes as he spoke.
“What!” exclaimed Falcon, both he and Leyona turned to face Moondark “I’m a wizard, not a magician,” said Moondark his eyes still closed.
“What’s the difference?” Falcon asked, slightly agitated
“A magician is no more than a trickster; a wizard is a true master of magic,” Moondark stated.
“Malybar was a magician, a good one not some trickster,” Falcon retorted the memory of his old friend’s passing still hurt, and the thought of anyone calling him a trickster stung him.
Moondark at last opened his eyes, the usual intensity had left them as he looked at Falcon; instead, they held compassion, and his expression showed sympathy as he regarded Falcon.
“Ah, yes, my old friend Malybar I was sorry when I felt his passing,” he replied sadly. “And you are wrong he was a not a magician, but a wizard, not a high-level wizard like myself but still a wizard. It was I that told him to watch out for you, and teach you magic,” he finished.
“What do you mean felt his passing? How could you know about his death?” Leyona retorted still not trusting Moondark.
“When a wizard dies, it causes a disturbance that can be felt by all wizards,” he began. “Most wizards that sense it are unaware of what it is, or what causes it. A high-level wizard fully understands it, and few senior wizards can sense who exactly died,” Moondark answered. his expression became intense again as he looked at Leyona. ‘I am the same Moondark you know,” he stated the power in his voice as he spoke made Leyona jump leaving no more doubt as to who he was. She could doubt it no longer; incredible as it seemed he was indeed the same Moondark.
“Now if you two don’t mind I’d like to get some sleep, by the way, there is no need to stand watch. I’ve cast a guard spell around the area; I will know if anyone comes near,” Moondark said. He closed his eyes and started snoring almost instantly. Both Falcon and Leyona looked at one another in silence; Falcon, at last, turned away. He knew she had treated him as an equal despite being a princess. He also knew she had been grateful for his acceptance of her being a shapeshifter. It was not hard to accept her; he always kept an open mind, his upbringing under the baron and Malybar taught him tolerance, and a willingness to accept those different to him. No matter what he might think or others tell him; he never took things at face value. He would not judge that which he did not know about, and he had found Leyona to be true.
Even if the guardian hadn’t sent her, he would know it to be true. What of her family though, the king and queen would they accept him as Leyona had; they undoubtedly had plans for her which would not include him. It was hopeless they had a task to do, and after, if all went well, they would go their separate ways. Somehow that thought made him feel very lonely looking around he saw Leyona get into her bedroll. He got his own out; and stretched out near the fire.
Falcon rose to a misty damp morning Temboly Moondark sat on a log not far away eating breakfast over a fire. Falcon rubbed the cold out of his bones, strapped on his sword and walked over to Temboly. Wordlessly Temboly handed him some food and watched him as he sat and ate. Looking around, Falcon could see no sign of Leyona.
“She has gone hunting I think we’ll have to stop by a town for some fresh supplies before long,” Temboly said casually. Falcon looked at Temboly expectantly he could tell he was working up to telling him something important.
“Is there a town nearby?” he asked frowning.
“Five leagues away there is a town called Talo, we are in Camira now, and there is some rough country to travel’ Temboly answered scowling.
“I’ve noticed,” Falcon began. “Why don’t you just get down to what it is your going to tell me,” he continued with a slight grin on his face. He was beginning to like the old wizard despite his somewhat grouchy disposition. Temboly raised his eyebrows an answering smile crossed his face.
“You mastered the sword yet?” He asked without changing expression.
“No, do you know how?” Falcon asked his interest rising instantly.
“Yes, but before I tell you, there are some things you need to know.” He continued putting a hand up to quiet Falcon before he could ask how. “Firstly, don’t rely on the sword too much to get you out of trouble, its magic won’t last,” he said. Waiting for his words to sink in, he studied Falcon’s face. “There are quite a few magical weapons and artefacts in this world if one knows where to look.” As he spoke, Leyona returned carrying a plump game bird she sat listening as she began to pluck the bird.
Temboly’s expression became intense as he started to speak again. “Most have the magic bound into them when forged; it’s just a spell of binding. As such, its power is limited and only lasts a while,” he paused, warming his hands over the fire. “Secondly, as you will already know I’m here to help you, guide and teach you more about magic. You asked some questions last night I will answer them now. The lake already was enchanted, but only slightly so, that’s why there weren’t many shapeshifters until I strengthened the enchantment,” he said looking from Falcon to Leyona.
“What of the black mage?” Falcon asked with a growing sense of dread.
“Xan Bellar,” Temboly said, almost spitting the name out, “it is he ultimately that you must face. Also, there is baron Blackmire leader of the Aldrakons he might cause of few problems,” Temboly answered. He waited for Falcon’s next question.
“Why me? Why have I got to face this Xan Bellar he’s a wizard-like you couldn’t you defeat him?” Falcon asked. The more he found out, the less he liked it. Suddenly feeling very cold; he looked into Temboly’s intense eyes.
“Because like you, he’s chosen, but by Casandra’s opposite,” Temboly stated patiently.
“Casandra, Who is Casandra?” Leyona asked, looking at Temboly curiously.
“The Guardian that’s her name,” Temboly said running a hand through his beard.
“That’s another thing,” began Falcon wanting to change the subject. “Who exactly is the Guardian? That she is someone of great power is obvious, but what is her part in all this.” He paused, thinking. “It seems to me that someone with her power could probably defeat this black mage by herself,” Falcon said, running his hand down the back of his head; he frowned thoughtfully. Temboly’s expression became even more intense. He looked from Falcon to Leyona then settled himself more comfortably before speaking.
“Casandra is the descendant of an ancient race who once lived and ruled most of this world,” began Temboly. His words rising and falling hypnotically, both Falcon and Leyona sat enthralled as Temboly told of the past glory and wonders that the now almost extinct race called the Astrolites had wrought. “Some believe that the Astrolites came from the stars in a great ship, but even Casandra does not know where her ancestors came from; their origins are lost in time,” Temboly said at length.
“What happened to them?” Asked Falcon fascinated.
“According to Casandra they had a falling out amongst themselves and split into two opposing factions, these factions waged a great war on one and other which almost wiped the entire race out,” Temboly answered thoughtfully.
“There is something you missed out I think,” Falcon said studying Temboly’s face.
“Quick as ever boy,” Temboly grinned, “the reason the Astrolites fell out was over was an ancient artefact. Remember I said most artefacts have the magic bound into them when made,” said Temboly looking from one to the other expectantly.
“Yes, I remember,” replied Falcon Leyona nodded, she finished plucking the bird and proceeded to gut it as Temboly continued talking. “Well, there is one particular artefact that has sentient magic,” Temboly stated intensely.
“You mean it has a magic of its own?” Leyona asked, arching her eyebrows; her tone was sceptical.
“Something like that, the magic itself is alive somehow. The Astrolites managed to harness the forces of nature and magic in one and focused it into a sceptre,” Temboly answered, pulling at his beard.
“I take it this sceptre is what Xan Bellar is after,” Leyona said pensively.
“Got it in one Princess,” replied Temboly his eyes bright. “The Sceptre Of Astro as it is known as is what Bellar is after. The Astrolites made the sceptre as an ultimate weapon; it was the sceptre that put an end to the war. Casandra’s ancestors made it, and they threatened to use it as a last resort. Both sides feared the possibility that it could end all life, so an uneasy peace was agreed and the sceptre would be split into three pieces and hidden by magic and other means each side had one part of the sceptre, the third piece given to another race who were neutral. A single person was chosen and sworn unto death to hide the part in their charge and not to reveal it to anyone; each person took the secret to their graves,” Temboly said at length. Again his telling had that captivating allure that Falcon felt he was listening to a master storyteller.
“What happened to the rest of the Astrolites, and what power does the sceptre have that it can destroy the world,” Falcon asked still rapt in the history of the Astrolites.
‘Those that were left went into hiding Casandra believes there may be more of her race still surviving somewhere, but they have not shown themselves as yet; if they are others,” he paused gathering his thoughts. “As to the power of the sceptre, it’s threefold each piece can do certain things, but it needs to be joined before as one, and immersed in the Enchanted Lake to activate its powers. One of these powers you will already have guessed by now is the ability to shapeshift. The others only Casandra knows, she wouldn’t tell me,” finished Temboly.
“Which race did the third piece go to,” Leyona asked she had finished cleaning the bird and started to pack.
“I’ll tell you more as we travel,” Temboly answered he stood and put the fire out as Falcon packed he turned to Temboly.
“You still haven’t told me about the sword,” he asked hopefully.
“Oh yes,” Temboly said, he gave Falcon and Leyona both a knowing look “You two sorted your differences out yet,” he asked sagely Falcon felt irritation at Temboly’s avoidance
“What’s that got to do with using the sword,” he answered sharply.
“You won’t master it until you both sort yourselves out. You know there is an old prophecy sort of goes like this. “When the knight of magic walks the world, the noble beast, that is not a beast will come to him. Then joined by fire they shall ride as one.” Temboly said mysteriously; he looked pointedly at both of them. Falcon shifted uneasily on his feet looking anywhere but at Temboly or Leyona; Leyona stared straight ahead, chewing her bottom lip. Nothing more was said as they started out Leyona changed form, they had agreed that Falcon and Temboly would take turns riding the white mare.
Casandra, the guardian, stood to face the king and queen of Camira; it was her second visit in recent days the first time she projected her image to the king and queen only. Warning them of the danger and where she had sent their daughter. This time she appeared in person in front of the assembled court of lords and nobles.
“I have come as you asked King Jerad, Queen Felina, so that all here will know that great danger again threatens your land,” The guardian stated. Her clear voice rang through the whole court even though she had hardly raised her voice. All heard as if she stood beside them. A low murmur went through the assembly. Casandra waited she detected some dissent among the gathered high born of Camira. The king coughed meaningfully and stood.
“We thank you, Guardian, won't you tell all here assembled about the danger to our land; and what has been happening elsewhere. So that there is no doubt about the dire events taking place, and what we must do to avoid disaster,” king Jerad Sandara said.
As Casandra turned to face the gathered crowd, she released a little of the power within her. So that a soft glow surrounded her, she waited her eyes searched out the dissenters as she spoke her voice was commanding.
“People of Camira, the peril which you faced long ago once more threatens, this time not only your land but maybe even the whole world,” she paused as a murmur went through the crowd.
“If you mean the black mage he was destroyed by Moondark. What is happening in Daryln doesn’t concern us,” called one of the nobles, a pompous fellow that Casandra detected as one of the dissenters.
In reply, Casandra raised her arms above her head hands joined, bolts of dazzling light sprung from her fingers; the air crackled with electricity. A large orb appeared just above her head mists swirled around the sphere, then cleared showing a tall hooded man clad in black. Although his face could not be seen clearly, even within the globe, dark eyes shone with a malevolent evil. To the right stood another equally imposing figure clad in armour; behind the two men could be seen the city of Darl. Smoke issued from several buildings, but the city looked mostly intact. The two men seemed to be discussing something; suddenly, the man in black looked up. All in the court took an involuntary step back; a cold, mirthless smile crossed the man’s face. He raised a hand in what looked like a jester. Abruptly the guardian waved her hand, and the orb disappeared. An uneasy silence fell on the court; there was no doubt all realised who the man in black was.
King Jerad, after sitting in council with his generals, had hoped to have some time to relax. There had been many details to see to; overseeing and organising an army was a tiring task. So he had become somewhat irritable when his steward brought word; the guardian wished to speak with him and the queen in private hurrying down the hall, he met the queen leaving her sitting room.
“Any idea what she wants to see us about now?” he asked panting slightly, his tone reflecting his mood.
“Calm yourself husband,” the queen said soothingly. “I think I can guess, but we will know soon enough;” the queen concluded a mysterious smile crossed her face.
“Women,” muttered the king as they entered the anteroom where the guardian waited.
After their meeting with the guardian, the king’s mood was said to darken; and he scowled continuously. The queen, however, was brighter than ever and smiled enigmatically.
Parvill’s rugged features creased in a worried frown looking at Merla as she lay moaning deliriously on the shabby cot. Parvill had cleaned and dressed her wounds as best he could. His sense of morality would only allow him to do so much; so she still wore the tattered white dress. A blanket covered the exposed parts of her pale flesh. For two days, he had nursed her, while she lay unconscious; sometimes, when he was out getting firewood or hunting for food; he had seen people fleeing from the fighting. A passing merchant had given him some healing ointment. Another, a farmer fleeing from the south of the country had told him Darl had fallen to the Aldrakons. A smell of fragrant herbs and spices caught his nostrils and broke him from his reverie. The door stood open sunlight streaming through a figure stood outlined in the door, stepping back from the cot. Parvill shaded his eyes to see who it was. A petite hooded woman, dressed all in white stood in the doorway; black eyes regarded Parvill calmly. There was a look of timeless patience about her, though no beauty; there was, however, something attractive in her plain features.
“You are a long way from home Barian,” the woman said her accent though unusual was familiar to Parvill.
“I have lived in this country since a boy seeress,” replied Parvill with a slight formal bow. The seeress nodded,
“The girl is ill,” she said, inclining her head to where Merla lay; she walked over to the cot.
“If you could help her seeress, her kin have been slain by the Aldrakons. She has been through much, and I’m all she has now,” spoke Parvill sadly. His frame towered over the seeress though he could crush the life out of her, for not doing as he asked his manner reflected a boy asking something of his mother.
“I would know your true name, Barian,” replied the seeress. She did not look at Parvill but inspected the girl on the cot as she spoke. Parvill grimaced momentarily to give one’s correct name to a seeress was to be obligated to her. In Baria were he was born the seeress’s power ruled, their word was to be obeyed, and to give one’s real name to a seeress was to be obligated to the one who heard it. She could call him from afar and, he would be compelled to answer that call regardless of all else. But Merla’s need outweighed any other consideration. His hesitation was brief.
“By my life mother; my name is Leonathar Haradoym Parvillaim; I will do whatever you ask of me if you help the girl,” Parvill answered. The mother was an honorific title.
“Well spoken Leonathar, and honestly. Your heart is great indeed that you would bind yourself to me for the sake of this girl,” she paused considering something. “go outside and bring my belongings in, then fetch wood for the fire,” she finished still considering the prone girl. Parvill hurried out and fetched the seeress’s belongings in, after putting them on the floor, near the cot. He left again carrying his axe to chop some firewood. Feeling relieved that Merla would, at last, get some proper attention, for although he knew a seeress’s true abilities lay in sightseeing and truth-saying, they also had considerable knowledge in healing.
Cenolyn, carefully undressed and bathed the girl as she lay on the cot. Lifting her bag from the floor, she obtained a jar of healing salve and applied to the girl's wounds; she brought out a spare white shirt and a plain blue dress. Skilfully she manoeuvred the girl as she dressed her when she was satisfied that the girl was clothed correctly. She lent low over her face and applied her hands to her temples. Cenolyn’s eyes closed in concentration. A soft glow surrounded her hands and seeped on to the girls face slowly travelled along the length of the girl's body. For long minutes she remained, stooped over the girl. When Parvill returned near dark, carrying wood for the fire, the seeress sat slumped on a chair her features pinched, and drawn. Merla, however, looked much better and slept peacefully
“You have overtaxed yourself, Mother,” berated Parvill dropping the wood near the fire.
“You may call me Cenolyn,” the seeress began. “The girl was worse than I thought, but she will be all right now,” she smiled ruefully glancing over at Merla. Parvill frowned it was not usual for a seeress to give her name he waited, expecting her to state the nature of the debt she would place upon him.
“Fear not Leonathar you will find I am not like most of my kind,” she paused, smiling at Parvill’s perplexed frown. “I’m here at the behest of a higher power. I ask only to travel with you a while,” she finished. Standing, she walked to the fire and knelt warming her hands.
Parvill gave the seeress a suspicious look, somehow he felt the seeress would sooner or later compel him to answer the debt. “I’ve not decided where I’ll be going yet; if anywhere, it depends on how Merla fairs,” Parvill said in his broad Barian accent. The seeress looked up at him feeling almost at home listening to a fellow countryman. She smiled understandingly at his suspicions but did not see the need to lay them to rest. To try would only make him more suspicious of her motives. Instead, having foreseen his part in the pattern of things; she went straight to the crux of the matter and voiced what the man already knew in his heart he intended to do.
“You are going to try and find Falcon Tamin are you not,” Cenolyn stated continuing she added. “Your destinies are intertwined; he lives and is with friends.” She paused, her eyes glazing over momentary. “And at his side shall stand the mighty Earthshaker,” her voice had a faraway sound to it. Her eyes cleared again, and she stood returning to the chair to rest. Parvill left alone with his thoughts shivered slightly; he had just heard a seeress speak prophecy. Though he did not understand it; he knew it involved himself and Falcon somehow. He knew now for sure what he would do once Merla was able to travel.
Squinting Falcon shaded his eyes with a hand against the bright sunlight ahead along a narrow trail. A small wooden bridge straddled a broad stream. On the far side of the bridge, a glint of something shinning amongst tall pine trees caught his eye.
“Could be just some travellers,” stated Temboly conversationally, raising a questioning eyebrow at his two companions.
“I doubt it,” Falcon answered succinctly as some birds flew up near to the same spot. They had stopped over at Talo long enough to purchase supplies they also bought two horses and a midday meal before leaving. Falcon surmised that their presence had not gone unnoticed there. Bandits could have gone ahead to lie in wait. Leyona suddenly changed to the white mare
“Get on Falcon, and don’t give me any arguments,” Leyona sent snapped Falcon mounted without answering; his expression glum. They still had not settled their differences. Once mounted on the white mare, the feeling of oneness came over him again. They moved forward at a steady trot, as soon as they crossed the bridge several armed men stepped out in front of them. Falcon stopped studying the one that seemed to be their leader; he was a shapechanger!
“Hello, friend, what can we do for you,” Falcon said, casually as if being jumped by armed men was an everyday occurrence. Beside him, Temboly stroked his beard thoughtfully but said nothing.
“What can you do for us, you hear that lads he wants to know what he can do for us,” the man laughed a cold, mirthless laugh. The other men grinned maliciously, “that’s a nice sword you got there, I think I’ll have that and your horse. My friends here would like some horses also, and whatever else you’ve got,” the man’s expression turned ruthless he pointed his sword menacingly at him.
“Get off your horses now,” he commanded
Falcon noted the man hadn’t recognised; that the horse he rode was, in fact, a shapeshifter also. “Sorry friends we’ll need are horses and belongings later,” he said his tone still relaxed.
“Not dead you won’t,” the man took a step nearer, and several more men appeared there was now eight men facing them all armed and grim-faced.
“Sure you don’t want to reconsider,” Falcon said, as he slowly dismounted keeping an eye on the leader.
Temboly remained on his horse humming to himself as if he hadn’t heard what the man said. The man tensed ready to strike, and Falcon’s sword appeared in his hand just as the man thrust forward with his sword. Falcon brushed aside what would have been a fatal blow. Everything turned to chaos as Leyona appeared beside him, the bandits rushed forward, yelling. To one side, Moondark thrust his hand out, sending several bandits flying backwards. Falcon ignored the battle around him, concentrating on his assailant. The man was good with his sword may be better than him. The two fought to and fro once bumping into Leyona as she fought off two bandits again Falcon barely noticed the bandits become befuddled long enough for Leyona to gain the advantage as the Aldrakon soldiers before. A spell he realised with no more time to think about it except it would be a useful spell to know.
The shapeshifter was confident in his attack and bore down relentlessly on Falcon though he did not have it all his way as Falcon counter-attacked with equal ferocity. Then he noticed a pattern in the man’s attack and so noted the weakness therein. He judged his counterattack accordingly soon, Falcon held the advantage. The shapeshifter suddenly started to run away, then changed into a huge wild boar. Falcon jumped sideways as the boar charged catching a glancing blow to his side, knocking him to the ground and making him drop his sword and knocking the wind out of him. Before he could get up, the boar was on top of him. He managed to fling it off, but it charged again. The white mare galloped between them hooves clawing the dirt rising up on hind legs the horse stamped down on the boar kicking and turning viscously. The boar was battered then flung back against a tree with a sickening crunch it lay shimmered, and the battered and bloody body of the shapeshifter appeared