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Nightmare Live at 9 Worlds

Knightmare Live

 

This was almost certainly one of the most popular events of 9Worlds and was in Cremant – the one room that could hold most people.  Thanks to being a carer to Ian I got to go into the priority access queue which meant I was guaranteed a place, however I don’t think anyone got turned away from that show.

 

We weren’t at the very front of the seating, but we had a good view.  The set was great, and goblins started to filter through the crowd, and the dungeon master told us that they were well trained, and asked us to offer items for the various quests.

 

I still had a roll of cellotape in my bag from my Worldbuilding presentation so I offered that. The goblins were impressed.  Something about circles being sacred or important – they certainly lifted it up with a ‘laaaaa’ sound.  It was given back about 5 minutes later when someone offered a light up circlet/diadem that was also a circle – that was better and it got a few laughs from the crowd – including me.

 

Then the show really got cracking with the Dungeonmaster Tregard of Dunshelm (played by Paul Flannery) introducing our first Dungeoneer – Darren Barnard.

 

For those too young to remember Knightmare Live on TV the Dungeon Master explained the rules – which included audience participation – when the dungeoneer enters the stage and asks ‘where am I” the audience repeat the line “You are in a room!”

 

Then the Antagonist appeared, a woman in a barbarian costume – Lord (or in this case Lady) Lilith Fear (played by Katy Schutte) with her goblins.  There was banter between Tregard and Lady Fear, and she spoke of her new rooms, one with a pitfall with snakes that have been poked with a stick, and her bumper book of anagrams in the Castle of Confusion before disappearing off again.

 

Darren was then fitted with the Helmet of Justice so he would be blind to the world.

 

“That seems unfair” Darren said.

 

“It is” replied Tregard. – more laughs.

 

“It smells funny” Darren said

 

“It smells of Adventure!” Tregard responded

 

He gave Darren a quest – to acquire a goblet.

 

He equipped Darren with the knapsack (Shoulder Bag! Satchel!) – explaining if he rah out of food his face would fall off and he’s die (there was a great animation on the screen) and Tregard then introduced the panellists who would be guiding him through the dungeon.

 

Lady Fear reappeared to say hi to the panellists, She approved that there were women on it and they chatted about everything being a quest. Lady Fear ended the chat with Bechtel! See it’s not that hard!. – more laughs because it’s so true.

Darren entered the first room.  There were floating letters (being swirled around in by crew in outfits the same colour as the background.) which was described to him. There was lots of fun trying to get the right word based on the panellists directions – especially as Darren kept forgetting his left and right and the panellists had to keep saying “Your other right!/left!”  he did it eventually and then they guided him through the wall rather than the door at the end of the room which got a lot more laughs.

 

Lady Fear came back and had a bit of fun with the panellists about sending Darren through a wall.  She left with the comment to Tregard a “My next room is the room of DEATH! Because it’s impenetrable! – Love you, bye!” In a chirpy tone.

 

The next room had a small table with some of the gathered objects – mainly knitted toys on it and a rabbit woman.

 

Darren introduced himself.

 

“Darren.  A Warrior’s Name!” the rabbit responded.  Darren says he is on a quest, an important quest. The rabbit has items that might help on the quest she asks which quest it is.

 

He tells her it’s a quest for a goblet.

 

“That’s among my top 10 quests”  She asks if he has any gold.

 

He doesn’t, but he offers a packet of clean tissues which are accepted.  There is a selection of stuffed toys – a chicken, a squirrel – an animal farm

There are 2 amulets of hypnosis so people cannot tell lies

There is a beacon of light so bright you go blind if you look at it

A goblet “you might like it”

And a hat – a wizards hat – “which is mine forever” the rabbit lady says.

 

Darren decides to take the Squirrel – separating it from it’s animal farm friends.

“You’d separate the squirrel from it’s family??”

 

“Yes, I’m like that”

 

He walks through the door this time with guidance from the panel.

 

Lady fear comes back and chats while the goblins perform “Admin” – changing the set – she mentions how cruel it s to separate the squirrel from his friends and how Darren is a little bit like me,

 

The next room has a wall with a lion face

 

“Hello little imp.  Hello there! What is your name?” it says

 

“Darren”

 

“A Warriors Name!”

 

They repeat the are you on a quest – what quest conversation from the previous room.  The wall’s requirement to let Darren pass through is 3 animals (of course he only has the one)

 

The team guiding him tell Darren that he’s on his own!

 

“Can I go back?” Darren asks

 

“You can only go forward, there is no turning back”

 

The wall offers darn an out. Since we are such good friends, I need friends, they are lovely, I will help you.  How about you answer some riddles?

 

The face on the wall then got very excited about the prospect of riddles.

 

First Riddle:  What goes around the world, but stays on the cover. – the panellists answered this easily – Are you a stamp.

 

Correct! The face roared.

 

Riddle 2

 

James and Christian are born to the same parents on the same day, but they are not twins.  What are they

 

The panellist answer that they are triplets.

 

For laughs, the wall says I’ll tell you a secret:  there’s a hole in the wall that you can use instead of the door.

 

Lady Fear returned while the goblins performed a little more “admin”, talking about lions and the wall and making another Bechdel joke, she left Tregard a Gift – Pickles the helper elf, who kept repeating the obvious much to Tregard’s frustration.

 

The next room was a time trial – Darren had to get a banana into the knapsace (satchel!!!) before the animated face on the wall fell off. He then picked up the spy glass so he could ‘spy’ on Lady Fear.

 

Lady fear is talking about her newest and most difficult room with a knight that can’t be stopped, but he does have one critical weakness – he slows down if looked at directly. They put the spy glass down before Lady Fear can detect the spy.  He enters the room and manages to get the knight to drop a scroll.  He picks up the scroll but fails to quite make it to the door in time, and the knight ‘kills’ him

 

The scroll goes to the panellists – it is a scroll of time.

 

Darren is given his certificate of `participation

 

A new dungeoneer is chosen from among the audience and she has to make it through the room with the knight.  Slightly cheaty she keeps tilting her head back so she can see!  She naturally gets through the room pretty quickly.

 

Lady fear returns and on the surface appears to be nice to the new dungeoneer – a girl called sarah. She takes her for a little walk off the stage and up the central aisle.  Then she runs away laughing the floor is lava!!  Sarah has to walk on coats to get back to the stage as per the panellists directions and Treguard’s info.  The audience is very generous in donating coats, one of which is leopard print and Tregard claims as a mantle (and jokes he’s already roasting under the stage lights).  Lady fear says he looks like a sexy snow leopard, and Treard questions her on her continual references to animals.

 

She makes it back to the stage safely.

 

Lady Fear reveals that she is Actually Michaela Strachan!, and boasts about the naturalists she’s bumped off – Terry Nutkin, Steve Irwin (too soon! Someone shoudted – It’s not too soon given it was years ago).  Bodger was a two for one!

 

They all then go into the final showdown, the room of blades which Sarah gets through with remarkable speed, and is much better with the lefts and rights.  The panellists do not need to use the scroll of time.

 

Sarah got her participants certificate, the credits rolled and the performers were applauded.  It was a LOT of fun, and I’ve not been able to do it anywhere NEAR enough justice here.

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Stories from Bronze Age Skies

 

Presented by Howard Hardiman.

(Featured Image By Howard Hardiman)

 

 

This was a lovely item on the schedule to end my 9 worlds on.  Part Academic talk on an really interesting topic, Part Beautiful Fiction read by the Author themself.

 

The Panel began with a bit of a history lesson –

 

Classical Myths aren’t very kind.  Mostly as they come from antiquarian writers with an imperialistic agenda.

 

Women, non-humans and anyone interacting with the gods had a terrible time.

 

There have been attempts to address this toxic history with empathy and kindness.

 

Howards head cannon for the myths is that Religion was built around keeping the gods away as they are capricious toddlers with super powers.

 

He’s been looking at the stories of the Women and monsters and is trying to freshen them up so they are less toxic.

 

Howard started talking about his life living on Orkney where rainbows are red at sunset and the population navigate by the stars, how he was baffled by it at first, but does it himself now.

 

This led on to the discussion of how constellations like Ursa Major are so important to the past.

 

Ursa Major’s mythological story is of Callisto, a priestess of Artemis.  Zeus, who could NOT keep it in his pants where it belonged wanted her but couldn’t get close to Callisto to capture her, so he disguised himself as Artemis and seduced her that way (Note the queer overtones to the priestesses of Artemis – sex with men was taboo.  With women…not so much Jwhich I never noticed before this was pointed out.  I’m going to have to go back through the myths and look at them with a different point of view in mind.). Anyway I’m going Off Topic.

 

One night with Calliso (or any woman he took) was apparently enough to get her pregnant. Zeus is therefore probably the only being in the history of mankind to have a dick that was actuallymagical.

 

Because Callisto had broken one of the Priestess’s rules, after the birth of the child – a boy, Artemis turned her into a bear.  This is an animal that was sacred to the goddess and possibly protected as a result – so it was hardly a severe punishment like death would have been.

 

The Boy – Arcus was raised to adulthood, he was often followed by the bear, who protected him from afar.  When out hunting as an adult, he attempted to kill the bear, not knowing his origins. Artemis who was watching over the boy likewise turned him into a bear as well, and went to Zeus.  He had in effect been the Originator of the problem, it was his job to fix it – and he did, by placing the queer single mother who had never wanted a child, but protected him regardless, and the son she had borne into the heavens.  She is now the constellation by which you can find North, allowing travellers navigate and tell the time – an important role.

 

 

Howard then went on to read his story “The Minotaur and King Minos”

 

It is a truly beautiful and thought provoking story from the point of view of the Minotaur at the point of its death at the hands of Theseus.

 

To the Minotaur, Theseus is a murderer, and his half-sister Ariadne is desperate to escape her father.

 

There are flashbacks to the minotaurs childhood with his mother, how he ended up imprisoned in the Labyrinth.

 

As a counterpoint to this there is a vision of a meadow with paths where he meets his Father – one of the judges of the dead.  His father rants at him, seeing only the monster.

 

The minotaur’s most important line which I have paraphrased a bit here and the one that is most thought provoking because it’s so OBVIOUS but no one thinks of it because OMG MONSTER is:

 

“We are the child of cattle father, we ruminate. Cattle do not eat People”

 

Ancient mazes were for people to take a path and follow it, and use the time to get to the end in thought – a mini meditation on the move.  This was another overtone I had not considered of the myth.

 

This pronouncement forces Minos to ask what happened to all of those children he sent into the Labyrinth.

 

Some got lost, Some turned against him and fought him.

Some sat with him in the meadow in the middle of the maze in silence until Ariadne came at night to free them.

 

Minos realises he’s not there to judge the Minotaur – he is there to witness as the Minotaur joins the heavens as a constellation of stars.  The story is about death – and how it is not as straightforward as one would think.

 

Howard then went back to the Academic talk discussing the constellations – there are 48 of them according to Ptolemy. The four ancient arts are Astronomy, Algebra, Geometry and Music.

 

The names of the stars have endured, even if the arrangement has changed.  It’s also fascinating how the constellations transpose across cultures – the Bear in one, is the Bear in another.

 

The classical Labyrinth was not about getting lost.  It was about what was the longest way of getting to the centre.

 

He discussed how having a nature that was half an elemental force was not a way to live.

 

One shows on the outside – The minotaur – Built colossally as you can see any bull is at a country show. He also mentioned that it is not the bull that leads the herd – it’s the matriarch who is the one to go up to outsiders.

 

One shows on the Inside – Theseus –  Supposedly the Hero of the tale, but doesn’t act as one when he abandons Ariadne for a better marriage prospect.

 

Minos was a part of the story as a Judge of the dead.  Howard described his role.

 

The ancients had 3 Judges –

Rhadamanthys who judged the European ‘civilised’ dead.

Aiakos who judged the Non-european ‘barbarian’ dead

&
Minos who judged the ‘difficult’ dead – who Rhadamanthys and Aiakos could not decide the fate of between them.

 

The story of Taurus with the fork in the path has the minotaur showing a third way – just as the constellation has three paths leading out from the centre.

 

(It also resembles a penis squirting semen so also makes an excellent warning in the stars that Zeus just CANT keep it in his pants.)

 

In all a beautifully written story, thought provoking full of alternate meanings and I did my best to persuade Howard to submit it to PodCastle podcast when it next opens for submissions because it’s right up their alley and more people should hear the story.

I went to 9 Worlds ( @London_Geekfest ) again this year and took ALL the notes ever.  This was one of the Panels I attended on the Sunday.  It was SO good, I’m sharing.  Enjoy!

 

Migration in SFF

 

This was SUCH a fascinating talk to attend, really eye opening for me as a white girl who hasn’t had to move home beyond moving town occasionally due to parental divorce, for educational reasons or, most recently because my partner lived half way across the country and I wanted to live with him.  It made more sense for me to move there as Oxfordshire is insanely expensive to live in, and Peterborough is not. I’m REALLY glad I attended this one – I was tempted to go to another panel on at the same time.

 

The Panellists were:

 

Jeanette Ng – A Chinese Generation 1.5 migrant – At least one of her parents came to the UK for university education, returned to Hong Kong where she grew up. She also came to the UK for university education and has never left.

 

Aliette de Bodard – Vietnamese in origin, living and in France and has written about a vast SF diaspora in space with her Xuya series.

 

Joe Lindsey Walton – Editor of BSF Vector publication, South African Migrant, with a Scottish parent who moved back to Scotland with him when young.

 

The panel was moderated by Emma Pothast

 

 

The first question of panellists was: Is Migration Represented Fairly in SF – to which there was a unanimous and decisive NO!

 

This was clarified by ‘it depends on who is doing the writing’ as by far the largest volume of migratory SFF is concerned with colonisation or a settler template.

 

People use the history of America being colonised as a model for other planets.  The trope is named after a Star Trek Novel – Wagon Train to the Stars. And they are recycling Frontier stories to use them as a structural background.

 

Firefly is a good example of this as it is directly marketed AS a Space Western.

 

However the Little House on the Prairie template set on say, Mars is a problematic template to apply – the Native Americans ended up dead.

 

Aliette mentioned that this leaves out much refugee experience – where they live on say planet one – and have to get to planet twenty via different waypoints on the way.

 

I thought that Anne McCaffrey’s Decision at Doona was a really good example of a settler template – the settlers arrive on what was surveyed to be an empty planet, and discover that there is an alien species who also want to settle this uninhabited world. There is an attempt to co-habit the world peacefully which is a template I also saw in the recently published Semiosis, and there is the throwback to the bad old days where some humans think the aliens are a threat – a la native Americans.  I mentioned this to Aliette after the panel.  She has not read Doona, so was unable to comment, but I believe it made its way onto her to read list.

 

The bare bones of the Genre appear to be

 

A lurking horror in the place settled

AND/OR

There is Precious Life in the place that was settled that the population should have known about and didn’t

 

The Film Forbidden Planet is based upon The Tempest by Shakespeare – using an old template to tell a new story.

 

Ken Liu was highlighted as having done an excellent adaption of a story involving the 7 month festival for people who lived on the moon – and handling the question of how do you work with an earth based lunar calendar when you are living on the moon.

 

This led the conversation to food and what was and what was not available to migrants, and the differences associated with this

 

Different cultures were brought up – Jewish people in china have to work out what they can and cannot eat – they can eat some fish, but not the catfish that are served at big expensive business banquests for example

 

Muslims in Asia eat shellfish but in the mddle east they don’t – which is down to a personal interpretation of a definition of what is allowed to be eaten to do with scales.

 

Aliett brought up how food traditions can change after migration.

 

In Vietnam chicken is an expensive meat, and beef is soemthing only the white people living there can afford but in France, Chicken is common and super cheap, beef is still a prestige meat, but affordable.

 

Fried rolls are a festival food, but restaurants have it on the menu as a regular item because it symbolises a joyful comfort food to the vietnamese leading to the assumption by white people that that is what is cooked in the home.

 

The anthology How to Live on other Planets by Upper Rubber Boot was mentioned as well worth reading.

 

The Talk then moved on to Ambassadorial story templates. – they are sent as an envoy so they automatically live a semi-privileged lifestyle – Most migrants don’t have that.

 

A lot of Ambassadorial stories revolve around when the ambassador goes home and how society has changed them.

 

Narratives for Ambassadorial stories should include the little things – foreign paperwork, labels in a supermarket – is it butter or yeast? – I know I had that problem in Austria earlier this year, the behaviour of the people – slang, sarcasm and taking the piss – can the foreigner understand it – rarely.

 

The panellists highly recommended reading the essay anthology The Good Immigrant – so that writers could avoid damaging myths.

 

It’s also important to not promulgate the perception that immigrants need to be able to do extraordinary things to be worthy of being accepted inot the country – they SHOULDN’T HAVE TO BE AMAZING, and we should be working towards there being no boarders. Immigration really shouldn’t be as big a thing as is being made of it.

 

Migration patterns are circular and people may need or want to migrate several times.

 

Aliettes grandparent’s generation are moving back to Vietnam to be buried where their ancestors were buried.

 

Jeanette’s family in Canada also had burial problems – the cementary had AWFUL fung shui the burial direction was all wrong for them – an invisible culture clash. To make the burial work with the fung shui they had to buy four plots to bury their dead in the direction that made the most sense for the fung shui

 

Refugees from warzones don’t WANT to make waves – return home for them is not an option.  They want to assimilate, they want to be white passing (though they shouldn’t HAVE to do this its currently the best way of them fitting in – a bit like EnglishBlokeMan in Cat Valente’s Space Opera). They want to fly under the radars of the intolerant, the bigoted.  They just want to fit in.

 

They ALSO want to preserve their identity.

 

Jeanette introduced Watership Down as an interesting story of migration – the migrants to Efrafa tell their story first. – she emphasised that her grandparents had migrated from China – and they had a lot of stories to tell about it.

 

There is a large variety of stories that should be told and aren’t.

 

Jeanete learned a lot of her family history as they talked over dinner, but as her older relatives die, the stories are being lost – it’s a fragile thing the memory and knowledge of these experiences as there is no reflection in popular culture

 

There are also the allegorical stories – aliens trying to live o earth and first contact stories that the panel find a bit disquietening.  They used the example of the ‘Space Elf’

 

They get VERY orientalist – flowing robes, a loss of face culture, obsession with bloodlines, broken English and a slow ponderous way of speaking – all of which are HIGHLY tropey. The panellists emphasised again the need to draw on personal experiences, or family experiences to break away from these tropes.

 

They said that People of Colour when writing will write ‘white’ people of colur because it’s easier. It’s a lot of work getting to the idea of MY stories are worth telling from my perspective.

 

I fully agree with this. Some of the most fresh and refreshing and fascinating and educational fiction I have read lately has been from people of colour writing about their own culture – the Binti Trilogy being a prime example.

 

I think it was Jeanette who spoke about the Hakka People.

 

They have a saying – Women can never go home.  When they marry they, they become a part of their husband’s household and community – they don’t go back to their natural home.

 

These days parents nag their children – Are you coming home for Christmas? – Jeanette joked that they are not allowed to leave! On a more serious note, going home has until recently be culturally a male priviledge but that may be a specific cultural thing.

 

The panel then covered a question on their experiences of moving to a new country – the strange things they encountered, things that were absent or not what they would normally use – soy sauce instead of fish sauce being used as an example.

 

One of the panellists (I forget who) found it odd that in the UK we don’t have the whole family around the grave at an open burial

 

Fiction could be a great medium for highlighting these weird gaps and show how the person assimilated despite an item missing.

 

There was a question about could Time Travel be used as a method of Migration – the answer was absolutely yes as the author can use narratives that go back and forward a bit like the TV show Life on Mars.

 

There was a question on the experience of migration being the origin of culture – the example provided being Irish American culture – which is vastly different to Irish Irish culture – the panellists emphasised that both were valid cultures, based of the experiences of the people and whre they lived.

 

Another example of this dichotomy was one Jeanette brought up: Chinese Takeout is NOT culturally authentic, yet it is because it is cooked by Chinese people.

 

 

The final question related to the earlier discussion on immigration and things that were not touched on – reasons for the immigration.

 

These are many and multitudinous.

 

The person may have to leave or be shot.

It could be to do with the economy

Some do it for love either of the culture, the country or a person who lives there.

Some do it because they can.

 

 

 

This whole talk is going to help shape my fiction and make it so much better but the main take aways I got from it were:

 

 

Use a character that is NOT part of the dominant culture.

 

Talk to family about their experience of migration – take a piece of their history – then file off the serial codes and add a space ship to help avoid tropes.

 

Focus on the experiences that the migrant might find strange – foods, language, culture clashes, paperwork, the little things that make us all human.

28 – A Bond Formed

 

She was cold again.  And the bed was..damp and lumpy?  Sybilla’s eyes snapped open, and she suddenly knew why her bed wasn’t soft and cosy.  She wasn’t in her bed. The branches above her told her she wasn’t even home.  It took a few minutes, but eventually memory returned.  She wished it hadn’t when she tried to sit up, and inadvertently pulled on her injured wrist in the makeshift bridle sling.

 

She cursed, swearing in a very unladylike manner. What had happened to her arm? and why did she have a bridle for a sling?  Shouldn’t it be on her horse?  Also, why was she wearing men’s clothing; where had her riding habit gone?  Where exactly was she?

 

A movement of dark shadow in the corner of her eye and a surprised grunt had her twisting around to face the danger.  Her head throbbed warningly but she ignored it when she saw what had caused the noise. Her eyes widened, and she stared.

 

He was magnificent!

 

His coat was the black-blue sheen of a raven’s wing, with hair feathering his powerful legs, and only a hint of hard ebony hoof peeping through.  His mane and tail, free from a groom’s tender ministrations was thick and wavy, but none of that compared to the noble face with alert, shining eyes, partially obscured by the mane, and the slim silvery horn that emerged from the thick forelock.

 

He stood there, powerful, beautiful, with all the pride of a male unicorn in his prime, watching her intently, ready to run, wanting to stay.

 

“Oh you beautiful thing.”  She whispered.

 

It was enough. Those words, the sound of her melodic voice… it was like a siren call to his heart, just as he’d been told. His tense muscles eased.  He cocked his head, ears pricking forward.

 

Sybilla dared not move in case she scared him away. It was him, she was sure of it.  Wild and un-catchable.  Untameable and free. Always hunted but never caught.  And he was with her. Why anyone would want to kill such a wonderful creature was beyond her, and her loathing for Malken increased even further.  That thought was enough; she remembered the answers to her earlier questions, and a good deal more besides: why she was alone and so far away from home, and why she was injured.  Tears welled in her eyes at the memory of her mare’s fatal leap, and she brushed them away, sniffing.

 

“Oh Lady, I’m so sorry.”

 

The stallion whickered questioningly, and Sybilla, for lack of anyone else to talk to began to speak to the unicorn, telling him all about the last few days. Wonder of wonders, he didn’t run away.  He even appeared to listen to her, as Lady had, though he never approached her or allowed her within touching distance. She didn’t expect him to.

 

“So here I am,” she concluded, “Lost, and I’ve no idea which way to get to safety, and the guard are after me.  I don’t even have my brave Lady for companionship anymore.”  The tears that had been threatening finally began to slide down her cheeks.  The stallion whickered again, and she hurriedly wiped them away.  He was nodding his head, and pawing the ground…pointing?  She looked in that direction and saw several bushes with edible berries still clinging to them, and the leafy tops of what she knew to be tasty root vegetables not too far beyond that.  Her stomach rumbled.

 

She chuckled. “You’re just like my old nanny,” she told the stallion, who vigorously shook out his mane snorting in denial.  “She always said things were less miserable on a full stomach too.”  The stallion stopped shaking his head, and whinnied.  Sybilla slowly made her way to an upright position, trying to cause as little pain as possible to her wrist, and made her way over to the first meal she had eaten in some time.  It even stayed down, for she had remembered the nausea of the past few days, and sensibly taken only a few of the berries at a time, and waited to see what happened.  Feeling her head, she found a lump which was very sore to touch, but the pounding that had been agony before had now lessened to a persistent ache which she could for the most part ignore.

 

“Humpf, no wonder I’m forgetting things if I hit my head that hard.”  She muttered, and took herself back to the stream and her bag.

 

She decided to stay in the clearing for another night and a day to make sure the head injury was truly on the mend, though there was nothing she could do about her wrist other than make a more secure sling from something other than leather bridle straps.  She kept talking to the unicorn who seemed to respond more and more as the day went on and, when she showed no signs of trying to capture or kill him even let the distance between them close.  By evening he had allowed her close enough to touch his flank, and she found his coat to be as silky and soft as a bird’s feather.  It soothed her to touch him, and once she had begun to stroke him, she couldn’t stop.  He didn’t move away either; in fact he moved closer, leaning into the caresses.

 

Yes, she was the one.  The moment she touched him he’d felt it.  The beginnings of a bond.  She would never hurt him, or allow him to be hurt.  He could help her channel her magic too, and in time, as the bond grew they would be able to communicate in genuine mind to mind thought communication rather than the charades they had spent the day using.  Oh yes, she was definitely the one.  He’d finally found her.

 

Sybilla spent the night wrapped in her blanket, leaning against the unicorn. At some point in the night, the tip of his horn brushed her in a gentle caress and a surge of magic, like a warm enveloping blanket rolled over her sending her into a deep, restful and healing sleep. For the first time since she had kissed Jace she dreamed of Ashkelon.

 

 

End of Chapter twenty eight.  Tune back in next week for the next instalment :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

If you /really/ enjoyed this and want to contribute more (amazing person that you are) buy me a Ko.Fi (I’m VERY British and actually I drink tea ;) ). at:  https://ko-fi.com/K3K58V5G

27 – The Black Unicorn

 

Sybilla was out for a long time, her body forcing her to take the rest it needed to heal in the clearing with the brook. She slept so profoundly that she didn’t hear the hallooing of the guard as they searched for signs of her. She didn’t feel the brush of magic as Jace checked in on her once more with the mirror.  She didn’t even stir when the clearing’s usual occupant returned and snorted, startled.  She didn’t even wake when the other occupant nosed her nervously, whickering to himself, ready to bolt at the least sign of movement. The nudge sent her rolling onto her back and she started to snore, which caused him to jump back, ears back in fright, whites of his eyes showing.  But she didn’t move other than that and eventually the other settled down to his usual routine, albeit giving the snoring body a wide berth.  She slept through the night, and partway through the morning, and the other occupant of the clearing stayed with her, having finally realised that the body was a human female, and a youngling, and therefore not dangerous.  He noticed also that she was hurt.

 

The scent of mare clung to her, the same scent that had clung to the body in the field.  He shivered, remembering the crumpled corpse he’d accidentally stumbled across in his foray out into the lands.  He’d been following the scent for some time, it had been mingled with magic and it had drawn him in thinking she was another like himself.  This had intrigued him, as there were so few magicals in this land, and he had wanted to meet her, but it hadn’t been a unicorn mare.  The mare hadn’t had the faintest trace of magic about her.  The elusive scent had been there though, of the magic he’d been tracking.  He was intrigued that this human had managed to find his home given how secluded and protected it was. He decided to stay until she woke, if she woke.  If she died he’d have to find a new home clearing.  When she still hadn’t moved after the sun had risen and the mist dissipated, he once again plucked up the courage to approach the body, and sniff it once more.  Ah! That explained how she had found his clearing.  The elusive intoxicating scent, it came from her.  She was a mage though poorly trained, and with almost no control of the wellspring of magic within.  Left unchecked that magical wellspring could well become a raging flood he knew.  He wondered why no one had taught her she was a danger to herself, let alone others.  Only a mage could have gotten anywhere near his clearing, he should have realised it before.  Given where he was, he’d taken extraordinary precautions so he wouldn’t be discovered at rest.

 

The scent of magic intoxicated him; he’d not seen another magical creature, man or beast in such a long time, and this young girl smelt of innocence, and purity…and…-  he sniffed her again -…she wasn’t bonded.  Now that really was promising!  Perhaps she was the one?  No, surely that would be too much of a coincidence.

 

He had felt compelled to come to these magic forsaken lands though. He snorted.  Wait and see, as his dam had always told him.  He had perfected waiting over the years; perhaps now the time had come to see what kind of grass that grew.  He moved away so he wouldn’t startle her when she woke, went back to nibbling at the grasses at the edge of the clearing, and waited watching her.

 

End of Chapter twenty seven.  Tune back in next week for the next instalment :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

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26  – Confused, Cold and Concussed

 

Sybilla woke a long time later.  Her head was pounding, her wrist ached with every movement, and she was stiff all over.  She was cold too, and wet.  It took her quite some time to realise why.  Opening her eyes didn’t help; it was dark out, though there was the hint of lightness in the distance.  Was it sunrise?  Or sunset?  It hurt even to think.  She drifted back out of conciousness.

 

She woke again, it was light, she was confused, she hurt all over. Where was she?  She wasn’t at home. She was outside. Had she been hunting and taken a tumble?  But then, where were her friends?  They’d have stopped to see she was alright.  There was no one.  Slowly so she didn’t make the pounding in her head any worse she looked around, and remembered.

 

Lady lay in a crumpled heap in the ditch, her head skewed at an unnatural angle.  She was dead.  Hot tears stung Sybilla’s eyes and trickled down her chilled cheeks.  Brave, gallant mare!  She’d done everything Sybilla had asked of her, run herself to exhaustion and kept going, been there for her, a companion, a friend through her entire journey, she had even even jumped blind for her, and for that she had died.  To save her from the guard. Sybilla swallowed a sob, and her head throbbed warningly.  She lay there gasping, keeping her head as still as she could as tears streamed from her eyes.  Eventually the tears slowed, and some time after the pounding in her head lessened to bearable levels so she was able to think again. Where were the guard?  Shouldn’t they have found her by now?  She suddenly realised how odd that was.  They’d been right behind her.  Then her wrist gave a painful throb, and she gasped at the pain of it.  She clutched it, felt the swelling and the pain as she touched it.  She knew she needed help.

 

She dragged herself to the dead mare to find the bags Alandra had packed for her so many days ago.  She moved too quickly however and her head throbbed so hard, she passed out again collapsing next to the ditch edge.

 

When she woke again, an hour or so later it was to the sight of a dead horse. Her head was foggy and it took her longer this time to remember what she was doing all alone in a field, why she hurt all over and who the dead horse was.  She wept over Lady’s body when it did finally come back. She had been a brave, gallant mare and steadfast friend.  She hadn’t deserved this.  She’d saved her from the guard.  Then Sybilla realised they might still be nearby, trying to find a way into the field.  She didn’t remember her previous awakenings.  Her wrist hurt badly.  She tried to wrap it, but it was set at an odd angle, and when she touched it the pain rose in sharp nausea inducing waves.  It was definitely broken. The throbbing in her head made her nauseous too and she retched into the ditch, and then wrestled with the bridle on the mares head one handed.  Finally a buckle gave and it slipped off.  It took a lot of effort, and she had to stop several times because her head hurt, her eyes went blurry, and the nausea rose; but in the end she managed to fashion a makeshift sling to hold her arm and cradle the damaged wrist.

 

She used the mare’s flank to lever herself into a standing position, groaning at the pain of it.  Dizziness made her wobble but she managed to stay upright.  Ever so carefully, so she didn’t jostle the wrist or set her head pounding, she tried to pick up the knapsack.  As she bent down, the dizziness hit her in waves, and she fell to her knees retching again, almost passing out from the pain in her head.

 

Hot tears slid down her cheeks from how awful she felt.  It was too much.  This was too hard.  She couldn’t do it.  But she had to.  She wanted to go home, but didn’t have one anymore.  She had nowhere to go and didn’t know what to do.  She knelt there for some time gazing around despairingly. Eventually she gave a defeated sigh, carefully reached for the bag and unsteadily rose to her feet.  She couldn’t stay here.  There were the guard…and that shadow that had been following her.  She listened for the sound of the guard, they had to be nearby; they had been just behind her.  She couldn’t hear anything though, and that worried her more.  The dark creature that was stalking her wasn’t visible either, not that it was ever more than a shadow at the edge of her vision but she feared it.  She wondered if she was hallucinating.  Why on earth had the guard or this creature not found her? and just how long had she been lying here before she came to?  The healer woman Alandra would know how to help her.  She’d helped her before…but she was such a long way away now.  Sybilla set off along the field boundary looking for a gate so she could get back onto the road.  Alandra may be too far away, but there had to be a healer somewhere nearby.  She didn’t realise she was going the wrong way.  She just walked, and walked, until the hedge became dense woodland.  Eventually, she was able to get into it, but she soon became lost.  It began to rain, and Sybilla leant against a trunk to rest, and began to cry.  Her water bottle had been empty when she had tried to have a drink and when she had tried to eat some of the food in her knapsack when she thought she was hungry she had been ill.  She just couldn’t hold it down despite her hunger. Her head throbbed constantly, her wrist was agony whenever she moved it and ached even if she didn’t.  She was hurt, tired, thirsty, sore, cold, and lost.  She slipped down the trunk of the tree she was clutching in her despair.  She couldn’t go on.  Would it really be so bad dying?  The world would be rid of her magic, and her…her adoptive parents wouldn’t weep over her, nor would Malken.  She wondered if Lorine or Varya would.  She wondered what they were doing.

 

Then she heard a trickling sound.  Water?  It gave her a spark of hope, things wouldn’t be so bad if she could have a drink, and splash her face, and maybe numb the wrist and soothe the swelling in cold water.  She crawled in the direction, careful not to jostle her damaged wrist too much and came across a babbling little brook running over some rocks.  Her head was swimming, and hurt abominably and she was so thirsty.  She dropped the bag, which felt like it had gotten heavier over the hours. Then she drank to slake her thirst. The water was cool, clean and refreshing. She took one of the socks in her pack, and dipped it in the cool water.  It felt so good against her pounding head.  It wasn’t long before she realised her mistake though.  She had drunk too much and her stomach was in too delicate a state.  She felt sick again. Backing away from the water, she retched up what she had drunk, and passed out again as her head exploded with pain.

 

End of Chapter twenty six.  Tune back in next week for the next instalment :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

If you /really/ enjoyed this and want to contribute more (amazing person that you are) buy me a Ko.Fi (I’m VERY British and actually I drink tea ;) ). at:  https://ko-fi.com/K3K58V5G

 

25 – The Hunted

 

Happily looking around at the scenery as Lady trotted gamely along the route Alandra had shown here it hadn’t been hard for Sybilla to find the right track. The journey had gone smoothly for several days and the weather had improved along with Sybilla’s mood.  She was going in the right direction.  The Black creature had only appeared out of the corner of her eye twice in that time, and not for a day or so. Sybilla was grateful for that, and that the rain had abated; nights would have been miserable and fear filled otherwise.  There had still been showers, but there had been some sunshine too during the journey.  Alandra had said the path was barely used, and she hadn’t seen anyone on it so it was a shock to hear the clatter of hooves, and metal – armour she soon realised. Her heart started to pound as she realised what it meant.

 

The track hadn’t been hard for Sybilla to find with Alandra’s map and directions. While Lady trotted gamely along Sybilla had happily admired the scenery. It was as peaceful as Alandra had described…until the clatter of hooves and jangling of metal from some distance behind her set her heart pounding. That kind of clatter meant armour. Armour meant the Guard.  She kicked her heels to Lady’s side, sending the mare racing.  The hoof beats behind her increased their tempo, and shouts rang out.

 

“Stop! Halt for the Guard! Stop! Wait until we catch you.”

 

Not the kind of thing that was going to entice her to stop.  She urged the mare on, on the straight, hoping she could out pace them.  Sybilla was terrified.  She had managed a brief glance backwards and had seen who was leading the group.  She couldn’t.  She just couldn’t go back with him.  She’d kill herself first!

 

They were gaining on her.  She could hear the hooves slowly drawing closer, the cheers of the men as they caught up.

 

They were coming to a bend in the hedge.

 

Then suddenly, something happened.

 

That same feeling of electricity that had run through her body on the night she had kissed Jace, the same electricity that had set the house in the fishing village alight ran through her, and suddenly there were shouts of confusion from the guards.

 

She didn’t have time to think why they were confused, she simply HAD to escape.

 

She urged her flagging mare onwards, lining her up with the high hedge. Sybilla clapped her knees to the mare’s sides, and hoped she wouldn’t refuse.

 

The gallant mare didn’t refuse.  Straining every sinew, she leapt into the sky.

 

Sybilla knew she’d made a mistake the moment she saw the other side.  There was no way for them to avoid it, no way for the mare to correct the leap.  Sybilla hadn’t known there was a ditch on the far side, and a deep one.  They were heading straight for it.  She tried to scream, but barely managed a squeak before Lady’s forelegs hit the ditch wall, slipped, snapped.  Lady’s scream was cut off as her head hit the ditch edge hard, and as Sybilla was flung from the saddle pad, she heard an ominous crunch, Lady’s scream cut off mid wail before she hit the ground everything went black.

 

*****

 

Watching her through the mirror, Jace winced.  With a fall like that, she was lucky she hadn’t snapped her neck like the mare had.  She lived though, he could tell, but she was injured too, his finding spell that had linked him to her was chilly and he could feel it pulsing at his head and arm.  The guard were following her double.  It had surprised him as well as the guard when he had felt the ripple, and seen her split into two riders, two horses.  One was a shadow, the other one real.  Luckily for Sybilla, one of the guards had known that there was a ditch behind the hedge and had called a warning to the leader. The leader had urged them after the shadow.

 

The shadow hadn’t disappeared when Sybilla had been knocked out.  Powerful magic indeed, and Jace rather thought that the only other who had the ability was his aunt.  Had she done that to Sybilla?  Split her to cause confusion?  Or was it an inherent trait of Sybilla’s, surfacing now because of the stress of the chase?

 

No matter.  He had to get back to her, but it was going to be more difficult than the last time.  The guard were out now, and he was supposed to be back in Ashkelon.  They’d fanned out too, searching for the ‘shadow’ which had finally disappeared a good two miles down the road, hidden in a fog bank Jace sent to wreathe the fields, and confuse the guard.

 

 

End of Chapter twenty five.  Tune back in next week for the next instalment :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

If you /really/ enjoyed this and want to contribute more (amazing person that you are) buy me a Ko.Fi (I’m VERY British and actually I drink tea ;) ). at:  https://ko-fi.com/K3K58V5G

 

 

24 – The Hunter

 

Malken was frustrated.

He’d been on the road since the morning after the betrothal when a messenger had arrived with a note from Lord Blackwood.  How on earth had the bitch slipped their grasp?  The question was constantly circling his mind.  He’d gone round to their house directly, and berated them soundly for letting her escape.  Blackwood had been annoyed, but only because she was a mage and shouldn’t be loose to cause havoc. Malken was convinced that Blackwood was secretly amused that he, Malken would no longer be able to blackmail him.  Malken wouldn’t put it past the mother to have helped the girl escape. She had certainly been cheerful enough.

 

Blackwood already had the guard out searching the city, but Malken hadn’t thought she would stay there.  She was too smart to do that.  If she had, she would have gone to the ambassador’s residence which he had under surveillance, and she hadn’t been there. Neither had she visited the school or any of her friends or acquaintances when he enquired.  Malken was of the opinion that she had tried to flee the city to get to Ashkelon where the paladin couldn’t persecute her.  She was after all the unnatural child of two of the most feared paladin in the republic.  She would know what fate awaited her if she were caught.  Certainly her parents wouldn’t allow such a dangerous creature to live, especially after this. Even Malken had admitted she needed to die at some obscure point in the future once her usefulness to him had come to an end, but oh how he desired her.  Wanted to posses her.  And the bitch had fled from him after all the announcements had gone out.  If society discovered she had fled from him, regardless of the fact she was a mage, he would never live down the embarrassment. Oh now, now he wanted to be the one to kill her.

 

Because she was a mage, and it was their duty, Blackwood had roused a troop of guard, and put Malken at their head, but the guard didn’t yet know the true nature of their quarry, only that it was a suspected mage.  His parting words to the troop had been the most revealing, and to Malken, excruciatingly embarrassing. “Bring my daughter back, or don’t return at all.  If she reaches the border, I will hold you personally responsible.  I’ve already spoken to the Senate and decried the fact that the Mage Jace of Allerand has put a curse over my daughter, bewitching her so she believes she is a sorceress.  I want you to find her, to bring her back so that the paladinate can remove the curse. My wife and I have been watching her closely, but she slipped past our guardians.  I’m seriously worried that her state of mind is being influenced by this curse.”

 

The men had been so sympathetic to the man.  It had been such a convincing act. Convincing too, that rebels would target the man’s supposed weak point – his daughter.  Malken sneered, remembering it.  Blackwood had made such a neat job of wiggling out of his grasp.  His career in the paladinate would be sure to be stymied at every turn by Blackwood if he did not succeed in getting Sybilla back.

 

He’d had such high hopes that first morning of catching her quickly, but days had passed since then and then they’d come to that crossing point.   It had taken a little ‘persuasion’ but the truth finally came tumbling from the younger guard’s mouth – condemning them both to death for letting the fugitive mage through their grasp.  Malken had taken great pleasure in performing the sentence, though he’d played it up as duty to the Paladinate and ‘Lord Blackwood would expect the commander of the expedition to not only judge but also see the sentencing through’.  The guards had lapped it up.

 

The fools on the gate should have known it was a trick. The boy they described matched exactly the one Malken and the guard knew to have ‘cursed’ Sybilla at the ball.  He’d helped her escape, convincing the guard she was mad on the flimsiest of stories. An inheritance clause to care for a mad sister? Pah!  Why had he rescued her?  How had he known she needed rescue?  That one must have used magic too he surmised.  Malken was determined to catch him at it so he could be the one to perform the punishment, and not only for being a mage, but for taking his Sybilla from him.  It had to have been that kiss, that’s when it had all started to come apart for him, and she’d started showing her aberrance very shortly after.  It had to have been then.

 

He would find them.

 

“You two, take their places,” he ordered, nodding carelessly in the direction of the dead guards. They stood to attention, and let the rest of the cavalcade pass through. “Oh and don’t forget to clean up the mess.”  Malken added, alluding to the blood puddled in the gravel beneath the bodies.

 

He’d been so sure he would catch up to her quickly after that though, not believing her to have wit enough to use any sort of complicated evasion technique, but the guards at the toll gates beyond the first could not remember any girl of that description passing through when questioned, or the other mage.

 

She could be half way to the boader by now, and Malken had pushed the guard hard following the trail that the boy had left until it disappeared in woodlands.

 

“Fan out” he’d snapped at them.

 

His mood hadn’t improved since.

 

He didn’t know how they had done it, but all they could find were traces of where they had been.

 

A foot print here, a hoof mark there, some horse hair, even a strand of Sybilla’s hair once.  When they finally reached the coast it was to a town that received the guard jubilantly.  That had confused Malken until the story unfolded of the two mages and their flying cat destroying half the town and then escaping into the countryside.

 

It didn’t take the guard long to find the trail of the two who had fled.  They followed one trail first, but soon realised that that mage was unreachable – the feline prints appeared to break into a run, and then disappeared.

 

“He must have flown off.” One of the guard had muttered, making a superstitious sign that warded against evil.  Malken frowned at the man and he’d quickly put his hands down.

 

Malken said to the guard.  “We can’t do anything about him, the coward, but there’s still the girl.  Follow her trail.  I want her found and brought to me – alive mind you!”  And the guard fanned out again.

 

Malken had hoped that his parting shot to Blackwood had been heeded – “don’t let anyone know what this is about.  If the plan is to work, no one is to know.”  He had been furious with Blackwood’s response through his speech to the Guard troop. He’d been so confident that they wouldn’t want such a scandal staining their reputation.  Their solution had briefly stunned him.  It had taken him some days for his fury to calm down and for him to start thinking and to realise that they would probably now be hoping she died out here by his hand. His fury at what had happened and the things he’d said to Blackwood in private had been less than discrete.  Now he thought about it, Sybilla dying out here would be the best thing they could hope for. Then there would be no ‘curse’ to remove and any magic that the bitch performed with witnesses would be attributable to it and not her.  He’d be blamed for her death, and they would get off with reputation intact.  The loss of the daughter would be a tragedy, nothing more to them, while he’d never get into a career at the paladinate or in politics as Blackwood would block him at every turn. If she returned to the city…they’d be quickly exposed as frauds.  The thought of getting back at them in such a way sustained Malken through the long days of searching for her.  He remembered too, Sangra’s comment about the maid – that she’d utterly disappeared.  He didn’t believe it.  No mere servant was able to do that so completely – not without help.  Sangra must have helped Sybilla escape and blamed it on the maid, who she’d hidden for obvious reasons.  Sybilla certainly couldn’t have done it alone.  They’d pay.  They’d all pay. It would be so sweet, and his career would be assured.

 

Just then one of the guard hallooed, breaking his reverie, and they were back on her scent.  They passed through rough countryside, and then through a small village, a hamlet really, where they lost the tracks for a while.  There was a small but well kept cottage just outside its boundries.  Malken was of a mind to pause and question the people, using his own unique brand of persuasion, but one of the guard found a fresh set of tracks, and they plunged on through the fields to a road way beyond.

 

End of Chapter twenty four.  Tune back in next week for the next instalment :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

If you /really/ enjoyed this and want to contribute more (amazing person that you are) buy me a Ko.Fi (I’m VERY British and actually I drink tea ;) ). at:  https://ko-fi.com/K3K58V5G

23 – Brief Sanctuary

 

Sybilla ran blindly, urging her mare on and on, over rough country and heavy going until the mare was exhausted, gasping and trembling, barely able to stagger.  Realising that she was at least relatively safe now, she pulled Lady up, and slid off the horses sweaty back to the grass.  She had no idea where she was she realised as she looked around. Even though it was broad daylight, the light was grey, and dull, the clouds low enough to wreath the low hills and obscure the view.  There was nothing else she could do, so she walked with the panting mare, partly to cool her off, but also because there wasn’t much point staying where she was.

 

Hours later, hungry and tired, and more than a little scared she came to a tiny hamlet. The sun was just beginning to set. She feared the reaction to a bedraggled stranger asking aid, but she also feared the black creature that seemed to have been shadowing them or hunting them ever since Havenport.  She never saw it properly, only out of the corner of her eye, enough to know it was large, and black, and following her so she dithered on the lane leading into the hamlet, unsure what to do.  Lady was content to graze the verge while she made up her mind.  The horse tore ravenously at the thick grasses.

 

Sybilla nearly jumped out of her skin when the voice came out of the gloom of twilight.  “No point lingering out here deary, you’d best find some shelter.”

 

“Oh!”  Sybilla gasped, turning to face the threat, and came face to face with an older cloaked woman, carrying a basket filled with herbs and things, and a lit lantern.

 

“Didn’t mean to scare you deary.”  She paused, bringing the lantern up to light Sybilla’s face.  “You aren’t from around these parts are you child?”

 

“No.  I got separated my travelling companion, and have gotten myself hopelessly lost.  I don’t suppose I could bed down in a barn somewhere for a night?”

 

“You can do a mite better than the barn child.  The horse can have the spare stable and an armful of hay and you can stay in my spare room.” The woman said in a kindly tone.

 

“Oh could I?” Sybilla said, relieved, then paused.  “But I have nothing to pay you with.”  Sybilla was so relieved to have been offered a place she had momentarily forgotten her lack of possessions.  The woman had a kind face and with the light of the lantern Sybilla saw she was not as old looking as she sounded. Her hair was still brown, though spider webbed with grey and her skin had fewer wrinkles than Sybilla had expected, though it was well tanned…or was that her actual skin colour? it was hard to tell by lantern light. The woman seemed friendly though, and Sybilla dearly needed some rest and food, and somewhere safe from that creature.

 

“Of course you can stay with me child, I wouldn’t leave you out here in this weather.  It’s horrendous.  I wouldn’t have gone out today myself if I hadn’t needed the herbs for a remedy that I must make.  Come, my cottage isn’t too far beyond this hamlet.  When you’ve settled and we’ve eaten, you can tell me all about how you got so lost out here.  That will be payment enough.  Or if you could see your way clear to helping me with these herbs, so much the better.”

 

“Oh thank you!” Sybilla said, truly grateful to the woman.

 

“Do you have a name?” The woman asked.

 

“I’m called Sybilla.” She said, omitting the surname – just in case.

 

“Well met Sybilla.  I am Alandra, a healer.  I serve the nearby villages and hamlets as well as the outlying farms.  The people are good folk, but very suspicious of strangers.  Come with me.”

 

Sybilla followed the woman as she walked towards the hamlet, and beyond.  They climbed a wood covered rise where the lane narrowed to a muddy track and then descended into a hollow. They soon arrived at a snug two story cottage, with a several tiny pockets of garden separated by what Sybilla thought might be dry stone walls.  She wasn’t quite sure because of the greenery growing all over them, but the houses in the hamlet behind had been walled that way.  The woman led her around the back along a gravelled path, to a small yard behind the cottage.  There was already one horse in the stables – well bred Sybilla could tell from a glance, and one of the rarer of the colours, a delicate pink coloured strawberry roan, with auburn mane and tail.  The woman was clearly someone of means.  It put her slightly on her guard.

 

“That’s my mare Berrywind.  Last foal my late husband’s stallion sired.  I couldn’t bear to part with her when I sold the manor, so I brought her with me.  She doesn’t really do all that much work, but she’d be grateful of your mare’s company for an evening.  The stall next to hers is free, the one beyond that holds tack.  There should be an old rug in there that will fit.  The hay is up in the loft, you just need to chuck an armful down into the manger from above, and there’s some oats as well if you want to give her a scoop.”

 

“Oh I couldn’t…”

 

“Yes you can.  You look like you’ve been through a hedge backwards and been on the road a long time.  A horse needs sustenance just as people do.  Give her a scoop.  It’ll perk her up no end.  I’ll just go in and get these started, and get the fire going.  Come in when you are done with your mare.  I’ll have something hot waiting for you.”  The woman paused a moment considering.  “Here, you’ll need this if you’re staying outside.”  She handed the lantern over and then disappeared through another garden. Sybilla couldn’t see much, but the tall spires looked like canes in a vegetable garden.  A glow of light showed her where the door was as Alandra went inside.

 

Shrugging, Sybilla led her weary mare to the water trough in the middle of the yard so the animal could drink her fill.  Once Lady had finished, she led her to the stable and removed the bridle.  It was stained with sweat and would need a really good soaping at some point.  She took it to the tack room, which had probably also been a stable at some point.  The small room was in a spotless condition and the equipment well repaired, and not of poor quality.  Alandra had mentioned a manor and a late husband however.  The husband must have bequeathed her a considerable sum for her to live so comfortably.  She took a rug and headstall and grooming tools from the room and slipped out again. It took a long time to brush the sweat out of Lady’s coat, and Sybilla was exhausted by the time she had, but she persevered.  The mare deserved it after all she had done for her.

 

Sybilla climbed to the loft, where she found carefully stored oats and molasses and bran, with neatly stacked buckets in one corner, and a nice stockpile of sweetly scented hay filling the rest of the large room.  There were holes in the floor over where the mangers would be in the stables below.  She grabbed an armful, and dropped it through the one she saw was Lady’s.  For good measure, she dropped one down into the pink mare’s stable and then took up a bucket and scooped some oats into it.  Lady pretty much nose dived the bucket when she smelled the oats, and after filling the water bucket with water from the trough outside Sybilla left her pushing it around the stable trying to lick the last oats from the corners.

 

“There you are!” The woman said when Sybilla found her way into the cottage.  The room she was in was warm, and brightly lit, and decorated in a practical, homely sort of way, with solid wooden furniture, and a rag rug on the floor.

 

Sybilla pulled at the ties to her now very much worse for wear cloak and looked around for somewhere to hang it.

 

“Oh just throw it over that rail,” the woman said, indicating where she had tossed her own cloak.

 

“Now you sit down” Alandra said, indicating a well stuffed arm chair “and eat this” she added, indicating the tray laden with  a steaming bowl of soup, thick slices of bread, lathered in creamy butter, and a large glass of something that looked like berry juice in her hands

 

Sybilla did as told and sat down.  The woman placed the tray in her lap.

 

“Now you just eat and I’ll heat the water for a wash and find you something slightly dryer to change into.”  Alandra said before disappearing into what looked like a shadowed alcove to one side of hte fire.

 

The stew was warm and savoury and full of crunchy root vegetables and soft, well-cooked meat.  Sybilla tried not to bolt the food down, but she was so very hungry.  She was still eating when the woman came back in, a bundle of clothing under her arm.

 

“There now, this should fit you.  It was my daughter’s, and she was a similar size.  There’s a small under dress, and kirtle, some stays and an overdress.  It’s not very fine material, but should do you.” Alandra placed the bundle down near where Sybilla sat eating.  “Do you like the stew?”  Waiting for Sybilla to nod she carried on.  “I make it from all sorts.  I travelled a lot in my younger days.  This is an Ashkelonian recipe, made with tarra roots – that’s the crunchy vegetable.  It stays crunchy like that even after a full day cooking over a slow fire.”

 

Sybilla made the appropriate noises of appreciation and the woman, pleased, continued.  “Very filling for the hungry too, I always look for the plant on my walks, but it’s rare this far from Ashkelon.  I usually have to make a special trip once a year across the border to get mine so I can well give you directions if that’s the way you’re headed.”

 

Sybilla flashed her a nervous glance, but from what the woman had said she must not have a great fear of mages if she voluntarily travelled into Ashkelon to trade.  But Sybilla wondered, and wasn’t quite willing to trust the woman however kind she was being just yet. Having finished her meal, she stood up and looked around to see where to put the tray, hoping the woman wouldn’t see her lack of response as rude.

 

“Just put it there.  We can do the washing up in one batch.  I hate washing up, but it has to be done.  Now you get changed.  There a candle lit in the next room, and some warm water and soap and a drying cloth.”

 

*****

 

Jace snapped the mirror shut.  Sybilla was safe for the moment, and deserved her privacy though that shadowy creature that was tracking her worried him deeply.

 

He’d led the villagers a very merry chase staying just out of reach on his own horse until it had come up lame.  Then he’d scrambled through a hedge and Tez had been there waiting.  A quick hug and Jace had been on his friends back, and Tez loping across the field wings spread with the villagers at their heels; Jace clinging to the harness that was worn for just such an emergency until Tez’s powerful wings had taken them aloft and away from danger.  Tez had been following discreetly throughout the time he had been with Sybilla, hunting game and searching out the clearings that Jace had been so miraculously ‘finding’. He’d never let on that he was there, Jace thought Tez was right in thinking it would spook Sybilla into unwanted magic. His friend’s presence in the back of his head had been comforting though, especially when Sybilla had gotten frustrated over her lack of progress with Control lessons.  Jace had been equally frustrated at his lack of ability to tech it properly.  They’d flown for over an hour to get completely away from the fishing village, and Jace had then started tracking Sybilla again, to check on how she was doing, where she was, and how they were going to get back to her without alerting any of the guard in the area.

 

He’d found her again, the horse lathered, but apparently recovering from the panicked flight of the rider, Sybilla walking beside the mare talking to her.  He’d checked in every so often and caught glimpses, as she had of the shadowy black beast that was tracking her.  Unlike Sybilla, he could sense it’s magical potential, which was immense. It reeked of power. Could it be a renegade Caitsithe? One who hadn’t sought sanctuary after the war? One that was wily enough, and powerful enough to avoid a hunt?  One that was hungry enough to go after magical prey, any magical prey?  He feared it might be, and was glad he and Tez were now back together again.  Alone he could never hope to defeat a Caitsithe. He started plotting the course he and Tez would need to make to catch up with Sybilla.  Tez had carried him in the air in emergencies before, but Jace was too heavy now for Tez to carry him for long durations, and today had exhausted his friend.  They’d have to catch up with Sybilla on foot.

 

 

*****

 

When Sybilla returned the woman was riffling through the herbs in her basket.  “You said I could help you with your herbs in payment for your kindness?”  Sybilla asked.

 

“Yes, yes you can. Come here.”

 

Sybilla walked to the well used wooden table where the woman was busy working.

 

“Now I need you to pluck the leaves off these stems and put them in that bowl. I’ll do the chopping and preserving etcetera.  But it would save so much time if you could do that. Then I can get on with the roots,” Alandra said cheerfully.  “So, now tell me where you are travelling to?  And how you managed to get so lost.”

 

Sybilla looked at her, fingers stilled on the fragrant leaves.  “I was travelling towards a town near the Kybear pass, but I have no sense of direction.  I did have a guide, but he disappeared this morning.  I’m not sure which way to go, so if you could give me directions, I would be very grateful.” Sybilla said, opting to go with honesty – but not the whole truth.  There was very little she could do to get into worse trouble than she had been in in the past few days after all, but it was wise to be cautious.

 

“Let me guess, with a pretty girl like you one of the village or town boys tried it on, and when you rebuffed them, they called you a sorceress?”  The woman said as she sliced roots very finely at a speed that astonished Sybilla.  She would surely have had her fingers off by now if it had been herself. “It happens far too often, and then of course they have to flee to Ashkelon, or be tested by the paladinate, and I wouldn’t put my worst enemy through that.”

 

“It was…something like that,” Sybilla agreed, hiding her shock that that sort of thing happened. She’d had no idea that women were falsely accused of sorcery.  It was always possible mistakes could be made, but to purposely tar a woman’s reputation with that?  It was despicable.  She’d never read anything like it in the papers, her parents had never spoken of it, though now she thought, she had occasionally heard her mother saying in a tone of exasperation that someone they’d tested hadn’t actually been a mage.  She’d just assumed that something unexplainable had happened around the person for witnesses to name them a mage. “I certainly can’t go home.” She added.

 

“Well, it’s their loss. If I were you I’d see if I couldn’t pass through Kybear and into Ashkelon.  They are very friendly people the Ashkelonians, and much more open minded.  I don’t see why the paladins hate them so much; for all they have magic and the paladins don’t, the mages I’ve met would never harm another person, not intentionally.  It’s against their laws of course, but magic doing it on a person, you can feel how the person feels – it’s a great limiting factor.” Alandra said.

 

“How do you know that?” Sybilla asked.

 

“Like I said, I travelled when I was younger.  In Ashkelon I broke my leg once, and went to a healer to get help. She felt everything with me as she manipulated and then knit the bone together.  It was hard on her. She explained it to me afterwards.  I have great respect for their bravery in taking that kind of backlash to help those in need.”

 

“Really?  I wonder they heal at all if that’s the kind of kickback they get from doing magic.” Sybilla said, astonished.

 

“Well, healing is a rare gift in and of itself, and the less scrupulous charge high prices for it.  It limits those who come to them.  The better the healer, the more they feel the…I guess you would call it energy of the person they are healing, but on the flip side of the coin, the more they feel the more they feel obligated to help those in need.”

 

“I never knew that.”

 

“I knew one healer, very gifted, that would see anyone who came to her, and heal them if she could.  I studied with her for some time. She called it the healer’s burden.  She never regretted her gift though.  People loved and revered her.  It’s a pity she was killed by the paladins, and her daughter with her.  She was a rare sort of person, kind, with a personality that drew you to her and made you trust her.”  The woman looked sad briefly. “But I shouldn’t whitter on about the past like that.  It’s sad, and it’s in the past, and can’t be changed.”

 

So the woman changed the subject, asking Sybilla if she had any healering knowledge, and when Sybilla admitted she didn’t, started telling her the properties of the herbs they were preparing, and so the evening ended pleasantly, with Sybilla learning a good deal about common herbs and their interesting uses, well fed, and in a warm comfortable bed.

 

In the morning, Sybilla found herself to be in a very cosy house, with a rose rambling up the side of the wall, ringing the window with delicate creamy yellow blooms.  The borrowed clothes were beside the bed, and she put them on, not knowing where her own were.  Then she left the room, and found herself in a hallway with three other doors, one opening to a linen cupboard that was warm, clearly backing onto the chimney stack and two opening into bedrooms one of which was clearly Alandra’s, another a guest room, thought there were some items that made Sybilla wonder if that had been Alandra’s daughter’s room. The girl had married a merchant in Talinn according to Alandra.

 

Climbing down the narrow wooden staircase, she found herself in a narrow hall that disgorged into the comfortably furnished living room she had passed through on her way to bed.  Now the room was brightened with daylight streaming in the mullioned windows, and Sybilla herself was more awake and alert she noted the very expensive mirror glass hanging from the wall above the fire grate. That had been cleaned and re set awaiting a taper to light it. There were knick-knacks, and candles placed in tasteful groupings and the chairs were comfortably stuffed and draped in brightly coloured patchwork throws and knitted cushions.  A blue rag rug sat between two.  To her left she heard the clattering of pots, and following the sound, found herself back in the kitchen.

 

“Ah!  You are awake.  Did you sleep well?”

 

“Uh, yes, really well. Thank you.” Sybilla said, surprised that she had slept so well in such unfamiliar surroundings but relieved that nothing bad had happened while she slept.

 

“Breakfast?”

 

“I really should be going,” Sybilla said, not wanting to impose of the woman’s kindness for too long.

 

“Oh not to worry. You have plenty of time to travel on, and in better attire than what you came in. It was simply caked in mud!”  Alandra exclaimed as she rattled about the kitchen, pulling herbs here, cracking open eggs, slicing bread, rattling pots.

 

“I checked your mare, and she seems none the worse for wear that a few decent meals won’t help.  I do wish you would stay a few days.”  She said.  “I don’t often have such good company.”

 

“I can’t, I really need to press on.  I think I will go try to get to Ashkelon.  I won’t really feel safe in Irradin.” Sybilla said truthfully.

 

“But of course!  How selfish of me.  You must be fair worried that the people you left will call out the paladins.”

 

“I am.” Sybilla admitted.

 

“Well then, there’s no time to lose.  Come and eat with me, and I’ll sketch out your route to get to the Kybear.  It takes a week and a half to ride from here by horse at least.”   So they sat and ate a hearty meal of cooked meats, eggs, and vegetables. Sybilla and Alandra discussed the route Sybilla should take, Alandra sketched it out on some dried leaves that were thin enough and supple enough to act as paper.  They finished the meal off with a herbal tea and generous slices of the bread, toasted this time and covered with a tangy sweet berry preserve that prompted Sybilla to ask what it was.

 

“Oja berries.  They are a local speciality – wild and very small, so you need lots to make a decent batch.  Good though, aren’t they?”

 

“Wonderful.” Sybilla said, savouring a bite of the jam smeared toast.

 

“Now, let’s see about what I can do for your journey.”  Alandra said, rising.

 

“Oh you don’t have to.”  Sybilla said hastily. “You’ve been more than generous to me as it is.”

 

“Not at all my dear.  I always help those in need, all I ask is that when you are in better circumstances, you help another when they are in need.”

 

“I can do that.” Sybilla said, very grateful to the generous woman.

 

“Now, you’ll need a knapsack, Your saddle bags were in a very sorry state.  I doubt they’d last much further.  It looks like they have been left too close to the camp fire once too often. You can have the rest of this loaf; it’s my baking day tomorrow so I won’t be doing without.”  She added some small brown rounds to the knapsack she had tucked the bread into.  “Travel bread for when you’ve eaten the fresh.  It keeps well for a couple of months.”  Then she added several small pots, eggs – they must have been boiled, for she wasn’t being careful with them – as well as root vegetables that Sybilla knew travelled well.  “You’ll be needing a drinking flask too,” Alandra added, rummaging through a box until she found a very old, but still usable leather water carrier.  “A blanket and a change, your cloak is dry now, and still usable by the way,” She said as she rummaged for the items she was listing aloud and putting into the bag.

 

“Oh!  So it is.”  Sybilla said, taking it up.  It was a bit muddy still and the fur would never be the same again but it was indeed dry, though it was unrecognisable as the fine mantle she had worn as she had left the city.

 

“There we go!”  Alandra said, finally, bringing over a well stuffed travel sack.  “That should keep you until you get to Kybear. If I remember correctly three’s no formal guard post on this side, though it’s watched.  In theory you shouldn’t be stopped going in.  I never am. Just present yourself to one of the Guard on the far side, where there is a formal guard post and state your case to them; they will see you get help in Ashkelon.  Be careful of the Ky bears in the pass too, they should all be fully fed and heading for hibernation now, but you never know. If you see one, avoid it if you can, be absolutely still if you can’t until it has gone away.  They won’t attack a stationary target. Anything that runs is fair game.”

 

They walked through the back garden – a vegetable garden, well stocked from what Sybilla saw of it now and into the well kept little stable yard.  The two horses had their heads over the half doors and the pink roan was whinnying urgently, trying to hurry her mistress along to get breakfast.

 

“You just wait your turn, greedy guts,” Alandra called to the mare, loudly, but with much affection. “She can’t get her morning scoop of oats soon enough,” She said, as they went to the tack room.

 

Sybilla took up the bridle she had removed the night before.  “I’ll need to clean this before I put it back on.” She said.

 

“Well, there’s saddle soap over there,” Alandra said pointing, “and there’s plenty of water.”  She added, nodding in the general direction of the trough.

 

It didn’t take long for Sybilla to clean the bridle, and Alandra was looking after the horses while she did.  Lady had a saddle pad on and several sacks attached when Sybilla was ready to leave, the little carry sack Alandra had packed inside among them.

 

“Oh, it’s just a couple of scoops of oats and bran for this lovely mare.” Alandra patted Lady on the shoulder when Sybilla asked what they were.  “She’ll need them as much as you will need the food in the knapsack and I won’t miss that old saddle pad.” She said offhandedly when Sybilla tried to protest.  “Now, remember your promise to pass on the favour when you are in a position to help someone, and I will be well pleased.  I hope do you have a safe journey and find what you are looking for child.”  Alandra walked with Sybilla to the gate, where she helped her to mount.

 

“Yes yes Berry!  I’m coming,” Alandra called when the stabled mare whinnied shrilly, demanding attention.  Alandra grinned at Sybilla, once again wished her a safe journey, slapped Lady on the flank, and disappeared back towards the stables.

 

End of Chapter twenty three.  Tune back in next week for the next instalment :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

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22 – Not as Easy as it Looks…

 

They travelled together for nearly a week. The weather, which had already been poor enough steadily worsened but Jace knew of places where there were sympathisers who would give them the use of a barn for the day, and if one wasn’t available had a knack of being able to sniff out deserted forest glades where they could take shelter and be left undisturbed.

 

Sybilla was too new to magic to realise his use of it to find the glades and though he told her that he had stayed at various of the farms on his way to the city her knowledge of the area’s geography was too poor to realise that this wouldn’t be the logical route to take from Ashkelon to the city.  She knew he was not taking them by the main road. Sybilla didn’t realise that Jace had chosen the less used route only partly for her safety; he also wished to spend more time with her.

 

Every evening after eating a hasty meal of whatever the farmer had left them or they had managed to find in the countryside during their travels, Jace would work with Sybilla for an hour trying to help her harness the magic within her, before it could grow too strong and consume her.  He could feel the wild energy of it getting stronger.

 

“Just be patient.  It will come,” Jace said placatingly, after Sybilla verbally exploded with the frustration of yet another failure to get control of the magic within her. This time she had accidentally set some hay alight in the barn, and Jace had been forced to dowse it with a magical rain of water.

 

She was still too used to the paladin ways to be comfortable with that either.  “Jace what do you think you’re doing?  Magic is illegal in the Republic!”  She scolded.

 

“Do you want the farmer to out you as a mage?  At least I can do that spell.  Or the whole barn would have burned to the ground.” Jace told her in exasperation at her continued resistance to magic.  It was half of her problem with controlling the magic within her.  She didn’t want to accept the fact she was a mage, and was revulsed by it.  To gain true control, she needed to embrace it.

 

“Oh! I’m never going to get this thing under control.” She wailed.

 

“Yes you will, you just need to accept it is there and a part of you. It takes time, and practice, and concentration to master Control.  You need to trust yourself with the magic.  If you resist it, it’ll win.  Let it flow through you, around you, like water.”  He said. “Very few mages learn control in a bare week.”

 

“But the episodes are getting worse!”  Sybilla wailed despairingly.

 

“Yes they are, but you’ll gain control.  I have no doubt of it.”  Jace said confidently.

 

After a week in close proximity, she was beginning to warm to him, and he’d been telling her little snippets about his life and Askelon and she couldn’t help but be fascinated by the place she had dreamed of most of her life.  Just talking to him brought back the dream memories.  Jace had lived there.  He was charming too, and genuinely funny.  So completely different to her society conscious friends in the city, and just as irresistible as he had been that night at the ball.

 

“Look, try practising the meditations I taught you during the ride.  It’ll help.  And then we’ll try again tomorrow.” He told her.

 

Sybilla sighed, and stood up, brushing the straw from her hunting habit. “All right.” She said, and they set about tacking up the horses and taking their leave of the farmer who had given them shelter.

 

“Ugh.  I hate rain.”  Sybilla said as they passed through the gateway of the farm to get back on the track way.

 

“I agree fully.  It makes travel so depressing.  But at least it’s better than snow.”  He said, shivering.  “We get a lot of snow in Ashkelon.”  This lead into a lively conversation and moan about the vagaries of the weather systems each was familiar with, picking positives and negatives in both.  It made the journey, in the gloomy dark night pass more quickly.  They were at least travelling on a proper road this evening, not a main one, it was too narrow, but it was a vast improvement on picking their way over fields and through woodland in the dark and the rain.

 

Towards dawn, they approached the coast.  Sybilla sensed it from the familiar tang in the air she remembered from happy childhood summers spent by the seaside. “Where are we?”  She asked.

 

“We are on the track way to Havenport.”  Jace said.

 

“What?”  Sybilla screeched.  She knew where Havenport was.  It was in the opposite direction from the one she wanted to go in.

 

“Don’t worry!”  Jace reassured.  “It’s all right.  There’s a pass into Ashkelon from Holdfast which is a short sail down the coast from Havenport.  It’s not well known at all, and far safer for you than the pass at Kybear.”

 

“But the other passes all guarded!”  Sybilla protested.

 

“And so will Kybear.  The Irradin government discovered it two years ago.  Do you want to get to safety?  Or don’t you?”  Jace countered angrily.  “You know, I’m beginning to believe your abhorrence of magic is really what’s hindering your control. You have to accept magic if you are to control it.  Embrace the magic within and you’ve won half the battle.”

 

“But, but…”

 

“Look, I know this is hard for you. You’ve been brought up to view magic as an anathema, but you are a mage.  You always were one, whether you knew it or not.  You need to learn to control it now it’s awakened in you.  The Republic wouldn’t have half the problems that it has with emergent mages if it taught everyone Control from an early age – just in case the magic awakens in them.”

 

“Oh all right, I get your point.”  Sybilla sighed, her frustration clear.  “You haven’t lead us wrong yet.  Lead on,” she said, gesturing at the path ahead of them.

 

“Why thank you my lady. Does that mean you are starting to trust me?”

 

“I don’t have much of a choice do I?” she countered.

 

Jace chuckled.  “Well if there is a choice between freedom and death at the hands of the paladinate…no.  Not unless you are plain crazy or suicidal, and you’re neither of them.  You’re too smart.”

 

“You think I’m smart?”  Sybilla was surprised.

 

“Well, you ran didn’t you?  Admittedly if you had trusted instincts rather than your head, you wouldn’t be in quite so much danger.  My aunt and uncle would have helped you, you know, if you had asked them.” Jace said.

 

“Merylla said I should too…” Sybilla replied, “but I just..I just didn’t know who to believe.  My whole world and everyone in it went in a day from familiar and loved, to strangers who wanted me dead.  What was I supposed to think?”

 

“You couldn’t trust anyone in case they turned you in?” Jace said, shuddering at the thought of the distress she must have suffered under.

 

“Exactly.”

 

“See, smart. Untrue in my aunt and uncle’s case…they never turn a mage in need away, but smart.”

 

“I do hope Merylla’s all right.”  Sybilla said, for the first time wondering what had happened to her maid after she had fled.

 

“If she’s anything like you, she’ll be far away and out of the Paladinate’s clutches” Jace said to reassure her. They travelled on in companionable silence until they reached the port town, the sun just over the horizon, and the fishing fleet already a speck on the stormy seas.

 

“We won’t be able to sail until the ‘morrow.  The fleet’s out,” Jace commented “but I know one of the fisherman will help us.  His daughter came to Ashkelon a year ago. You can practice Control again, and then we can get some sleep.  We’ll need it.  The Holdfast way is rugged, and wasn’t an easy path even before the war ‘closed’ it.”  Jace grinned at her.  “But they didn’t close it well enough.  I know there’s a way through. Wait here.  I’ll find us a place to bed down.” he added and urged his mount forward.

 

He soon returned, a grin on his face.  “Captain Morelan’s wife says we can stay in the back shed.  It smells fishy, but it’s dry, and she’ll even feed us – fish broth.”  He said, smacking his lips having smelt her cooking as he negotiated with her over the stay.

 

Sybilla wrinkled her nose.  She hated the smell of fish.  “Oh well, any port in a storm, and it could be worse given the weather. We could be sleeping rough again.” She said philosophically.

 

“Very true!”  He agreed, and led her into the village.  The cottage was small, with a large smoking shed attached to the back.  There wasn’t anyone about in the village.  It was raining too persistently.  The woman showed her where to hang wet clothes to dry, and where the privy was – a small leaky hut at the bottom of the garden it turned out – and then left, returning only to bring two bowls of thick fish stew and crusty rolls of dry bread. Then she left them to it, shutting them into the dim, yet dry interior. The bread was stale, but the stew damped it, and was very tasty.  It warmed Sybilla from the inside out.

 

She didn’t succeed in her control lessons any better that morning because she was so very tired from the constant travel at night, and she hadn’t been sleeping well in the day – there were too many noises – so they both agreed to give up and turn in.

 

Unfortunately for them both, Sybilla had a nightmare.  It was the first dream she had had since the ball, but it set her magic off in a big way.  She woke up shrieking, while the room around her was lit with flames; they caught the dry fish oil coated wood quickly and the whole room filled with smoke and flames.  “Sybilla!…” Jace yelled, coughing as he inhaled a lung full of smoke, throwing a bag out the door, “Sybilla!”  He strode over to where she had been sleeping, the smoke was thickening fast.  He heard her coughing and found her huddled up in a corner away from the flames.  She was shivering. He shook her and she jumped under his hands, looking wildly around.

 

“Oh no.  no no no NO! What have I done?”  She moaned, coughing and spluttering from the smoke.

 

“We have to get out Sybilla! Come on.”  Jace urged, pulling her arm.

 

She scrambled up clutching the cloak and her saddlebags as they escaped the now fiercely burning building.  The clothes she’d hung to dry were already ashes.

 

“What have you done to my shed?”  The fishwife screamed at them as they emerged coughing and sooty. She was lugging a pail of water with her, which she threw at the flames licking the doorway.  Jace and Sybilla and neighbours who wanted to know what the screeching was about helped form a bucket line, but by the time the fire was out the shed was nothing but cinders, and the house it had been attached to a burned wreck.

 

“What did you do to it??” The enraged woman shrieked.  “What was that lightning I saw?  Who did it?  Who?” She rounded on Jace who had been the one who had asked for shelter on the strength of knowing her husband.

 

The other neighbours stepped away from Jace and Sybilla suddenly, and a chill went down Jace’s spine.

 

“Which. Of. You. Was. It?”  The woman demanded icily, punctuating every word with a threatening finger.

 

“Look, we are sorry about your house.  I can pay for it.”  Jace said, desperately trying to calm the woman.

 

“No, one of you did active magic.  I saw the sparks, and no house goes up that fast. One of you is a mage.  Sevvie.  Fetch the Paladin guard from Stornhome.  They need to know about this!”

 

“No!”  Sybilla cried.  “Don’t call the Guard. Please!  We said we’d pay for the damage, here….Take this.”  She rummaged around her riding habit until she found the last of her coins.  The woman took a look and laughed harshly.

 

“Girl you obviously don’t know much about the world if all you can give me is a couple of minstrels and eppers to pay for a house.”

 

“Here. Take this too.  It’s all we have.”  Jace said handing over his own much depleted bag of coins.

 

“That will hardly pay for a shed!” The woman ranted. “Witches! Sorcerers!  I thought the war had put paid to the lot of you!”

 

Jace, holding Sybilla’s hand tightly, slowly backed away from the woman. The fisherman who had entrusted his awakened daughter to the mages of Fishguard must never have told his wife where their daughter had gone or what she had become he thought in horror. “Look…just…just let us go will you? Please. You’ll never see us again.”

 

“No!”  went up a cry from the one of the neighbours who had helped dowse the flames. “Send for the paladins.  Let them judge!”

 

Sybilla went rigid, her breath coming quickly.  How were they going to get out of this one?  Jace turned to her, and whispered in her ear, “I’m going to create a distraction.  When I do, run.  Take your mare and just…run.  I can look after myself, but I can’t look after you at the same time.  Run for Kybear and I will find you.  I promised to get you to Ashkelon safe and I will.”

 

“But Jace…”  She said, looking up into his serious face as the fisher folk closed around them.  “What will happen to you?”

 

“As long as I can do this before the paladin arrives, I’ll be no worse off than you.  I’ll lead them on a merry chase.  You just be careful. OK?”

 

“Jace, be careful!”  She said.

 

“I will.” He said grimly.  “I don’t want to be caught by the paladins any more than you do.  Less even.  Now close your eyes, and when I say run, Run.”

 

Sybilla did as she was told, trusting Jace to save her again.

 

She felt a growing pressure, like a storm building on the horizon before it washed over the coast with the fury of a typhoon.  Her hand tightened on Jace’s.  Suddenly the pressure was gone, and Jace was yelling “RUN!” Over the screaming of the villagers.  She ran.  Lady’s saddle had been destroyed in the fire, but at least she was still bridled. Sybilla took hold of the reins, used an overturned bucket as a mounting block, and fled.

 

End of Chapter twenty two.  Tune back in next week for the next instalment :D

Thanks ever so much for reading!

 

I appreciate feedback of the commentary kind – I am still wanting to improve my craft.

 

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