Part 6: Death From Behind

Captain Swann was lying on his stomach, peering over the top of a hill. He’d lost Ramoc from view a few minutes back, as he crept towards the fray. Captain Swann hadn’t kept his company alive for all these months by just rushing in. He liked to know what he was facing. And then rush in, but in a controlled and calculated fashion. The battle hung in the balance, but it was slowly teetering over in the wrong direction. There were about sixty horde troops of different shapes and sizes. They were keeping their heads down, because of the extremely accurate suppression fire from the defender’s bowmen and riflemen. He could see the corpses of several groups of orcs that had tried to storm the wall. None of them had managed to get closer than about twenty paces. Swann approved. None of these hails of arrows in the hope of hitting someone. Refuge Pointe marksmen knew how to aim! Still, there were enough enemy soldiers to mop up Swann’s entire troop if he were fool enough to confront them directly, so simply rushing in was not an option. Even they were not the main problem. That would be the three Ogre fire-mages who were battering the defences with fireballs and other nasty spells. He’d sent Ramoc over to investigate. If he could just take out those blasted shooters, the Refuge Pointe guards could deal with the rest. Swann felt a tap on his shoulder. He didn’t look round.

“As you were, Ramoc. What news?”

Ramoc lay down next to Swann. “Well, the mages aren’t the leaders. There’s a big Orcish brute who gives the orders. But the stupid bastards are not counting on relief. They’ve not set a guard to the rear. The mages have three babysitters, they look tough. I reckon we can sneak round and grab them.”

Swann nodded. “Good. Let’s get to it.”

They crept back to where the men were hidden in a sort of attentive huddle. Swann pointed round.

“Ramoc, Bannog, Joran… Chad. Congrats, you’ve just volunteered to take out the mages. The rest of us are going to run interference to give you lads the chance to do your job. As a special treat, you’re going to be accompanied by our secret weapon. Mr. Bayliss? You’re with the mage squad.”

Bayliss nodded. He was a tall, dark-haired Elven Priest who was the company’s battle-healer. Swann assigned men to each of his sergeants and himself.

“Now I am going to be pretty visible. That’s to get it through to our friends in Refuge Pointe that there’s friendlies in the area and not to shoot everything that moves. The rest of you, try and make yourself look like as many soldiers as you can.” Swann looked round.

“Questions?”

Chad raised his hand. “Permission to go berserk, Sir?”

Swann grinned. “Permission to do what’s necessary, Chad.”

Chad nodded and proceeded to take off his chain. He hid it under a tree for later and laid out his swords. His lips moved quietly, then he picked them up.

Swann waved his arm. “Move out!”

Led by Ramoc, the mage squad ran in a wide arc, till they could see the mages about fifty yards away. They were bloody big. That they had only one head each didn’t do much to reassure them. They were wearing dark red robes and fired fireballs from their hands at the Humans, who were dug in and returned fire with crossbows and guns. The mages were fully intent on their work, with their entourage looking round for trouble. Joran looked round at Bayliss.

“Your job is to keep Chad alive. Chad, the entourage is yours.”

Joran pointed at the three mages. “Names. The one in the middle is Star. The one to the right is Orange. The one on the left is Green. Who wants Star?”

Ramoc raised his hand. “Me.”

Joran nodded. “Bannog, Green. I’ll take Orange. Vary as needed, of course. Quiet now, slow forward. Chad, pull the entourage.”

Chad took a deep breath. He knelt down and drew one of his swords across his chest, drawing a thin line of blood. A deep roar started in his throat, developing into a full bellow. He jumped up and ran at the guards. Bayliss gathered up his power for much work. Bannog watched Chad run towards the enemies.

“No matter how many times I see that…” he began.

Joran watched as Chad tore into his enemies.

“Yeah. Well, see you on the flip side.” He crouched down and set off for Orange. Bannog ran to the left at his target.

Ramoc had already disappeared. The small man moved with all the stealth he could muster. Some people believed it was magic. He knew it was skill. Just a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open, and to use every opportunity to your advantage. Opportunities could include a sudden gust of wind that hid your footsteps. A guard stretching and yawning. He approached the mage named Star without anyone noticing, least of all the guards, who were completely engrossed trying to stay alive in the face of Chad’s onslaught. He rose up like a ghost from the dead behind the mage and clapped his hand over the mage’s eyes. Only amateurs go for the throat, and as for putting your hand over an Ogre’s mouth… the sooner those fools were culled from the company, the better as far as Ramoc was concerned. His sharp dagger stabbed into the mage’s back once, twice, three times, hitting essential organs. Then, for good measure, he sliced the Ogre’s throat. Star dropped to the floor, dead.

Ramoc looked round for more work. To his left, Bannog had sliced the arm right off Green, and as he watched, drove his blade into his enemy’s chest. Black blood spattered over him, and the mage slowly collapsed.

Joran had more trouble with Orange, who had protected himself against slings and arrows with a magic spell. The Ogre was mumbling to do something unpleasantly magical to Joran. Can’t have that. Ramoc grabbed one of his specially prepared throwing-spikes and launched it at the Ogre mage, hitting him in the temple with enough force to pierce, though not to kill outright. The magic spell shattered, and Orange screamed. He pulled the spike out of his skull, turned round to Ramoc and threw a burning ball of energy at him. Ramoc dodged, but he couldn’t avoid all of the attack. The ball of energy burnt right through his light armour and into his arm. Ramoc gave a short cry of pain and frustration, dropped down and rolled over. The Ogre mage made ready to throw a killing blow of energy at Ramoc, but Joran didn’t let him. With the protective spell gone, he found a gap in the heavy cloth armour and pierced the Ogre through and through. Still the Ogre would not go down. Worse, Joran’s blade was now trapped and he could not pull it free. The Ogre turned round, monstrous reserves of adrenalin enabling him to ignore a sword sticking through his whole body. Joran’s blade was wrenched from his hand. The Ogre no longer thought of using magic and stretched out his arms to Joran to wring his neck. Joran quickly drew a dagger – better than nothing. The Ogre mage stepped towards him, but at that point Bannog arrived and swung his sword at the mage’s neck. His aim was about two inches high, but that did not matter. Half of Orange’s head was sliced off, and he was dead before he hit the ground. Chad appeared on the scene. His eyes were not burning red, but they should have been. Several cuts and wounds on his body closed and sealed up as Bayliss’ healing magic did its work.

“Out of guards,” he said.

Bayliss walked up. Behind him, a Dwarf appeared out of nowhere and charged at the unarmed Elven priest. Bayliss turned round, moving with almost feline swiftness and grabbing the sword-arm of his attacker. He yanked the arm further in the direction of the stroke and in an indescribable movement made the Dwarf eat earth. Bayliss ended up kneeled on the Dwarf’s back, and with a vicious jerk broke his neck.

“Unarmed does not mean ‘safe to attack’, my friend,” he remarked. Then he joined the rest of the group.

Ramoc needed healing, which took a few minutes. Joran put his foot on Orange’s carcass and pulled his sword out. Bayliss finished his healing spell. His voice was calm as ever.

“Were we expected to be alive at this point?”

Joran shrugged. “Don’t know. Let’s go ask.” He pointed at a group of Dark Iron Dwarves who were running towards them. “Quickly.”

They ran back the way they had come, pursued by the Dwarves. Bannog spotted Sergeant Benn, shouted, and made for him. Their pursuers ran into the welcoming arms of Benn’s detachment and were promptly taken care of. Sergeant Benn, a big man with a wild mane of hair and a beard to make a Dwarf jealous, grinned at them.

“Well done lads. Catch yer breath for a minute. Then, there’s more work to do.”

Bannog smiled happily. Coming from the Sarge, “Catch your breath for a minute” was better than a full award ceremony with all the bells and whistles.

They were soon hard put to it. The commander of the Orc forces was no fool, and he’d just lost his artillery. He was going to make the crunchy Humans pay who’d done that to him. Enemies came at them in groups of ten or so. Arrows rained among them, and some found a mark. Bannog’s left arm was grazed by one, mostly stopped by his chainmail. They split up in groups of five, cooperating to kill the oncoming enemy soldiers. Refuge Pointe guards had also come out to join the fight, but new, unnoticed enemies had joined. Their situation quickly became untenable. Where were all these mobs coming from? As Bannog watched, Sergeant Newton’s group was surrounded by twenty Orcs and destroyed. There was nothing he could do – he had his own trouble. They had lost one of their attack groups, despite their best efforts, and were reduced to quick harassing attacks followed by quick retreats. Rage burning bright within him, Bannog and his group had managed to fight off all comers, but they were running out of reserves. Even Chad looked tired.

Then, salvation! With mighty shouts and battle-cries, the Thirty-first Heavy Infantry arrived on the scene. They tore into the Orcish hordes like a plough through the earth. Their swords gleamed, as did their armour, and never was anyone more glad to see the showy bastards arrive on the scene. They did not just defend themselves against the Orcs, they hunted. Joran, who was standing with his back to Bannog’s, growled.

“Well, better late than never. Get ’em, boys!”

The fight lasted until the end of the afternoon. No prisoners were taken. The enemies were counted and burned, and the Twenty-fifth gathered round Captain Swann to see who was still there. It was a sad sight – Sergeant Newton and her group were gone. Four others lay dead, waiting to be transported back to Menethil. Most of the others were injured in various degrees, and were being seen to in turn by Bayliss, who looked tired, but determined to finish his work. Bannog accepted some potions from him, and handed them out to his friends. Joran raised his phial to Bannog, Ramoc and Chad.

“Our foes lie dead, while we draw breath.”

The others chorused: “Ever be it so.”

They drank. Healing potions were meant to be used in battle, when there was no time for normal healing involving bandages and bedrest. They gave you an enormous rush, and you could feel your body do the work of months in a few moments. When a Priest, Paladin or Druid healed you, the effect was much the same, unless the healer had time to do a proper job. The after-effects were like having run very fast for miles after a long time of inactivity: sore muscles, itch. But it did get you back in action quickly, which was the point. Some Warriors even drank them to heal as they fought, which was an experience Bannog wanted to postpone as long as possible. Rigger was grumbling.

“Sorry lot we are! All we need is a bunch of blasted newbies to join the troop.” He scratched under the bandage on his arm. “Or worse, for the company to split up, and then we’ll be the blasted newbies… Whoa lads! Incoming high-up!”

A large man with Field Marshal’s insignia on his armour walked up to Swann. The men stood up and saluted. Rigger, whose saluting arm wasn’t up to the task, just stood to attention. Field Marshall Oslight spoke to Swann.

“Are these the men who slew the mages?”

Swann turned round. “Joran! Ramoc! Bannog! Chad! Bayliss! Front and center!”

They took a few steps forward. The Field Marshal removed his helm and one by one looked them in the eye.

“We owe you a debt of gratitude. Without your help, the mages would have destroyed our defences and we would all have been killed.” He produced a small silk pouch and from this, he gave them all a silver coin. Bannog seethed inwards. Did this man think they had come here for a few coins? Field Marshall Oslight saw Bannog’s face, and smiled.

“Look at them. They’re not ordinary coins. These tokens show to all our allies that you have done us a service, and they will do what they can to help you.” Bannog looked again at the Field Marshal, and now recognised him as one of those who had been at the dirty end of battles. He saluted again, because it seemed the thing to do.

“Sir.”

Oslight stayed a while longer, shaking hands with the remainder of the twenty-fifth, then returned to his post. Ramoc flipped his coin into the air.

“Real silver, too.”

Bannog stared at his coin, with the simple, elegant device of Refuge Pointe. Well. One to write home about.


Ariciel emerged first from the tunnel and set her eyes on Dun Algaz and the Wetlands. Bannog followed her. They had said their goodbyes to Peterselie that morning. She had orders to return to Ironforge, so she couldn’t come with them.

“But,” she’d said, “Out of the tunnel. just keep following the road till there’s a fork, then take a left, and follow the road till you get to Menethil Harbour. Child’s play, really. Just don’t leave the road.” She’d pointed at Bannog.

“What shouldn’t you leave?”

Bannog had grinned. “The Road, O Teacher! I shall stay on the road. I shall learn to love it. I shall run on it till I can run no more, and then I shall walk. Then, I shall sleep on it so I may run on it again in the morning.”

Peterselie had given him a weary look, then turned to Ariciel. “Look after him, will you? He’s nice, but a bit thick.”

There’d been hugs and waves, and that was it. Peterselie didn’t go in for long goodbyes. Ariciel’s staff tapped on the ground.

“The Road,” she said.

“I will stay on it,” said Bannog.

Ariciel shaded her eyes with her hand and stared into the distance. The last lap before Menethil. Before she’d be alone again. She sighed, and set off at a trot. Bannog followed. As it turned out, the Wetlands were aptly named. Looking out over the plains, it was sometimes hard to see what was land and what was water. The place wasn’t empty, either. Strange animal shapes moved in the rivers and on the land. Some of them were clearly predators and the wisdom in staying on the road was clear. They looked at each other, and sped up. The thought of having to spend the night on, or near this road did not appeal to Bannog, but it was clearly too long to run in one day. Maybe something would crop up.

It started to rain. They kept up their tempo, rain splashing on their heads and puddles forming under their feet. Ariciel shook her head, sending drops flying from her hair.

“Any inns along this road?”

Bannog looked doubtful. “Don’t think so, or Peterselie would have mentioned it.”

The Elf held up her hand, palm upwards, and raindrops fell on it. “Well, now we know how this land gets wet.”

Bannog opened his mouth to answer, but something, maybe a tiny sound, made him look backward.

Behind them was a large animal, low to the ground, and all teeth at the front. Bannog gave a loud shout and turned round, whipping out his sword. The great beast charged, straight at Ariciel.

“Oh no you don’t,” growled Bannog. He hewed at the crocolisk with his sword. It was surprisingly tough. His sword bounced off the creature’s hide, but it did distract its attention from Ariciel to himself. With great difficulty Bannog kept himself out of the reach of the impressive arsenal of teeth, all the while hacking at it with his sword. Ariciel pointed her hands at the creature, and bright white beams of moonfire shot down from above. The crocolisk turned round again, sensing that the Elf and her light-spells were the greatest threat. It snapped at her, and its teeth glanced her leg. Ariciel retreated, limping. She shot a last beam of moonfire at the creature, then readied her staff and hit the crocolisk hard with it.

“Out of mana!” she shouted.

Bannog charged at the creature with a great shout, and managed to drive the tip of his sword into its head. It thrashed about, almost wrenching Bannog’s sword out of his hand, then it lay still. Bannog’s eyes narrowed. He circled round the beast, stood over it and drove the point of his sword into its head again. The beast didn’t stir.

“You are going to make a nice pair of boots,” Bannog said. Then he looked round at Ariciel. She was sitting on the ground, her face pale, clutching her leg. She was unable to heal herself. No energy left. Blood was flowing from a wound on her calf, where the crocolisk had grazed her. Bannog kneeled beside her, pulled out a large red handkerchief and tied it round her knee, above the cut. His large hand closed on the knot and twisted it, Ariciel winced as the improvised tourniquet tightened round her leg. The bleeding stopped. The Elf took deep breaths, trying to soak in as much magical energy as she could from her surroundings. She had to gather up enough mana for a healing spell, and she was out of potions. She had to concentrate. Ignore the pain. Concentrate on your breathing. Drink the magic. Bannog held his hand where it was, until Ariciel took a deep breath, and released the magic she’d been gathering in a healing spell. She touched Bannog’s hand, and he released the knot. No blood came out. Ariciel briefly closed her eyes.

“Those leggings are ruined,” she said. She got up. “Let’s go. No good staying here.”

Bannog turned round and fished his skinning knife out of his pack.

“One moment,” he said. It took him a few tries to get the skin off the creature, but he ended up with a usable piece of leather, which he stowed in his pack. “No use wasting it.”

Ariciel nodded, and set off. Bannog marvelled at the magic that allowed the Elf to run again, mere minutes after receiving a wound that would keep him down for at least two weeks. She seemed to favour the leg a bit, and that was all! An hour later, she was running normally. The road went in a great curve, round a range of mountains. The rain had stopped for a while, but no doubt it would start again later. Bannog ran in front, staring into the twilight, till Ariciel called his name and pointed. At first, Bannog could not see what she meant, but then he saw a darker shade of grey in the side of the mountain. A cave! Bannog nodded and drew his sword, ready to deal with any cave-dwellers, Humanoid or animal. As it turned out, there was no need as the cave was empty. They went inside. Ariciel delved into her pack and produced food. Outside the cave, it started to rain again. Bannog got up and ran his fingers along the walls of the cave, checking for water running in. There wasn’t any. He thought that the cave could be quite home-like if only they could make a fire. No such luck. The place didn’t exactly invite one to search for firewood, and what wood there would be, would be too soggy to burn. He sighed, fished his sleeping bag out of his pack and wrapped it round him. On the other side of the cave, Ariciel pulled off her damaged leggings and started to repair them provisionally with some thread and, poetic justice, a few scraps of leather Bannog had taken from the crocolisk. She held the leggings up to admire her handiwork. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional. Bannog stared at Ariciel’s bare legs, especially the left one. In the semi-darkness, he couldn’t even see where she’d been hurt. Ariciel’s eyes gleamed at him.

“Leg man, are you?”

Bannog laughed. “Just for the nice ones. Present company included.”

Ariciel smiled, with more than a hint of regret. “Well, I’d say come and study them in more detail, but under the circumstances…” she gestured outside at the wild animals and other creatures.

Bannog knew. He was as sorry as she was, but they couldn’t. Especially not if she did that thing… Better not think of that. Ariciel started rolling out her sleeping bag. Bannog coughed.

“Umm. We may not be able to indulge in the, er, less discreet pleasures, but that doesn’t mean that you have to sleep on the other side of the cave! Come here, you! We can keep each other warm!”

That made perfect practical sense. They lay down on top of Bannog’s and under Ariciel’s sleeping bag. See? Just pooling their body heat. Ariciel laid down her head on Bannog’s shoulder. His arm felt nice round her. Bannog listened to the rain outside. Such a wonderfully soothing sound if you’re warm inside.

“That strange thing that you Night-Elves do where you touch noses. Tell me more about it. I feel it is culturally very important.”

The Elf laughed, a lovely sound in this desolate place. “Touche-nez,” she said.

“Tooshnay,” Bannog repeated.

Ariciel bit her lip. Close enough. She put a finger on Bannog’s cheek, turned his face towards her and demonstrated.

“It really is very important. The eyes are the window to the soul.”

“And beautiful eyes they are, too. Do you see in mine what I see in yours? You almost seem to be talking to me. Is it magical?”

Ariciel wriggled a bit, making herself more comfortable. “Thank you, and yes I do, and no, I don’t think it’s magical.”

Bannog took her point, but disagreed. It was magical. “Still, that light must be practical. Read in bed at night, for one!”

Ariciel’s body shook with laughter. “It’s not real light! You don’t see it as you see daylight. Basically, it’s mana leaking out.” She concentrated a moment, and the lights in her eyes went out. “But if you keep it like this, you get more mana than you’d like in your head. Gives you a headache.” The pale lights came back. “As for reading in bed… We’re Night-elves! If I want to read, I just open a curtain! Best night vision in the world!”

Bannog held his hand in front of Ariciel’s eyes. It wasn’t illuminated at all.

“Nice long, deep life-line,” said Ariciel. “You will meet a tall, dark stranger who will try to cadge drinks off you. You are also about to kiss a Night-elf.”

Bannog stirred. “Strange, that. They don’t normally do that.” The last part of Ariciel’s prediction came true. There was, however, no tall dark stranger. They didn’t mind. As for life, it continued.


Ariciel and Berciel were waiting on the High-borne mages at breakfast, their faces in suitable expressions of helpful non-existence. One of the ladies called for more water, and Berciel brought a jug, filling the Lady’s glass. As she turned her back to their masters, she looked at Ariciel, screwed up her face and stuck out her tongue. Ariciel did not move a muscle. Her little sister would have to do better than that to get Ariciel to laugh. The Lady who had questioned Ariciel about her magic, was sitting at the table. She smiled at Ariciel, who smiled back politely but not, she hoped, in any way encouraging further conversation. It wasn’t that she was afraid the Lady might harm her, but she was very afraid indeed to become involved in the great works of people far more powerful than she could imagine. She knew that she was not a powerful mage, if she was a mage at all. Lesta had been no help at all. She’d thought of it as a promotion and advised her to do it. Orin had also been no help at all, but (she couldn’t help smiling now) in a much nicer way. She hadn’t discussed it with her mother yet, but she thought she should. Breakfast ended, and the High-borne filed out of the room, to their work. The Lady approached Ariciel. Damn. Smile.

“Have you given any thought to our conversation earlier?”

Ariciel sighed. “Yes, Lady. I don’t think it would be my place to interfere in your great works. I’d only make a mistake and ruin your spells.”

The Lady laughed. Normally, Ariciel liked to hear people laugh. This was not a nice laugh. It sounded friendly enough, but Ariciel thought she could detect undertones of something else. Something she could not define, but instinctively wanted to shy away from. The lady spoke again.

“When your duties allow, please join me in my chambers, and we will discuss it further.” She smiled again, and left the room.

Ariciel swore silently. This was a direct order. She could not stay away now. She cleared away breakfast as soon as she could, then went to the kitchen to find Mother. Ariciel found her in a storeroom cupboard, changing into a set of clothes that she kept there in case she was ever required to go upstairs, into the presence of their High-borne masters.

“What’s the occasion, Mother?”

Mother dropped her dress over her head. “The High-borne are having a special guest to lunch, and they want me to do them a Canard Flambé. At the table. You girls are also needed to serve. Could you do my hair?”

She handed Ariciel a hairbrush, sat down on a stool and pulled the pins out of her hair. It fell down to her waist in a waterfall of grey. Ariciel stood behind her and started brushing. With that done, she started making five-strand plaits. Ariciel liked to do this. Her fingers manipulated the strands of hair.

“Mother, can I ever become a mage?”

Mother’s head didn’t move, so as not to make Ariciel drop her hair and have to start all over again.

“Why?”

Ariciel’s fingers moved without her looking at them.

“One of the Ladies asked me to come to her room and discuss me helping her.”

This time, Mother did look round. Ariciel managed to hold on to Mother’s hair.

“Which one?”

Ariciel thought back. “I don’t know her name. Blonde. Taller than Berciel, bit shorter than me. Always wears green and blue dresses. Lots of rings.”

Mother thought for a moment. “Ah. Iressa. One of the quiet ones. What did she want from you?”

Ariciel tied up the end with a green ribbon before answering. “She wanted to know how much power I had. Said something about helping them with their magics.” Ariciel started on the other side. “It scared me. She just looked at me and said I had more power than I thought. How did she know?”

Mother made a disapproving sound.

“Hmph. Next thing, she’ll be asking you if she can have some. These mages are always hungry for more mana. If she ever does, tell me and I’ll have a word with the Master. But to answer your question, I’d be most surprised if you were a mage. I’m not a mage, and your father was a Druid. Is, probably. I don’t know where he is. Anyway, if I had to guess, I’d say you would most likely be a Druid. You’ll find that out soon enough, if you haven’t already found your magic.”

Ariciel thought about this. “I can feel living things,” she said. “Trees. Beasts. People. Rivers. Even with my eyes closed. Does that make me a Druid?”

Mother smiled as Ariciel tied up her other braid. “Druid, or Hunter. I used to hunt. But we’ll see.” Mother got up. Ariciel thought she looked beautiful.

“Try to stay away from Lady Iressa if you can. If she tries to push you where you don’t want to go, tell me. Even if she swears you to secrecy. I’ll deal with it.”

At the end of the morning, Ariciel found that she could find no more jobs to do, and she went to Lady Iressa’s chamber. Lady Iressa was sitting on a sofa, as if she had been waiting for Ariciel.

“Come, child. sit down with me.”

Ariciel reluctantly sat down on the other end of the sofa. The lady smiled, but did not try to make her sit closer.

“You are nervous! You really have no need to be. Soon, you will find out how powerful you really are. You are just about the right age.” The Lady’s eyes met Ariciel’s, her lips parted in something that looked like a smile. “Then, with the right training, you will not need to be ashamed in any company, not even ours.”

Ariciel looked at her feet. She was not ashamed now. Again, this… hunger for more and more power. Lady Iressa sat up straight, then leaned over towards Ariciel.

“Let me try to teach you a simple trick. I say ‘simple’, but not many girls your age could do it. Give me your hand.”

It was not a request. Ariciel did as she was told. For a moment, Lady Iressa’s eyes focused on things beyond mere distance. Ariciel felt first a tingle in her arm that spread all over her body, then a warm glow. The Lady let go of Ariciel’s hand, and showed her that her own hand was glowing green.

“There. I have just borrowed a small amount of your mana. She turned her hand round, letting the green light play between her fingers. “Now, we must preserve the Balance.” Her gaze met Ariciel’s. “Always, always preserve the Balance. Take my hand. Then take back the mana I borrowed from you. Go on!”

Ariciel took Lady Iressa’s hand. Moving magic around in her own body was easy enough, but she had never tried to transfer it from someone else’s body to her own. She concentrated. To her own surprise, she found it easy. As easy as passing healing magic to a sore knee. The magic travelled from Lady Iressa’s hand to her own, then dissipated through her body. Her hand dropped to her knee. Lady Iressa took a deep breath.

“That was good. Very good! I have met many Elves who could not do what you just did.” Ariciel stared at her fingers. She did not want to drain others of their mana. Not even to give it back later. Lady Iressa smiled.

“I wish to make you an offer. Come and train with me as my apprentice. I can teach you so many things. You could become more powerful, skilled and wise than you could imagine now.” The Lady gently laid her hand on Ariciel’s shoulder. “I can imagine you’ll want to think it over. Mage-craft is hard work, and dangerous sometimes. If you do not wish to risk that, I understand. But whatever you decide, you must speak to no-one of this. Let it be our secret.”

Ariciel’s gaze slowly turned from her fingers to Lady Iressa’s face.

“My Lady, I do not need to think it over. The ways of Mages are not for me. I only wish to use my own magic, to heal, to understand. I cannot become your apprentice.”

The Lady gave Ariciel a sad look and sighed.

“Then, young Elf, you will never know your true powers. Such a waste. But the decision is yours. If you reconsider, come and find me.” Lady Iressa stood up and looked down on Ariciel. With a gesture, she opened the door. “Leave me now. Undoubtedly, you have menial tasks to attend to.”

Ariciel left, and the door closed behind her. Her ears glowed. Lady Iressa’s final remark rankled, but despite this, Ariciel felt strangely proud of herself. Suddenly, a burst of a headache interrupted her thoughts. Mages were weaving spells.


With a start, Ariciel woke up to the wholesome smell of rain and rotting plants, Next to her, Bannog jerked upright, his sword across them both, protecting them. He looked down on Ariciel.

“What is it?”

Ariciel blinked. “Sorry. Bad dream.” she lay back down. Bannog lay down next to her, hand near his sword-hilt. He pulled the blankets back over them, settled down and slept the watchful sleep.


Copyright: © 2008,2009,2010 Menno Willemse. All rights reserved.

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