Sodden and miserable, Velina warmed her hands against a blazing fire that she and Asher built in the small cave where they made camp. The limestone walls were damp and thick with moss. Rain dripped in through the gaps above, slapping at the surface of the small lake that had formed at the back of the cave. The rain pounded against the cliff side and the rumbling of distant thunder made the horses restless; whinnying and pulling at the ropes that bound them to the stone pillar jutting from the ground. Asher was trying to calm them, fruitless though his attempts were. He eventually gave up, pulling out a chunk of bread and a block of cheese from his horse’s saddlebag.
“Eat this,” Asher said, tearing the chunk of bread in half. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you eat.”
Velina took the bread eagerly and chomped down. “I never thought I’d be so excited to eat bread,” she said with her mouthful. She swallowed, wiped her lips, and continued, “If I had been to Maurthorn before I could have just teleported us there. We could have avoided this folly.”
Asher sat down by the fire, pulled out his dagger and began to cut the cheese. “Where’s the fun in portal travel,” he laughed. “The journey is often the best part.”
The enchantress glared at him, her eyes narrowed. “Look at us, Asher. Huddled in a f**king cave, soaking wet, eating old bread.”
“I thought you liked the bread…”
“It’s not venison is it?” She took another bite. “All I’m saying is this could have been avoided had I been to Maurthorn before.”
“I can’t believe you’ve never been,” Asher said, passing a wedge of cheese to Velina. “Mages like you are usually well travelled. Maurthorn is a world-famous city. Even I’ve been.”
“I’ve never had business there,” she answered nonchalantly. I’m also from Mattarein not Terenna. She popped the cheese in her mouth “I’ve never had a reason to go. Until now. And I’m hardly surprised you’ve been there given your illicit line of work.”
Asher slammed his dagger into the block of cheese. “You wound me,” he said, grinning. “But you are right. Maurthorn is ridded with thieves, and whores, and all other kinds of miscreants. I love it.”
Velina smirked,” I bet you do.” She put the bread and cheese down, before waving a hand at the fire, manipulating the hungry flames, causing them to shrink. “You could probably be a knight. You have skill with a sword that most could only dream of. Have you considered it?”
“The thought has crossed my mind, to be sure,” the hazel eyed mercenary said, “but it never lingers. Taking holy vows and swearing to this god and the next… it never really sat right with me.”
“It does seem rather tedious.”
“It does,” Asher smiled. “Have you seen the knight that follows Astien like a lost dog? I don’t recall his name. But I saw him and I pitied him. What sort of life is that? I’ll never follow anyone. Me, Erys, Garwin, we do our own thing, and that’s how we like it.”
Asher took his dagger and nibbled at the cheese on the end. “Admirable? Why not.” He got to his feet and sheathed his blade. “The thunder seems to have buggered off and I can’t hear the rain. I’ll go check.” He swaggered out towards the entrance of the cave.
Velina began to toy with the flames, twisting them and splitting them, forcing them to dance at her behest. It was a good feeling. So many people feared fire, but not her, not when she had the power to bend it to her will. At what cost, though?
Asher returned and informed her the heavy rain had become a drizzle. He picked up his sword-belt and strapped it on. “It’s time to get back on the road.”
Velina pushed herself up off the floor. “Better feed the horses first.”
By the time they had fed the horses and lead them back out of the cave the rain had stopped, and the skies were clearing up. The pair climbed on their horses and trotted up the small banking and onto the road, a road that was now a sodden trail of sludge and filth.
“Can’t you do anything about this?” Astien asked as he spurred his horse forward.
“Like what?” Velina replied. “Would you like me to dry up all the roads between here and Maurthorn, or would you rather I had the horses fly us there?”
“Either will do.”
“Unfortunately, we will just have to suffer.”
“What sort of mage are you?”
“Would you like to find out, Asher?”
They went steady as they continued down the road. Asher was whistling to the tune of Lady from Laranne and Old Aggie’s red dress, as the clouds parted and the sun finally emerged. They passed the ruins of an old fort that overlooked a banking, then they went left down a crossroad at Asher’s command. Large trees flanked either side of the road, their long, thick branches grabbing at the pair like old calloused fingers as they rode through. The tops of the trees overlapped and weaved through each other in what seemed like an attempt to blot out the sun and darken the path for weary travellers.
A trio of outlaws tried their luck with the duo, leaping out from behind trees with their rusted iron axes and poorly crafted spears. The first of the three outlaws lost his head to Asher’s aversteel sword, and the second took the sword through the bowels. The third man tried to run, but the poor fool never knew he attempted to ambush a mage. A pulse of darkness spiralled from Velina’s fingers, enveloping the man on contact. He crashed into the mud and began to writhe in agony. Asher crouched beside the man calmly and whispered something into his ear, before opening his throat with his dagger. Upon searching the bodies, Asher found six gold ren and eight silver along with a pendant encrusted with jade. “That certainly brightened up my day,” he said, with a cocky grin.
“We’re lucky they didn’t have bows,” Velina said coolly. “That little ambush could have ended much differently.”
“It could have, to be sure,” Asher replied as he mounted his horse. “But instead it ended with me being a little bit richer and these roads being a lot safer.” He began whistling again. This time to the tune of Bodies in the river, bodies in the mud.
The trees that flanked them grew sparser and sparser until eventually the world opened to them again. They passed a quaint lake that was the source of the river Lang. They stopped and let the horses drink from it while Asher cleaned his sword. The heavy rain had left the edge of the lake boggy and slippery and Velina had to take care to keep her horse from slipping in.
“We’re not too far now,” Asher confirmed, breaking from his whistling. “You see that village down by the river? That’s Langford. It’s the closest village to Maurthorn.”
“How far is it from there?”
“About another two hours.”
“Then we should stop there and buy provisions.”
So they did. They rode through the village to watchful eyes and silent judgement. I don’t think we’re very welcome here. A young boy threw a stone at Asher’s horse and got a smack round the head for his insolence from a shaggy haired old woman. She grabbed him by the arm and ragged him indoors.
They found themselves at the stables where three horses already occupied the three available stalls. The stablemaster, wordless, pointed to a wooden pole and Velina just assumed he meant “tie your horses there.”
Once they had, Asher went to the stableman, hand on sword hilt, and growled something that Velina couldn’t quite hear. Whatever it was caused the man to nod excessively, fear alive in his mud brown eyes. She didn’t bother to ask when he came back to her, he just pointed towards the inn and she followed.
They drank their ale and ate their fish pie to melodious sounds of a flute that a small blonde-haired woman was playing whilst stood on a table dancing. “She’s good,” Asher said as he sucked his fingers clean. “I’d like to learn an instrument. Maybe if Erys heard me playing the lute it would soften her enough to get me between her legs.”
Velina laughed, “Erys hacks people to bits with an axe like other women bake cakes. Do you think a pretty song would soothe her so much she’d let you fuck her?”
“She’s a lunatic, but she’s still a woman,” Asher grinned. “Women love a bard.”
“I hate bards.”
“You don’t count. You hate most things.”
“Because most things are shit.”
“Yes, but you’ve never tried a woman.”
Asher lifted his eyes from his pie and smiled a wicked smile. “Lady Leorre Rianne, you surprise me more every day.”
Velina eyed three men at the table beside theirs. They were wearing half helms and grey gambesons and they kept looking over, turning away, then whispering. Are we going to have trouble? She noticed the swords at their hip. Whose men are they?
“It’s me they’re eyeing up, not you,” Asher said bluntly, and loudly. He took a swig of ale, wiped his lips then said, “They know good steel when they see it.” He rattled his sword in its scabbard. “They’ll get to see it soon enough if they continue to glare.”
“Be quiet, Asher, there’s three of them.”
“I could kill all three if I had to,” Asher said casually, never looking to see if they reacted. “And you could too. Quicker than I could, and you’d make it look nicer.”
“Not necessarily,” she whispered with a cautious smile. “Sup up. We should go to grocers, get some provisions then leave.”
“Very well.” Asher drained the rest of his tankard. As he slammed it down on the table all the eyes in the room found him. He stood and so did the three soldiers. Something in Asher’s eyes changed. “Outside, gentlemen,” it sounded like a command. “Your master High-Lord Mattias wouldn’t want you spilling blood in this kind man’s inn now, would he?”
A shiver ran down Velina’s spine. I should probably bring an end to this before someone is killed. “I don’t know why you men have an issue, but perhaps you should just let us leave.”
“This is men’s business, sweetheart,” one soldier said. He had a pock-marked face and a nose that had clearly been broken numerous times. His eyes were narrow and full of hate. He waved his hand towards the door. “After you,” he said to Asher.
Damn this to the hells. “What is this!?” Velina snapped. “Just men fighting over who has the bigger cock!”
“I’ll show you mine after,” the second soldier laughed. “I promise it’ll be the biggest you’ve seen.” His head was too large for his body and his beady blue eyes were too far apart.
Asher walked outside, and the three soldiers followed, the door swinging shut behind them. When Velina went to leave someone grabbed her firmly by the arm. “Lady, you should not meddle in this.” It was the innkeeper, his lined face contorted into a fearful scowl. “Your friend is a dead man. Escape through the back window so they don’t come for you next.”
“Get your hand off of me,” Velina growled.
“Leave her be, Marcus,” the stout flutist on the table commanded. “She knows what she is doing.”
The ringing of steel on steel filled the air. Velina pulled back from the man, but he seemed intent on restraining her. She heard grunts outside; shouting, roaring, slashing. Enough! Her fingers glowed blue and a pulse of energy burst from her hand that sent the innkeeper soaring across the tavern and crashing into the small window, the one which he insisted Velina climbed out of. Shouts erupted from a dozen mouths. All except the small, blonde flutist, who stayed stood on the table, watching.
The enchantress pushed the door open just in time to witness the first soldier lose his hand, sword still firmly grasped. As he screamed the second and third soldier swung at Asher, he dealt with both attacks with ease, swinging under the first and parrying the second. I can’t let him kill a High-lord’s soldier.
Velina felt her heart thumping against her chest. The beady eyed soldier slammed his shoulder into Asher while the second thrusted for his head. The mercenary swung to the side, letting his steel shoulder cop take the hit instead. People began to gather round. For them the chance to watch trained soldiers fight was a rare spectacle. The common folk began to chant and boo and hiss at Asher, who was clearly the villain in their eyes.
“Alright, enough,” Velina said to no one in particular. She lifted her hands high in the air, a golden aura began to envelop her arms. When she threw her arms forward the golden glow began to leave her, trailing through the air like an arcane snake, until eventually it stopped and began to spin itself into an oval shape that seemed to tear at the air around it. Suddenly, all the world that was caught inside the golden oval began to contort, twist and spark and dance, until it became a multicoloured vortex of magical energy. A portal. At the sight of it, people began to flee, crying out and calling for their gods. Fools, Velina thought as she prepared her next spell.
The portal was a good distraction, as the soldiers attacking Asher decided now was the best time to glare at it. Asher, using the well-timed distraction, swung for one of the soldiers, in an attempt to take his head off his shoulders, but Velina blasted her friend with a less powerful version of the same spell she had used on the innkeeper. As he rolled towards what remained of the crowd, the two soldiers followed. An indigo rope of magical energy sprouted from Velina’s fingers and wrapped itself around the two soldiers. Once she felt she had them firmly in her control, she flung them through the portal. Asher watched in astonishment but said nothing, his eyes were hazel fires of bemusement. The third soldier, who was on his knees crying, didn’t take much convincing to walk through the portal. He even took his severed hand with him. The enchantress projected a beam of golden light at the portal and watched as it faded away. She turned to the crowd and feigned a spell which sent them running and screaming.
“Sweet Liranya’s saggy tits, that was impressive,” Asher said, standing. He dusted himself off. “Although, I don’t understand why you went to all that effort. I was handling it just fine.”
“Yes, I saw, that was the problem,” she answered. That gained her a quizzical look. “If you had killed them we’d have a bounty on our heads. This High-Lord of theirs would have found out sooner or later, and these villagers would have sold us down the river quick as piss.”
“They’ll probably just as quickly tell him about a woman opening a rift in their village and sending the soldiers flying through it.”
“But it’s not murder is it, Asher?”
“It never would have been.”
“Common mercenary kills High-Lord’s soldier. You’re always going to come out as the villain in that situation.”
Asher shrugged, sheathing his sword. “Where did the portal lead?”
“To an island off the coast of Mattereg,” Velina answered, coyly. “It was the first place that came to mind. I wanted them far away. That way we can go about our business without having to see them again.”
Asher was laughing loudly. “It’ll take them weeks to get back,” he said, his words flavoured with amusement. “Ahh, the perks of travelling with a mage.”
“All that just because they decided they wanted your sword.”
“There was a lot of male pride involved,” Asher claimed. “They saw another, better looking man with a sword in their village so they decided I had to be taught a lesson. In the end they were beat by a woman. Their pride took a real battering.”
“An impressive display,” a woman’s voice called out from the door of the inn. When Velina turned to find the owner of the voice she saw the little flutist stood in the doorway. “I knew you were a mage from the moment you walked in.”
“We mages sense each other,” the little woman said with a wide toothy smile.
“You’re a mage?” Velina asked, incredulous. “I didn’t sense it.”
“Some magic can even negate the detection of magic,” the woman said. “The arcane arts are a strange thing indeed. A paradox, if you will.”
“I’ve read about it,” Velina said, feeling like the inferior mage. “I just never got around to learning how it was done.”
The little woman’s grin never faded. “I could teach you.”
“Sorry, but I don’t have the time, we’re actually on our way to Maurthorn.”
“For the Mages’ council?”
“Yes.” Velina frowned at the woman. “Aren’t you attending?”
“I am,” she answered.
Asher sniggered. “So why did we find you in Langford dancing on a table like a mad woman?”
“Mages’ councils are incredibly dull, dear,” she said bluntly. “It will be my eighth. I like to fill myself with as much joy as I can before I go and have it drained out of me.”
“Your eighth council?” Velina asked sceptically. “Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t these councils only occur every twenty years?”
The woman only smiled.
What magic does this one know?
“You could take us there,” Asher said. “There’s two hours between here and Maurthorn. Who knows what new trouble Velina will cause.”
A smile flickered across the young enchantress’s lips. “It would be very much appreciated, Lady…”
“No lady,” the woman said with a dismissive hand gesture. “Just Ulia. And you are?”
“Velina,” the enchantress answered, “and this is Asher.” A thought came to her suddenly. “The innkeeper. How is he?”
A cold shiver crept up Velina’s spine. “I… I never.”
“I jest, sweet girl. I saw to him when you left. He is fine.”
Asher sniggered again.
Velina’s relief was palpable. “A cruel jest, Ulia.”
Ulia only shrugged, before throwing her arms out and creating a portal. “That will lead you to the eastern Maurthorn gate. I shall join you later.”
She made that portal with so much ease.
“The gates?” Asher asked, annoyed. “Couldn’t you send us straight into the city so we can avoid the queue on the bridge and the guard’s search?”
Ulia shook her head. “If you’re seen in Maurthorn without a visitor’s permit you’ll be thrown in a cell and questioned. Only the gate guards can give you a permit.”
“I’ve been inside those city walls without a permit so many times,” Asher uttered under his breath.
Velina mussed Asher’s hair. “Not this time. We’re not on one of your criminal escapades today.”
“Piss off,” he groaned, flattening his hair back out. “Are we going or not?”
“I think you’re forgetting that we have horses to go fetch.”
“Quickly now,” Ulia commanded. “Before people from Maurthorn start appearing through the portal.”
Once the pair had retrieved their horses and Asher had given the stablemaster another fright just for good measure, they rode through the portal that Ulia had created. Only to be met by a semi-circle of angry halberdiers ready to skewer them. The portal began to fade away.
“State your business!” The halberdier furthest left roared. He wore the same armour as the soldiers from Langford. These men belong to the High-lord of this very city. His beard was flecked with grey and his steel half helm was dinted in the centre. “Speak!”
Asher sighed, “Excellent work, Ulia, putting us directly outside the gates. Not a secret passage that we could just emerge out of? No, that would make too much sense.”
“What did you say!?” The same guard roared. “Speak up!
There were many spectators on the bridge. Women with children, nobles in carriages, traders with their oxcarts, armoured knights on horseback. I wish today would just end. “Good soldiers, we are here for the mages’ council,” Velina said, tiredly.
“You don’t look much like mages,” the guard in the centre growled. With his fresh unmarked face and the wisps of hair above his lip he couldn’t have been older than twenty. “Prove it.”
I’ll turn you to ash, bastard.
“Did you fail to notice the portal we just climbed through?” Asher sneered. “A portal is magic,” he said slowly.
“It could have belonged to anyone,” a crooked nose guard retorted. “We want to see some magic from you both directly. Give these good people some entertainment whilst they wait in line.”
Velina clasped her hands together and upon opening them again, a spectral owl flew from her hands, before dissolving into the pre-evening air. That gained her a few claps and cheers from the crowd.
Crooked nose scoffed, “A magician’s trick. Do you mean to cozen us, woman? Give us some real magic or turn your horse around and go back where you came from.”
In a flash or irritation, the enchantress sent a stream of fire hurtling towards a tree that sat in the fields surrounding Maurthorn. The great oak tree instantly went up in flames, becoming what looked like a monstrous burning effigy.
The crowd watched wide eyed and open mouthed as the tree spat and hissed and crackled. “Look at it, mother!” One child cried out in awe. “I want to be a magic man too.”
“Put it out at once!” the same guard who pushed her to see magic bellowed. Velina didn’t hear. She was hunched over in her saddle, tears welling in her eyes. “Are you listening, woman!?”
Suddenly, the fire began to shrink and then more so, until eventually it was gone, tree unharmed.
“Good,” The halberdier said. “Thank the bloody gods.”
“I… I didn’t do that,” Velina uttered, shaking.
“Then what the fuck just happened?” Asher rode towards the tree. “It is completely unharmed.”
“That is what happens when magic is controlled by someone who understands it,” an unfamiliar man’s voice chimed in, flavoured with an unfamiliar accent. When Velina found him in the crowd on the bridge, his eyes were fixed on her. He pushed his way through the crowd and walked towards Velina’s horse. His head was completely hairless, except for two thinly lined eyebrows. He wore a red long-coat, buttoned to the waist along with brown breeches, and black leather boots. “What a foolish spell to cast,” he growled at the enchantress. His voice was deep, authoritative. “You know what a raw fire spell can do to a mage. Especially one so powerful.” He had wide, unforgiving brown eyes.
Velina did not respond. She only wrapped her arms around herself tightly and shook violently.
“Good evening, Lord Yorgos,” greeted the halberdier with the dinted helm. “I wasn’t aware it was you in the carriage.”
“Clearly, Symon, otherwise I would have been in the city by now. Not stuck behind the squalling children and stinking mercenaries.” The Lord mage never took his eyes off Velina. “Get this one inside the city. She needs to be seen to by a healer. Her actions were foolish and perhaps I should let her suffer – teach her an important lesson. But she needs help.”
“Can’t you do it?” Asher chimed in bluntly. “She clearly needs immediate help.”
The bald mage twisted his head and his eyes met with Asher’s. “And who are you, some jumped up bodyguard? I’m not an expert on restoration. There’s women in the city that are.”
The guards began shouting commands to those on the bridge to move aside for Lord Yorgos and Velina. The commands weren’t well received by the public, who began shouting back. One man even threw a stone that pinged off the crooked nosed guard’s helm. He was quickly subdued by the butt of another guard’s halberd.
Two guards crossed their halberds as Asher attempted to follow the mages. “Not you!” One barked. “You can queue with the rest.”
“He’s my sworn sword,” Velina lied. “He vowed to protect me.”
“You don’t need protection in this great city,” the young halberdier said adamantly. “The guards have driven all the criminals out.”
“A naïve statement, to be sure,” Asher responded. The young halberdier scowled defiantly at him.
“Naïve indeed. Let him in,” the mage Yorgos commanded. “If he swore a vow who are we to naysay him.”
“Lord Yorgos, you ask too much,” the crooked nose guarded declared, incredulous. “This man needs to go through the necessary checks. A vagabond like him cannot be allowed entry on a whim.”
“Vagabond,” Asher smiled, “I like it.”
Yorgos leered at the guard, eyes rich with contempt. “I mean to dine with High-Lord Mattias upon the hour. Anger me further and I’ll ensure he learns of his guards insolence towards the Lord of Sycamore ridge.”
The halberdiers stood in stunned, fearful silence.
“Fine,” the crooked nose guard grunted as he twisted his skinny neck to find Asher. “But no funny business, vagrant.”
Asher smiled his brazen smile. “Good day to you.” He bowed mockingly from horseback and began to follow Velina, who was being escorted by a halberdier holding onto Aveta’s reins.
Crossing the bridge was a new challenge itself. Rebellious travellers blocked the way in protest, they were enraged and impatient. Yorgos veiled himself, Velina and Asher in a golden screen of light and all projectiles thrown from the crowds simply bounced away from them. The halberdiers managed to subdue the odd rebel, and glimpse of Asher’s unsheathed sword sent others running. Velina ignored most of it, the searing pain in her blood made it so she could think of nothing else.
They received their passes at the gate. A guard with long, greasy black hair gave it to them with a grunt and ushered them inside. “A vile city,” Velina heard Yorgos say. “A city of debauchery and sin. Why the council chose here to hold our meeting I will never understand.”
All Velina saw was the grey stone floor beneath her feet and the puddles that filled the cracks and holes. She wanted to look up, gaze at this ‘vile city’ but she couldn’t bring herself to do so. “How far are the healers?”
“Close enough,” Lord Yorgos answered bluntly. “I plan to leave you before we reach them. Your halberdier escort can take you the rest of the way.”
The halberdier uttered something under his breath, then nodded meekly.
“Ah, yes,” Asher said, “you have a meal to attend with the High-Lord himself.”
“That was a lie,” Yorgos said, waiting for a reaction from the halberdier. There wasn’t one. “The man is a deplorable letch. I would sooner dine with maggots.”
“A brave statement. Especially considering one of his men are right in front of us.”
“His men despise him as much as I do,” Yorgos answered, “probably more so.”
It wasn’t long until Yorgos was gone, Velina knew from the gradually quieting hoofbeats. She felt herself slipping from her saddle, before being pushed back into place with a grunt that could have only been Asher’s. “By the gods, Velina, you shouldn’t have eaten all that bread and cheese in the cave.”
The enchantress uttered something incomprehensible in response.
“That Yorgos fella,” Asher continued, hoping the conversation would keep Velina from slipping out of consciousness. “He’s not from Terenna is he? His name doesn’t fit right.”
“He’s from Vallia,” the escort halberdier answered. “He has lived in Terenna for many years, even becoming friends with the queen. He fought in the battle of the Primrose fields and gained himself a lordship.”
“The lord of Sycamore ridge, I heard him say. I’ve been there. A beautiful town, to be sure. It overlooks the Cerulean sea.”
The halberdier lead Aveta down a short side street that lead out onto an open plaza. The rain had driven folk into their homes, leaving the marketplace a desolate square filled only with empty stalls and wet wooden platforms. Velina caught a glimpse before hunching forward once more.
Finally, they stopped. The enchantress looked up to find a row of pale high roofed buildings in front of her. Their escort was thumping on a wide blue door. Velina heard the door creak open. “We have sick people in here,” a woman with a soft but authoritative voice said. “Your incessant thudding is not appreciated.”
“My apologies, Tariana,” the guard replied. “This mage here needs your immediate attention. She set a tree on fire and that hurt her… for some reason.”
Tariana the healer tutted. “Ladies, make up a new bed,” she shouted inside. She clicked at Asher. “You, get the mage down from her horse and bring her in.”
Asher slid Velina down from her horse. “Can you stand?” he asked her.
She couldn’t. Her legs went from under her, but Asher stopped her from crashing to the ground. “Astien,” she uttered. Her vision faded to black.
She found herself back in Mattarein, in her home town of Veroux. Stood by the hearth, in the house that was her home, was her mother Sirona, in a long black gown with a ruby necklace hanging around her neck. She wore her long brown hair down, which she only did when she had guests. Her eyes were wide and friendly, dark blue pools. “Velina,” she said with a pleasant smile. “Your friends have come to see you.”
“My friends?” Velina asked, sceptically. I don’t have any friends. She walked through the arch that lead from the hall to the sitting room. Sat on a long red cushioned bench were Erys and Garwin. They had wide smiles; Garwin wore a green doublet, Erys a blue gown. That isn’t right. “What is this, mother?”
Her mother giggled coyly, “Always so suspicious.”
“For a reason.”
“The tests, mother. The pain.”
“But look at you now,” her mother said. “A powerful mage. As good as your cousin once was.”
“But at what cost?” Velina growled. “I almost died twice, yet still you pushed.”
Erys stood. She carried no axe. “Your mother only ever wanted what was best for you, Velina.”
“You too, Erys?” Velina could feel the tears welling in her eyes. “And you, Garwin? What do you say?”
Garwin, still smiling, said, “What would you have become if not a mage?”
“Perhaps something that I chose by myself!” The enchantress roared. “A dancer, a maid. Something that didn’t hurt so much!”
The trio began to laugh. They laughed so loud it began to hurt, even the room shook. “Daughter, you were always so rebellious. Born with the gift of magic, yet you wanted to dance. Fool!”
Tears flowed down her face, then someone grabbed her by the hair from behind. She squealed helplessly, attempting to pull herself away. She twisted to catch a glimpse of her attacker. “No!” she wailed.
“You’re a fine mage, Velina,” the man said, “but there is always room for improvement.”
Garwin grabbed her by one arm, Erys the other. She screamed but it made not matter, the enchantress was dragged from the room. Her mother stayed stood by her hearth, still smiling.
Her eyes flicked open and her body jolted. Her chest rose and fell quickly, and she pushed back the lump in her throat, sweat dripping from her brow. She was laid on a slim bed wearing only her smallclothes. The aching in her blood and bones persisted, but she felt it being drawn out by the golden glow emitting from the three healer women that towered over her.
“You were thrashing like a fish in a net,” one of the women said. She wore a white hood, but her long golden hair hung loose over her shoulders, her eyes shone ice blue. Her face was fresh and blemish free.
“A fever dream,” the women next to her said. Her hair couldn’t be seen but for a grey fringe that covered her half of her right eye. “A common sight in this house.”
The room she had been confined to was small, and thick with the smell of incense. Red draperies hung over a rectangular arch, low moans could be heard from the other afflicted in other rooms.
“Asher…” Velina groaned.
“The man,” the third woman grunted. Her hood was down, revealing a nest of grey hair. Her nose had a big boil on the side and her eyes were narrow and grey. She looked like a witch from children’s books. “He has been ordered to wait outside. We wouldn’t allow that deviant to lay eyes on you whilst you lay almost entirely naked, no matter how much he insisted.”
“He’s… my friend,” Velina uttered. He’s seen me pissing in fields on more than one occasion, seeing me in smallclothes is nothing. “Allow him in.”
The crone exchanged a glance with the other two ladies before pulling the red curtain back. “Man,” she growled, “you may enter. No touching.”
“No touching?” Velina heard Asher say, “then I refuse. I wanted nothing more than to touch my friend’s breasts when she was at her most vulnerable.”
The young healer giggled.
“Jests are not appreciated,” the crone grumbled. “In!”
As Asher walked in he undressed the young priestess with his eyes. “You are wasted in here.” The golden-haired healer blushed, yet she smiled shyly.
“No one is wasted in the House of Prya Darlia,” the old crone barked. “We are doing god’s work. I’ll hear no more from you.” She wrinkled her brow before turning to her table of ointments.
Asher leant over Velina’s body and whispered, “Are the gods too idle to do the work themselves?” He kissed her cheek. “I mean to fuck this golden-haired beauty before we leave this city.” He stood up straight, running his fingers through his auburn hair. “How long are you going to be, ladies?”
“As long as it takes,” the crone answered. “If you don’t have the patience to wait you are free to leave.”
Velina wriggled in pain, then uttered. “It’s alright, Asher. I’ll be going to the council soon and they won’t let you in anyway.”
Asher smiled at the young healer. “I’m not welcome anywhere.”
“Don’t you have business in the city anyway?”
“Then you should see to it. Once I’m finished at the council I will come find you.”
“How do you know where I’ll be?”
Velina eyed up the golden-haired healer. “I think I know where to look.”
Asher left, and the priestesses continued their healing ritual.
Eventually, the pain in her body was lifted and it was the best Velina had ever felt. It feels like I’ve been completely cleansed. It was as though all the bad energy in her body had been taken as well as the searing pain in her blood and bones. She thanked the women in turn and went to stand, and as she did, the curtain was flung open. Another priestess stood under the arch, stiff backed and stern faced.
“Mistress Tariana,” the crone said, dipping into a curtsey. The other women didn’t show the same courtesy.
Mistress Tariana ignored the crone. “Is the mage well?” She asked about Velina. “Did you exorcise the negative magic from her?”
“We did, Mistress,” the crone answered before the others had a chance. “The foolish mage has been cleansed.”
“Good,” Tariana said frankly, “because there is someone here to see her.” Tariana pulled the curtain back and a small blonde woman strutted in, wide eyed and smiling.
“Ulia,” Velina said with a wide grin. Then remembered she was all but naked and began to blush.
“Sweet girl,” Ulia said, solemnly. “When I saw your magic display in Langford I was extremely impressed. But when I learned what transpired here…”
“How did you learn I was here?”
“Yorgos,” she stated. “The miserable old git overheard me asking if a pretty young mage with brown hair had arrived yet. He told me what happened and where I’d find you.” She sat at the end of the bed. “Raw fire magic, girl…”
“I know I was foolish.”
Ulia nodded. “But I won’t scold you for it. We were all young once. Although, it is usually the male mages that hurt themselves showing off. We women are usually more cautious.”
“Not this one,” Velina grinned.
“You certainly are an interesting creature,” Ulia said. “Now come, get dressed.”