Wizards and Witches
Chapter 1: Wizards and Witches
Wave after wave assaulted the land while homes fell to the force. The wall of destruction was made of more than sand and the wind. The people who lived through the storm knew that the wave was made of pure fear. Sand may have been what was left in their homes, and in their eyes, but the true enemy was not the small grains of sand. The enemy so much more than that.
Men like Corin had to fight that enemy every day. He had faced storms and survived. He had seen men, good men, die for no reason. Men had followed him to their doom. Corin had survived but he wished that he had fallen with them. He had survived but now he rode in a cage.
The bars pressed into his back and reminded him where he was. The moans and cries of the injured could hardly let him forget! No reminders were persistent enough to make Corin forget where this fiasco started. It all began in Anuland with his father.
“Three more have been found, sire,” a guard in a blue uniform said.
“I’ll go. I can stop this,” Corin almost begged his father.
“I will not lose my only son.”
“I will not die there!” Corin’s voice rang through the halls. “I promise it. I’m too curious to die!”
“You may die on Windplain.” Corin’s father spoke the facts in a quiet voice. “Do not make promises you cannot keep.”
“Saving our people would be worth your unraveling and mine as well.”
“Go! Go then! Do not let your ghost haunt me,” the father declared in anger.
“I want answers and not clean lines,”
His eyes were alive with fire and pain. He had nothing but unsolved questions. His thoughts were awake in his mind but his body was pushing exhaustion. Hands slid over his face and his tired eyes seemed to wake.
“Death can be found in the light of the fire,” Corin’s father warned. “What gives life can also take it.”
The knowledge seemed to bring Corin to a strange, uneasy calm.
“We use fire to cook either way. Can I go?”
He had a light, graceful step because love was more than a memory. He could find music. Love and peace. Everyone else in the room spoke of warnings but Corin knew the sound of destiny. Firelight shivered over him, weaving patterns of light and shadow in the air. He sat in the silence of trees and a face of granite. Corin listened to it, realizing that silence was not the evasion of an answer, but the answer itself.
His heart beat suddenly, painfully, in his throat. He wanted to speak but he could not.
Corin moved then, unbound from the silence. Words seemed gripped in his chest and in his clenched hands as if he dared not let them go.
His father was also reluctant to speak. He stirred a little, stiffly, then stilled again, gazing down at a star of candlelight reflected on the table. Finally, the older man spoke,
“I had not realized there was a limit to my own endurance but you have found it.”
That was as good as a “yes” from any other man.
“Windplain,” Corin named it. “I will go.”
“Make sure that you come back,” the king in Anuland all but commanded his son with a firm hug.
Corin son of Gaton of Anuland, left his home and traveled for days through the country looking for a monster that no one had seen. Dead bodies had been found after every wave. It was not unusual for people to die during the waves but it was unusual to see so much blood. Sand suffocated people at the height of the wave. There was not a drop of blood on a suffocation victim’s body.
The corpses that appeared in Anuland looked like they had been mauled by animals. They were covered in blood. Corin would have assumed that the bodies were killed by animals but no animals traveled during a wave. They would have been killed by the sand. The corpses appeared minutes after the wave had passed. Witnesses all described a monster with glowing eyes and black claws.
Corin knew that he could not trust all the witness accounts but he had a place to start. These witnesses needed to be questioned. They were from different areas and economic stations. There were merchants, farmers, and nobles from all over. Other dukedoms spoke of similar problems. No one was willing to do anything about it.
Corin was about to change all of that.
“I can’t believe that your father lets you go,” Sir Loien said with a grin.
“I can make logical, persuasive arguments when I need to.”
“The Duke of Anuland is allowing his only heir to travel so near to the king’s forest?” Sir Nathan asked with incredulity.
“We’re not going through the forest itself,” Corin argued.
That night, the men of Anuland traveled through the countryside. Open fields stretched for miles on their left and the king’s forest loomed on the right. No one wanted to sleep so near to the forest so the men continued riding through the night. Eventually, the group came to an overhang of cliffs. The chasms were too narrow. Each man would have to travel through on foot one-by-one.
The men naturally formed a line and placed Corin at the center. The men marched ahead of their horses as if walls of stone surrounded them. They were comfortable and confident, even though uncertainty lay both ahead and behind. The men moved like a contingent of guards. They moved like one, massed and prickling like a hedgehog, with Corin as their center.
Something moved through the group of knights until she stood directly before Corin. No one moved. It did not take Corin long to see that no one could move. Time seemed to have stopped.
“What are you?” Corin asked in awe and wonder.
“You don’t question a riddler with a sword,” the woman said the words with a voice full of malice.
Corin soon saw the shadows of other beings moving between his men. He found himself closed in by shadows.
“Summon my attendants. Leave the man to me.” The rapier loosed him. His eyes clung to his cousin until guards falling into ranks around him hid him from view.
“What do you want of me? Why am I here?”
“You are here because you want to stop a monster. I want to kill it too,” the witch answered simply.
“You know about the monster?”
“I have seen it before. It will not escape me this time.”
“My people and I would gladly accept your help.”
“A wave will be coming this way. Your men will be trapped out here and the monster will strike again. Bring your men to my house. They can take shelter there and we will seek the monster together while the storm rages.”
His men came back to themselves in an instant. The witch in front of Corin was the first change they noticed.
“You will follow me now,” the witch said with an air of command.
The witch walked beside Corin, one hand on his shoulder. The men watched his stiff back, his red, clenched fists. They followed all the same.
The witch led them to a fine cottage. Dark woods and warm fires covered entryway but the cottage itself was made of two rooms. The rooms were not small but they did not have the welcoming feel of the entryway. The wallpaper was faded and torn in places. The furniture was worn. The two rooms could not have been more different. Where one was dark, the other was light.
Corin turned to ask the witch if she lived here but he saw that she was no longer there. A new woman stood with her hand on his arm. She was old and she was angry.
A terrible spray of words left the witch’s mouth and sent Corin’s men to their knees. Each held his head and groaned. Nathan fell to the ground, dead. More men joined him each second. Corin pulled his arm, trying to free himself but the grip only tightened.
“What are you doing?” Corin demanded. “You said you could help fight this monster.”
“You will bring me the head of this monster,” the witch commanded.
“I will! I will! Just stop killing them.
“Your men are not dead. I cannot have them disturbing us.”
“Where do I find it?”
“In the king’s forest.”
“My men and I will go there. I will bring it back to you.”
“Be sure that you do.” The witch was commanding now.
He felt hands as cool and smooth as the glass behind him slide around his throat and tighten. “A word, my boy,” he heard through the sudden black wind roaring through his head, “of warning.” He woke some time later at the foot of the mirror, his throat as raw as if he had swallowed a rapier. He managed to find his feet and stumble into a nearby couch.
“Your father would never agree to this,” Sir Loein said again.
“He knows that I’ll have the best knights to protect me,” Corin said.
“You’re going to need all of us in those forests.”
Crossing the king’s forest was a problem. The forest became public land in the reign of Corin’s great-grandfather and it had been overrun by bandits ever since. Traveling through the land was dangerous. Still, Corin would have a squad of his father’s men traveling with him. What could go wrong?
Corin found exactly what could go wrong two nights later.
That was when the slavers found him.
The witch had set him up. She was watching him from the heart of the forest, wearing a different face again. Only this face was more accurately the lack of a face.
He watched her pull parts of herself back out of the charcoal whirlpool that had stolen them and reattach them, muttering a trenchant mix of spell and imprecation. The best she could do was a withered black carrot for a thumb, a crumpled leaf for an ear, and a dead-white eyebrow. Looking into a mirror, she had spat at her reflection. The glass melted where her spittle ran down.
“Bring him. Kill the rest.”
“No! You promised me hope! You promised me a truth!” Corin struggled but the struggle and travel had made him weak. The slavers dragged him into another house.
Then she had turned to Corin, who was slumped on the floor, one arm dangling from a metal cuff on a chain and growing numb. “As for you,” the Black Pearl said harshly, staring into Corin’s expressionless eyes. “You will stay with the slavers as bait. I will refuse every offer your father makes for you until he is forced to come for you. Then he will reckon with me. He will become mine in name, in thought, in heart. I will use him against Anuland as he used you against me and you won’t even be here.”
She took his face then. Corin saw his own face smiling down at him before darkness took him.
He was torn between anger and fear. Time touched his heart suddenly, like the words of a spell. He had no business taking more but want called out to him in ways he could not ignore. The thought of the sea, between him and his home and his heart, chilled.
Corin felt like he had been in the rolling cage for years. He could feel his body and mind changing. The slavers fed the slaves as little as possible. He could feel the strength leaving his body. He could feel the confidence of youth leave his mind.
Corin was no longer the son of a duke. He was just another slave. He had been beaten and cursed. Everything he owned had been taken from him. He no longer even had a name. He was only a tattoo. All that he had was now gone. The only way left to go was forward.
Corin heard the waves of a sand storm crashing outside. Walls folded down around the cage to create a shelter from the wave. He heard the voice of the storm rage outside. He heard the voices calling him and pulling his anger.
“I sware a vow in the name of my ancestors, oh wave. I sware a vow of power in your name. If you grant me the power, I will bring you a witch. The red witch who sent me here.”
Corin felt power crush him then. It fell into him on all sides. The storm had accepted his offer.
The slaves had all survived the storm. A slaver handed out buckets of water, rags and new robes to several men in the wagon. The chosen people seemed random to Corin but the precise movements of the slaver told him otherwise. These people were selected for a purpose. Corin was surprised to find the robes in his hands.
He was dressed in a firery robe. His face had lost the proud assurance; the eyes seemed older, vulnerable, haunted with the memory of the dead. He said many things that no one could hear.
The attack began then.
He slapped them shut with a thought that nearly cost him his life. A mind, familiar, deadly, groped at the flash of power, gripped him across the distance. The dark air in front of him tore apart with a blue-white seam, so quick and strangely beautiful that he could only stand and watch it Then his bones seemed to fly piecemeal in all directions, while his brain burned like a star. He felt stone behind him, dimly, and let his mind flow into it, grow blank, motionless. The power slid away. He gathered his bones back out of the night and realized vaguely that he was still alive.
Everyone in the yard looked to him, including the new buyers.
“I am no guard,” he said aloud.
Rose was surprised he had spoken at all.
“You could be,” Rose prompted him.
“I will hold no spear.”
“You could choose a different weapon. My father will allow you to hold any weapon you decide.”
Corin could not say another word before a slaver came with a metal collar. Corin’s head was forced to a stone block while the collar was hammered in place. There was no use denying it...
Corin was now a slave.
Corin’s new owners had troubles of their own. He could not begin to imagine what he was about to walk into.
Corin drifted, shapelessly in the mist. Copper and precious stones were spun into thought along with the man. The watchfulness was born out of need. Finally, when he began to see the world around him instead of the one in his head, he came within sight of the house.
The witch was still linked to the calm of his mind. She smiled at something in the eyes but left them undisturbed. She said many things that no one seemed to hear. Corin knew that the woman who had bargained for him was more than she appeared. He figured that meeting the master of the house would only refortify that idea.
“You can no longer expect me to obey you without thinking,” the woman finally spoke into the silence. A white-haired man stood in the entryway.
“You are my child. I expect you to obey whether you question or not.”
“What would you have me do? You told me to take your gold and bring back help. I’ve done that.”
The man put a hand to his graying hair and sighed. “Entertain the guests at my table. They grow restless.”
“I have a tale for them:
The wizard Heald coupled with a poor woman once, in the king’s city of Mondor, and she bore a son with one green eye and one black eye. Heald, who had two eyes black as the black marshes of Fyrbolg, came and went like a wind out of the woman’s life, but the child Myk stayed in Mondor until he was fifteen. Big-shouldered and strong, he was apprenticed to a smith, and men who came to have their carts mended or horses shod were inclined to curse his slowness and his sullenness, until something would stir in him, sluggish as a marsh beast waking beneath murk. Then he would turn his head and look at them out of his black eye, and they would fall silent, shift away from him. There was a streak of wizardry in him, like the streak of fire in damp, smoldering wood. He spoke rarely to men with his brief, rough voice, but when he touched a horse, a hungry dog or a dove in a cage on market day, the fire would surface in his black eye, and his voice would run sweet as a daydreaming voice of the Slinoon River.
One day he left Mondor and went to Eld Mountain. Eld was the highest mountain in Eldwold, rising behind Mondor and casting its black shadow over the city at twilight when the sun slipped, lost, into its mists. From the fringe of the mists, shepherds or young boys hunting could see beyond Mondor, west to the flat Plain of Terbrec, land of the Sirle Lords, north to Fallow Field, where the third King of Eldwold’s ghost brooded still on his last battle, and where no living thing grew beneath his restless, silent steps. There, in the rich, dark forests of Eld Mountain, in the white silence, Myk began a collection of wondrous, legendary animals.
From the wild lake country of North Eldwold, he called to him the Black Swan of Tirlith, the great-winged, golden-eyed bird that had carried the third daughter of King Merroc on its back away from the stone tower where she was held captive. He sent the powerful, silent thread of his call into the deep, thick forests on the other side of Eld, where no man had ever gone and returned, and caught like a salmon the red-eyed, white-tusked Boar Cyrin, who could sing ballads like a harpist, and who knew the answers to all riddles save one. From the dark, silent heart of the Mountain itself, Myk brought Gyld, the green-winged dragon, whose mind, dreaming for centuries over the cold fire of gold, woke sleepily, pleasurably, to the sound of its name in the half-forgotten song Myk sent crooning into the darkness.
Coaxing a handful of ancient jewels from the dragon, Myk built a house of white, polished stone among the tall pines, and a great garden for the animals enclosed within the ring of stone wall and iron-wrought gates. Into that house, he took eventually a fountain girl with few words and no fear either of animals or their keeper. She was of poor family, with tangled hair and muscled arms, and she saw in Myk’s household things that others saw perhaps once in their lives in a line of old poetry or in a harpist’s tale.”
Rosable ended her tale there. She could see that the men were no longer listening. It was a tale that had been told a million times in a million languages. They left after a time of their own accord.
She sat there while the fire crept into embers and pulsed within them secretly, and while they burned themselves to blackness, and the night fell, cold, around her, and the snow fell across her threshold, blotted the last footprints of those men, and the crescents of the prints of the King’s horse. That night, the next day, and the next night she sat there, hands motionless on the arms of her chair, her eyes unwavering, as if she could still see the dancing flame, and the white hall was cold and silent about her.
She knew that that part of her life was gone. It was over. No one could fathom what was about to begin.
She looked pensive, very still, as if she were chasing the tag-end of some sudden, imperative notion in her head. She did not move; she scarcely seemed to breathe. Rose sighed noiselessly and settled back in her chair. She began to relax when that feeling came again. Instinct took over.
Rose was on her feet before she opened her eyes. Someone was in the room! Rose could hear his heart hammering from across the room. She could hear it pump faster and faster. They were about to do something and Rose was betting her money that an attack was about to begin.
She turned, dagger in hand, ready to strike. Rose had to stop mid-throw. The new slave was there, with a knife already pressed to the stranger’s throat.
“The High One has come Wind Plain!” The stranger cried out in Rathki. “There will be war!”
“There’s war at Wind plain!” Rose translated quickly for her father.
“Send your slave there to settle this before it begins,” ordered her father.
“I will go to Wind Plain. There is no need to send someone else.”
“You cannot travel that far alone! You are an unmarried woman.”
“We’ll both have to go to Wind Plain.” The slave ended the argument then and there. Father and daughter were too shocked to argue.
“You are in the eye of danger,” Corin tried to warn her.
“I chose to come. To protect those I love.”
Corin looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “You are not what I expected.”
“I still have more to learn,” Rose admitted.
“I’ll tell you what I know.” Corin settled back as if to tell a story. “There are twelve winds,” he said to Rose. “Bound, controlled, they are more precise and terrible than any weapon or wizard’s power in the realm. Unbound, they could destroy the realm. They are also wizards’ eyes and ears, for they shape all things, hear all words and movements, and they are everywhere... Wizards used them to cut stone, long before they were ever used in war.”
“Why are you telling me?” Her voice jerked a little. “I can’t hold the winds.”
“No. Not yet.” He put his arm around her shoulders, held him easily again within his stillness. “Listen. You can hear the voices of all the winds of the realm in this chamber. You just need to learn how to listen.”
Something spun Rose and Corin across the chamber. They struck the dark wall; it gave under them, and they fell into a luminous, blue-black mist of illusion. He heard a cry and hands grabbed at them both. A mind gripped Rose’s mind. The binding was instantly broken. A power he did not feel flashed at him and was swallowed.
A sword arched down to strike but no blow came. A voice flew from the wind itself instead and said, pleadingly, “Release the winds.”
Rose called with a shout that was more than a shout. Weapons broke and warriors fled. The wind rose up and took away any who stood in its path. Rose and Corin looked around them for miles and miles on the, now flat, land. They could not see another soul. Corin could see sand rising up, preparing for a wave storm.
“What do we do now?” Rose asked in a whisper.
“Run. We need to find shelter before that storm hits.”
The storm crashed like waves outside of the shelter. Corin fought to ignore the sounds around him. He could not drown out the voice the echoed in the room.
“Your vow has been met. This witch will be accepted as payment.”
“Do not kill her!” Corin pleaded. “This girl is innocent.”
“If her life were taken the witch would no longer belong to us. No, we will not kill her -- but she will dream of us always -- She will yearn to return.”
“No!” Corin called again. “You will condemn her to a walking death!”
Corin struggled against the wind, fighting to get closer to Rose. The wind came in waves and swoops, knocking Corin about until he landed on the far cliff. Vines flew from the stone itself and held him there.
“Why do you fight for her? Who is she to you?” The storm itself asked.
Corin thought for all of two seconds. “She makes me remember what honor means.”
The storm choked a laugh. “We have pretended to play your games for far too long. Your own spell-bound bones will betray you.”
The spirits in that storm did something then. Something that Corin would never be able to explain. The silence seemed to eat up sound and time for long hours after the wave left. It seemed like days before either of them could speak.
Corin finally did so in a halting voice, “Rose?”
She drew back, fully awake. The long road sweeping across the land, straight towards the setting sun, touching her, then, within an edge of panic. She was silent, trying to think, but the stale air in the night seemed to fill her brain with chaff.
“No one can run from themselves.”
“You are running. Maybe not from yourself, but from the riddle at your back that you never face.”
They began the journey home in sour moods. The sun was hot and the road was dusty. The two of them found shelter and rest where they could. Corin had practice using his “little magics” but Rose was new at this and she avoided using it. She never knew where to begin explaining things when the magic decided to help on its own. It often did that when Rose got mad or frightened.
They stood in the road only a minute, while the singer moved obliviously away from them. The unexpected light spun around Morgon dizzily. Raederle was struggling against his mind-hold with a startling intensity. She was angry, he sensed, and beneath that, panicked. She could break his hold, he knew suddenly as he glimpsed the vast resource of power in her, but she was too frightened to control her thoughts. His thoughts, shapeless, open, soared over the road again, touched the minds of horses, a hawk, crows feeding around a dead campfire. A farmer’s son, leaving his heritage behind him, riding an ancient plow horse to seek his fortune in Lungold, anchored Corin’s mind again. He stepped forward. As they stood in the dust raised by the plow horse, Corin heard his own harsh, exhausted breathing. Something slapped painfully across his mind, and he nearly fought back at it until be realized it was a mind-shout. He stilled both their minds and searched far down the road.
She was breathing quickly, silently, staring at him, her body tensed to shout or strike or cry. He said, his face so stiff he could hardly speak, “Once more. Please. The river.”
She nodded, after a moment. Now that she knew how it was done, it was simple for her to take him.
“Your eyes are full of wings,” she said.
“Your eyes are full of the sun,” he answered.
“Night and morning too are not there to simply endure. They are elements, like wind or fire. Darkness and light have kingdoms of their own.”
“You sound like a professor,” Corin told Rose, “but this is not the school. It is magic. You must accept new structures.”
“You broke my hold as if it did not exist.”
“Do you have the strength you will need?” He asked sharply.
“To kill takes no strength. To hold its mind and get the answers I need... I must. I’ll find the power.” Rose knew what she had to do.
“Can you hold back destruction?”
“I am certain of nothing. I need answers. I need to know why they want me alive, powerful yet trapped. What power are they watching me stumble into? I still have questions no one can answer.”
“How much do you remember from the wave?”
“I remember everything,” Rose told him.
Corin had no choice but to believe her.
The wave spirits may have been satisfied with Rose in place of the witch but Corin was not. He needed someone, or something, strong enough to defeat a witch. He needed to make a deal with some new spirit to defeat the woman who had taken everything from him. Luckily for him, rumor had it that there was a wizard in town.
The rumors turned out to be true: there was a wizard in town.
Corin did not know much about magic but he knew that it would take a wizard to beat anyone as strong as the Red Witch. Corin’s mind spun in circles, thinking of a way to get back at the hag. She had forced him into a life of slavery and taken away his future! He owed the witch tenfold in misery.
“Welcome to Bounty, sir! I am here at my master’s behest.”
“Thank you, young man. What house are you from?”
“I am a servant in the Demante’s house. May I ask what has brought you to our quiet town?”
“I heard a calling in the night. That it was another wizard in trouble I already knew: the power of his cry, reaching so far across the desolate land to find me, told me what he must be. I sensed something else, beyond his power, that I could not define. It seemed at once small and vast, here and elsewhere, vulnerable and yet absolutely implacable. I could find no name for it. And so I came at last to your town, in the dark under earth and stone, caught with a hand in some new magic.”
Corin found himself bartering over a skull.
“I’ll sware on a pile of bones, Demante, I’ll cure you if you don’t give me that skull!”
“Alright! Alright! I hope you know what you’re doing Because if you are harmed, you will lay a curse of grief and guilt across my threshold, and until I die no fire in my hearth will ever be great enough to warm me.”
Corin’s fingers closed around the skull. That was all it took. The wraiths were his now.
He only knew then, that something he had searched for so long and so hopelessly had never, even in his most desperate moments, been far from his side.
“Corin, what about your father?”
“What about him?”
“I don’t know him, but wouldn’t he... wouldn’t it disturb him maybe a little if you brought an army of the dead to Anuland?”
He thought of the duke of Anuland, his father, whose face he barely remembered. “A little,” he said softly. “He must be used to being disturbed by me, even in his sleep, by now. I would bury my heart under his feet if that would keep him and Anuland safe.”
Corin traveled down the river by ship to reach his father’s land. The enemy awaited him there.
Corin faced his enemy. The wizard was silent a moment. “You could force answers from me,” he said at length. “I could reach out, bind the minds of the other wizards again so that you could not touch me. I could escape; you could pursue me. You could escape; I could pursue you. You could kill me, which would be exhausting work, and you would lose your most powerful protector.”
“Protector,” He dropped the syllables like three dry bones.
“I do want you alive.”
“So does she,” Corin emphasized the word.
“Don’t,” he said wearily, “even try. I’ll break your power once and for all. Oddly enough I don’t care if you live or die. At least you make sense to me, which is more than I can say for her...” He stopped. The wizard took a step toward him.
“You have looked at the world out of my eyes. You have my power. The more you act like, the more men will remember our connection.”
“I will never be anything like you!”
“I have the power, Corin. I could force you.”
“Something frightened you that day on the road. You need me to fight for you. What happened? Did you see the limits of your power in the reflection of the witch’s eye? She wants me, and you don’t want to yield me to her. But you are not so sure anymore that you can fight her army,” Corin pointed out.
“The witch and I have an understanding,” The wizard Grishweld said before sending a flash of power directly into Corin’s mind. Corin reeled back and could not answer. The witch answered for him readily enough.
“We had an agreement,” the witch agreed. “The boy’s power is enough to share. We both get what we need.”
“I am not staying,” Corin managed to say before vines sprouted from the ground and bound him. He could not move his hands, legs or even head. The vines wrapped around his jaw tightly so that he could not open it. He could not scream for help.
“Your father will come but you will be mine,” the witch called in triumph. “I warned you that this would happen.”
Corin tried to argue but he could not speak. “He gave me all he could. He gave me a glimpse of what I needed and told me where to find it,” Corin thought fearcly at her. “I tried to build something but you were there to lead me to this place.”
“The boy blames you,” the wizard mused. “I imagined he would blame me. This was my idea after all.”
“Your idea to trap the father. I thought of taking the son’s powers as well.”
“You have a devious mind,” the wizard complemented. “Unfortunately, my mind is even more devious. Your army is not under your control. They see only me.”
With that, Grishweld sent the entire army after the witch. Corin saw the distraction that he needed. He twisted in the vines until they fell off. Corin rolled and crawled to the cliff. The witch, wizard, and the army was all too busy fighting each other to notice him.
Corin changed shape and dropped away from the wizard, translucent as air, mirroring sky. He angled toward the water and fell with it a long, long way before he changed shape again. He crept on four legs behind the thundering water and hid within the hollow of stone behind the falls until the moon rose. The wizard came to investigate and decided that it must have been a powerless thing of twigs and earth, and wended their way back up the cliff to his waiting army.
The witch was not gone. She traveled to Windplain, where the girl was waiting. She was a new witch and she was alone and unprotected. The girl had magic, powerful magic that could defeat even the wizard. The girl had magic that she did not know how to use. A trained witch could fix that readily enough.
“You have magic,” the witch said as soon as she was aware that the girl could see her.
“The wind knows my name but it will not listen to me,” Rose answered in an uncertain voice.
“You have to speak its language. You must say its name.”
“The name of the wind,” the witch reminded her.
“I need to open the book. The book is the key.”
“I need the book,” the witch said. “You need the wind’s name.”
“The key will tell me the name,” Rose said as she reached to open the book. The witch tried to stop her but it was too late.
The key opens itself. Her mind roamed within its gold and ivory. Magic, it said at every touch. Power was implicit in it, like the power in a tuned, silent stirring. There was a way to touch it, make it sound…
She tried other words from the ancient spells; none revealed the book. She tried her own name, and then the witch’s name; the key ignored both of them. Time, she guessed. Book. Open. Mage. Unlock. Finally, she told it what it was. and what it must become. Key, she said within it, and the key blossomed like a flower in her mind.
It remained a key in her hand; she was aware, in some distant place, of its shape and weight. But the spells, turned slowly, page after page, in her mind. Some were labeled incomprehensible; others dealt directly with the oddments that still survived after a thousand years to be recognized. The pages slowed under her scrutiny, stopped when she studied them, turned easily when she wished to go on. She found the door finally: the drawing of a dark square scrolled on all sides with silver ink.
“This weapon is the one thing that can beat that wizard. This book will keep the war at bay. The wizard will come to Demante when he is through with the boy. We will be safe enough here,” the witch whispered to her with a breathy voice.
“You will bring death to my house! This door cannot hold back armies. I am a prisoner in this palace, my guards, and servants, my people stand as bait for that monster, and as your prisoner, I will have no choice but to do what you want. What do you want me to say?”
“Your men are not bait!” The witch argued. “Only as a kind of warning signal. Someone must do it.”
“You make them stand unwarned! They’ll be killed! I’ve lived with them for years. They brought me up in safety and now they must die? Because you are afraid to give them weapons?”
“Well. It’s likely that weapons would be all but useless anyway. So why—” The witch stopped as the younger woman flung herself off the stool to stand at the window, her eyes reddening as she stared across the forests to the high, jagged peaks awash with light. The witch said patiently to her back, “I am trying to be fair.”
Escape, the water whispered, demanded, shouted ceaselessly, but it did not tell her how. Her door was always guarded; every door, stairway, passageway around her was watched. She had not seen her own company of guards since she had entered the palace. She could leave either by the door or through the window. She could not take two steps across her threshold before she would be stopped. If she left by the window, the powerful, churning water beneath it would drag her like a twig over the falls and crush her before she hit the stones at the bottom. If only she had learned some magic from her grandfather; if only she truly possessed a casket full of power.
She was trapped with no way out.
In the morning, as she stared out of an open window in search of possibilities of freedom while her attendants huddled and whispered together behind her, she watched a golden hawk swoop above the lip of the falls and disappear overhead. She saw its reflection in the water as it lighted on the wall, then vanished again. Help, she said silently, without hope. The reflection of his face, pale, bruised, hollowed with weariness, appeared in an answer on the water below her window.
Corin was walking by the river. He was right beside her window! The only trouble was not he did not come alone.
He began the long walk home.
The wizard found him just as he reached the road at the bottom of the falls. The moon would light his path up the steep, dangerous cliff, he hoped, when it got around to rising. He dared not stop. If he closed his eyes, the road might vanish, along with the falls and the palace; he could easily find himself back in the interminable maze of the witch’s mind. In the deafening sound of water, he would not have heard a dozen bellowing trolls waving cudgels at him, let alone a wizard who made no more sound than the small bats flitting through the twilight. Ronan had barely taken a step or two beyond the forest, up the sheer ascent of stone, when he heard a voice cut with startling clarity through the thunder of the falls.
He stirred finally, realizing that no distance he put between himself and the wizard would be far enough. The moon would set; the birds would sleep; the wizard would awaken. All the warriors in the summer palace, all the witch’s sorcery, would not be enough to keep Corin safe from the wizard who wanted his face, his name, his heritage, his life Now, while the wizard was spellbound, lost to the world, was the time to rid the world of the unscrupulous wizard and drag his bones to the witch to whistle in the wind on her roof.
Corin called the wraiths to him.
Rose screamed the name of the wind.
The world was chaos after that. Two battles were being fought on the same field. The wizard and his stolen army seemed focused on Corin. Rose did her best to distract them with wave after wave of wind and sand. She used all that nature could give her to fight these men off. Corin seemed to be thinking along the same lines. He fought like a banshee, screaming and calling the name of wraith after wraith until a wall of ghosts surrounded him. The wizard’s army slashed through ghost after ghost but no one can kill something that’s already dead. The army had a slash and cut only to dive around the ghosts to get at Corin.
Corin had to punch and roll to get away from the wizard’s men. There were so many of them but there were three times as many wraiths. The wraiths flew and dove to get at the army before they could touch Corin. The wizard’s army was at a sharp disadvantage. Still, Corin had to work to keep from the flashing swords.
He was so busy leaping this way and that, that he did not notice when Rose’s wind died down. There was not room in Corin’s mind for much more than the swords. The fight took up all his focus. Corin did his best to spear glances for Rose. She was not an experienced fighter.
Corin could not make his eyes leave Rose when Grishweld put a knife to her throat. “Leave her out of this,” Corin ordered the wizard.
“You brought the girl into this.”
“You came to Demante. Not me.”
“I came for you,” Grishweld said the words in a rasping voice and sent shivers down Corin’s spine.
Corin looked at the wizard’s eyes. “I cannot tell if you’re dead or alive. Still, I would fight you. I would do even that for her freedom.”
“What is she to you?”
“She gave me a thing like freedom.”
Grishweld sneered. “For you, there is no words for freedom. There is no escape.” The voice had changed; it was slow, soft as if he were listening beneath it for another voice or a distant, uneasy rhythm of tides. “You will use no power. You will do nothing but wait.”
“Wait,” he whispered. “For what? For death?”
“Wait for your power to build. It will drive you mad!”
Rose spoke then in a voice that cracked with disuse. “You are mad! You cannot force him into this! Even you admit that.” Her voice shook into silence.
“I am what I have to be.”
“And I am what you made me,” Corin broke in. “I will trade my freedom for Rose’s.”
“No! You don’t know what you’re agreeing to.”
“The wizard wants to kill you but he needs me alive. I can tell that much,” Corin argued.
Rose fought back tears but she would not break Corin’s stair. “You bring trouble with you where ever you go.”
“There is a shelter to the south where you can be safe. I won’t endanger you unless I must.”
“You’re the one who needs help,” Rose reminded him. “Not me.”
“That is enough of that,” the wizard declared. He gave Rose a firm shake to remind them both who was in charge. “Dispell your wraith army. The ghosts can not help you. They have done all they can.”
“I’ll send them off after you release Rose. Then you and I can go and leave Demante in peace.”
“I need assurances that you’ll keep your end of this bargain.”
“I’m not the one holding a knife.”
“The knife is needed,” the wizard began his explanation but was quickly interrupted.
Malba the witch, noticed all that was happening on her land. She appeared out of nowhere, shaping herself out of air and light and barren midnight. Winter followed her; an icy glide of blew to announce her. The smell of snow laced the air. Her long dark hair, tossed by the winds of a deadly season, tangled wildly around her. Winds tugged at her skirt and trailing sleeves, revealing winter faces: a dark eye, a white fang, blood. She looked up and smiled. Her sapphire eyes flared like stars.
“A knife will do you no good!” Malba cackled. “I hold the key now. The opened it for me herself.”
“Then you won’t be needing her,” Grishweld argued.
“You’re right. The girl is no longer of use to me. The boy could be, though.” The witch’s hand shot out and gripped Corin by the throat, dragging him after her flying broom. Corin would have screamed if the witch did not have a death-grip on his throat. She was half-choking him!
Corin put both hands on the hand at his throat and pulled with all his might but it did not good. The witch’s hold only seemed to get tighter.
“What are you doing?” Corin managed to gasp out.
“I’m saving that little town. That wizard’s too busy following me to bother with them. Don’t worry. You can thank me later.”
“I wasn’t planning on thanking you for choking me,” Corin wheezed out.
“Sorry. I didn’t want you to try anything foolish. You do so want to be a hero,” Melba told him.
“You could have told me what you were doing.”
“I’m telling you now,” the witch protested.
“Your plan is to run from him and get Grishweld away from the Demante.”
“My plan,” the witch began, “is to use your magic to trap the wizard.”
“What!” Corin yelled in incredulity.
“Don’t be so alarmed! You won’t be hurt.”
“Then let me go.”
“I need your magic. I’ll die if I face him without it.”
“Then run! Don’t fight him.” Corin could not see why she took such risk.
“Sorry, my friend,” the witch said with a laugh. “Everything’s already been arranged.”
Walls seemed to burst from the ground itself. Corin found himself surrounded by stone and mortar in seconds. He was trapped with the witch! Corin turned to run but could not find a door. He was trapped in a doorless tower!
Malba spoke harsh words until the ground glowed around the perimeter. The stones below him glew brighter and brighter until Corin felt a pull deep within him. He felt breath leave his body along with something else far more essential. Something deep down in the most private part of him. His magic was gone. Corin never realised how much he used his power until its comforting touch was no longer there.
“What have you done?” Corin rasped out. “What have you done to me?”
“I just need to borrow your magic for a while. You’ll just stay in this tower, nice and safe, while I do.”
“You can’t do this!” Corin yelled out but it was too late. The witch was already gone.