Elena handed the child back his jeweled yoyo as a flash of yellow streaked past the window, a black jet of smoke trailing behind.
Her auburn hair came undone as Elena pressed her face to the window. At twenty-six winters past, she had handled many unpleasant people. But her heart pounded at the sight of the raucous mob gathered in front of the shop. She was surprised how quickly the thirty-odd people had conglomerated.
The door to the shop burst open and a burly man armed with a staff entered. Acrid fumes from the burning thatch seeped in behind him.
“Get out, Elena. Dirma must pay for what he’s done.” Hogarth raised his left hand and waved her to move out.
She wasn’t surprised to see the spiteful farmer leading the mob. But any thoughts of standing her ground vanished as smoldering embers of straw floated in through the door. Elena picked up the two-year old and burst out.
Fire shot though the thatched roof as two more torches landed. She clasped her master’s child closer, though he remained engrossed in the glittering blue and red toy.
“You can’t burn down the shop!” Elena shouted to the rambunctious crowd. “Have you people lost your mind?”
Where is the town guard? She looked around for a sympathetic face in the throng but icy eyes fueled with rage stared back at her. “He didn’t do anything. None of us know how all of this is happening, least of all, Dirma,” she pleaded, wrapping her arms around the child tighter, who’d begun crying.
“Tell that to Samuise Lothar.” Hogarth grabbed her free hand and pulled her further away from the shop. “You didn’t have to look at the horror of his body turned to ice. You didn’t have to sit by and see his body melt away into a puddle of water.”
“But it wasn’t Dirma!” Elena protested.
“It wasn’t Dirma!” Hogarth played to the crowd, waving his staff around mockingly. “Tell me, faithful apprentice, why is it that the only thing that remained after Sam’s body melted was the gem Dirma put in the buckle?”
Elena stammered. “No one can freeze because of a stone, Hogarth.” She turned to the crowd. “Please! You all loved Dirma. He’s the one who put Maray on the map of traders. He’s who made our town prosperous. He came…”
Hogarth cut her off. “And he’s collecting his due now, is he? Does he think he owns us all because he’s a famous jeweller? Your master does not even compare to the merchants of the south.”
Elena sputtered in anger. “That’s not true. He has always looked out for the well-being of the town. What happened to Sam was not Dirma’s doing.” She cursed the day the knight hopeful had ordered a belt to wear for the ceremony after the Knight-Games. Dirma had picked out a beautiful half-a-fist sized iolite stone with a violet wave running through the middle. She herself had helped carve the stone into a perfect princess cut. No, blaming Sam is wrong.She also knew she had to stop them till the guard arrived.
She stepped back and raised her voice. “What happened to Sam was nothing any of us could have done. Not me, not you, not Dirma. His family has been crafting jewellery here since generations. If it was him, why didn’t this happen before? It must be…”
“From Sam’s travels to the south?” Hogarth smirked. “Haven’t we heard that before? Even if we believe that Sam’s death wasn’t Dirma’s doing, what about Rowan’s crops?” Hogarth pulled forward the humoungous bald famer with a long ginger beard. The man looked broken, his face downcast.
Elena stepped back in shock. “What…what happened?”
Rowan looked up with big baleful eyes. “My maize crops…gone. All wilted today. We have nothing left for the year…”
Hogarth interrupted. “His plough has stones your master fitted in not a week past. The first time he uses the plough, all the maize just dies.” Hogarth stepped close to her face. “This man trusted Dirma. He still ordered gems from your accursed master. And look how he’s been repaid.” Hogarth broke the stare and stepped back. “Guess Dirma doesn’t even favour his friends.” He motioned to two middle-aged farmwives, who grabbed Elena’s shoulders in an iron grip. Even the women seemed fueled by the same hatred and fear. “Six months Dirma has tortured us, no more. We have to let him know he’s no longer welcome in Maray.”
The men pushed past her throwing rocks and smashing windows.
“You keep this up and being the mayor’s daughter will not save you for long,” Hogarth hissed to her, running a finger on the child’s cheek. Tears streamed down her face as the fire roared and spread over the thatch.
The noise of rumbling hooves was accompanied by hollers and shouts as the rioters dropped their torches and retreated from the shop. Hogarth was the first to run. Elena twisted her neck to see the mayor’s guard ride in.
“Everyone move back from the shop,” roared the Captain, running his mount amidst the fleeing men. He stopped in front of the shop and turned to face the crowd with his sword drawn. Three of the mayor’s guard pulled up beside him.
Elena breathed a sigh of relief as three more of the guard ran in with buckets of water. She jerked her hands out of the grip of the ladies who slunk back.
“Nobody steps foot near the shop or Dirma’s house. If anyone dares, he will be punished personally by the mayor. You have a complaint, go to him,” the captain shouted over the din. Two more guards joined in dousing the fire. The crowd dispersed quickly. No one dared face trained soldiers from the capital of the state.
Murmurs of disapproval rose within the few who remained, but Elena knew no one would question her father. After all, he was a direct appointee by the King.
Quint approached her, adjusting his tabard. “Are you all right, Elena?”
Elena nodded. “I can’t believe the people would do this.” The fire had subsided a little but black smoke still rose in thick plumes. “At least, they didn’t harm Dormu.” The child had buried his face against her neck. She rocked him a bit.
The guard shook his head. “For now. This caught us by surprise. And they will only get bolder. Dirma was lucky he’s not in town. Your father needs to take strict measures.”
Elena held down a pang of sadness looking at the burning shop, where she had trained since they had arrived in Maray. But Rowan’s crops…. Can it really be Dirma’s fault?
Aldric Viallan looked up from the tattered pages on his desk. The crunch of the gravel beneath footfalls was unmistakable. But who would come to him? Not many people ventured to the arid lands of Az’watha. And even fewer came into the ruined caverns below the great desert.
Aldric had seen and met less than twenty people since he first moved into the caverns. A large part of that could be attributed to his overbearing need to be alone. No real research had ever been accomplished with a horde of people clamouring around.
Aldric pushed himself up from the chair, his knees groaning in protest. His back soon joined in, as he limped towards the cavern exit. The cavern was completely built underground and sloped downwards from the entrance on the surface. And inspite of the extreme temperatures above, the caverns rarely felt uncomfortable.
Aldric pulled his sleeveless tunic closer over his skinny body. The rustling of feet stopped. But he could hear voices. Aldric strained his ears to catch the conversation but the first voice was an accent he hadn’t heard before. The other though, he knew by heart.
“Caranne? Brother, is that you?” Aldric held out a lantern towards the entrance.
A lean and tall silhouette emerged from the shadows of the entrance passage. “In flesh and blood, dear Aldric.”
“Bless my goats!” Aldric scampered forward.
The pale glow of the lantern illuminated the face of his brother. He’d always been the handsome one in the family with the angled face, the high cheekbones and the perfectly settled hair. Aldric had always wondered how Caranne’s hair remained unruffled in spite of his extensive travels.
He on the other hand had been the lanky, hunched nervous younger sibling, forever in Caranne’s shadow. The one thing he did share with his brother was their mother’s light gray eyes.
A pleased smile rested on Caranne’s lips. “We really need to get you out of here. You look like the old farmers who’ve had the worst year of crops. Who would say you’re the younger one?”
Aldric smiled, straightening his back. “You know why I can’t leave, Caranne. Not anytime soon.”
“It maybe sooner than you think.” The smile slipped off Caranne’s face.
Aldric’s looked up, his eyes growing wide. “You don’t mean…..”
“Brother, magic has indeed entered these lands. I personally know of three events. There must be many more. Our work of generations, of all these past centuries is finally at hand.”
A maniacal smile cracked over Aldric’s shaggy bearded face. “Truly Caranne? Tell me, what strange powers have come? Can people light fire without wood to burn? Can winds be stopped and turned?”
“Calm down Aldric. No, I have not seen such things yet. But we did meet a man who could change wood to glass only with his touch.”
Aldric’s bloodshot eyes glimmered. “Then we haven’t wasted our lives. The Viallans will redeem themselves.”
“Yes, brother. That we will. All we need…”
“If your sad reunion is done with….” a slow drawl interrupted Caranne.
Aldric had completely forgotten about the second man. Even now, he could only make out a silhouette in the dark, parts of which fell under the low glow of the lantern.
“Who are you?” Aldric raised the lantern. The man stood two heads taller than him and Caranne, but Aldric could barely make out any other features because of the loose tattered garment. It seemed like a robe of sorts with a cowl, but to Aldric it looked more like a several sacks of hessian knitted together.
Caranne bowed his head and gestured towards the man. “Aldric, he’s the one who will lead us out of Droullin’s insuffereable reign. This is Dah-Kun, lord of the bandits.”
“Him?” Aldric stumbled back, his face contorted with surprise. “He…he has magic?”