Chapter 2: Chosen
We rode hard until the first grey light of dawn teased the
eastern sky. As the hooves of my shaggy brown horse chewed away at the hard
packed ground beneath us, my mind pondered in circles over the events in the
meadow. In my arms, tucked into a fold of my traveling cloak, Uriel slept in a
tight purring ball of warm contentment.
Two words chased each other like a pair of love struck sparrows through the tempest of my thoughts; incomplete and chosen. What had Mistress Lillian meant when she’d said the working was incomplete? Was Uriel in some mortal danger; did incomplete mean fatal? Did incomplete mean that he would suddenly and without warning transform from his current state back into a creature the size of a small cottage? Or worse, could incomplete mean that there was no reversal at all for the magical working wrought upon him and the other dragons; would they remain this way for all time. That thought saddened me most of all as I gazed down at the sleeping cat in my arms and thought of Uriel as he had once appeared.
‘You’ve been chosen’ my master’s comment came to the forefront of my remembering. Chosen for what; speculations both pleasant and horrid danced through my mind. Chosen to care for Uriel for the remainder of his days; the thought of his eventual demise grieved me even now, but the prospect of his continued presence in my life illuminated my very soul. Would I be his caretaker, his guardian, the one who protected him from the evils of the world and kept the secret of his true nature? In spite of my ineptitude as a Light Mage, I could do those thing … I would do them to the best of my ability and gladly give my life in the effort if need be.
“Kerri,” my master’s call drew me from my thoughts. He was stopped just ahead of me and when I was beside him I reined my horse to a halt. “Are you alright child?”
As if on cue, a stab of pain shot up my right leg causing me to look down at my ankle. Though hidden by the folds of my dress tail and the leather of my riding boots, I suspected it was badly swollen. “It does hurt Master.”
“That wasn’t what I was referring too, but I should have a look just the same,” he regarded me with knowing eyes as he replied. Though he couldn’t read my thought per say, the power of The Light and our bond as Apprentice and Master afforded him a window into my emotional states. “But first,” he continued as he rummage through one of his saddle bags, “let’s see what the Duke and his men are up to.”
From his bag, my master withdrew a flat, highly polished silver disk; his scrying disk. He held the object lovingly, allowing it to rest lightly in his palms as he closed in ancient blue eyes. The tingle of power prickled my skin as a luminous white mist settled over him like a woolen cloak. When he opened his eyes again I knew better than to speak; he could see and hear nothing save for his working. In his hands the surface of the scry disk shimmered and swirled, but only my master could make sense of the shifting surface. A mage’s tools were attuned to him alone, this tuning occurred as the mage fashioned the tools. I was so pathetic at my craft that in five years of apprenticeship I had had yet to fashion even the cruddiest of implements for myself.
Master Balthazar’s laughter jolted me from my musings. “They spent the night in the meadow,” he grunted cheerfully, “the residue of power left by our working was so potent that it baffled the tracker’s senses. That should put a distasteful kink in the Duke’s plans. I doubt that they will be able to pick up and follow any remnant our trail for many days. We have plenty of time; let’s have a look at that ankle of yours and give the horses a bit of a rest while we’re at it.”
“Follow our trail, Master,” I asked as I watched the old man dismount.
“The Duke’s tracker would have to be as incompetent as a babe in the cradle not to find and follow the trail I left for him,” he replied as he loosed his mount to graze before coming to my side. “Feet out of the stirrups and slide down easy,” he instructed kindly, “and don’t worry, I won’t let you fall. I’m stronger that I look.”
“Indeed Master,” thoughts of how he’d hauled me effortlessly up into the saddle filled my remembering. I slid my feet from the iron stirrups and then suddenly remembered the sleeping Uriel tucked into my cloak. “Wake up,” I whispered as I jostled him gently.
A pair of large almond shaped golden-green eyes looked up lazily from the coil of brown tabby fur. Uriel stood then, and I saw him more clearly in the pale morning light. The once large and imposing dragon had been transformed into a medium sized, well-muscled feline. He possessed a broad, almost diamond shaped head set atop with well proportioned and alert ears. The pattern of broken mackerel tabby strips that covered his body faintly resembled the patterning of dragon scales against his otherwise mouse brown coat. His tail, lower legs, and face bore much darker and more solid striping than the rest of him, and the faintest hint of what appeared to be a smile seemed to turn up the corners of his mouth. It was his haunting eyes however, in a shade of golden green that seemed to vibrate in time to the hum of his purr, that enchanted me most; I could stair into them forever and be contented.
He butted his head against my chest affectionately before jumping to the ground and darting off into the high grass. At the sight of his disappearance a painful moan, almost a sob really, escaped the constraints of my throat.
“Unity’ sake girl,” Master Balthazar sighed as he tugged me from my horse, “he’ll be back soon enough.”
Moments later I found myself seated on a stump with my master examining my ankle through the worn leather of my boot. “What’s wrong with me Master,” I asked in a confused sigh.
“That’s what I’m attempting to discern,” he replied absently, “but I’m afraid I’m going to have to remove the boot to get a better idea.”
“No Master, I mean …” I allowed the statement to die on my lips. When I became silent, Balthazar looked up at me with puzzlement on his age wore face. My mouth continued to work, but the words wouldn’t congeal into a solid thought in my mind. Finally, in desperation, I allowed my gaze to drift to the spot where I watched Uriel disappear into the grass. “What’s wrong with me,” I whispered again without looking back at my Master.
“I see,” I heard him answer in a soft thoughtful tone. “As I told you earlier, you’ve been chosen.”
“Yes I remember,” I stammered in frustration, “but chosen for what … chosen to do what. I barely know my own mind anymore; I can think of nothing but Uriel. Am I under some manor of enchantment?”
“Of a sort, yes,” he replied in his usual enigmatic way. “Have you spoken to Uriel about this; as I said, he can likely explain things far better than I.”
“No I haven’t,” I answered curtly, “Why would I?”
A surprise look washed over my master’s face; whether it was from the tone I’d taken with him or my confession I couldn’t say.
“The two of you talked incessantly in the days and weeks leading up to the gathering,” he shot back as he rummaged through his packs and finally retrieved his healer’s kit. “Why has your exchange suddenly ceased?”
“He was a dragon then Master; a being of wisdom and power,” I defended, “though I do feel strongly attached to him, he is no longer a dragon …now he is only a tabby cat.”
“You couldn’t be more wrong!” Master Balthazar barked angrily. I found his tone highly distressing and it must have shown on my face for when he spoke again his voice had soften somewhat. “Do not be fooled Kerri; while our working has changed him in appearance, it has not altered his essence. You and all who gaze upon him will see a common house cat but he is still very much a dragon; no amount of magic can change the essence of what the Unanimity creates.”
I lowered my head in shame; had I learned nothing in the years of my apprenticeship. Just when I thought my self-loathing would rise up to devour me, a warm reassuring hand clasped my shoulder. I looked up to find my master looking down at me with kind but tired eyes.
“Why do you tolerate me,” the question escaped my lips before I could stop it.
A sad smile turned up the corners of his mouth, “we will discuss your perceived ineptitude later. For now, let us attend to your ankle.”
He knelt and took hold of my boot, “This will likely hurt,” he warned me before giving the boot a tug.
Hurt, the word tumbled through my thoughts as pain shot through my body like a lance. I couldn’t stifle the yelp that rose up and tore past my lips. As I struggled to catch my breath and brace for another pull on my boot, a sudden weight materialized in the center of my chest. Uriel, with his dancing golden-green eyes and mesmerizing purr, settled into a ball of fuzzy warmth on my breastbone. Our eyes locked and the world ceased to matter; I didn’t care that Master Balthazar was shucking my boot from my foot in a less than gentle manor, nor did I care that the pain was more than a person should be asked to bear. All that mattered in the world at that moment was the swirling golden light flashing in Uriel’s eyes, the steady thrum of his purring, and the bond that existed between us.
“Companion,” the word echoed softly in my mind, “That is what I have chosen you to be Kerri.”
“Companion,” I whispered breathlessly in reply, “what does that mean? Will I be your caretaker, your guardian, your protector? You have but to say the word and my very life is yours to command.”
“It is all those things Kerri, and so much more,” Uriel’s soothing voice was an amused giggle in my mind. “My life belongs to you just as surely as yours belongs to me.”
“You’re a fortunate child,” my Master’s voice startled me out of my enchanted moment, “it isn’t broken, but it’s sprained pretty badly.”
“Can you do anything,” shaken from the swirling enchantment of Uriel’s eyes, the pain had returned with a vengeance.
“If you mean to ask if I can work a healing on it,” he began sadly, “the answer is, no. I am still spent from last night. I barely managed to scary the Duke; Uriel aided me in it, I could feel his dragon magic merging with the flicker of Light still burning within me.
“What I can do is splint the ankle and bandage it tightly.” he continued as he gathered what he would need, “You will need to stay off of it as much as possible for a while. You’re young, with a few stout herbal infusions and rest you should heal up just fine.”