Chapter 3 - The Red Mage
“If Melnasins is truly expecting Orlaithe to come for her mate,” Calinus said, “then he will no doubt have spells set all around the castle to weaken her resistances and nullify her magical abilities. If you use a magic neutralizing shield, he will not be able to counter it. He will not be expecting you to be there. You have an advantage that he knows nothing about. Use it for as long as you can.”
Orlaithe turned to Sara and asked, “What is this advantage of which your assistant speaks?”
Sara looked a little nonplussed. “An accident of birth really,” she finally replied. “I have no aura. I cannot be scryed by any means.”
The dragon’s eyebrows rose. “An advantage indeed and quite useful in our present circumstances. He is expecting me, he will not be expecting you. If you walk directly behind me, he will continue to believe I am alone.” Orlaithe had traded her silk gown for warrior’s garb—dark breeches, a long-sleeved shirt and a leather jerkin. On her hip she wore an impressive looking long sword. Her golden hair was now tightly braided and coiled around her head. She held out her hands and a long, dark hooded cloak appeared in each. She put one on and said, “Put this on and stand behind me.” Sara did so and the dragon asked Calinus, “Are you able to see her?”
Calinus shook his head. “Not at all. An excellent plan.”
Sara stepped out from behind Orlaithe. “An excellent plan indeed,” she said. “If all goes as I hope, we will be able get into the castle, find Laisrean and get out without confronting the Red Mage at all.”
“That seems much too easy,” Orlaithe said.
Sara sighed softly. “I know. That is my hope—but I fear the reality will be something else entirely.” She squared her shoulders. “I think we’ve planned as much as we can. It’s time to go.” She took two bottles from a shelf and handed them to Orlaithe. “You should take some healing potions with you. I think Laisrean will need them.” Orlaithe took the bottles and slipped them inside her jerkin where they seemed to just disappear.
“If you do encounter Melnasins,” Calinus said, “remember this; he may be arrogant, but he’s intelligent. Do not let him draw you into a battle of words. He will try to break you and he has had more than five centuries of practice doing it.”
Sara nodded, “Thank you Calinus. I wish I could take you with me, but I don’t want to risk any more lives than necessary.”
Calinus put a wizened hand on her shoulder. “In 800 years I have not worked with a White Mage as gifted as you. If anyone can succeed, you can.”
Sara covered his hand with hers. “Thank you.” She took a deep breath and looked over at Orlaithe. “Are you ready?” The dragon nodded. Sara put her hand on Orlaithe’s arm and focused her thoughts on the Red Mage’s castle in Canravar and teleported away.
The castle was as imposing as Sara remembered. Sitting alone on a hill, its sinister spires dominated the barren countryside beneath it. Thirty foot, seamless granite walls loomed high above them and the only way in was a narrow road which ended at an iron portcullis that was usually heavily guarded. Except today. Eerie silence followed Sara and Orlaithe as they made their way cautiously up the winding cobbled roadway to the castle. Sara had her neutralizing shield up, but there were no magical traps along the road. Orlaithe’s cloak hid the Mage completely from anyone who observed their coming. The dragon had her sword drawn and was keeping a wary eye out for attackers. “This smells like a trap,” Orlaithe muttered through clenched teeth.
“Yes,” Sara replied in a whisper.
They reached the open portcullis without meeting any adversaries. As soon as Orlaithe stepped through the archway though, a magical trap went off. Sara’s shield held steady. Orlaithe gasped. “What kind of spell was that? I have never sensed its like before.”
“It is meant to eliminate your protection from the effects of magic,” Sara replied softly. “Once he did that, you would have been vulnerable to every spell he cast.” Another spell hit the shield. “Keep walking,” Sara whispered. A ball of fire came toward them and dissipated right in front of them. Step by agonizingly slow step they made their way across the courtyard of the Red Mage’s castle.
When the pair finally got to the huge double doors at the entrance, Sara’s heart was pounding. Orlaithe pushed on the doors, prepared to meet resistance. None came. The doors opened smoothly and silently. She stood in the doorway and listened. Her nostrils flared. She inhaled deeply. “Laisrean is nearby.” She sniffed again and her nose wrinkled in disgust. “So is the Magician.”
Sara’s heart clenched with fear. “Damn it, I didn’t plan for that” she said under her breath. “Which way?”
Orlaithe tilted her head to the right then began to walk towards the place where her senses led her. As they walked she said quietly, “Do not let him sense your fear.” Sara nodded but did not speak. They were close now. Even through her shield, she could feel his malevolent energy. Orlaithe stopped just outside an arched doorway the led to a large ballroom. “Here,” she said.
Sara focused her energy on her shield. She felt Melnasins push hard against it, but he could not breach it. Orlaithe took a step forward, but when Sara moved to follow her, the dragon put her hand behind her and motioned for Sara to remain. She stepped into the doorway and stopped. All of the magically lit torches on that side of the huge ballroom had gone out. Laisrean was tied to a chair. His face was bruised and bleeding. His right eye was swollen shut and his left eye was nearly so. It was difficult to tell if he was conscious. He had long cuts on his arms and his fingers were broken. He had a wide chain collar around his neck that was fitted with spikes that dug into his flesh. The blood from the wounds in his neck had soaked his once white shirt halfway down his chest. Behind him stood the Red Mage, one hand gripping Laisrean’s golden hair, the other holding a dagger against the dragon’s throat.
“You cannot win this, Magician,” Orlaithe said. “Let him go.”
“I must say, I am very impressed, dragon,” he said. “That is an extraordinary artifact you are carrying. Which is it, the Talisman of Sabali or the Jade Amulet of Darsul?” Orlaithe stared at him silently.
Melnasins shook his head. “We seem to be at an impasse.” He pulled Laisrean’s head further back. “One way or another I am going to get my prize.” He pressed the dagger into the dragon’s neck. A rivulet of blood flowed from beneath the blade. “If he will not transform, then perhaps you will.”
Laisrean made a choked sound of pain. Orlaithe’s back stiffened. Sara felt a ripple of energy flow through the dragon.
“That’s right,” the Red Mage said softly, “Sacrifice yourself and save his life.”
A low growl rumbled in Orlaithe’s chest. Her skin began to gleam gold. “Orlaithe don’t,” Sara said as she stepped into the doorway. “He’s lying. You cannot save Laisrean this way.”
Melnasins eyes widened. “Well, well. A prize infinitely more valuable than a Gold Dragon.”
“Sarkanavis Melnasins,” Sara began, “As is my right by the ancient Law of Laplutious, I challenge you.”
The Red Mage chuckled. “The legendary unscryable Sara Nadran. You go to all the trouble to cast your little spells so I cannot scry you and then you deliver yourself to my doorstep.” He paused and raked her with his gaze. “Is that what you were working on in the depths of the library with Master Yadoshuri? I shall have to have a…discussion…with him after we finish our business here.”
A cold knot of fear formed in the pit of her stomach. If the Red Mage targeted Yadoshuri, there would be little the Sage could do to protect himself. Although he was a powerful Sage, his magic was no match against the power of a Colored Mage. Sara clenched her jaw. Calinus had warned her about this. She took a slow deep breath and said, “Do you accept?”
Orlaithe murmured, “Sara, do not do this.”
Melnasins raised a single brow. “Why should I? I’ll just kill him and force her transformation.”
“If you kill him she’ll tear you apart. You won’t be able to defend yourself and I will not stop her.” She tilted her head slightly. “Are you afraid to fight me.”
The Red Mage made a sound of derision. “Stupid child. I no more fear you than I fear an insect beneath my boot.”
“Then accept my challenge,” Sara said.
“Do you really think this little ploy of yours will help them get away? Surely you must know I am not alone in this castle.”
“Do you really think she cannot fight her way through your thugs? Accept my challenge, Magician.”
Melnasins’ eyes narrowed. “Will you lower your shield?”
“You know I won’t have to.” Sara looked over at Orlaithe, who nodded in understanding.
Melnasins released his hold on Laisrean and took a step back. “All right little Wizard,” he sneered, “by the ancient Law of Laplutious, I accept your challenge.”
Before the words had left his mouth, Orlaithe had gone to Laisrean, torn the ropes from his arms and legs and unfastened the collar from around his neck. Seconds later a wave of magical energy more powerful than any of them had ever felt flowed into the ballroom and surrounded Sara and Melnasins. Laisrean and Orlaithe were pushed out of the circle by the force of the magic. Sara’s neutralizing spell flickered to non-existence. No longer disabled by Sara’s neutralizing spell, the ropes that had bound Laisrean came to life and began to slither toward him. Orlaithe held out her left hand and golden-white flames shot from it. The ropes writhed and twisted, then burst into flames. Orlaithe pulled one of the healing potions out of her pocket in her leather jerkin, uncorked it and put it to Laisrean’s lips. “Drink beloved,” she whispered.
When the first drops touched his tongue, Laisrean swallowed convulsively, then drank like a man just emerging from the desert. The bruises on his face began to fade and the swelling around his eyes lessened. When he finished the first bottle, Orlaithe gave him the second. His mangled fingers straightened with a series of sickening cracking sounds. When he finished drinking the second potion, he looked up at his mate and asked, “Orlaithe, how…?” Orlaithe pointed silently across the room. Laisrean’s eyes widened. “She’s going to die for us?”