Book of Magic
A story by F.E. Hubert
Copyright 2016 by F.E. Hubert
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or other characters is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
In the dungeon
Dun sighed with self-pity.
It seemed the wizard had more talent for scrying the future than he’d let on. The thought of the old man hurt, but a meagre smile touched his lips at the thought of what he would say about Dun’s current position. Something sharp, probably.
They’d taken him down into one of the cellars, cut out of the rocks below the keep sometime long past and forgotten. He hung upside down over a hole that led deeper into the interior of the rock. Deep down, judging by the moist chill that rose up from the dark void. The sides of the crevice slanted smoothly down, as if water had one flowed through it and rounded the sides.
The rope binding his ankles together was pulled through a ring in the ceiling, directly above the pit. The guards that hung him over the pit left a couple of counts of hundred ago. His blood accumulated in his head, making his ears pound. His sigh sounded like an unhealthy rasp.
He looked around the cellar. Most of it was too dark to see, leaving him the circle lit by the single torch in the wall. If he looked up, he could just see the orange firefly of the flame’s reflection on the ring that held him up. His hands were left unbound, but they took the knife from his boot. He looked at the hole that was above and below him at the same time. If he managed to find something sharp enough to cut the rope, he still had to think of a way not to drop the-gods-knew-how-far down into the dark pit.
He crossed his arms over his chest and closed his eyes. There had to be a way out. After a while, the rats returned, their gleaming eyes studied what they hoped would be their next dinner.
The day it started
It all started some time earlier. One day at the end of winter, when the frost retreated for the first time, a short-lived herald of spring to come.
The track in the snow led toward the valley, leaving deep imprints where the snow lay thick in the hollows of the path. Only one horse was a good sign, but he approached with care, taking the high route along the cliff. Even if it wasn’t one of the new lord’s men, that didn’t mean Vera waited for him. Anyone could have passed here in the long winter months and taken shelter against the sleet and winds.
On top of the ridge he halted, looking out over the expanse of snow crusted treetops that stretched into the distance in every direction. A bird up in the trees sang its heart out in the pale light of early morning. He couldn’t see it, but when he pushed his way through the undergrowth too close for comfort, the musical tremor fell silent. “Be right out of your feathers, little one.”
The sun climbed above the horizon and did its best to warm the air. A month of solid snows might still follow, but for now Dun sniffed the cold air and almost remembered what spring smelled like. Down in the dale was the cave where Vera and he spent many of their childhood summer days.
He hoped she would be there. The last time they spoke was at the beginning of winter, it felt like forever. But it was early in the year and that would make it hard for her to leave the keep without a detachment of guards. Hunger ruled men’s minds and animals’ stomachs long after the sun arrived and warmed the earth, a dangerous time for a lady to go out riding alone. And maybe she didn’t want to come out and meet him. His face flushed remembering that afternoon last fall, when Solis and his men chased him from the village.
He lay down on his stomach and shuffled the last centimetres to look out over the dale beneath. The stone edge stuck out a ways into the air, giving him a good view of the land below. The stream that ran down the cliffs and through the valley reflected the sunlight in frozen twinkles that lit its bends. Only where it spouted out between the stone halfway up the cliff, did the water reach the surface in its liquid form. It ran fast and deep all the way down to the river, some way down in the main valley. In the silence he could make out a faint roar where the river plunged through the gorge. The white blanket that covered most of the world was undisturbed, save for the single track running down the low path into the dale and over the crest that hid the cavern from his sight. He made his way along the cliff to the other side of the waterfall, lowering himself from the last foothold.
Young for his height, he was tall enough that most men wouldn’t be catching up with him, no matter how long they lived to try. Dun promised to be a real bear of a man and he already had the facial growth to go with it. Kept in check while he lived at Dungarr keep, now the ruddy fundamentals of a full beard adorned his chin and cheeks.
He approached the mouth of the cave, crouching down in the cover of the hollow that provided natural stabling for a horse or donkey. The horse droppings were at least a day old and the interior of the cave exuded the silence of emptiness. Both disappointed and more than a little curious, he stepped inside. Down the right side of the cavern the walls formed a natural chimney, leading the smoke through channels and crevices out into the rocks of the cliff. They tried to find where it exited, to see if the smoke led a trail back to them, but Dun had never found more than a faint whiff of wood smoke. As far as hiding places went, it was the best.
The ashes in the circle of stones were cold, but fresh enough to still hold sharp edges. Standing in the dark chamber, he looked around. Nothing out of place, beside the remains of the fire.
Or. There, at the edge of stones that ringed the fire, was an odd stone; cream coloured, with a grey seam curving across one side. Not a stone he’d choose to ring a fire. He knelt beside it. It looked clean, cleaner than the rest of the cave that was covered in a delicate layer of dust and soot. He poked it out from between the wall and its ash-stained neighbour, tossed it up and caught with his other hand. Just an ordinary rock. He almost missed the note in the dim.
The daylight outside showed the angular scribbles of Vera’s handwriting. Her father, the former lord of the keep, let Dun to take lessons with his daughter and his effortless, smooth curls and even lettering frustrated her to no end. She threw an inkwell at his head only last summer. He smiled at the memory as he read the message.
Too dangerous to stay longer. Meet me the first day after the new moon.
He frowned down at the paper. Willing it to tell him more, to show him all that passed this winter, but it was impervious to his glare. New moon would be with them only a couple of nights from now. He kept to in the horse’s track as far as it went his way, wondering about the danger Vera mentioned. His fist clenched into anvils of flesh when he thought of Vera being mistreated.
The new lord of the keep was a stranger to these parts. A talented hireling from abroad, taken on to command the guard. He took over in the keep after Wolfour had taken ill and died, only months after his arrival. He seemed more than courteous toward his predecessor’s daughter then, but a lot could have happened since he had his men throw Dun out of the gates. Dun crunched his teeth at the memory. He tried to save Wolfour, sitting up with him all through the night, administering all the herbs the old wizard in the woods taught him. Progressing from known cures to more and more obscure ones, as they all failed to lessen the man’s cold fever and moans of pain. All of it no use in the end. The old keep holder had died screaming, clutching his gut in agony.
After the burning of the remains, Solis declared himself lord and Dun a useless herb peddler, tossing him out in the pre-winter cold. He might have frozen to death that first night, stunned by his predicament, if it hadn’t been for the skinny old wizard. He’d simply shown up and patted Dun on the shoulder. I did think it was about time you became a full-time apprentice. They went back to his tiny house, deep down in the woods. Vera and Dun visited there many times before when they were younger, but the thought that he could go there hadn’t even occurred to him. Now he lived there.
He reached the one-roomed house, not much more than a hut, built from hand-sized stones and broad beams of timber. Its one room served as library, study and kitchen in one, a cluttered mess that never failed to make him feel at home. A sleeping loft covered about a third of it, just big enough for the two of them to sleep comfortably. When he walked in, his arms full with a fresh load of firewood, the wizard looked up from his book.
“They do say everything from far away is better.” He smiled at the logs on the youth’s arm before he resumed reading.
“Vera was at the cave.”
The wizard raised his head from its position over the page, to indicate that he was listening to what Dun said, not just reading. Living with the old wizard during the long winter season certainly taught him a lot about wood lore and magics, but the man would never be much of a conversationalist, especially when his nose was in one of the thick volumes. Dun didn’t mind reading, but he did feel there should be more doing to magic, instead of just reading and thinking about it.
“She’s in danger.”
Now the wizard looked up, putting his finger down on the page.
Dun handed over the piece of parchment, balancing the wood against his chest.
“Hmm… Maybe our new keep lord doesn’t like his prize to wander. I would be very surprised if she were in any physical danger. At least for now.”
“How do you mean?”
“You never wondered why our friend Solis threw you out of the keep?”
The wizard looked up at the tall youth, an amused smile pulled at the corners of his narrow lips.
“Because I couldn’t save Wolfour. But I really -”
The old man’s cackle interrupted Dun’s stammering. He turned serious when he looked back up at Dun, still standing in the middle of the room, clutching the pile of firewood to his chest.
“There was nothing you could have done to save him. I seriously suspect Solis had him poisoned – ” He held up a hand to stop Dun’s confused outcry. “And even if you’d given him the antidote, there was little chance of him surviving long before meeting a dagger or something of the like, to finish the job.”
“But… Then -”
Dun already had one foot out the door when the old man’s voice stopped him.
“She’s safe don’t worry -”
“You don’t know that!”
Dun tossed down the wood to highlight his frustration. The logs thudded on the packed earth floor, lifting the thin cover of rushes where they landed.
“Until Spring fest, I believe she’s perfectly safe, if maybe not entirely comfortable at the prospect of marrying the man who murdered her father.”
“What!? She’d never…” Dun faltered as he sat down on one of the rickety stools. It groaned under his weight.
“She’s smart enough to at least pretend she will, if we’re talking about the same girl,” The wizard closed the book on the table in front of him with a sigh. “No, it’s you I worry about.”
“I’m not the one locked up in Dungarr.”
“Try to keep it that way, my boy. That man’s a petty little tyrant, and there are few things more dangerous to be around.”
Darkness still reigned when Dun reached the edge of the valley. New moon made the night even darker still, but he could not wait for day to come.
He watched Vera from a distance, walking along the keep’s crenelated walls for an afternoon stroll. A dot of bright blue, her favourite colour, against the slate of storm clouds fat with snow. It only served to make him ache for her more. The thought of the dark gloss of her hair and the rosebud shape of her lips kept popping into his mind.
The snow fell from the sky in thick clumps of crystal, hiding the world beyond twice his arm’s reach. It would hide their tracks within an hour. In his mind he thanked Mother Winter for her assistance. The old wizard might be right to believe that Vera was safe until spring, but any risk to her was too much for Dun to bear. He briefly touched his chest, where Vera’s note rested, safely tucked inside a wooden amulet.
In his pack he carried all the supplies he dared take from the wizard’s stores. Vera would come on one of her horses, she might even have though to bring a spare, but he could walk as she rode. One of her necklaces alone would support them for a good while, once they reached the city. Images of the great island city of the Isles, glimpsed in the old wizard’s books, rolled before his eyes. They would have to travel across the plains of Io to reach it, but once they did, the pleasures of city-life awaited them. They said the city never slept, that a man could walk an entire day in a straight line and not reach the end.
Bent over against the wind, he pulled his feet and legs through the resisting blanket of snow. He didn’t see the horses, or the men, until it was too late. A voice from behind him called out.
“That’s far enough,” The edge of something hard poked his lower back. “Hands out to the sides, and drop that pack.”
“That sounds like a difficult combination,” Dun said, not moving a muscle and looking at the men standing around him. “What brings you to my valley?”
He knew three of the four men from when he still lived in the keep, the one on his left he didn’t recognize.
“Our lorft’s falley, piefe of filth,” The man Dun didn’t know spoke with a strong lisp and he suspected that he would have felt him speak, as much as heard him, if he stood any nearer. “Binf him.”
The lisp jerked his chin toward the man in front of Dun, Jeddu. The dark-browed man frowned, but walked down the small rise toward Dun. He held up a rope.
“Sorry kid,” He spoke so that only Dun could hear him. “Nothing I can do.”
Dun gave a short nod and held his clenched hands out in front of him, the insides of his wrists touching each other. Jeddu bound him and took a step back.
“Now what?” He asked the man with the lisp.
“Now, fwe kill him.” The lisp said with a grin that showed what was left of his teeth. He drew his sword out of its scabbard as he closed on Dun. With a sharp kick to the hollow of his knee, he forced Dun down on the ground. He brought his sword up over his head. Dun reached for the long knife on his hip. The rope cut into the skin of his wrists, straining to get to it. He leaned as far back as he could, to put as much distance as possible between himself and the blade that hovered above his head. The sword swung down, towards his neck.
He rolled over his shoulder in a desperate attempt to get out of reach. When he looked up, he saw Jeddu and the lisp facing each other, swords locked.
“Since when do we cut down bound kids?”
Jeddu grunted with the effort of keeping his sword in position. The two other guards stood looking at the scene. One of them had his sword out of his scabbard, but kept it pointed at the ground.
“Lord’s orders.” The other man lisped, his gaze locked on Jeddu’s. After a moment, Dun realized what he was doing.
Too late. The dagger in the lisping man’s left hand stuck the soft flesh of his opponent’s throat. Jeddu sagged to his knees. Then toppled slowly. He landed face-first into the snow. It covered his face, hiding his final expression of surprise.
For a moment the other guards stood, watching the red stain around their friend grow as blood got sucked into the snow. Then, with a double roar, they turned on the lisping man, hacking at him with their swords.
Dun rolled a short distance to get out underfoot, before he started sawing at his bonds. They used poor quality rope and he kept his dagger sharp, but it still took him several tries and a slice of skin to free himself. He snapped the final threads by force, then rose to his feet with his dagger ready to use.
The lisping man lay dead a short distance away, sword sticking up from his chest like a single porcupine pen. Next to him was the owner of that sword, also dead. He didn’t see the last man, but a faint moaning rose up beyond in an abrupt break in the snow’s surface. He must have fallen down into the creek bed. Dun approached the edge carefully, more weary of crumbling edges, than of the man crying below.
When he found a spot that would support his weight, he climbed down. It was clear the man down on the ice wasn’t going to live past the day. He held his gut, trying to keep his insides in, but an inordinate amount of his blood was already freezing on the ice in a large circle.
“Here,” Dune folded one of his scarves and put it between the man’s head and the ice. “I’m afraid that’s about all I can do for you.”
After a moment, he unslung the pack that was still on his back and untied one of the blankets rolled on top. It was a good wool blanket, but he could do without. He spread it over the shivering man, tucking it in over his shoulders and around his feet.
“Y-you s-s-hould,” The man grunted with the effort it cost him to speak and fell silent. Just when Dun got up to leave, he continued, seemingly without effort now. “Take the horses. Don’t go back home, Silas know where it is. He will be there by no..-”
Dun frowned, reaching down to take the man by the shoulders and ask for further explanation, but as he bent over, he saw it was too late for that now. He pulled one of the corners, so the blanket covered the man’s face.
The horses were tied in the entrance of the cave. They greeted him with their horse huffs and puffs. He didn’t like horses, at least not to ride, and for a moment he was tempted to just cut them loose and go by foot.
He looked back toward the mouth of the valley, hoping against hope to see Vera ride down. The snow stopped sometime during their struggle. A distinct grey plume of forest on fire marred the clear sky. It came from the direction of the old man’s house.
He was lucky patrol horses are used to poor riders. The one he picked, rode in the direction he wanted to go without complaint, if at its own chosen speed. Not as fast as Dun would have liked to go, but faster than he could have run himself. The other horses followed them out of the valley a moment later, confused, but preferring to stay together.
By the time they neared the wizard’s cottage, the snows started to fall again, thicker and faster than before. When he reached the small clearing in front of the house, the snows had already doused most of the fire.
The house and the trees around it were reduced to their black skeletons. A stake stood in the middle of the clearing. Dun reached down to pick up the old man’s ring from the ground beneath it. He looked at the smooth wood, soft against his skin as he turned it around between his fingers.
He couldn’t make himself look up at his friend and teacher. He stared at the snow that fell on his feet as the tears froze on his cheeks. He didn’t know how long he stood there, but at some point he sensed a presence in the clearing. He looked up to see a skinny rabbit hopping along the edge.
“Bit early in the year for you, little friend,”
He automatically checked the way it moved, to see if it might be hurt. The wizard treated woodland creatures when he found them ill or wounded, and they somehow seemed to know to seek him out for help.
A lot of them would be making that trip in vain the coming seasons. The thought of them, left without the help of the old man, chocked his throat. They lured him away from the house, and for what? So they could kill a kindly man that did nothing but help. He didn’t understand how that could be any good to anyone.
The bunny sat on its hindquarters, looking at him curiously. He lowered his pack slowly, not to scare it, and pulled out a wrinkled, chubby parsnip. Crouching, he offered it to the rabbit. Its nose twitched with excitement, as it came forward in hesitant hops. When it bounded off with its prize, Dun could see its tail bobbing up and down, a white ghost dancing between the trees.
While he cut the slender figure down from the pole, his anger turned into something solid. He would make them pay for this, if he had to burn the entire world to do it.
He left the old man’s swaddled body out on a large rock nearby for the animals to find. The wizard was a firm believer in circles, and now he would be part of another circle, provide the material for new life to start. The though made Dun feel a little better, but not much.
He went back to the burnt out shell of the house and dug at the edge of the grounds, where the kitchen garden would have been coming spring. An arm’s length down in the frozen ground, he found the flat stone that covered what he was looking for. He took out a small parcel of oiled cloth and hid it down in his pack.
After he refilled the hole, he looked at the smouldering timber and cracked stones one last time. He would not be back here.
The snows had returned in full force and even now, one day before Spring fest, the last remains of a coat of snow clung to the trees. Dun approached the keep from the river’s side. The sound of preparations for the fest floated down to the forest edge. The keep was on higher ground than the rest of the village that had grown up around it over the years. The houses straggled down the incline, like goslings running after a parent.
The large triangular body of the keep covered the top of the hill, just clear of the edge where the cliff fell steeply away. From where he stood, the wall added extra layers of stone and wood to the cliffs’ height.
The river thundered past the keep. Its path eroded down through the cliff from long years of water running down. It was the best defensible position for leagues around. Dun felt a grin twist at the corners of his mouth upwards. It might be defensible against an army, but one man would enter easily. He intended to leave nothing more than an empty shell. A blown egg, testament to his vengeance. He wrapped himself closer in his cloak and settled in to watch and wait.
Spring fest morning came with the pale blue brightness that promised a cold but radiant day. Green and blue pennants were raised at the keeps three corners, the breeze just strong enough to lift their edges up in a gay flutter, but keeping the new lord’s sigil hidden in the folds.
Stall holders were out and about and their voices carried down on the breeze in snatches. A little shy of midday, the market was in full swing and Dun strolled up. At least a hand taller than most of the people that thronged between the displays of goods and the tents of fortune tellers, he should have stuck out like a sore thumb. This was one of the first things the old wizard had noticed about him: Nobody noticed him.
At least, not unless he wanted them to. It wasn’t magic in the ways of wizards, but a magic nonetheless. And the more people were there to ignore him, the stronger the illusion became. In a crowd like this, he was a good as invisible.
Dun recognized Filas behind one of the stalls that sold pies, walked around the cloth that covered the back and took the vendor’s own lunch packet from the cart. It was bound to be better than the mystery-meat pastries the fat man was selling at the front. Dun sat on a fence rail to eat it.
A black-and-sand-coloured stray sidled up, wagging a bony tail. He scratched her ears, handing bites down while he ate. The apple core went to the scruffy horse that nuzzled his back.
He strolled past the stalls, on his way up to the three-sided fort. The gate was set into the wall where two of the sides met in a point. The creaking of iron against wooden rollers warned everyone that the portcullis was opening.
A gaunt youth appeared, dressed in the green and blue of Solis. He blew on a piece of metal pipe and in a voice that jumped up and down the tone scales, announced that that lord Solis was ready to give audience.
A cluster of people were waiting near the gate and they walked into the short tunnel that led inside. A number of people who had been browsing the stalls near the gates, went in after them. Too proud to be seen waiting, but wanting an audience, or to witness someone else’s, nonetheless.
Dun followed them inside. A platform faced the gate, it was still in the shade, but in a couple of hours it would be lit by the sun. On it were two chairs. One large, one small. Solis sat in the largest, conferring with a hooded figure that stood at his shoulder.
Dun watched as people were called forward by the pale youth that had announced at the gate earlier.
All audiences seemed to follow the same pattern; Congratulations were offered and a gift was presented to celebrate the oncoming union between Solis and Wolfour’s daughter. A rambling story explained the importance of the request to come. A boon was asked. The boon was granted, maybe in some revised manner.
After a while he ducked between the two men that guarded the door into the keep. A short flight of stairs led him to the end of the first floor hallway, where lord Wolfour had his study. Vera’s rooms could be reached by the steps hidden behind a curtain that seemingly covered the bare stone wall next to the study door.
Dun looked around before he slipped behind the thick fabric. The hall was empty. At the top of the stairs he stood and listened. The rooms beyond were silent. Too silent. He frowned. There should be chatter of maids, music played while Vera got ready to go downstairs. Did they move her bedroom? Or maybe she fled by herself. If she did, the guards would find her within a day. He smiled. He would make sure they didn’t. He opened the door just enough to slip his large body into the room. A gasp welcomed him.
She didn’t sound happy. It took a moment for his beaming mind to register this, but by then it was too late. A heavy hand dropped down on his shoulder as darkness fell over his face.
Solis lounged in Wolfour’s study, his legs stretched on the antique wooden desk. Hunting scenes decorated the side panels, their carved edges rounded by time and a thousand cleaning cloths and oils.
“An intruder? At my party?”
He shook his head in a slow mockery of disappointment. Dun said nothing. The man made his skin crawl. In anyone else he might have admired the skill with which his hair was cut and oiled, the taste with which the expensive-looking doublet and shoes were chosen, the care with which the nails were manicured. On Solis, it made him shudder.
“Cat got your tongue?” Solis took his feet from the leather sheet that covered the desk and put them in front of his chair, leaning his elbows on his knees. “Or should I say, dead wizard’s got your tongue?”
He roared with laughter at his own joke. Dun waited for him to be done with his show, looking around the room looking for a way to escape, or at least something he could use to smash Solis’ face in.
“You know, wizards running loose are dangerous,” Solis got up from behind the desk and poked Dun’s chest. It was level with his face, but the aura of unbalanced danger emanating from the shorter man prevented the gesture from looking ridiculous. Dun looked down at him and waited.
“But, no worries!” Solis grinned a grin wide enough to show a golden gleam where one of his molars used to be. “I have a good place to put you.”
Back in the dank chill of the stone cellar, Dun swung back and forward. Small sways at first, getting larger as he gained momentum. He spread his large arms out to his sides, flapping them like wings on the rhythm of his moves.
Up on the surface, the day’s activities tapered to an end. Only the stalls that sold food and drink still doing any business. In the keep, the servants bustled, carrying out plank tables, benches and other supplies for that evening’s main event.
Boys ran up and down the field with the makings of a bonfire. It was piled in a marked area on the field next to the keep. The major domo stood nearby to keep a strict eye on it, making sure the pile didn’t creep any closer to the vulnerable dry wood of the keep’s upper stories.
A row of smaller cooking fires and grilling pits sat at the edge of the field, spreading an intoxicating aroma of wood smoke and roasting meat. The podium in the courtyard now stood on the field, this time draped with blue cloth and decorated with small spring flowers.
Under their feet, Dun thanked lady luck for small favours. Getting enough speed into his swing was hard work, but at least he was facing the right way.
Up, and down again. He stretched his fingers. Almost. Up again. This time he could feel his fingers glide over the metal of the wall sconce. And down again. He grimaced at the dark mouth of the hole below him, as he swung past it. It was easy to imagine falling into it. With a final grunt of effort, he swooped back up.
His fingers closed on the bracket. He pulled it straight out of the wall. The flaming heat of the torch burned his hands as he swung back over the pit. He couldn’t drop it now. Thick blisters appeared on his fingers. He tried to get hold of a piece cool enough to hold, without dropping the fire down on the floor. It was his only chance to get out. He got a hold of the torch and gripped it tight.
The empty bracket clanged against the edge of the pit. Dun didn’t hear it hit anything else on its journey down the hole. The struggle slowed his movement, but he was still swinging. The flame flickered in the rush of air that swooped past it as Dun swung forward. His chances weren’t going to get better. As he started to move backwards again, he reached up toward his feet with a grunt.
He was probably going to set himself on fire, he just hoped to be free before the flames could do any real damage. He stretched the torch as far up above his feet as the length of wood would reach. He held the flame against the rope, keeping it as still as he could, against the pendulum of the rope and the trembling of his muscles.
With a reluctant hiss, the heat of the fire sett the damp rope to a smoulder. The ruddy edge of heat produced a snake of acrid smoke that turned into a thicker plume as Dun watched. The rope caught and tiny flames licked its surface in a quickly spreading pool. He fell back and relaxed his muscles. Then he took up his swinging again. Now he could only hope that the fire would burn through the rope before he turned into a human candle, and that he would land anywhere but in the pit when it did.
He did, but only just. While he pulled himself up from the dangerously rounded edge of the hole, he thanked whoever had been in charge when they appointed bodies to souls, for giving him strong and muscular arms. He pulled his legs up after him. A few swats ended the smouldering on his right boot. The hot leather stank like a tanning tub.
The thick stone walls of the cellar kept out the sound from outside, so he couldn’t judge whether the festivities had started yet. It didn’t matter much anyway. For his spell to be effective, the people only needed to be close enough to him, when he said the final words of the enchantment.
It was the first of five he found in the leather bound booklet the old wizard buried in the garden. Only figuring out how to open the book had taken weeks of his concentrated devotion.
He’d made camp in a tight cluster of trees, and he sat working it night after day, after night, not noticing that he shivered with cold. When he finally pried the layers of protection from the book, he understood why the wizards was so adamant that he shouldn’t use any of the spells in it.
The words sizzled on the pages, lit up by light of a colour that no natural source would ever emulate. They burned in his mind, even now.
Everyone participated in the celebrations and most were already halfway drunk, their senses overwhelmed by the sudden abundance of food and drink after the meagre rations at the end of winter.
Some of the guards were sitting back in content stupor and he even saw one of them snoring peacefully, his face resting between plates on the table. He shook his head. After his capture, Solis must have discounted any chance of danger to let his men drop their vigilance like this.
Up on the dais, two bodyguards flanked Solis and Vera. They occasionally glanced to the side, but they focussed their attention on the plates in front of them. And, in the case of the guard on Vera’s side, on the allures of female beauty.
She looked a blue flower in the grain. The fire turned everything into an orange backdrop to her pale beauty. She laughed, and Dun could feel the power of the spell dig its claws deeper into his mind.
He stepped into the open space in front of the dais. Vera’s mouth opened in a perfect circle of surprise. Solis jumped up from his seat, kicking his chair back to make room. The guards both fumbled for their swords.
Dun opened his hands and raised them to his sides with the palms facing out.
“Sorcery didn’t save the old man,” Solis stepped up on the table and gestured to his guards. They tried to do as he wanted, but most had trouble standing up from their benches without falling down. “And it certainly won’t save you.”
Dun just smiled and lifted his hands over his head. Words blurted from his mouth as the spell gained momentum and squeezed itself from between his lips in a speeding avalanche. After a syllable or two, all he could hear were the thundering echo’s that vibrated from the words of power. He couldn’t have stopped speaking if he wanted to.
Then, silence. Followed by the faint gasps and exhaled breath of the hundreds of people in the field. The spell he chose – later he thought that maybe it had been the other way around, that it chose him – took away the will of those it was cast on. It seemed an appropriate punishment for those who followed Solis’s orders without question. To be turned into an even more mindless version of themselves.
It worked. They lost their will, including the will to live, and stopped breathing. Scores and scores of bodies covered the field. Most still sat in their spots on the benches, sagging over the trestle tables and drooping down the sides.
Fear for Vera filled his mind as any poker of ice. He explicitly excluded her from his casting, but just the skirting edges of something as powerful as this could easily hurt her in some way.
He jumped up on the raised platform. Solis had dropped down on top of Vera and he could only see swatches of blue satin silk. He grabbed the short cape Solis affected and flung his limp body to the side.
Two pale blue eyes stared out at him from under the table, then they closed. It took a hart stopping eternity for them to open again from the slow blink.
She was alive.
A drop of saliva trailed down her lip. Refusing to let the thoughts that knocked, enter his mind, he lifted her up and sat her in a chair. She leaned heavily against the armrest, but sat more or less upright by herself.
He stood up and looked over the remains of Spring fest. He killed almost everyone he ever knew. The magnitude of what he did felt heavy, threatening to crush him into the ground. Then he felt cold fingertips paw feebly against his clenched fist.
Kneeling beside the chair, he took Vera’s hand in his and kissed it gently. She needed to be taken care of, but there was something else he would have to do first, before they could leave this cursed place.
There was no way he was powerful enough to damage the book that held this spell, let alone destroy it. He trembled to think what the other, more ominous looking spells would do. Or this one, in the hands of a stronger wizard. He had no choice, he would have to hide it. Deep and far, where even he himself wouldn’t be able to get at it.
After he carried Vera inside and wrapped her in the biggest fur blanket he could find, he hurried through the woods. Hoping, praying, that the leather bound book would still be where he left it.
Standing over the dark eye of the pit, he remembered how the wall sconce had clanged against the side once and then plunged soundlessly into the darkness below. A draft rose up from its depths and caressed his cheek.
He shuddered at the touch. Would it be enough? He held the book out over it. It seemed to think it might be. It felt sticky to his hand, and for a terrible moment he thought that when he let go, it would not.
The sound reminded him of wet fabric being torn loose. After an eternity, the book fell. It fell like a rock. Hard, fast, and straight down. He didn’t hear it hit the bottom, but heard the echoes of the spells’ outraged fury in his dreams for the rest of his life. And every time he woke, he was grateful for that moment of sanity that made him throw them down into the deep.
The huge bonfire that led the villagers up into their final dream burned all night. He had to draw Vera from the window to stop her from staring at it.
As soon as she could sit on a donkey, Dun packed as many supplies as he and the second donkey could carry. The spell killed all the horses in the stables, but the donkeys were stubborn as ever, but they didn’t seem to mind leaving the keep either, and no-one looked back when they headed out for the planes of Io.
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Read on for a sample of the next part of the series.
In the City
The smell of countless people living close together in a damp place had a life of its own. It assaulted Mufroen’s senses as they walked down the crowded streets, looking for a place where they could stay for a couple of nights.
People in the City of Isles were tall. Taller by at least half a head, the men gladly made way for the short warrior as he followed Rheena through the crowd. Mufroen’s stance and the sword at his hip told them enough to be polite.
The dark braid down his back, the distinct tribe markings that edged what was left of his sunrobes and the pale blue of his sun-bleached eyes added the unspoken warning that he came from the far lands of the high desert. Few ventured there and even fewer returned, but when they did, they told stories about the warrior tribes that lived far out on the inhospitable sands.
“We have bedding in the stables for your man,” The chubby innkeeper made sure not to look at Mufroen as he spoke, but he was all bows and smiles for Rheena. “And meals in the kitchen -”
“He stays with me,” She placed a hand on the man’s arm in a gesture of confidentiality. “Also for dinner. I’m sure you understand, a woman alone…”
“Of course, my lady. As you please.” If it hadn’t been for his copious belly, the man would have bent double with the force with which he bowed agreement to Rheena’s wishes. She didn’t seem to notice, but Mufroen thought he heard a snort come from his hip. When he looked down, the sword was still.
He couldn’t say he disagreed with the sentiment, he had to bite his lips a couple of times already that day. His presence convinced the keeper of every inn and tavern they visited that Rheena was a Lady. You could see the hospitality get turned up as they took in her appearance, then added that of the warrior behind her and concluded she must be Somebody. He had to admit the polite attitude was nice, but he suspected the prices rose accordingly. Rheena seemed close to making a deal with this one though, so he went to stand outside in the hallway.
The room was on the top floor of the three-storey tavern, right above the entrance. A flight of stairs connected it to the common room. The only other door in the passage opened to a minute storage closet holding a solitary broom and bucket. Slivers of daylight fell through a narrow window, dancing with the dust motes before forming a pattern of crooked squares on the plank floor. It looked out on the dirty fronts of buildings across the street, most taverns and inns like the one they were in.
“Overlooking the city’s taverns and bars, that’ll do wonders for our beauty sleep.” The sword said in a low voice.
Mufroen thought it was a wonder anyone could sleep at all in this city, filled with a thousand noises and smells, but he kept silent as the innkeeper bowed his way out of the room and into the hall. He said something pleasant to Rheena with a greasy smile. When he trotted down the stairs, Mufroen stepped into the room with a deep bow and a flourish of his mantle.
“May I disturb The Lady, my lady?”
She threw one of the two large pillows on the bed at him with a laugh.
“Your fault, with your menacing glower.”
“I most certainly do not glower,” He crossed the room to look out on the street again. Irregular shards of coloured glass depicted what he guessed was the inn’s weapon. It kept him from seeing more than vague shapes on the other side. “My face is just not made for all that movement you put into it.” She made a face at him that seemed to move about all the muscles she had, before she reached out and drew him into the bed.
Job for a sword
As he tore a piece from the coarse bread that came with the meat and bean stew, Mufroen took his time to look around the common room.
The bar was built against and partly into the wall left of the entrance. Behind it, the innkeeper was filling mugs and cups with beer and wine. A large table with benches along the sides took up most of the room. About two dozen people sat at it in clumps of two and three, eating and drinking.
A row of smaller tables lined up against the wall opposite the bar. A long bench covered with faded pillows provided seats on the side of the wall, rickety chairs faced it at all of the seven tables.
Mufroen sat at last table, the farthest he could sit from the door and the bar, a good place to keep an eye on the door next to the bar that led to their room. Rheena was still up there, washing and changing.
Only one of the other small tables was occupied, the one at the other end, near the door. The man sitting at it must have been strong as an ox when he was younger. He still had the raw-boned frame and broad shoulders, but the roundness of his stomach suggested too many nights spent drinking too many drinks and his skin had a greyish, waxy gleam. He pretended to stare into his cup, but Mufroen couldn’t help notice that he kept a sharp eye on the door and everything that happened inside the tavern.
A tremor at his hip warned him before the man moved.
Sad that the next story isn’t about Dun? Don’t worry, he’ll be back soon in The Isles of Krake.
Tales of Mufroen and Dun
Sword of the Sands
Book of Magic
Sword in the City
Isles of Krake
Swords and Magic (Tales of Mufroen and Dun 1-5)
Land of imagination
You can contact F.E. Hubert through his email address: or his Facebook page:
The first time Dun’s world fell apart, it came as a shock. Numbing and sharp at the same time, like a snowball hitting the cheeks of an unsuspecting face. Before he can recover, he once again finds himself standing on the gleaming teeth of a trap set for him. Can he save what is left of his life? Book of Magic is the sequel to Sword of the Sands and part of a brand new series of short stories that give a fresh twist to the classic genre of Sword & Sorcery. Book of Magic introduces us to Dun, an apprentice wizard with unique talents. To avoid possible confusion about the order of stories, please note the following: Part one and three feature Mufroen; Part two and four feature Dun; From part five onwards our heroes will co-star. It is possible to read parts one and three (Mufroen) before reading two and four (Dun), or parts two and four (Dun) before one and three (Mufroen), without spoilers or any loss of story. This is a short story. A neat, complete package of excitement and thrill that you can read in the time it takes to travel the average commute. Perfect when you’re looking for a dash of entertainment or distraction in a busy schedule, or when you love stories, swords and magics. Ready to come and see what happens?