The Silver Mage Chapter 5

A portal opened on the commons of Shallow Waters and out stepped Martis with Muffeena seated on his left shoulder. Bright sunlight filled the well-kept greensward and a breeze played tag with the bright green leaves on the trees that bordered it.

Above their heads, high in the cloudless sky, a flight of oddly shaped birds circled the village. When Martis first saw them, their single circle was larger than the village, yet, as he watched, the circle grew tighter and tighter until they were forced to divide into several circles, one outside the other, with their wingtips nearly touching. The center circle held, at most, a dozen oddly shaped birds. Outside that circle was five more circles, each bigger than the next closer one to the center. The outer circle held so many of the odd birds that Martis had to guess at its numbers. His best guess was two hundred.

Martis,” whispered Muffeena, “I don’t think those are birds at all.”

A flash of gold glinted off one wing and the young mage knew exactly what the odd looking birds were. Muffeena was right, they were not birds at all, but griffons. Next to dragons and wyverns, they were the third most dangerous predators anyone knew of.

As if to prove just how vicious they could be, one of the griffons swooped down and attacked a village that had not sought shelter quickly enough. While the griffon was bigger than the young woman it had attacked, it wasn’t big enough to fly off with her in its talons.

The woman’s screams echoed from house to house and were answered by the sound of a dragon’s roar. Martis and Muffeena looked around, but could not see any signs of a dragon.

Even without a sighting of their enemy, the griffons broke ranks and flew westward as quickly as their wings could carry them. Last among the fleeing predators was the one that had attacked the woman, in its claws, it held the woman’s blood-soaked shirt.

A second dragon’s roar added more speed to the griffons’ flight, and soon the half lion and half bird of prey were disappearing over the horizon.

From the doorway to the inn that sat near the river’s bank, an old human male walked slowly toward Martis. Silver hair circled his bald head in a long fringe and was only a shade or two lighter than the silver colored robe he wore. His long beard hung down past the wide leather belt that was covered in many pouches and circled his expansive belly. In his left hand, he held a staff that was taller than he was and was topped with a glittering diamond trapped in a silver cage.

Martis watched the old man’s approach and then chuckled.

Let me guess, you’re the Silver Mage?”

Hardly,” replied the man. “I am Argent Dracontine.”

Bowing low, the old man kept his eyes on Martis, as if he expected the young elf to attack him at any time. When he straighten up, Martis noticed that the man’s eyes were of a blue so deep that the ocean would have been envious of them.

I am the emissary of the Silver Dragon, leader of the Southern Clan and successor to the First Council Seat on the Dragon Council. He’s assigned me the task of following the griffon to make sure they migrate to the west coast of this continent and make no more trouble for any of the people that live here. Frankly, it’s been rumored that the griffons have aligned themselves with the Darkness, so I’m to hustle them on their way.”

Martis nodded.

Whatever the reason for your being here, I’m sure that the family of the young woman you rescued will be most appreciative of your timely intervention. Personally, I’d like to invite you to dinner, as I was most likely next on the list for a quick snack.”

The old man chuckled and then nodded.

To make things easier for us, I am called Francis, or, that is the name my parents gave me and it will do for now. Might I know the young wizard I address?”

I am T’Xana Martis and the young sprite on my shoulder is Muffeena.”

Ah,” Francis sighed, turning his attention to Muffeena.

I’ve often seen the sprite’s migration, and have watched the fairies, but to be introduced to one is truly an honor.”

Just out of curiosity, how did you know I’m a magic user?”

So, not a wizard, and you’re not mean enough looking to be a sorcerer, or at least you don’t appear so. That leaves only one type of magic user, as a young male. A mage?”

Yes, sir. Freshly graduated.”

Ah, that explains the lack of a staff. Now, as to how I knew you were a magic user,” Francis paused for a second, smiled, and then bowed to Muffeena.

Only a magic user can speak to, or even see, a sprite. With a one in three chance, I picked the wrong type. Sorry.”

No need to apologize, having just graduated, I came home to see my parents, some of the people I grew up around, and to find a suitable dead branch to create a staff from.”

I might be of some small assistance in that, young mage. I was in the woods, uh, watching the griffons, and happened to spy a likely fallen branch from a rowan tree. I know that most rowan staves are made from the heartwood of the tree, but this one limb was long, and straight, and with a little work could be shaped into a perfect staff, suitable for embellishing.”

If you would point me in the right direction to. . .”

Oh, there’s no need for you to wander around in the woods, I’ll summon it here and save you the trouble.”

Lifting his staff high, Francis hammered it on the ground and held out his right hand to grasp the rowan tree limb that answered his summoning.

Here you go, young sir. Hum?”

Martis shook his head when Francis looked at him with more interest than he’d shown a few minutes ago.

Martis? Martis? Martis! You’d be T’Xana Martis, the last T’Xana Knight. The first child of the Shallow Water’s tribe. How fortunate that we meet. My employer is very interested in speaking with you.”

Perhaps when I’m through with my visit home. But for now, I’ve people to see and favors to ask. Supper will be at dusk, and I’ve got to beg the cook at the Inn to prepare her best dish, fresh caught trout stuffed with truffles and smothered in a wine sauce. Will that be sufficient for supper?”

Trout and truffles? I’ve not had that combination in many, many years. The last time I had it, the cook’s name was,” scratching his bald head, Francis suddenly took his hand away and snapped his fingers.

T’Xana Mara. That wouldn’t happen to be the ‘cook’ you refer to, would it?”

Martis grinned.

“Yep, Aunt Mara is the best cook this side of the hereafter. If I can conjure up an old, well used, cast iron skillet and some Raspberry Wine, I just might be able to persuade her.”

I look forward to dining with you tonight then.”

Until tonight Francis.”

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The Silver Mage, Chapter 4

Being and elf and his visitor being human, even though Martis was in his first childhood, he stood a head taller than the man dressed in shades of green.

Ah, there you are.”

Allow me to introduce myself, I am the Verdant Magus.”

From behind his left ear, he heard Muffeena say, “Watch him, he’s not what he seems to be.”

I’d invite you in, but you seem to have already invaded my room.”

Stretching his arms toward the ceiling, Martis absorbed magic from the air around him and stored it while forming a spell of binding.

A negligent wave of the man’s left hand dismissed his spell before it was fully formed.

There’s no need for us to fight, at least, not yet. I’m here as a courtesy. The people I represent are interested in hiring you. I tried to convince them that a magic user, such as yourself, with such a limited knowledge of how the world works would not be practical, let alone useful. However, they insisted that I either convince you to accede to their offer, or that I eliminate you. While I’m not averse to either outcome, I’d enjoy the slight exercise that banishing you to Hel would give me. The choice is yours.”

He can’t see me,” whispered Muffeena in Martis’ ear. “That means that he’s ‘employed’ by the Darkness. If that’s so, tell him to go visit your grandmother. I suspect that he’s here to send you to her domain and not to offer you a job.”

While he’s building his spell, I’ll teach him a bit of sprite magic, or at the very least I’ll demonstrate it for him.”

Martis looked at the mage and then grinned.

While I thank you for the offer of employment, I have other plans for the rest of my life. As for banishing me to Hel, it’s been awhile since granny visited me here at the school.”

Tilting his head to the left, Martis said thoughtfully, “I don’t suppose she’d mind an uninvited guest.”

Why you arrogant little pup, I’ll teach you to respect your betters.”

Raising his hands in preparation of releasing the fire spell he’d been assembling, the Green Mage never saw the motion of Muffeena’s hands, nor did he see the reflective barrier she’d place between caster and target.

Fire erupted from his out flung hands and would have enveloped the young mage’s body, but was stopped by the sprite’s barrier. Flames enveloped the older man and then passed around him when he managed to erect a barrier of his own. Smoke rose from his blackened clothes, rising to the ceiling. Behind him, a portal opened and a once beautiful woman with blue skin that had been hacked and scarred from hundreds of battles stepped out of it.

The flames that bypassed the mage swept across the small space between them and were absorbed by her, passing into her body as if they were, and had always been a part of her.

Lightly she touched the man and he froze, paralyzed. She then turned her attention to Martis.

Well, grandson, I see you’ve managed to upset the plans of Darkness.”

Looking over Martis’ left shoulder she saw Muffeena peeking out from behind his ear. A chuckle escaped the woman’s lips, exposing four perfectly formed fangs. Ruby light reflected from them and bathed the young elf and his companion in a warm glow.

Looking away from the two youngsters and taking in the shocked look on the older man’s face, Granash, the Queen of Hel laughed.

I had hoped that it would be a bit longer before the Darkness managed to slip someone past my guards and attack you. Ah well, now or later, it was bound to happen.”

Looking at Muffeena, Granash bowed slightly from her waist.

I owe you a debt young sprite, ask of me what you will and if it is within my power to grant your wish, I will do so.”

Muffeena clung tightly to the young elf’s collar and crawled around Martis’ neck before she settled on his left shoulder.

May I have a cinnamon roll?”

Granash laughed so hard she bent double and held her flat belly with both hands.

Great fortunes and boundless lands could have been yours and yet all you asked for was a cinnamon roll. Mighty nations would have trembled at your passing and kings would have bowed down to you, yet all you want is a sweet treat.”

The Queen of Hel laughed again, dabbing at the tears that ran from her burning red eyes and down her blue cheeks.

Why a cinnamon roll?”

Muffeena considered her answer.

I’ve seen rulers go from vigorous youth to crippled age in a matter of a decade or two instead of the many years it takes most people. No thank you, I’m enjoying my youth. Now, you take a cinnamon roll, you eat it and the world is a happier place.”

Granash nodded.

You’re absolutely right.”

Holding out her right hand she conjured a platter of cinnamon rolls and set them on the table by the window.

Part of your family is still around the school, would you like me to invite them to share in your repast?”

Nodding vigorously, Muffeena dove from Martis’ shoulder to the platter of rolls.

Please do, I don’t think I can eat all of them by myself.”

Martis grinned at his friend and Granash laughed again.

With a snap of her fingers, she invited a hundred sprites to join the young girl to share her sticky goodness. Stunned looks were replaced by hungry smiles when the other sprites saw the pile of rolls on the platter.

With only vague murmurs of thanks, they dove into the sweet treat.

And you, grandson? While my debt to you is not as great as the one I owed your companion, what would you have of me?”

Do you remember what I asked of you the last time I saw you?”

Granash nodded.

I do.”

Taking four quick steps forward, she placed her arms around the young elf boy and hugged him close for several seconds.

After she released him, she looked up at his face and smiled a very soft smile.

Great generosity dwells in you, grandson. Don’t ever lose your ability to share that generosity with others.”

For a few moments, she watched as the sprites devoured the rolls and summoned a second platter of cinnamon rolls, so that everyone, including young Martis and herself, could have a sweet treat.

With a final swallow of sweet honeyed roll, Granash looked content.

You know, grandson, Muffeena is right. Cinnamon rolls do make the world a happier place.”

Returning her attention to the paralyzed man, Granash snapped her fingers again. Out of the portal she’d left open, half a dozen daemons charged out and stood waiting for her orders.

Take this one to the twin gates and allow him to choose his future.”

Eager hands and tentacles grabbed the mage and hauled him back through the portal.

I have to go home now if I don’t, all Hel will break loose and I’ll play Hob getting it all back the way I want it to be. Say hello to your mother for me, and tell your father that I saw the extra card he hid up his sleeve.”

Seeing the questioning look in Martis’ eyes, Granash giggled.

Oh, he wasn’t cheating at cards, but it never hurts to make him wonder just how close I am at any one time.”

Standing on tiptoe, she kissed her grandson’s right cheek, then stepped through the portal and closed it behind her.

Muffeena, her face covered in honey and her hands filled with cinnamon rolls flitted over to her friend and then settled lightly on his left shoulder.

Around a mouth full of sticky rolls she asked, “Are we going to your home?”

Martis turned his head and grinned at his companion and nodded.

Just a soon as I can pack and your family finishes off the rolls.”

Muffeena’s “Eeep” was echoed off the walls of the room as she dove into the rapidly vanishing pile of cinnamon rolls.

The Silver Mage, Chapter 3

I wonder why the instructor never changes the menu?”

Looking at the list of dishes for the meal, a light grew in his eyes and an idea was pushed out of the back of his brain.

I’ve got it.”

Muffeena looked at him and backed up a couple of steps on the table.

Is it going to attack me?”

Martis laughed.

No, but I know why the menu is always the same.”

Muffeena settled on her tiny chair and placed her hands in her lap.

Okay, I’ll bite. Why?”

The meal itself isn’t important, only the summoning is important. Since we’re not allowed to conjure the food, we’ll either have to know what is going to be asked of us to summon or face being set back another year. In order to summon the food, each student will have to know what is being served, purchase all of the dishes, and then wait for their dish to be ordered by the instructor.”

Those who can afford to spend that kind of gold stand a chance of being in the next graduation, those who can’t, well, they’re going to be in that class again until they know what to buy.”

No, that can’t be right. If every student purchased every dish of food, then there would be enough food to feed the entire staff. It would be easier to catch a fly with a willow tree than pay the cooks to prepare the entire order thirty times. There has to be another answer.”

Muffeena looked at her new companion and grinned.

He’s got a mind, unlike most magic users, now, let’s see if he can use it.”

Martis didn’t hear her muttering, he was too deep into ferreting out the real reason for the test.

I’m not allowed to conjure the food, and some of these dishes are so complex they’d take three days to prepare. There’s got to be a loophole in the instructions.”

Grabbing the list from the table, young Martis looked at the dishes and then laughed.

That old faker, he did it again.”

Figure it out did you?”

Muffeena leaned on her own table and tapped her empty plate.

How about a celebratory cinnamon roll?”

Martis laughed at the greedy little sprite, did a quick jig, and conjured enough cinnamon rolls for a dozen sprites, let alone one.

While you’re stuffing your face, I’ve got to go to the provisions storehouse and purchase a few things. Enjoy.”

The next morning, all thirty students in Martis’ magic class were dressed in their finest clothes with neatly pressed clothes and recently brushed coat of arms tied neatly over their dress clothes.

Looking up from his desk, the old instructor smiled at his class and then stood up, walking slowly over to the large table he’d had brought in just for this class.

I hope each of you has had a chance to study the list of dishes to be served today.”

A few of the students blushed, some chuckled, others looked at the floor, or the ceiling, or just gave him a blank stare.

Every year I give the same test and every year my students manage to find, or steal the list of dishes for the meal. It’s actually part of the test, to see if you’re good enough at magic or manipulation of others to get that list. But the list is only half the problem.”

Before I came to class this morning, I stopped by the dining hall and asked the cooks how many of you had ordered all the dishes on the list. I have by your names and each of you will be held back a year. However, I thank you on behalf of the less fortunate students for helping to finance their education. If you’re honest about trying to buy your way out of my class, please leave the classroom, now.”

Six of the students left the classroom and under the glower of the instructor two more walked out. Looking around, the instructor pointed to the oldest student in the class.

You’ve failed this test four times now. I won’t set you back a year. You, Garris of Calvin’s Village, are expelled, please leave the classroom and the school.”

My father will hear about this.”

Your father doesn’t hold sway here, I do. Now leave before I send you home via the most distant place on this continent.”

The student left, muttering vile threats against both the instructor and the school.

Now, let’s see if any of you figured out the problem. Sara of Chamber, please summon the first dish on the list.”

The sun rose in the sky and past the meridian while all but six dishes from the list were set on the large table.

So, Sir Martis, please add the final dish to the table.”

No, sir.”

The elderly instructor looked up from his list of dishes and raised his left eyebrow.

No?”

Sir T’Xana Martis, last son of the T’Xana clan pulled his right hand out of his pants pocket and placed a small package he was holding on the table.

Harrumph. Doesn’t look like a dish to me. Please explain yourself.”

Your quick switch to my bottom managed to bring home the point of orders, and quite nicely I might add.”

The instructor grinned.

So?”

Your instructions were quite specific. You said, and I quote, “Tomorrow, each of you will demonstrate how to summon, not conjure, the making of a meal. Each of you will be expected to provide one element of the meal and that will be determined tomorrow.” Your instructions are quite clear.”

Using an unusual source, I managed to acquire the meal list and saw that not only was the purchasing of the meal extremely expensive but that at least three of the dishes take more time than we had to prepare for the class today. You were quite specific about part of that instruction. You said for us to ‘provide one element of the meal’, not one dish. So, last night I went to the provisions storehouse and purchased a small package of flour. This I placed on my desk in my room, waiting for me to summon it.”

Very good, T’Xana Martis. You are the first student to pass my test in a dozen years. I expected good things from you and I’m not disappointed.”

Turning his attention to the rest of the class, the old instructor grinned and pointed to the food-laden table.

It would be a shame to let all this food go to waste, so, enjoy the meal. As for you, Sir Martis, congratulations, you’ve successfully completed your formal education in magic. Now the real studying begins as you go out into the world and use what you’ve learned here to expand what you will learn out there.”

As for the rest of you,” the old elf lifted his left hand, invoked a few ancient words and completely wiped out their memories of the last three days.

Reaching down to his desk, the old instructor pulled out a vellum diploma and handed it to the young Martis.

I had this made two weeks ago. You have been the most irritating student I’ve ever had, and the most intelligent. It is with great honor that I pass the torch of magic to you, to say nothing about the sigh of relief I’ll exhale when you leave.”

Offering his wrinkled right hand, the old instructor added, “Be well young sir and take good care of your sprite friend. You’ll find that underneath their exasperating sense of humor, they have hearts of gold.”

Lifting his left hand to forestall the young elf’s words he grinned.

You’re not the only one who can see sprites, my boy. I’ve seen them since I was old enough to recognize what they are. You’ll find that those who can see our tiny friends are also those that usually are the greatest of magic users. The best of the rest of these students will be mediocre magicians, the worst of them will be swept up by the darker forces and used in the war against the light.”

Now, hurry along. The spell I unleashed will hold a few minutes more and then I’ll have to do it all over again if any of them see you. Good luck Sir Mage.”

Martis bowed formally to the old instructor and then opened a portal to his room. Stepping through the portal, he almost ran over a strange man standing just inside the door.

The Silver Mage, Chapter 2

With a sigh, Martis settled on an old, overstuffed chair and then shook with relief.

When he was finally able to talk, the young elf said, “No Garris, they named me Sir Martis because I was the one that unified the three tribes into the Shallow Waters Tribe. I am the last born child of the T’Xana tribe. The Knight that laughed at the Day’s Dawn.”

Standing on still shaking legs, he lifted his student’s coat of arms, a hideous bloodworm red in color tied with an equally ugly sash of powder blue, over his head and tossed it in the general direction of the hall tree that stands beside his door. This was quickly followed by his off-white shirt and tan pants after he’d kicked off his dusty tan house-boots.

Standing in front of a floor to ceiling mirror the young elf looks at his scrawny body and shakes his head.

No matter how much I exercise, I still don’t seem to be able to put on any muscle mass. One of these days I’m going to need to defend myself, other than with magic, and then I’m going to get my head smashed in.”

Looking at his reflection, dressed only in his underclothes, T’Xana Martis is startled to hear a high pitched whistle coming from the open window across the room from where he stood. Standing on the windowsill, her tiny wings fluttering, trying to keep the young sprite from tumbling down the outside wall is a sprite girl.

Looking at her, Martis surmises that she’s young by her rudeness, that, and the fact that her loose skirt stops halfway between her knee and her behind. Only unmarried sprite girls wear their skirts of short.

Chapter 2

It’s not polite to enter a boy’s bedroom while he’s undressed.”

The young boy is trying to cover his private parts with his hands and forgetting that his underclothes are doing a much better job of guarding his modesty.

In a clear voice, an octave above high soprano, the tiny sprite first giggled and then said, “My apologies, kind sir. However, I just had to tell you how impressed I am with the way you handled that bully. Most of the boys I’ve seen fighting use their fists and not their brains.”

This is ridiculous,” mutter the boy. “I’m having a conversation with a being that in no way should even exist, even though I’ve seen them most of my life.”

It’s because you can see and hear us that I’m able to carry on a conversation with you. Well, that and the fact that I’ve watched you since you were born.”

You don’t look old enough to have been watching me for all those years.”

The sprite giggled again and then motioned to the table that rests against the wall next to the window.

May I enter and get more comfortable?”

Why not? Most of the kids think I’m crazy anyway. Hearing me talk to myself will just confirm what they’ve already surmised. Enter and take comfort in my home.”

Hovering two inches above the window sill, the young sprite bowed and finished the formula.

Thank you. I wish no harm to you and yours, and so will enter and take my rest, safe in your home.”

Moving deliberately from windowsill to tabletop, the sprite landed gracefully and then bowed again and straightened up to stand at her full height of six inches.

I’ve almost forgotten my manners, my name is Mu Fanin Enigh. Most folks just call me Muffeena. And you, young sir, are the Last Knight of the T’Xana tribe, T’Xana Martis.”

Forgetting that he’s half naked in front of a strange girl, Martis bows to her and straightens up and then chuckles.

This is one of those times that I don’t mind that others think I’m a bit crazy. If I told anyone that I’m entertaining a sprite girl they’d haul me away and put me in a dark room so I couldn’t contaminate anyone else.”

With a quick snap of his fingers, Martis conjures a doll-sized table and chair. On the table sits a tiny bottle of wine with an even smaller crystal cup. Next to the cup and bottle sits a silver plate, smaller than the nail on his littlest finger and on the plate are three very tiny cinnamon rolls smothered in white icing.

Please, have a seat and enjoy some refreshment.”

Muffeena does a quick curtsy and then settles on the chair.

Oh, it’s been simply ages since I’ve had cinnamon rolls.”

Watching her while she gobbles down one roll and then picks up a second one, he sees a perfectly formed young female dressed in a loose skirt of pale yellow and a matching blouse that is open in the back to allow her wings the freedom to carry her wherever she wishes to go.

Am I so hideous a sight that you have to stare at me?”

On the contrary, you’re one of the most beautiful females I’ve ever seen.”

Muffeena ducked her head and her long blond hair flowed like a small waterfall down past her bright blue eyes and her delicately pointed ears to tremble against her shoulders.

I’ll bet you say that to all the sprite girls.”

Martis grinned and reached for his pants.

Looking over his left shoulder he grinned.

I can honestly say that I’ve never said that to any sprite girl.”

Pulling on his pants and quickly buttoning up his fly, he reaches for his shirt and pulls it over his head. Dressed, but without his house-boots, he felt much more secure in front of Muffeena.

Walking over to the table by the wall, he pulls out a normal sized chair and settles on it. With a few muttered words and a wave of his right hand, he conjures cinnamon rolls and cold wine for himself.

Care to share?”

Blinking at Muffeena, he realizes that she’d finished her tiny rolls and was eying his rolls like a hungry hawk eying a field mouse.

Chuckling, he tore off a small bite of his roll and placed it on her plate.

Never let it be said that I won’t share with a guest.”

Muffeena and Martis both tucked into their rolls and quiet ruled the room for a few minutes. She ate with a voraciousness that would have done a hungry dragon proud. He was a bit more circumspect but still managed to finish off three rolls by the time she’d gobbled down her share of the repast.

This is really a very pleasant way to spend an evening, however, I need to prepare for my test tomorrow.”

Test? You mean the ‘feast of graduation’?”

You know about the feast?”

Of course. Some years it’s done when we’re migrating south and some years it’s done before we pass by. It’s always the same meal and is used to determine who graduates and who gets to go through the class again.”

Really?”

Several minutes of talking and a couple of promises made to ensure that Muffeena’s tribe would have enough to eat for the next three weeks insured that Martis knew exactly what was being served at the last meal. He still didn’t know which bit would be his to summon, but at least he knew what was going to be summoned.

By the time he’d written down the menu, the sun had set and he grew worried that a night hunting bird would find his new friend and eat her.

Won’t your folks be worried that you aren’t wherever they are?”

No. This was to be my last migration before I chose a mate. Frankly, I’m not ready to settle down.”

Then I have an offer for you.”

Muffeena looked up into the boy’s eyes and smiled.

I accept.”

You don’t even know what I’m going to offer.”

I don’t care, well, unless you’re going to cook me for supper. Other than that, I agree.”

Martis laughed and then stood beside the table.

Would you consent to be my companion, for as long as you wish?”

Muffeena flapped her wings and hovered directly in front of his eyes. She bowed formally and then hugged his nose.

Yes.”

Now, how about some more cinnamon rolls?”

The young elf’s laughter floated out his open window and touched the ears of Muffeena’s parents.

It seems our daughter has finally latched onto a magic user. I wonder if the world is ready for an impressionable sprite and a magic user to team up?”

Muffeena’s mother looked at her mate and then laughed.

I wonder if the young magic user is ready for a sprite as a companion? I’ll lay even money that by the time we migrate north again he’ll have graduated and she’ll be running him ragged with her ‘small’ requests.”

Muffeena’s father laughed at the thought of his daughter turning her sad eyes on the elf boy whenever he denies her anything.

I’d warn him, but somehow, I don’t think he’d listen. Oh well, let’s go join the rest of the tribe. Maybe they found a beehive and there will be honey for supper.”

The Silver Mage, Chapter 1

Sir Martis, kindly return your attention to the lessons at hand and quit staring out the window.”

But sir, the sprites are migrating.”

The bent old elf male shuffled to T’Xana Martis’ desk and then whacked the young elf’s knuckles with a long wooden pointer.

How many times have I told you that sprites do not exist.”

Exasperation and anger mixed in the instructor’s voice.

They’ve never existed, and by all that is right and good they never will.”

A flicker of light from outside caught the instructor’s eye and he looked up with a flicker of his eyes. Outside the window, sprites were in full flight. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of the impossible beings were flying past the magic school.

That’s not possible.”

Stepping away from his most troublesome student, Master Riley lost sight of the sky blackening flight of sprites.

What the. . .?”

Outside the window, the sky was clear of sprites, birds, and even puffy little white clouds. The shadow that had passed over the land with the sprites no longer existed.

Explain this, Sir Martis.”

T’Xana looked from his teacher to the window, and through the window to see the migration still in full flight.

Sir?”

Why can I see sprites when I’m near your desk, and yet, standing near the window, I see nothing but what is supposed to be there. What happened to the sprites?”

Nothing sir. I can still see them.”

I’ve always been able to see them sir, and sometimes, when people stand close to me, they can see them too.”

Harrumph.”

Turning his back on T’Xana, and the rest of the class, the old teacher lifted his hand and waved at the offending window, which was suddenly covered with a heavy cloth curtain.

Now that there are no more distractions, we’ll return to the lesson at hand.”

You, young Martis, conjure a cube of light and then set dark fish to swimming in it.”

T’Xana Martis might be the old instructor’s greatest problem, but he was also the most gifted student he’d ever had the displeasure of teaching.

Obeying the teacher’s instructions, Martis stood up and then focused magic on a spot near the front of the classroom. Hovering above the teacher’s desk, a cube of light appeared. It was as wide, and as tall and deep as the old elf and was filled with a liquid that gave off a golden glow. Inside the cube swam dark fish that absorbed the light, leaving a trail of darkness behind them wherever they went.

Very good, Sir Martis. Now, banish it.”

With a wave of his hand, Martis banished the cube. Unfortunately, he forgot to banish the liquid and fish with it. Bright liquid and dark fish splashed down on the teacher’s desk.

Laughter broke out in the classroom and the teacher frowned before applying his wooden stick to the impertinent young man’s backside, as a reminder of just who was in charge of the class.

Martis’ yelp of pain coincided with the banishment of the liquid and fish.

Why did you hit me? I did what you said.”

Rubbing the offended part and looking at the old teacher with pain and anger in his eyes, young Martis seemed to be truly confused as to why he was being punished.

With a sigh, the elder elf repeated a lesson he’d learned at the end of a hickory switch.

Sometimes, the order given encompasses more that the words used to express that order. When I told you to banish the cube, I meant for you to banish not only the cube but its contents as well.”

You seem to be capable of reasoning, so it should not come as a surprise that some words imply other words.”

Turing to the rest of the class, he nodded once.

Let this be a lesson to all of you. Look for the logical conclusion to an order. If no such conclusion exists, then follow the order exactly as given, otherwise, do what the implication is pointing to.”

Tomorrow, each of you will demonstrate how to summon, not conjure, the making of a meal. Each of you will be expected to provide one element of the meal and that will be determined tomorrow. Now, out of my classroom, I have a class of students ready to enter, and just perhaps, to learn.”

The School of Magic sits on the north side of the quadrangle, snuggling between the School of Archery on the west and the School of Swords on the east. On the east side of the square commons are the Schools of Weaving and Carpentry. They are larger than the other schools because they have more students.

On the south side of the commons are the Schools of Silversmith, Blacksmith and Leather Working. The west side of the commons is dominated in the center by the Administration Offices. On the northwest corner sits the girl’s dormitories and on the southwest corner sits the boy’s dormitories.

All three buildings are six stories high, which means that when the afternoon sun is falling, the building’s shadows fall across the commons and remind the students that supper will be served before the shadow touches the Weaving and Carpentry Schools.

Graveled paths form a double cross from corner to corner and side to side. In the center of the common stands a statue of a great gold dragon. Its wings are fully extended and its hind legs are bent, ready to launch the legendary terror skyward to hunt. Next to the statue stands T’Xana Martis, or, Sir Martis as he is called by the school’s instructors.

Around the teenage elf-boy stands several of his classmates, arranged in a circle so that he can only face a few of his tormentors at a time. Only one of the other boys actively hates the young elf, the rest of the group are there simply to watch and add their own bits of torment.

Tell me, Sir Martis, is it true that your tribe abandoned you to the river and that even the river refused to hold you?”

Garris of Calvin’s Village, the senior student of the School of Magic laughed at the flush his comment brought to the younger boy’s face.

Martis wasn’t offended by the jibe which implied that he was a bastard child in a world that just barely tolerated mixed heritage, he was offended by the one who made the jibe. Six years of taunts and torment had been the legacy of the thrice-failed older student, and today was going to be no different it seemed.

Perhaps,” he replied to the bully. “But, at least I had a river to hold me. Who held you?”

Magic users have one advantage over those who prefer physical conflict, they learn how to duck at an early age.

Garris, with predictable anger, took a swing at the young elf and just as predictably, he missed.

Adding insult to injury, Martis laughed at the bigger boy and conjured a full chamber pot over Garris’ head. With perfect timing, he tilted the pot and allowed the foul sewage to coat the older boy’s head and shoulders. Then, with a dismissive hand, he cast a spell he’d been working on for several weeks.

From night-soil tonight-blooming flowers, the spell changed both the look and smell of his conjuring.

Looking up at the older boy, Martis grinned.

Even the contents of a piss-pot refuse to be associated with you, it seems. A useful thing if all you can do is dig latrine trenches.”

Garris, by this time, was shaking in anger and had lost all his magical ability. With clenched fists, he attacked the younger boy and was pounding Martis’ head to meaty bonemeal when a light tap on his shoulder drew his attention to the fact that he wasn’t pounding the younger boy, but instead was mashing night-soil into the well tended grass of the common.

Martis was leaning over the angry older boy and grinned.

I’ve got a shovel in my room, if you’d like to use it instead of your hands to till the soil, or, should I say, night-soil?”

Laughter filled the common as the other boys turned their attention on the bully and completely forgot that Martis was supposed to be the focus of their contempt.

Quietly, Martis opened a portal to his room and stepped through it, closing it before Garris could charge him again.

With a sigh of relief, Martis settled on an old, overstuffed chair and then shook with relief.

When he was finally able to talk, the young elf said, “No Garris, they named me Sir Martis because I was the one that unified the three tribes into the Shallow Waters Tribe. I am the last born child of the T’Xana tribe. The Knight that laughed at the Day’s Dawn.”

The Silver Mage

Prologue

Deep in the forests of Falen Bend, where tall oak trees touched the sky and slaked their thirst from wide rivers stands the village of Shallow Waters. Three Elfin clans inhabit the land between mighty oak trees and muddy rivers. Those clans are the T’Xana, the T’Gareth and the T’Lotan. Thirty generations of long-lived Elves have lived and died in the shadows of the trees, leaving not a single mark on wood or water. Their houses are constructed of large and small river stones held together with volcanic ash and dark clay hauled hundreds of dragon lengths from the Sleeping Mountains east of the joining of the three rivers. Peace reined in the village and none went hungry, nor did any lack for shelter, there was work enough for all.

The village was founded in the years of the gods and the dragons wars. During these bad times, the Elves moved northward to avoid having to take sides with either gods or dragons. Shallow Waters was their final resting place at “Trail’s End”, a place were fish and fowl fed the hungry and wild game was supplemented by the herds of cattle and sheep they brought with them on their long journey.

In those first years, the villagers passed laws that forbid the harvesting of trees or the damming of the rivers. The land and rivers gave of themselves and the Elves could do no less than emulate nature.

Time past, and like all joining of men and women, a child of both was born. Like his mother, he had dark eyes that looked at the world with wonder. Like his father, he had hair the color of hand-hammered silver. His skin was translucent, almost transparent. There was no doubt about his gender, nor was there any doubt about his objections at being thrust into a, world, not of his making.

Those who could see the future shook their heads and wondered why everywhere they looked not a sign of the child could be seen. Those who spoke with the gods shook their heads and wondered if the child was the incarnation of a god in mortal form. Both seers were correct in their estimations of the child, and both were wrong.

Six months after his birth, the village he was born in gathered on the commons that were the center of the Elves world to hear the name his parents would give him. As expected, his mother, who was dressed in long emerald robes, carried the infant to the center of the commons and then handed him to his father, who was dressed in wool and leather.

T’Xana Arex took his son from his wife’s hands and held him up to face the rising sun. With an indrawn breath, both his parents waited for his reaction to the bright sunlight.

The sun rose and golden light touched silver hair and then scattered in a fusion of gold and silver that touched both the elves that were gathered there and the edges of the commons. For an instant, the world held its breath. Eyes so dark a brown as to be almost black looked directly into the light of morning and the child of earth and sky giggled. That sound released the world’s held breath in a rush of expectation.

From the gathered crowd, an old Elf stepped forward and bowed formally to the child’s parents. Reaching into a sack woven of wool and gold, the speaker for the earth pulled out an uncut emerald the size of the baby’s fist.

The earth gives welcome to the newest member of Shallow Waters. Please accept this gift of the earth that is the color of grass with the hardness of stone.”

T’Lotan Earlith stepped from her husband’s side and bowed to the old reader of signs and portents. Lifting her head and hands, she gratefully accepted the elder’s gift. With her two hands, she carried the stone back to her husband and then placed it on a clay plate at his feet.

The old reader of signs and portents stepped back into the crowd to be replaced by a woman dressed in sky blue silks adorned with white tipped, black eagle feathers that lined the backs of her sleeves, running from shoulder to wrist. In her hands, she carried a willow branch holding a bunch of green leaves surrounded by white berries. Next, to the mistletoe, she had a sky metal plate with a large section of bee’s honeycomb, dripping honey out of ruptured cells.

Handing his son to his wife, T’Xana Arex stepped forward to accept the gifts of the sky from the ‘speaker for the sky gods’. Lifting the offerings above his head, he spoke the words, so ancient that even the oldest Elf didn’t remember the words true meaning.

From the sky came the light that shown upon the earth, giving life to empty lands. From the lands rose the flocks of birds and bees that fly between earth and sky. From the earth rose the beasts that grace our tables with meat, till our fields and pull our wagons.”

Without that first light, there would be no life. Without the land, there would be no life. Blessed are those that share the light and land.”

Lowering his hands, he bowed to the ‘speaker for the sky gods’ and then stepped back to be beside his wife and son. Usually the ceremony would have ended with his acceptance of the gifts of his tribe, and yet there was a rustle in the people gathered to see the naming ceremony.

From the back of the gathering, a wizened old Elf stepped to the center of the clearing. In his left hand, he held a candle whose flame flickered in the slight breeze that played tag with the grass. In his right hand, he held a clay plate on which a clay cup sat, sloshing water over it’s wide mouth’s rim.

A hush fell over those gathered, and in the silence, the old Elf’s broken whisper could be heard.

Without that first light, there would be no life. Without the land, there would be no life. Without the waters that flow over the earth and beneath the sky, there would be no slacking of thirst. My gods have shown me the path of the silver-haired child and bid me offer to him the Waters of Life.”

T’Xana Arex stepped away from his wife and son to stand before the old Elf.

Light and Land have given of themselves to my son and now he is thrice blessed by the gift of the Waters of Life. On this day the gods of our tribes have joined to bless our son, and in return for their blessings, I name him T’Xana Martis, for truly he is a “gift of the gods”.

The last word slipped from his mouth as if in prayer and the candle’s flame vanished as if it had never been. Not even the usual bit of smoke lifted from the cold wick. The cup that held the water was emptied as if an invisible mouth had sucked the life-giving liquid from its container.

All the gods of our clans have blessed this day and this child. Let us remember that even in our absence from the rest of the world, the gods have not forsaken us. Blessed be the gods of Light, of Land and of Life.”

Arex T’Xana knelt before the ancient Elf and bowed his head in submission.

“Blessed are the tribes of Shallow Waters, for they have followed the tenants of the gods and today a child of our village has received their blessings. Let us forever remember that only in obedience to our creators will we find true joy.”

Slowly, painfully, the old Elf knelt before the younger man and raised his empty hands to the child of Land’s shoulders. T’Xana Martis’ mother stepped forward and handed the old man the baby.

Blessed is the seed of T’Xana Arex and T’Lotan Earlith, the child forevermore known as T’Xana Martis. Blessed are those that share his blood and his life, for they have witnessed the bounty of the gods and are made stronger by that bounty. For many generations, the tribes have maintained separate names. Today the gods have shown us that we are all one people, sharing Light, Land and Life. Let anyone who passes through our lands know that we are no longer separate tribes, but one tribe, the Shallow Waters tribe.

Carefully, the old man returned the baby to his mother’s arms.

A long path awaits your son, fraught with both beauty, love, and danger. For now, he is yours to raise, but soon he will be called to learn from the masters of magic.”

That night, after the feast was eaten, the dances danced and the libations lifted in celebration, mother and father stood over their son’s cradle and smiled while holding each other close.

Today our son has changed our village. Who knows, maybe tomorrow he will change the world.”

Luna and Leo, House Betrayed

Chapter 1

Pins clicked quietly as the thief used a probe to test each pin’s setting. Four pins should mean four settings, however, the locksmith who had designed this lock was lazy and had made all the pins the same length.

The thief grinned behind the black mask that hid her face. Tonight’s work would be a simple matter of reversing the probe and lifting all the pins at once. No sooner had the thought crossed her mind than the probe was reversed and stuffed into the lock. Quickly and easily she turned the lock and was rewarded with the sound of the haft withdrawing from its seating.

Before she opened the door she listened for any sound on the other side that would warn her of a guard having been posted on the inside of the safe-room. No sound came from the room, so she slowly pushed the door open, ready to flee at the smallest sound of her having been detected.

Inside the room, she pulled a glass jar of foxfire out of her satchel and set it on a nearby shelf. Even though the lite was dim in comparison to a torch, it wouldn’t show under the door if someone walked past in the dimly lit hallway.

Quickly she pulled another jar of foxfire from her satchel and set about examining the contents of the room. Disdaining the small sacks of gold and the slightly larger sacks of silver, she made for a hand carved cedar box and lifted its lid. Inside the box, she pushed aside tiny sacks of cut jewels and ran sensitive fingers along the bottom of the box.

Just as I thought,” she whispered to herself. “The box has a false bottom.”

She pulled the tiny sacks of jewels out of the box and set them aside. The treasure she sought was worth more than all the valuables in this room. Lifting the false bottom of the box, her fingers closed over a silk wrapped object. Grinning, she pulled the wrapped package out of the box and carefully placed it in her satchel.

Just as carefully she replaced the false bottom and the jewels.

Finished with her night’s work, she put the second bottle of foxfire in her satchel, then she retrieved and replaced the first jar of light.

Several minutes crept past while she waited for the sounds of a night guard to pass down the hall and around the corner. Then she waited as many more minutes for the sound of his passage in the other direction. Once she had the timing of his rounds set in her mind, she waited for his passage again before slipping out the safe room’s door and making her escape through the window she’d left open in the hallway one floor above the safe-room.

Out the window, closing it behind her, and down the rain-spout to the street below. Unhurriedly now, she stripped the dark mask and clothes from her young body and redressed in the flashy colors of the common whore.

Moon-dancer was once again a well-known sight in the night lights of the city.

Leo tossed and turned on his sleeping pallet, trying desperately to forget the sights he’d seen that day. His mind refused to let go, not only of the sights but of the sounds and smells of human bodies engulfed in flames. The screams of the dying were horrendous, but the smells of burning flesh dressed in flaming furs accompanied by the smell of heated urine and feces just wouldn’t leave him in peace. He’d never had to go to war. His prowess as a blacksmith had saved him from that horror. But today he’d been exposed to war’s horrors and he found that the glory some soldiers spoke of when they talked of battles fell far short of the reality. Battle glory is only real with the retelling of the story.

He rolled onto his stomach and shook with the silent cries of anguish that should have brought tears, but didn’t. Deep inside he knew that the battle was not of his making, nor were the deaths of so many at his hands. Yet he still felt the awful sickness that comes to some after the battle is won and the darkness hides their fears.

His uncontrolled sobs were interrupted by the touch of a soft hand on his naked back. Quickly he rolled over and just as quickly he found his arms full of warm flesh and willing lips that smothered his lips and face in heated desire.

Hello, dear Leo.”

Moon-dancer’s words were a whisper in the night that set aside the memories of the day and gave promise of comfort from the pain.

Moon-dancer?”

And just who else did you expect to slip out of the city and share your sleeping pallet?”

Taunting anger filled her whisper, along with the sound of laughter. She knew that Leo had no other lover.

I’ve missed you, my love. Will you marry me?”

The young woman lifted her body away from him and looked down on him.

Have you grown so rich in the time that you’ve been away that you can afford me?”

Rich or poor, it’s you I love. It’s you I wish to marry.”

Not tonight my one true love. Tonight I plan on giving you a proper welcome home.”

In his tent, Milder sighed and returned to his sleep. When Moon-dancer had entered their camp, his magic had told him who was slipping past the dragons and the city’s guards. Hearing their whispered words assured him that she was alone in her entry and that her intentions were mostly honorable.

Tomorrow would bring new challenges and an old man needed his sleep.

Rolling over he returned to the dreams of his youth, accompanied by the sounds of Leo and Moon-dancer reuniting.

Luna and Leo Chapter 9

Leo sat beside the campfire and muttered to himself.

What’s that you’re saying boy?”

Milder moved around the fire and stood next to the blacksmith, looking down at his clenched hands and hearing the words the man muttered.

What are we supposed to do? If we go in on dragon back we’ll be pincushions before we can explain that we’ve brought the dragons back to prove they didn’t do the things they’ve been accused of. Worse yet, the captive we’re bringing back, the one who can prove who killed our citizens, will be killed along with us.”

Perhaps there’s another way to enter the city?”

Milder was grinning like a little kid who’d just raided the cookie jar and got away with it.

Leo looked up at the mage and saw his sister set her bow aside. Even the three dragons that huddled near the fire were listening to the mage.

Suppose we lead a large contingent of invaders to the city walls, and then our friends here set up a flame barrier?”

What’s to keep the archers from feathering us?”

What would you do if a flight of dragons is being chased by a hoard of invaders?”

Milder shook his head.

I doubt that you’d be inclined to shoot at the dragons. People tend to pick on the lesser of two opponents, hoping that defeating them will dissuade the larger enemy to leave them alone.”

Leo nodded.

It’s risky, but I can’t think of any other way to get an audience with the king. There is one thing that’s bothering me. What about that pompous ass that sent us on this wild goose chase?”

I think I have a solution for him.”

Mage Milder grinned at the young blacksmith. Well, young to him. Anyone less than a hundred years old was young to the mage.

Two days later the flight of dragons, pursued by angry invaders flew into sight of the city walls and then flew higher than the arrows they fired at them.

Unable, or unwilling to stop their attack, the invaders waded into a storm of arrows that winnowed their numbers, leaving entire ranks of dead and dying men laying on the ground.

Turning the flight around, the dragons kept out of arrow range and then swooped on the retreating invaders to add insult to injury. Flames burned flesh and bone indiscriminately.

Of the two hundred attackers, only a handful survived to carry the tale of their defeat to the rest of their people.

Taking the main city would be expensive. Perhaps they should reconsider their current path and set their desire for a land of their own on another kingdom.

Landing out of arrow range, but keeping an eye on the main gates, just in case the army decided to chance a surprise attack, Leo and Luna jumped out of their saddles and started unstrapping the mules and the captive, along with the last of their supplies.

Landerfall huffed and pointed his nose at the dozen unarmed people who were making their way toward the returning party. Leading the delegation was the reason Luna and Leo were outside the walls of the city.

Luna giggled and in her mind, she saw the shiny bits dangling from colored ribbons as perfect targets for the arrows Leo had made for her.

Leo picked up on her thoughts and grinned.

Walking up to the trio in front of the dozen dragons that stood behind them he tried to bluster his way through what was obviously a bad situation for him.

You were told to bring a tooth and barb back to prove you’d eliminated the dragon raiding the north lands. Instead, you’ve brought a host of dragons and an army of invaders to our city. Explain yourself.”

Leo looked at the older man and then grinned.

You told us to bring a tooth and barb back as proof of our finding the dragon that was raiding the northern farms. Well, there are many dragons to choose from. All you need to do is convince then to surrender their teeth and tails.”

Insolence!”

The general was almost apoplectic in his anger.

Leo shook his head.

No sir, we followed your orders as given. Now, if you’d like to hear the truth of the depredations, we’ve also brought you a prisoner.”

Turning to Milder, he nodded and the old mage sliced through the invader’s bonds, freeing his feet.

He speaks our language.”

Leo turned to his captive.

Tell them what you’ve told us.”

Carna tu.”

Milder chuckled.

I’m not sure you’d enjoy what he just told you he’d do to you if he was free. Moon-dancer would if it was you doing it.”

Holding his knife out, the mage touched the point to the invader’s throat and leaned close to him. A few whispered words changed the captive’s mind about his attitude.

Quickly he laid out the plans his people had concerning the kingdom and who was responsible for their invasion of this particular kingdom.

The general listened to the captive’s words, his face growing a deeper red with each plan he laid out.

So, it was the invaders and not the dragons that killed our people and made it look like the dragons were guilty of such atrocities. I’ll carry your words to the king. You are free to enter the city, but your new friends must remain outside.”

Looking at the dragons, he decided to be magnanimous.

I’ll have a herd of cattle driven out of the city. Your friends may feast at our expense, as a reward for their efforts on our behalf.”

Turning on his right heel, the general gathered up the delegation with his eyes and then marched stiff-backed into the city.

Luna giggled and then whispered to Leo, “I can still pick one of those fancy bits of gold off his chest, even at this range.”

Maybe later, sis. For now, let’s finish setting up camp. As I recall, it’s Milder’s turn to cook.”

Milder shook his head in wonder.

I see that even in your youth, you’ve learned not to trust the word of someone who would profit from your death.”

Leo nodded.

I don’t trust nobles who get unhappy at the death of a snake. So, what’s for supper?”

Luna and Leo Chapter 8

One day blurred into the next as the trio and the dragons cut, hammered, burned, forged and created saddles and straps for both humans and mules.

When the moon darkened again, they were ready.

Landerfall looked at the pile of worked leather and huffed.

It would seem that instead of eating your four-legged companions, we’re going to carry them home. Such a waste.”

Leo laughed.

And now who’s thinking about their empty belly?”

Landerfall huffed again and then laughed.

In the morning we’ll see if all this work was for naught, or if dragons were meant to be beasts of burden.”

Sleep well, my friend,” Leo said before entering his tent.

And you, as well,” Landerfall replied. With a final huff, he tucked his nose under the tip of his tail and was asleep before he’d taken three breaths.

Quiet ruled the woods with only the sound of snoring dragons and the babbling creek to break that silence. Even the clamorous Jay was silent for once.

Dawn raised her sleepy head above the horizon and found Leo strapping long leather straps to the mules, preparing them for transport by dragon. Once he finished that he saddled Landerfall and two of his wives.

Breakfast was a hurried meal of mush and boiled leaves that left an evil taste in one’s mouth but broke the lethargy that had hounded them for a week.

Settling on his saddle where Landerfall’s neck and back joined, Leo turned in his seat and looked at the rest of the company. The mules and one sleeping fur covered man were lifted a dozen feet above the camp, waiting for him to signal the direction.

He’d given some thought to the line of march, uh, flight that they’d be taking this morning. Eventually, he’d decided that heading directly to the kingdom’s main city would be the safest bet. Even if they were spotted, Landerfall had assured him that they’d be high enough above the invaders to avoid their arrows.

Thinking about the invader sleeping soundly in his net, Leo turned his attention to Milder.

I wish you’d done that sleep trick a long time ago.”

Milder smiled.

If I’d done it earlier, he’d have grown accustomed to it and it wouldn’t have worked today. Better to have let him rant and rave then than to let him warn his people that their plans are known.”

Leo nodded then lifted his right arm, pumping it twice. As one the dragons lifted in flight and wheeled in a large circle until he pointed south, directly at the kingdom’s largest city.

The first hour of dragon riding was exciting and Luna chattered nervously the entire time. The second hour of dragon riding was more tedious but still exciting. Noon came and went and the flight of dragons passed over the tent cities of the invaders.

There must be several hundred, if not several thousand invaders.”, he yelled at Milder.

I’d venture that the number is even larger.”, Milder yelled back. “We’re only seeing the camps that lie directly along our flight path.”

Oh wonderful,” muttered Leo.

Landerfall laughed at his rider’s demeanor.

My kin, who aren’t hauling you and your party to the city, tell me that the invader’s camps stretch from horizon to horizon. I suspect that the number of warriors alone tops ten thousand. When you add in wives and children and all the others, there’s probably sixty or eighty thousand people moving on your kingdom.”

Great. And we have King Darrias to thank for this little get-together. If I survive I’ll be sure to thank him properly.”

Luna looked at her brother, hearing his thoughts in her mind.

Let us get through this and I’ll help you skin him with a dull knife.”

Leo grinned at her, then ducked his head as a thumb sized bug zipped past his right ear. After the first five or six had slammed into his face at full speed, he’d learned to recognize the little dots headed towards him, and duck.

Near sunset the dragons landed and once they were clear of their straps and buckles, they flew off to hunt. Dragons hunt better at night.

Miles from both invaders and the kingdom’s largest city, Leo bent over the campfire and stirred the pot of trail rations.

Milder looked at the mess boiling over the campfire and shuddered.

Okay, okay. There’s a time and a place for everything, now is the time and here is the place.”

Placing his right hand in the cuff of his left sleeve, the old mage pulled out a greenwood wand and waved it over the boiling mess. While doing so he whispered a dozen words, tapped the side of the pot and changed the bubbling mess into a palatable stew of rabbit and vegetables.

If I had to eat one more meal of that abomination, I’d have banished your soul into the outer darkness forever.”

Leo grinned at him and then scooped out a large spoonful of stew.

Needs salt.”

Milder’s face turned red just before he threw the greenwood wand at Leo.

You young brat. Next time I’ll turn your share into that horrible glop you call cooking and dine on roast pheasant and stuffed mushrooms while your sister dines of roasted elk steak and juice covered potatoes.”

Landerfall leaned over Leo’s head and snuffed loudly.

I’m with the mage,” he commented before he settled down to gnawing on a large elk haunch.

Leo looked at the stew and then at the mage.

I never claimed to be a cook.”

Luna laughed at his dejected face.

Poor Leo. Twenty summers old, and the only fire you’ve ever managed to tend is the one you heat metal in.”

Pausing thoughtfully, she grinned.

Well, that one, and the one you stoke in Moon-dancer.”

Even the dragons laughed at Leo’s deep red blush.

Luna and Leo

Chapter 7

The sun peeks over the treetops and floods the clearing with pure sunlight. Beside the burned out campfire Leo pushes smoldering embers into a pile and adds bits of dry twigs to start the morning’s fire.

Milder climbs out of his tent, stretches enough to join body and soul for another day and wanders over to the blossoming fire.

Breakfast?”

In a bit. We’re back to trail rations and fresh stream water for tea. Unless you’d care to magic us up a full plate of eggs and ham, fried ‘taters and toast.”

Milder chuckled at the younger man’s idea of a fitting breakfast.

Magic should be used for important things, like enchanting objects and curing wounds, not for filling your ever empty stomach.”

Luna joined the pair and looked at her twin.

I’m sure, if we were home, Moon-dancer would be more than happy to whip up all you want for breakfast and lunch. I’m also sure she’d make you take her out to dinner. Now, which one of you dug that trench behind the bushes?”

Milder pointed to Leo and grinned.

I told you that the sides were too steep and would cave in.”

Leo blushed and looked down, then quickly looked up at the tree-tops.

I’m sorry Luna. If you’ll take off your boots I’ll wash them in the stream.”

Luna laughed and then untied her riding boots. Stepping out of them she used a bit of tree limb to push them to Leo.

Don’t get any water in them. I’d prefer not to squish every time I have to mount or dismount. Oh, and after you’ve cleaned them, there’s wax in the saddle bags, so you can clean and wax them.”

Leo nodded and picked up her boots by their tops and headed for the creek to clean up the mess he’d made by making the latrine trench too deep.

Well, that should keep him busy for a few minutes, now, what did you want to talk to me about?”

Milder looked at the woman and nodded.

Are you sure he can’t hear us?”

Even if he could, he’d not listen to a private conversation.”

Luna picked up a long twig and pushed it into the fire.

Good. Now, I think we need to finish the king’s punishment, just not in the way he thought we would.”

Several minutes later Luna nodded her head and then she turned to the much lighter travel packs for trail rations to make into breakfast. Dried meat, dried fruit, dried oats and dried tea leaves would make a quick mush and warm drink that filled the belly without bothering their tongues on the way down.

Leo walked back from the stream with her boots in his left hand and his right hand was resting on his sword hilt as if reassuring himself it was still there. When he reached the fire he nodded to Milder and then spoke to Luna.

Sister, do you think you could scare off that annoying jay that’s been telling the world we’re invading his territory?”

Luna looked startled at the thought of hurting the bird, then she saw in her mind what her brother had seen across the creek. Nodding her head, she walked over to her tent, drew out her bow and arrows, strung the bow and strapped the quiver to her left right side.

When she got back to the fire she nocked a war arrow to the bow’s string and pulled it back to her cheek. Aiming at the top of the tallest tree she waited for Leo to select a target for her. She hadn’t long to wait.

Across the creek half a dozen fur-clad men charged the camp.

Even though the creek wasn’t deep it was fast and the men had trouble splashing through the crystal clear water. Two of them stumbled and fell while the other four made the creek bank near the flat rock that served as a camping place for the travelers.

Luna lowered her aim and let fly with her arrow. The man in the lead stopped suddenly and looked down at the arrow protruding from his chest. His body was dead but his mind couldn’t understand how a girl child could place her arrow so accurately. He fell and the man behind him stumbled over his body in his hurry to kill the men and make the woman his slave.

Never hurry into a fight.

In his hurry, the fur-covered man grabbed for Luna and found out that Leo was a bigger threat than he’d anticipated. The sword that had been resting by his side was now buried in the man’s back, protruding from his chest.

With half their forces dead, the two that had stumbled in the creek stopped to rethink their attack on armed people. Turning as one, they stumbled back to the bank they’d just charged from. Before they could take the half dozen steps needed to clear the water, one was face down with an arrow in his back and the other one was holding his right leg trying to pull the war arrow out of it.

You didn’t kill that one?”

Leo stared at the wounded man and felt his sister’s laughter in his head.

Don’t you think we should talk to him?”

Milder smiled at her.

You are wiser than you years, lady Luna. Perhaps you’d allow me to question him?”

Luna bowed to the mage and then waved her left arm in his general direction.

Be my guest sir mage. Perhaps your patients will draw out his people’s intentions.”

Looking from the mage to her brother, who was knee deep in the creek and dragging back the screaming man, she shook her head.

Leo, let the mage talk to him. He’s of no use to us if you’ve bashed his head in.”

Leo finally dragged the man onto the bank and dropped him in the mud.

Okay, Milder, you talk to him and I’ll make breakfast.”

Milder shook his head.

Better you guard him while I talk to him and let Luna cook. Your cooking hasn’t improved any since we left the city.”

Milder turned to the captive and laid his hand on his wounded leg. He mumbled a few words and the man looked at the leg as if it belonged to another.

Grum do mitchie?”

Yes, I’ve stopped your pain, for now. However, if you want to keep that leg I encourage you to tell us all you know about your people’s plans.”

Kappa du!”

Wrong answer,” Milder said as he thumped the arrow.

Tas meda, natoda, natoda.”

Then answer my question. Or maybe you’d like my friend here to hammer that arrow into the ground?”

Ca dack.”

In our language, if you please.”

Cas.”

Before the mage could thump the arrow again, the fur-covered man shook h is head.

Okay, okay. I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

Leo looked at the captive and then at Milder.

How’d you know he spoke our language?”

Simple. He understood what I was saying. To understand what one says, another must understand the language one speaks.”

Returning his attention to the prisoner, Milder nodded for him to continue.

Across the dry plains and far away to the west our people lived. When I was a boy, a great mountain exploded and forced us to move east. Fire and ash chased us from our homes and followed us to the great dry plains. Our priests told us that our gods were angry with us and that we needed to cross the dry plains and make peace with the first kingdom we came to. We did so and they told us that if we made war on your kingdom they’d assist us. Once we’d defeated you we’d be allowed to take your lands and live there in peace.”

So, King Darrias made a deal with the invaders. By promising them what he can’t deliver, he means to defeat us, destroy the refugees and take our lands from us. It was a good plan, too bad for him we found out about it.”

The fur-clad man looked from Leo to Milder and laughed.

All you have to do now is return to your city, tell you king our plans, and, oh yes, survive passing our entire population.”

Leo? Does your skill include leather working, or is it just metal?”

I can work leather.”

Good. We’ll need the help of our new friend, and a few of his kin.”

When the sun stood high in the clear sky, Milder had explained his plan to Landerfall and his immediate family of sixty dragons. They agreed to help the mage and his friends. By sunset, there was a pile of leather on the camping rock alongside another pile of metal.

Standing up and pushing on the small of his back, Leo looked down on the forge he’d built and smiled.

It’s crude, but it’ll heat metal hot enough to work. All I need now is an anvil and some tongs. I did bring two of my best hammers.”

Landerfall laughed and turned half around to pick up an object he’d dropped earlier.

Is this the thing you seek?”

Leaning forward the dragon placed an anvil in front of Leo.

Yes.”

Leo bent over, lifted the anvil and then placed it on a solid block of stone.

I don’t know where you found it, and I’m not going to ask, but I do thank you.”

Landerfall nodded his head.

Perhaps the old tales about dragons and humans working together isn’t the fantasy I’ve always believed it to be.”

Now, let us eat and sleep, then tomorrow we can begin that which no one has done for a very long time.”

Leo nodded and turned to Luna and Milder.

In the morning, I’ll begin the task. It’s too late to start it today.”

Before he could add anything, his stomach grumbled emptily.

Luna laughed and Milder grinned.

Poor, dear brother. I’ll feed you and rub your sore shoulders, then tomorrow, we’ll begin.”