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A Chance Encounter (1)
A Vision (2)
On the Road (5)
The Sword of Fanuiloth (7)
The Apprenticeship Begins (9)
The Sword (11)
Lady Viola and Lady Diatha (13)
The Bantes (14)
First Blood (15)
The Dancing Troupe (16)
The Six Riders (17)
The Fnerxers (20)
The Torc (22)
The Dragon (24)
Cappor at Last (25)
The Stews of Cappor (26)
A Night on the Town (27)
Death in the Street (29)
Back North Again (30)
The Castle of Otran (31)
Lthon Lost (32)
The Elf Realms (33)
The Darkening Horizon (35)
Fluin Gathers his Forces (38)
Preparations for War (39)
The Battle of Woodend (40)
The Destruction of Waigath (41)
Volume 1 of The Tapestry of Life
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER (1)
The process of far-thought or mind-touch (Elvish :dzallekar) is widely practised by wizards, elves, bantes and dragons and other were-creatures, with whom it is almost the only form of communication when they are in their ‘animal’ form. One who is adept in this technique can use far-thought to influence weak and untutored minds, to communicate with others also skilled in far-thinking, and to link minds, for powerful magical impact. Although the ability to mind-touch is unusual in man, except those of Elvish descent, most humans have it to some degree, else how would they be susceptible to influence via this medium?
There are many exercises that enhance the ability to far-think, and there are herbs and drugs that can improve weak abilities. Experience and practice are however, as so often, the best teachers.
Yarl Icbodo ys Dalrim
For the tenth time in the last day, Steppan ys Jorac wondered why he was doing this.
The rain, mixed with stinging sleet, was driven horizontally by the gale force south-westerly wind, straight off the vast southern ice continent and the far south-western glaciers of Dorno and the Yarsfeld lands. The wet pressed clammy fingers down his neck, into his shirt and undershirt. His leather breeches were sodden.
He strained to see ahead through the dusk. No village, or farmhouse, or even decent shelter – the land around was a bare, bleak wilderness of tussocky grass, frost-browned, with just a few rounded protruding boulders. An occasional scrubby tree shivered before the storm. Fierce gusts bent the grasses flat against the drenched earth. In the distance, barely visible through occasional breaks in the rain, loomed the dark contours of a snow-capped mountain range.
After days on the road, a simple longing for warmth and comfort filled his being.
At last, after hours of toiling along the muddy track, a small village—the merest assembly of wattle and daub buildings: a few houses, a Weaver temple and an inn—emerged out of the gloom. It was surrounded by a sturdy new stockade, the logs still weeping sap, constructed of stout tree-trunks with sharpened tops—like many of the villages Steppan had passed through. The peace and order of the empire were collapsing. Local communities were now attending to their own defences, and no longer relying on the imperial army. Everybody knew the rumours, even out here, hundreds of thana from the capital.
The streets of the village were filled with mud and ordure. An occasional wretched ill-fed pahi-dog, ribs striping its body, slunk away in the gloom as he passed. Shabby timbered mud-brick houses, walls leprous with damp and mould, were already shuttered against the night.
There was just one inn, so humble it didn’t even have a nameplate above the front door. But it would be better than sleeping rough, as he had done for the last two nights. He made his way into the inn-yard, and an ostler, blowing and stamping to keep warm, took his horse away to the stables.
Shaking the rain off his coat, the traveller pushed open a blackened oak door and stepped into the tavern. After paying for a private room to sleep in, he went quietly into the public room where he ordered beer and food. There was a bright fire burning. The bread and broth were warm and tasty and very welcome, and the beer, though not the best, was passable. He ate and drank till he was satisfied, and then sat and watched the crowd, enjoying the warmth.
The pot-boy picked up Steppan’s empty mug and raised his brows in query.
His attention caught, the traveller watched him intently for many heartbeats before nodding and passing him a coin. Remarkable grey eyes with a touch of blue, and skin taut across sculpted cheek-bones, throwing angled shadows down his jaw. It was the heart-rending familiarity and beauty of those who had once been his people. He wondered if he was deluding himself, seeing what he wanted to see, instead of what was really there. The young man’s build and eyes and bones were right but the hair—blond instead of chestnut? From a wandering Yarsfelder, perhaps? They did sometimes come north, and this was the road to the capital. Perhaps ...
Halfway across the room on his way back to the beer barrels on the bar counter, the waiter accidentally banged into a table at which some callow village louts were seated. Steppan had already noticed them because of their raucous laughter, foul mouths and vigorous horseplay. The pot-boy apologised for the bump, with an insolent flick of his hair which gave the lie to his words. Two of the ruffians stood up and jostled him, but without the rough good humour that had characterised their fooling around before. Now they were like dogs scrapping irritably over a bone.
The waiter returned the aggression with a glare of scorn and derision, eyes slate chips, mouth a tough straight line.
Steppan reached for the blade in his boot.
“Sucked any good ones lately, pretty boy? Want ours?” Smirks and nudges. A cold and furious scowl in reply. A strong surge of magic arced through the room, raising the hair on Steppan’s arms and his head, and setting his teeth on edge. The unguided mage-flux was so strong that for a moment it altered the equilibrium of time and space in the inn. A dog howled, the people stilled, horses shifted in discomfort and alarm.
The wash of power was gone in a moment. The pot-boy bestowed a look of disdain on the two youths, before continuing to the counter.
Steppan’s interest intensified sharply. He’d been right. The two of them were kin.
Later that evening, when the pot-boy left to go outside, he followed. As he reached the door into the inn-yard, he felt another mage-power surge, mixed with fear and anger and defiance.
He ran. A clump of brawling men at the far end of the cobbled yard. The pot-boy against the wall of the stable, the group of thugs from the encounter earlier in the evening in the pub flailing at him with their fists and feet, one holding him from behind. The pot-boy was yelling with impotent fury. The air was trembling with the electric tingles of drawn power ready to be used.
Steppan pulled his dagger from his boot, and watched warily as they circled. The toughs turned their attention to him. He looked a much more dangerous prospect than the potboy.
“Run!” Steppan shouted, but instead the youngster seized a heavy log from the woodpile stacked against the wall, and brought it down towards the largest thug’s head. The man jumped sideways, so instead of killing him, the beam crunched into his shoulder with a sickening crack. He collapsed to the frosted cobbles, writhing in pain. The lad swung the cudgel again, with a bellow, his teeth flashing in an angry grimace, aiming it at another of his attackers. This time, the bar thumped his foe’s ribs, drawing an agonised grunt.
His opponent drew a dagger with his right hand. “Demon take you!” he howled, his blade angling towards the boy’s belly.
Quicker than thought, Steppan grabbed him by the throat from behind, and then kicked his feet from under him. As the man fell, he shifted him underneath his body, and knelt on him, his knife at his throat.
“Move and you die,” he said through his teeth, his anger making the dagger tremble as it pressed against the thug’s neck. The two remaining attackers stared for a moment, then turned and fled. “Move back,” he told the boy. Carefully, he himself rose, and jerked the man on the ground to his feet.
The youngster watched them both warily, his eyes glittering slits in the moonlight. He held the bar ready for another blow.
“Go!” Steppan told the man, enforcing it with a mind-touch command. He stared directly into the man’s eyes.
The man saw the eyes of a killer, his own death, an aching end, terrible and inevitable, smoking phantoms in his soul. He turned and ran.
Steppan forcefully prodded the remaining thug with his booted foot. The man groaned then spat defiantly. “The witch’s bastard broke my shoulder!”
“You shouldn’t have picked a fight,” said Steppan curtly. “Now get out of my sight!” he hissed, his mouth narrowing to a slit, his brown eyes cold with rage and calculated hostility. He held his dagger keen, his fingers curled round the hilt in a relaxed readiness. To the youth, it appeared as if he wanted the man to defy him, so that he could release his tension by plunging the knife into him, slicing arteries and muscle, splashing dark blood onto the frosty cobbles. The man picked himself up and hobbled off, cursing under his breath.
Steppan went over to the boy, who was staring hard at him. There was a livid mark on his face, and blood trickling from his nose.
“Any serious damage?” The youth shook his head, mistrustful. “Come!” The traveller jerked his head towards the inn. The youngster glanced over Steppan’s shoulder and his eyes widened, giving just enough warning for Steppan to twist and leap sideways. There came a groan—of pain or anger—from the boy. Steppan felt a wave of mage-power sweep through the icy air of the courtyard, shattering the night into splinters of light and dark. The ground seemed to shift under his feet, and he stumbled. Holy Mother! he thought, this is power indeed.
The man who had been about to plunge a knife into Steppan's back flew backwards and hit his head with a terrible thud against the wall of the stables.
For a moment, Steppan just stared. He loped over to the body, and felt for a pulse. There was none. This was not supposed to have happened – it was why he had held his own anger under control. He had a job to do, and this was a complication he didn’t need. Damn, damn, damn!
He turned and looked at the boy, who shook his head helplessly, confusion and defiance in his face. For the first time, their eyes really connected. Steppan saw the plea and the guilt and fear behind the bravado. After a quick prayer commending the dead man’s anim to the Weavers, he muttered a spell over the body, drawing a swift sigil in the air, and turned back to the boy. Where the body had lain was now a heap of muddied straw, oddly obscured as though seen through a pane of glass, somehow subtly unattractive and repellent.
The boy blinked as though to clear his vision. He looked like a wild young stallion, ready at any minute to leap away or to rear up and attack, dangerous and unpredictable. His face was pale with shock, yet there was courage and defiance in his expression. He stared at Steppan, wary, waiting for judgement.
“Steppan ys Jorac,” said Steppan, holding out his hand.
The boy hesitated for only an instant before putting out his own hand. “Fluin ys Byon.”
“Well met, Fluin. Come! Let us leave this place,” Steppan asked, putting his arm round the boy’s thin shoulders. Fluin stiffened under Steppan’s touch, and shook the arm off. “Come,” said Steppan, again, urgently. “You saved my life, and I am in your debt. They could return any minute, with friends and allies, or the Watch. What will you do then? Where are you going to run to?”
The boy’s shoulders slumped and he turned round dejectedly. Without a word, he followed Steppan back into the inn.
2011 Nick Thiwerspoon. All rights reserved.