Authors: Kristian Alva
Tags: #fantasy, #epic fantasy
Orcs ravaged the countryside, no longer bothered by the light of the sun. The darkness continued for thirteen days. Eventually, a wise old she-dragon, distressed by the situation, decided to talk to the Sun Lion. The dragon flew high into the sky, arriving at the Sun Lion’s castle. She entered the castle with her head bowed low, and with great reverence.
"O, beloved Sun Lion, why do you keep the world in darkness?"
she asked, her voice respectful.
“I am weary,” said the Sun Lion. “The sun disk is heavy, and the mortals below do not appreciate my hard work.”
"Then let me carry your burden for a day. I shall push the sun disk across the sky for you."
The Sun Lion agreed and uncovered the sun. Dazzled by the light, the dragon was blinded, but she picked up the sun disk anyway and flew courageously into the sky. The people rejoiced when they saw the sun
Plants bloomed, dragon eggs hatched, and the orcs retreated back to their caves. As the day wore on, the dragon grew tired. She struggled to keep the heavy sun aloft. By midday, her strength faltered, and she dropped the sun disk, scorching the earth. The place where the disk touched the land became a great desert, and that was how the Death Sands were formed.
The dragon knew that she had erred, so she picked up the sun disk with renewed vigor, but then she rose too high, and the world hardened into ice. That was how the Frigid Waste was formed. The dragon struggled on, her strength weakening with every minute. Eventually, she could hold the sun disk no longer, and she collapsed in front of the Sun Lion’s castle and died.
When the Sun Lion came out to collect the sun disk, he saw the she-dragon lying there, dead from exhaustion, and he felt ashamed, for he had shirked his duties and she had died for it. The Sun Lion promised to honor the dragon for her courage and placed six stars in the sky in the shape of a dragon. And so the Dragon’s Chain is the constellation that rises first in the evening and glitters the longest through the night. That is why the Sun Lion is always depicted holding a dragon’s egg in one hand and the sun disk in another.
Sela smiled, remembering the old fable. She traced the carving with her thumb. “The wood was beautiful—an exquisite knotted hardwood from Redmoor. This wood must have cost you a few silver crowns. It’s lovely, Tallin. Is this a new hobby?”
“No, an old one, really. Something I picked up from the nomads. It’s a warding figurine,” he said. “They’re enchanted objects—a shaman places a small glamour on the statue, and it glows when there is malicious magic about. Anyone can carve the figure and then take it to the shaman. The nomads place them in front of their tents at night. It took me a long time to get the spell, though—it’s not information that the nomads share freely.”
“Seems like a useful bit of magic,” said Sela. “I’ve seen these carvings outside their tents, but I just assumed that they were decorations. Object enchantments weren’t part of my regular training. I only learned how to enchant runestones—very basic stuff.”
“I studied enchantments quite a bit—dwarves are known for forging enchanted weaponry, so that was part of my apprentice training, but I’ve never seen dwarf spellcasters add enchantments to common objects such as this. Nomadic shaman are very proficient at enchanting objects for some reason. Even their weakest mageborns are highly skilled in this respect.”
“That’s surprising. It takes a fair amount of magical ability to enchant an object, at least that’s what I’ve always been told. The elders at Miklagard don’t even bother to teach enchantments to mageborns that test below level four. Maybe it’s time to rethink that policy and start teaching enchantments to all the apprentices.”
“Perhaps.” Tallin shrugged. He didn’t really care what the elders at Miklagard thought. “I’ve tried to learn as much as I can about the nomads, because their magic is different than ours in many ways. It’s useful for us to learn. The main problem is that shamans jealously guard their spells, only teaching them to bound apprentices. What little I have learned has come from eavesdropping, unfortunately.”
“Do they have any grimoires that we could borrow?”
“No, the nomads have no formal writing system; they have an oral tradition instead. They also have distinct teachings for male and female mageborns—there is a set of magical rules for each gender. Men become shamans, and females become medicine women. I’ve never been permitted to speak with a medicine woman alone. It isn’t allowed.”
“Mmmm,” said Sela absently. Her voice trailed off while she looked out into the distance. Tallin realized that she wasn’t listening. He took the half-carved statuette from Sela’s hand and placed it back on the table with a loud tap.
“Sela? Are you all right? I’ve been speaking to you, and you haven’t answered.”
Sela jolted out of her contemplation. “Sorry, Tallin. My mind wandered for a moment.” She rubbed her temples. “I haven’t slept much. Brinsop and I had a long flight from the northern border.”
“I understand,” he replied. “We should get started then. The sooner we finish, the sooner you can rest.”
“Just one thing—do you know if the prisoner smokes?”
Tallin looked surprised by the question and nodded.
“Yes, I assume so. I found some cheap smokeleaf and an old pipe among his things. Why do you ask?”
“I have an idea I want to try,” she said. “Let’s go.”
He led the way through several more corridors, finally heading down a flight of stairs to a windowless cellar. There was no natural light here, so Tallin had embedded several light crystals into the wall. He touched each crystal with a fingertip as he passed, and their light flared brightly as his magic recharged them.
At the end of the corridor, Tallin drew back a heavy curtain, revealing a wooden door with iron hinges. “Are you going to use a truth spell on this one?”
“No, I’m going to try something different today. Just watch me and follow my lead.”
Tallin twisted the doorknob and nudged the door open. A uniformed guard went inside the cell with them, and the door was closed and locked behind them. Inside the darkened room, the prisoner waited in silence, his hands tied in front of him.
The prisoner wore only his breeches. He had curled himself into a ball in the corner, with his back facing the wall. There was a cup filled with water near the man’s feet and two stools near the door, but otherwise the room was empty. A white crystal, hung from a leather string, glowed in the center of the room. There was no other source of light. Inside this room, it would be impossible to track the time, or even know if it was day or night.
Sela dragged a stool over to where the prisoner was seated. Tallin stepped back into the shadows near the door.
She stared at the man for a moment, then sat down, pulling a smokeleaf pouch out of her pocket. “What’s your name, brother?” she asked, offering the pouch to the man.
He eyed her warily for a moment, then reached out and grabbed the pouch. “Endrell. My name’s Endrell.” He opened it and inhaled deeply. The air in the cell was hot and musty, and the fragrant smokeleaf smelled wonderful. “Mmmm… that’s nice.” He dug inside the pouch with his index finger and grabbed a pinch, rubbing it into his nose. “By Golka that smells so good! Sweeter than perfume.”
“You enjoy a good smoke?” said Sela.
“Aye, who doesn’t? Been smokin’ since I was a young pup, but I never could afford this expensive stuff. See those flecks of blue willowbark? That’s how ye know it’s high quality. This is a dwarvish blend, the mayor of Starryford smokes it. He’s downright stingy if ye try to bum a pipeful for yerself. I’ve seen it in the fancy smokeshops, but I can’t afford it.” Endrell’s nose was buried so deep in the pouch that he jumped when Sela snatched it back.
Sela opened the pouch and inhaled deeply. “You’re right, that
smell good. Those dwarves certainly know how to grow some premium smokeleaf.
Endrell looked confused. He had believed Sela was planning to share. “Well…canna have some?”
“Well…” Sela paused, seeming to think it over. The seconds ticked by, and the sweet aroma filled the room. She held the pouch open, but just beyond Endrell’s reach. Endrell fidgeted, keenly eyeing the pouch. “Oh, sure,” she said. “I guess it couldn’t hurt.”
Endrell face cracked into a delighted grin. “Yippee!”
Tallin observed the unfolding scene with amusement, covering his mouth with his hand to hide his smile. Already, Endrell was doing everything Sela asked, and all for a little bag of smokeleaf. Sela leaned forward, offering the pouch again. Endrell licked his lips, reaching out with his bound hands. When the pouch was just within his reach, Sela jerked it back again. “Oh, wait!” she cried.
Endrell stumbled forward, losing his balance. With his hands still tied, he landed hard on his elbows. Sela seemed not to notice.
“Ladies first, you know! Just let me find my pipe! I’m always misplacing the darn thing, you know!” She made a grand show of searching every pocket. When her search came up empty, she patted one boot, then the other, a quizzical look on her face. “I have it here somewhere,” she mumbled softly to herself, but everything she said was loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. She sighed, digging through her pockets a second time. Finally, her eyes lit up. “I found it!” she exclaimed, pulling the pipe out of her boot. Endrell expelled a huge breath. Incredibly, he had been holding his breath the whole time.
Sela packed the bowl with smokeleaf unhurriedly. Once she was done, she held the pipe right under Endrell’s nose. “Isn’t it lovely? This pipe was carved for me by dwarvish artisans. None can match their pipe-making skills, don’t you agree?”
Endrell bobbed his head in agreement. “Aye, yes, it’s lovely. Yes, it is.” He licked his lips.
Sela lit the bowl using a firestick, struck fast against her boot heel. The smoke smelled heavy and sweet and a little lemony. “I’m happy to share,” she said. “Do you have your own pipe? I’ll pack and light it for you, since, you know… your hands are tied.”
“Yes, ma’am, I do!” he said enthusiastically. He patted his front pockets—then he remembered. He lifted a trembling finger into the air, pointing at Tallin accusingly. “I did have a pipe! I always carry it in my breeches… but all my stuff was pinched at the gate,” his eyes shot daggers, “by
The man’s overreaction was absurd, and this time, Tallin turned around and coughed, biting his tongue to suppress his laughter.
Feeling defeated, Endrell scowled and pouted. Sela waited for a moment, and then an idea seemed to dawn on her. She turned around and smiled. “Tallin, don’t you have an extra pipe you could spare?” Her voice sounded almost pleading.
Endrell’s eyes lit up, the possibility once again within his grasp. Tallin knew this was all part of the act, so he rolled his eyes, trying to look exasperated. “I doubt I have a spare, but I’ll go look,” he said, leaving the room.
Sela swiveled around to face Endrell and smiled. “I’m sure he’ll be able to find something.”
Endrell focused all his helpless anger at Tallin’s retreating back. “That mean bugger! I’ve been cooped up in ‘ere forever. He could’a left my pipe. What harm could come from that?”
Sela nodded her head sympathetically. The minutes ticked by. Tallin eventually returned, holding an old corncob pipe.
“Here,” said Tallin. “You can use this one.” His voice was laced with disdain as he threw the pipe on the ground between them. Endrell snatched it up gleefully and reached out again for the smokeleaf. But Sela didn’t offer him the pouch as she had before. Instead, she reached over and removed the old pipe from Endrell’s hand. Then she grabbed the tiniest pinch of smokeleaf, not even enough to fill the bowl. She filled the pipe slowly, methodically. And instead of using a firestick, she lit the bowl with a tap of her finger.
she whispered, and a spark flared up.
“Ye’re a sorceress?” Finally, he understood who was before him.
“More than that,” she said, folding back her lapel to expose her neckline and the carved dragon stone that hung there, glinting in the light.
Endrell’s eyes rounded. “Ye’re Sela? The dragon-rider witch?”
“Yes. I am she.” The smile never left her lips, but now her voice was like ice. The light in the room seemed to dim, and she leaned back in her chair, her face a shadowy mask.
“W-what are you goin’ to do to me?” he whispered.
Sela ignored the question. “Where do you hail from, Endrell?”
“I’m from… up north,” he sputtered, flushing deeply.
“Up north, eh? That’s odd… especially since you seem to know so much about the smoking habits of Starryford’s mayor.” Her voiced lowered menacingly. “Are you absolutely
Endrell’s voice trembled. “Ye don’t understand… I can’t tell ye nothin’! I can’t! I can’t!” he cried. “They’ll kill my whole family. I know they will!”
Sela glanced over her shoulder at Tallin, and he nodded imperceptibly. “Endrell, I realize you’re afraid, but you must tell me what you know. There are other lives at stake here, and I
extract the truth from you, whether you cooperate or not. If you force me to use magical questioning, I can guarantee that you will suffer a great deal.
” She spread her hands, waiting for a response. “The choice is yours.”