Hidden Magic Ch. 02bymadam_noe©
It became a nightmare reaching home. With the death of a Duchess for the North the treaty had been opposed by their queen and war loomed. With Chenn and other advisors helping, my queen spent a fortnight convincing the other queen it had been a personal assassination. When the treaty was signed, I like my peers, stayed on. We saw to the troops getting home, guarded against any guerilla attacks, and kept the queen safe.
After a long, lonely month, I was able to leave. Donnare had left the morning after the victory, heading out to find his own destiny.
Men only had so much freedom, and I hoped it had gotten better under the new queen. She was married but loved men enough to not give up the many who warmed her bed.
However, alone on the road I saw troubling signs.
I elected to travel alone with my thoughts. The country was safe enough now and many traveled along with me, but not in my party. As farms and villages were passed more and more left the lonely road home until I found myself truly alone on the fourth night.
In the fields I'd passed I saw men working, the only time I'd passed them unattended. Perhaps there was reasonable fear that women, long at war, would return not so used to gently bred men.
In the bright of the moon I saw a body on the road. I pulled up the reins, stopping my faithful horse, and drew my sword.
There were open fields but the crops were high, it could easily be a trap.
It was a girl, a young girl, not yet into womanhood. Curiously, she was wet, her white dress plastered to her back and her inky dark hair dripping as she lay face down. She wore no sandals, carried nothing. Feeling dread growing I leaned down and sniffed.
I drew into a defense position, my sword guarded high. Forbidden magic was afoot.
"Come out now. I hold nothing against magic, lest it hurt this child. If you have hurt her, come out and face me."
There was nothing but the sound of the wind, no smells that did not come from natural fields and the animals that dwelled on farms.
I sheathed my sword and bent down to turn her over. She breathed, was warm, but had been bespelled.
Magic was forbidden. In a world ruled by women any power held only by men was feared. No female practitioner of magic had ever been found, only sorcerers, and they were widely feared. The few who had not been purged two generations ago lived in remote spots; deep in forests, high on mountains, never so close to farms stretching between two bustling villages.
I slapped her face lightly. "Wake, wake and tell me your name."
Her eyes opened, startling me. Even in moonlight I could see they were a shade of blue like my own, touching on violet. Only the women of my line had such eyes, and I was the last.
She blinked and suddenly they were brown. I knew enough of spells from my mother's studies to know this meant she had borne a spell meant for me, but someone had parted her from it with a saltwater bath.
"Who are you?"
"I do not know." She had a beautiful, strong voice under her quiet tone, strangely deep for a young girl.
"Where do you come from?"
"I do not know."
"How did you come here, bespelled?"
"I don't know."
I made a sound of disgust and pulled her up. "Come on, at the next village let us see if anyone knows you."
I set her on my horse and climbed up behind her. She weighed barely two stone, light as a feather. I kicked my horse into motion and we rode in silence.
A magic spell carried on a girl meant for me. The question weighing most on my mind was not who wanted to kill me, but who had saved me with that salt water.
No one in the town knew her or her people. For her safety and mine and I made a deal with a family, giving them all the gold I had on me after paying for my room and board. They would keep her until I sent for her from my estate.
This meant a few weeks as I was taking the north road for safety, but was headed into the only major town of our lands. In Plaindand I had business to attend to, more pressing concerns than a girl with a spell.
I took a small meal with other women of the road in the dining hall and it was simple, good fare of stew and ale. The innkeeper's son let it be known he was usually available for a few coins, but for me he was eager, pliant, and free.
I passed, Donarre on my mind. I slept alone with my sword, awaiting Serinne's assassins, but none came. I dreamt of battles and death and my mother, calling my name, but I could not reach her.
I woke with a start to the morning light. It took a few seconds but I realized there was a knock at the door.
I pulled the sheet of the bed around my naked body for cover, grabbed my sword, and opened the chamber door. There in the hall stood a young boy, dressed in new, fine threads with plain decoration.
"My lady, I bring you a message from my master."
"Master?" I leaned against the doorjamb, letting my sword droop to rest on the plank floor.
He nodded. "My master says you are in danger, and he offers you his services."
"What can any man, free or not, do for me?"
The young boy leaned close, the sun catching his blonde hair. "There is a powerful sorcerer who has been hired to kill you. My master will protect you for a small fee."
"I can protect myself, I need no man's help. I am the Earless Minnotte Furlan du Cassaman. I have commanded armies and danced with death more times than a child like you can know."
The boy had wise old eyes and did not seem impressed. Perhaps I should list my full titles, I thought, and then he smiled with only those dark eyes. "The dark sorcerer would have killed you last night with the girl...but my master intervened."
That woke me up a bit more. "And just why did he do that?"
"For that you must ask him. He knows you are headed to Plaindand, and he will call on you this evening. Here is his card."
He produced a card, printed by hand on precious pulped paper. It simply said Tomass, Master.
I took it and smiled. "Perhaps, if I am not busy. I have no coin to tip you, so best you be on your way."
He nodded. "I must go now, I have three families to visit to see if they can claim the girl. Oh, I forgot, here." He pulled my bag of gold from my pocket. "My master will see to the girl's care."
I took it and pulled out a single coin for him, messengers were to be paid. He took the coin, an adult expression of boredom on his face, but curiosity in his eyes.
"Why do you look at me so?"
"My master has taken a...liking to you. I wonder why. You seem beautiful, but as cold as any other lady."
"Such an improper compliment, but I will take it a nicety. Cold I may be, but I am the best warrior you will ever meet.. Perhaps he needs a strong sword arm."
The boys face twisted in thoughtful doubt. "My master fears no one save the sorcerer sent after you. And forgive me, my lady, but his sword arm is much stronger than yours."
I laughed. "Men are not trained in sword fighting. Never us mind, go on now to your business. Tell your master I am curious to know this business and will do my best to meet him tonight. He knows my townhome?"
The boy nodded, bowed, and left.
I looked at the card and it felt warm, unusually so. Perhaps there was a spell.
I closed the door and pulled the bell to signal my repast. Against any assassin of conventional means I could survive. Magic was the one vulnerability I had in the world. All that I'd loved and known was gone from me, I had no fear of death, but a keen will to survive. My instincts were honed, my defenses strong, but with magic I had none.
If I was more prone to consider such things, I might wonder if this was all a scheme, or providence, that was keeping me from my true home.