Monday, July 7, 2008

Chapter 17a: Wizard's Apprentice

“Bravery is not a lack of fear. Bravery is being afraid and facing your fears, functioning for the betterment of all in the midst of terror.”


~Quote from unknown author





He looked old, sick. She squeezed his cold hand. Wellan shifted his head to the side and his dull gaze stared at her through a thin film. She didn’t think he recognized her until he smiled. It became a grimace that caused him to squeeze his eyes closed. She ran a damp rag over his sweaty brow, being careful not to open any of the wounds as her rag ran across his forehead.


She had been sitting in the room with him for the last hour, listening to him mumble then scream out. Watching him as his body fought a desperate war against a fate worse than death. She feared he would loose this one.


A whisper, like faint words on the wind. She bent her head down closer to Wellan’s mouth squeezing his limp hand. His mouth moved, but she still couldn’t hear the words he tried to speak. She lowered her head more, until her ear almost touched his lips. “Put…put my hands…on your temple. I want…I…to give…”


She sat up and nodded, grabbing both of his hands and placing the fingers against her temples without a clue as to what he wanted.


His eyes shut and his mouth began to more again, soundlessly. She lowered her head to try and catch his words again, pulling his hands from her temples to lay them across his chest. His hands stayed on her temples with more strength than she had credited him with having.


She gasped as a spike of ice slammed through her head, coring into the center of her being. Wellan disappeared from her sight, the bed no longer mattered, her mind left the little room, the palace, the city.


Darkness.


A raging campfire spun to life in front of her. Men and women danced around the undulating flames while sparks burst into the air to ride the currents until they cooled and died. The people were like none she had ever seen, dressed in wolf hides and leather, wearing bones and painted faces. She looked down at herself. A leather loin cloth, shirtless. Her chest looked like that of a young man or a girl, old claws from some fearsome beast hung on a leather thong around her neck.


The dancing stopped. She looked up as a bear of a man came towards her bearing a staff topped with the skull of a large bird. He spoke harsh words in a language she didn’t understand. He yanked her off her feet and spoke the words again, but this time she understood. “Come, apprentice.”


The darkness evaporated into a blinding white field. The heat and humidity that caused her skin to sweat moments before changed, becoming a cold like none she had ever known. It slammed against her face like an open-handed slap. She gasped. And gripped her staff tighter. Her staff?


The large bear of a man stood next to her. This time he did look like a bear, covered head to toe in a wooly fur. She didn’t know how she knew that it was the same man, but she knew. He grabbed her shoulder and pointed to the top of a white mound. “Watch. You may never see them again, Gwunwyvern.”


Dark brown shapes broke over the top of the hill, shaggy lumps with huge tusks. A snout raised into the air and trumpeted a deep call. Rachelle wondered how the mammoths didn’t sink to the bellies in the soft ground. Mammoths? No one had seen the great beasts in hundreds of years. What was happening to her? Did she suffer delusions? She turned to ask the bear of a man, Thornewulf, but before she could the scene changed again.


Tents. Leather cones with brightly painted symbols sat around her on a plain of grass, the flaps of their doors blowing in the steady breeze. Fires burned all around her, smoking meat lay out on sticks. The smell caused her mouth to water. He turned her head and something tickled her neck. She reached up to brush it off. Hair. A beard? She yanked on it, squinting her eyes from the pain.


A man gave her an odd look as he walked past. He wore only leather britches and a domed hat decorated much like the tents. She looked around and saw others moving back and forth between the tents, carrying clay pots, spears, and stone aged tools. The men wore the britches and strange hats while the women wore knee length leather dresses and flowers in their hair. She looked at her own attire, a leather robe reaching all the way to the ground, decorated with more patterns and colors than anyone else in the small nomadic village. In her right hand was the staff that she had held as she watched the mammoths.


Are these Wellan’s memories?


She looked over at a stack of wood. A man lay atop it. The bear of a man, her mentor, his face pointed at the sky and his hands across his chest. Dead. It was a funeral pyre.


She took two steps toward him before the scene changed again.


Darkness. Rock. Her staff glowed with the power of a hundred fireflies. Five brave warriors stood behind her, fear widened their eyes, their spears pointed at something before her. She turned. A wolf stood before her, but like none she had ever seen. It stood five feet at the shoulders and its eyes glowed a bright red. Its lips curled up and a rumbling growl rolled from its mouth. Between the teeth a fire raged lighting up the space between each fang with a flickering light. Its hackles stood. It leaped.


A blast of energy erupted from her outstretched hand. The light of her staff dimmed slightly. She recognized the energy as the same force she had used against the undead on the streets of Renier. She recognized the trigger that set it off, the mental push that her will activated.


The great wolf slammed into a wall and fell to the floor. It rose and paced back and forth, not done with the fight.


The scene shifted.


Salt air and a strong breeze greeted her. The world rocked up and down causing her to put a hand out to catch herself. The damned beard tickled her neck.


“Ok gru tom chay?” Are you all right? She didn’t recognize the language at all, but she understood it. She nodded at one of the three men who stood around a barrel on the deck of a ship. A map sat on the barrel, weighted down by a copper helmet. A crude map showing the coast line of Renier, something an explorer might have drawn.


The wind died, the sea smell disappeared.


She sat in front of a stone hearth in a wooden hall with a mug of mead in her hand and watched warriors wrestle and couples dancing. Her stomach felt nauseous from the constantly changing environment.


A hand grasped her shoulder. She turned to face a bearded man. He looked a great deal like the Duke except for the full beard and his wide girth. A grandfather or great grandfather perhaps?


He smiled, “Are ye enjoyin’ yerself wizard?”


Not trusting herself to speak she only nodded her head.


“Glad t’hear it. This here hall is just a start. I think with a little hard work and a bit o’planin’ we can have us a whole city right here in this very spot. Maybe even build a castle against the cliff. Ye tink I can do it, Wellan?”


She started to nod, but the scene shifted and shifted and shifted, faster and faster until she couldn’t take it all in. With a scream she opened her eyes.


Wellan lay before her, his mouth drawn and his eyes open, staring at the ceiling. His life had ended, but he had given her all he could before it was done.

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