Chapter 9: The Hills of Fae
Table of Contents|
Chapter 9, part 1 appeared
in issue 129.
The hole was about a foot in diameter. The only thing that could possibly live there, she figured, was a large snake or badger. She knew she could outrun a snake. Kendel, if the need should arise, could dispatch any animal no bigger than a badger.
Then she noticed there was something strange about it. She couldn’t figure out why the hole looked strange, but it was flat against the rolling landscape. It seemed like someone had taken a drawing stick and filled the area with the color black. The sun climbed steadily above her shoulders. its light would soon spill into the hole, revealing its dark depths. Maybe she would wait a while and see what dwelled in there. She was brought out of her reverie when Kendel raised his crossbow up.
She turned to him inquisitively.
“Don’t move,” he commanded. “Step away from the hole.”
Behind him, she could see some of the other men take notice of their leader’s movements. They quickly headed towards her. She began to take a step away.
“Slowly,” he breathed. She noticed he wasn’t looking at her. Sweat was beginning to form on her brow. “Move behind me.” Kendel’s voice was barely a strained whisper.
She did as she was told, and then turned to see what he was concentrating on. Over Kendel’s shoulder, she could see two beady red eyes looking back at both of them from the hole. They blinked and then there was a third eye. When they blinked again, there were two sets of eyes. Soon there were five eyes, and then three pairs of eyes staring back at them.
She gulped. The eyes were a dark venomous red. Veins surrounded each pupil like uprooted roots around a tree. Kendel started to move away from the hole, moving her along as he did so. As they moved back, she could see the eyes rising out of the hole. There were now fourteen eyes, seven pairs, looking back at them. They rose as slowly as Andina and Kendel moved away. Behind the horseman and herself, she could hear the other men fast approaching.
As they backed away, ready to run, they eyes floated above the rim of the hole. They were not eyes at all. They were fat, bulbous red fairies carried into the sky with webbed wings. They moved quickly and encircled her and Kendel.
Andina could see little talons and claws at the end of each limb. They had no weapons, but she knew they didn’t need any. She had read about these creatures as realization dawned on her. She had heard stories about their attacks, but nothing prepared her for what she saw now.
“Don’t move,” whispered Kendel.
“I’m not going anywhere,” she replied a little too loudly. One of the fairies threatened to take flight at her but held its ground as the horseman pointed his crossbow at it. The other men finally got within their reach and stopped short. They held their distance as they saw what it was that was their lady’s threat. They circled the fairies, as well, and Andina and Kendel were surrounded. She heard fifty crossbows click in preparation. The fairies started buzzing.
Kendel heard it, too, and he raised his free hand in response. His crossbow never wavered from its target, the overly eager fairy that had wanted to strike at Andina. The buzzing grew louder and her ears began to ache. She felt Kendel put his arm around her. The buzzing grew louder until it became deafening. The buzzing pounded in her ears like a bell. She felt her eardrums tremble and threaten to pop. She yelped involuntarily in pain. She tried swallowing to ease the pain, but to no avail. Kendel started bleeding from one ear.
He pulled her down as he fired and she tumbled to the ground. His bolt took the fairy through the belly, the tip wider than the creature’s. It exploded with a pop and showered the two encircled companions with droplets of blood. The fairies attacked with all their blood frenzy greed. As they dove, twenty crossbows out of fifty fired with deadly aim. For a moment, Andina thought it was raining blood. Kendel tried to shelter her with his body, but by the time she got to her feet she was stained all over with red. Her hair was matted with blood and droplets sprinkled across her forehead. There were stains that would take months to scrub out of her once unblemished gray robes.
Kendel faired far worse. His whole backside was soiled. His hair was clumped together. His weapons were no longer shiny and silver. He would spend the rest of the day polishing everything in his possession. Andina stared at the bloody carnage left behind with the destruction of the blood fairies. She knew better to stay clear of holes next time, or at least from fairy nests.
Then it struck her. She remembered what she found so peculiar about the hole. “Stay away from there!” she yelled to the men gathering around it.
One of the men turned to her. He was a short, blonde man with brown eyes. His clothing was splattered with droplets of blood. No one had escaped unblemished.
“My lady,” he said as he bowed. “The hole is gone.”
“What?” She stopped short. She had never heard of such a thing. She knew the holes were magical. But this? “How can that be?” At least the threat is gone, she thought. She turned around when she heard Renson from somewhere behind her speak.
“The fairies have been destroyed, my lady.” He grinned again that wicked grin. “They are magical, you see, and when they are destroyed, their home goes away. Its use is no longer needed here.”
He came towards her, looking around at the mess. Kendel was already on his feet, stuffing a bandage in his ear. Renson held his hands out to her, and gently moved her back towards the carriage.
“We’ll get you all cleaned up and back to normal, my lady. I have a bath set up and ready for you at the carriage.” She observed his hand on her shoulder. The ring was red.
“Oh, don’t worry, my lady.” he said mistaking her observation for worry. “I’ll take a look at Kendel and see if we can keep his hearing in that ear. It is bleeding pretty bad, isn’t it?” He grinned at her as he moved her along.
“Come, my lady, we know your young prince will be waiting for you when we reach Acrene Tarrynth. We don’t want him to look upon you looking like this, do we?”
For the first time since entering the Hills of Fae, Andina thought her mage was more than just a little odd. Where had he gotten a bath?
* * *
The sun was beginning its long descent, giving way to the night as it moved towards the western horizon. The carriage traveled with mild difficulty. The procession of a hundred horsemen and single carriage wound its way through the Hills of Fae at a mild pace. Since their last break, they had been ordered to proceed without stopping until they met Palance at the border. Even in their haste, Andina knew they would not make it until the next day. She could very well make it nonstop, but the journey would be grueling for the men.
Inside the carriage, Andina lay to one side. She peered across from her place. Renson was fast asleep, wrapped in his purple robes. She noticed his hands clasped lightly above his stomach and his ring. It was pure black. She only shook her head as she opened the flap to her window.
Sunlight spilled through. Kendel rode right next to the door, as she suspected. Andina looked him over. The man was okay. His clothes were clean. His long black hair was no longer matted with blood. It hung loose and clean over his shoulders. Renson said he would do whatever he could. She guessed he had.
She hoped it had been enough.
“It was,” came the mage’s voice behind her. “I was able to cure his ear. There was no hearing loss in that one. Kendel is a very strong man, my lady. It would take more than blood fairies to hurt a man like him.”
Her jaw was firm with worry as she spun to face him. Renson sat on his cushion with his legs propped up on a small bench.
“Must you do that?”
“What?” he asked innocently, bringing his feet down to the carriage floor.
“Read my thoughts!” she said to him.
For the first time, Renson looked taken aback. “My lady,” he stammered unsure of himself. This was the first time since leaving Stonegate that Andina mentioned their link.
“Don’t, please.” She stopped him with a raised hand.
“Please, let me explain,” he pressed.
She regarded him silently, waiting for him to go on.
When he knew she would hear him out, the blonde man scooted closer to her. “Forgive me for being thoughtless. I am sorry. I forget that we are no longer in Stonegate. If you wish, have me blocked. I’m sure I deserve it. Seeing how I have been previously warned.”
He bowed his head to her.
“Stop that, Renson,” she ordered. “You can be overly dramatic at times. You must understand that you cannot read my thoughts unless you have my permission.”
He raised his head slowly. A smile was creeping back at the corners of his mouth. “Never again, my lady. I know that privacy is important. It always takes me a while to get used to the fact that we are no longer in Stonegate.”
“We are no longer in Stonegate.” she prompted. “The next time I catch you reading my thoughts, I’m going to make your day go very bad, maybe the whole week. Okay?” Her tone was light, but the blonde man knew she meant every word of it.
“As you say, my lady.” He remained quiet for some time.
Every Seer from Stonegate, upon completing their training, was given a personal guard. These men were sent with every new Seer to protect them. Seers were supposed to give up their lives and turn it over to developing their skills. Every Seer gave up their lives and became hermits. Most did it out of fear and tradition. The guards were necessary in case a ruler decided to usurp a Seer’s power by taking them prisoner. It had happened before, and probably would again.
Andina was the first Seer in over a century to not give up her life. She would go to Palance and deal with the consequences of her actions with him at her side. Kendel had asked for himself and his men to accompany her. His reason for wanting to come with her was her power. He explained to her that he was the best. He vowed to see to her safety for as long as she wanted him around. Kendel was convinced her power would draw attention. He wanted to fulfill his vow to the Seer’s Compound in Stonegate by keeping her safe.
And then there were the mages. Renson was her mage. Every Seer had a mage with them, men and women who could control magic. The mages helped train every new initiate at Stonegate. The mages’ other duties included interpreting the Seer’s visions, linking themselves telepathically to their Seer’s mind, and to make sure that if a Seer saw her or his death, that person did nothing to stop the inevitable.
This was a mage’s hardest job. A Seer’s training included many things. But a main part of their studies and practices was to help a Seer cope with the vision of their own deaths. Death was inevitable. To change one’s own death meant to change the order of things. It was made plainly clear that this was a dangerous thing to do. A mage had to make sure that a Seer fulfilled their duty and allowed death to claim them.
Andina could not imagine doing such a job. She would accept her own death when the time came. She was prepared for it. But she longed for Renson. The mage had been alive for a very long time. He had seen more than a handful of Seers come and go. She knew from first hand experience that a link was a very strong bond. To lose that bond, to her, would be inconceivable. She felt sorry for the man that was her mage.
She thought of the future. She was on her way to Acrene Tarrynth, the country of her birth. There, she would meet with Palance, and together they would travel to Geamehn. They would stay in Nomen for a while, she knew. But after that, it was straight for the capital where her new life would begin. She knew that if she were to keep Renson and Kendel they would have to swear fealty to Palance. A king and prince needed one army, not a divided one.
Andina felt pride swell within her. She would be a Seer of the people, the first Seer-Queen in the history of Acrene Tarrynth. More importantly she would be the first Seer to take the throne in the history of the Nations.
She could not allow Renson to keep reading her thoughts. For several reasons, the most important of all being Palance. She didn’t know how Palance would react to her having a handsome, blonde man at her side. He would have to accept Renson, of course. The mage was hers for life, after all. She would do whatever possible to make her future husband feel comfortable and unthreatened.
What about Kendel and his horsemen?
She knew they would return to Stonegate if they wished, but she didn’t think they would. Somehow, she figured Kendel to be very loyal. The man had pride. They could easily join the Iinnin Lodar, she mused. But Palance Demondread would probably never take them in. She doubted that if by some surprise he did allow them service, the soldiers themselves would not.
The Iinnin Lodar was a very close group of men. Most of those men had known each other for most of their lives. They would not allow a new group of men to join their ranks easily. She had met Eliath Camil once before. The commander of the Iinnin Lodar was a very likable man. From the few times they had talked, she knew he liked her in return. They shared a daughter-father relationship. Eliath knew an advantage and an asset when he saw one. Andina was sure he would see Kendel’s worth. The horsemen from Stonegate were probably the finest horse riders in the Nations. Eliath, she knew, would approve of them. Eliath was a very resourceful man. He was wise, powerful, and influential. Maybe he could think of something to unite the two groups.
“I do not intend to block you, Renson.” She said looking the mage over. He was indeed sorry for the inappropriate intrusion to her mind. “I’m only worried that Palance will have me get rid of you. I won’t allow it, but it would be preferable if he did not ask this of me. I don’t want to give him any reason to ask this of me. One way to make sure of this is for you know your boundaries and limits.”
He grinned again.
She wondered how hard it was for this man to get a woman into bed. She knew most women would not refuse an invitation from this man. She had seen it often enough. All he needed was to ask, and most would jump at the offer. At other times, they came to him, making his job all the easier. Some time today his beard had grown down to his chest. He wore a diamond earring that sparkled despite the lack of light in the moving carriage. The sun was almost below the horizon, hiding behind mountains far to the west.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler