Sorcerer's Child, cowritten by myself and JanaLee
Stocks, is my first full-length novel. The series
is planned on three full novels, the second of which (Sorcerer's Journey) is half completed at this time.
The novel is just under 500 pages long, and obviously is of a fantasy nature.
The Sorcerer's Child: Prologue
The low throbbing rumble of drums echoed through the frost-touched air, carried on the wind through the valley and into the night. Shadows slipped one to the next, created and destroyed by the snap and pop of the bonfire flames. Figures clad in leather gathered in the spaces between shadow and darkness, each taking their place in the greater circle as they rehearsed the steps they knew so well. The ceremony was older than the oldest of memories, and the ancient circle amidst the stones was worn smooth with the passing of many feet. The pounding of the drum reached a fervent pitch, echoed in the writhing undulations of the living circle. In a final crescendo they cried out as one voice, and all was silent. Every eye turned to the center of the hoop where knelt a young woman, her forehead pressed to the earth before a scarlet square of cloth, her arms, hands and fingers stretched over her head in supplication.
"A sorcerer cannot, will not, shall not, and should not ever have children."
The first of the circle stepped forward and spoke, though the noise seemed to come from everywhere, falling to the earth and being returned as each voice picked up the response.
"So it is written, so let it be done."
Across the circle his counterpoint lifted her hand above her head, a lazy trail of blood winding from cuts across the pads of her fingers and down to the cup of her palm. "So it has been since time immortal began. Sorcerers are corruptions of the heart of the world, life magic twisted and gone wrong. Best that they are returned to the power that infected them at birth, before aging leads them to discover the madness that must follow. An adult sorcerer cannot withstand the madness and will strike out at those who would wish only to help. Death is the only mercy... the only reward…it is inevitable." She stepped forward, dropping to one knee. The firelight glistened off of the blood in her hand as it fell through the air, anointing the student's head and running down her skin.
"So it is written, so let it be done."
As the echoing chorus fell away the wind shifted, coming from the east. It wrapped about the oldest figure in the circle, whipping the long vermilion cloak that hung about his shoulders. "We welcome tonight to our ranks the newest of hunters...blooded on the field of honor. She is worthy of her mentor, and worthy of her blades." From beneath the cloak he drew two crescent shaped weapons. Each showed a razor's edge and the glitter of deep-set runes smudged in blood.
"So it is written, so let it be done."
He stepped forward, setting the weapons on the carpet between the woman's outstretched hands, the hooked tips of each blade resting over her thumbs. She did not look up as he flicked the blade forward, the metal biting deep into her skin. He bowed his head and moved back to his place in the circle, the woman's posture remaining still as the stone on which she knelt.
From the west compass point of the circle spoke another voice, only a whisper though it carried to every ear. "We beseech for her wit of mind, wisdom of heart and strength of body. In pain and weariness let her find certainty. We pray she remembers always the balance of justice and mercy, and the honor of her calling. We give her the call... the Hunter's song, let it guide her in her path."
"So it is written, so let it be done."
For a moment the ceremony fell silent, all eyes save the initiate rising to the starlit sky.
A final voice rose, the same that had spoken in the beginning, "We warn of the signs written in the stars this last turn of the seasons. The powers warned of in ancient times gather. The ranks of the evil ones grow. We cannot explain the signs, only obey them and go as we are called. All hangs in the balance. We give to this woman a hunter's calling, let her go and return to our ranks with news of the kill…or let her not return at all." He spun the staff in his hands, bringing it down with a sharp crack against the ground.
"So it is written, so let it be done."
* * *
"Sire? You've received the reports?"
"This should have been taken care of when the child was born. I'm displeased Captain Olaj, you failed me. Not once, but twice. Perhaps it is time that I find someone capable of carrying out my very simple orders."
A door slammed open, though the king never bothered to turn from the window as the palace guards entered. Sounds of struggle and shouting echoed as the guards disarmed their former captain, dragging him from the room. One richly robed figure remained behind, his dark eyes watching each action of his king.
"Find the child." King Dru spoke ever so softly. "Bring it to me."
"And the parents?"
"Kill them…and any who knew them. I wish this matter sealed."
"As you wish, sire." The man backed towards the door, pausing as the king spoke again.
"And Balar…unless you wish to join your compatriot as a toy for my beloved, don't fail me."
Balar held back a shiver, dropping his head. "Yes, my liege. It will be as you command."
The Sorcerer’s Child: Chapter One
The embedded rock twisted under Tyrin’s pull, obstinately sliding along the metal of the horseshoe and hiding deeper in the narrow gap between shoe and foot. Tyrin sighed as he took a better hold of the mare's foot and moved to get a better angle on the annoyance. He slid the horse pick once more between the stone and the shoe and gave a quick jerk that popped the wedged object free. The young man gave a look of disgust before he tossed the stone back into the fields. He probed the pad of the horse's foot gently as he looked for damage, then straightened, dwarfed by the mare beside him. “It’s all right, girl. I got that stone out of your foot. Let’s get you back in the stables now before it gets too dark, eh?” His voice was soothing and low, calming and experienced from twenty-three years of handling horses. He reached for her halter as he spoke, one hand entwined in the softness of her mane.
The brown mare whinnied and obediently followed, eager for the food that she knew awaited. Tyrin led her into her stall, patting a few outstretched heads along the way. His family, though by no means wealthy, had a good number of horses, and their stables were known to house some of the finest riding steeds in the North. Mica’s behavior was beyond even the highest of standards, and for that Tyrin loved her the most.
Once Mica was settled in her stable, Tyrin placed some of the long grasses that grew plentifully in the fertile northern lands in her stall and watched her for a long moment as she began to eat. She was still limping slightly on her right hind leg, but for the moment she appeared to be more interested in food, which was a good sign. The stone had been uncomfortable, even painful, but it hadn’t broken through the skin so the possibility of infection was very low. In a few days, if all went well, she would have completely forgotten about the pain and be back to her usual self.
Tyrin chuckled as he watched her zeal in sniffing out the tender roots of the grasses and devouring them first before setting to work on the coarser stems. “Have a good sleep, Mica.” He turned and walked back out of the stables, again greeting a few of the more friendly horses. Once outside he took a deep breath, stretching muscles that were complaining bitterly at being hunched over a horse's hoof for so long.
Noticing the slight chill that was in the air, Tyrin paused. Snow would be coming soon, the first true bite of winter, but the harvest had been good and there had been an abundance stored for the cold months. Papa had done well with the tall grasses this year, and with Ma’s vegetables in the cellar and a full meat house, the harsh snow and winds could do their worst. Tyrin's long blonde hair whipped around in the sudden breeze, and he shivered, rubbing his arms. For a moment it almost seemed like something else was in the air, beyond the cold. He cast about; trying to find the source of his uneasiness before he shook his head and made his way across the lower field and back to the warm farmhouse.
His strides were long and sure in their placement despite the stubble of vegetation that clung low to the soil. Growing up on the farm had taught him the value of a solid day’s work, and his body showed the result of many hours in the garden and working the horses. His skin was summer browned, which the coming winter would drain from him. His features were kind, with a faint sharpness to his jaw line that showed him to be his father's son. Often his mother joked that they were really two wildmen in disguise with their angular jaw lines and green eyes, which usually lead to reasons that wildmen living in her home should take a weekly bath.
The door opened before Tyrin could reach for the latch, his mother moving to the doorway with one hand cupped to her mouth to call for him. She inhaled, but released it in a breath as she saw him. She smiled, her pretty features showing a dusting of flour from her day's work. “Guess I don’t need to call you then, now do I?”
Tyrin flashed a smile and bent down to kiss her cheek. “Naw. Had that one timed just right.” He motioned over his shoulder. “Mica picked up a stone today. It's nothing serious, but we’ll need to keep her contained for a day or two so she doesn't irritate her foot.” His eyes lit up at the smells retreating from the small hearth and his stomach rumbled.
“She’ll love that, especially with the snows coming. Won’t bother her a bit to remain where it’s nice and warm. The hard part will be talking her into going back into the fields once the snow has fallen.” Mama reached up and ruffled his hair as he entered, laughing at the unashamed gurgling of his stomach. “Supper’s almost ready. Be sure to clean up or I’ll have to backhand you.” Her infectious grin belied the claim, since the smallish woman had never raised a hand to Tyrin, trusting her son to listen to her.
Tyrin nodded, his senses eating up the wonderful smells in the house. His mother was a very good cook, even if he never understood how she did some of the things she did. Not only were there the secrets of spicing everything just right and knowing when bread was done, but it occasionally struck him that the fire in the firepit never expired, though no one in the house ever fetched wood for it. At the least, he never noticed if the woodpile went down. As well, the fire did not smoke, and the heat it gave never burned exposed flesh if it got too close. Food that was cooked over it was always well warmed, even when taken away from the flame for hours. Though it remained a mystery to him, it was something he had grown up with and he no longer questioned it, simply grateful for the convenience.
He could make out the covered swells of freshly baked bread as well as some form of stew that was bubbling away over the fire and felt his mouth watering. The table had already been set with the meager wooden plates that they used and the flagons were filled with cool well water.
The farmhouse itself wasn’t lavishly furnished; Papa insisted that simple folks like them didn't need much in the way of such luxuries, just a few areas set aside for various parts of the cycle of the day. Tyrin’s bed was in one corner, next to an area set aside for reading; a larger bed was in the opposite corner, next to the firepit and food storage; the main living area was in the center of the large room, with a hewn table and three wooden chairs; and toward the leeward side, closest to the door, was a small area set aside for the rare bath, when enough water was brought in from outside.
A door in the back wall led to the outer storage area, where anything not used in daily life was stashed away, including some food and the odd farm implement that wasn't out in the stables. Candles of varying sizes were placed in strategic locations around the rooms, so that their light would best illuminate the farmhouse. The few windows had been shuttered in an effort to keep the cold wind out. A mixture of grass, mud and horsehair had been pushed in along the cracks until no draft could be felt. It was messy to clean up in the springtime, but the trick worked and kept the small house warm through the winter months.
Tyrin glanced around while his stomach did its best to again remind him that he was ravenous, as he'd had only had cramcakes for lunch. “Where’s Papa? Surely he’s come back from the fields by now. It'll be dark soon.” He moved over to the bathing area and splashed a bit of cold water on his hands, beginning to wash the grime of the day’s work off of them. It took some scrubbing and the help of a sandy soap his mother made, but gradually the dirt began to fall away, revealing the skin underneath.
His mother had moved to the firepit and was stirring the stew, which set the pot to sizzling. She motioned with her stirring spoon over her shoulder toward the upper fields. “Last I saw him, he was out working with the oxen, trying to prepare the fields before the snow hits. He might still be a while, though, so we’d better go ahead and eat before it cools.” She smiled a tired smile. “You know how he worries about his fields.”
Tyrin nodded, aware of how hard both of his parents worked to support the farm. “Well, there haven’t been any fire mites around lately, so the grasses are going to have to be bedded down a lot this winter. And I’m old enough to help, though he’s going to have to show me how.” The bedding down of the tall grasses was another mystery to Tyrin. Every year, if the fire mites didn’t migrate to the frozen land that became their home in the winter, Papa would go out to the fields to “bed down the grasses.” Tyrin did not know what, exactly, that meant, only that it worked. Every spring the tall grasses would spring back to life as if winter had never happened, and their crops would prosper again. Whatever it was that Papa did to them, it did its job nicely.
Papa never allowed him into the upper fields. Tyrin’s duties were the horses and livestock, and that was his world. He enjoyed his life though, and the animals thrived under the constant attention and care that he gave them. He was very good with them and it showed in their longevity and manners. Not a single animal had been lost in over six years due to illness or disease. Only the old bull had perished during that time, and considering he’d been ten years older than he should have been, it had come as no surprise. If anything, his passing had been a blessing to the poor thing, since he’d long since lost the ability to go out to pasture or to mount his herd.
Tyrin enjoyed his life on the farm, though he did suffer from the occasional wanderlust, which his mother always said was natural for a young man his age. His thirst for knowledge and a life beyond the little valley, however, was satisfied by the abundance of books Papa had access to. Where these books came from was another mystery to Tyrin, but he neither commented nor questioned it; after all, to question could potentially mean that his access to the books would come to an end, and that was the last thing Tyrin wanted to happen.
In the books he read of distant cities and countries that he’d never see with his own eyes. But that didn’t matter, since his mind’s eye was clearer than ever his eyes could be, and his imagination filled in the necessary blanks. Through books, Tyrin could run with the dragons of the plains; chase the unicorns through the woods; hunt the goblins and devilkin in the foothills; and sail with the mermaids by the ocean.
No, questioning the source of the books was not something Tyrin did lightly. Instead, he helped his mother prepare for dinner, spooning some of the stew onto the plates with the familiarity of daily repetition. He then broke the stone-cooked bread into chunks, inhaling deeply the rich aroma and slipping a bit into his mouth. Ma had, by this point, brought out a few vegetables as well and placed them in a large wooden bowl on the table. Tyrin smiled, putting the chunks of bread around the table at the three settings before him; maybe if they waited just few more moments, Papa would join them.
* * *
Renissa hummed to herself as she watched the dancing flame of her cook fire contained in a low stone ring. The familiar sound of stone against steel rasped out in a counter rhythm to her humming as she sharpened the length of the ulinar. Stroke by stroke, she honed an edge to the crescent shaped blades. After a time she put the stone aside, brushing her finger along the sharpened edge and feeling the tang of the metal. Satisfied by the results, Renissa rose to her feet and slipped her hand into the grip of the weapon. Nine inches of deadly steel extended in a half-moon around her hand, scrollwork and runes dancing along the long edge of the metal right to the sharpened blade. She picked up a second ulinar, twin to the first, and tested the feel of the grip across her palm. She'd recently rewrapped the grips, and was finally satisfied that the leather was softening to where she liked it.
With the stars and the fire as an audience, she took a stance and swept the ulinar in a long arc that began her nightly practice and ritual, rededicating herself to her purpose and the hunt. It was her calling, the only thing she'd ever known in life and all she wanted.
By the time she finished, the moon had risen over the peaks of the northern mountains, adding a silvery light to the world. The fire had nearly banked, showing only a hint of red ember in the ashes. Renissa knelt and carefully cleaned the blades, sliding them back into specially designed leather sheaths. She mopped sweat from her forehead with the back of her wrist and fished through her packs until she came up with a length of darkened and dried meat. Age had intensified the salty flavor and scent of the meat and she wrinkled her nose, making a mental note to restock all of her supplies at the next opportunity. She could do happily with fresh meat; it'd been too long since she'd eaten anything but tack bread and trail rations. Her hunting had not included much in the way of foodstuffs, and she'd been on the move too much for effective trapping.
With a little sigh of surrender, Renissa ripped off a piece of the meat with her teeth, pocketing it between her teeth and her cheek. She returned the rest of the jerky to the bag and began rebuilding the fire. The night air was crisp though she wasn't bothered by the cold, accustomed to the seasonal changes and warmed by the efforts of her practicing. As the fire licked along the wood the woman sat back, resting her forearms across her knees and sucking at the meat until it was chewable. Her eyes, pale as arctic ice, fixed on the heart of the flame. Images from the past seemed to dance through the golden light and she heard echoes of her own childish laughter followed by the screams, always the screams…
She lay back against the cold ground, feeling it leeching the heat from her body and not caring as the sweat again beaded on her forehead. When Renissa closed her eyes, the memories returned, even as she tried to ignore them. She saw the lightening arc from the sorcerer's fingertips, slamming into her father's chest and deafening her with its concussion. Over and over he fell to the muddy earth, his eyes staring sightlessly at her, brilliant crimson rolling from his stilled lips and staining his graying beard. She'd never seen blood so bright. She heard her mother's agony in her own electrified death from the sorcerer’s hand and felt the nauseating tingle of magic as he turned towards her.
With a jerk, Renissa sat back up, scrubbing at a spot on her forehead before pushing to her feet and beginning to pace. The nights were often too long when she was hunting and the memories forever too close. They were drowned only in pursuit of her cause or at the bottom of a glass of wine, a luxury she could seldom afford the time for.
Twenty years and the pains were still fresh, as real as the scars on her skin and as permanent. Renissa picked up her cloak, tugging the doeskin up around her shoulders. She tied the closure, turning her gaze to the north and her destination. There were sorcerers waiting there, and she would bring them what their kind had brought her. She would bring them death.
* * *
As Tyrin sat down in his chair the door opened, bringing with it a cold burst of air that made the flames on the candles waver. His father strode in, gray eyes flashing with a strange look that Tyrin had never seen, and he walked with a hurry that was unusual for the normally calm man. He dropped his cloak in a heap on the floor and began to pace, a worried look upon his brow. Tyrin’s mother turned and gave him a questioning look as she spooned marmalade onto Tyrin's plate. “What’s the matter?”
“We’ve got a problem.” Papa moved to the south window, throwing open the shutters and scattering bits of packing mud across the floor. The skyline to the south was growing dark with approaching night, but a glow could be seen in the direction of Rebün. A dark cloud had also arisen from the area of the glow, and was slowly encroaching into the peaceful night sky.
Mama's eyes widened, her expression becoming alarmed. “Is that Rebün?”
Papa nodded, his voice grave. “Indeed. It’s finally happened. I fear the worst, and we’d best prepare now.” He moved to the other side of the farmhouse and began rummaging through a small wooden crate that doubled as a reading table. He began removing items from it, causing Tyrin’s eyes to bulge.
“What happened? Papa?” Tyrin’s attention became diverted by what his father was doing. Tyrin had never before seen things like what his father was removing from the crate. Two long wooden poles, easily six to seven feet in length were the first to be pulled from the two-foot long crate. Metal helmets and some type of chain mesh came next, followed by other things that Tyrin didn't recognize. There was no physical way so many things could fit in the crate but there they were, and his father was removing even more objects as Tyrin stood there, amazed.
“Tyrin.” His father turned to him, his gaze uncharacteristically hard and lacking the warmth Tyrin had always seen. “Go out to the stables and release all the animals. Open the back gates of the fields and send them as far as they'll go.” Papa stood and began to don the chain mesh armor with the ease of one who'd worn such before.
“But... I don’t...”
“Tyrin.” Mama's voice was firm, though there was more than a bit of the fear that she was trying to keep in check. “Do as Papa says, and come back inside, immediately.”
No longer questioning, Tyrin hurried to comply, confusion fighting with fear for control of his emotions and expression. He sprinted to the stables; grateful for the physical exertion as it gave him a focus he could control and comprehend. He threw the stable doors wide as he reached them. More than a few of the animals had already begun to nod in the beginnings of sleep, though they glanced up at him as he entered.
He opened the stalls quickly, coaxing the animals out as fast as was possible. They seemed to understand his urgency and fear and by the time he was halfway through the stable, the remaining animals had already moved to the front of their stalls, anxiously waiting their turns.
Finally he came to Mica, who had been watching quietly as he'd freed the others. He threw her stall open, but she alone remained standing there, chewing calmly on a mouth of grain. She nuzzled up against him, trying to provide comfort for her anxious handler. Tyrin gently led her out the stables, refusing to release her for a moment as he gazed toward Rebün and the ominous glow that painted the evening sky.
Tyrin’s thoughts were confused as he tried to grasp what was happening. Why would the animals need to be released? Not that they weren’t able to fend for themselves for a few days. There were few dangerous animals near the farm anymore, and with the snows at least two days away, they would graze and sleep in the fields until Tyrin came for them.
If he came for them. A sudden fear gripped his gut at the thought of not being able to come for the animals. What was spooking his parents like this, and what was the strange light from Rebün? A sudden iciness hit him, along with sudden comprehension. He felt stupid for not having figured it out from the beginning. The glow could only be caused by a great fire, which meant that something very, very bad had happened.
And whatever that bad thing was, his father now expected that it was coming to them. Understanding didn’t bring the calmness that Tyrin had hoped for; instead it only made him more fearful. If something had destroyed the entire town, as so much fire would suggest, what hope could three farmers have?
His thoughts scattered again, running from him like so much grain in a storm and eventually settling on the crate that contained so many odd items and seemed the focus of Papa's attention. How any of the paraphernalia came to be there was as much a mystery to him as was the fact it all fit. None of this made any sense, not the town burning, not the appearance of the objects in the crate, not even the strange look in his father’s eyes. The only thing that made sense at the moment was that the animals must be spared from harm, which meant they had to run.
He turned back to Mica, sudden tears springing to his eyes, unbidden. “Mica, girl, you’re going to have to leave for a while.” She nudged him, but he persisted, pulling her away from the stables and her cozy stall. “I... I mean it, girl. You have to go, and now, before whatever it is gets here.”
She looked at him, something both sad and intelligent in her eyes. This startled Tyrin a moment, as she had never looked at him like this before. It was almost like she could understand what he was saying, not just the tone of his voice. Finally, with a small whinny of consent she turned and headed toward the fields, still limping slightly from the injury to her foot.
The walk back to the farmhouse was the longest Tyrin had ever taken, seeming even longer than his rare trips into town. It was as if his feet were encased in stone and it took every effort Tyrin could muster to avoid fleeing into the tall grasses himself. But finally he returned to the farmhouse, only to gape at the sight of his parents.
The gentle people he’d know all his life were gone, replaced by metal-clad mercenaries in the guise of his family. His mother turned to him, barely recognizable underneath her hawked helmet, the shorn locks of her beautiful hair tumbling across the floor of the room. “Tyrin, come here please. Papa and I, well… we need to tell you something important.”
“Indeed.” Tyrin’s voice broke, the sarcasm barely concealing the fear he felt. Which would it be first, the fire in the town, or the explanation of metallic garb? He wasn’t sure anymore that he even cared, only that he desperately wanted to crawl up underneath the farmhouse and remain there until everything was the way it used to be. He numbly moved to his bed and sat down, facing his parents.
His father bent down on one knee, so he and Tyrin were face to face. “Tyrin, some people will be here soon, likely a very large number of people. You must do as your mother and I tell you to do, and things will be all right. However, some things will happen tonight that I cannot explain right now.”
“Papa...” Tyrin’s mother began to speak, but his father interrupted her.
“No.” His hand cut across the air in front of him like a knife, slashing away her disagreement. “If we survive the morrow, Tyrin, I will tell you all. Better for you to not know right now. All it would do is confuse you further. Only know this, son.”
His eyes flashed as he paused and continued, “When the morning comes, people will be coming to kill us. And, if the gods are indeed smiling on us, mayhap we can send them on their way to their own gods first.” He stood then and smiled a slightly nervous smile. “And perhaps, if luck holds out, you’ll discover something you never knew about your parents as well. Now try to sleep, tomorrow might be rather against any rest.” He put a quiet emphasis on the word sleep, watching his son for a long moment and wishing he could banish all of this, but knowing he could not.
Tyrin doubted that he’d be able to sleep and opened his mouth to protest. As he did a sudden weariness overcame him and he collapsed on the bed, exhausted.
* * *
The wan light of early morning crept along the ground like honey, filling the hollows with light and waking the world. The light filtered in over a little camp, the fire long gone cold and covered with little sign to show where the former inhabitant of the area had gone. With little further notice of the change, the morning dawned.
Renissa growled as the bank under her feet began to slide out from under her and she jumped higher, grabbing a tree root and pulling herself up. This wasn't in any way the easiest path to her destination, but it was the most direct, obstacles notwithstanding. The nagging sensation that had woken her before dawn continued to surge along her bones, driving her forward, urging her ever closer to her goal. She was used to the pull, the knowledge that she was closer to the finalization of her duty. The Hunt Call could be inexorable. It couldn't be far now.
She pulled herself the rest of the way up the incline and rose to her feet. At this place the Tindle River was quite easy to ford; you simply walked across it and dealt with the steep inclines beyond. During the thawing season, or further downriver, the crossing would have been a different story. Her thoughts drifted as her gaze went further north. In the distance a flock of birds took wing, their flight the erratic beat of panic. She swore as she saw the thick black smoke curling through the air. She was too late.
* * *
While he slept, strange bits and pieces of conversation floated in and out of Tyrin’s mind, conversations that made no sense to his slumbering form.
“You should have told him, Papa. He's over twenty in years, he should be able to handle the truth by now.”
“Nonsense, there was no need for him to know before, and knowing now would only worry him further.”
“Maybe another hour, maybe six, who knows?”
“We should have told him.”
“It’s too late now.”
Tyrin was dreamless most of the night until sounds from outside intruded into his sleep and brought a strange focus to his dream. Suddenly he was a mighty knight astride a glorious stallion, with a massive poleax aimed at a writhing mass of snarling creatures. The stallion reached full gallop an instant before the poleax slammed into the throng of beasts, sending corpses and screaming creatures flying.
Demons, devils, and dragons; all fell before his mighty charge, and at last Tyrin stood triumphant over their bodies. The sunlight glared off his armor, blinding him momentarily as he gazed upward… and he woke up, blinking in the bright light of the morning.
He’d slept through the night, peaceful despite the dreams. Groggy, Tyrin sat up, aware that there was a lot of noise outside of the farmhouse; somehow it didn't seem important. It was as though something was preventing him from waking up, but Tyrin shook off that notion. He was simply exhausted, that was all. He'd had a busy day yesterday.
The sounds of metal on metal caught his attention for an instant, but he ignored them as he started his search for breakfast. The strange events from the prior night were nearly forgotten and he pulled a piece of bread off of the remains of the cold loaf on the table, not registering mentally that dinner had never been eaten.
A part of his consciousness was screaming at him to wake up fully and see what his eyes and ears were telling him, but Tyrin could only remotely hear that part of his mind. Incoherently, he started to talk to himself, muttering about bad dreams and what chores needed to be done.
A quick look around the farmhouse showed that his parents weren’t inside; so he stumbled over to the door and pulled it open. He took in the scene before him and coherency came fully to him in a rush as he gaped in absolute horror and shock.
What seemed like hundreds of metal clad men were crouched behind whatever cover they could afford in the fields, with more behind them mounted on massive warhorses, larger than Tyrin had ever seen. Closest to the farmhouse, however, were men that inspired true fear into Tyrin’s heart; archers, some long bowmen, some armed with crossbows, and all tramping grimly toward the farmhouse.
His mother and father stood at the foremost front of their property, facing down impossible odds with nary a weapon between them. They were still clad in their armor, and the two poles were standing upright to either side of them. Tyrin’s voice caught in his throat as he tried to call out to them, but he knew it was useless; there was little chance either one would hear him above the approach of this army of metal.
His mother’s movement caught his eye, and he focused on her for a moment.
With a fluid move, his petite, harmless, loving and wonderful mother brought forth a ball of fire in her hand, letting it fly toward the encroaching archers. It crackled through the air, louder even than the approaching army, and slammed into one of the archers, hitting him in the chest. It exploded on contact, sending a half-dozen bodies flying through the air as the life left them in an instant.
Tyrin’s mouth hung open in shock, the magnitude of what he’d just seen lost on him. His father was moving now, making some strange sort of gesture in the air; then, though Tyrin couldn’t believe what he was seeing, a shimmer appeared before and above his parents, stretched impossibly in the air and connected to the twin poles his father had pulled from the strange box, as if the summer heats had returned to the land.
With a cry, the archers began to release their arrows, the shafts racing like shards of death. Tyrin’s eyes were fused to his parents, and he knew in just a moment they would be dead… and he would be next.
But their death knell wasn’t yet ringing. Some of the arrows hit the shield his father had produced and shattered, the remaining arrows raining down on the fields harmlessly. Once the volley had passed, his mother brought forth another blast of fire, and the closest to her died in a fiery concussion.
Tyrin ran back into the house then, confusion and fear overriding his need to stay and observe the armored pair who had once been his parents kill indiscriminately. The door slammed behind him and he slumped against it, cradling his head in his hands.
Hours passed by inexorably, with the sounds of battle and dying men constantly ringing in Tyrin’s mind. Tyrin remained in the small house, his gaze fixed out the window at his father and mother. So far the attacking army had had little effect beyond trampling and dying on their fields. Whatever power his parents had available to use, the opposing army obviously did not. Their arrows couldn't penetrate his father's shield and their warriors didn't dare approach closer.
He whistled quietly under his breath as his mother released another blast of fire toward the archers crouched behind their fallen comrades. Another group perished in the blast, but more continued to replace them.
Tyrin knew his parents must have been getting tired. Though he’d never seen them do any of what they were now doing, it had to take effort. And they were obviously being worn down; at least once his father had nearly stumbled to one knee...
His thought was lost to eternity as his breath caught and his attention was forced back to the field. He whispered a terrified, "No!" His mother had taken an arrow to the shoulder and fallen to the ground, grimacing in pain as Papa moved to stand in front of her, protecting her with his own body.
The poles cracked with an ominous sound and shattered, the pieces falling to the ground. The arrow shield had fallen.
Heartened, the archers released a huge volley of arrows, but Tyrin's eyes were too clouded with tears to see the effects. He slumped to the floor, sobs racking his frame. Though he couldn't see, he could hear. Impact after impact rained down, followed by two heavy thuds and an ironically serene peace.
Tyrin could feel his heart in his throat as he realized once again whom their next target would be. He should have run before. The thought struck him as mildly ironic as he scrambled on hands and knees toward the back of the home, looking in vain for anything he could use as a weapon.
If only I had some of my parents' power! Why hadn't they ever told me about all of this? He scrambled around, discarding everything his panicked fingers found. Everything they had was wooden or a useless farm tool. His eyes lit up when he looked toward the crate his father had removed so much gear from. With a mad desperation, he scrambled over to it and threw the lid open, only to stare with horror into the empty crate. Nothing. Empty, as empty as the feeling in the bottom of his soul. With a sob, he pushed it aside and collapsed to the floor, beating against it as his anger and fear won over his emotions.
Tyrin's heart seemed to stop beating as he turned. The color drained from his face as he gazed into the hard eyes of a warrior standing in the doorway. The warrior was obviously from the southern peninsula, his dark tanned skin and brown hair a dead giveaway. He was grizzled and worn, scars crossing his body and face.
And now, his crossbow was aimed square at Tyrin's chest, and there was little doubt in Tyrin's terrified mind as to his accuracy.
The man smirked, raised the crossbow, and let fly with Tyrin's doom in one fluid motion. With a cry, Tyrin raised his hand in a futile attempt to block that which he knew was unblockable. A sudden heat infused his being, coming from the core of his body and centered on his outstretched hand. For a long, indescribable moment, all he knew was fire, heat and pain.
Then, merciful blackness overtook him, and he remembered no more.
The Sorcerer’s Child: Chapter Two
Renissa sighed softly as she wandered between the still smoking buildings of Rebün, searching for survivors though she was almost sure the destruction had been complete. Anger bubbled up inside her and she ground her teeth, savagely kicking a support beam to a partially collapsed house, one of the only things that had been left standing. The beam groaned under the additional abuse and collapsed inward to join the rest of the smoldering ruin, causing her to step back.
The small spurt of violence, however, helped her take control of her anger and the woman took a deep breath, looking over the scene again; this time searching for details of what had happened beyond the obvious wreckage. She moved towards the main throughway and knelt, pressing the tips of her fingers to the earth and reading the story that was to be read there. The pressed earth was hard to read but not impossible to decipher with a trained eye. There had been a large group that had passed through Rebün, heading further towards the northwest; by the number of tracks, a very large group indeed. Renissa rose to her feet and jogged along the decimated roadway, watching for any sign of life.
After roughly six hours of a forced fast march, Renissa came upon what she knew instantly to be her destination. More smoke billowed from the ruined farmhouse and she slowed as she came upon scorched fields and bodies, these dressed in the finery of the king. She paused a moment to take in the scene, slipping her packs from her shoulders and into a bramble as she drew the ulinar from their sheaths.
If there were clues about her intended prey, this was where she would find them. The ground at her feet smoked and hissed as she walked, dark earth turned pale as the moisture had been ripped from the ground itself. Renissa growled as the anger grew again; the anger was familiar to her, a hunting anger, anger toward those that would willfully cause such destruction. Step by step, she drew closer to the crater that seemed to be at the heart of it all. The wan sunlight glittered along each of the long blades that clung to her hands, catching on the edges and seeming to pool into the scrollwork.
The farmhouse itself was incinerated, pieces of it scattered everywhere, some nearly a hundred feet from the center of the crater. Bodies were strewn all about showing that, at one point, the armies of the king had been massed and numerous. A fair number of horse carcasses were also tossed carelessly aside; mounted troops had been here as well. Renissa frowned, such a large force for one or two sorcerers? It did not make sense.
The sight of such carnage had once been shocking to Renissa, each death feeling like it was her own. As the years had passed, however, she'd slowly begun to distance herself from the pain, though she still mourned the waste of life. Drawing closer to the heart of the battlefield, she eased one of the bodies over and leaned down to touch the edge of the melted chain mail. Sorcerer's fire…
“Ooohhhh..." Tyrin groaned, wanting desperately to return to the blackness. It was so comforting, so gentle... not painful, as the damnable light was becoming. But the light was inexorable and unyielding... and so slowly he began to stir, though his eyes hadn’t cracked the seal on them yet.
The whisper of sound caught Renissa's attention and she pursed her lips, moving closer on silent feet. The wind tugged at the dark braid of her hair and along her clothing, as though pulling her along across the destruction. She was prepared to strike as she peered over the edge of the crater, her gaze coming to rest on the form below.
She found a blond male partially buried in a mass of wood, dirt and grasses. He was obviously alive, because he was beginning to stir and move his head, though any injuries he might have sustained were buried along with him. His clothing had been mostly torn away and numerous cuts and scratches spoke greatly about the intensity of the flying debris.
Renissa arched an eyebrow, looking over the man. A faint sense of sorcery clung to him, though the call had no strength. He could not be the cause of such devastation. She was quiet for a moment before dropping into the crater, landing as soft as a cat in the ash-covered earth. She slid one of the ulinar into the sheath that clung to her back and slowly knelt, the other blade held at ready should he prove to be an enemy. Upon closer examination, she could see that no bones had been broken visibly and it wouldn't take much effort to extract him from the loose rubble.
Tyrin finally began to discern the difference between light and night, and his eyelids began to struggle to open. He moaned again, "Oh..." and raised a hand, still nothing beyond the fog in his vision.
As the man began to move, Renissa’s free hand grabbed his wrist, fingers pressing against the tendon and immobilizing his hand. It was enough to control his hand, though not hard enough to hurt... yet. Her gaze swept his face, a single lock of dark hair clinging to her cheek where it'd escaped the severe braid that held its brethren. "Don't move." Her voice was a low warning. "Who are you?"
The sudden grip made Tyrin realize that he was hardly out of danger, and the happenings of the previous night came to his mind in a rush. His face immediately drained of color, and he tried to lurch away, ignoring the pain that flared through his wrist and up towards his shoulder as her gloved fingers dug deep against his flesh. "No!" The word was half groan and half scream as he flailed in panic.
"Stop it!" Renissa dropped the ulinar, freeing both hands to deal with the man's struggles. Tyrin kicked in the soft earth, the movements bringing more down upon them as his babbling screams grew louder.
"No! Leave me alone!"
His thrashing freed one leg and the huntress grunted as his knee impacted with her ribs. She shifted to bring her weight to bear over him, trying to pin the taller man to the ground. The ironic thought occurred that Mama Jean would have advised talking quietly and offering a cup of tea, but she wasn't usually getting kicked when she was calming someone down. As a second hit connected Renissa cursed and grabbed his hands, pinning them over his head. She brought her knee up across his throat, pressing until Tyrin began to gasp for air and slowly his struggles eased. She let up the pressure as the man returned to unconsciousness and rolled off of him, brushing dirt off of her face.
"Ye gods...why do I bother?" The question was asked to the sky, though she didn't expect an answer. For a moment she considered just leaving the man here. It was obvious that he wasn't badly hurt, but at the same time there wasn't anywhere for him to go for miles, and she could smell snow on the air. She sighed and finally began digging him out of the rubble. Having a conscience was often a damned inconvenience.
* * *
It was early the next morning that Renissa heard the man stirring again. She had been surprised that he'd remained unconscious for so long; considering what he may have been through though, perhaps it shouldn't have been remarkable. It'd been difficult to get him to the remains of the stables, but, with some effort and a makeshift liter, she'd managed. An oversized shirt scavenged from one of the dead soldiers covered the bandages that she wrapped around his torso, providing some modesty as well as warmth. Renissa leaned against a section of wall, watching as the sky lightened, clouds shot through with the pale pink light of the rising sun. It was a peaceful contrast to the decimation that waited just beyond the crude shelter. The smell of death had begun to spread and she was anxious to move on.
Consciousness returned reluctantly to Tyrin and a panic set in as memories returned to his mind unbidden. He kept his eyes clamped shut as he tried to identify his surroundings. He was clothed which seemed a good sign, as it meant he was still alive. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes, squinting in even the dim light.
Renissa looked over as he stirred, murmuring softly. "Do behave yourself, boyo. I will knock you unconscious again if you can't."
Tyrin's eyes snapped fully open at her voice, closing again and wincing in pain as the light entered his sensitive eyes. "You… I'm not dead? Who are you? What happened? Where?" The questions were shaky and spoken almost halfheartedly, as if he expected her to strike him down.
She turned away from the window, crossing the distance with an easy stride. "You're not dead. I may as well ask you the same question. I have no idea. And in the remains of a stable."
"What?" It took Tyrin's mind a moment to connect that the woman had just answered all his questions in short order, in the order he'd asked them. "Oh. Right." He grimaced and sat up, rubbing at his head and warily looking around. "Well, as you said. I'm not dead. Remains of..." His eyes grew wide as he looked around at the ruined stables they were in. "By the gods..."
Renissa snorted softly and picked up her waterskin, offering it to him. "Here. Drink slowly. You've lost blood, though not nearly as badly as it could have been." She was trying to be practical and not cruel; being practical was often helpful in such moments and he needed to stay focused on his immediate needs or he'd panic again.
Tyrin fumbled the waterskin for a moment before securing a grasp on it, drinking warily. As the flavor proved to be true, he surprised himself by draining the contents, a few splatters falling to wet his borrowed shirt. He thirst quenched, he set the skin aside and stood, moving to the doorway. His eyes widened at the scene before him, the breath catching in his throat. "What... what happened..."
"To that I have no answers. I arrived after the action," Renissa answered from where she stood. She knew what she'd read in the scene, but wanted to see what she could encourage from the man. "What do you remember?"
Tyrin thought for a moment, dreading pulling too hard on his memories, as there seemed a pain there just out of his reach. His voice was quiet and a tremor ran through his voice momentarily before he could quell it. "Armies… Armies from the south. Arrows flying, but being stopped by… by… by… something… I don't know. Fire." Tyrin shuddered, blanching away from his thoughts as the face of the warrior who'd shot at him leered out from his memories. He shook his head. "None of which make any sense."
"Perhaps not now, but with time they will." Renissa didn't push the matter, deciding that it was better to let his memory return naturally. She'd seen people in such a state before, usually following extreme trauma. If the sorcerers had attacked him he might be blocking the event.
"With time." Tyrin still was having trouble putting everything into perspective. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands before looking towards the farmhouse and the crater that was left of his life. "What... what in the seven hells happened here?”
"Sorcery." Renissa moved to stand behind him, looking dispassionately on the rotting corpses. Many were charred to the point that they were barely recognizable as men, and others showed signs that the carrion eaters had already begun to feast.
"Sorcery?" Tyrin repeated the word blankly, stepping into the devastation, his eyes wide. "I... I'm not sure I know what you mean..."
"There was a battle here." She waved a hand towards the nearest of the bodies. "From their garb, these were the king’s men and very likely the two sorcerers that I was tracking."
"Two..." Horror washed over Tyrin as he realized she was referring to his parents. "Sorcerers? I'm still not sure I understand..." He motioned to the bodies of the king's men. "You're... you're not with these people?"
Renissa snorted in contempt, pushing her hair back over her shoulder. "Only in the most tentative of fashions. We all serve the realm, but my calling is of a different caliber." Her eyes narrowed as she watched Tyrin, trying to read the man. It seemed impossible that someone could not know what sorcerers were or recognize their handiwork.
Tyrin sank to his knees, bewilderment and horror mixing in his features. "This.. this was my home... I don't understand!" The last was said as a shout, his fists slamming into the ground before him in frustration. His head dipped, hot tears breaking the seal between his clenched eyes and running down his cheeks.
The huntress was silent as the man wept. Seeing those that had suffered in the wake of dark magics was the hardest part of her calling. It was the cries of these innocents that she heard in her dreams. "Calm yourself, and just keep breathing. What is done is done. The past cannot be changed." She didn't know what other comfort to offer, and relied on the words her mentor had spoke often to her.
Tyrin didn't reply, though he did stop hitting the ground. His fists remained clenched on the thin grass near him and he shook his head in disbelief. He willed himself to wake, safe and sound in his own bed, to have all of this be only a nightmare.
Renissa bent, touching his shoulder gently. "Do you have family nearby?" She wasn't sure he knew of the fate of Rebün and mentally argued with herself that it would be better for him to know now if he'd lost friends or family there.
Tyrin's voice warbled, "No... not… not anymore." He stood and moved away from her, not bothering to wipe the tears from his dirty face. "I... I need to check on the.. the horses. See if any... any survived."
She bit softly on the inside of her lip, thoughtful. "You were related to the people here?" Renissa kept the question as casual as she could. Many sorcerers took apprentices, and it was possible he might know more than he seemed to.
Something told Tyrin that, to answer her question honestly, would not be a very good idea. He shook his head, careful to keep his gaze focused toward the fields. "No... I was here for the horses. The... these mares and stallions are some of the best around, and I was trying... trying to save up enough to buy one."
Something about the response didn't sit entirely well with Renissa, but it did make sense. She nodded, moving back into the stables. "This is not a good place to stay for long. The death will bring things that feed on flesh and worse."
"Where would you have me go? I saw the fires from Rebün before. The next morning, this army attacked. I've never been further beyond, I wouldn't even know where to go." His voice was empty, hollow.
"There is another town, Legõr. Six days travel by the road, four across country. It is probably the best place for you to go. If there were survivors of Rebün, it is likely they will have gone there." Renissa couldn't imagine a life lived in such a way, to never have seen beyond the nearest village. She knew it was a life many had, but it still seemed odd to her.
Six days. Tyrin looked up to the sky, wondering what he'd done to anger the gods so. He shook his head and turned to Renissa, his face sad but set. "Then I guess we part ways." He paused, realizing that he still didn't know her name. "I thank you for your assistance..." His voice dropped, and he shook his head, repeating, "I'm going to go see if I can round up a horse."
Renissa looked back towards him, securing the ties of her packs. "I'd suggest you begin by rounding up a pair of pants." Her gaze dropped purposefully to his bared legs. "Boots wouldn't be a bad idea either."
"Boots." He looked down noticing the goose bumps that ran across his legs. "Aye... pants and boots would be a good idea." He knelt, pulling a pair of boots off of a body near his feet. For a moment the sight and smell of the dead man threatened to deprive him of what little was in his stomach, and Tyrin scooted away. He took a long moment before he pulled them on with a grimace. They didn't fit well, but at least they fit well enough to function. He rubbed dirt off of his cheeks and then began searching for other gear.
The huntress sighed inwardly as she watched him casting around the field like a wraith. She'd been trying to convince herself that if she just started him on the right foot she could be on her way, but more and more it seemed that if Renissa left him behind she might as well kill him herself. Conscience was a thorn in her side and she grumbled to herself before speaking, "Just remember that I like to keep my travel fast. I dislike arguments, and I won't put up with complaining." Renissa paused, "And I'll need something to call you by, as boyo isn't precisely a proper name."
"What?" Tyrin turned and looked at her again, a mix of confusion and sudden hope. "You're… you're going with me?"
"No." She picked up her pack, slinging it over one shoulder. "You're coming with me. I do not think the wildlife would thank me for letting you wander around on your own, and I hate being haunted by angry nature sprits." Renissa shrugged, shifting the pack so it rode a bit lower on her back. "I need to restock my supplies anyway, and one town is as good as another." She waved him back towards the body. "Quickly. You can acquire non borrowed clothing in a few days."
"With you… my name... but why?" Tyrin cocked an eyebrow at her, but his question dropped as a noise caught his attention. He turned to the noise, and elation filled his voice. "Mica! Guir!" Grinning broadly, he strode toward two horses that were approaching through the rubble. The animals seemed calm despite the stench of fire and death, though their steps were mincing to get around the bodies.
Renissa left the stable, arching an eyebrow as she looked toward Tyrin and the horses. "Seems your hopes weren't in vain after all."
Tyrin nodded happily. "Aye, and these are two of the finest we had. The brown filly is Mica, she's my favorite of the whole stables." He stroked her muzzle affectionately, and she nuzzled up against him, whinnying in greeting.
Following Mica was what looked to be a rather spirited horse that had just reached maturity. The stallion stood a good half-foot above Mica and was more heavily muscled than she. He was colored in a speckled pattern, varying between black, white and gray, with a mane the color of soot.
He followed Tyrin without any reins or guidance, though he gave Renissa a very hard glare as he approached, as if daring her to ride him. His tail swished rapidly and he pawed the ground as he stood, watching her carefully.
Tyrin looked back to Renissa. "And this is Guir. He's easily the smartest horse from the whole herd, though a bit independent. But don't let that fool you, he's a big softie at heart."
Renissa looked up from where she had knelt next to one of the bodies of the dead soldiers. Every sorcerer fought in a different way, it was good practice to identify how the damage had been wrought. She ripped an insignia from the burnt clothing before rising to her feet, looking over the horse before pacing closer.
"Personality...is that what they call it?" Her lips twisted into a faint smile before she held up a hand to be sniffed. Guir bent his head and Renissa yanked her hand back as horse teeth clamped shut over the air where her hand had been. "Right... personality."
"Guir!" Tyrin turned to the horse, which blew a gust of air out before taking on a guilty look. Tyrin shook his head before turning back to Renissa and looking beyond her to the rubble. His gaze fell to his parents, and he had to swallow a lump. "Would… would it be alright to bury them, at least? I mean, you may not believe a simple horse hand, but they were good people."
The woman was silent for a moment, considering the request. She nodded reluctantly. "If you wish." She glanced over the ground, wishing to make as little work of the job as possible. "The crater. The earth there is already softened, so it will be simple to do the work." The burying of killers when their victims would receive none rankled, but as he was the only survivor it seemed wrong to deny him.
Tyrin nodded and immediately set on the task of dragging his mother and father's corpses into the crater. The two horses, perhaps sensing the burial of their former masters, stood serenely by, only their tails moving beyond the occasional flick of an ear.
It took about an hour of work, given the situation, but eventually a small cairn of wood, stone and earth was built over the two bodies. Tyrin had carefully placed them side by side, noticing how small and light his mother was and the gray in his father's hair. He struggled to control his emotions, wanting to curl up and weep like a child; with his present company, however, he could not afford to mourn, not yet. Not until he found out the reason for his family's murders, and who was directly responsible. Then he'd mourn, and avenge the death and destruction. He didn't know how he'd manage it, but he silently whispered a promise to the dead. They would not have died in vain.
Finally, it was done. Tyrin climbed back out of the crater and cast one last, final glance toward both his home and his life. Just yesterday morning, everything had been so simple. He shook his head, one small tear escaping unnoticed to him as he turned toward the horses. He swallowed hard, hoping his voice wouldn't crack. "South you said, right?"
Renissa nodded, deciding that they'd do best to cut across country and steer clear of the decimated town. "Aye. South to a fording, then the road from there." She paused, the tear catching her notice. She murmured softly, "It wasn't your fault, boyo. Nor theirs, not really. It is just a matter of how things are, neither good nor bad, but the simple nature of things." She looked over the burial grounds at the destruction and shook her head. She murmured the words she'd stated many times before. "Such a waste..." With a final nod, she turned towards the south, pacing quietly across the fields.
Tyrin watched her walk away for a moment, wondering why she wasn't riding. After all, there were the horses. A quick look around, though, gave him an answer. Riding horses through normal terrain was fine, even over rocky and uneven train they'd do well... but over bodies, strewn armor and weaponry, and the gods knew what else, it would be better to allow the horses to make their way on their own.
"Mica, Guir. Come." Tyrin followed after her, with the horses both following behind him at a very leisurely pace.
At the edge of the field Renissa dropped to one knee, drawing a slender piece of hawthorn wood from her pack. She pressed the tip of the wood to her brow and then her lips before pushing it into the earth. Without explanation she rose to her feet. "We've got about six hours of good light. With luck we can make Tindle River by then. It's a good place to camp."
Now that they were free of the danger of the field, Tyrin moved beside Mica, mounting her with the skilled ease of much practice. "Tindle River… I've never heard the name, though it makes sense that there had to be some place that our stream ends." He looked a bit sheepish. "I've never traveled beyond Rebün." Suddenly, it was all starting to come into focus for the young man... his life had made a drastic change in a very short period of time.
He wondered if he'd survive it.
"It's low at this time of the season, but still a dangerous river. There are fish in the deeper parts, where they can avoid the ice and the current. We'll have to go to a proper fording, but I know of one on our way." She glanced at the horses, pale eyes measuring the horses with a quick look. "The terrain shouldn't be too bad for them, but if the lass has an injured foot you'll have to keep an eye on her."
Tyrin nodded. "She had a stone caught in her shoe yesterday. Nothing serious, it didn't break the skin, so there's little chance of infection. She's quite used to my weight on her. But, I will indeed keep an eye on both of them. Mica for her foot, and Guir for his teeth." He fixed Guir with a look, and again the horse looked sheepish and apologetic.
Renissa eyed the exchange between man and horse and nodded. "I can see why you made a good stable hand. You have a way with the beasties." She looked towards a nearly hidden animal track, still not making a move to mount. Much as her outward confidence belied it, she wasn't looking forward to riding the beast. She had the feeling he'd try to rid himself of any extra burden at the first opportunity. "I still need a name for you. I can call the horses, but not the rider."
Tyrin blinked as he realized she was correct. "Tyrin of..." He stopped himself, looking over his shoulder. There was no place for him to name as his homeland anymore. "Just, Tyrin."
"Good. I'm Renissa." She didn't bother with her full name, deciding that it didn't matter. "We'll go this way."
The young man shrugged, urging Mica to follow Renissa with the slightest pressure of his knee. "I don't know that I'm any better with horses than anyone else, but we seem to get along. They like me." He patted Mica's chest with a hearty thump, smiling.
Renissa looked up at the man and the horse, nodding a bit before eyeing the second mount. Tyrin had taken the time to saddle the two, which was a blessing since Renissa wasn't sure that she'd manage bareback. "Lucky you." She approached Guir, laying a hand on the edge of the saddle, waiting to see if he'd try to bite her again. "How long have you worked with them?" She deliberately turned the conversation to lighter matters and away from the carnage behind them. In a survivor such as Tyrin, panic would usually set in sooner or later, and if she could, she would push it to later.
"As long as I can remember." Tyrin moved easily on Mica, showing that he had some riding skill. "Between the horses, cattle, sheep and other animals, it was pretty much my life."
"A simple life that many would envy." Renissa shook her head, setting her foot in the stirrup and taking the reigns. As soon as her weight began to rise toward the saddle, Guir threw his head back and lurched up, making her grab for the saddle to keep from being thrown.
"Guir!" The horse settled down slightly at Tyrin's sharp comment, but gave a look back to Renissa to let her know that the ride was far from over. Tyrin shook his head. "He's never been THIS ornery before. I'm sorry. Do you want to trade?"
The moment the horse settled, Renissa threw her leg over his back, seating herself before he started fussing again. She glared down at the horse and shook her head. "We'll be fine for the moment. I'll consider it when next we stop." Her stubborn streak was kicking in as the animal continued to goad her. She hunted sorcerers for a living; she was not going to be undone by a horse!
Tyrin hid a smile at her glare as he rode on in silence. After a few yards he began speaking, thoughtful. "Those were the King's forces... but why did they attack Rebün? What was so wrong that they felt they had to destroy an entire town to get to the people they were looking for? I mean, no one in that town did anything to them, and they would have likely simply pointed the direction to the farmhouse if asked." He shook his head, still in a bit of shock.
Renissa's attention had only half been on what Tyrin was saying, watching Guir for signs that he was going to try to throw her again. The last words caught her attention, and she twisted in the saddle to fix Tyrin with a hard look. "What did you just say?"
"The townspeople. The town was on fire the night before they attacked at the farmhouse." Tyrin resisted the urge to look back to where a faint wisp of black smoke was still rising from the ruins of Rebün. "The fighting at the farmhouse happened after that, I think. That's what I don't understand, is all."
"The witchkin didn't attack the town?" Renissa's lips turned in a frown, her thoughts returning to the carnage she'd seen. Why would the king's men... It was impossible. "Are you entirely sure? They have the ability to deceive your mind. I know of no reason soldiers of the King would attack a town."
"Witchkin?" Tyrin frowned, but held his tongue against the perceived insult to his parents. "I'm entirely sure. I was with them for the day, and between the horses and the cattle, bringing in the tall grasses for the winter, and working on the winter stores... I don't know how much time it would take for a 'witchkin' to destroy a town as you seem to think they did, but I watched them fight in the fields where they died."
"This... doesn't make sense. You are correct in that." She paused, giving Guir his head just a little. "Did you see the town?"
Tyrin shook his head. "No, I did not."
Renissa nodded fractionally, the long braid of her hair shifting across her shoulders. "Just as well." She was quiet a moment, nudging Guir to keep the stallion moving down the narrow trail. There was an opportunity here and she weighed the appropriateness in using it. Finally, she looked back at Tyrin. "Tell me about your sorcerers?"
Tyrin went to speak, and then stopped himself. This woman had already told him she hunted sorcerers. Sorcerers, like his parents had apparently been. It all came rushing back to him then; the little things that happened that couldn't happen, the fire that never expired, why their crops were always good when the town's died in a drought.
His parents had used magic. And for that, they had been killed, slaughtered like cattle for a reason that remained beyond Tyrin's grasp. And he couldn't even mourn them, lest he give himself away to this hunter.
But how could he even mourn? He didn't even know their names. All his life, they had always been Ma and Papa, and they called each other the same, with affection. And now they were gone, without even the legacy of a name to pass to their only child.
A child of twenty who again wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a ball and cry.
Renissa shook her head when she saw the change in his face. It was always hard for those that had known sorcerers before. She knew how sorcerers could take one in with kindly faces. She'd seen it before with those that defended them, even to the death. It was a mercy that this man had been spared so young. "It's all right, Tyrin. Forget I asked."
Tyrin nodded, his emotions so jumbled that he didn't trust himself to speak. The next three hours passed by quietly, as Tyrin couldn't bring himself to talk again to this killer of sorcerers.
What would she do when she found out the sorcerer and sorceress she was after were his parents? Luckily, he mused, Tyrin himself wasn't gifted, or she'd probably be just as keen to end his life as well.
He tried to withhold his judgment of her, however, because he was aware that there were many things about life he did not know beyond Rebün. Perhaps there was a good reason for many sorcerers to be killed. If most sorcerers were evil, like this woman seemed to believe, then killing them off could be considered a good thing.
But not his parents. They weren't evil.
His thoughts jumbled together, distracting him from everything. Tyrin barely noticed the start of the snowfall, even though the wind had picked up considerably. The snow started as just a light falling of white, but gradually it was increasing in intensity until it threatened to block their path.
Renissa had likewise stayed quiet as they moved along. Partially lost in her own thoughts, and partially because it took most of her attention to keep Guir from scraping her off on a tree. She'd heard arguments from folks that animals had no spirit of their own; she now wanted to tie said people to this particular animal and let him run. As the snow came up she glanced to the sky, judging the progress of the storm. They weren't going to make the river before it arrived in force and she didn't wish to be trying to build a shelter in the strength of a storm. She tugged on the reigns to slow Guir, looking over the area. "Tyrin? We need to stop. We're not as far as I had hoped, but I don't want to lose the trail."
Tyrin was brought back into the present by her words. "What? Oh, right." He looked up into the snowy skies, catching a few flakes on his face. "We've still got about another hour before it really hits, but it's moving fast." He motioned to a larger patch of forest ahead, where the trees were more densely packed. "How about there? The heavy foliage might afford us some cover, and Mica and Guir can feed on the bushes."
She glanced over to the spot he pointed out, having already been thinking something similar. "That will work fine. We're going to have to be a little creative to keep from being buried. I have hides that can be strung about and the horses will help create a barrier from the wind. I doubt we can get a fire going in this and I don't intend to really try."
Tyrin nodded, dismounting carefully as he started to lead Mica into the brush. Inside the more heavily wooded area, a small clearing had been cut away by years of animals coming through, though nothing seemed to be there now. Tyrin looked around, crossing the clearing and counting his steps. There would be enough room here to wait out the storm, as well as give the horses enough room to move and find foliage to eat. "This could work, couldn't it?"
Renissa dropped from the saddle as they entered the clearing, not wanting to try to duck the overhanging branches. The moment she landed, Guir's front hoof came down preciously close to her toes and she tried not to suspect that the beast was out to kill her. "It should." She quickly pulled her packs off of the animal and moved to the lee of the clearing, sorting quickly for the things she wanted.
Tyrin didn't have any packs to remove, so he watched her set up her camp with an interested eye. She moved quite easily in the woods, showing skills he'd never thought to develop. So much he didn't know, but she had been right about one thing…. He looked back up at the snowy skies. If he had left on his own like he had contemplated, he'd likely be near death by now and there was no way he would have survived the night. So for that, he now owed her his life. Mildly ironic, he mused... she had been there to kill his parents, and now he owed his life to her.
Tyrin gave himself a shake and moved off to tie Guir and Mica, leaving enough of a lead to allow them to move fairly freely. Usually he wouldn't have bothered, but with the storm he didn't want them to wander and get lost. His task completed, he cleared off some of the snow from the foot of a tree. He sat down against it and sighed, rubbing his hand across his eyes. "So now we wait, right? The storm shouldn't last beyond the 'morrow, so we should be able to continue on then?"
Renissa nodded as she unrolled the thin oiled leather pieces that she used as a makeshift tenting and found likely places to tie them off to form a shelter from the wind. "We wait out the worst of it, and move as soon as there's enough light to manage without getting too off track." She worked quickly, trusting to the trees to help keep some of the weather off while she set up camp. She noticed him shivering and wordlessly slipped out of the doeskin cloak, tossing it over his lap. Before he could protest she went back to work. "There's food in the pack and extra gloves. Let's just hope the storm doesn't last. I don't wish to be buried, and a heavy snow will slow us considerably."
The cloak was warm and when she didn't allow him to protest, Tyrin thankfully pulled the lined leather around his shoulders. Tyrin nodded as she spoke, more grateful for the offer of the clothing than the food. The happenings of the day were still far too close to his mind to allow for hunger to register; come the morning, though, he'd likely be starving. He rummaged through the pack, finding the gloves. He doubted they'd fit if they were sized to her hands, but to his surprise they were almost too big for him. He thought for a moment, and then nodded. If she were accustomed to traveling in bad weather, she'd have different sizes of clothing in order to better bundle up against the elements. The clothing just seemed another sign that she was a lot more suited for this than he was.
Of course, it wasn't like he had another option, really. He shook his head and placed the gloves on his hands before he walked back over to the horses to ensure they had enough food within reach.
Renissa managed to get two of the pieces of leather hung, spreading the third on the ground between them. Keeping the ground from leeching heat was one of the biggest concerns, as the snow above would actually keep them warmer. "There's a bedroll attached to the bottom of that bag as well. It's not as thick as I'd like, but it should help keep off the cold." She'd already pulled on her secondary cloak and the large travel pack was beginning to look pitifully empty.
Tyrin nodded, suddenly wishing he had some of his mother's ability with fire. For a moment, he wondered if his mother's cooking fire was still going, then shook his head. If it had been, he would have burned to death. He sighed, pulling the bedroll out of the nearly empty pack and spread it carefully on the ground before lying down on it.
Satisfied that the tenting was as set as it was going to be, Renissa closed the pack and moved it off where it wouldn't get too snowed on before settling cross-legged not far from Tyrin. She fished a flask from a hip pouch and offered it to the man. "Here. This will help keep the cold off. Be careful, it's potent."
"Keep the cold off? With a drink?" Now Tyrin was confused. What drink could keep snow and ice from being just plain cold? With a shrug, he took a healthy swig.
Fire. It raged from his mouth, his throat, and his nose. Coughing and sputtering, Tyrin nearly lost what he had just drank as he tried to breathe again. Swallowing hard and turning a strange shade of green, he numbly handed the flask back to Renissa with a newfound respect for her. If she could drink that, he could understand why the cold didn't seem to bother her.
A faint flicker of a smile touched her lips as he experienced the drink. Renissa remembered her first time with fire ale. She never would have thought it'd become a drink of choice. She took the flask and knocked back a healthy swallow before tucking it away. "Aye, keep the cold off with a drink. Doesn't taste good, terrible for your stomach, but keeps the blood warm." She resettled her cloak slightly. "Couple hours yet to sunset, and that's when it will really turn cold. I can't let you sleep straight through. You'll need to move on occasion to keep from freezing."
Tyrin smiled, the first real smile he'd cracked since she'd found him, broken and nearly naked in that crater. "That's where I actually have an advantage. I toss and turn in my sleep constantly. But that's fine, as long as you get some sleep as well. After all, I'm dead without you." The irony of that statement made him smile again before he turned away and stared out toward the falling snow, gradually letting sleep overtake him as he did so.
Renissa nodded in agreement, turning her gaze to the storm as well. "I'll be fine." She watched over him as he fell asleep, feeling a swell of pity for him. Poor boy. She remembered what the shock was like to be in the middle of such a thing. Best for him if he could just sleep it off. She hummed softly as she watched the snow, her tone low and pleasant.
A few hours later, a noise in the darkness brought Renissa out of a doze. Her attention snapped to the mouth of the makeshift cover as a hand went for one of her blades. A brown horse’s nose pushed past the leather, nudging it out of the way. Renissa began to relax, shaking her head as a body followed the nose and Mica pushed her way halfway under the cover. How the horse had slipped the ties Renissa didn't know, though it was possible the rope had become a midnight snack. Somehow the horse managed not to pull down the leather pieces as she folded herself against Tyrin, lowering her muzzle to whuff at the man's face before settling to sleep. A moment later, Guir pushed his way in as well, though he nearly brought the entire tenting down around them. Renissa rose to her feet, pulling back on the leather to ease the strain. The knots held and once Guir had settled himself she eased back to a sitting position, shaking her head at the mass of man and horses that was now her companion. Neither of the horses could fit into the shelter entirely, but they seemed content to have their heads and forequarters in the warmth.
Guir looked up at her, their gazes meeting in the semi dark, a distinct challenge in his look. She was not part of their herd, and therefore not invited to whatever warmth they shared. Renissa snorted and rubbed the tips of her fingers against her forehead. Just a few days to Legõr, she could survive it. She uncorked the flash and took another swig of the liquor, wrapping her arms around her knees and drawing them to her chest. "Damn storm."