Since I missed last Saturday’s Saturday Scenes, I thought I would post my scene here. For those interested in seeing more I generally can be found on Google Plus.
This is the first chapter of my new/old rewrite of The Mage’s Daughter.
Beryl eyed the decaying wards on the town wall with pity, they barely had a glow at all, flickering faintly in the corner of her vision. They would fail if the town was attacked before they were repaired. Refugees from nearby towns wandered the small town square, eyes dull with exhaustion and despair. Northern bandits and raiders had been attacking all season, pillaging what they could while the mountain passes were open. The army had patrols on the border and the nearby towns but the attacks continued.
“Six hundred.” Jared snapped, glaring at the man before him.
“Four hundred is the most that we can pay.” The Mayor replied, fidgeting with his chain of office.
“It’s six or I leave your town as is. The most you would get for four is the stables warded.”
“We would not be hiring a hedge mage if we had that much gold!” he sputtered.
“Then send a message to the Wizard’s Council and see if they will cut you a deal. I doubt it.” Jared sneered.
Beryl listened with half an ear as she wandered away from the pair, she could at least shore up some of the wards while she waited. Asking six hundred for warding a place this small was ridiculous. At the most she would have charged four but a mage from the royal council would have charged eight. The Monarchy was stingy with their magical resources, claiming to save the magic for important problems like droughts and wars.
“Every drop of her sweat has a price! Every gram of energy spent warding your precious village is magic that can’t be used on the next.”
“Half the towns around here have been attacked. Our wards are not what they used to be. Would you leave us defenseless?”
“If you won’t pay, then the next town will. Maybe they will take your sorry selves in when the raiders take your gold and your lives.”
The low wall circling the town was barely five feet high. A determined child could scramble over the rough stones in moments. The town had counted on the wards to keep the town safe, blocking out arrows or magical attacks aimed at the town. They also could be used to seal the town completely. Beryl doubted the wards would be able to do much more then stop a handful of arrows without failing right now. She pressed a few small runes in where she could discretely. It would not do much but it might keep the wards stable for a while longer.
“Five fifty.” The mayor snapped, gesturing for a bystander to go collect the gold. He held out his hand and visibly sagged once Jared gave it a perfunctory shake.
“Girl, get to work! The wall, inn, and stables are to be warded.”
“Yes, Uncle Jared.” She said with a frown, walking back and handing over her cloak at the man’s impatient gestures. Gods, she hated when he called her that.
“Thank you for your work, Mage.” The mayor said offering her his hand as well.
“Beryl Marcian.” She said, fighting to keep the bitterness out of her voice.
The man would forget her name as soon as she walked away. It was her curse, something so small and simple that no one spared it a moment’s notice. She glanced at the other townsfolk watching from doorways and porches. They would be remembered by those around them, called by name when someone needed them. They would not be known as “Girl” and “Woman” for the rest of their days. The best she could really hope for was that they called her “Mage”. That at least she had earned.
Beryl pulled a coil of copper wire from her pack and got started. It took hours to carve and spell the runes needed to power the warding on the wall. Each carved rune was filled with copper and spelled to collect ambient magic. The more people that lived in the town, the more magic the wards would collect and the stronger they would become. It might take a few years but the wards would strengthen.
She finished warding the wall and Inn as the day darkened into night. The mist slowly turned to steady rain as she worked, drumming against the stable’s roof in a steady thrum. A series of pattering clicks sounded as something struck the roof. She spun with a gasp as something buzzed past her shoulder leaving a line of pain behind, thunking into the wall next to her. She fell back unbalanced as the next arrows slapped into the wet ground around her.
Beryl stood frozen, the sound of pounding feet and thudding doors ringing out around her as the villagers locked themselves in their homes or raced for weapons. Raiders charged out of the mist as arrows slashed down into the town. A scream rang out, snapping her out of her daze.
Lurching, she threw herself toward the nearest section of wall at a scrambling run. Striking the rough stone, she barely felt the pain of her scrapped palms as she poured magic into the old wall while shaping new runes and directing them to link to the old and new wards. She lost herself to the spell and runes as the fight raged around her.
She struggled to concentrate as the wall started to glow a steady silver as she fed power into the wards. Silver fire lit the night as the runes connected to each other, bridging the openings in the stone and locking out the next wave of raiders. Beryl sagged for a moment, catching her breath. The runic shield did little to help those fighting within the town beyond stopping the incoming arrows. The townsmen fought against swords and crossbows with little more than axes and farming implements, the raiders leaving them dead and bleeding in their wake.
The clash of weapons, shouts of anger and pain bled into each other as she panted. She could not stay here. Snatching up handfuls of loose stones, she filled her pockets as she ran to the side of a house. Pressing her back into the wet wood she darted a quick glance around the corner. Chaos filled the streets of the small town. Several roofs smoldered, adding dark choking smoke to the falling rain.
She pressed a turning spell against her chest and whispered a prayer to Ruth that it would work. She created the spell to turn unwanted attention away while she was traveling. Too many times she had been cornered by either her drunk Uncle or a tavern patron looking for someone to hurt. The spell made people ignore her as long as she was not deliberately drawing attention to herself. She shivered as a fighter stalked past her hiding place, eyes passing over her.
Clutching a stone she pressed a sleep spell into the rock, fighting to ignore how her vision blurred for a moment. She had already used too much magic warding the town. She would have to be careful or she could collapse where she stood mid spell if she pushed herself too far. She had infused the spell into other objects for knocking out a drunk and violent Jared. Hopefully it would work the same.
A raider lunged out of the gloom slashing at a retreating townsman. Shouts of pain and rage echoed in the dark along with the taunts of both the attackers and defenders.
“Don’t run from your death, little boy! Fight me like a man!”
The first stone skimmed just above the man’s shoulder, missing him and clattering to a stop against a house’s porch. The raider turned to face the noise and the next stone slapped into his back with a small thud. The spell flared for a moment as it was activated before he crumpled to the dirt, deeply asleep.
“Push them to the square!” Someone shouted over the roar of the fight.
Mage wiped rain out of her eyes and tried not to shiver. She was covered in mud and soaked to the skin. She pulled out another stone and tried to pick a target through the downpour. Blinking rain drops away she sent her next target into the mud before she crept to a new vantage point.
She darted from building to building, fighting to control how her hands shook. She had no weapons training at all. All she had were a handful of stones against men who were killing everyone around them. It was madness. Fighter after fighter collapsed into unconsciousness helped along the way by her sleep spell infused stones.
Fighting to keep calm, she crept along the edge of a house toward the next knot of fighters. A whimpering cry snatched her gaze to a small form seated on the edge of the fight. A toddler sat bawling in the dust mere feet from where the men fought. Beryl started trying to clear a path to the boy but as quick as she took down one raider, another stepped up to take his place.
The child screamed as a fighter stumbled over the boy. She watched as the man turned and kicked the small body away. She was up and running, drawing at her magic before the blow landed. Her magic filled her body like bottled lightning, pulsing and clawing at her control. She pulled at the magic stored in her mage belt, recklessly draining the gemstones. Her vision narrowed until all she saw was the boy.
She needed it to stop. Everything needed to stop. Throwing herself through the fight she pushed the fighters out of her way without a thought, slamming her body into them to force her way by. The sword was just being raised to kill the boy when she slid through the mud to snatch him up, sparks of magic crackling between her fingers.
“Make it stop!” she screamed, pushing the magic outward as she poured everything into the command. The magic exploded outward, slamming through the town like a shock wave. The town fell silent around her as the raider dropped his sword. Beryl hugged the boy to her and crawled to a safe corner of a nearby house before the magical depletion caught up with her, pulling her under.
“Up! Get packed!” Jared snapped, shoving her out of the warm bed someone had placed her in.
“Yes, sir.” She managed to gasp, gripping her head as she fought her way out of the tangled blankets.
“Hurry up and get breakfast. We leave as soon as the sun is up.”
“Yes, sir.” Beryl staggered to her feet, her head pounded as nausea clawed at her throat.
She was exhausted, magically depleted, and bruised from the battle. It was going to be a very long day if Jared was leaving at first light. Beryl would have thought that he would take advantage of the grateful townsfolk while he could but he seemed determined to be on his way, hangover or not. She absently wondered what he had stolen this time as she gathered up her wet, muddy clothes from the night before.
She forced herself to eat the porridge she was given for breakfast before Jared rushed them out the door, snatching her wrist and gripping it hard enough to bruise as he rushed out of the Inn. She trudged through the sucking mud after him, rubbing her wrist. Jared stomped away at full stride, each step spraying the air around him with gouts of mud and water.
One of the villagers stepped forward stopped her for a moment, handing her a wrapped bundle, “Just a few things to make your journey easier, child.” She said, voice pitched low so not to carry to her snarling relative. Beryl smiled her thanks and slid the bundle into a small bag. With a small wave she headed after her Uncle.
“Where are we headed next?” she asked softly once she caught up.
“Breyton,” Jared muttered, digging out a tin of ground betnut and filling his lower lip with the red narcotic powder. “They have a good crowd at the gaming tables in the Inn.”
He shot a thin stream of red tinted to one side, rubbing at the blackened gums he sported, the mark of a Betnut user. Beryl fought to keep her disgust from her face. It was a nasty habit. She shuddered as she avoided where he had spat.
She did not bother responding, moving to place her bedroll farther away. It was always the same. They traveled from town to town, Jared fleecing those he could at the gaming tables or negotiating for her to ward the town or people’s homes. She was so tired of it.
She thought about her small horde of coin and supplies with a sigh. It was enough to get her to the coast but she would need more for passage. She had her magic and not much else, it would have to be enough.
“Just a little more, a few months.” She whispered under her breath rubbing at one of the gems on her Father’s belt trying to ignore how many times she had made that same promise to herself.
They reached Breyton two days later, just as the last bit of light slipped from the sky. Jared went straight to the Inn but she dawdled outside. Jared would go straight to the bar to drink before gambling for the rest of the night. The wave of laughter and music that came from the open door was enough to keep her outside. The inn was packed with people and she wanted some time to relax without having to ward a corner of the bar from intruders.
Glancing around the small village that sat at a crossroads, she turned down a side road. She walking along until she came to a small clearing with a pile of boulders. Climbing up, she fished out the small bundle the villager had given her.
Inside she found a pair of brown leather gloves that were a size too big. She set them in her pack and pulled out the next item, a slab of berries and nuts glued together with honey that had been cut into bars. She happily broke off several pieces and took a bite, letting the hard mass of honey and berries slowly melt as she sucked on the treat.
Next was a small bag of herbal leaves that could be seeped to make tea, a small pot of healing balm, three candles and a black pouch which was bound and sealed with wax. She tucked everything but the pouch away, feeling the rough leather and rolling the contents between her fingers as she crunched through another bite.
Breaking the seal, she almost dropped the three stones that rolled into her hand. There lay a smooth sphere of onyx, jade and moonstone. Each was about the size of a walnut. Where in the world had such a small village gotten these? Stones without flaw that sat in her hand waiting for magic to be pooled into them. They were blank wells waiting to be filled.
Placing everything back in the bundle except for a last chunk of nut bar, she hopped down. Writing a string of runes into a clear spot of ground near the boulders, Beryl called in the pack she kept her handful of treasures and supplies she did not want Jared finding. The actual bolt hole where she stored her pack was in a well warded cliff face near her old childhood home, originally a hideaway in the event of an attack by raiders on the village.
With her parents dead and her living with Jared, it was well hidden and unused. After a few weeks of Jared’s tender care she had crafted the two-way sending spell to protect her things. She also kept a small amount of food, water, and medicines in case she got injured or lost.
Writing the last rune, she paused. Her father had often spoken of magic having ways to correct wrongs. She had stopped believing in that soon after the news arrived. Tears built in her eyes as she remembered the day. She had been staying with a neighbor as her parents traveled when they had been killed. It had been the first big trip since the accident but the creditors would wait no longer. Her father was sent off on a commission and her mother went with him as a small holiday. Neither reached their destination.
Attacked by robbers, they were killed on the road, her father by an arrow before he could cast a ward and her mother dying of injuries soon after. The attackers were caught trying to sell the mage belt her father had always worn.
Dashing the tears from her eyes before they could fall she finished the circle and sent her pack back to its hiding place. Scuffing the marks away she headed back into town, fingers lingering on the gem studded chain belt that she wore. She needed to make sure Jared had gotten her a room as well, last time she had to sleep in the Inn’s stable and she was still tired from the fight and warding two days ago.
Beryl spent the next two days doing what she could to avoid her Uncle. He was in a foul mood and had dragged her from the room that first morning by her hair, tossing her clothes out after her. The small wards she cast around her bed had failed in the night. She was just too run down to try casting something stronger.
She spent her days wandering the town trading small wards and charms for supplies they would need once Jared decided to move on. Her nights were spent in their room at the Inn or in a small warded corner of the barroom. She wandered through the hours mentally counting her savings trying to decide if it was enough to run with. If she could get far enough eventually Jared would have to give up on her and she would be free to do what she wished.
They had been at the Inn two days when her visions caught up with her. She was walking across the main floor, heading toward the stair to the Inn’s rooms when the pain stole away her sight. She crumpled as the Inn faded from her sight and was replaced with a battle field. Her eyes were drawn to a soldier, bloody and sweat stained, as he fought his way toward a fallen comrade. Her head throbbed a marching beat as she staggered her way to his side.
“Captain,” the fallen man gasped, as he coughed and choked on the blood filling his lungs, his grey uniform stained black.
The man pulled the soldier over his shoulder and started fighting his way back to the camp they had started from. The landscape around them was blurred, the only focus on the man and his burden. Beryl followed as they wended their slow way through the fighting, watched as he fought through the debris and picked his way around bodies.
A trumpet sounded in the distance and most of the fighters disengage, pulling back to their own lines. Nearly every man is injured in some way, they are all exhausted. Beryl watched in silence as he staggered to the medical tents with his lifeless cargo.