Gender: Male Age: 53 Location: Las Vegas, Nv
|Introduction: Day Three - Pendar’s Keep, the grotto, a Challenge and the new Pupil|
The morning started off cool with just a hint of rain in the air. Jen told me that Samuel would be there soon to pick her and Cassy up (Cassy seemed to have a talent for knowing what Samuel needed or wanted. Jen had told me that Samuel said she would be a good assistant.)
Breakfast in the kitchen was quiet but everyone seemed to be in a good mood. All the kids seemed a little tired, (probably from staying up the night before.) I went over things with John and Ann, including talking about clearing the gateway for the Keep above. Ann said she would keep an eye on the girls while I was gone.
When Jeremy came in, I explained that Sarah would be here for the sick and if there was anything to bad to send someone to the healers. While I sat listening to the quiet morning talk, I spread a piece of leather out and cut out a pattern, the leather was soft and easy to handle. Sewing it together I made a shoulder holster.
I put it in place and then tied it across my chest. I removed the pistol from its leather package. I loaded half the magazines, one with solid ball ammo and inserted one in the pistol and chambering a round. I put the pistol in the holster and dropped the spare magazines into my vest pockets. It was several minutes before I had it adjusted the way I wanted, but when I was finished I looked up into John’s eyes. He nodded at the pistol, “For the Saur?”
I shook my head, at John’s words the room had quieted. I saw that Ann looked a little worried, “That will be something bigger and will not be ready for at least a day or so.”
I asked John to have Marie take the package back to my room. I gathered up Sam and Cat, we picked up several trauma packs and anything else we would need. By the time we were ready to go, Samuel was there for the girls, “I’m headed to Pendar’s too.”
I told the girls to be good and after ruffling some hair, left. Cat was wearing the chain shirt and had the green cane sword through her belt. One of the guards that walked the neighborhood gave us directions and it took almost 30 minutes. I realized that we were not that far from the upper entrance to the Keep when we arrived.
When I entered the courtyard it looked like everything was in chaos. There were wounded against a wall to the left and I turned and went that way. It took several minutes to set up. I had Sam find out who was injured the worst while Cat and I set up an area. Either Cat or Sam would be sewing up cuts while I took care of the more serious injuries.
Legate Abrams stopped by once to thank us and tell me that they were having more problems then they expected. He even went so far as to help place a bandage on and say that the healers were already tired out and they were stuck with the ordinary Doctors. He told me that they were seriously thinking of using fire and just burning it down.
The tide of wounded had started slowing down and I was operating on one of the guards with Cat assisting when I felt someone come up behind me, “Well, what do we have here?”
A quick glanced told me that my feelings were right, it was the elder Shaffer. Turning back, I continued operating, (I was sewing a man’s artery closed and could not spare my attention), “I’m busy, if you need help that young lady will help you,” and I nodded in the direction of Sam.
The man stepped closer, but not to me. He was right behind Cat, “This one can help me.”
Saying that, he reached around and grabbed her breast. Without thought Cat swayed one way and my right hand came around in a blow that sent him flying back. The two guards that had been with him started forward, but several of the guards that we had been treating stood up.
A very skinny black haired lieutenant with a rag wrapped around his leg spoke up, “That’s enough. Leave or go into bondage as a criminal for interfering with the guard.”
That seemed to wake them up and they stepped back and went to collect their employer. One looked over at me, “It isn’t over” and then they carried him out.
After we finished with the last man, I told Cat and Sam to rest, while I went over by the gate. The Legate was there with several mages and the lieutenant I had recognized from earlier. The mages were telling them that they could not stop the animation of the dead because it was tied somehow to the Keep and was too strong.
The Legate shook his head, “this means fire and I hate that. It always gets out of hand.”
I looked at the Keep then back to Legate Abrams, “mind if I take a look?”
He looked back at me and then smiled, “What will it cost me?”
I smiled back at him, “Well, let me take a look and I’ll give you my opinion and the price if needed.”
The two mages looked at me as if I were not sane. I nodded to them and turned to the front of the Keep. Spreading my senses I could feel the webs of magic that laced around me. As I got closer to the front door, a guard stopped me and warned me that some of the dead were using bows. I moved to the side of the door and peeked around the corner.
I could feel a web of magic that blocked the doorway, more I could feel the strands of magic that came from the dead and led deeper into the Keep. I pulled my head back before an arrow went past where it had been. It looked to me like the dead were tied to the inside of the Keep. I wondered what would happen if they were brought out through the magic barrier.
With an image of bow fishing in my head, I went back to where the Legate waited, “How much is it worth to you if I help with this little problem?”
The Legate snorted, “Well not the Keep. What did you have in mind?”
I had thought about this, “How about any bond servant in there. After you have checked them of course and one half of the valuables.”
He snorted, “Ten percent and I will let you use some of my guards.”
I shook my head, “thirty percent, the bond servants and the guards.”
Legate replied with, “twenty-five and the guards.”
I thought about it then replied, “twenty-five, but with the bond servants and guards. The bond servants are not negotiable.”
He looked at me for a long time, “Always the soft heart. Very well, it’s a deal.”
I nodded, “Not that I don’t trust your word, but how about another official signing off on it first.”
The Legate nodded, “It will take a few minutes.”
I looked around, “I’ll need several strong men, a couple of heavy crossbows and some light but strong rope or cordage.”
I went back to Cat and Sam and told them that I going to be clearing the Keep and the price. Sam shook her head, “Where are we going to put anyone we find?”
I smiled, “we put them wherever we can.”
With a sigh they got up, Sam asked one of the guards she had helped if he would watch our things. When we walked up to where the Legate was, one of the mages gave a surprised yelp and said something to the other and then stepped forward toward Cat. I felt the magic that he started to call up, but before he could finish whatever he was going to do, Sam stepped up to him and put her dagger to his throat.
At this he seemed to come to himself and shake his head. The other mage had stepped back and had started to chant something when Cat drew the sword. It was as if there was a physical wave that sprang from the blade to the mage. This froze him as if in a block of ice, there was a waiting feeling in the air. I looked at them, “do you have a problem?”
The first mage looked back at me, “the Mair is carrying a weapon. That is forbidden!”
I looked at the Legate, “is there some law against people carrying weapons?”
The Legate only shook his head. I turned back to the mage, “it seems you have just attempted to attack my bondservant.”
The mage flushed, “it’s the prophesy. No Mair is allowed to carry a weapon. It says one will come that carries a green blade. It says that when she comes, she will free all the Mair and bring upset and confusion to the mage community.”
I looked at him and then turned to Cat, “Really? Is that your plan?”
Cat tilted her head and shrugged. I looked back at the mages, “you have a choice. You can try to continue your attack and suffer the consequences. Or you can decide that perhaps this might be better settled peacefully another time.”
The mage squeezed his lips together, but nodded. Together they turned and left. Both Cat and Sam put their weapons away. The Legate only watched as the mages left and then gestured to the three men nearby. They had two heavy crossbows and a coil of rope. As they stepped forward, he quietly handed me a folded piece of parchment.
I put the paper in my shirt and gestured for the men to follow. Approaching the main doors from the side, I stopped short and turned to face everyone. “Alright, what I am going to do is simple to start with. With the crossbows, we will attach a rope and I will shoot one of the undead guards. When I do, you will pull the rope, causing it to come out the door where we can better deal with it. Any questions so far?”
When no one answered, I took the offered crossbow. Tying the rope to a barb headed bolt, I moved to the side of the door. I made sure I had slack in the rope and sent my senses out. I found the first bowman quickly. Nodding to everyone I spun around the doorframe bringing the crossbow down and firing almost in one motion and then even as they were reacting, I spun back.
As I spun back, I yelled for the men to pull and pull they did. Grabbing the rope they pulled it tight and then turned and walked away. The undead guard appeared a moment latter, it was being dragged along the ground. As soon as it crossed the threshold it crumbled into dust.
This exercise seemed to get a lot of attention from the other guards that had been trying to get in all morning. After that, I repeated this technique four more times until all the bow welding undead were nothing but dust. Then it was a simple matter to stand in the doorway and shoot an undead guard through the leg and pull it out.
When the entranceway was finally clear, I looked around, “Could someone find a couple of barbed spears?”
The Legate cleared his throat and pointed to several guards standing by with just the thing. I nodded my thanks and then entered the Keep with Sam on one side and Cat on the other. Leaving Cat and Sam with a crossbow and their own set of men to watch the stairs, I started clearing that floor.
My technique was simple, when I entered a room and a guard was there, I would shoot one and as it was being dragged out, I would face any others with the barbed spears and have them pulled out as well. I had almost finished clearing that floor when I entered a library. I shot one guard and was facing another when the drow came into the room.
Stabbing the dead guard I handed the spear off and turned to face the drow. I could feel the difference, this was a live drow. I drew my swords and the drow did the same. As we slowly circled one another, I waved off a guard that would have come to my aid.
With a flash, the swords clashed together and again we circled. I saw from the way it moved that it was resigned to its fate, “I thought your people believed they were better then the rest of us? Why do you serve a mage?”
Again a clash of swords and we parted, “I serve only my own people!”
I stepped back, “if that is so, then why are you here, defending a mage’s Keep?”
The drow stood there looking back at me, “I was sent here to perform a task.”
I noticed the amulet he wore, “if that were all, then why do you wear his seal? When you die, your body will become his.”
The drow glanced down at the amulet, “my lord gave it as a passage here.”
I relaxed, “that should make one wonder. I will offer a deal.”
The drow glanced at me suspiciously, “what deal?”
I glanced at the door as the Legate entered, “safe passage, for your word not to return and to have the amulet checked.”
The Legate’s lips thinned but he nodded. The drow seemed to consider, “I keep my weapons?”
Again the Legate nodded and the drow stood a moment then nodded, “accepted.”
As he was leaving with the Legate he turned, “I will consider your words. Beware the floors below, a worm awaits.”
After he had left, I finished clearing that floor. Only encountering two other guards, both at the entrance to the stairs leading down. Leaving guards to watch, I returned to the stairs leading up. Making my way to the second floor, I went from room to room but no guards showed.
I did find six Mair girls caught in a spell, they were fifteen or sixteen. The next floor was the same, only the Mair were younger, maybe ten or twelve and there were ten of them. The last floor held the youngest and it tore at my heart to see thirty little girls five or six years old knelling in the poses they were left in.
Back on the ground floor, I went to the stairs leading down. Going down the stairs and clearing each of the first two floors was fairly simple. The third was harder and I encountered something I had not seen before. They stood eight feet tall, had a greenish tint to their skin and carried large maces.
The guards with me panicked at first but I just ignored the size and stabbed them like the other guards. The quarters on this floor were more luxurious and better guarded. Going down to the last floor was a lot more difficult. There were a dozen guards on the stairs and it was as bad when we reached the hall.
When it was finally cleared, we only saw one door. I could feel the magic in the air and had everyone with me wait. When I opened the door there were no guards. With my senses open I stepped in. I was on the landing of a grand staircase leading down. The room was large, two hundred feet by two hundred. The center of the room was clear except for a pedestal that held a large glowing stone.
There were workstations around the edge of the room and I could see four Mair held by spells in the four corners. I could also feel a web of magic throughout the room. Following it, I saw a path to where I thought I would be able to disarm the traps. Cat and Sam came through the door behind me and I glanced at them, “stay here and wait.”
Going down the stairs, I made my way to the first corner. The Mair held by the spell looked back at me and I couldn’t tell how old she was. The spell that held her was different, she was aware. I didn’t think I had a choice, slowly I stepped onto the tile that had a pattern, “Who are you? Where is master?”
I slowly moved to her and helped her stand. She looked to be four months pregnant, “The mage is gone. Move slowly.”
I led her back to the stairs and Sam came down to take her out. I went back to the corner and then followed the path I saw in my mind. When I reached the next corner, I again woke the Mair being held there. This time she was defiant until I explained that the mage was gone.
She too was pregnant and I led her back to where Cat waited to lead her out. The third corner was the same, but the last was different. When I released her she only looked at me, “Where is mother?”
I looked around for another Mair, “I don’t know.”
I could feel the barely contained fury as she looked around the room, “Where’s Pendar?”
I looked back into her angry face, “he fled.”
She glared, “And Antizel? Where is he?”
I shook my head, “I don’t know an Antizel. Follow me and I will get you out.”
As she stepped out of the diagram there was a loud boom as if from thunder. Following it was a bright flash in the center of the room. I pushed the Mair behind me as I turned to face the center of the room. What I saw startled me, it was a huge dragon like in the fairy tales. Before the Mair bumped me, I saw and felt something else, the dragon wasn’t really there!
With a loud roar it turned to face us and I felt the pull of magic from behind me. I glanced over my shoulder as a ball of something appeared in the Mair’s hand. With a throwing motion she threw it at the dragon. I watched as it went right through it and exploded against the far wall. Then I saw something else, the dragon wore a pendent!
I pulled my new pistol, “Wait!”
I aimed at the amulet. Even as I fired the dragon breathed a jet of flame. I was starting to move when the Mair made a casting motion and an invisible shield sprang up in front of us, blocking the blast of flame. The bullet hit the amulet with a loud ringing sound and I quickly fired again. This time it was muted as the amulet broke in half.
The dragon seemed to become more visible and the Mair again blocked another jet of flame. I changed aim and fired to hit the dragon but it didn’t look like it did much damage. The dragon roared and stepped forward towards us. I dropped the magazine and slid the one with the solid bullets back in and chambered a new round.
The dragon was almost on us when I fired, this time, under its chin. The dragon roared and seemed to jerk its head back. Again I fired, this time when the dragon jerked back it fell. Even as it hit the floor it was fading away. As the crystal in the center of the room started to glow I aimed and fired.
With a deafening crash of thunder and lighting that shot around the room it exploded. As the sound and light faded, I faced the Mair, “You can do magic?”
She looked back at me with a new look of respect, “Yes. All my sisters can.”
I glanced around the room but didn’t feel anything, the web of magic was gone. Quietly I led the way to the stairs. Cat and Sam were just outside the room and from the tears and the way they clung to me, I was a little embarrassed. But when I saw the four Mair girls fall into each others arms crying I felt better. When I looked around though, I didn’t see any of the guards, “What happened to the guards?”
Sam snorted, “As soon as that dragon appeared they turned and ran.”
I shook my head, “And you two stayed?”
Sam smiled up at me, “we were trying to think of something to do and had to keep the girls from rushing back into the room.”
I faced the crying Mair, “its time to leave.”
The last one I had freed looked up, “What about our mother?”
I looked at her, “The only ones still in the Keep are upstairs, but they look to young to be your mother.”
She nodded, “She is still with Antizel then. I’m Amanda, this is Theresa, Beth and Ginger.”
“When we get out, I will try to find out about your mother.”
We were coming out of the stairwell at the ground level when the guards finally came back. Legate Abrams was in the lead and it looked like an army was following him and not too willingly. I stopped, “well better late then never I guess. Legate, the Keep is yours. Can I take the Mair now?”
He looked at me in surprise, “I was told a dragon was in the mage’s workroom?”
I shook my head, “not a real dragon, something else. Speaking of the mage, do you know an Antizel?”
The Legate blinked, “that would be the necromancer whose Keep you now own. Why?”
I gestured to the Mair behind him, “he had their mother.”
He nodded, “you know the only Mair that were found there.”
Before I could say anything Beth spoke up, “I don’t know what a Mair is, but mother wasn’t like us. She was a mage that Antizel kidnapped.”
The Legate looked at her, “a mage that was kidnapped? What is her name?”
Amanda took a step forward, “Elizabeth Stormcaller.”
He shook his head, “I don’t remember a mage with that name.”
A voice from behind him spoke up, “I do. She disappeared almost five hundred years ago. It was believed that she was killed by the drow. They hated her with a passion.”
The speaker stepped out of the crowd and I saw it was Nathen. He looked at me, “you didn’t find her in the ruins of the Keep?”
I shook my head, but before I could speak, Ginger spoke up, “mother was never kept in the Keep. Antizel kept her warded below in the grotto.”
Nathen looked at me, “you didn’t show us a grotto?”
I shrugged, “I didn’t know there was one.”
We all looked at Ginger. She blushed and looked at Amanda for help. Amanda shook her head, “I never saw the way in. Maybe grandfather would know.”
I looked at Nathen, “do you know her grandfather?”
Nathen nodded with a half smile, “so do you. Artimas is Elizabeth’s father.”
I smiled, “Is that why he volunteered to check the Keep? Because of the drow?”
Nathen nodded, “I can send him a message to meet you.”
I thanked him and turned to Legate, “the Mair?”
He nodded, “go ahead and take them. These as well.”
I saw Amanda start to say something and cut her off. Turning to them, “there are young girls upstairs, they might be your children. Will you help me with them?”
Theresa’s eyes widened, “Pendar only let us see them when they were born. He taunted us by saying he would sell them.”
Beth and Ginger put their arms around her, while Amanda patted her on the shoulder. Amanda turned to me, “Mother told us how to leave a mage tag. It was difficult doing it while giving birth, but I managed.”
When I looked at the other girls they all nodded, “good. That means if they are your children you should know? Does that mean you will help?”
Amanda nodded and when I looked at the others they nodded as well. I nodded to Legate Abrams, “are you going to come to the Keep to see if I can find this grotto?”
He nodded, “It will be after I settle things here though. I’ll send some men if you need them.”
I thanked him and led the girls to the other stairs. Before they climbed the stairs I stopped them, “Listen to me now, at this time they call anyone that looks like you Mair. Everyone has been told you have been magically created and you have no rights. You are considered less then a bondservant, that is what they say you are.”
“Because of the deal I made to clear this place, you are considered my property. I am not from this place and do not like this system of bonding. What that means is, I will take you in and help you find a place in this new world. The only thing I expect from each of you is common courtesy and perhaps to help out from time to time. Do you have a problem with this?”
They looked at each other and then Amanda spoke up, “What about mother? Will you try to find her?”
I nodded and she looked at the others, “We know nothing of the outside. Antizel only let us stay with mother until he was ready to… get her pregnant again. Since then Pendar has been our master.”
Taking a breath she faced me, “We never expected to be freed so for now we will accept you as our Master.”
I flinched at the word master, “I am not your master. I will act as such, but please don’t call me that. When it is time for you to leave me then you can and I will not stop you. For now I am taking in those I can so that they will not end up someplace against their will. I was thinking of the merchant that had told me Cat could end up in a house of prostitution.
We climbed the stairs and entered the room that held the six Mair. Amanda, Beth, Ginger stopped but Theresa started to rush forward. Cat stopped her, “Wait, you may think you know them, but they don’t know you. Mages train us from birth to except what they tell us and to do what they say, when they say it.”
She nodded to me and I moved in front of the first girl and then I looked at Theresa, “is she your daughter?”
Before she could answer, Beth stepped forward, “No, she is my daughter.”
I gestured for her to come closer, “These girls, though young, have been through the same thing you have, but unlike you, they might not know who their mother’s were. Be calm and gentle with them.”
Stepping onto the glyph in front of the first girl I deactivated the spell that held her. As she woke and looked at me, I smiled at her and gestured for Beth to go to her. After that things went smoothly. The only change was with all the little girls, we ended up just waking them all . We would have time when we got home to separate them for their mothers. Going out the gate with over forty Mair girls following me was a sight.
Sam couldn’t help but tell me that Ann was not going to be happy to have all these new mouths to feed. I smiled back at her and laughed, “at least she will have a lot of new helpers and just think of all the new students you have to teach how to swim.”
When we came in the gate, there were people going everywhere. Ann had a harried look on her face, “more people?”
I nodded, “what’s going on?”
Ann grimaced, “word finally got out that the Guard was doing sweeps.”
“Do we have enough room for them?”
She nodded, “the first batch helped finish bunks for the bottom two floors.”
I looked back at all the girls and thought of the large room on the fourth floor, “Cat? Can you show all the younger girls to the big room on the fourth floor? Sam? I think maybe the inner storage rooms on the forth and fifth for the rest? What do you think?”
Ann spoke up, “Jeremy is in one of the rooms on this level, is that all right?”
I nodded, “that’s fine. Where’s John?”
As Cat and Sam led the girls off, Ann told me, “Checking on the workers that were clearing the gateway in front of the Keep. The stairs are clear now and you didn’t tell me there were asga plants up there!”
I looked at her, “asga plants? And what are asga plants?”
Ann looked at me in exasperation, “the ones you squished in the stairs. They are a food and considered a delicacy. I asked Margaret and some of the other women to pick some.”
Amanda stopped as the others filed past, “are you going to look for mother?”
I nodded, “When your grandfather gets here.”
Ann raised her eyebrows as Amanda followed after the others, “grandfather?”
I nodded, “it’s a long story. Could you let me know when Artimas shows up? I’ll be in the craftroom.”
As I entered the passageway Jeremy stopped me, “did Ann tell you I moved into one of the rooms?”
I nodded, “that’s fine. How did it go this morning?”
Jeremy smiled, “it was slow for a change. Sarah didn’t have anything she couldn’t take care of.”
“Good. I’ll be in the craftroom if anyone comes looking for me.”
Jeremy cleared his throat, “well, speaking of anyone looking for you. The elf you helped is back and he wanted to speak to you.”
“Send him up to the craftroom.”
On the landing of the fourth floor Krystal and Melody crashed into me with the other girls behind them, including Marie and Mary. I caught them and straightened them out, “What’s the rush?”
Melody blurted, “Sam said there were some new girls”
I nodded, “They are in the large room at the end of the hall.”
With shrieks, they were off. Rose stopped to thank me, but then ran to catch up. I shook my head and continued down the hall behind them to the craftroom. John caught up to me as I reached the door, along with Sam and then Cat came out another door. John smiled, “the gate up above will be clear by nightfall and then we can start clearing the rubble from the Keep.”
As we entered the room I heard and felt Teral and Elvan come into the hallway behind us. Inside the door to the craftroom I stopped to wait for them to reach me. A disembodied voice spoke up, “master the weapon you labeled as “hybrid” is finished. We had to do it twice to do it correctly.”
“That’s fine, did you test it?”
“Have you had a chance to make more ammunition?”
As several boxes floated up to the table next to me, Teral and Elvan entered the room. Both looked around in surprise at the crafting room. I gestured for Elvan to sit, I could see signs of fatigue on his face, “I thought I told you to take it easy. The healing you received repaired the damage but it can’t fix the general fatigue of your body or replace the lost blood. That will only repair itself over time.”
Elvan flushed, “I know that now, I felt fine when we started.”
I shook my head, “what can I do for you?”
Elvan looked down and then into my face, “the Mair that stayed with me and helped heal me. I want to buy her.”
I looked at him and could feel something else at work, “Why?”
He blushed, “I don’t know. There was something I felt when I was with her.”
I watched him and he seemed to be struggling with something, “Elvan, I don’t sell people. If you want to see her then you are free to ask her if she would consent to it.”
He seemed to deflate, “she’s afraid of elves.”
I smiled, “Elvan, are you attracted to her because of what she is or because she helped you?”
Elvan looked up at me, “no. She is different, gentle and caring.”
I nodded, “Okay, I’ll give you a chance. Stay here tonight and sit with her. Talk to her and try to explain to her what you are feeling. She may not understand so go slow and be gentle. The one that kept her here didn’t show her mercy or gentleness.”
When he nodded, I turned to Teral, “Did you need something too?”
He shook his head, “no, I was helping Elvan.”
I nodded and turned to the waiting boxes. The first one I opened held the hybrid I had designed. It looked like a short M416 with an eighteen inch barrel. What made it stand out was the magazine well, it was smaller. It also had a buffer system to reduce the recoil even more then usual and it was not gas operated.
The stocks were made from wood and the whole thing had a black shine to it except the part of the barrel that showed. It was the golden color I had come to recognize as Admantium. It was chambered for the same rounds as my White Hawk. It was a thing of beauty to me and I couldn’t wait to fire it. When I looked up, it was to see everyone watching me. I smiled, “it’s beautiful and I can’t wait to try it out.”
The next box was a surprise, it held a double action .45 APC that fit on the palm of my hand. I called it a Sparrow because of its size. There was a row of five magazines, each magazine only held five rounds. There was a holster that would fit on my belt at the small of my back. The other boxes held ammunition, both for the White Hawk and the Sparrow.
When I looked up again it was for a commotion at the door. Artimas and another mage walked into the room. What made the commotion came with them, walking along by his feet was Simon. Behind Simon was another cat with five half grown kittens following along behind. Behind them, was a crowd of small girls calling to them.
I had a hard time not laughing, but everybody else burst out laughing at the sight. The little girls stopped and looked at us in fright as if they had done something wrong. I smiled at them, “it’s alright, but wait for the kittens outside.”
After they had gone, I looked at Artimas who was blushing, “Who are your friends?”
He looked down at Simon and I got a surprise. In my head I heard, “This is Cynthia and her litter. Her mage died two years ago and she has been alone. I have (tasted) you and you have magic. It isn’t one I know, but it is there. Cynthia can be the one to help you.”
I looked at Simon and then at the other cat. She was a grey stripped tabby and sat as if the world were hers to command, “I’m not sure what you are asking.”
I said to Simon as one of the kittens was climbing up my leg and it had very sharp claws. A quiet but feminine voice sounded in my head, “he (I had a clear picture of Simon) wants you to adopt me as your familiar.”
I looked at Simon, “I don’t believe in making anyone do something against their will. If Cynthia and her kittens wish to stay then I would be happy to have them. If it is her wish to stay with me as a familiar then I will let her, but I am not a mage as you know them.”
Cynthia stood and walked up to me as her kitten seemed to find my hand a suitable place to bite. I felt the tingling in my head and then it was as if something missing clicked into place, “I will stay and you are wrong. You do hold the potential, I choose you.”
I looked up at Artimas, who cleared his throat, “sorry they usually don’t give us a whole lot of choices.”
I smiled down at Cynthia, before prying the young kitten off my scratched hand and another off the table and then glancing back down at my new familiar, “You couldn’t by chance, ask the kittens to go out and play with the children?”
I half heard something and the kittens sat up as if listening and then they scampered for the door, “I hope you told them to be careful of their claws.”
I looked back at Artimas, “who is your friend?”
“This is my son, Edward. Nathan sent a message that you needed to speak to me? Something about my daughter?”
I turned to Sam, “Could you get Amanda and the other girls?”
As she left, I sat on a bench and gestured for the two mages to join me, “if you can wait a few minutes I will explain. I would have thought that you would have been at Pendar’s Keep today.”
As I said this Cynthia jumped up onto my lap and Artimas grumped, “the mage council decided that I should have known about Pendar. They have issued an edict that they be the ones to assign things like that.”
“I met two of the ones they assigned. They started to attack Cat before they were persuaded to stop.”
I turn to the center of the room, “Speaking of that.”
Almost immediately a voice spoke up, “yes master?”
I gestured towards Cat’s sword, “Do you know anything about this sword?”
Cat reluctantly pulled the sword (sheath and all) out of her belt. When she held it out, it seemed to float in the air. The sword was pulled several inches out of the sheath before slowly being returned to the sheath, “Yes master. This was the mistress’s sword. It was made here with her help as were the others. The ones you carry and the one on the crafting table.”
“Can you tell me anything about the spells on the sword?”
“There are many Master. Most only the Mistress knew, but the three we do know give the bearer the skill of a sword master. If a mage is present, other then the Mistress a barrier would protect the bearer against spells cast at them. Last was a spell that called lighting at any mage that cast a spell at or near her. Master, there was a condition to the welding of the sword. The bearer had to be of the Mistress’s blood and they had to carry the second half of the key. The key was a silver ring with a green gem, a catseye.”
“And who was your mistress?”
I looked at Artimas, “you knew this?
Artimas shrugged but nodded, “the Keep was sold to Antizel after my daughter was killed.”
“So you knew about the craftroom and the rest before you showed up the other day.”
Artimas shook his head, “after she went missing the council searched what was left of the Keep or said they did. They tried to sell it shortly after that, to pay for the upkeep.”
I nodded and looked at Cat, “pull the blade from the sheath.”
Cat looked at me, she had already placed it back under her belt. As the blade came free of the sheath, I again felt the wave of magic sweep over me. Artimas sat up straight as did his son Edward and I gestured for Cat to put it away. When it was back in the sheath, the wave seemed to fade away. Artimas gestured to Cat, “I see the green ring. But he said one of my daughter’s blood was the other half of the key. He must have been mistaken?”
I shook my head at the same time as the unseen craftsman spoke up, “no master. That was the other half of the key. Both halves were present.”
Artimas looked at me and gestured at Cat, “but?”
That was when Sam returned with the sisters. I watched them enter and then gravely looked back at Artimas, “Your daughter wasn’t killed.”
Edward stood, “we did a scrying! She was no where to be found!”
I gestured for him to calm himself, “Did she ever tell you about a grotto here at the Keep?”
Artimas frowned, “I remember something she wrote to me about a grotto where she was crafting a new creature but she didn’t say where.”
I stood when the girls reached them, “Artimas, the reason I know she wasn’t killed when you thought, is these girls. They were being kept in Pendar’s craftroom and they are your granddaughters.”
When Artimas started to say something, I stopped him, “Antizel was the one that held your daughter captive. He apparently used her to create the Mair.”
I gestured to Amanda, “She was kept here with her daughters in a grotto. I was hoping you would know where it was. Now I will have to find it and her, the hard way.”
Edward gestured to the girls, “These are my sister’s children?”
I nodded, “Yes, you are a mage. Isn’t there some way for you to tell?”
Edward looked at me and then his father. Artimas stood and crossed to Theresa, who was closest. He smiled at her and held out his hand. When she placed her hand in his, I felt the magic spring up and just as quickly die out. The next thing I knew Artimas was hugging her as if for dear life with tears running down his face.
Then all the girls were included in the hugs and tears flowed all around. I sighed, holding Cynthia I stood, “Well, I have a secret to find. The grotto is probable warded if you couldn’t find her with magic before.”
Teral stood, “if you need my help?”
Elvan seconded him and I glared at Elvan. “You are to rest. Go down to the room you used before. When you see Jeremy, tell him I put you there and asked for Jen to watch you until I return.”
Walking to the door I set Cynthia down as the others watched, “Sam, could you get the sword on the bench there and follow.”
I looked at Cat and saw the longing in her eyes as she looked at Artimas and Edward, “Cat?”
When she looked at me, I smiled, “Could you stay with your family and protect them?”
She looked at me for a long minute and then smiled at me before nodding. As we left the room I looked up at John, “Keep this quiet, but get some men ready just in case we need them. Arm them with the Admantium swords. I will start looking on the next floor up.”
As John headed down the stairs with Elvan slowly following, I went up with Teral and Sam. On the landing I stopped and breathing out, started the mental exercises I used to center myself and relax my body. Slowly I walked through each room with my senses extended. After checking that floor I went back down the stairs and repeated it. Slowly I made my way down, I was aware as others joined us.
Including Samil and a much bruised noble, (James) I ignored them all. It wasn’t until I was on the bottom floor that I felt anything. I was at the end of the hall and even though I felt a difference in the stone it was a moment before I realized I had found the entrance. Coming out of my trance I looked around.
I could feel the difference but couldn’t tell where the lock was. Slowly I turned from facing the wall and that was when it jumped out at me. The end light had a tiny area that was in darkness beside it. It was a tiny spot but it was out of place. I looked at Samil and then John with the ten men behind him.
They all had a determined look on their face, “Samil, I wasn’t expecting you but since you are here, I have an offer for you.”
He looked back at me without smiling, “You already owe me.”
I smiled as he glanced over his shoulder at James, “Who better to teach him well enough to stay alive as well as how to treat people. Besides I told his father that if you accepted him, I would teach him as well.”
This seemed to mollify Samil, “What’s your offer?”
“An admantium sword for protection work.”
Samil raised his eyebrows, “Admantium swords are very valuable as you know, so this isn’t a cake walk.”
I nodded, “probably not.”
Samil looked back at James and then looked at me, “Agreed.”
I motioned for everyone to move back except Samil and Teral. I gestured at the end of the hall and crossed to the light. When I depressed the area that was in shadow the wall at the end of the hall moved back several feet. Then with a grinding it slowly turned sideways and slid into a slot in the wall.
When the grinding stopped, a silence fell over us. The Samil called for light and we saw the long hall, it ended in a large wooden door. There were niches every few feet down the hall until it reached the door. I moved up between them and could feel the webs of magic that extended down the hall, “before, the undead guards wore amulets. If there are any here cut the cord or chain that holds it.”
Slowly we made our way down the hall. The undead guards that were there, were slow to respond and very clumsy. Samil picked up a sword from the first guard that fell. By the time we reached the other end we had developed a pattern. At the door I again reached out with my senses to check the door. It was not warded and I could feel no magic from it.
The door opened into a large cavern, there was light as if the sun reached through the stone above. I thought it was probably five hundred feet in diameter with only one wall that was flat and didn’t have a balcony on it. That was the wall that faced the river. I could see stairs that were carved into the walls leading up to the balconies. The whole floor was covered with trees and brush. I looked at Samil and Teral, “stay here and guard my way out.”
Even as I was telling them, Artimas came through the crowd, “I’m going with you.”
I shook my head as Cat, Edward and the four mage sisters joined Artimas, “No. Your daughter was a mage. Any ward or traps will be for a mage or magic. Stay here until I can clear it. Sam, stay with Samil and Teral. As far as I know, this is my only way out. Cat, come with me.”
I stepped up to Sam who had a worried look on her face, “Don’t worry. Take a deep breath and center yourself just like in our classes. Stay relaxed and let the sword move where it will. Watch their backs.”
I kissed her and then turned and walked into the grotto with Cat following and a grey stripped shadow slipping into the undergrowth. I followed a path that was surprisingly well kept. When I was two hundred feet in, we reached a clearing. Stopping at the edge, I could feel the webs of magic that surrounded the clearing.
It was paved with large stones that held designs. In the center of the clearing was a naked woman. She was kneeling with two chains falling from each wrists. I (felt) the webs and when I followed them I found the real threat. They were dead but unlike the other undead guards, these had a different feel to them, almost like a Mair.
Slowly I unraveled the webs on the clearing until I reached an inner circle around the woman. After studying the magic that surrounded her, I knew I didn’t have any choice. There were wards that detected mages that were still active. I had not been able to remove them unless the ward around the woman was taken down. I faced Cat, “Breath and center, guard my back.”
I faced the passage out, “Beware! Guard the passage!”
I stepped on the glyph that woke the woman, at the same time I pulled on the strand of magic that detected mages. As the woman woke with a snarl, I raised my finger to my lips for silence and faced out. Suddenly a small creature stepped into the clearing. It almost looked like a rabbit but it stood on two feet, “Mother, the bad ones come!”
I felt them approach and didn’t need to hear Cynthia’s warning as they broke cover and came into the clearing. They were Mair alright and male, which from what I had heard was unprecedented. They were also undead and moved with fluidity as they crossed the clearing towards us.
I felt Cat draw her sword as I drew my own. Letting myself go, I slipped into that comfortable place I had not been in except that few times I faced my master. Moving, I swept forward and engaged the first, blocking the second before slicing across the first ones throat, cutting the chain.
I felt Cat block a blow aimed for my back and then another aimed at herself. Slipping to the side I cut left and then moved back to the right as an undead Mair stepped forward towards where I had been. With a lunge, I broke the chain around the third Mair’s neck as I felt Cat shift and cut the arm from another, followed by his chain on his chest.
After that it was like water flowing. As one would go after me, Cat would appear to block, then cut the chain. When she was attacked I would do the same. We were down to the last three when there was a change. Suddenly one of the undead on my left turned and started for the woman in chains.
I didn’t even hesitate, spinning on the balls of my left foot, I took a step after him and lunged as hard as I could. The short sword went clear through it and came out the chest cutting the chain. Unfortunately it also pulled the sword from my hand. Spinning back, I was barely in time to catch the blade of one as the other undead tried to get past me and get to the mage. Cat came out of my side long enough to stop him. It was a long moment with both of us exchanging blows with the undead guards.
The break came when one tried to get past us and fouled the other. Without thinking, we both moved and it was over with all the undead guards down. I was unhurt but Cat had a small cut on her arm. I reached out feeling for more of the guards but there were none. I relaxed and retrieved my other sword before facing the kneeling mage, “We are here to free you, but you will need to be patient, there are still traps.”
She looked at me for a long minute before slowly nodding. I looked at the cut on Cat’s arm before pulling a kerchief out of my pocket and wrapping it, “You did great, stay here and I’ll be right back.”
I could feel that the few guards that had gone to the passageway were gone so I walked quickly to the door. Samil and Teral were there, looking unhurt, but Sam was down with a large red wet stain at her shoulder. The Mair, Ginger was with her and she looked up as I knelt, “She’s fine, a deep cut. I closed it and healed her.”
I nodded to her, “Thank you.”
Looking Sam in the face, “I know I told you to stay with Samil and Teral. That didn’t mean to not watch your own back.”
Teral spoke up, “We were pressed hard and she took a blow that was meant for me.”
Sam smile up at me, “I’ll be fine. Go, you have work to do.”
I nodded and stood, facing Artimas, “I may need your help. Do you think you can remain calm and not rush into anything?”
Artimas nodded and followed me back to the clearing. When he saw his daughter, there was the sound of indrawn breath but that was all. Back at the inner circle his daughter had wide eyes as she saw her father and tears slowly made their way down her face, “Father?”
He nodded but remained outside the circle, “Elizabeth we will get you out, be patient.”
Slowly Artimas walked the circle feeling the magic. When he was back in front of his daughter he faced me, “the way through is triggered to someone’s blood. At a guess I would probable say Antizel.”
I thought about it, “what about a relative. A daughter?”
Artimas looked at me then at the circle. It was a moment before he nodded, “yes, that might work.”
I turned to Cat, “could you bring the others? And ask Ginger to look at that cut.”
Cat nodded and started off but was stopped at the edge of the clearing by Cynthia and Simon. The small creature I had seen before backed into the clearing with the familiars following it. I had been right, it did look like a rabbit except it had hands and feet. The body was in proportion to the head, arms and legs. It wore a skirt with a rough woven shirt and it had a pouch over its shoulder. Slowly it backed across the clearing with Cynthia and Simon following.
Halfway across it stopped and then after glancing over its shoulder at Artimas and me. It straightened its shoulders and turned around and walked towards us. When it reached us it stopped, “are you here to help mother?”
Artimas and I looked at each other and Elizabeth cleared her throat, “Father, he would be talking about me.”
We looked at her as she gave a half hearted shrug, “they were what I was working on when all this started.”
I nodded and turned back, (gesturing for Cat to go on) “yes, we are here to help Mother.”
The small creature gave a high pitched call and stood there watching us, until Cynthia butted him on the shoulder. At first he was started and a little afraid, but I felt Cynthia’s mood, “She just wants you to pet her.”
Turning back to the circle as the small creature tentatively reached out to the cat. I made a slow circle around the mage, there were six glyphs just outside the circle. I could feel the webs of magic that spun from one to the other, but there were also strands that went up towards the ceiling. I looked at Artimas, “There are spell strands that go up to the ceiling.”
He came over to look at the glyphs, “This is tied into the blood key. It is a second half of the lock. The strands of magic will pull the ceiling down if both half aren’t used.”
I looked around the circle at the six glyphs, “Now to find which lock to put the key into.”
Together we walked the circle again. It wasn’t until we were behind Elizabeth that I found it. It was barely felt, it was under the glyph and in two places. Pointing it out to Artimas resulted in him getting down on his hands and knees to look at the glyph. When he stood it was to shake his, “I barely feel it and won’t be able to help.”
As I took a deep breath and let my senses slowly sink down to feel the web of magic. Cat returned with the rest of the crowd. I barely heard Artimas tell Edward and the Mair girls to not go into the circle. Finally I found it, the loose ends I was looking for. Looking up I called Amanda around the circle to where we stood.
When she reached us, I had Artimas check to see if her blood would work. He checked and then nodded that it matched. I looked at her, “Listen closely, in order to disarm some of the traps around the circle we will need a drop of your blood.”
Amanda just held out her hand. I centered myself and reached down to grasp the loose ends of the spell. I nodded to Artimas and he pulled a tiny knife from his sleeve. Taking Amanda’s hand he pricked a finger, then he held her hand over the glyph. Slowly he turned her hand until a single drop fell. Things seemed to move in slow motion for me. As the drop touched the glyph, I pulled both strands and then pushed another.
With a tingling sensation the wards around the circle went down. Artimas again had to warn everyone not to approach his daughter. Artimas and I and now Edward made a slow circuit around Elizabeth. We could feel the webs of magic on and going through her. Slowly we examined the chains at her wrists. When we finally stopped, it was to look at one another with a haunted look. I broke the spell, “there are no loose ends.”
Artimas and Edward nodded but it was a worried Artimas that spoke up, “that’s because it wasn’t meant to be removed.”
I looked at him and then frowned as I looked back at the chains. The webs on the chains came from the center of where Elizabeth did magic. They extended down the chains and back to her heart and the part of her brain that controlled body functions.
I remembered something my master had once said about using my chi to make a shield. “Alright this is a long shot. There might be a way, but it will be very dangerous, both for you, Elizabeth and for me. I am willing to try but you have a say.”
She looked at me a long time and then nodded, “Do what you have to. I have already accepted my fate.”
I smiled back at her, “It might just be that I can change that fate.”
Taking a deep breath I looked at the two other mages, “What I intend to do is break the strands of magic and shield her with my chi, that is with myself, my lifeforce.”
Artimas and Edward nodded. I centered myself and reached for that place I went to when meditating. Reaching out, I use the force of my chi to grasp the webs of magic. Mustering my strength I shattered the strand I (held) and slammed a shield of force and will on the end that was reacting.
The explosion that followed threw me fifteen feet away and was purely magical. As Cat, Sam and the others rushed to me, the chains on one of Elizabeth’s wrist shattered and she half slumped to the ground. Artimas again stopped the Mair girls from going to her. Sitting up I shook my head as Cat and Sam were trying to help me, “I’ll be fine. That was a little more then I expected.”
Glancing at Elizabeth and then up at Edward standing over him, “That was a little bit of an overkill.”
Edward nodded as Teral and John helped me stand. Moving back to Elizabeth, it looked like energy crackled around and through her. The more I looked, the more it looked like she needed to be grounded. The energy going through her needed to be released. I thought of the wave of healing I had felt when Jen was first healed. “Could someone go get Jen, I have an idea.”
Both Cat and Sam frowned, but it was Jen that spoke up, “as long as it doesn’t involve you blowing yourself up, I’m right here.”
I looked as the large crowd of men John had brought moved aside. Sitting behind them was Elvan and Jen. I frowned, “Elvan, I thought I told you to rest.”
Elvan smiled back at me, “I am resting and I wasn’t the one that was just thrown through the air.”
I shook my head and held out my hand to Jen. When she reached me, we turned to Elizabeth, “Jen, remember that first time you were healed and how you reached out?”
She smiled and nodded and I smiled back, “good, what I want you to do is to try to heal me as I pull the energy from Elizabeth. What I think will happen is that you will pull the energy from me and it will multiply in force. I don’t want you to stop any of your healing, just let it out like you did that first time. Do you think you can do it?”
Jen frowned for a minute and then nodded. Turning to Elizabeth, she started. I could feel the magic I knew and recognized so well. Reaching out to Elizabeth I placed my hand on her shoulder. When I made contact, it was like a jolt of electricity passed from her to me. Jen seemed to pull the energy as I received it and a wave of healing spread out through not just the crowd, but throughout the grotto. When it faded, men sighed and Jen laughed, “Oh, that felt so good.”
I patted her arm and moved around Elizabeth, who was a lot more alert. This time I tried to anchor myself. I was partially successful, it only threw me five feet. John and Samil caught me before I could fall. This time it had felt like I had been put in a vice, but it had worked. Like before, the chains on Elizabeth’s other wrist shattered and she had slumped to the ground.
Like before, I used Jen to pull the excess energy from Elizabeth. She stayed on the ground as her father and brother did a slow walk around her. I was feeling fatigued but reached out to her as I slowly sat in front of her.
Artimas and Edward returned to stand next to me. I looked up, “I only feel one that touches her and it has the feel of medicine. Like healing but not? The other spells that permeate her go throughout her body. I think, but am not sure that it is tied to her genetically.”
Artimas nodded, “We recognize the spell on her. It is one of regeneration and fertility. The ones that are in her we do not know.”
I thought about it before looking up at them, “could it be the spell that alters her children?”
Artimas’s eyes widened as he looked at his daughter, “Elizabeth, you do this kind of work. What do you think?”
Elizabeth looked down at herself before looking back at me, “I think he is right.”
I looked at Artimas, “can you take the other spell off?”
Artimas looked down and I could feel webs of magic gather before the one holding Elizabeth disappeared. I looked at Elizabeth, “I don’t know if you can fix the magic in yourself, but if you want my help all you have to do is ask. I might even find a way to reverse it in your children if I study it.”
Elizabeth looked at me and smiled a smile I had not seen before, “I will accept your offer only... can we leave this place now?”
That was when the four Mair girls fell on her crying and everyone was hugging her. I looked at John, “We need to have a litter brought down.”
Even though she had been through two healings, she had been there a long time and would need to be carried out. As they were lifting her, a high voice spoke, “mother?”
Elizabeth looked over the side of the litter, “little one, the passage is open now. I don’t think they will take me far. Get your people together and come, it is time you saw the outside world.”
As she lay back, he turned and ran into the brush covering the clearing. As the crowd filed back through the passageway I stopped John, “let’s keep everyone out of here for now. The creatures that live here will be shy about coming out.”
He nodded and moved off. I pushed a staggering Elvan into a room and called Jen. When she showed up, “Would you stay with him?”
After a long look at Elvan, “Jen, he has something he needs to talk to you about. You have been with me long enough to know me a little. Listen to what he has to say.”
With that I left, catching up with Cat and Sam at the door leading out. There was a small company of guard waiting outside the passage. Over several protests, I had Elizabeth put in a room that was finished at the house, I sent the guard off and things started to settle down.
Teral had left as Samil and James (who had a new outlook of things since they had shown up) stopped by me. Samil held up the sword, “thanks for the sword.”
He nodded for James to speak to me. After an awkward silence James stepped up, “You are more then I thought. Samil says I would be able to learn a great deal from you.”
Taking a breath he continued, “I was wrong. Will you teach me?”
I smiled, “You seem to have a new outlook. Why?”
James looked back at the passage, “In there, you didn’t hesitate. You did things that I know would have killed me. All because you thought someone needed you. You faced those undead as if they weren’t a threat. It was as if you embraced the act but not the deed.”
He looked back at me, “You have a skill and confidence I would do well to learn. Especially if those things… are a hint of things to come.”
I nodded, “very well, I have classes every evening.”
I stretched and sent the girls off for something to eat, while I went to see Elizabeth. She was sitting in a bed I knew I had not seen before and a look from Edward was all it took to realize where it had come from. Shooing everyone out except Artimas and Edward, I started checking her.
Ann interrupted with food for everyone. While they were eating Elizabeth was telling her father she felt fine and did not see why she couldn’t just come back. I reached out with my senses and twanged the webs that went through her body. With an, “oh!” She stopped talking in mid sentence.
I put my plate down, “Elizabeth, I might not be someone you will be able to talk to in regards to what has happened to you. I am able to do something about what was done in a physical sense. I can help, but not if you are not here. One of the things I can say right off is that when you become tense over something, the magic that runs through you will grow stronger. Do you want my help?”
Elizabeth looked down at her lap, “I never thought I would be free again. What was done to me happened while I was held in a trance for the most part. The four girls I remember as little girls not as the women they are now. I see my mark in them as I see myself in all those you call Mair.”
She looked up at me, “I know what Antizel did. I would kill him if he weren’t already dead. I saw you fight, you have an ability that is not common. As is your other abilities, I would not be able to free myself of these spells and I doubt anyone else would have much luck. Antizel was a perfectionist if nothing else. I will accept your offer to help. What do you want in return?”
I shrugged, “perhaps a favor sometime. I don’t really need anything right now. I help people because it is what I do.”
Standing, I stepped closer to the side of the bed, “How about a first treatment?”
Reaching out to a loose strand of magic I had become aware of I pulled. An “oh”, escaped her lips again and then she seemed to relax and lay back in bed, “That was strange. I feel kind of light headed and tired, but I also feel a lot better.”
I smiled and patted her hand, “Good, rest while you can and don’t let the crowd of people overwhelm you. When you get too tired, send them out. I will ask another doctor I know to stop by for a talk. I have a feeling he might be the one you will be able to talk to.”
Back out the door I fended several people off, but was able to pull the four girls aside, “You four have been through a lot as your mother has. Somehow I don’t see Pendar or Antizel teaching you four magic? Your mother isn’t the same person you remember because you aren’t the same. You have grown up, but you still need her. Not the way you think, all of you have children. Many of them have children, its time you started your lives. Ask your mother or uncle or even your grandfather to help. Learn to master the magic’s or it will master you.”
As I returned to the courtyard things seemed to have settled down, to a quiet calm. A small head poked its head out the passage door. Cynthia directed my attention there as a small body slowly stepped into the doorway but froze with a look of amazement as it looked at the sky. When four more joined it in staring at the sky I cleared my throat. They all jumped and started to turn around but I could hear some children coming down the stairs and apparently so could they because they suddenly looked around for a place to hide. I cleared my throat again, “excuse me.”
This drew their attention, “no one will hurt you. Are you looking for Elizabeth?”
They only stood eighteen inches tall and wore what looked like woven fiber dresses with pouches over their shoulder. A timid voice spoke up, “we were looking for mother?”
By the sound, I realized it was female, “she is resting and recovering. I can have someone show you the way if you like?”
At first she looked hesitant and then she straightened up and nodded, “please.”
I felt Marie at the door to the kitchen with David and Mary hiding behind her, “Marie, could you and your playmates show our guest to the room Elizabeth is in?”
Marie stepped out fully and slowly walked to me, “They're small. What are they?”
I smiled, “Why don’t you sit down and ask them? After, you take them to see Elizabeth.”
Marie grinned up at me, “okay.”
She faced the five small creatures, “you can follow me.”
And she walked off solemnly with them following along behind and David and Mary following behind them as if in a trance. Shaking my head I went up to the craftroom. I spent the rest of the afternoon making drawings of various medical instruments that I remembered. I finally had to quiet to start my classes.
The classes though split were very large, due to all the people seeking refuge from bonding and my own additions. At the end of the class I noticed three men enter the gate, two I recognized from earlier in the day. They had been with the elder Shaffer. The other man walked with a balance and confidence that was unmistakably that of someone that used a sword.
Samil stepped up to me with James at his shoulder. James’s attitude seemed to have changed, though from time to time his old one still surfaced. Like when he made the mistake of overreaching himself with Jenny and ended up on his back and out of breath. Samil muttered, “He’s called William Bladedancer. He’s a professional dualist. He is supposed to be very good but I haven’t seen him myself.”
The dualist stopped in front of me and looked me up and down and then looked over his shoulder at the two men, “he doesn’t look like much. Just some jumped up pissant that thinks he is better then he is.”
I smiled, “do you want something?”
He looked at me, “you have all these Mair. You must be starting a brothel. I was looking for a good time.”
I looked at him and made my decision, “If you want me to challenge you, it won’t happen. You don’t deserve the honor.”
The duelist’s face flushed, “fine, I challenge you.”
I nodded, “okay.”
Then I slapped him and stepped after him. When he drew his sword, I grabbed his wrist and twisted. The sword fell to the ground as I slapped him again. I followed the duelist around the practice yard and ignored or blocked every attempt he made to defend himself. When Shaffer’s two guards started to intervene, Samil cleared his throat, “stay out of it.”
When I was finished the duelist was on the ground barely coherent. I bent down, “If I hear you have dueled again, I will make this permanent. Do you understand me?”
The man only moaned and I reached out and slapped him again, “Do you understand?”
When he nodded, I stood and walked back to the two guards, “Tell Shaffer the next time I see him it will be over a sword. Tomorrow at the second hour at the practice field. If he doesn’t show I will hunt him down and cut his manhood from his body. Now take your Duelist and get out!”
There was a small crowd watching, including Aretha and a female elf. They had entered at the tail end of the encounter. Samil looked at me, “That was risky.”
I smiled a big smile back at him, “If he was a duelist, I didn’t think he would be able to defend against that kind of attack. He didn’t move correctly.”
Samil looked at me and nodded, turning to James, “Did you learn why defense against an unarmed opponent was important?”
James nodded, “Yes, just because you are good with a weapon doesn’t mean you can defend against an unarmed opponent. I understand why you wanted me to learn this.”
Samil nodded, “good. Michael I’ll see you tomorrow at the second hour.”
With that he turned and walked towards the gate with James in tow. Aretha walked up to me as Samil left, “That was interesting, but it didn’t look like practicing medicine.”
I laughed, “Think of it as preventative medicine. If he stops dueling he will live longer.”
Both of the elves laughed at this and then Aretha turned to the female, “I told you he was quick and likeable.”
When he turned back to me he gestured to the female, “this is my wife, Julianna. I received a message asking me to come here to consult in a matter?”
I nodded at the introduction, “I’m glad to meet you. Yes, I asked you to come for a patient, a mage.”
I led the way to the house, just inside we had to detour around Marie, one of the small creatures, (a young female by the looks) and several of the other children gathered around them. Aretha and his wife were a little distracted by the small one but followed after. I knocked on Elizabeth’s door and several voices’s called for me to enter.
In the room I frowned at the people still there, “She does need rest and she will be here later. Go home Artimas, Edward. Get some sleep and come back tomorrow. The rest of you out, go help Ann in the kitchen or do something else, you can come back tomorrow.”
They protested but it fell on deaf ears. I stopped Amanda on her way out, “would you send one of the children for John? Tell him I would like to see him in the kitchen.”
Amanda nodded and with a last look at Elizabeth, closed the door. As I turned to Elizabeth, I could see she was holding herself in check and was very tense, “Elizabeth, This is Aretha and his wife. He is a doctor and might be someone you can talk to about what happened to you. I will have someone stay the night with you in case you need anything. I know you probable don’t want to sleep, but it will help. In the morning I will look in, if I am right you should be relaxed and I might be able to pull another strand of magic.”
I looked at Aretha, “She was held captive for almost five hundred years and made to have children. I am not trained in all the ways to treat this kind of trauma.”
Julianna spoke up, “I am. You are lucky I decided to join my husband.”
She smiled at Elizabeth and then gestured for us to leave. I looked at Aretha but when he just shrugged, I smiled and bowed, “very well. I leave her in your care.”
Outside the door we made our way back to the kitchen where Ann was sitting and directing several girls in the cleaning of the kitchen. I sat and Aretha joined me, I gestured to the girls, “helpers?”
Ann smiled, “Most are homeless and are just trying to pay their way.”
Beth appeared with a pot and two cups. She solemnly poured what I was now thinking of as coffee. I smiled at her, “make sure you take it easy.”
I pointed at her stomach, “I don’t want to have to delivery her early.”
Beth put a hand on her stomach and smiled at me. Aretha looked at me across the small table, “It seems you are getting quite a few people. What are you going to do when you run out of things?”
I grinned back at him, “Make do. I have more resources then I did when I arrived.”
John walked in at that point and quietly accepted a cup from his wife before joining me, “You wanted to see me?”
I nodded, “today was crazy. Did you find the workers for the Keep?”
John snorted, “I have more workers then jobs right now.”
I smiled, “and the rope bridge?”
John frowned, “we set the foundations on this side, but they were nervous about going across the river to set the other side.”
I frowned and thought about it, “what if you put someone up on the cliff by the Keep to watch that side of the river and signal if they see anything approaching. You could have one man with the work crew to just watch for a signal from them?”
John nodded, “That might work. Can I let them use the Admantium swords? It would reassure them.”
I nodded, “sounds like a plan. I also wanted to ask if we had any women that would sit up for a few hours. I wanted someone to start sitting up with the patients and for right now our new guest, Elizabeth. If there are enough, they could do it in shifts of two hours each. What do you think?”
John scratched his head, “I’m no doctor but it sounds good.”
Ann cleared her throat, “Most of the women here are lost, with nothing to do. Accepting your generosity makes them feel less. If you give them something to do, even sitting with someone that is hurt would make them feel more like they were earning their way.”
I looked at her, “could you find the women?”
She sighed and nodded. I smiled, “I’ll have John build a dinning hall for you.”
Ann laughed and John grumped. We finished our coffee and went back outside, Aretha turned to me, “You really care for all the ones that come to you?”
I looked to see what he was really asking, “Yes, I care. I see many with nothing, but they have the ability to do so much but not the means to do it.”
When we again knocked at Elizabeth’s door it was Julianna that called for us to enter. Elizabeth looked like she had been crying but she also looked like she felt better. I smiled, “You look and feel better.”
I looked at Julianna, “what do I owe you?”
Elizabeth looked like she was going to object but Julianna spoke up, “What are you going to charge her?”
I looked Elizabeth, “I told her a favor, but truth be told, I would never have tried to collect it.”
I looked back at Julianna, “I wasn’t planning on charging her anything.”
Julianna smiled, “Aretha said you were like that. Very well my fee is the same, a favor I won’t collect.”
I looked at her for a long minute before nodding, “maybe Legate Abrams was right. It is contagious.”
A light tap on the door interrupted us. When I answered the door it was Jen with a subdued Elvan in tow. I looked back and forth, “yes?”
Jen seemed a lot more confident, “Ann said you wanted someone to sit with Elizabeth?”
I nodded and opened the door for them, “yes, but both of you?”
Elvan blushed but it was Jen that answered, “We talked and I like him. I have never been able to do that before. I asked him to tell me about himself.”
She blushed and looked down, “is that alright?”
I smiled at her, “yes, its fine. Jen you will be making a lot of decision now and sometimes you will be wondering if you can. I will tell you now, it’s alright for you to make decisions but like all things you must think of the consequences of those decisions. Now, if you two are going to sit with Elizabeth the only direction I have is to try and keep things quiet so she can sleep and help her if she asks for it. Who is going to take your place?”
Jen told me it was a woman named Silva and I looked at Elizabeth, “good night.”
Following Aretha and Julianna out, I closed the door and walked with them to the gate. Julianna stopped before leaving, “She will need a long time to heal. Much of what happened was done while she was under a spell so she doesn’t remember. Antizel was smart enough to keep her under a spell and use magic to make her conceive, otherwise she would have been able to leave her mark on him. Don’t let her do anything strenuous that would make it harder on her.”
I agreed, “Maybe a few days sitting on the small beach watching the river? But I can tell you right now she won’t sit still to long. I was thinking of having her teach the Mair girls magic before they get themselves into trouble.”
Julianna grinned, “Teaching might do her good. Ask her father if he would be willing to help her.”
I wished them a good night and turned to head for my own room and a warm bath. I made stops along the way. On the fourth floor I said my good night to many of the new girls, checking the few that were pregnant. A stop in the large room with all the Mair children brought instant silence. I could see someone had thrown together a lot of new beds. Smiling I wished the girls goodnight and for them to have sweet dreams. As I was leaving one of the girls spoke up, “Sir?”
I turned back, “Yes?”
“Some of the older girls said you are the new master, but some of the others said you were going to be our dad. What’s a Dad?”
I was a little confounded, (Marie was probable the one to tell them that and I guess in a sense she was right) kneeling down I called all the girls to come closer. “Some of you met the older girls that said they were your mothers. They, like you don’t really understand what that is. I am not your father.”
“I will take care of you as if I were. If you get hurt, I will try to fix it. If you need someone to talk to, you can talk to me. I will comfort you when you need it and I will punish you when you need it. When I punish you it will be because you have done something wrong and I will tell you what you did so that you don’t do it again.”
Looking around at all the little faces, “Girls, I will love you as much as I can. You can trust me to help you if you need it. Do you know where I sleep?”
There were several quiet, “yes.”
I smiled, “Good, if you need me don’t be afraid to come to me. Now is there anything else?”
A little girl gestured at the large room, “Is this our new home?”
I looked around the room, “Yes, but I think I will have someone checking on you to make sure you sleep and not play in the bathing pool all night.”
This received several shrieks and laughs, “Good night girls.”
With that I stood and left, Cat stood outside the door, “they’ll be a handful.”
I laughed and hugged her as we made our way up the stairs, “Well it looks like I have plenty of help.”
Cat grinned up at me, “thanks for this afternoon.”
I sobered and stopped, “Cat, you do have family. There will always be a place for you with me. I had trouble today, I kept worrying about you and Sam. In such a short time you have made yourself home in my heart. I don’t know what the mage that owned you did that makes you try to keep your distance from everyone but you have opened up a little to me and Sam.
“I love you for being able to do that. Your family and I mean not just me and Sam, but Elizabeth and the others, they deserve the chance to know the real you. They might surprise you and like you for yourself and not just because you are related to them by blood.”
Cat looked at me a long time before nodding that she understood. Next was my good night on the next floor, the five girls were shrieking when I came in and they instantly froze as if they had been caught. I smiled to reassure them and told them good night and left.
As I came into our room, Cassy was sitting at the fire singing a lullaby I remembered Jen singing. Sam made a gesture for me to be quiet and pointed to a wooden box by the fireplace. In it were Cynthia’s five kittens fast asleep. I heard in my head, “It was amazing what that singing did to them.”
When I looked at the bed I saw Cynthia stretched out at the foot. I quietly stripped and slipped into the bath. When I finally thought I was clean, I rubbed myself dry and climbed into the large bed. Cassy surprised me by snuggling up next to me, “you have a big heart. Thank you.”
With that, she seemed to fall asleep. I woke briefly when Jen came in and got into bed. The night seemed quieter then normal after that.
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