“Are we even now?” Michael said. He had let Calot follow the road at his own leisure, but the beast had chosen to walk beside Rabble-Rouser, Sharona’s claimed destrier. Neither of them had spoken to each other yet. The morning had worn on, a light grey rain falling on the traveling cloaks that obscured the face of each, making the silence tolerable for longer than Michael had expected.
“You’re quite a bit taller than me, actually,” Sharona said at length, her face hidden in the heavy wool of her cloak and her head unturned.
Michael shook his head. “Why do I bother?”
“That’s a question you ought to answer to yourself, though if you want the answer I prefer for you to have, I suppose I can give it to you.”
“I’m saying I no longer owe you anything, after what you did with Julia,” Michael said with clenched teeth.
“All I did was tell her the truth, and support my commander in his plan.”
“You were exceedingly rude to her!”
“She was rude to me.”
Sharona turned to look at him, and her eyes were cold. “The way she looked at me. Appraisingly.”
“That’s not rude. She didn’t do anything to you. She didn’t say anything-”
“She thought rudely, then.”
Michael grumbled. “Look. We’re even. I owe you nothing now, alright? That’s all.”
“Was I ever indebted to you?” Sharona said.
“No, I-” Michael hesitated. “I was indebted to you – only in a small way, mind you – for your actions in battle.”
“You were never indebted to me. Suppose I did something of value, such as knock over a line of sticks, who benefited? Sure not you. Or I. Well, I did, in a way. It’s nice talking to a prince, even a stubborn one.”
“The kingdom benefited.”
“I suppose. Of course, the battle might have been won anyway.”
“Then who benefited? I say it was the companies of men we saved. They’re the ones indebted to me, but of course, they also saved me by… standing there. With their shields?”
“Holding the line, or the shield wall, as we say,” Michael said. “You really did skip a bit of training, didn’t you?”
“The captain. Sorry, I don’t remember his name-”
“Lucido would have been your captain, under my father’s legion.”
Sharona shrugged. “He said I was needed at the front lines immediately. That my talent was too high to bother putting me through a basic military education.”
“Says something,” Michael said. “Lucido has judged many a mage in his time. You must be talented indeed.”
“I know what I know, and that’s it.”
“Same for all of us.”
“Not quite for a mage. Do you know much about magic?”
“Honestly, no, other than I can send a mage to make things burn and burst apart. They’re damn useful.”
Sharona chuckled slightly. “You are like your brother a little bit. Not very much though, which is good. Well, since you know nothing of magic, it is good you have me to protect you.”
Michael was silent for a moment.
“Not going to deny it this time? Good.”
“I hear tell that Queen Alanarae is a sorceress herself.”
“I hear that too. You expect me to protect you from her?”
“I don’t know. You know about magic. Perhaps you can protect me, or my family, in the absence of Towler.”
“I will protect you, Michael.”
“What about my brother and father?”
“I am powerful, according to some, but even I cannot be in three places at once.”
“And yet you seem to hold dominion over more than one object at once.”
“Ah, so you liked my little trick.”
“I appreciate that you can do it,” Michael said.
The rain increased as the day wore on, darker and filled with lightning. Some time around sunset Michael admitted defeat, and had his retinue of servants begin making camp amid a cluster of old, high hardwoods that, if they did not keep much rain off of them, at least broke the incessant wind.
“There’s a town and an inn not so further up the road,” Sharona said. “If I remember our journey to the capitol.”
“We need to take a fork before we reach Gabora Minor,” Michael said. “Since we are taking the swiftest route to Forgoroto, not retracing the armies steps into the hinterlands of Ferralla. With luck we will be in time.”
“There’s no such thing as luck,” Sharona said.
“Then with the blessings of the gods.”
Sharona smiled a little smile and nodded. She lead Rabble-Rouser over to a nearby tree and kneeled down. With a flick, Michael watched her light a few twigs alight, then set about gathering more.
“Dead handy, that is, sire,” said a nearby servant.”
“It is,” Michael said, watching her. She began to stack sticks up, not on the fire, but beside it, then tied them together, with a little tug, she bent the sticks and the oak above began to creak. Leaves shook in the wind as the branches bent over her, making a small roof.
“What’s your name?” the prince said, grabbing the wrist of the servant as he moved to walk away. “I don’t know you.”
“Langelo, sire,” the young man said, bowing while allowing the prince to handle his wrist. “I normally muck the stables, sire, but I was asked-”
“Langelo. I want you to provide a good meal for my mage friend. And have a tent pitched for her. Her little house might be impressive, but it won’t keep this water out.”
Michael walked over to Sharona, who sat beside the fire, gazing at it with eyes that were near glazed. Without speaking, he took a twig and put it in the fire. It sputtered for a moment as the water on it boiled off, then it jumped to a small light. Michael used it to light his pipe, which had packed in the morning but neglected smoking due to the rain.
“I’m having a tent set up for you, and some dinner prepared,” Michael said between draws.
“Thank you. I shan’t need the tent,” Sharona said.
“This is impressive, I will admit, but a tree cannot provide the shelter of a properly oiled and waxed piece of canvas, even if you have enchanted it so.”
“With the fire, I think I’ll be fine.”
“Allow me to extend my grace.”
“Then indulge me.”
Sharona laughed softly and finally looked up at Michael. “Fine.”
Michael blew a smoke ring over the little fire, and watched it fly up into the branches on the draft. “So, how does magic work? How do you do it?”
“Those are two different questions.”
“Very well, the first.”
Sharona said, “I wish I brought my pipe. I lost it a long time ago.”
“It’s not usually considered polite for women to smoke.”
Sharona shrugged. “Not so where I’m from. In the Dobo Wold no such pleasure is made exclusive to one sex or the other.”
Michael smiled. “Well, I have an extra in my bag. Shall I fetch it for you?”
“That’s alright,” Sharona said. “You’re already sitting here.”
“Yes. Now about magic…” Michael raised his eyebrows.
“Magic is when you bring a part of the eternal into the mundane. “Here, in this part of the world, the spiritual world, which is the world of real things, is far away. If you are in touch with the realm of spirits, as some of us are, those parts of the dream which you truly know and understand may be brought here, just as a man brings the memory of his dream into the waking world.”
Michael laughed. “I can’t say I really understand.”
“You can’t until you do. That’s the problem. Mages that are strong, or weak, are so because of how well they dream when they are awake. Or maybe, how well they remember the dream. Did I tell you I’ve been there? To the eternal dream.”
“You said you’d been to the Fay Lands, if they exist.”
“They exist more and less than the rest of the world.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It does, but like you said, you don’t understand.”
“Most mages have never been there. It’s dangerous, because you can forget who you are in the waking world, and be lost inside it forever.”
“You said it made you go mad,” Michael said. “Or rather, some people thought it had made you mad.”
“I did not return unchanged.”
“So how do you do magic. Or maybe, how do you do so many different things. I only ever see other mages blasting things apart of lighting things on fire.”
“That’s because most mages are quite weak with their connections to the world of true things. Most mages spend years studying a single concept with many different incantations before they are able to reliably call upon that thing. I had the idea to go to the Fay and find the original dreams myself. Alas, I found them, but did not fully understand them.”
“But I have seen you do much magic.”
Sharona nodded. “The fire is the easiest. Every mage understands fire, because it is so chaotic and yet simple. It always looks different, instant to instant, but is always itself. Consuming fuel, giving heat and light. I have a terrible time trying to understand the true nature of things past fire and other simple things.” She looked up. “Once, mages could control the weather. I wouldn’t mind that, but…” Shi sighed.
“How did you bend these tree-limbs, then?”
“Well, I’m bad at understanding true things, but I’m very good at making comparisons and finding categories. I have found that if I have two objects and understand deeply their sameness, I can manipulate one through the other. A stick is the same as a tree limb, for example. The only difference is what they are attached to.”
“I’ve never seen it before,” Michael said.
Sharona put on a half smirk and stared at the fire again. “Nor are you likely to again. It is a unique gift, and, like I said, most mages are rubbish.”
“Well, I’m glad to have your talents here, as I was glad to have them in my legion.”
“What?” Michael said. “What’s that about?”
She looked up at him again. “I just… was thinking about the queen of Ferralla, Alanarae. She has a terrible reputation as a mage. And by that I mean she is very powerful. Very strong. Just wondering what I can do against her. Probably nothing. That’s what the sigh is about.”
“Well, I don’t think we need engage her directly, merely defeat her plan.”
“Of course,” Sharona said. “And you won’t be getting rid of me by bringing up Alanarae, you know. I intend to do… to protect you.”
Michael forced a smile. “Let me see if I can get us some food.”
“If the servants don’t bring it first.”
“Yes, of course,” Michael said, and sat back down. He tapped on his boot for a few moments, then said, “Wait, I saw you make those bandits keel over in pain with bee stings.”
Sharona’s eyes lit up and her face regained part of her painted smirk.“I understand the pain of bee stings very well, when I can remember them, which isn’t always, oddly, but when I can remember them, I can put them on sometimes a few people at a time.”
“So you’ve been attacked by a swarm of bees?”
“Oh yes, they stung me horribly as a girl. They scarred me very badly, and when I think of the scars, I can feel the pain. You can see it’s a weapon I prefer not to use.”
“I see no scars,” Michael said. “You look perfectly comely to me.”
“Thank you,” Sharona said without inflection.
This post is part of a project to write and publish a book in a month, as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). If you enjoy this story, consider buying my other fantasy novel The Water of Awakening.