An Excerpt of Chapter Eleven

**UPDATED** Now Chapter 23!

~From Book One of The Hunted MageTrilogy: HUNTSMAN~

Three steps. That was all.

Jaakko felt a chill run down his back as he faced the mouth of the ravine. It was little more than a break in the tree covered ridge but it stunk of death.

The slightest breeze wafted up the slope and through the gap in the stones.

The smell of flesh left to rot, he thought.

The trail went through the cleft. There was almost nothing discernible as sign of the beast passing. There were no broken trees or gouged earth, nothing he would look for if he were hunting elk or boar. Just a furrow of pressed earth as if something of great weight had been pulled along.

It had puzzled him until he found branches pressed deep into the ground in the track. He could see it then. The dragon’s great weight slithering along the ground and sliding over the pine boughs.

He crouched beneath thick boughs of an evergreen and watched the path ahead. Three steps to the rock cleft. They seemed a mile to him.

The breeze blowing up to him was good. It carried the stench to him but his own smell would not alert the beast in the ravine.

Just take the last bloody steps! Craven!

There was a jug of liquor back in his camp. He thought of it with longing. He saved it for the trip back to the nearest town. He kept listening to the muted sounds of the woodlands and tried to put the drink out of his mind.

There!

A sudden rush of wind followed by a warbling growl floated through the dense forest.

Run!

He half stood and took a step backward hunched beneath the arch of the limbs above. His heart thudded in his chest. He made himself pause and listen as his mind kept screaming at him to flee.

A distant roar made him take breath once more. He felt his heartbeat slow.

It was moving away.

To hunt. It may not be gone long. This gully is its lair. It must be, he thought. There was a hint of desperation in the last words.

His hands tightened on the shafts of his spears. He held two in each hand and thought with longing of the others he had left far behind him. The curved bronze tips glinted in the mottled light.

I am a fool to have left them. The shield as well!

To return for them was not a choice he dared make. He was here and the beast was not. He may never again get a chance such as this.

He lifted an arm to wave the foliage away from his head and took the three steps in a rush, his breath loud in his ears.

He dropped to the ground before he entered the cleft in the rocks. The beast was wily. If it suspected he lay here in wait and returned Jaakko had no wish to stand out upon the ridge. The sun held little strength this deep in the forest. It struggled to break through the thick layers of foliage above him. It would show him clearly in the mottled dimness of the gully below.

He crawled on his belly far enough to slide into a clump of fern that strained upward seeking the light. The fronds were high and heavy leaving low tunnels of space beneath them.

He looked for a moment down the gorge and felt his guts clench with anxiety.

The trail was barely discernible in the dimmer light. It dropped sharply away from where he stood and wove in and around the jumble of moss covered boulders. It was a steep and treacherous descent.

Huge trees stood with their roots curled around the boulders and growing directly atop the massive stones. There were fallen trees across the path, whipped by storm or pulled by the dragon’s passing. They lacked the depth they needed to withstand either. He could use them to climb in places if he dared.

I must. There is no other way down. I am close, he thought.

His pace slowed to a crawl as he tried to move quietly through the tangled limbs and, in some places, entire trees that barred his way.

His spears became either staffs for him as he slipped along the side of the ravine or he passed them beneath the harness of his pack to free his hands. He was forced to slide on his stomach over the faces of boulders so thick with moss he could grip it in tufts to keep from plummeting to his death.

This is an ancient place, he thought as he dropped slowly down into the gloom between three huge stones. Aside from hell-spawn, who else has set foot in this pit?

There was a stillness that unnerved him. Since he heard the roar growing fainter the air did not move. Even in the deepest wood there was always the slightest of breezes flowing about him.

The air grew cool as he descended and held him with a clammy grip and soon he could hear the burble of a stream to his left.

The gully widened now and the trees grew thinner around him. The light was no brighter. It was still a jumble of slick rocks in his path.

Jaakko could not take a breath in the still, cold vapor that filled the gorge. The stench of rotted flesh grew with each step.

He stopped as a new shape rose out of the mottled shadows before him.The surface had leveled and instead of just rocks he could see dirt and the beginning of a path worn smooth by the dragon’s body.

A mound of tangled bones lay before him, yellowed with age and half buried in the mulch of fallen leaves. His eyes slipped past the remains to the ground beyond and saw more of them.

The bones of elk, deer and bear were visible in the pile.

He stepped around the mass of bones. They were all chewed clean. He could see the bite marks of the dragon on the shattered ends of the larger bones as well as smaller marks from other animals. They had finished cleaning the carcass when the monster had had its fill.

He had stalked his way another half mile through the ravine when he came upon a skull.

Jesu, save me! It feeds on men as well.

The yellowed teeth leered up at him. The dome of the skull was crushed and left chips of bone in the mulch as he tipped it over with the butt of a spear.

Christ, have mercy upon this soul. He could not have deserved to die this way. None should end as this monster’s feast.

He tried to move on and found he could not. The black holes on the skull held him fast. He stared into them as he knelt. He gently worked the skull loose from the dirt and rotting leaves that held it. He turned it over and began to pull the shards of bone from the earth. One by one, he placed them inside. The tinkling sound of bone striking bone was deafening in the still air.

Jaakko brought the remains to the base of the thickest tree he could find and began to dig a shallow hole with his belt knife. There could be no pyre, certainly not this deep in the forest and with nothing left of the man to burn.

Jesu, guide his spirit to his loved ones. This is all I can do for him.

He lay the skull in the hole and scooped the loose earth over it.

Will anyone find what remains of me? He shuddered with the thought.

He returned to the path with a sick dread that filled him as he crept forward. He had covered another mile when he began to hear a droning sound.

The smell of dead flesh was thick now and he began to see beasts only half eaten cast into piles. They were too rotten for foxes and wild dogs to feed upon if there were any in the woods that would dare come this close to the beasts lair. Flies and ants worked steadily upon the remains. The incessant buzz of the insects filled the air. He tasted bile at the back of his throat as he stepped amid the piles of rancid meat the beast had discarded. The flies rose up in a cloud as he passed revealing the wriggling mass of grubs on the carcasses beneath.

Jaakko covered his mouth and nose with a sleeve. He sped through the last of the dead flesh and spat to clear the taste from his mouth as he saw the first sign of the beast.

There were no animal remains here. The marks of pressed earth he had been following were everywhere and he could see the deeper depressions the creature made as it hauled the carcasses away from its lair. There were places now where he could see the scrapes of talon in the moist earth.

It was completely still now. The sounds of stream and insect were gone with only the rasp of his breath in his ears and the thud of his spears upon the ground as he walked. The silence pulsed in his ears with his heartbeat.

He cursed at his own noise as he crept forward. His hands were clenched tight on the hafts and his gaze darted from the ground before him to the trees above. His skin crawled with the thought that the thing was perched above him in the leafy roof of the ravine waiting to drop upon him with a shriek. His neck tightened and he felt the flesh of his arms raise into gooseflesh.

He passed an enormous fallen oak that lay alongside the path.

The signs of the beast’s passage disappeared in the space of a step.

Jaakko dropped into a squat with spears held out before him and high over his head. His breath became a ragged, fearful pant as he turned to face behind him.

Trap! It is here, it knows, he screamed in his mind.

The terror at the thought made him weak. He could not flee, only hold his spears high. It was a slender hope that he could hold off the monster with these. He kept pivoting to watch the forest around him. Every sound was that of the dragon behind him and he would spin around with a new surge of fear.

The minutes passed. His terror slowly abated and he was able to think clearly once more. He was still panting yet turned his attention to the trail around him. He had missed something and he should not have.

I am a fool. Only an ugly death can come of stupidity like this. What have I not seen?

It was on the trunk of the fallen oak. It lay flat along the edge of the trail. The roots were massive and had pulled free from the ground when the tree toppled. They reached well beyond his height in a grotesque tangle of grasping fingers. It had done well to grow so large as far into the woods as it was but the soil was too thin over the rock to support the tree’s height.

He had been too intent on the trail ahead to see the gouges above his head. Claws had grasped the bark and dug furrows in the wood.

It leaps over the tree to the space beyond! It has built a fortress for itself.

He saw as well the bole of another oak, thinner than the one that lay along the path. There was a place on it, just below the first fork of limbs, that was worn smooth. The bark had been stripped from it. It was as wide across as both of his hands with fingers splayed.

It grasps this trunk for leverage as it leaps over the dead fall.

He crawled along the base of the oak and found that the gap below the trunk had been crammed fill of rotted logs and mulch. He should have been able to slide beneath it to follow the monster’s new trail.

He walked back a few yards to go around the exposed roots and found the way barred by a felled pine. He lifted a bough and tried to push his way through. Two steps was all he could advance. The weight of the trunk pressed the branches too close.

Too dense to pass through. And far too noisy.

He pulled out of the foliage as quietly as he could, cursed the dead branches that snapped underfoot and crept to the far end of the oak. The area around the crown was as fortified as the roots.

The only way past is over the trunk. That hell-spawned beast!

He took a pair of hide strips from his pack and lashed the four spears together. He would have to throw them over the tree and into the lair beyond. He winced at the thought. There was no way to climb and handle the length of them.

Weaponless and climbing the beast’s wall! You are a fool!

The pine that lay against the tangle of roots was large enough that he was climbing through both in moments, his face full of sharp needles and moss.

He spent a few moments at the top of the root ladder, considered his choices and puffed his breath out in a sigh. There were no tendrils of root that would let him climb high enough to cross over the trunk and drop to the other side of the tree.

I cannot reach it. Not while keeping my grip on the roots. Damn the beast.

He set his feet so he would not slide down the roots and pulled the pack from his shoulders. He threw the bag over the bole of the tree. He heard the rustle of undergrowth as it hit the ground beyond. It sounded like a long drop to him.

I cannot stop now. I will see Lohikaarme’s lair. The bastard snake cannot keep me out.

He stood on the last of the roots that would support his weight and gauged the distance to the top of the trunk. He felt weak as he thought of the distance. He had not eaten since the day before and he would regret that as he tried to pull himself over.

He took the handle of his knife and held a deep breath. With a grunt, he stabbed out with the blade as he leaped. He drove it with as much strength as he could muster at a spot just over the curve of the trunk. He felt the jolt of it in his shoulder and hoped the tip bit deeply enough to hold him.

He had a moment to feel satisfied before he felt the knife begin to bend toward him. With a curse, he scrambled and threw one leg over the trunk to find purchase. Just enough of his weight lay across the trunk to keep himself from sliding backward but not for long. He needed a hold to push himself past the top of the trunk’s circumference.

He squirmed toward the center point of the trunk and, for a moment, he felt secure.

He sprawled across the trunk, as flat as he could lie and wiggled the handle of the knife to free the tip from the wood. It was still embedded too deep into the trunk to pull free. He sat up slowly with his legs straddling the tree and pulled harder at the knife.

Bloody hell!

The knife tip came free, wrenched loose by the weight of his body. He kept hold of the handle as the force of his pull brought him past the peak. Too far past the peak. He slid slowly down the curve of the tree. He grasped at the surface of the trunk.

Oh, Jesu! Help me!

He scrabbled with his free hand along the surface to push his body back up but the rough bark crumbled under his fingers. His lack of food betrayed him now as well. He had too little strength to stop the inexorable slide he felt. He jabbed the knife once more into the wood as he fell. The blade turned on a knot in the tree and wrenched his hand in a painful jolt.

The blade spun away into the mottled gloom of the ravine. With a last desperate lunge he dug his nails into the bark once more but he was far too overbalanced. He felt his fingers bruise and sharp pain in the tips and he fell.

It was a long drop. He hit the ground on his side and felt ribs crack. The air gushed from his lungs at the impact and he saw black shapes float in his vision as he struggled for breath. His muscles convulsed for a moment then relaxed and let him take in the cool, close air of the gorge.

He lay as he had fallen and gasped for several long minutes. He faced the oak and when he could think clearly, he could taste the thick musk of the reptile on his tongue. The air was filled with its stench.

He rolled onto his back and, with a groan, sat up. There was a burning pain in his side but he could breathe deeply again.

He shifted to the left and onto his knees.

Holy Mother of Christ!

His pack lay on the mulch of dead leaves and pine needles several feet away and beyond it…

There was no path, only a mound of limbs and clods of earth. It looked huge from where he knelt but he judged it to be waist-high if he stood.

Do I want to stand? It is a nest, a bloody nest!

.

//

Advertisements

Nightly Rituals

Ever since she was freshly minted, I have used old hymns to lull my baby girl to sleep or calm her down when having a spell of crying.

When I say hymns…I mean the basic tunes…not exactly the words to the classics. Oh, and these can also include Christmas carols. I take every liberty with the lyrics #1 because I do not have them all readily in my brain and #2 because, in the immortal words of Tom Selleck reading the sports page to the infant in ‘3 men and a baby‘ it’s not what you say but how you say it.

I would hold Girl just after we returned from the hospital and, as a new dad must, I would sway and rock and croon and shush until I found out what worked. That included singing these old hymns with whatever words came to mind. Just wingin’ it!

But ‘Amazing Grace‘ was on a CD someone gave us and because we had the words I would sing the real version of the song to Girly.

Now that she is bigger ‘Amazing Grace’ has become a night-time bed ritual.

Me: Time for sleeps! Can I sing you a song?

Girl: YES!

Me: What song do you…?

Girl: Amazing Grace!!

No hesitation, no qualms whatsoever…even given the fact that I am offering to sing ANY song she might like…any song at all! (As she gets older, I may begin to fear abuses of the night-song ritual…but for now  she is oblivious to such power.)

And now, after a few attempts at cutting the nightly rigmarole short, she tells me: Amazing Grace…all of it!

So I sing each night. All four verses of Amazing Grace. In their entirety. Did I mention…Every Night Of My Life!

Don’t get me wrong…it is a great hymn. It has layers of meaning and history that amaze me sometimes…but every night. Come on, kiddo! Give me a break!

It has become my very own ‘Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooey’! (Calvin & Hobbes reference. I’d tell you to look it up, but truly this is something I feel everyone should already know…for shame, Reader!)

Well, thanks to Cape Cod Church’s habit of regularly playing a traditional hymn during the worship part of our services (no matter how jazzed up and tricked out the hymn may become) (and I like the rock & roll versions very much, BTW) I have discovered that we have been missing an entire verse.

I tapped it into my archaic computaional handheld device: my iPaq 1955rx and told the wife and child of our lapse.

Now, when I ask, Girl says: Amazing Grace!! All of it…even the parts we don’t know!

She sits up to watch me sing it, studies my mouth and face, mouths the words with me and has now memorized the ‘lost’ verse # 3:

“The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope ensures…

He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.”

I am glad I found it!

Postscript: In going back in to edit the links…I find several OTHER verses we didn’t know of…back to work!

Huntsman: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

 

He came from out of the setting sun and found the bear grazing in a glade at the edge of the forest, its attention fixed on the ripened berries on the brambles.

There was no time for the bow, its string loosened for travel. He grasped one of his spears, let the others fall to the ground before him, and crouched. Jaakko cursed the wind that came up from the plains behind him to carry his scent to the lumbering beast. It reared and sniffed the wind then dropped its front paws back to the earth and charged him.

His first spear caught it in the neck. There was no time to throw a second. He simply lifted another spear from where it lay at his feet and braced it with the toe of his boot. The force of the animal’s charge drove the bronze tipped shaft deep into its chest. Too close a fight to suit him, but he had intended to stalk deer and left his dogs behind.

Half the week gone with no signs, then a kill two hours from home? My luck runs as patchy as ever, Jaakko mused. He had traveled too far in search of prey and he hated to return without something to show for his labors.

He worked as quickly as he could while he skinned and carved the carcass. He rued the meat left behind but it was late. He had far to go to if he wished to see his bride and their babe, feel the comfort of his bed tonight.

He made a makeshift travois from his spears and the skin of the bear with the fur folded inside the skin. He laid the meat and skull atop, wrapped in some leaves, hoisted the poles and set a steady pace.

It was easy going for him on a well-known trail, but as he neared the edge of the deeper woodland, the weight of the meat and sodden skin he carried created a steady ache, a burning in the muscles of his shoulders, back and legs.

Something in the breeze bothered him. Strange gusts came and went through the rapidly darkening woods without any continuous direction.

There is an odd wind tonight, the huntsman thought. He dropped the wooden poles he carried to the ground and knelt.

The boughs whipped above him and then ceased gradually. The rustle of the leaves slowly quieted after the sound of the gust faded but wind still made the boughs tremble. He knelt on the path to watch the foliage above flash from dark green to almost white as the remains of the gust flipped them over and back.

He waited, listened intently.

The woods stilled as if everything had pulled in a sudden breath with the passage of the wind and was afraid to exhale. He listened, straining to catch the first sound after the gust. He realized that his heartbeat thumped in his ears and his own breath burned seeking release.

He let his breath out slowly and then breathed deep through his nose. Jaakko drew the scents of the forest in and set his mind to identifying them.

Mosses, fungi and the wet smell of decomposing leaves were familiar smells to the woodsman. The odor of the juniper, pine and the musty smell of the old oaks, he quickly recognized. He paid little thought to the sweet smell of blood on his hands and arms.

There it was. A sharp smell in the air but it grew more elusive as the moments passed.

He relaxed some, but even as the strange wind and smell abated he felt the tension that had built up in his limbs tighten into a knot in his shoulders.

The throb of his pulse slowed and faded back to obscurity while he listened to the forest come back to life around him yet he found his brows knit into a scowl. He kept his gaze sweeping back and forth as he stood once more.

He grasped the handles of his spears and continued his trek home.

The meat would feed his family. He did not prefer the taste of bear himself but it would do until he found better prey.

He would scrape the inside of the hide free of the tendons and gristle that once held it to the body and let it set in the sun until the soft skin hardened to leather. It should fetch a good price with some chieftain. The warlords all valued bearskin as a display of power and wealth, all the more so as bear became scarce in the northern woods.

The huntsman broke through the trees and paused to look about him. He stepped out into a short stretch of grassland that appeared to burn with a red glow. The sun had set below the horizon but still cast its light on the clouds above and with the night sky, growing ever darker behind him it looked like a wave of flame across the plains.

A reddish purple smudge of reflection shone at him like a beacon fire from the surface of the lake.

“Da is almost home, baby boy,” he whispered.

He waded into the tall grass and ignored the green and brown stains the broken brush left behind on his arms and clothes. He kept sight of the black stretch of forest that broke away from the deep woods and trudged the remaining distance to the edge of the lake. He arrived as the last sliver of light fled from the horizon.

Home is little more than a mile away if I had a boat.

The thought tempted him for a moment.

He could see the rounded mossy shape of a coracle staked to the shore. He could use it, he knew, and Niilo would not begrudge him the use of it but Jaakko decided against it.

It is barely a league home around the lake, and I will not need to return it if I just walk round.

He shifted his hands on the poles he carried, and grimaced at the sticky feel of the blood and offal that stayed wet from the sweat running down his arms.

I will walk the faster once I have cleaned up a bit, he decided.

He paused to watch the lights flicker and dance from the windows of his village across the lake. He dropped the handles of the litter and sat down on the boat to remove his boots.

He stepped into the water and waded out until the water covered his chest. It was still warm from the heat of day, but he knew he would be chilly when he emerged from the lake into the night breeze.

He would walk faster to regain his lost warmth during his hike around to the village.

He shuddered as the water washed over his shoulders and neck but drew in his breath and submerged his body completely. He floated in the dark for a moment then began to wipe the grime from himself.

The wind whipped around him in a sudden gust as he surfaced, a sound like the whipping of bed clothes on the drying line beside their hut on a windy day.

A black shape passed over him and made its way over the lake. He could feel its passage above him, a pressure that seemed to pull a sick dread into his guts.

He squinted, trying to make out the form, but water dripped into his eye to blur his vision and then it was too late to see it.

He shivered once, not just from the night air on his sodden clothes. He had heard rumors from travelers from the north, stories of winged beasts killing entire homesteads.

He shook his head wildly to shed excess water, and then held still, as a lifetime of hunting skills fell on him without thought.

He scanned the lake, his eyes darting up and down, side to side. He looked for movement or shadows that should not be over the lake. There was no moon to shed any light near him, only the dim windows of the distant village growing quiet for the night.

Moments passed slowly, seemed like an age to his anxious mind.

There!

The sudden motion of trees at the edge of the forest drew his eye, just a change in the shape of the village windows as the shadow of a tree bent to obscure the glow of firelight. He could see leaves and limbs whipping abruptly where there was no wind just a moment before.

He watched a shadow settle on the dead remains of a great oak on the edge of the village. A sinuous neck swayed back and forth.

The black veil of the beast’s wings flapped, silhouetted in the light of the village hall on the hill. The dark shape grew steady even as the tree swayed beneath its weight.

The creature grew still. The hunter felt his body tighten and he realized that once again, he had forgotten to release his pent breath. He began to walk backward to the shore, strained to keep his gaze fixed on the beast.

He stumbled as his foot struck something in the muck. In the instant his gaze left it, the reptilian form disappeared, hidden from his frantic gaze.

His steps grew more certain with each pace as the water grew shallower. He moved his eyes back and forth trying to pick the winged apparition out of the darkness again and caught sight of it as it reared its neck. The undulating form tipped its head to sniff the night air.

Then it spread its wings, and dove for what Jaakko knew was a sheep pen on the edge of the village square.

The black form swooped up for a moment then plunged onto a gray shape in the pen. He lost sight of it as it dropped below the lights on the hill, but he heard the faint bleats of distress from across the water moments later.

The beast leaped once more and he saw the hellish form perch for a moment on the thatched roof of a house, then leap away out of his sight and into the town proper.

He began to run.

//

An Excerpt of Chapter Nine

**UPDATED** Now Chapter 20

~From Book One of The Hunted Mage: HUNTSMAN~

The thumping sound had stopped, finally. He closed his eyes and pushed himself up from the stone step he sat upon just long enough to rest himself, to keep his head from swimming as he walked.

The journey from the cellar had felt like hours, as weak as his latest experiment had left him.

He leaned heavily against the wall and coughed. It was a wet rasp, and it made his chest convulse in painful spasms.

He tried to stand straighter at the top of the steps. Black flecks swam in his vision. He reached out to the wall with his uninjured hand and took some rapid breaths in through his raw throat. It was always raw, from screams he only dimly remembered making.

He was close now, closer than he had been before, teetering on the edge of finding a way to restore his body from the ravages of magic.

He walked down the hall and heard it again, the sporadic pounding at the door. He had not heard anything from his workroom in the cellar, only as he made his slow ascent to the hall.

I will find the formula for Restoration, or I will die in the search, he thought. It truly does not matter which, not anymore.

He tottered down the corridor, his legs weak and jittery beneath him. He could hear a scraping at the edge of the door and leaned heavily upon the stone jam to claw at the bolt with his nerveless left hand. He could not move the fingers upon that hand anymore but he could still use it for advantage against the handle.

“Eyulf?”

He could hear Aila’s muffled voice through the thick planks of the door and sighed. He rested his sweat-soaked face against the stonewall and thought to hide, to leave the bolt secure, and to slip off to his bed.

“Eyulf, please!”

He could hear the tears in her entreaty.

He slid the bolt back and pulled on the iron ring set on the door’s edge and paused with a weary sigh. He had no strength left to move the heavy timbers.

He did not need to. Aila pushed against the door and squeezed through the crack before it was fully open.

Eyulf stumbled back from the door frame as she swept in the dimly lit corridor. His shoulder struck the wall and he felt his shriveled leg begin to slide out from under him. He flailed for a hold on something and found her there, wrapping an arm around his waist to steady him.

He limped his way down the hall to the small dining room and sat, ragged coughs wracking his chest again as they settled next to each other on a wooden bench by the door.

Aila pulled back from him and ran her hands over his sparse hair, smoothing it back so she could see his face in dim light from an ensconced candle in the hall. She peered at him, worry lines etched onto her face.

“Eyulf, what has happened to you?” Her hands touched his neck and shoulders, gently searching for injuries.

He reached up with his right hand to pull her hands away from him and held one as best he could in his lap. Her hand was hot in his, he could feel that much but little else from his damaged nerves.

He Sang for the Elements and pulled the Rune for Light into the air above them. The bright glow illuminated her tousled hair and tear-tracked features, staring up at him with anxiety.

The hand he held was swollen and red, discolored bruises just starting to form upon it.

She has been beating upon that door for more than a few minutes, he thought. A sick dread grew in his guts. She heard your screams.

Aila was looking down at their hands as well, eyes wide with fear. He looked and saw what so alarmed her. His hand was burned, the skin broken on the back of his knuckles, black flecks of char along one edge of the raw wound.

He had not felt the damage to his already burned tendons. He would, he knew. The pain would spread and reach skin less damaged and would begin to ache, to torment him.

“I am close, Aila. I can feel it. A few adjustments and I will master the Elements of Restoration.”

He looked up at her face and met her gaze. There was nothing of the elation he hoped she would feel at his words. Her face held a horrified look.

“You…you are still using magic?”

Her voice held no tone, or inflection.

He nodded, eyes locked on hers, until she looked away, to peer uneasily at the shining globe he had set above them.

“God’s breath, Eyulf, why?”

He shrugged, a stiff roll of his shoulders, and reached out to grasp the orb and hold it out to Aila.

“It is a tool like any other, Aila.” She leaned away from the sphere, much the same way he wished to, as well. It had given him a dull, nauseated roiling in his stomach to reach out and take it as he had. It was bravado only.

If I do not conquer my fear of it, I can never be made whole, Aila.

She reached out with a lunge, tore the orb from his grip, and threw it. Her eyes narrowed to slits as the sphere stopped its movement as soon as she released it. It hovered inches from them as if mocking her attempt to be rid of it.

As it mocks each attempt of mine to do the same, he thought. I cannot control it if I do not keep it close, hold it dear. I cannot cast it aside. It is a part of me now.

“It is not a tool, Eyulf. It has almost destroyed you, and yet you meddle with it still?”

Aila turned back to him on the narrow bench, ignoring the magic and grasped his neck gently. She pulled his head toward her and shifted to keep her face between him and his view of the Light.

“You cannot look away from it, Eyulf. Why? You look at it as if seeing a lover yet I see fear on your face!”

He did not realize he stared at the globe so, until she spoke. He let his eyes look into hers as she leaned close to him.

There was love in her gaze. He could see it clearly. It held anger and fear as well. All for him, entwined in a twisting mass of confusion on her face.

He could not keep his eyes on hers, not when he was unsure what his own features would tell her.

He held his useless hand up between them and then dropped it to his lap.

“I can undo what I have done, Aila, I know I can. I simply need practice and more study and I can Restore my skin. I can be well again!”

“At what cost?” Her shout startled him, and he made no answer, simply looked at his hands.

She asked again, leaning to put her face closer to his.

“Answer me, Eyulf! At what cost? I heard your screams tonight, filled with pain and terror… what further damage have you done to yourself treating magic as a plaything?”

He stirred at that.

I am no child to scold, Aila, however feeble I may be, he thought with a trace of annoyance.

“There is no cost, Aila, not anymore. I work to take a payment, to call back some of my stolen coin from IT!”

He felt more than annoyance now as she shook her head at his words, dismissing them even as he spoke them.

“There is always a cost, Eyulf. You spoke of it to me before you went away, before the Mages changed you. How can you say there is no cost?”

She reached out, grasped his hand, and raised it before his eyes. She ran a finger along the freshly blackened skin and looked back at him.

“How can you say that you pay no price?”

“There is no cost, because I have nothing left, Aila!” The surge of anger that struck him surprised him. He shook the hand she had raised.

“I destroyed my flesh…killed my family… destroyed my home! One foolish mistake and all I know was taken from me. All I have left is my use of magic. I WILL master it Aila. It will Restore my body to me! I will have that, at least. I know my family is beyond all power to bring back but if Magic can destroy flesh, there must be a way to bring flesh back. There must!”

With a quick dart of her head, Aila’s lips were on his, bringing silence for a heartbeat. It was the first kiss they had shared since before his accident, since the sweet stolen kisses of the Kekri Night celebration in her home. It stopped his anger short.

Her lips were warm and soft on his. He could feel the rasping touch of his scarred and leathery cheek on hers and the anger flared once more. He would never hold her as he wished, not like this. He pulled away, hating himself for ruining that one precious moment.

//

//

Interviews, word counts and a fever…

Why is it that there are great swathes of time that just plod along with nothing happening and then when you begin to count on that 20 things at once leap out of the void and mustbedonerightnowhurryupandattendtomethisinstant!!!

I have never understood this, but it never fails.

I dropped off a resume yesterday after a morning of fussing over a very sick little one (she got out of her bed, climbed into ours and announced that she felt droopy and wanted her breakfast in our bed this morning…), grocery shopping and finished it up with a Skype interview with a potential employer.

Kid-ling got sicker after that with a fever of almost 103 so we gave her a warm bath which broke it nicely. It was now 10PM and I had written no words whatsoever.

This bothers me. A lot! (Since becoming unemployed  the Search for Work has never stopped, but I have come to love the time I spend writing and severely miss it when I skip. I have skipped every other day in March but have doubled-down on my word count each day so I am still on target for completing Book the Second of my fantasy Trilogy.

If I can stop skipping days…AND double-down I could get ahead of schedule to finish it up early. (And with a background check document in my e-mail box for these interviews I have been having…I think I should do that promptly so once I am back to work I won’t feel so guilty about low writing days…)

Just another case of everything happening at once!!