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Blessings Of A Curse - 2012 USA Edition - chunk 01 (standard:fantasy, 9887 words) [1/6] show all parts
Author: Wayne Edward ClarkeUpdated: Jun 11 2012Views/Reads: 4636/1220Part vote: 0.00 (0 votes)
Book One of The Nexus of Kellaran Series. A mighty world of wonder approaches a global turning point, and a global war. Young Mark finds himself at the center of an intense whirlwind of adventure, romance, and action that will transform the world of Kella
 



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goods.  Six wizards had sought to sneak into The Nine Valleys to steal 
objects of power, and only two of those had passed the Wards.  And 
three wizards had come with armies, and had attacked the barriers 
seeking to conquer the valleys beyond, and usurp the more concentrated 
power available there. 

They had all failed.  The High People did not trade with human wizards,
neither for knowledge nor for goods. The two thieves who made it past 
the Wards had used masterfully subtle spells of disguise and 
distraction to pose as resident High People, only to be caught by the 
hidden Sentries at the top of the pass.  And none of the three would-be 
conquerors had survived their attempts, since all three were 
brute-force types, and the defensive spells of the Wards had transduced 
the massive power of their attacks and sent it back at them in 
unexpected forms. 

They had all obviously been human Master Wizards, gray or white of hair,
wrinkled of face, clad in ornate clothing and festooned with signs and 
objects of power. 

This huge human was another matter entirely.  His long black hair and
beard covered most of his face and stuck out in all directions, making 
it hard to judge his age, but his muscles bulged beneath the bushy hair 
on his chest and along his arms and legs, and his movements were 
smooth.  He wore a tattered kilt of dark gray plaid, the remains of a 
gray cotton shirt with the sleeves ripped off that hung open and 
untucked, and he carried the remnants of a black cloak gathered as a 
bag and slung over his shoulder, stuffed with unknown items.  Crude 
leather sandals whisked quietly through the deep grass as his long and 
seemingly slow stride carried him upslope almost as fast as Yazadril 
could run. 

He appeared to be a simple peasant, and for him to have simply walked
through the Wards, apparently without even realizing they existed, was 
almost inconceivable!  He walked with his head down, watching the 
ground, and there was a slump to his shoulders. 

As he passed within twenty feet of Yazadril's hiding spot the elven
wizard caught his scent, and realized that the human was surprisingly 
clean, given his generally unkempt state.  Which might indicate that 
his appearance was a disguise. 

As Yazadril began stealthily following the human upslope another thrill
of rare emotion raced through his old heart, this one composed equally 
of fear and a burning intellectual curiosity. 

A moment later his quarry stopped beside the path to dig a wild onion
with a small knife, scrubbed most of the dirt off with a handful of dry 
grass, and stood to stow it in his cloak.  He stretched hugely, then 
looked to the right of the path.  He noticed the Clearing of 
Contemplation where Yazadril had been meditating until he'd heard the 
human's distant approach up the scree slope outside the Wards. The big 
human ambled into the small meadow and sat himself down on Yazadril's 
favorite sitting log, and looked out on the great untenanted valley 
beyond the Wards, enjoying the very view the old elf so often enjoyed.  
Or so it seemed at first. 

He surprised Yazadril again when he put his head in his hands and began
to cry, softly at first, then with great wracking sobs of utter 
despair.  It sounded very strange, as his voice seemed unnaturally deep 
to elven ears. 

After ten minutes of that he seemed to have cried himself out, and
gradually calmed.  He looked to the setting sun, then began to set up a 
crude camp beside the log.  Having finished that, he set up some small 
snares around the perimeter of the clearing, then returned to his camp 
to relax against the log and eat some wild berries and roots he 
withdrew from his cloak.  After eating, he drank deeply from a 
waterskin, hid his possessions in the hollow end of the log, and rolled 
himself in his cloak before laying down in the grass beside the log.  
He soon appeared to be asleep. 

Yazadril watched all this from the cover of a clump of bushes ten yards
beyond the clearing's edge.  He watched a half-hour longer to be sure 
the human truly slept, then silently made his way back to the path. He 
hiked halfway up to the top of the pass before he cast a careful 
Speaking to the sentinels there. 

“Dilimon, it is I, Yazadril!  Bring three others of the Sentries, some
food and drink, and a warm cloak.  Meet with me on the pathway down to 
the border, move most silently, and do not cast the power in any way!  
As well, bring your hunting weapons!  And before anything else is done, 
call to duty every Sentry we have available, have them equip themselves 
with every mundane weapon that they own, and post them in defensive 
formations about the top of the pass!” 

“I hear you Yazadril!  Myself, three others, food and drink, a warm
cloak, mundane weapons, in stealth down the path, all Sentries to 
defend the top of the pass!  We follow your instructions!” Dilimon's 
mind-voice rang in Yazadril's head with youthful excitement, and 
Yazadril could tell that Dilimon was relaying the orders and taking 
efficient action to carry them out, even as he continued the mental 
conversation.  “What is it Yazadril?!  A basilisk?!  A dark dragon?!” 
“It is a human, Dilimon.  He is camped and sleeping in my Clearing of 
Contemplation, two hundred paces inside the Wards!” 

“By my soul!  Shall I alert the other senior wizards?” 

“Do not wake them if they are already sleeping.  This human does not
appear to be a wizard.  If any are still awake, have them informed, and 
tell them that I will speak with them about it in a few hours.  Beyond 
them, and the eight members of your squad, none must know of this!  
Tell the extra Sentries that they are there on my order, as a 
precaution only, that there is quite likely no danger, and nothing 
else!” 

“Yes Yazadril.  But...  If he is not a wizard, how did he pass the
Wards?” 

“I am not sure.  He did not so much defeat the barriers, as simply
ignore them!   He did not appear to even realize that they were there!  
I have kept myself concealed from him, and I doubt that he even knows 
that he has trespassed onto our lands!” 

“By my soul!  He must have elven blood in him, somehow!” 

“I doubt that such is the case!” Yazadril chuckled.  “He is the biggest,
hairiest human I have ever seen!  He must be eight feet tall, and weigh 
as much as any six of us!” 

“He must be a giant, or partly one!” a female voice said. 

“No, Yalla.” Yazadril replied, recognizing the interjecting voice as
that of the on-duty Sentry Wizard.  “I have had that thought as well, 
but there is no flavor of giant in his scent or his aura.  I would 
certainly have sensed it.  He is simply a very large human.  I do not 
think he is very dangerous to us, but who can say? 

“However, he is definitely a heretofore unique magical anomaly, with
unknown abilities, perhaps including the ability to detect us Speaking 
right now!  So, we end this conversation, and hereafter none will cast 
the power in any way on this side of the pass, until we have learned 
all that we must know about him!” 

“We hear you Yazadril, no magic beyond the crest of the pass.  We follow
your instructions.” Yalla responded, seeming worried. 

“We see you, Yazadril.  We will be with you in six minutes.” Dilimon
reported. 

When they arrived, the four Sentries seemed to simply appear out of the
darkness, exhibiting incredible stealth and woodscraft far beyond that 
shown by Yazadril, even when he'd had their youth. 

“Well done.  You made good time.” he told them with quiet pride.  “Give
me the cloak, I am chilled to the bone.  Thank you.  Now food and 
drink.  Thank you.”  He wolfed down a few huge bites of sausage and 
cheese, then took smaller bites so he could talk with his mouth full.  
It was an unthinkable performance under most social circumstances, but 
standard procedure on military operations where time was of the 
essence. “I will need you to guard me while I perform a very deep 
Reading on him.” Yazadril continued.  “You will take no action unless 
you are absolutely certain that he is attacking us!  If he does attack, 
we will retreat if we can, and you may have to assist me.  However, he 
may move very quickly, so retreat may not be practical, particularly if 
I am incapacitated. 

“Yalla, if you must defend against him, and your spells affect him, cast
Binding and Sleep.  If they do not affect him, cast Concussion on the 
ground in front of him.  A few blasts of dirt in his face should 
discourage him.  If it does not, tip a few trees down between him and 
us.  Do not injure him unless absolutely necessary!  Find a stone as 
large as your head, and if he is getting within fifteen feet from us, 
you can cast Movement on it and break his legs with it. 

“You three keep your hunting bows ready.  If he actually gets his hands
on one of us despite everything Yalla can do, then, and only then, you 
will kill him.  Immediately.  And thoroughly.” 

“We follow your instructions, Yazadril!” Dilimon stated.  He and the
other two males grinned eagerly with barely-suppressed excitement.  
Yalla's warm smile was a bit worried, but fully resolute. 

“After uneventful decades guarding the pass, finally there is a chance
for some action, you think young ones?” Yazadril asked with a smile.  
“Let us enjoy that feeling for a moment. 

“Now, let us also remember how much we hope that things will remain
peaceful.  It is a painful thing to have a killing on your soul, no 
matter how justified, and seeing a comrade hurt or killed is worse.  
Let your training and your intellect guide you, no matter how intense 
your emotions become.  What this human has done is completely unique 
and very dangerous to us all, I do not need to tell you that, so it is 
imperative that we learn how he has done it! 

“Now, you know where the clearing is.  When I am in position, I will
take the Reading, which could last from fifteen minutes to an hour.  
Then we will return to the path, and I will tell you what I have 
learned, and we will decide on further action at that time.” 

With that, he turned and strode down the path, his old shoulders braced
with determination. 

He returned to his spot in the bushes, sat cross-legged on the turf, and
immediately fell into trance.  The three archers deployed themselves to 
advantage around him, while Yalla knelt beside him to monitor him and 
to lend him some power if need be, her eyes locked to the dark form of 
the sleeping human. 

After almost an hour Yazadril began a strange humming unlike any there
had heard before.  Dilimon looked to Yalla with inquisitive concern, 
but she only shrugged.  Satisfied that the elder was in no danger, even 
if Yalla did not understand what he was doing, Dilimon returned his 
attention to his vigilance. 

Finally, over two hours after he had began, Yazadril rose and moved
quietly back to the path.  The four Sentries melted through the forest 
in his wake, and the five huddled closely on the path to hear 
Yazadril's whispered report. 

“He poses no danger to us, not directly at any rate.  I had to bring
myself so far out of tune I could barely feel the power, to even get a 
basic analysis and a fringe Reading of him.  And after two hours of 
effort, I was only able to learn a few things about him, including the 
nature of his ability.  He is physically so perfectly attuned with the 
power field that it passes right through him, like light through clean 
water.  He is... transparent to magic, and all magic is therefore 
transparent and invisible to him.  That is how he passed the Wards.  It 
means that though he is immune to magic, and our spells will not affect 
him, he also cannot attack us magically.  The second thing I learned is 
that he knows nothing of this property in himself, or anything else 
about magic.  If we have a conflict with him, it will be no more 
difficult to fill him with arrows than any fat boar.” 

There was a long silence as the sentries absorbed that with relief. “As
to his personality, I sensed no particular evil in him, and his soul is 
shattered.” Yazadril related, so quietly their keen hearing could 
barely make him out.  “I could get no details, but he has lost his 
family, his home, everything, to some horrible disaster.  Or...  Or to 
a series of disasters.” 

“Huh.  He is strange indeed.” Yalla stated thoughtfully.  “I would have
thought that with an hour's effort, you could Read anyone so deeply 
that you would know what they had eaten for breakfast on every morning 
of their lives.” 

“Yes.  Anyone but him.” Yazadril nodded.  “And the tiny bits of
information I did get cost me as much effort as any spell I have ever 
cast.” 

“What will we do?” Dilimon asked. 

“We will wait until he wakes, and then I will speak with him.  Perhaps
something in his history will reveal how he came to exhibit this 
property.” 

“Honored Elder Wizard Yazadril, Prince of The Nine Valleys of the High
People, I hesitate to advise you without invitation, but you must 
sleep, while we will keep watch.  You appear near exhaustion.” Yalla 
told him with a look of concern. 

“I know.  I will sleep while we wait.  And as I say, he poses little
danger without magic and armed only with a paring knife, so two of you 
may sleep as two guard him, or one of you can return to the top of the 
pass for relief.” 

“We are the night watch for the south pass this year, Yazadril, and had
arrived on station only a few minutes before your call.” Dilimon told 
him with a grin.  “It will be no trouble for us to remain alert until 
dusk on the day after tomorrow, if necessary.” 

“Excellent.  Report to the wizards and Sentries that he is harmless,
dismiss the extra Sentries, and inform everyone that I have taken this 
human under my protection as a study animal.  Do and say no more than 
that, then return here.” 

“A study animal?  Like he was a rare butterfly you had never seen
before?” Dilimon asked with a quiet chuckle. 

“Exactly like that.” Yazadril replied, grinning.  “I return to my place
behind the bushes to sleep.  Wake me when our guest first stirs.” 

Awakening.  Grass beneath him, scratching his neck.  Then as always, the
memories, the sadness, the despair, the pain.  Weeping, weeping like a 
child.  And why not?  There was no one to see or to care. But somehow 
it was not as bad this morning, and he forced it away with less effort. 
 He sat up and rubbed the sleep-sand and tears from his eyes, and 
looked around.  Perhaps it was this beautiful, magical seeming place, 
this little high meadow with the tiny brook and the perfect view of the 
valley below.  It seemed to bring him a small measure of serenity, 
somehow. 

He rose and crossed to the brook to wash, then checked his wire snares. 
Four of the simple traps held prey; three squirrels and a small rabbit, 
and in each case the snares had functioned perfectly, bringing death to 
the small animals almost instantly by breaking their necks.  He was 
glad to see that; it made it easier when he respectfully apologized to 
their spirits for their deaths in a brief prayer. Having done that, he 
moved all ten snares and reset them, then cleaned his prey on a flat 
rock by the brook. 

After assembling a shallow bronze pan and three iron rods into a small
tripod brazier and building a tiny fire in it, he roasted and ate his 
catch one by one. 

He reflected that it was rare to harvest such a bounty.  Generally, only
one of the snares caught anything on every second morning, and the meat 
was only a supplement to his general diet of roots, leaves, berries and 
nuts.  Those were plentiful here as well.  Perhaps he would stay here, 
until a pair of weeks before the snows should fall. 

Then he realized that it was the first time he had consciously thought
about the days ahead since...  Since he left Shinosa Valley. 

Clamping down hard on his thoughts, he fiercely concentrated on the
sensations of the moment; the taste and texture of the food he was 
eating, the heat of the fire on his face, the morning sun.  In this way 
he managed to avoid weeping again. 

Having finished eating everything but the cleaned skins and bones, he
took those with him when he walked a hundred yards to visit the forest, 
and buried them with his spoor. 

He returned to wash in the brook, then cleaned and disassembled the
brazier and stowed it in the log. 

He sat on the log to admire the view for a while before he set out to
gather plants. 

A voice called from over by the path, giving him a violent startle.
“Hello the camp!” was called, and it sounded like an old woman. 

“Uh...  Yes?” he stammered. 

Yazadril, standing by the path, almost lost his train of thought.  What
a voice!  Even raised a bit to call out, it was the deepest, lowest, 
richest voice he had ever heard!  And it's fundamental resonant 
frequency was exactly in tune with the power field! 

He gave himself a shake to recall himself to the business at hand, and
called out again in the Trade Common language.  “I generally sit where 
you are, of mornings, and meditate while contemplating the view.  May I 
join you?  I have some very tasty apple pastry I would share, and some 
good bumbleberry wine as well.” 

“Uh, sure.” 

Yazadril walked into the clearing, whistling a happy tune as he
retrieved the pastry and wine from his trail bag.  The huge human was 
standing and staring at him strangely, then suddenly dropped to his 
hands and knees and bowed his head. 

“Now now, no need for all that!” Yazadril told him in surprise.  “I
doubt you've seen one of The High People before, but you've nothing to 
fear from me!” 

Slowly, the human's startlingly bright dark blue eyes rose to look him
up and down, taking in the fine doeskin boots, the loose satin breeches 
colored the same green as the grass, the silk shirt in the same gray as 
the rock of the mountain, the stout brown woolen cloak and matching 
trail bag.  His gaze settled for a moment on gracefully pointed ears 
peeking through shining gray hair, before meeting Yazadril's ancient 
eyes with a puzzled look. 

“You...  You're not a god?” he finally asked, his voice rumbling even
deeper and lower now that he spoke quietly. 

“A god?!  No no, don't be silly!” Yazadril laughed as he sat on the log
and spread his treats beside him.  “I imagine your people would refer 
to me as a mountain elf.  Why would you think me a god?  I admit the 
beard gives me a somewhat dignified air, but...” 

“You're glowing.” 

“Am I?  How very interesting!  But it is no sign of divinity, I tell you
that for certain! 

“I am Yazadril of The High People of The Nine Valleys.  Here, have some
pastry.” 

“Thank you.  I'm called Markee, from...  Shinosa Valley.”  The huge 
human said as he sat a respectful distance down the log. Suddenly he 
was struggling to contain his tears. 

“Ahh, Markee, anyone could see that you bear a great grief.” Yazadril
gently told him.  “There is no cure for that except time, and living a 
good life.  But I could lessen your pain a little, for a while, if 
you'd like.” 

“Yes.  Please help me.” Markee quietly sobbed as his eyes closed, and
his tears spilled from them. 

Yazadril hummed a short note and cast a mild Tranquility upon him.  It
passed through Markee like he didn't exist, and dispersed beyond him a 
moment later. 

“Oh yes.  I'd forgotten about that.” Yazadril muttered in chagrin.  He
concentrated hard while humming a discordant air, and with great effort 
managed to bring himself and his intensified spell out of synchronicity 
with Markee, at least enough that the spell would adhere to the human a 
bit when the old wizard shoved it into him. 

The effort left him gasping and shaking, and Markee quickly reached down
to gently steady his shoulder, or he'd have fallen off the log. “I'm... 
 I'm all right. Just give me a moment to catch my breath.” the old elf 
gasped. 

“I...  Thank you.  My sadness seems more... distant, now.” Markee mused.
“Like it was a year older than it is.” 

“You're welcome.  That was my intent.” Yazadril nodded as he regained
his composure, and poured them each a goblet of wine.  “It should last 
a few days.  Perhaps a week.” 

“You're a wizard!” Markee stated in soft amazement. 

“Yes, I am.” Yazadril nodded again, and took a deep drink.  “That's why
I seem to glow to you, I suspect.  You can see my power.” 

“How is that possible?!  That I can see that?” Markee asked in
confusion. 

“I'm not sure.  Tell me, if you don't mind my asking, how old are you?” 

Markee was surprised at the question, and considered his answer
carefully.  “I'll tell you, if you tell me how old you are first.” he 
eventually replied. 

“Fair enough.  I'm eight thousand, four hundred and seventy-six years
old.  I am the eldest of my people, by a wide margin.” 

Markee gaped, and Yazadril sighed. 

“Perhaps I shouldn't have told you that, but you asked, and I'm a bit
vain about it.  I admit to some pride at having fought off the great 
darkness for so long, though of course it's simply good luck, for the 
most part.” Yazadril grinned, combing his beard out with his 
fingertips.  “Now, will you keep your part of the bargain?  Will you 
tell me your age?” 

“I'm sixteen.” Markee stated, still gaping.  “You're really that old? 
That's...  I mean, what you must have seen!  You must know everything 
by now!” 

Now it was Yazadril's turn to gape.  “Sixteen!  I'd guessed from your
manner that you were younger than you seem, but by the Source!  Have 
you even finished growing yet?!” 

“I might be seventeen by now.  I've lost track of the date.” Markee said
defensively.  He turned away, mildly embarrassed, and gazed down the 
valley.  “I doubt I've finished growing.  This shirt fit me loosely 
when I left home, and I had to take the sleeves off a few weeks ago, 
because they were too tight around my arms.” 

“Amazing!  Well I have seen some things all right, and I know much, but
I know a great deal less than everything! You're certain proof of 
that!” 

“How do you mean?” Markee asked, turning back to the old elf.  He was
suddenly reminded of the delicious scent coming from the pastry he was 
holding, and took a huge bite of it. 

Yazadril considered him carefully, and decided to be honest.  “You
display some remarkable properties, young fellow.  Your apparent 
ability to see my power, for one.  For another...  Tell me, as you came 
up here, when you passed the top of the scree slope a few hundred paces 
downhill, did you notice anything, ah, different, shall we say?” 

Markee considered as he chewed, then shook his head. 

“I thought not.  That's the border of the lands of The High People,
and...” 

Markee swallowed hurriedly as he stood.  “I didn't know, I didn't mean
to trespass!  I'll leave if you...” 

“No no, my boy, I very much wish you to stay!” Yazadril assured him,
interrupting in return.  “Please, sit down, you are welcome here, and 
under my protection. 

“You see, raw magic power comes from the sun, with the sunlight.  But
that raw magic energy is not useful, it is not in a form that elves and 
wizards can use.  It passes completely through most things without 
affecting them, like sunlight through clean water, until it strikes the 
stone of the world.  Some rock is completely out of tune with the raw 
power, and it reflects the raw power back into the sky.  Some rock is 
partly in tune with it, like the rock of the Nine Valleys of the High 
People, and this rock absorbs the power, and slowly re-emits it at a 
lower frequency.  Do you understand that?” 

“I don't think so.” Markee admitted.  “In tune you said, like music?” 

“Yes.  The small strings on a harp vibrate much more quickly than the
large strings, and they sound a higher note.  The number of times they 
vibrate every second, that is, how frequently they vibrate, is called 
their frequency. 

“Energy vibrates as well.  Red light has a slowly vibrating low note, up
to violet light which has a quickly vibrating high note, so to speak, 
in the order of the colors of the rainbow.  The rainbow is like a harp 
of light, showing all the notes in order.  You see?” 

“Yes, I think I've got that.” Markee nodded. 

“Good.  So the completely-out-of-tune rock reflects the raw magic power
back into the sky, like sunlight from a mirror, it just bounces off.  
Yes?” 

“I understand.” Markee nodded again. 

“Yes.  Now if you take a poker and hold it in a fire, it gets hot as it
absorbs the energy from the blue and yellow light of the fire, and when 
it's full of it, and you take it out of the fire, you can see it 
glowing red.  It has absorbed the higher frequency blue and yellow 
light, and it releases it as lower frequency red light. 

“The rock of our land does the same thing with the raw magic power.  It
absorbs it during the day, and constantly radiates it at a lower 
frequency.  That radiated energy from the absorbent rock forms the 
usable magic field of the world, it's the energy that wizards and elves 
use.  You see?” 

Markee nodded. 

“Good.  I think there are others who could explain this more simply, but
bear with me; we are almost to the crux of it. 

“Now air, and water, and solid material like you and me, are made of
invisibly tiny parts, and those are made of tinier parts, and those are 
made of tinier parts yet, and so on, and all of these tiny parts 
vibrate.  How quickly some of those tiny parts vibrate, how in tune 
they are with the vibrations of the energy field of useful magic, 
determines how they are affected by magic.  Objects of power are 
closely in tune with the magic, they resonate to it in harmony, so they 
may reflect, absorb, or transmute the energy. 

“Some of the tiny parts that make up the bodies of elves and wizards,
and the energy of their brains and nerves, also vibrate in harmony with 
the field of magic to varying degrees.  So, we can use magic, and elves 
can see the magic field itself. 

“Now to the point.  Some of the most important tiny parts in your body,
particularly your brain and your nerves, all vibrate at exactly the 
same frequency as the energy field of useful magic.  Not in harmony 
with it, in unison with it! 

“Because of this, you are transparent to magic.  It passes right through
you, like light through clean water.  So you are, for the most part, 
immune to the direct effects of magic, both good and bad, harm and 
healing.  This is why you were able to walk past the Illusions and 
Barriers of the Wards on our borders, though they'd have stopped a 
flight of dragons, and you didn't even notice them. 

“Somewhere in all that is the reason you can see my power, though unlike
elves, you cannot see the magic field around you.  I'll have my finger 
on it in a while.” Yazadril mused, absent-mindedly scratching his chin 
through his beard. 

“So you want me to stay here, so you can study me, so you can find out
how to make the magic barriers not let me past?” Markee asked. 

“Yes, that's important, though my interest is far more general.  I wish
to understand the phenomenon completely for the sake of understanding, 
not just so we can bar you from our land.  Though we must know that as 
well, in case some wizard ever learns to duplicate your abilities.” 

“Huh.  You're right.  I'm sure there are others who would have explained
it more simply.” Markee chuckled, then suddenly sobered as he became a 
bit suspicious. 

“And how long would you want me to stay here?” he inquired. 

“Until I understand it, or failing that, for as long as I can interest
you in staying.” 

Markee stared at him intently.  “This is important to you?  How do I
know you won't hold me against my will, or trick me?  Or that another 
of your people won't do so?” 

Yazadril's brows drew together a bit.  “I understand your concerns.  But
I'll have you know that I am Prince of my people, and I have the right 
to speak for them, and to make commitments upon their behalf.  And I do 
solemnly swear that none of my people will seek to harm you, or seek to 
impede you should you choose to leave.” 

“Hold on a moment!” Markee exclaimed.  “If I'm immune to magic, how did
you do that thing for me earlier?” 

“Ah, I was able to purposely make myself slightly out of tune with you,
and with the power field.  Then my spell could resonate within you and 
affect you, though not very strongly. 

“Of course you must realize that everything I've told you about magic,
including that, is an analogy that is a tremendous oversimplification 
of the rules of reality, but at least it gives you some understanding. 
“If it makes you feel better, I can tell you that I probably couldn't 
magically affect you enough to harm you, even if I tried.  Though if I 
did try the reverse of that, I could make you feel a bit more 
depressed, which I assure you I would never do. 

“I very much doubt that there is another wizard alive who could even
affect you that much.  I was only able to do it because of some rather 
specialized theoretical work I did a few centuries ago.  And because 
I'm a pretty good wizard, to say the least.  Believe me, no one else 
would have thought of it.” 

“Huh.  How long do you think it would be?  Honestly?” 

Yazadril considered, and swallowed a guilty look.  “I see your concern. 
And your suspicions are correct.  I could easily spend centuries on 
such research.  Centuries you do not have within your human lifespan.  
Still, perhaps we could agree on a limited time, just so I could 
understand the basics of it?” he asked hopefully. 

“The basics?  How long for the basics?” 

“Well...  Perhaps forty years?” 

“Forty years!” Markee exclaimed, rising to his feet.  “I think perhaps
one year, if that!” 

“One year!  Impossible!  We will barely know one another in one year!”
Yazadril sputtered.  “You must give me...  You must give me ten, at 
least!” 

“Ten years?!  Ten years on the side of a mountain, being poked and
prodded like a leech on a plate?!  I think not!  I may feel bad enough 
right now to throw my life away, but I'm smart enough to know I'll feel 
differently in ten years!” 

“Now see here!  It needn't be as unpleasant as all that!  I like to
think I'm pretty good company, and if you have any interest in the 
subject of magic, you may very well find it to be a fascinating time 
indeed!  As for living on the side of a mountain, you must admit that 
this is very pleasant place, and if you choose to stay here I will have 
a lovely home built for you at the edge of the meadow there, and you 
may consider it yours for as long as you choose to stay with us! 
“Beyond that, I happen to be a very powerful and wealthy wizard, and I 
would be willing to reward you very generously for your service!  I 
could make you as wealthy in gold or jewels as any king in any of the 
human lands out there!  I can build you a castle with a waterfall that 
flows uphill and a basilisk to guard the gate!  I can give you a charm 
that will make you irresistible to every woman and admired by every 
man!  Come now, I am willing to be reasonable, and I can give you 
almost anything you could want!” 

“You must really want this very much.” Markee told him grimly, and sat
back down, staring with eyes unfocused into the grass.  “I don't want 
those things.  And you can't give me what I want, for I want what I've 
lost.  And I doubt even you can return the dead to life.” 

Yazadril didn't answer for a moment, and when he did, his manner was
compassionate.  “You're right, in that I want this very much.  You are 
the most unique magical phenomenon that's ever happened.  According to 
everything we know, you are impossible, and your very existence negates 
much of what we thought we knew about magic.  The implications cannot 
be overstated.  Nothing else is this important. 

“And you are right, even I cannot bring back the dead if they have been
gone for more than a moment, or if their brains or spines are 
destroyed. “But, everyone needs affection, and companionship, and love. 
 Elves and humans are the same that way.  I will give you my 
companionship and my affection, Markee, and perhaps I will grow to love 
you like a grandson.  Also, you will be a great novelty among my 
people, and many of them will want to visit you, and I'm sure you will 
like almost all of them.” 

Markee didn't reply, as he considered the enormity of what was being
asked, and what was being offered. 

“Perhaps there is something else I can offer, that you would value
more.” Yazadril ventured quietly.  “Tell me your story, Markee.  There 
must be something I can do.  Tell me of your home, and of what happened 
there.” 

Markee stared at the ground for a long time before he spoke, and did not
look up when he did. 

“Shinosa Valley is in the mountains north of here.  It's a long way from
anywhere, you have to hike over thirty-three miles of mountains and 
passes to get to Pimata; the next inhabited valley.  The trader only 
comes twice a year, on foot with a pack train of nimble donkeys, and we 
were the very end of his route.  It's a hundred and twenty hard miles 
east to Copper Strike; the nearest town, and another eighty to the 
foothills and farmlands of Finitra proper before you come to anything 
that you could really call civilization.  Other than that, to the 
north, west and south, there's only mountains for hundreds of miles, 
uninhabited and mostly impassable.  Fifty-three people lived in Shinosa 
valley, including me.  The traders and five people from Pimata and two 
of the King's Rangers are the only other people I've ever seen.  And 
you. 

“One morning just after dawn last winter a storm came, the most terrible
blizzard any of us had ever seen.  It was sudden, one minute there was 
clear blue sky, the next it was hell.  The wind blew so fast that 
pieces of straw were blown an inch into solid wood, and it was so cold 
that people in warm winter clothes froze to death in moments.  I've 
never been so scared as that.  Lots of blizzards go on for days, and I 
knew if that one had even lasted till suppertime there wouldn't have 
been anything left alive in the whole valley.  It only lasted an hour, 
and it killed everyone that was caught outside, or that went outside to 
save their children or animals, and everyone whose house was too 
exposed to the wind. 

“My family was spared, because Mother wouldn't let us go out to save the
mule and the sheep, though one window blew in and my little sister 
Shelvy got awful sick.  All five of us huddled together on my parents' 
bed under every stitch of clothing and bedding we owned.  It was 
really, really cold, and the wind was so loud you had to yell into each 
other's ears to be understood.  Twenty-one of our neighbors died from 
the storm.  It ended as suddenly as it started, then it was completely 
gone, the sky was blue again. 

“We gathered everyone who still lived at Dob Jorman's mill, since it was
the second biggest place, and made of stone, and well sheltered from 
the wind.” 

He paused for a long moment, and when he continued he was so choked with
emotion that it was difficult to speak clearly. 

“That night, just after suppertime, everyone but me went mad.  They just
completely lost their minds.  Most of them, you couldn't tell what they 
thought they were seeing, or what they were trying to do, but some were 
running away from nothing, and some were fighting the air, and some 
were yelling gibberish and thrashing around and...  Some hurt 
themselves, and some hurt others.  My brother Steb killed my mother 
with one blow to her head, and...  And other bad things happened.  A 
few minutes later, most of them became themselves again.  Some were 
dead.  My little sister was dead.  She looked like she had died from 
sheer terror.  Steb never came out of it, and Dob Jorman knocked him 
cold with a chair, to keep him from killing his son Verk. 

“Some who had gotten their minds back wanted to run.  But my father
yelled that we were under magical attack, and that we couldn't run from 
it, and a regular attack might come next, so we all had to stay 
together to help each other.  Everyone saw the sense of that, so we all 
stayed there.  There were twenty-one of us left alive, seven of them 
injured or sick, four of them still mad.” 

He stopped to wipe at his tears with both hands, and tried to swallow
the lump in his throat. 

“The next morning, about midmorning...  I was leaning against my father,
we were sitting on the floor against the wall, and I was holding Marja 
Dobbim.  She was thirteen, and everyone knew she'd be my wife someday.  
I was very fond of her, and besides, she was the only girl who was near 
the right age in the valley.  Then everyone except me screamed, they 
screamed so horribly...  And... they... died.  They died, and their 
skin turned black and green pus started coming out of all their...” 
Markee had to stop, and wept openly for a minute before he regained 
enough control to continue. 

“Anyway, I ran.  I grabbed a few things and I ran.   I was really stupid
about what I took, too, and I've regretted it a million times.  It's 
like all my training just flew out of my head, but I was in such a 
panic that I couldn't even think.  I just ran away and left them all 
lying there dead, because I was so scared.  So... horrified.  I ran 
south, because I was afraid of the ice storm, and I knew it was warmer, 
south.  I ran until I dropped, just eating snow for water and running, 
and when I dropped I slept, and then a nightmare woke me up and I ran 
again, until I dropped.  The next day I couldn't run anymore, so I 
walked fast.  The next day I stopped and gathered food, because I was 
so hungry, and kept on walking south. 

“And that's all I've done since then; walk south, and climb when I had
to.  About six months, I think.  Every few days I climb high enough up 
a mountain to choose a way ahead through the passes.  That's why I came 
up here; the top of the pass faces south.  From the maps my father had, 
I know the mountains must end a few more week's walk south of here.  I 
know there are plains south of that, and south of that is the shore of 
the ocean, where it never snows.  I guess I'd sort of thought of going 
there.” 

He turned to Yazadril and tried to smile with tears pouring from his
eyes.  “Now that I know I'm immune to magic, I suppose I should go home 
and give my folk decent burials.  But I don't think I could bear to do 
it.” 

His look of despair made Yazadril look away, and there was a painful
silence for a minute. 

“Have you thought about the cause of it?” Yazadril finally ventured. 
“The source of the storm and the madness and the death?” 

“Not really.” Markee answered after a moment.  “I haven't been thinking
about it, really.  I try to keep my thoughts on the here and now, or I 
review the lessons I was taking, or just engage in abstract 
philosophizing.  Anything to keep from thinking about it, or I weep 
constantly.  Until your spell.  And I'm still weeping, just not as 
much.” 

He paused again.  “None of us had any real enemies, so it makes no
sense.  I suppose some evil wizard must have killed them for his own 
amusement.” 

“That is one possibility.” Yazadril nodded.  “They were definitely
killed by magic.  Or a wizard may have made a mistake, or had an 
accident.  If one tries to put too much power into an object, for 
instance, it could explode, and that could cause what you've described. 
 Or a small piece of a world that is a source of raw magic may have 
fallen from the sky nearby.  The magic storm from that could do it too. 


“By far the most likely possibility is that your folk were simply caught
in the crossfire of a battle between two distant wizards. In which 
case, one or both of them are probably dead.  Two very powerful, very 
incompetent, very sloppy, very unethical, and undoubtedly human 
wizards, I might add.  No elf would even contemplate such methods. 
“That is one thing I can offer you.  I can help you find out what 
caused those unfortunate events.  If we find that someone is at fault, 
I will help you take action. 

“I should clarify that.  If your people were killed by intent or
incompetence, by a wizard or wizards, and we can identify any surviving 
perpetrators, my people will take appropriate action, whether you 
choose to or not.  Such atrocities cannot be allowed to continue 
unchecked.” 

“Hmm.  Would you be able to find out from here, by magic, or would you
have to go there?” Markee asked. 

“I might be able to find out from here, but most likely I will have to
go there.” Yazadril mused.  “Along with a few hundred elven warriors, 
all of whom have various magical skills, as well as another dozen 
senior wizards of The High People.” 

“So you sometimes go beyond the lands of your people?” 

“We do indeed!” Yazadril laughed.  “I've spent a third of my life out in
the world, and I've seen most of it!” 

“Hmm.” Markee said.  He stood and clasped his hands behind himself, and
slowly strode to the center of the glade.  He remained there, deep in 
thought, for many minutes.  Finally he turned and made his way back. 

“Here's what I propose.  Please, hear me out.”  He stated as he sat down
again.  “I'll stay here for your study, in the house you will build me, 
for five years.  You will also help me with furniture, clothing, boots, 
and bedding for the winter.  And with food, or I'll have to gather and 
trap so much in this small area that it would start to become barren in 
less than a year.  You will also teach me what you can about magic 
during that time. 

“I won't count the time we spend on dealing with what happened to my
people against the five years. 

“If after the five years I no longer want to stay here, or whenever I
choose to leave after that, you will give me enough jewels to buy a 
good ranch with a nice house, small enough that I can work it by 
myself, somewhere south where it never snows, as well as enough to 
equip it, to furnish it, and to buy some breeding stock and the first 
year's seed.  If I leave here and you do that for me, I'll let you come 
with me and study me during my free time, but you'd also have to 
continue my magic lessons. 

“For how long?” Yazadril asked. 

“Pardon?” 

“For how long could I accompany you and study you and teach you during
your free time at your new ranch, after we left here at the end of the 
five years?” 

“Oh.  As long as we didn't get so sick of the sight of each other that
we couldn't stand it.  As long as we both enjoy spending the time 
together, I mean.  Other than that, as long as I live.” 

“Agreed then!” Yazadril stated happily as he rose to his feet. 

“It's a bargain?” Markee asked as he also stood and offered his hand. 

“Wait.  You understand that during the five years, I will not be the
only wizard of my people studying you?  That sometimes one or two 
others will join us?” 

“That's all right.” 

“And do you understand that a vow with an elven wizard is magically
binding, like a geas or a Compulsion?” 

“I didn't know that!” Markee stated.  “So when you swore you and yours
to not harm or impede me earlier, and your glow got brighter...?” 

“I couldn't break it to save my life.” Yazadril nodded.  “Though to save
my daughters' or my wife's lives, I could break it.  Most could not.” 

“That's good to know.  But what if I'm immune to the binding, as I am to
other magic?” 

“Then I'll just have to trust your honor.” Yazadril smiled. 

“You can.” Markee nodded, offering his huge hand again. 

“So let it be agreed, as it was spoken!” Yazadril smiled, and he placed
his small and bony hand within the other's huge one. 

“Agreed!” Markee stated, with a bit of a smile himself as they shook on
it. 

Yazadril grinned as they resumed their seats. “Tell me, did you feel
anything special just now?” he asked. 

“You glowed a little brighter for a moment there, when I said ‘agreed'. 
It's getting harder to see as the sun gets higher and the daylight gets 
brighter, but for a moment it was as plain as when you were walking 
through the shadows under the trees.” 

“Ah.  Interesting.  Here, do try some of this bumbleberry wine.  It's
very good, and you haven't tasted yours yet.” 

“I'm not allowed to drink wine until I'm eighteen.” Markee admitted
sheepishly.  “But I'll sure have another of these pastries!  They're 
delicious!  The first real food I've had in a long time!” 

“Ah, it's so easy to forget your age. But it is wise, to avoid the
possibility of drunkenness until you are mature, and perhaps even after 
that.  Before we give wine to our young, those under twenty-five years, 
we generally take most of the alcohol out of it.  If I did that, do you 
think you would be permitted to drink it?” 

“I suppose that would be all right.  I hesitate to assume so though. 
The thought of offending my mother's spirit is... very painful.” 

“Ah, understandable.  But we are celebrating an agreement, and it's a
new chapter in your life, and you've had to assume responsibility for 
yourself as an adult before your due time.  You knew your mother well, 
and loved her very much.  If you think of how she was, and how she 
would decide if she were here now, I think your heart will know the 
truth of it.” 

Markee thought about it.  “I... I'm pretty sure she wouldn't mind, as
long as it couldn't make me get drunk.” 

“I think you are almost certainly right.” Yazadril gently smiled.  He
hummed a note and touched his fingertip to the surface of Markee's 
wine, making tiny ripples of vibration in the liquid as bubbles rose. 

“There.  Generally we remove alcohol from wine with a slow selective
evaporation process, but it's no trouble to transmute the alcohol.  Try 
it.” 

“Mmm!  It's good!  Sweet and tart and spicy, all at the same time!”
Markee exclaimed, holding the silver goblet delicately but awkwardly 
with his fingertips.  It looked almost ridiculously small in his hand. 

“I rather like it myself.” Yazadril chuckled, then finished his
gobletful and poured them both another, and neutralized the alcohol in 
Markee's. 

“You know, you seem like a well educated youth, moreso than most from
such isolated places.” Yazadril commented. 

“My father was from outside.” Markee explained.  “And so was my teacher
the widow Sorel.  And everyone always ordered books from the trader, 
though they're pretty expensive.  We were determined to not be 
ignorant, and tried to keep up with the major events outside the 
valley, mostly by exchanging letters with relatives who lived down in 
Finitra.  I loved it there, but it was good to know I could probably 
get by if I had to go somewhere else.” 

“Your people were wise in that, I think.” 

“Yes.  Life was good there.” 

“Life will be good again, I assure you. 

“Help yourself to these pastries, I know they're probably much smaller
than the ones you're used to.” 

They shared a companionable silence for a while, before Yazadril spoke
again. 

“Sometimes it's good to start over.  I had a wife and a daughter when I
was only a bit more than two hundred years old, but I lost them in a 
war some eight hundred years later.  I lost my parents and my brother 
then too.  I had a second wife and two sons, over five thousand years 
ago.  None of them lived beyond their third millennium. 

“And now, to my great and constant surprise, at the age of eight
thousand four hundred and seventy-six, I have a beautiful young wife 
again, and two lovely twin daughters only slightly older than 
yourself!” 

“Oh!  Well, congratulations, I guess!” 

“Thank you!  Thirty-five years I have been married to Nemia, and it is
still very much a subject worthy of congratulation, I think!” Yazadril 
chuckled. 

“Ah.” Markee smiled, his heart touched by the ancient wizard's obvious
joy.  “Thirty-five years.  If it's not impolite to ask, how old is your 
young wife?” 

“She is only two hundred fifty-eight, and the very picture of beauty!  I
don't mind telling you, I've found it wise to increase my exercise 
since we married, and still there are times when I've had to augment my 
stamina with the power to keep up with her bounteous energy!” 

Markee actually chuckled, and the small amount of his face around his
eyes and nose that wasn't hidden by his hair and beard blushed bright 
red. 

“Oh not that, Nemia is a wonderfully relaxing lover.” Yazadril chuckled.
 “Dancing mostly.  That's when she really tests my old heart!  A touch 
of the power can be very important at times like that!” Markee burst 
out laughing, which was a unique experience for Yazadril, since the 
powerful, incredibly low sound of it made Yazadril's entire chest 
cavity and all the sinuses in his skull vibrate with a rumbling 
sensation that almost tickled. 

Markee misread his surprised expression.  “I'm sorry Yazadril, I don't
mean to offend!  But it will take some adjustment in my thinking for me 
to picture a woman who's two hundred and fifty-eight years old as your 
bright young new wife!  The oldest person I ever knew died of old age 
at seventy-six!”  And he burst out laughing again. 

“And what does that make me?” Yazadril asked with a smile and a raised
eyebrow. 

Markee laughter calmed, but he still smiled.  “You are beyond old.  To
me, at eight thousand and whatever years old, you're eternal.  You're 
immortal.  And I must admit, simply because you're so completely 
outside my experience, that there's a small part of me that's skeptical 
of your claim. 

“Ah, understandable.  And well spoken; most could not have phrased it so
diplomatically.” 

“Well, my speaking and my writing were the delight of my teachers, but
my maths were their despair.  Though I'd have done all right at the 
maths if I didn't hate them so much!” Markee revealed, and chuckled 
again with a sound so low and quiet that Yazadril felt it more than 
heard it. 

“And how quickly did you learn musical skills?” Yazadril eagerly asked. 

“Pretty fast I guess.  We had quite a few different kinds of instruments
around the valley, and I could play them all as well as anyone, I 
guess.  I was a good singer too, until my voice changed when I was 
eleven.  I could still sing I guess, but I think it sounds too strange. 
 The girls all giggle when I sing now.  I mean they did.  And I 
couldn't play the tin horn when my lips got too thick for the 
mouthpiece, but I was still okay on the bigger horns.  And I had to 
figure out new fingerings for some of the chords on the lute when my 
fingers got too thick.  At least they got reach too.  I could still 
play the harp, but I had to pick the strings with my fingernails.  The 
harp's my favorite.  My father and I were making me one, with more 
space between the strings so I can play it with my fingertips like 
you're supposed to.  It's about half done, after a year's work, but 
every part had to be perfect for my father, and there are a lot of 
parts in a forty-nine string harp.” 

“Ah.  Excellent!  Did you know; when you are unsure of yourself, you say
‘I guess' quite frequently?” 

“I guess.” Markee grinned. 

“In this case, it's obvious that you're unsure of your musical skills,
simply because of the rapid and unique adjustments your unusual stature 
has necessitated.  Once you've finished growing, and taken some time to 
become accustomed to your unique gifts, both musical and otherwise, I'm 
sure you'll find that they won't hinder you in any way. 

“And as to your voice...  My boy, I assure you that I do not exaggerate
in the slightest when I say that you have the most beautiful voice I 
have ever heard in my life!  It gives me a powerful emotion, simply 
from hearing you speak, and laugh.  The mere thought of hearing you 
sing is almost enough to bring a tear to my eye!” 

“Huh.  Well, I'm glad you think so.  I still think it sounds strange. 
But then, when you first called hello, I thought you sounded like a 
little old lady.” Markee chuckled.  “I imagine you don't have very many 
bass singers among the High People, if most of them are your size.” 

“No, nor among elf-kind in general, for I am, at what you would measure
as four feet and seven inches tall, a bit taller than average among 
mountain elves.” Yazadril said, in a subtly different tone of voice 
that Markee was coming to recognize as his ‘teaching manner'. 


   



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