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Characters Count, the First

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What is your favorite part about writing characters?

My favorite part of writing characters is basically figuring out who they are, how they’re different and unique and what makes them who they are.   I’ll usually start off with a basic character in mind, flesh them out a little in a preliminary story, go to a character development worksheet and then write more stories based on what comes out of that. Since I tend to write series, I’m able to get more and more in depth with the characters as I move along, so the character grows more and more realistic as I move along.

What is the hardest thing you have to do when you create a character and what’s the easiest?

The hardest thing I have to do is figure out little things that don’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things – like birthdays and last names.   The little details might not mean much plotwise in a book (does it really matter that Andrien likes sweets?) but sometimes they affect the course of a story (he has to drink medicinal tea without honey added). The easiest thing seems to be developing the broader personality of the characters.   I can usually tell early on what sort of person my characters are.

Who is your favorite character that you’ve written?

Senyn is my favorite character, followed by Emery. Both of them are faced with adversity and get through it – not because they pull themselves up by their bootstraps but because they learn to rely on others.

Who is one character you wish you had written?

I really liked the growth that Father Duncan showed in Katherie Kurtz’s Deryni series. He’s such a strong, intelligent, spiritual person. He doesn’t let other people’s issues with what he is define him. He is himself and true to himself through all sorts of adversity.

Is there a character type that intimidates you?

I think I have a lot of trouble writing cool aloof characters mostly because I’m such an emotional person that it’s harder for me to judge how a person who isn’t emotional would react given certain stimulus. (I’d cry, but that’s because I’m sensitive. This character won’t cry. What would they do?)

Is there a character type that you’re really good at?

Sensitive people, being similar to me, are easier for me to write, any character who shares something in common with my personality comes easier because I know how they will react.

Best tip/trick you’ve learned while writing characters?

I find role-playing (not formally with dice-rolls and such but informally and off the cuff) helps me figure out the motivations and reactions of my characters. I also try to keep the character’s established back-story in mind while I write.   I don’t want to contradict myself but even more importantly, I want the character to have verisimilitude.

Something More

Andrien stood on the very top of the gatehouse, looking over the hustle and bustle of the arriving nobles.  He was glad to be home if he was entirely honest with himself.  Traveling was nice and he’d seen sights he’d never expected to see before, however it was also tiring.  His back and legs still ached from the riding and walking he’d done on his journey.

The crenelations came to the middle of most men, making them come to almost chest level on him.  He leaned on the wall, secure in the knowledge that none of his father’s noble visitors could see him.  The Northhunters had arrived, he could see the running wolf emblem on their cloaks and the shields of their knights.  If they’d arrived then they were going to accept the king’s suit for peace between their two houses.

The Runecasters and Northhunters had been battling one another for longer than he had memory.  He sighed and pushed away from the wall.  His father would wonder where he was.  If he absented himself for too long, he’d be punished.

Andrien made for the south staircase.  Someone had modified it at some point in the past – some ancestor or other with too much time on his hands – such that the steps were much less steep than most in the castle.  If he asked the magister the man would likely bore him to tears with some old story so he’d simply decided that someone in the family’s past had been as short as he was.

His father would be furious if he ever mentioned that notion, but it soothed his bruised ego when he ran up the only flight of stairs in the entire castle that he could easily climb to get away from everyone – his sister and father especially.

“Father’s looking for you,” a cheerful voice greeted him as he rounded the corner at the base of the steps.  He looked up into the grinning face of his older brother, an honored member of the king’s guard.

“Here I am,” Andrien said.

“Walk with me,” Georgi said as he turned his steps toward the bailey.

“Take small steps,” Andrien said.  He fell into step – mostly – with his much taller older brother.  There was a difference of more than five hands between them in height.  He couldn’t possibly match the man’s stride.

It took longer than Georgi would have liked but they arrived in the bailey and came to stand behind their father.  The Northhunter’s delegation was already standing opposite them – the Lord and Lady Northhunter, their children, knights and men-at-arms.  He darted a glance at his father and caught a look that promised a good clout later if not a beating.  His father would never beat him if there were guests.

The king stood between the two parties.  He was a boyhood friend of Lord Northhunter and kin by marriage to the Runecasters.  It was within his best interests that peace be made between the two warring families.  “The feud between the Runecaster family and Northhunters threatens to bring the whole realm into civil war,” he said.  Andrien wasn’t entirely certain that the circumstances were that dire but he kept his mouth shut for once.  “Traditionally, the method for restoring peace between two such families is to join them in marriage.”

“Runecaster’s children are grown,” Lady Northhunter said.  “Ours are little more than children.”

“My youngest son is still unwed,” his father said.

Andrien startled and whirled to face him.  “Father!” he started.  He looked down, away from the stern look on his father’s face.  “Even their eldest daughter is still a little girl.”

“I’m not a little girl,” the girl in question said.  “I’m almost fifteen.”

“Even at her age she’s taller than you,” his sister murmured.  “Maybe it’s for the best.  You’ll need a stepladder for a fully grown woman.”

“I do just fine with fully grown women,” Andrien growled.  “I’ll be twenty-seven on my next naming day.  She’s young enough that she could nearly be my own daughter.”

“That will do, Andrien,” his father said.  His voice was soft.  The other assembled nobles likely didn’t hear the danger in the tone.  Andrien did, however.  He sighed and nodded, just once, to show he understood.  He’d pushed his father far enough.  “If your majesty requires a marriage to join our families in peace, my youngest son is amicable to the idea.”

“Amicable, yes,” Andrien agreed.  His tone was more resigned than anything.  He looked up at the girl who he was to be betrothed to.  She was pretty, with a promise of beauty as she grew to womanhood.  Her dark auburn hair was loose save for a pair of braids, one at each temple, which were drawn back to form a sort of headband.  Her eyes were wide and dark, but not round.  They were shaped much like a pair of half-moons, laid sideways.  A smattering of freckles danced over her nose and cheeks.

He eyes widened a fraction as she realized what was going on.  “I’m being betrothed?” she asked.

“So it would seem,” Lord Northhunter said.  “Shall we three discuss this in a more private setting?”  He sent a keen gaze toward the king.

“As you wish.”  The king led them away, his wife followed until both he and her father waved her away.  She turned back with a scowl at Andrien.

Andrien spun away, pointedly ignoring her.  He looked instead up at Lady Northhunter.  “My lady,” he said, keeping his tone deferential.  “It would seem you will soon enough be my mother-in-law.  It were best if we got to know one another better.  A walk in the garden, perhaps?”

“I suppose,” she said.  “Come along, Darina,” she added.  She smiled at the rest of her children and added, “Stay with the guards.”

Andrien led the way to the walled garden that wasn’t far from where the crowd milled in the bailey.  Once away from prying eyes, he relaxed a bit.  “A gift, is she?” he murmured.

“What?” Darina asked.

“Your name means gift in the old tongue,” he said.  He paused to look across a still pool.  Tiny fish swam beneath the placid waters.  He heaved a sigh and looked up at her.  “Are you scared?” he asked.  “You’ll be wed to… well, everyone here calls me a monster.”

“I’m not scared,” she said.  Her tone was firm enough but she held herself as far as she could from him while still standing not two feet away.

“You’re no monster,” Lady Northhunter said.  She caught him beneath the chin and looked him over.  “Handsome enough,” she said, “Even with that scar across your cheek and nose.”

“How’d you come by it?” Darina wanted to know.  She was curious in spite of herself, he could tell.  Andrien was old enough that most men his age were battle-seasoned, especially men from their houses.

“Battle,” he said.  “My first and last.”  He sighed.  “The breaking of the Siege of Kingsford – the reason why the king seeks to make peace now.  He can’t afford to have war both within and without.  If he can’t end the one, he must end the other.”

“I heard that you were instrumental in breaking the Siege,” Lady Northhunter said.

“I’ve studied strategy extensively.  Books teach facts and figures, but not much about blood and pain.”  He shook his head.  “I made a foolish gamble and it paid off.”  He looked between the two and sighed.  “I can’t say what the future will bring, my lady, but I make you this promise: on my honor, dubious as many may hold it, I will never hurt your daughter.”

“I thank you for your promise,” Lady Northhunter said.  She looked up, beyond him.  “It appears the meeting has already finished.”

“Then, I suppose, we’d best rejoin them.”  Andrien moved with as much speed as he could back to the entrance of the garden.  He could still feel the heat of his father’s gaze upon him.  The old fox always suspected plots, even when there was none.  He dearly hoped that the Northhunters would be careful around the old man.

“The arrangements have been made, satisfactory to both houses,” the king said.  “The formal betrothal ceremony will take place this very evening.”

“My elder son will show you to suitable quarters,” his father said.  “Andrien, a word with you.  You should know what will be expected of you in the ceremony.”

“Yes, Father,” Andrien said.  In moments they were alone in the garden.  He started to turn away but was brought up short by a strong grip on his arm.  He closed his eyes briefly.  It was best if his father didn’t know that he was afraid. “Father?” he said, keeping his voice steady.

“What exactly were you discussing with Lady Northhunter?” he asked, his voice was dangerously soft.

“Nothing really,” Andrien started.  He cried out as the larger man squeezed his elbow joint.  In spite of himself, he struggled and protested, “It hurts, Father.  Please.”

“What were you discussing?” he repeated.  His voice was only slightly louder now – still not loud enough to draw a crowd or even stares from passersby.

“My role in the breaking the Siege and I… promised her I’d never hurt her daughter.  That’s all.”  He tried once again to break free from his father’s grasp but the motion hurt.  He felt the bones in his elbow grinding together as the older man’s grip tightened.  “There was nothing more, I swear it. ”  He bit back a plea.  The older Runecaster would only be angrier if he thought his son was sniveling, no matter the pain he was in.

He met his father’s eyes just in time to catch the familiar look that always preceded a clouting and shifted his weight just enough to only receive a glancing blow.  Still, he stumbled as his father released him.  He stood, rubbing at his elbow and doing his best not to glare.

“You will be a proper husband to Lady Darina, Andrien.  It’s past time you were married anyway,” Father scolded.

Now his anger got the better of him.  “I was married, if you’ll recall.  You didn’t approve of her because she was a commoner but I was married.”

“She wasn’t a simple commoner.  She was a whore only after your name and money,” his father argued.  “That marriage was annulled and I’ll hear no more of it.  You will bed the little Northhunter and get her with child and the we’ll see to it that you inherit her father’s holding.”

“She has an older brother,” Andrien pointed out.  He felt his eyes widen in realization.  “The king is forcing me into this marriage to make a peace between our houses, not so you can grab more land and power,” he snapped.

He had enough time to realize that he’d pushed his father too far before the first blow fell.  By the time the older man was finished, he was on the ground, hands raised defensively, his eyes closed and head bowed.  His father stood panting over him.  “Get up,” he growled.  “Get yourself dressed.  The formal betrothal will be tonight.”

“Yes Father,” Andrien breathed.  He scrambled to his feet, nearly falling again as his injured elbow almost gave under him.  “By your leave, I’ll visit the magister first.”

“Go get dressed,” his father repeated.  “You aren’t so frail as that.”

“Yes, Father.”  Andrien bowed and spun away.  He moved as fast as he could back to the bailey and then into the gatehouse.  He would not cry in front of the servants to let word get back to his father.  Instead, he went up the one flight of stairs in the whole castle that he could easily mount.  He reached the uppermost floor faster than he dreamed possible and plopped down, cradling his elbow in one hand.  Tears blurred his vision but he dashed them away.

“So stupid,” he growled.  “Stupid bastard.”

“That’s not very nice,” a young sounding voice said from above him.  He looked up both startled and embarrassed at having been caught.  Before him was a little girl, like enough in looks to his betrothed that she must be a younger sister.  “Are you crying?  But adults don’t cry.”

Andrien surged to his feet and spun away.  “I’m not crying,” he snapped.

“Did you hurt your elbow?  Is that why you’re crying?” the girl persisted.

“I’m not crying,” he repeated.

“You should have the magister look at it.  It looks all swollen and red.  It must hurt a lot.  I’d cry too but I’m just a little girl.”

He spun to face her.  “I’m not crying,” he shouted, his voice cracking.  “My father said I wasn’t to see a magister.  I’m meant to be getting dressed for my betrothal.”

“Up here?” the girl asked.  She looked around, a frown puckering her lips.

“No, obviously not,” Andrien snapped.  “I’m disobeying him because I wanted to get away from everyone and quickly and I can’t climb any stairs except the south staircase of the gatehouse quickly enough.”  He heaved a sigh and spun away.  “Gods what a family I’m marrying into.  My wife will be terrified of me and my sister-at-law will be vexing in a way that no one has ever been before.”

“Allie?” a soft voice said from the north staircase.

“Here’s another one,” Andrien said.  “She’s up here.  Please take her with you so I can have some privacy.”

Wide gray eyes met his and the young man who’d been looking for Allie came fully into view.  He could only be Lord Emil, the Northhunter heir.  “Sorry if Albena was bothering you, Lord Andrien” he said.  “She’s curious and wanted to explore.”

“He’s meant to be getting dressed for his betrothal,” Albena said.

His brows twitched and he frowned in a vexingly similar expression to his younger sister.  “Up here?” he asked.

“No, not up here, obviously!” Andrien shouted.  “Gods, help me.”  He spun away and went back down the steps to the bailey.  His steps didn’t slow until he was in the keep and heading up to the second floor.  He set a hand on the banister to aid climbing the over-steep staircase and gasped as pain lanced down his arm.

He sat on the steps, clutching at his elbow and breathing slowly as he tried to master the pain.  After a moment he stood and started to reach out to grasp the banister once more.  As the pain shot through his arm again he cursed and leaned on the banister.

“Are you hurt, my lord?” a soft voice, holding the accent distinctive to the north, said from behind him.  Andrien spun around so fast that he stumbled off the steps.  He would have fallen had the speaker not caught him.  “Are you hurt?” Lord Northhunter asked once more.

Brown eyes met blue and Andrien looked away quickly.  “I fell,” he said, using his usual excuse.  “I’m clumsy.  Father says it’s not serious and I must get dressed for the betrothal feast.”

“Let’s get you up to your rooms then and I’ll send the magister to you so he can see to it.  Even wounds that aren’t serious should be seen to, lest they become more severe.”  He offered his arm to Andrien and helped him up the steep flight of stairs.

He moved slowly and with infinitely more patience than anyone had ever shown Andrien.  Soon enough, they reached the top of the stairs and Andrien stepped back.  “Thank you,” he said, his voice even softer than usual.  His eyes darted around for a moment as he searched for words.  No one had ever been so patient with him, even his older brother would hurry him on the stairs.  “My rooms are just down there.  The magister knows them.”

“I’ll send him up to you then.  Until the feast.”  Lord Northhunter inclined his head and took his leave.  It wouldn’t be hard for him to find the magister, even in an unfamiliar castle.  They were nearly always in one of the towers, or a set of rooms, often on the south side of the keep.

Andrien went to his rooms and paused at the looking glass.  Albena had been right in her assessment of his arm.  It was swollen and red.  He sighed and went to his wardrobe.  Using his left hand, he was able to pull out a crisp white dress tunic, dark red robe and slacks of a darker red.  The robe’s hems were trimmed with tiny running lions, reminiscent of the lion on his family’s crest.

He started to pull the tunic he was wearing off but was stymied by the pain in his elbow.  Behind him the door opened and he turned to find not just the magister but Lord Northhunter and his elder brother entering the room.

“Fell down again, Andrien?” Georgi asked.  “Did you break anything this time?”

“I’m having trouble moving my arm,” Andrien replied.  “I’ll need help dressing.”

“I’ll send for a servant.”  His brother departed, leaving him alone with the magister and his prospective father-in-law.

“Between the swelling and inability to move it, you might have dislocated your elbow,” the magister said.  The old man knelt down beside him and manipulated his arm slightly.  He nodded briskly and looked up at Lord Northhunter.  “My lord, if you would, hold him firmly.  I’ll need to move the joint back into alignment.”

Andrien stiffened as Lord Northhunter knelt beside him.  “Breathe,” he murmured to himself.  He leaned most of his weight on the older man, who was truthfully not much older than his elder brother, and closed his eyes.

He felt a strangely hot sensation in his elbow and then the pain of the bones moving back into place.  In spite of his best efforts, the pain was enough to send him to his knees and draw out a muffled cry.  In moments it was over.  The intense stabbing pain had eased to a dull throb and he opened his eyes to realized that he was sitting in Lord Northhunter’s lap.  “Sorry,” he breathed, starting to move to his feet.

“Let the magister bind it first, young one,” the northerner admonished.

Andrien felt heartily embarrassed by the position he’d put himself in but held his peace.  He watched as the magister wrapped binding cords from his upper arm, over his elbow to his lower arm.

“Those must remain in place for at least a week, my lord,” the old man said.  He held out a hand and eased Andrien to his feet.  “Did you strike your head when you fell this time?”

“No,” Andrien said quickly.  “Just my arm, this time.”

“Lord Andrien seems to fall quite often, especially when his father is frustrated with him,” the magister said.

Andrien felt his eyes widen and he fought the urge to shout at the man to shut his mouth.  Instead he looked away, shaking his head.  “Thank you both for your help,” he said briskly.

“Do you still have the sling that I gave you the last time you hurt your arm, my lord?” the magister asked.  “That was only about two months ago, as I recall.  The time before that you concussed yourself.”

“Yes, yes, that will do,” he snapped.  “I need to dress for dinner.”  He looked up as the door opened.  “Here is the servant that my brother found.  If you’ll excuse me?”

“Good day then,” the magister said.  He stood slowly and made his way out of the room.  Lord Northhunter paused to incline his head before he also left the room.

Georgi entered as they were leaving and settled on a chair as the servant began helping Andrien out of his clothes.  “Father managed to dislocate your elbow this time?” he said.

“Don’t you start too,” he murmured.  “The magister was practically telling Lord Northhunter all about how he abuses me.”

“There’s no one here but us two,” his brother said.

“Is the servant deaf or dumb, Brother?” he asked.

“Neither.  He’s a servant.”  His brother grinned and cast a glance at the young man who was now helping Andrien on with his tunic.  “He won’t talk about what we’re discussing.”

“Of course not, because servants never gossip,” Andrien said, sarcasm heavy in his tone.  “So, is my bride moving in with me or am I going to live in the North?”

“What and finally move out from under our father’s thumb?  You know he won’t allow that, little brother.”  He looked around and smiled.  “They’ll move you into bigger rooms finally, so there’s space for you and your bride and any… little ones that come along.”

“People can dream,” Andrien murmured, focusing on moving out from under his father’s thumb and not the notion of having children with a girl almost half his age.  He sighed and in spite of his admonitions to his brother about speaking freely in front of the servants, said, “He means for me to inherit the Northhunter’s holding, you know.”

“Brilliant trick if he could pull that off,” Georgi said wryly.  “They have three sons, two are younger than your intended but still… that’s about as likely as pigs flying or you growing another four or five hands in height.  It would be quite the coup if he managed it though.  He does realize that it would mean you’d have to move there, doesn’t he?”

“But then I’d owe him, Brother, and we always pay our debts,” Andrien said.  He waved the servant away as he went to find the sling that the magister had given him the last time he’d hurt his arm.  “He’s going to be furious when he sees my arm in a sling.  He didn’t want me to see the magister in the first place.”

“Then he shouldn’t have dislocated your elbow,” his brother snapped.

“Now, now, I fell,” Andrien pointed out.  “It dislocated when I fell.  Our dear, dear father had nothing to do with that.”

“Pigs have started flying now, have they?” Georgi said.  He turned and looked out the window.  “I do not understand how you put up with the way that he and Sister treat you.”

Andrien pulled the sling out of a drawer and turned toward his bed but found his brother already there.  “Let me help you with that,” the older man said.  “It feels better, right?”

“I’m fine, Brother,” Andrien assured him.  “Father is going to be furious.”  He looked away as Georgi adjusted the fall of the fabric and clipped the portion of material behind his elbow so the sling wouldn’t slide.  “How are we going to handfast if my right hand is in a sling?”

“Use your left hand,” Georgi said.  “Maybe he’ll learn not to hurt you before a major event.”

“Maybe I’ll learn to keep my mouth shut,” Andrien said.  He snorted in wry amusement.  “Actually this was because he didn’t think I was being entirely truthful.  He wanted to know what I said to Lady Northhunter.”

“What did you say to her?” Georgi said.  He stepped back to examine his handiwork.  “You’ll do.”

“Thanks,” Andrien said, his tone dry.  “I assured her that I have no intention of hurting her daughter.”

“Why would you hurt your wife?” Georgi said.

“Because she’s a little girl and getting married and it’s implied that we will consummate the union and a frightened little girl might get hurt in such a process.”  He sighed and headed toward the door.  Anticipating his brother’s next question he added, “I have no intention of bedding an unwilling girl, especially one who is almost half my age.  Best to wait until she’s ready.”

“What if she’s never ready?” Georgi asked.  “Will you continue on with your paramour?”

“Mila?”  He sighed and closed his eyes.  “At least until we’re actually married.  So stupid.”

“You’re in love with her,” Georgi said.  “You knew father would never allow such a thing.  Why would you let yourself fall for her?”

“It wasn’t like I could plan it or control it,” Andrien snapped.  “I tried to keep things… professional.  I tried to convince myself that she was only… after the money I pay her.  She’s so… she says that she is mine and I hers.”

“You pay her well to stroke your ego as well as your cock, little brother,” Georgi said.  “Best to end it quickly before Father finds out and ends it for you.”

“I’ll talk to her,” he said.  “Let’s go down to the feast.”  He headed out the door.  If he had his way he’d have a good start on strong drink before the ceremony.  Then he could blame whatever was said on the drink.

 

He stood with his family, across the courtyard from the Northhunter family.  Darina looked beautiful, but still so very young and frightened as she stood with her parents.  Her auburn hair was loose and bedecked with a wreath of bright flowers.  Her gown was blue with silver wolves chasing one another around the cuffs and hem, much like the lions on his robe were.  More silver embroidery accented her collar, high to emphasize her young age.

“Who gives these youths into union with one another?” the magister asked.

Behind him his father said, “I do.”  He heard the Lord and Lady Northhunter repeat the words across from him.

“Let the union between the youths of these two house signal an age of peace between these houses, just as the union will join the two families into one, let it join the kingdom, east and west,” the king added.

“So be it,” the magister said.  “Are the youths willing to be joined in this way?”

“I am,” Andrien said.  He shook his head slightly in spite of himself.  He knew it was necessary but he wasn’t happy about it.

His intended bride sniffled slightly but nodded.  “I am,” she said, her voice catching slightly.

“Let the four Guardians bless this union,” the magister said.  “Let the winds swirl from the east; let the waves roar to the west; let the fires burn in the south; let the earth tremble to the north in blessing of this union.”  He paused for a moment, as if waiting for the events he described to happen.  There might have been a slight breeze that answered his call but no fires, flood or earthquakes came to his call.

Andrien was already moving when the magister bade them come together and join hands.  He asked them a series of questions, assuring all present that they would honor, respect, protect and shelter one another, all the while wrapping a cord around their respective hands and wrists.

“Now you are bound together, though the cord is not tied,” the magister said.  “At a time chosen by both parents this binding will be made more permanent, the cord will be tied and you will be husband and wife.  Now you are bride and groom.  Let love grow between you as you learn one another’s ways.  Above you is the sun and below the earth.  Like the sun, let your love be a source of light and like the earth, let it be a strong foundation for your lives together.”

He carefully released them without unraveling the bonds that he made and they went between the two families and into the keep.  Andrien couldn’t help but wonder as he followed his bride up the steps and through the enormous double doors what the future held for them.

Lonely and Cold

Answering the prompt I found at WriYe’s dreamwidth page: snow


 

He sat shivering in the deepest cell his sister could find for him.  He wanted to say he shivered not from the cold or even from fear.  He was to die and he knew it.  He had known it for quite some time now.  She would kill him in the worst possible fashion.  Either his lungs would be drawn out of his still living body to resemble strange misshapen wings or he would be set out in the cold to die of exposure.  Either would be torturous and painful.  He wanted to say he was shaking from anger.  Instead, he couldn’t say why he was shaking – perhaps he was merely hungry.

Andrien looked up at the tiny window high in the wall.  He could hear voices outside as the great lords discussed his case.  They’d already found him guilty of killing the young king in a trial by combat.  The fact that the young king had been his nephew made it an act of kinslaying as well.  His head would be forfeit even if the boy had not been monarch.

He’d killed his father.  He didn’t deny it.  He closed his eyes briefly.  Killing his father had been one of the most terrifying things he’d ever done.  His eyes flew open as his father’s angry gaze appeared in his mind’s eye.  That gleam that mingled anger wit something else, something darker, had always been in his father’s eyes before he’d beaten Andrien.  After everything he’d been through, he had been sure he couldn’t endure another beating, so he’d killed the man and fled.

He groaned and covered his face with his hands.  Killing his father would be a second act of kinslaying.  For this second act he would be subject to impalement.  The headsman was terrifying enough to face but at least the death was relatively quick.  Impaling, done right could take a day, maybe more.  He let out a shudder and looked up as a sound reached his ears.

They were discussing, he was sure, whether he’d killed his uncle as well.  He hadn’t but his sister seemed convinced he was out to slay the whole family.  That would be a third instance of kinslaying.  Three such murders were punishable by hanging, drawing and quartering.

He shook his head and stood, moving away from the window – trying not to hear what was said.  The fourth and most damning was his mother.  He had killed her.  He couldn’t deny it.  He shuddered more and shook his head.  If he was found guilty of kinslaying concerning his mother how many children and infants would be slain.  Even if it weren’t for the horrific penalty associated with the level of kinslaying he was being tried for, he must convince the council, if not his sister to exonerate him of that.

“God, help me,” he murmured.  It was, he realized, his first prayer not guided by a priest – either from the religion he was born to or the one he’d found himself embracing as he lived in Obria.  He swallowed thickly and pounded on the door as hard as he could.  “Turnkey!” he should.  “Come here.  I must talk to the council.”  He pounded on the door for ten or fifteen minutes before someone arrived/

The turnkey was a brutish man – broad of shoulder and heavily muscled.  His eyes seemed small for his face and he scowled down at Andrien as if he couldn’t understand what was happening.

“I would speak with the council,” Andrien said.  “Please,” he added when the man turned away.

With a grunt, the man turned back and caught him up by the back of his shirt.  He half walked, half-dragged behind the man as they went up the stairs and into the courtyard where the council was discussing his case.

“What is the meaning of this?” his sister asked.  She didn’t shout.  Her voice was soft, controlled, and Andrien knew, dangerous.

“I would speak to the council,” Andrien said.  “It is my right as the scion of a noble line, no matter the accusation against me.”

“He speaks true,” one of the councilors said.  “Lord Andrien, what defense would you give on your own behalf?”

Andrien staggered as the guard set him none-too-gently on his feet.  “I’ve already been found guilty of the slaying of my nephew the king,” he said softly.  “I can protest my innocence until the last days of this earth and none of you will credit it.  I,” he hesitated, looking over at his brother.  The older Runecaster looked away, not meeting his eyes.  “I freely admit that I killed my father.  I… Like as not you don’t see it as an excuse, but I was afraid that he meant to beat me and angry.  He’d called my late wife a whore.  It’s a slim excuse but… that’s all I have.”

He looked up, meeting his sister’s eyes; forcing her to hold his gaze.  “I did not kill our uncle but you likely won’t believe me in that regard.  So there is only this.”  He looked down at his chained wrists and sighed.  “Whatever my crimes and I’ll agree they are many; please do not find me culpable for the death of my mother.  Think of the dangerous precedent such an action sets.  How many women die each year in childbirth?  Shall we call the babes kinslayers now and behead them for their crimes?”

“If there is nothing else, we will withdraw to discuss this,” one of the councilors said.  The handful of men stood and left the courtyard.  Andrien stood where he’d been set by the guard.  He startled when something cold and wet touched his nose.

Moments later the air was filled with tiny swirling flakes.  It was what the Obrians had told him they called fairy snow – tiny flakes that quickly mounted into drifts.  He remembered the first time he’d seen snow almost six moths ago in that land that now seemed so far away.

He’d stood, staring in wonder at the tiny flakes as they danced through the sky.  He hadn’t seen snow in so long he’d forgotten what it looked like.  He looked around and saw the gathered crowd was likewise entranced by the soft white flakes.  Andrien closed his eyes but opened them quickly when a hand touched his shoulder.  Around him the snow was falling so thickly and the wind was blowing so strongly that he could hardly see the people who’d been around him.  They had all-but-disappeared behind the white blanket.

He turned to see who had his should and was confronted by a stranger in long blue robes that were lined with fur.  The man was dark of skin, hair and eye and there was something about him that Andrien thought he might recognize.  He beckoned once and drew Andrien behind him.

All around them, people cried out for help and moved blindly in the sudden blizzard but no one came near Andrien and the stranger.  With sure steps the stranger guided him out of the castle and through the city then through the gate.  The blizzard hid them, he knew.  Andrien shivered in his prison-worn clothes.  He’d been left with only a shirt, breeches and his boots.

Just past the gate, his strength failed.  “I can’t, please sir.  I can go no further.”

“You must, my child,” the stranger said.  He pointed.  “Follow the foxes.  They will lead you to safety.”

Two small forms loomed out of the swirling snow.  Two small ice foxes stood before him and all at once Andrien knew who had rescued him from certain death.   “My God,” he breathed.

A flash of white teeth and the being before him swirled the blue cloak off his own shoulders, setting the warm cloth over Andrien’s shoulders.  “Follow the foxes,” he repeated and then he was gone.

Andrien looked at the pair of soft gray canines and gasped as they set off with a bounding gait.  He ran after them, struggling to keep up in the heavy cloak.  “Wait,” he breathed.  “Please.”  They seemed not to hear him and he was only barely able to keep them in sight in the swirling blizzard.  He staggered as he lost them completely.  Dispair smothered any hope he might have felt.  Tilvar was called the North Father or the Stormbringer.  He’d rescued Andrien and set him on the path but now he was lost and in a storm that he was entirely unprepared for.

He plopped down on the ground and began to feel his way along the path but the way was slow and he was terribly cold.  A sob caught in his throat and he huddled miserably in his borrowed cloak.  “Help!” he said.  Tears blurred his vision but he dashed them away.  Runecasters did not cry.  He stood once more and began to move along the road by the feel of the ground beneath him.

Once again his strength failed and he plopped down on the softened path.  Snow was beginning to mount up.  He’d die of the cold anyway.  What was the point in rescuing him only to kill him now?

“God, why?” he said.  His shoulders began heaving in silent sobs.  He startled when he felt a hand on his shoulder.  He looked up to find the storm had slowed nearly to a stop and his brother stood above him.

“Love to know how you managed that disappearing act,” he said wryly.  “Sister is furious.  The council agreed with you.  Naming you a kinslayer for your role in our mother’s death pushes that issue into territories they aren’t willing to.”

“What are you going to do… with me, I mean?” Andrien said.

“”I’m going to find your body frozen in the snow, bury it in an unmarked grave as befits a kinslayer and you’re going to go back to Obria – or wherever else you wish.”  Georgi knelt beside him.  “I can’t go against her but you are my own dear little brother and I can’t see you harmed.”  He pushed a weighty purse into Andrien’s hands and added, book passage on a ship bound across the sea.”

“How’d you find me?” Andrien asked.

“A strange young man came to me after the storm eased a bit and told me I should follow him if I wished to see you safe.”  He gave his little brother a quick hug and then spun away.  In moments he was gone.

Andrien turned down the road in the other direction.  He’d never felt so alone in his life but he was alive and free and he knew a life awaited him in Obria.  Huddled in the thick blue cloak, he headed down the road, able now to see where he was going.

The Handkerchief

Written on the occasion of the funeral of a dear friend who saw me through a great deal of my childhood, Mary Cloke.  I  realized the the handkerchief that I’d been using throughout the funeral was also the same one my sister had given me for my wedding years previous and this poem was my way of reconciling the two extremes.

Tears of Joy

—The start of a new life

—A new beginning

—Two become one

Tears of Sorrow

—The end of a life

—A new beginning

—A short separation

The tears mingle together

—An end…

——A beginning…

———Mingle

Life continues

Doll-panties

I found the original idea here: http://kerlaine.canalblog.com/archives/p60-10.html but it’s in French and doesn’t seem to specify the size of sock to use.  You could also trim the edges of the legs with lace or ribbon for something fancier.

I hope that the picture is large enough.  The doll I made it for is one of the Hearts for Hearts Girls.  The original site was made for the Les Cheries.  I imagine that the pattern would fit other 14 inch dolls too.  Larger socks might be usable for 18 inch dolls or even Cabbage Patch type dolls.

I’m posting (re-posting) this mostly because doll clothes for this size is hard to find.  Both the Paola Reina and Les Cheries are from Europe (Spain and France, respectively) so the patterns and tutorials are usually in Spanish or French.

Part Six

Emil washed quickly and changed into a long, thick nightshirt and climbed into bed.  As he had on the road, Lukas sat beside him, ruffling his hair and singing softly to him until he slept.

He woke slowly very early the next morning.  Both of his brothers were still sleeping and he slipped out of the bed, torn between curiosity and anxiety.  He wanted to explore the inn, as he could not have done the previous night due to his exhaustion, but he wanted to stay close to his brothers.

In the end curiosity won out and he crept down to the common room in his nightshirt and stockings.  The front door was already open and the innkeeper stood talking to a man who had long blond hair and green eyes that seemed to roam around the empty room on their own.  All of these detail Emil was able to take in as he stood on the bottom step not more than a foot away from the pair.

Then the stranger seemed to noticed Emil standing there.  “But who’s this?” he said.  He stepped closer and met Emil’s eyes.  “Are you the young potential that I’ve heard so very much about, then?” he asked.

“You’ve heard about me?” Emil asked, suddenly nervous.  “From who?”

“Whom,” the stranger corrected automatically.  “I’ve heard about you from the innkeeper.  Apparently, you and your brothers caused a bit of excitement last night.  I’ve heard about your ilk from those in the capital.  They are very keen to gather young potentials such as yourself there and put them through an education program.”

“Brother says I need to learn control,” Emil murmured.  “I don’t think I want to go to the capital though.”

“You are correct in your thinking, my boy,” the man said.  “The school they have is less for education and more for indoctrination.  Do you know what that means?”

Emil shook his head.  He looked up as his brother answered the question from further up the stairs.  “It means that they teach you to think the way they want.  They won’t just teach you to control your magic.  They’ll put you under their control as well.”

“That’s scary,” Emil said.

“It is,” Lukas agreed.  “Hello, Kurland,” he greeted the stranger.  “So news from the capital is pretty bad.”

“It is… as bad as I’d feared and worse.  Magic-users cannot be in this land without being on the government coin and it won’t be long before even that won’t save them.  Anyone with any sense is leaving.”

“Where will we go?” Emil asked.

“The lands t the east… the south… the east, all are suitable for most.  For people with your particular affliction, Lukas, I’d suggest either the east or west.  The southern lands are too sunny for people so sensitive to the light.”

“We’re closer to the western border,” Lukas said.  “Can you help us, Kurland?  We don’t know anyone beyond this village.  This is as far as even Daniel has traveled.”

“I can’t go with you but I can give you a letter of introduction and a map that marks safe houses for those of our kind, Lukas,” Kurland said.  “If the red-coats should get a hold of that sort of map though… the whole network would be compromised and everything we’ve worked for would be lost.”

“Don’t give us the whole map and don’t mark it obviously.  Just… point the places out to us so we know where to go,” Lukas said.  He grinned and shook his head.  “Rather point them out to Daniel since I can’t read maps.  The print is always too small for my eyes.”

“If you’re a magic-user won’t you be in danger?” Emil asked.  “An what about me learning control?”

“That will have to wait until you’re someplace safer, but I can give you a damper that will keep your magic from loosing on its own,” Kurland said.  “As for me… no one knows that I have magic.  I’ve never used it where anyone could trace it to me.  Don’t worry, I’ll be careful and get out of this place before it gets too hot.  Meantime, I have to help others, like I’m helping you.”

“Thank you,” Emil said.  He sighed and looked back at his brother.  He was relieved that his magic wouldn’t loose itself but he wished that he knew better how to control his powers as his brother seemed to.

“Hold your arm out,” Kurland instructed.  He slipped a silver bracelet over Emil’s outstretched arm and then stepped back with a satisfied nod.  “That should do it. You’ll still be able to call up your magic if you’re in danger and need it but it won’t loose unless you release it.”

Emil nodded and scowled down at the silver band around his wrst.  It was plain and unadorned but if he squinted, he could almost see words inscribed on the surface.  The words seemed to move and shift making them impossible to read, though they were most assuredly there.

“The words are the dampening spell set into it,” Lukas explained.  “If it was complete… closed, then your magic would be locked within.  With this little break in it, you can still work magic, but only if you want to.  Do you feel a bit better?”

Emil nodded and hugged his brother.  “So… what happened yesterday won’t happen again?”

“No,” Lukas said firmly.  “And remember Emil, that was the magic, acting on its own, not you.  You are a good boy, Emil.  You would not willingly harm anyone, having magic now doesn’t change who you are.  Now go get dressed and wake Daniel so we can prepare to go.  We have a long way to travel to the border and a long time until we’re free.”

Emil murmured agreement and bounded up the steps.  He couldn’t help but wonder what awaited them on the other side of the western border and what it would be like to be free?  How would things change in another land?  What would learning control be like?

Emil sat drowsing over his stew as his brothers spoke quietly with Daniel’s friend.  The friendly couple who’d helped them earlier had left hours ago but Emil had been too anxious to eat then.  Now he was too tired.  His brothers, however didn’t seem to notice how tired he was.  They continued to talk long after the common room was almost deserted.

He watched Daniel’s friend through half-lidded eyes as he tried to figure the man out.  He was a few years older than Daniel and obviously more worldly and well-traveled.  He’d brought out several maps and the three of them sat studying the maps, discussing routes and destinations.

“Brother?” he whispered when there was a short lull in the conversation.

“You haven’t touched your stew, Emil,” Daniel said seriously.  He set a hand on the younger boy’s forehead and murmured, “Are you feeling alright?”

“I’m fine.  I’m too tired to eat,” he replied.

“I’ll take him up to the room,” Lukas volunteered.  “We should all be turning in soon.  I’m sure that the proprietor would also like to be getting to bed before the dawning.  He stood and grabbed their travelling bags.  “Let’s go, Emil.  I want you to get washed up before you climb in bed.”

“Of course,” Emil said.  “I’m exhausted but I have to take a bath, it’s been over two days after all.”  He followed his brother up the sraircase out of the common room and into a long narrow corridor.

“Here’s our room.  I asked them to bring us some hot water for bathing.  You go first, little brother,” Lukas said.

Emil sighed and headed inside.  He dropped his bag beside the door and his cloak soon followed it.  Then he loosened his tie and drew it off with his sweater.  He kicked off his boots and then focused on unbuttoning his shirt.

He spun around, a protest on his lips.  The protest quickly died as he saw his older brother, held in the arms of a law-giver, his long red coat proclaiming him though Emil couldn’t see him clearly enough to distinguish his features.  He opened his mouth to call for help and the point of a sword swam into view.

“Not a word, Boy,” the man growled.  He pushed Lukas into the room and then entered himself, pushing the door shut behind him.  “Where’s the other one?”

“Not here, Lukas snapped, as he moved between the law-giver and Emil.

“It doesn’t matter.  It’s the two of you that we want,” the law-giver said.  “You, boy, get your clothes back on and then you’ll be coming with me.”

Emil shook his head, his eyes wide with fright.  He didn’t want to go anywhere with this man.  “Where are you going to take us?  What do you want with us?  We’ve done… We’re just travelling.”  He couldn’t bring himself to say he’d done nothing wrong.  Not when he’d killed people just that morning.

“You have a great deal of potential, little one.  The powers that be want to make sure that those gifts of yours are used for the betterment of all.”

“You mean for the betterment of those in power,” Lukas protested.  He darted toward the law-giver.  Emil gasped at the suddenness of the movement.  Then something gray protruded from his back and he stiffened.  With a soft groan he slumped to the ground.

Emil screamed.  Then he ran to his brother’s side.  Lukas was still and Emil couldn’t tell if he was alive or not.  He looked up at the law-giver and saw that the man was startlingly clear.  He looked as shocked as Emil felt and unlike the law-givers that morning, his soul was not monstrous, merely dark.

He looked down at his brother and saw a nimbus had surrounded Lukas.  “Don’t die, brother,” he whispered hoarsely.  He looked up as the law-giver moved toward them, bloodied sword in hand.  “Stay away from us!” he shouted.  The man was thrown back against the wall.

Then the door opened beyond him and Daniel and his friend entered.  “Luke!” Daniel cried.  he started toward his brother but his friend caught him.

“He’s locked in his magic right now, Dan,” he whispered.

“He’s my brother.  He wouldn’t hurt me.  See to the law-giver.”  He knelt down and met the youngest brother’s eyes.  “Emil, can you see me?” he asked.

“Lukas is hurt,” Emil said.  He felt far younger than his ten years suddenly.  He just wanted everything to be alright.  He closed his eyes, as he had when they’d been in the tunnel, imagining Lukas whole and well, imagining the law-giver far away from them, far away from anyone.  Then he felt a hand on his and looked up to find Lukas staring at him with a look of pure wonder on his face.

“Where did he send the red-coat?” Daniel’s friend murmured.

“Far away from anyone,” Emil said.  He threw himself into Lukas’s arms with a sob.  “I was so scared, brother.  You were so hurt and… he was going to take me away from… I don’t want to go with any of them.  I… want to stay with you.”

“There, there, little brother,” Lukas said.  Then Emil felt Daniel’s arms join his and they were all hugging one another, crying and laughing at once.

When they had regained their composure  Daniel shook his head.  “How did you do that?” he asked.

“I just imagined it,” Emil said.  “Brother’s always saying imagination and love and music are powerful magic.”

“What would happen if you combined them all?” Daniel whispered.

“That was just two of them, brother,” Lukas said softly.  “Let’s get you washed up and into bed, Emil.  All that magic is going to catch up to you.  Kurland will be here tomorrow and… we’ll see where to go from there.”

“We might be leaving this land altogether,” Daniel said.  “A lot of mages are.  My friend is helping them.  Kurland… it all depends on what he was able to learn in the capital.”

The day dragged on and the brothers walked.  Most of the time they followed the road.  Sometimes, they cut across farmer’s fields.  Occasionally, they stopped to eat or drink.  Eventually, as the stars were beginning to brighten in the sky and the moon edged over the horizon, they reached an inn that stood at the edge of a village.

“My friend lives there, little brother,” Daniel said.  “We’re nearly there.”

Emil looked up at his oldest brother and smiled wanly.  He was nearly exhausted; more interested in sleep than dinner.  He followed his brothers into what turned out to be a crowded common room.  Lukas led him to a spot near the corner of the room, away from the hearth while Daniel went off to talk to someone.

He slumped into a seat and sighed deeply.  They had been through so much in such a short period of time.  It felt like his life was falling apart at the seams.  He groaned softly and laid his head down on the table, wishing he could sink into the ground.

“Emil, look at me,” Lukas said sharply.  When their eyes met, he whispered, “Remember the most powerful magic?”

“Imagination, music and love,” Emil replied, his tone almost sullen.  “What happened this morning…”

“Happened because love was involved – the love you have for us and for your kitty.  That love made you want to protect us and your magic responded to that wish,” Lukas said.  “Just don’t make the magic respond to any other wishes, eh?”

Emil blinked and looked down.  He could see that the boards beneath his chair had buckled as if pushed by some unseen force.  Then he looked up at Lukas, his eyes wide and terrified.  “Brother, I don’t want it.”

“You’ve always had it, Emil.  Now you must learn to control it; or it will control you,” Lukas said.  His voice was calm and soothing.  He caught Emil’s hand and flashed him a smile.  he looked up as a serving wench came to their table.

“Something to eat or drink?” she asked.

“Strew and bread for three,” Lukas said.  He laid a coin down on the table as he added, “Cider to drink.”

“As you wish,” she said.  She took the coin and headed off, swaying her hips meaningfully as she walked.

“I think she likes you, brother,” Daniel teased as he sat down beside Emil.

“She knows me for a traveler and figures I’ll bring her out of this work-a-day life she finds herself in,” Lukas corrected.  “Are our friends about?”

“Mine is,” Daniel replied.  “They expect yours to arrive tomorrow.  He’s been to the capital.  Word is that they’re gathering together the young potentials to teach them the right way.”  He shook his head.  “Those beyond that point, of course, can’t relearn and are put into camps or prisons; depending on if they’ve been actively practicing magic.”

They looked up sharply when a girl ran into the inn.  “Red-coats!” she shouted hoarsely.

A taller man came over and caught Emil by his shoulder suddenly.  Before the boy could do more than open his mouth to protest, he was pushed into a chair at the table of a couple he did not know.  “Sir, Madam, your son is joining you for dinner.”

“Of course,”the said.  “Just act naturally, son.  Everything is fine.  We won’t turn you over to the red-coats.”

Emil nodded and glanced over his shoulder, back at the table where the stranger now sat with Daniel.  Lukas was nowhere to be seen and he looked down at his hands, fisted in his lap.  His kitten wriggled out of his pack to hop to the ground and then jumped up into his lap, demanding to be petted.

“I thought we told you to leave the kitten home, dear,” the woman said.

“I meant to… Mama,” Emil said.  “He… he doesn’t listen to me and hates to stay home alone.”  He looked up as the red-coats entered.

“We’re looking for three boys, ranging from age ten to age nineteen, travelling as a group from the north,” the captain of the law-givers said.  He looked around.  “The younger two are very fair and nearly blind.  The law-bringer would like a word with them.  Has anyone like that passed this way since early this morning?”

There were murmurs around the room that were either negative or uncertain and the man scowled.  He looked toward the table that Emil was seated at. Emil forced himself to focus his gaze as best he could on the places he knew the man’s eyes to be.  Blind people, or those who were nearly so, did not meet the gaze of anyone – at least that was the common belief.

“How old are you, boy?” the red-coat snapped.

“E-eleven this past March,” Emil lied.  He glanced at the woman who still had a had on his.  “Mama?” he queried.

“This is you son?” the red-coat asked her.  His voice sounded a trifle uncertain now.

“This is our Felix.  He was sickly when he was small and didn’t grow very well.  But he’ll be fine.  Takes after his father, he does,” she said.  She tousled Emil’s hair in a motherly gesture and he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to stale, to have a mother and father in reality, instead of simply to fool the red-coats.  He glanced at the man and smiled.  His hair was nearly as fair as Emil’s or Lukas’s.

Since the tale was so believable the red-coat went on.  He question several others but, finding nothing in the end left.  Admonishing everyone to tell the law-givers should the three boys show up.  There were nods and murmurs of agreement all around the room.  Then the man left, his troops following behind him like a very small and silent parade.

The townspeople waited a full minute to begin chatting once again.  Then Lukas came over and sat on Emil’s other side.  “Alright, little brother?” he asked, his voice immanently calm.

“Lukas,” Emil said.  He leaned on the older boy’s chest and took a shuddering breath.  “I was so scared.  Where did you go?”

“I hid in the back room of the kitchen,” he said.  “Thank you for helping my brother,” he said to the couple they were seated with.

“You’re Kurland’s friend, right?’ the man asked.  At Lukas’s nod and smiled.  “Any friend of Kurland is a friend of ours.  We were happy to help.”

Emil woke all at once the next morning with a gasp.  He sat up, his heart pounding in his chest.  He couldn’t fathom what had woken him, certainly not so suddenly.  Was it a dream, or had he heard something?  Was the redcoat troop riding back along the road?  Had they been found.

He looked up and sighed.  The moon was moving toward its setting.  It floated, like a ghostly galleon upon cloudy seas above them.  He stood and crept toward the edge of the copse that they’d sheltered in.  He looked out over the moors and sighed.  There was nothing on the road that he could see.

“What are you doing up?” Daniel called softly from across the campsite.  “Hungry?”

Emil sat up and turned toward his brother in one fluid motion.  He sighed and plucked at his bow tie.  “Not sure,” he replied.  “I woke up like I’d had a bad dream.  I don’t remember dreaming though.”  He stood and walked across the copse to sit beside Daniel.  “Thought we were going to walk until we got there.”

“You and Lukas were too tired for that, really,” he said.  “Magic takes a lot out of you.”

Emil sighed.  “I don’t have magic.  Lukas might but, not me.”

“You have it too,” Daniel corrected.  He shook his head and sighed.  “I’m more like Papa was and you two are like Mama.”

“I don’t remember them,” Emil said.  He leaned against a tree and looked up at the slowly brightening sky through the tree branches.  “Mama died of that fever I got when I was little.  What happened to Papa?”

“Stupid,” Daniel murmured.  “He left me in charge of you two and went to find work in the neighboring town… ended up going to the big city… He wrote to us as often as he could.  He sent money… at first.  He saw to it that I was able to finish school… and Lukas… and you started.  Then the money stopped coming and a letter followed.  It was all very official.  There had been and accident in the factory that he was working in.  He was among those killed.  It was under investigation.”

“So we’re orphans,” Emil said.  He sighed and shook his head.  “I always knew it… no one ever said though and I… Papa was never there… not since I can remember.”

“You were so little when he left.  You were still in diapers when Mama died and you were hardly more than toddling around the house when he left.  I’ve been both your Mama and your Papa, I suppose… Lukas too, really.”

“Just tell me I’m not magic because of my other condition,” Emil said.  “The stories…”

“Are just that,” Lukas put in.  “We’re just magic and albinos.  The two aren’t connected.  Mama wasn’t an albino.  Her hair was the same color as Daniel’s  Papa wasn’t either for that matter.  I guess that it’s back there in the family line someplace or we wouldn’t both have it, but it’s not connected to the magic.”

“Thought you wanted to sleep,” Daniel said.

“Who can sleep with you two chattering like magpies?” Lukas asked.  He stood.  “Let’s get breakfast into us and get moving again.”

“The sun will be bright for you,” Daniel said.

“We have hats o s our eyes,” Lukas said, his tone sharp.  He sighed and spun away.  “I appreciate your concern, Daniel.  It’s not that… but we have to keep moving.  I don’t like it out in the open and… it’s too risky.”

“Because of the law-givers,” Emil said.  He stood too and sighed.  “So, what’s for breakfast?”

“Whatever Daniel packed,” Lukas said.  “Go wash up by the stream.”

“Code for older brothers have to talk and little brother doesn’t need to hear,” Emil said.  He rolled his eyes and headed off toward the stream.  He saw the white fluffy blurr that was his kitten as he walked.  “Bet you that they’re figuring that we should leave you behind someplace,” he said softly as he knelt beside the stream.

The cat chirped and batted at Emil’s hands and he chuckled.  “Never going to happen,” he said.  “You are my cat and no one else’s.”

He washed his face and hands in the stream.  He scrubed his hands dry against his pant-legs and sighed.  It was getting bright outside.  He’d need to wear a hat or risk being blinded by the sun.  He looked up at the sky, which was brightening toward a brilliant blue shade.  “You just couldn’t stay cloudy,” he said his tone sour.

He’d finished washing up so he headed back toward the camp but the sound of raised voices made him pause.  He caught his kitten in his arms and knelt down in the shrubbery that surrounded the campsite.  He could see the campsite was now full of law-givers.

“We’re doing nothing wrong,” Daniel said, his voice firm.  “Last time I checked, people could still travel freely, or is that illegal too now?”

“Daniel,” Lukas growled, his voice tense.

“No, it isn’t illegal to travel but… this is very sudden, isn’t it, Master Martson.  Where are you going?  Is it just the two of you?” the law-giver said.

“There are three travelling bags, sir,” one of the men said.

“So then… three travelers as well,” the law-giver said.  “We were told to be on the lookout for three brothers, Master Martson.  The law-bringer would like a word with at least two of them, and now I wonder if that group would be… you.”  He looked around the campsite and frowned.  “You are camped quite a distance from the road.”

“My brother has very sensitive eyes,” Daniel said softly.  “We have the third pack for a friend who will be joining us later.  I’ve been carrying it.”

“Somehow, I find myself not believing you,” the law-giver said.  He drew his sword and Emil bit back a gasp.  Then, his cat struggled free of his arms and ran toward the clearing.

Emil bit back a cry as he tried to catch the little feline.  He hesitated a moment as his kitten ran out to glare up at the law-giver and growl.  Then the law-giver leveled his sword, almost negligently at the cat.

“No!” Emil shouted.  Suddenly, the law-givers in the clearing became incredibly sharp and clear.  They hardly looked human, especially the man who was about to kill his kitten.  It was as if they were monsters instead of humans.  Then, as if they were puppets whose strings had been cut, they fell to the ground.  Something that glowed with a strangely daand Emil slumped to the ground.

His kitten chirped and bounded across the grass toward him but Daniel caught it and picked it up.  “That was very dangerous,” he started to scold.

“Wait, Dan,” Lukas said sharply.  He knelt down where he was, trying to meet Emil’s eyes, even though he couldn’t really see the other boy clearly.  “Emil, look at me,” he said, his voice incredibly gentle.

Emil raised his eyes.  The law-givers were no longer clear; nor did they look monstrous.  Tears welled in his eyes.  “I killed them,” he whispered.  “They were clear and they looked like monsters and… then they went away and then they all fell down and… I killed them.”

“Not you, the magic.  That’s what Daniel and I were discussing.  Your magic is awakening.  That’s why we have to get you… out of here.  I have a friend who knows a place where you can learn control.  When you learn control, the magic won’t do anything unless you want it to.”

“We should go,” Daniel murmured.  He started breaking down the camp and sighed as he looked up at the horses that the law-givers had ridden to their campsite.  “We can’t take these, can we?”

“No, folks would talk,” Lukas said.  “Can you stand, Emil?”

“We can’t leave them for the carrion eaters, brother,” Emil whispered.  He stood and looked over the fallen forms of the men and sighed.  “It wouldn’t be right.  The village priest said that if people don’t get a proper burial then they can’t go to heaven.”

“We’ll bury them then,” Daniel said softly.  “You… help Lukas take care of clearing the campsite.  I’ll take care of them.”

Emil nodded and followed Lukas over to their bedrolls.  He sighed as he listened to Daniel begin the task of digging a hole to bury the law-givers in.  “Magic is dangerous,” he whispered.

“It wouldn’t have been if they hadn’t frightened you,” Lukas said, his voice tense. “Your magic moved to protect you.  Without direction… it pushed their souls free of their bodies.  They couldn’t make their way back in and… they died.  Their souls went on.”

“Why did Papa leave?” Emil asked.

“Because…,” Lukas trailed off and looked up from pushing a bedroll back into its carry-sack   “Because ferral dogs scared me on my way home from the brook when I was your age and I did that to them.  The magic… he couldn’t deal with it and… he knew you would have it too because you were seeing things in the otherworld… the fairies, remember?”

Emil frowned and thought back to those simpler times, so dim in his memories.  He did remember tiny woman so delicate that they could wear flower petals dancing over his bed early in the morning.  Papa scolding him about telling tales.  “The priest says that lying is a sin,” he whispered, half-remembering what their father used to tell him.

“Magic is not, t’s neither good nor evil, magic just is – like fire is, or water,” Lukas said firmly.  “Papa didn’t know what to do.  He didn’t know how to raise two boys with magic.”

“So he left me to do it,” Daniel said, his tone sour.  “I did the best I could, even though I was only a few years older than Lukas.”  He glanced back at the mound of earth over the bodies of the law-givers.  “We need stones to put on top so nothing digs them back up,” he said.

“By the stream,” Emil said.  “I’ll get them.”

“We’ll get them,” Lukas corrected.  “This will go faster if we work together.”

Part Two

They seemed to walk forever and Emil began to struggle to keep up with his brothers.  “Almost there,” Daniel called back on occasion.

When he said it for what seemed like the hundredth time, Emil stopped and said, “Brother, almost where?  We’ve been walking for… for hours and… where are we going that we’re almost to or are we just going to keep walking until we get to the border and you won’t tell me because it’s too far away?”

He would have said more but Lukas turned around and caught his hand.  He set a gentle finger on Emil’s lips and shook his head.  “Trust us,” he whispered.

“I do,” Emil said.  “I do trust you and Daniel, Lukas but… it’s so far and… where are we even going?”

“Daniel has a friend who’ll shelter us for a few days.  We’re going there but it is quite a distance.  Normally we’d ride but there was no time to gather the supplies we’d need.  We’ll probably walk for the rest of the night and into the day.  Tell me if you need a rest.”  He started to turn away but Emil kept a hold on his hand.

“I need a rest, Lukas,” he said softly.  “I know we have far to go but I’m hungry and tired and… where will we go… after Daniel’s friend, I mean?”

“Let’s rest then,” Daniel said.  “And I’ll stop telling you that we’re nearly there until we actually are.  There’s a good place to camp, off in the trees here away from prying eyes.”

Emil followed his brothers to a quiet place within a copse of trees.  He started to slump down but noticed that both of his brothers began to set up a campsite.  With a soft sigh, he stood again.  “I’ll get water,” he volunteered.

“Good on you,” Daniel said.  He handed the younger boy a bucket that had been collapsed flat in his traveling bag and pointed behind him.  “There’s a stream over there,” he said.

Emil walked along toward the stream.  He wished that he could see the rest of the world like he saw the dwarf in the tunnel.  He wished he knew why the law-givers were after them.  He wasn’t a soothsayer, frightening people into buying fake charms of protection, or any kind of witch woman mucking around in a kitchen with herbs that might kill someone.  He was just a half-blind, white-haired, lavender-eyed boy who’d never done anything important in his entire life.  As far as he knew, his brother was the same way.

He knelt beside the stream and put the bucket in to scoop out so water but then he heard a sound that made him look up.  It was the steady rhythm of hoof beats.  It didn’t take good eyesight to pick out the bright red coats of the law-givers.

He spun back; forgetting the bucket on the shore and running all the way back to the camp.  “The law-givers,” he hissed to his brothers.  “They’re on the way.”

Daniel nodded and motioned for Emil to stay with Lukas.  He peered out from the trees toward the road which stretched out, like a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor.  “Their captain rides ahead of them,” he reported, though Emil could see it, if faintly from where he sat.  “The red-coats are marching behind him.”

“What do we do?” Emil asked; his voice hushed with fright.

“We sit here and we wait for them to pass,” Lukas said softly.  “Emil, lean close to me.  There is no danger.  I am here tonight.”

Emil nodded and leaned on his brother’s chest.  He could hear the older boy humming softly a song that their mother had sung when any of them had been frightened.  He couldn’t sing without alerting the law-givers to their presence but at least he could give a small comfort to his youngest brother.

After what seemed like hours of waiting, Daniel turned to his brothers and murmured, “They’ve gone.  All’s well.  Emil, finish fetching the water.”

“Wait,” Lukas said.  “First… I need to do something… in case we’re separated and you run into danger.”  He stood, drawing Emil to his feet as well.  He traced a symbol on Emil’s chest, a symbol that glowed with the sharp clarity that meant magic, as he said, “May there always be angels to watch over you; to guide you each step of the way; to guard you and keep you safe from all harm; for you are my own dear little brother and my heart.”

“Mama did that for you before she died,” Daniel whispered.  Emotion was thick in his voice.  “Emil was too sick himself to receive that blessing.”

Lukas looked back at their oldest brother and nodded.  He looked back at Emil, their proximity letting their eyes meet.  “Now I give it to you, may it keep you safe in this troubled time, little brother,” Lukas said.

“Thank you, Lukas,” Emil said.  He set his hand on his chest and nodded.  “With this blessing… I know that I am not alone.”  He flashed a quick smile and went back to the stream.  He found the bucket and refilled it.  Then he turned to head back to the camp.  He paused long enough to look up at the sky.  The law-givers… the law-bringer… they were afraid, though of what he didn’t understand.  There was one thing he did understand though: in the end, there was no strength in trying to break anyone.  In the end the ones that they tried to break would be stronger, better for the difficult times that they’d been put through.

Monica Ferris

an author with many hats

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