Read Taming Fire Online

Authors: Aaron Pogue

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Fantasy

Taming Fire (3 page)

BOOK: Taming Fire
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He cut me again, on my right shoulder, and I ran to escape the next strike. I dove, rolled, and came up just in time to block another attack, but his blade moved like lightning and he nicked me twice more before I found a defensive posture. He pushed me back with textbook maneuvers and battered through my defenses without apparent effort. It seemed that every time he swung he cut me somewhere, small wounds, just enough to draw blood. Each time he cut me I felt the little pain, and each time he blinked in confusion at the sparkle of white or yellow, but pressed on with his attack. They had to be fierce, vicious thrusts to penetrate the ward of my spell, but I had expected such from him. He was a man trained to kill.

And suddenly I saw it coming. I was still clinging to my daydream, still hoping to somehow impress him, but as the blood flowed and sweat burned in the hundred little nicks and cuts, suddenly I realized that he was tiring of the game. Tired of testing my skills, tired of impressing these village brats, and most of all tired of using up his great honor on a little nuisance like me. I could see the end of his patience in his eyes, and see his solution to that, too. One, two, three strokes away and he would finish me and be done with the bother.

I parried a shoulder cut that nearly knocked me down, then retreated from a stop-thrust. He came at me again, and I fell back, farther and farther, desperately hoping to somehow keep him at bay for a moment more. I wanted to find some way to impress him still, some crazy way to win, but he was overwhelming me now at every pass. I fell back, almost running backward, and he pursued me like a thunderstorm. Then I felt my foot start to slip on the wet grass. I had only a moment to realize I had come too close to the stream before both my legs went out from under me. I landed hard, and as my feet shot out in front of me I felt them connect with his ankles, and he began to fall. The soldier had no time to respond, no idea how. His arm was drawn back for a killing blow but as he came falling forward he tried to bring the sword down, his instincts curling him into a midair turn that aimed his shoulder for my stomach.

Desperately I threw my hands up to try to catch him, crossing my arms before my face, and as he hit me I felt the sword knocked from my clumsy grasp. His knee smashed hard into my right thigh, his other foot scraping the side of my left calf, but I was most afraid of the weight still hanging above me, of the shoulder to my midsection. I tensed against his fall, but it never came.

After a moment I opened my eyes and found his, hateful, inches away. He hung suspended above me, his sword stretched out over my left shoulder and his body almost parallel to the ground. His lips were curled back in an animal snarl and his eyes flashed madly. It took me a moment to comprehend, and then I noticed the bright blue line where his neck and shoulder met, searing against his skin. In his fall he'd struck the blade of my sword and the spell considered it a fatal cut.

I scrambled carefully out from under him, grabbing my sword and hastily backing away. Even with him frozen in place I could not tear my attention from him. Suddenly I realized he would not consider my victory an end—when the spell released him he would be on me again, and I would not stand a chance. The thought drained the last of the excited energy that had driven me. Weak, empty, I fell to one knee and counted the slow seconds as the spell expired. I clutched my sword before me, now in both hands, and held it out in a defensive posture. Any moment now he would be free, and—

"Boy," his breath was cold death, and I realized he was speaking through the pressure of the spell, "I did not come to kill you, but you will rue this witchcraft!" He paused, straining to draw breath, and then went on. "You will regret this."

My breath caught as the spell expired, and somehow he caught himself short of falling. Instead he was instantly on his feet, and with a single stride he reached me and cast aside my little practice sword with a contemptuous swing. He pressed the sharp tip of his own weapon against my throat.

I heard a sound behind me, and it must have been Bron, but he didn't even make a word before the soldier's cruel glare swung that way and shut him up. "My business is with the boy Daven," he said, pronouncing the words like judgment. "This is no more of your concern. You will go to your homes."

They shifted uncomfortably, and Cooper took a step forward. I didn't dare turn my head, couldn't tear my eyes from the blade biting into my skin, but I knew Cooper by the sound of his footfall even before he spoke behind me. "You've shown him his place. You can let him go now."

The old soldier's eyes narrowed to slits, a cold fury focused on Cooper behind me. "A new recruit of the Guard doesn't give orders to an officer, let alone a Green Eagle." His nostrils flared, his breath escaping in a contemptuous
, and he snapped. "Get out."

They went. None of them dared defy the man. I couldn't blame them. I heard their retreat, heard their steps crunching down the hill and back toward town, but kept my gaze fixed on his.

When he looked back at me, he seemed thoughtful." I knew your father was a thief, boy. It's an old crime, mostly forgotten, but I imagined it was for that that the magicians tore me from important duties. But now I understand. You dare to work witchcraft against an officer of the King's Guard, by the full light of day. I can only imagine what else you would dare to do."

I trembled as I knelt there, afraid to move for fear of that blade against my throat. I could only stare into his eyes as he spoke his terrible accusations. "The king respects the power of the Academy wizards. It serves him well. But it is a dangerous thing, and it cannot be risked in the hands of one without name, without honor, and without training. It was wise of them to send me, after all. Few men have the courage to do what must be done."

My heart thundered in my chest. My mouth was dry as summer dust, my stomach an aching knot. I shook my head and tried to find a voice. "No," I said softly. "No, you don't understand."

He ignored me. He looked around, over my head toward the bench where my friends had been a few minutes earlier. Then past it, out over the lovely fields of Terrailles that rolled out to the distant sea. His gaze swept over the rough path that led back down into town and he nodded once. The soldier looked around carefully, and then returned his attention to me.

The sun set.

He whispered, "Now you will die."

The sword rose high above his shoulder, still clasped in both hands, and he set his jaw in grim determination as he turned to swing it down with all his weight behind it. My eyes were locked on his, his eyes burned into mine for an eternity as that blade fell. slowly....

And then it stopped.

I stared up at his still form for a long time before I realized it was utterly motionless. I watched the shadows on his face merge, stared into his dark eyes as the last glimmer of day faded, and finally I took another breath, counted another heartbeat. I was alive, somehow, and he was frozen into a perfect stillness far beyond the magic of my little spell. I sat staring up at him, awestruck that I was alive, wondering who or what could have done this to him, until a sound intruded on my thoughts.

At first it was the whisper of clothes, the grinding crunch of footsteps on gravel. With that intrusion other sounds returned. I heard the water once more dancing softly to my left, heard the cicadas whistling in the night, and far off the cry of a hunting falcon. Then I heard a voice, grumbling in complaint and annoyance between panting breaths. It had nothing of the cruelty I'd heard in the voice of the soldier before me, but authority enough to shame him. Mind still reeling with terror, I rose slowly and turned toward the path to face this new surprise. Somewhere deep within my tired mind there was a spark of curiosity.

I saw first some gray hair, and then a round and cheerful face twisted into a grimace. As he came into view I saw he was wearing a plain gray robe, belted with a blue silk scarf but otherwise unadorned, and he carried a long, thin staff that he jabbed viciously into the ground at each step. He was walking quite hurriedly up the hill and puffing with the effort of it, all the while muttering to himself.

Then he caught sight of me and the soldier frozen behind me, and he stopped short. He was perhaps a hand shorter than me, but when he stepped forward to face me I felt an instant respect for the man. His annoyance disappeared in a flash, replaced by a kindly smile as he reached out a hand to clasp my shoulder, "You must be Daven, no?"

For a long while I stood there, blank and silent after that terrible question. This stranger only stood patiently, squinting at my features by the thin light of the stars. After a moment he demanded again, "Well, boy, you are Daven? Daven son of Carrick?" He caught himself, but I heard the name on his lips. Carrick the Thief. I shuddered, afraid of these strangers coming for me in the night.

"I have done no wrong, sir."

He breathed an exasperated sigh. "So you
Daven?" I nodded, afraid, and he continued. "Good. Good to hear, boy. I have come a long way to fetch you."

His words struck me like blows. Another stranger come to fetch me, this one clearly no soldier but somehow he frightened me more. I began to back away from him, stumbling on the ground my feet knew so well. "I—I have done no wrong," I stammered.

"Silly young man!" He said the words under his breath, but I caught them in the cold night, and they seemed a curse. Mad with terror I turned to sprint into the darkness, to lose myself in the night, but his hand fell upon my arm. At the same time he spoke, his breath bearing a strange word that meant nothing to me but somehow carried with it a world of meaning. In an instant my heart grew calm.

For several heartbeats he stood watching me warily, but all my fear was gone. When he was satisfied, he took a step back, releasing me, and continued in a normal voice. "I have come a long way to fetch you, Daven, and it would not do for you to slip out of my reach now. I need you to listen to me and to answer my questions. I hope you will forgive the things I do for need."

I nodded in agreement, but he wasn't paying attention. Instead he stared past my shoulder to the top of the hill. After a moment he stepped past me and tapped the end of his tall staff on the frozen form of the soldier. "Why..." he spoke thoughtfully to the night. "Why would Othin behave so?"

The answer sprang unbidden to my lips. "I offended him, sir. He was protecting his honor."

The stranger barked a laugh, but there was something cold in his eyes as he examined the weapon frozen in the soldier's hand. "There could be no honor in something like this. He acted rashly." He turned to me then, spoke words that sounded meaningful though they held no significance to me. "It is never wise for us to punish the weak for the injuries the strong have done us."

I nodded.

"This...." His attention was on the statue once more. "This was a mistake I should have foreseen. I regret how close it came to tragedy. I regret what it put you through. I'm glad I caught him before he did serious harm. You—" The wizard stopped, and a look of sheer surprise stole across his face. It seemed so inappropriate, so foreign on his dignified features, and it was quickly lost in a more fitting look of contemplation. "You are quite a remarkable fighter, Daven."

He stepped closer to the still form and tapped the extended sword with his staff. It fell free of the soldier's grasp, landing with a dull thud in the thick grass. "In Othin's homeland there is a tradition, Daven, that when a man loses a duel his only honor is in surrendering his blade. I believe you have rightfully won this."

He hesitated a moment, considering, and then reached out to tap the sword belt draped from Othin's shoulder to hip, and that too fell free. He scooped the sword up clumsily and forced it into its scabbard, then held the belt out to me as a gift.

I didn't dare touch it. Instead I met the wizard's eyes and asked, "What do you know of my fighting?"

His eyes shone as he returned my gaze, "When you bend reality, Daven, reality remembers. I can see much of you in this place, and it makes me think perhaps there is a hope after all. I've found you in the nick of time, and it seems you may exceed even my own lofty expectations." His voice trailed off, and still he stood there in the night, arms extended toward me.

Finally the awkwardness overcame my fear, and I reached out to take the belt. He nodded once, satisfied then whirled to face down the hill, nothing more than a shadowy motion in the darkness. "Come, it is quite late. Let us finish this discussion at your master's home."

He started confidently along the graveled footpath, down and into the village. I followed the old man into the night, never doubting he knew the way.

2. Sorcery

The gravel crunched with every step, holding back the silence of the settling night. Before us and below, Sachaerrich waited in the darkness, probably bustling as its citizens went to their meals though no sound reached us. Alone, we walked slowly alongside the gentle brook that bubbled down the hillside.

After a moment the old man spoke. "Have you enjoyed your stay in Sachaerrich?"

"It has been nice." My legs ached from the brief but frenzied fight, but I tried not to limp as we walked. By now the little wounds were nothing more than a distraction. "The village is a quiet place to live. The people are friendly."

He looked at me for a moment, considering. "You have made friends here, then?"

I shrugged. "Friends enough. Goodman Jemminor provides for me, and there are several of us that play at swords, sometimes."

BOOK: Taming Fire
9Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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