Thursday, 31 October 2013
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Friday, 1 February 2013
Thursday, 9 February 2012
They say it’s going to snow here tonight! I’m really looking forward to it, I know you probably think I’m crazy because I love the snow so much. I do appreciate the problems and agro it causes, but there is nothing we can do about it, it’s a natural occurrence we have to live with. It will mean I’ll have extra things to do, pipes will be frozen, horses will be cold and hungry and my friends won’t be able to get here so I’ll have to do their horses too. But I don’t mind, it’s worth it to breathe in the crisp frozen air and see the world all glistening white.
There’s just something so magical about watching those pretty little flakes floating down. The world goes kind of quiet, as if the white fluffy stuff blankets all the sound. It’s almost like time is standing still.
Afterwards, once it’s stopped snowing and the sun comes out, shining on the fresh covering, everything sparkles so brightly you need sunglasses to look at it. The world for a short while is pure and clean.
I believe there is magic all around us, we only need to open our eyes and look to find it. Snow, for me, is just one example of pure magic here in our world.
Sunday, 29 January 2012
This is my second ff story for The Worldbuilders Anthology. Unlike my other two entries that were linked to my trilogy 'Return of The Effra' this is a completely new story, more sci-fi than fantasy I think. Hope you like it.
It was freezing, Cara’s legs would’ve been numb from the cold if they hadn’t gone to sleep hours ago. She wriggled her frozen fingers, before wrapping them back around her bow. There would be no hope of getting relieved before sunrise, there just wasn’t enough of them.
The sound of someone shuffling around in the tunnel to her left made Cara swear under her breath, Peter was making far too much noise he was going to give them away. Rubbing her sleeve across her eyes, Cara forced them to stay open, she needed to keep watching the mouth of the cave.
Five days of walking was taking its toll and they were all suffering, their numbers had dwindled from twelve down to eight. The sniffers were always close behind, but their eyes being too sensitive to see in daylight meant they only came at night. If they could just get far enough away from the city and out into the wilderness, if they could just survive the nights.
The invaders were only interested in the cities, in harvesting the buildings. Their enormous ships had descended from the skies, oblivious to mans futile attempts to stop them. Hovering over any major cities they came across, decimating every structure with laser blasts. Next came the bulldozer ships, massive, empty cargo ships, shovelling the rubble into their holds. Nothing was sacred, nothing escaped.
No one had seen an invader but there were plenty of rumours about what they looked like, little green men, four eyed six foot monsters or even the predator from the film of the same name. The sniffers were different though, every survivor had seen enough of them, for most it was the last thing they did see. Named because of the noise they made, sniffers resembled ten foot high ants. Almost impossible to kill due to their impenetrable exoskeletons, only armoured warheads seemed to have any affect and as the armed forces had been almost completely decimated, there was very little to stop them. The invaders had released the sniffers to wipe out any life form that got in the way of their harvesting of earths building materials.
It was believed that the sniffers stayed close to the bulldozer ships, so it made sense to head for the wilderness, to keep as far away from any man-made structures as you possible could. To that end, Cara had joined a group of survivors who were heading north to the Green Wood National Park. Hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness with very few buildings of any description, it was also home to Cara’s parents, her dad being a park ranger.
Cara wriggled her fingers again, she needed to keep the circulation going. Her only hope if a sniffer found them would come at the last moment as it opened its two pincers to grab her. Its most vulnerable spot was the roof of its mouth. If you could pierce straight up through the soft fleshy skin you had direct access to its brain causing instant death. A well placed arrow or spear would do the trick. The down side was you had to wait till it reared up in front of you with its mouth open.
A snuffling sound outside of the cave successfully drove any tiredness from Cara’s eyes. Her heart started racing, pumping adrenalin through her body and clammy sweat ran down her back and across her palms. A sweet sticky sent drifted back down the cave making her want to gag as a dark shadow passed across the entrance. Holding her breath she tried to steady her trembling hands.
The shadow passed away to the left. ‘Peter,’ Cara thought, ‘Peter, please don’t make a sound.’ Peter was guarding the cave entrance to her left, but he wasn’t holding up well. Living as they were had shattered his nerves, training as a computer analyst hadn’t prepared him for a life on the run.
Cara heard Peter gasp and shuffle backwards towards the cavern behind them. The snuffling noise grew louder as the sniffer entered his cave and Cara turned to listen. She could hear Peter scrabbling frantically into the cavern with the sniffer following. A torch and a box of matches lay at her side. Grabbing the matches she wasted two before her trembling fingers managed to strike one. The torch flared to life filing the cave with soft orange light. Peter’s only hope would be if she managed to momentarily blind the sniffer with the light. Up ahead she could see Peter backed up against the cavern wall.
“Peter! Over here, quick,” it was too late the sniffer was on him already. Cara looked away as Peter’s scream cut through the damp cave air.
The return of the snuffling sound made Cara look back. The sniffer was turning around in the cramped space of the cavern, Peter’s blood dripping from its pincers. Four large shiny black discs on its head section fixed on Cara as it started heading towards her. Cara slowly lowered the torch to the ground and drew her bow, an arrow already fixed in place. She took a deep breath, releasing it slowly forcing herself to stay calm. The sniffer filled the cave, its back pressing against the ceiling. It hesitated, shaking its head at the light from the torch, but already the light was dimming. As it continued forwards with its pincers wide open, Cara could just make out the red flesh of the inside of its mouth.
‘Not too soon,’ she thought taking aim. The rank smell of its breath making her stomach heave. Just as its pincers passed either side of her body she loosed her arrow. With a loud groan the sniffer plunged forward knocking Cara skidding backwards across the damp stone floor towards the cave entrance. She lay still listening for sounds that would tell her the sniffer was still alive, but the sounds never came.
Then slowly, creeping in from the cave mouth came long tendrils of sunlight, dawn had arrived she had survived another night.
Monday, 23 January 2012
This is a Flash Fiction story that I've written for the AWB anthology, but I'm not sure about it, I have re-written it a few times. Would be pleased to read any comments good or bad. Hope you enjoy it thanks.
Shrilate sucked cool spring water through pursed lips, his ears flicking back and forth with the action of his swallowing. The noise he was making cutting through the silence of the highland valley, his enjoyment obvious in his relaxed stance.
Alex sat looking down at his mount with a mixture of frustration and guilt. ‘He’s making enough noise to wake the dead,’ he thought running his fingers through his shoulder length blonde hair. The sun was well passed its midpoint and heading fast towards the western horizon. This was a fool’s errand and Alex knew it.
Summer solstice was fast approaching and it was traditional to give presents in celebration of another winter passed. Each summer Alex tried to outdo his brother and give their father the most exciting or unusual present, but Richard being older always came up with something better. The truth was Alex always left it to the last minute and so had to make do with anything he could find in a hurry. Not this summer though, he’d given it a lot of thought, a Phoenix feather quill would be unbeatable in the present stakes.
Phoenixes only nest in the valleys of the highlands. He’d had to do a swap so he could take the Northern patrol, on to which he’d added an extra two days marching and on top of this Shrilate was missing out on his rest day. In theory it had seemed so easy, Phoenixes lined their nests with their feathers, so all he had to do was find a nest and help himself to a choice of feathers. In practise it proved impossible, Phoenixes were rare and difficult to spot.
Shrilate looked up startled as an orangey red flash crossed the valley downstream. Alex gathered his reins and urged his horse to give chase. Shooting forward Shrilate accelerated to a fast gallop. They were gaining on it, Alex could see the bird’s feathers, as it wove between the trees, glowing like flames in the sinking sun.
Shrilate stopped dead and Alex almost fell off as he crashed forward onto his horse’s neck.
“What the…” Alex threw his reins down and crossed his arms over his head trying to contain his frustration. “We were so close Shril, what’s wrong with you?”
The horse just stood shaking his head and refusing to move. ‘Perhaps he’s hurt?’ Placing his hand on the shiny black neck Alex let his mind connect with his horse’s. Shrilate felt there was great danger to the right of where they stood and was compelled to head that way. Alex sighed they had lost the Phoenix now anyway, so they headed right.
As they reached the edge of a clearing, Alex could hear crying. To their left at the foot of a tree, a small boy lay his leg twisted at an unnatural angle. Shrilate started shaking with fear and from somewhere to their right came a deep rumbling growl. The rank smell of hot, damp fur reached Alex’s nostrils just as the undergrowth parted and the most enormous mountain bear he’d ever seen appeared.
There was no time for thinking, Alex kicked Shrilate forward and they shot out into the clearing between the boy and the bear. The horse pirouetted and leaped back the way he’d come flicking mud up into the bear’s face as he went. Ignoring the boy and roaring with anger the bear gave chase.
Considering his size and bulk he was quick and he was gaining fast. His massive shoulders easily broke through bushes and undergrowth that Shrilate had to step around.
Just as the bear got so close he was snapping at Shrilate’s haunches they broke out into a wide open valley. Leaping forward with sweat running down his flanks Shrilate flew along the valley floor and they started to increase their lead.
Half way along the valley the bear gave up the chase and lumbered off to have a drink from a nearby stream. Standing in his stirrups Alex whooped a victory cry back at him before heading back to find the boy.
Still lying at the foot of the tall pine tree, with tear streaks down his cheeks, the boy looked to be less than ten winters old. Alex dismounted and knelt next him, “Did you fall out of the tree?”
The boy nodded, his leg was still twisted at a crazy angle, he was breathing fast and he looked very pale.
“I can fix this for you, but it will hurt to start with because I will have to straighten your leg.” Alex waited for the boy to nod again before placing his hands on the broken leg. Concentrating on the break he summoned the magic from deep inside himself, letting it flow through his hands, pulling it up through the ground and out of the air. Pure magic energy flowing through him and into the boy’s leg. With a quick sharp movement he pulled the leg straight again and concentrated the magic on knitting together the bone and repairing the flesh. The boy half gasped and half screamed as Alex moved his leg, but relaxed as the break healed.
“There you are, good as new, you were lucky I came along.” Alex grinned at the boy, the magic was still buzzing through his body making him feel warm and alive. “I’m Alex, what’s your name?”
“Roy,” the boy said prodding his leg with a look of awe.
“Well Roy let’s get you home and on the way you can tell me what you were doing up a tree in the middle of nowhere.” Alex lifted Roy onto Shrilate and climbed up behind him. Roy didn’t say much other than which village he came from and Alex didn’t notice. He was deep in thought about what he could get his father now his plans had failed.
Reaching Roy’s home, Alex explained to his parents what had happened.
“You better thank Alex for his kindness,” Roy’s father said, but Roy had disappeared.
“I’m sorry, he’s very shy,” Roy’s father looked embarrassed. “He spends all his time roaming around on his own chasing fire birds.”
Just then Roy reappeared carrying a large Phoenix feather and offering it to Alex he said, “thank you.”
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
This is a short story I've written for The Alliance of Worldbuilders Anthology. It's back story to my trilogy The Return of the Effra. I hope it works as a stand alone story too.
A sharp pain shot up her arm causing her hand to jerk sideways, knocking over a small green bottle. Holding her breath, she watched as it rolled away along the shelf in a wide lazy arc, coming to rest against the wall at the back.
Massaging her shoulder, Tilly started to breathe again, a sigh of relief escaping with her first breath. The pain had been sharp, radiating through her whole body. ‘I’m getting too old,’ she thought reaching up and taking hold of the bulbous shaped bottle she had been attempting to retrieve from the shelf. Glancing at the small green bottle she sighed again, ‘I will need to get a stool to stand on to reach that now.’
“Are you alright? Do you need a hand?” A man’s voice asked from the other room.
“No I have what you need, but like I was explaining this will only hold off the symptoms while you are taking it. It isn’t a cure and I haven’t a lot left either.” Tilly pushed aside an old dusty curtain, that was hanging over the doorway, and stepped through to the other room.
The man was sat on an old wooden chair pulled up to a well scrubbed oak table. He was tall and strong with broad shoulders and had the look of a soldier about him. His clothes were those of a traveller, with a thick woollen cape over a brown leather coat. But his shoulders were hunched over with his elbows resting on the table and his right hand pressed against the side of his head.
“As I was saying, the discomfort you are feeling is coming from a lump that is growing inside your skull,” Tilly said as she pulled up another chair to sit opposite him.
“Discomfort? More like blinding agony,” the man grumbled looking unhappy.
“If you had come to me sooner I may have been of more use to you, but it has grown past the abilities of my potions.” Tilly shook her head and pushed the bulbous bottle across the table. “I fear your only hope now would be a magus or maybe an elf, both of which are in short supply these days. You have travelled north from Camlain, did you not think to seek Hadrid’s council?”
The traveller shook his head and winced, “I have served in Hadrid’s army, in his personnel guard no less, since I was a boy. You would think he would have been happy to help would you not? Well no, he will not sully his hand or his powers on the likes of me.” There was bitterness in the travellers voice and his free hand was balled in a fist. “I’ve left his employ for good and will probably be run though if they ever catch up with me. I’ve heard it told there is a young and powerful magus in the north, come from over the sea. They say he’s named for freedom. I am on my way to find him.”
“Freedom? I’d heard all those with the Shrilan name had been executed or murdered in the magi wars in the vast lands.”
“Aye, but according to a traveller from the east I met by chance, this one managed to escape with his baby sister and has fled here to evade those who wish to wipe out his bloodline.”
There was a loud creak from somewhere in the cottage and the traveller’s horse, who was tied up outside, snorted and started to paw the ground. The traveller’s eyes darted around the room, checking out every shadow, nook and cranny, while his free hand shot to his belt curling around the hilt of a dagger.
“Don’t worry yourself, I haven’t got Hadrid’s army hiding in my cottage,” Tilly smiled at him.
“It’s not Hadrid’s army I’m worried about,” the traveller stood up and pulled four gold sovereigns from his pocket. Placing them on the table he picked up the bottle. “I’ve also heard told that the old witch, Matilda keeps a fire demon for a pet.”
Tilly laughed, “oh to be that powerful, do you really think it’s possible for anyone to keep a demon for a pet?”
“My philosophy is to believe anything is possible, thank you for the potion and take care, these are troubled times, a pet demon could be a good thing to have.” The traveller made a hasty exit and Tilly heard his horse hurrying away.
Easing herself to her feet she closed her eyes and steadied herself against the chair. Almost a hundred winters had taken their toll on her slight frame, her joints creaked and protested with every movement.
“You look unwell old woman,” a deep silky voice spoke from the shadows.
“Less of the old if you don’t mind.” Tilly said shuffling the chair and making out she was pushing it back to the table rather than using it to prop herself up.
“More tales of unrest in the south and a mysterious stranger in the north,” the owner of the voice said stepping out of the shadows. His eyes, taking in Tilly’s unsteady stance, were a strange silver colour. His skin stretched tight over his tall, thin, wiry frame was pale and powdery and a pair of steel gray horns protruded from his untidy black hair. His only clothing was a pair of worn leather trousers. “… and what does ‘a pet’ mean?”
“Like a dog or a cat,” Tilly’s finger taped on the back of the chair and her brow knotted as she thought about what the traveller had said about the magus.
“He thinks you keep me like a dog?” the silver eyes narrowed into a frown.
“Damian, these days I fear it is more you that keeps me, I seem incapable of the simplest of tasks. I knocked over a small green bottle on the top shelf, could you fetch it for me?” She sank back down onto the chair and carried on tapping her finger on the table. She was so deep in thought it made her jump when Damian placed the bottle on the table in front of her. He crossed the room and hopped up to sit on top of the big range in the inglenook, his bare feet resting on the hot plate. Tilly shuddered, she had seen him sit like that thousands of times and she knew he would never burn, in fact the hotter it was the more he liked it, but it still disturbed her.
“The news worries you?” Damian nodded towards her tapping fingers.
“I was thinking about this magus, if he is a survivor of the Shrilan family he will be powerful magic. The Shrilan magi were one of the most powerful magi families in all the vast lands.”
“If they were so magical how come they were destroyed?”
Tilly shook her head sadly, “betrayal, deceit and treachery, other magi families were jealous of their power. When a magus turns bad he can become pure evil.”
“Yes it would appear from the news of the south that Hadrid is using his powers for his own benefits, to suppress and dominate. Let’s hope this new magus lives up to his name and uses his power and wisdom for the good of others.” Tilly stared at the bottle in front of her, “could you go and see what you can find out about him?”
Damian jumped down off the range, “I will go, but I will not travel too far, you may need me to reach for more bottles.” Grinning, he turned and left through the door the traveller had used. Tilly could see him through a window, standing with his back to her. Folded against his back were two large black, bat like wings which he now opened and stretched wide. Then with an easy beat he thrust himself up into the sky and was gone.
Tilly sat staring at the little green bottle, memories flooding back. It was the hardest potion she’d ever created and it had been waiting on her shelf for fifty winters. Laying her hands flat on the table she took a deep breath. A potion that gives back youth for one whole cycle of the sun, it was powerful complicated magic. The down side was that once the effects wore off the taker would end up many winters older than before. Tilly had saved it to use once her time was over, one last youthful day before her life ended. She now felt sure this time was fast approaching and she was almost ready, her only problem was Damian.
The ingredients had been difficult enough to find in the first place and Tilly had searched for many winters to find the right kind of fungi. Finally she had come across a cave that ran deep into the mountains. In the darkest recess a small amount of Mortus Fungi clung to the cold rock. As she gathered what she needed, she had become aware of someone else in that cramped place. A being of some kind squeezed tight into a crack in the rock face. With a lot of gentle persuasion she had coaxed it out, only to be horrified at what she’d found.
The being had been human shaped but skeletal thin with bat like wings and skin bleached of colour. Tilly guessed what he was, a powerful, evil spirit, a demon of some kind, but it took time for her to figure out what was wrong with him. He had somehow gained a conscience which had subsequently destroyed the very essence of who he had been, leaving him trapped in an earth bound form, destined to be forever tortured by memories of what he’d done. Tilly had taken him in, cared for him and named him Damian and unable to break the curse that had caused this, she had cast spells of her own to try and counter the damage. Having no family she came to look upon him like a son, he became her family. What was worrying her now was what would happen to him without her protection and guidance.
There was a muffled knock at the door, so quiet Tilly only just heard it. Closing her eyes she eased herself to her feet.
“I’m just coming,” she said forcing her legs to wake up and work.
Opening the door she gazed out at the forest clearing around her cottage, but there was no one there. Shaking her head she turned to close the door, but stopped when she heard a faint moan. Curled on her doorstep was small, green figure. It moaned again as its head lolled sideways and large amber eyes stared up at Tilly full of fear and pain.
“Rowan!” Tilly’s hand shot to her heart as she looked down at the figure. “Whatever has happened?”
It took a tremendous effort for Tilly to bend down and scoop Rowan up into her arms. He weighed very little, but it used up every ounce of the modicum of strength she had to get him to her bed. As quickly as she could she found a restorative potion and pressing the bottle to his lips encouraged Rowan to take a sip.
After a few moments the small green face relaxed, but the eyes still looked haunted. Tilly checked him over for injuries giving him a few more moments to recover. She was horrified at what she found. His arms were covered in bruises and a large angry welt stretched across his back from his right shoulder to his left hip. Another angry bruise on his left side suggested he may have a couple of broken ribs.
“Who would do this to a harmless goblin?” She asked herself out loud.
Rowan turned his head. His wispy silver hair was plastered to his head with dirt and his thin face looked gaunt making his big pointed ears seem extra large. “Please help,” his voice was little more than a whisper. “Please help goblins,” reaching out he grabbed Tilly’s arm with long bony fingers. “Soldiers come, they take everyone, even Daisy,” he said turning his face away, “they have Daisy. Rowan escapes, manages to get away.” Then turning back he pulled her closer, “Please help get goblins back, get Daisy back… please.” The grip on Tilly’s arm loosened as his eyes rolled back in his head and his hand dropped away.
Tilly stared at the unconscious goblin. He had said soldiers, the only soldiers around came from Camlain, Hadrid’s army. What did Hadrid want with a group of goblins? The only thing she could think of was for slave labour, he was building a bigger, more impressive castle, perhaps he needed a work force?
Anger welled up inside as Tilly thought about it, Hadrid had no right to take anyone against their will and goblins had just as much right as anyone else to live a free life. She needed to act fast, there would be no chance of freeing the goblins once they arrived at the castle.
Grabbing a bag from on top of a wardrobe and heading back into the kitchen she started making a mental note of what she would need. As she placed the bag on the table another sharp pain ripped through her body. Sprawling forward she crashed on to the tabletop her hands scrabbling at the surface trying to get a purchase but failing. Slipping and sliding her fingers found and fastened onto the small green bottle as her body twisted, falling backwards. She felt rather than heard the loud crack as her hip slammed onto the flagstone floor and white hot blinding pain burned through her. The world spun around her, nausea mixing with pain, blackness threatening to engulf her.
Tilly lay trembling, fear clouding her thoughts, pain filling her senses. She didn’t dare move, even the act of breathing hurt. Slowly as her mind began to clear again, she tried to work out her best options. She couldn’t move without causing more pain, she felt sure her hip had broken in the fall, so crawling or dragging herself up was out. Waiting for Damian to get back was the only option, but even so he couldn’t mend her hip she was going to be crippled. Tears welled in her eyes, spilling over, running down the side of her face and soaking into her long gray hair.
Her fingers tightened around the small green bottle and she raised her hand so she could see it. Blinking the tears away she made her decision. Removing the stopper she tipped the contents of the bottle into her mouth and swallowed. The potion had a sharp metallic taste that burned her throat as it went down. The burning spread through her whole body until it felt like she was on fire, getting so intense Tilly began to beg for death to take her, before finally she passed out.
At first Tilly thought she had gone blind, as she opened her eyes there was nothing but blackness until they grew accustomed to the night. She was lay where she had fallen looking up at her kitchen ceiling.
Checking out each limb in turn she held her breath waiting for the sickening pain to return, but apart from a small amount of stiffness everything seemed to work. Pulling herself up, the ease with which she managed to get to her feet shocked her and remembering Rowan she headed straight for her bedroom, grinning at the nimble way her body was moving.
Rowan was just where she’d left him, but now he looked a lot more relaxed and his breathing was steady and peaceful. Gently opening his mouth she dripped a couple more drops of the restorative potion on to his tongue. ‘He’ll be almost as good as new when he wakes up,’ she thought returning to the kitchen.
The bag was still on the table where she’d dropped it, so picking it up she again started to decide what to take. A large ham and two loaves of bread, a candle that if left burning behind you hid your path from anyone following and a handful of pine cones that rendered anyone close by unconscious if placed in a fire. She changed in a hurry, putting on a pair of dark leather trousers and a black sheepskin coat. Finally before leaving she fastened a belt around her middle it held a small scabbard containing a short dagger with a large ruby imbedded in the end of the hilt.
With her bag on her back and her wand in her right hand Tilly stepped out of her cottage scanning the darkness for any threats. The moon was still in the early stages of its nightly journey, which pleased Tilly who couldn’t be sure how long she’d been unconscious.
She struck a path straight for the goblin settlement Rowan called home. As she jogged along, her legs strong with youthful fitness, she cursed herself for not leaving a note for Damian. ‘By morning Rowan should have woken, he will fill Damian in on what has happened and Damian will guess where I am and follow,’ she thought.
Goblins made their homes in the branches of trees, high up away from predators such as wolves. The one predator this couldn’t avoid though was man. As Tilly reached the settlement she gasped in horror. The ground around the tall oak trees where the goblins lived was littered with the remains of their homes. Each tree house had been dragged free and brought crashing to the ground. Walking through the devastation she noticed a large arrow tipped with viscous looking barbs imbedded in a piece of wood that had once been flooring. Attached to the arrow was a long piece of rope that had been used to pull the house down once the arrow had hit its mark. The air smelt of soot and wood smoke where numerous little fires had shattered on hitting the ground. Tears flooded down Tilly’s cheeks as she noticed twisted in the remains were ten or twelve little green bodies. Taking a deep breath she turned away, there was nothing she could do for them now.
It was easy to track the soldiers with their prisoners, a wide path had been forged through the undergrowth by their passing. Tilly took off at a steady run hoping their progress had been slow, as she needed to catch up with them before daylight. This wasn’t how she’d planned to spend the time the potion would give her, she’d had all sorts of different ideas. ‘Sometimes The Fates have other plans for you,’ she thought trying to keep her mind on the job at hand.
As the eastern sky started to glow Tilly, came across their encampment. At first it was the dwindling camp fire through the trees she could see, then she nearly tripped over a mass of little green bodies all huddled together in nervous sleep. Skirting around the goblins she edged closer to the campfire and spied the soldier who should have been on watch duty. He was sat leaning against a tree between the sleeping goblins and the rest of the camp. He was dozing with his head sagging forward and dribble running down his chin. The rest of the soldiers were lay as near as they could get to the fire.
Careful not to make any noise Tilly crept closer. When she reached the edge of the shadows she took the pine cones from her bag. Holding them out in her left hand she pointed her wand at them and started mumbling an incantation. The cones rose slowly and hovered in front of her face. She moved her wand to point at the fire and they drifted away towards it as if blown by a light breeze. Once they were hovering over it Tilly stopped mumbling and lowered her wand and they dropped into its heart. The flames flashed bright blue and emitted a dense blue smoke which spread out engulfing the sleeping soldiers.
With a satisfied smile she turned back to the goblins. It was then she felt a drain on her energy, only slight but enough that she noticed it happen. ‘Using magic is going to affect the effect of the youth potion,’ she thought biting her lip.
The goblins were easy to rouse, but they were all shackled and chained together. Tilly raised her wand and pointed it at the padlock on the shackles of a goblin she knew called Acorn, but then glancing around at the others saw around forty sets of eyes gazing back at her. The drain from unlocking forty or more sets of shackles with magic was going to undo the effect of the youth potion completely.
‘Someone must have a key,’ she thought and gesturing to the goblins to wait she turned back to the campfire. Holding her breath she stepped into the remains of the blue smoke and started to search the first soldier. Unsuccessful she moved on to the next, but by the time she’d searched three she had to step away as she couldn’t hold her breath any longer. Most of the blue smoke had dispersed by now and she could see the soldiers easier, so taking a moment she studied them. They were all dressed in mail covered with red tunics that bore a gold crown on the front. ‘Not very comfy to sleep in,’ she thought smiling. Most of them were also wrapped in red cloaks and blankets making it impossible to work out who was in command. She chose the three that lay closest to the fire assuming they would be the highest ranking and more likely to hold the keys.
This time Tilly had success when she searched the second of the three she had chosen. Hurrying back to the goblins she noticed the sun had appeared on the horizon and the birds were well into their morning chorus.
There were eight keys on a big metal ring, after unlocking Acorn’s shackles she unhooked the keys and passed them around the waiting goblins. They didn’t need telling what to do or that they needed to be quick.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The soldier on watch duty had woken up, having been further away from the fire than the others the blue smoke hadn’t reached him. He marched straight for Tilly ignoring the goblins squirming around his feet trying to undo their shackles. Tilly reached for her dagger but wasn’t quick enough. He was burly and tall with dark dirty hair poking out from under his half round helmet. He towered over Tilly as he grabbed the front of her coat, lifting her bodily into the air and slamming her against a nearby tree. The weight of her body hanging in her coat pulled her arms up and made it impossible for her to get her hands down low enough to reach her dagger. The soldier bought his face so close to hers their noses almost touched.
“What do you think you’re up to then?” His breath was stale and his brown eyes bore into hers with a look of confident triumph. “Thought you’d steel our merchandise did you?”
“They are not your property, they are sentient beings who have just as much right to live free as you or I.” Tilly stared back defiantly.
The soldier threw his head back and laughed, but his eyes went wide with shock and his laugh turned to a blood ridden gurgle. He dropped Tilly and staggered before crashing backwards to the floor. As he fell she saw Acorn scrabbling to jump free from his back.
The soldier lay still a bloody gash across his throat, his blood oozing onto the forest floor. Acorn clambered to his feet and held out Tilly’s dagger for her to take back. She nodded a thank you and wiped the blood off on the soldier’s tunic before replacing it in her belt.
“We must hurry,” she whispered watching the last of the goblins free themselves. There were adults of every age and a number of children too, it was going to be difficult to move very fast or quietly. She was relieved to see Daisy, Rowan’s soul partner amongst them. Checking everyone was ready, Tilly set off at a quick march back along the trail to the goblin village.
“Will it not be this way the soldiers look for us?” Acorn asked trotting beside her.
“Yes, I have a plan though,” Tilly smiled down at him.
Tilly glanced at the sky, the sun was drifting towards the western horizon. Biting her lip she frowned returning her gaze to the path through the forest.
Before the sun had reached its midpoint she had sent the goblins off eastward on a new trail and once they were out of site she had lit her candle and placed it on their new path. Waiting behind she had kept watch to make sure the soldiers continued on the path back to the goblin settlement.
They had come rushing past not long after the goblins had disappeared and Tilly had followed them to make sure none of them got suspicious and turned back. When it was obvious the soldiers weren’t going to turn around she had taken a path of her own conscious of how far the sun had travelled. The effects of the youth potion were already starting to weaken and she still had a fair distance to travel before reaching her cottage. After a while she had got the feeling someone was following and had hidden at the side of the path to find out.
She gripped her wand tighter feeling the stiffness returning to her fingers, she really needed to keep moving. Just as she decided it had been her imagination two soldiers came jogging past following her trail.
Tilly’s heart raced as she crept backwards away from the path. Holding her breath she turned to take a different route and crashed straight into the chest of a soldier who had crept up behind her. He grabbed her arms pinning them to her sides and lifted her from the ground.
“Put me down,” she said trying to keep her voice steady.
The soldier just laughed and shouted, “I’ve found someone.”
Tilly panicked and pointing her wand upwards hissed an incantation. There was a loud crack and the soldier flew backwards crashing to the ground. Tilly turned to run but his comrades had arrived and were blocking her path. The drain on her strength from the spell made her gasp and her body stiffened as old age returned.
“You old bi…,” Tilly didn’t hear the rest of the insult, she turned to see who was speaking and the back of a gauntleted hand caught her across her face sending her spinning to the ground.
“Let’s see how you like it?” She was dragged roughly to her feet again and the soldier she had blasted grabbed her flinging her like a rag doll across the path. She crashed sideways into a tree and fell to the floor, pain exploding up and down her spine. The soldier marched over and reached down to grab her again, but just before his fingers touched her, the air ripped apart with a tremendous roar and he flew backwards away from her.
Tilly’s sight was blurred with pain, but she could make out Damian, he had one of the others by the throat. With an easy squeeze he crushed the life out of the soldier and threw him away. With another roar he took off after the rest of them who were running for their lives.
Moments later he was back kneeling beside Tilly, scooping her up gently in his arms. “Do not worry old woman I will get you back to your cottage.”
Tilly shook her head, “no take me north, take me to the magus.” her voice was raspy and quiet. Damian nodded, spread his wings and with a blast of air they took off.
Tilly’s whole body was racked with pain, she screwed her eyes shut and pressed her face against Damian’s chest. His skin was very warm and smelt of spice and fire. She was so proud of how he’d turned out, of who he had become. She was going to miss him, he would never be following her to the afterlife, he was never going to die, never going to be mortal. She wished she’d had more time to plan a future for him, to be sure he was going to be alright.
The journey was long but Tilly, drifting in and out of consciousness, didn’t notice most of it. It had taken Damian a while to find the half built castle where the magus was making himself a home.
A welcome committee soon gathered as Damian landed in front of a large set of oak doors. Tilly couldn’t make most of them out, pain was blurring her vision, but she could hear the angry mumbling and Damian had come to a standstill.
The mumbling suddenly died and Tilly could make out a figure walking towards them through a parting in the crowd. Damian spoke first not waiting for the man to stop.
“Are you the magus?” Tilly could feel the urgency and tension in his voice.
“I am Etienne Shrilan and yes I am a magus,” he stood tall taking in the sight before him, showing no sign of the fear Damian usually provoked in people. Tilly was transfixed by his eyes they were the most piercing blue she had ever seen, they seemed to pour energy and understanding into her just by looking at her. She sighed and relaxed she had been right to come here after all.
“She is hurt, will you cure her?” Damian Shifted impatiently, “please.”
Etienne hesitated for a moment then turning back to the oak doors said, “bring her this way.”
There was a repeat of the mumbling and a voice from the crowd said, “but sir, you’re surely not going to invite it into the castle?”
“I am sure if he meant us any harm he would have picked a better disguise,” Etienne said laughing.
He led them up some stairs to a large plain room with an enormous four poster bed. Damian placed Tilly on the bed and then moved back to allow Etienne to get closer. She looked up at the magus, he was young with shoulder length blond hair and handsome features. The air around him shimmered with energy as he placed a hand on her shoulder and warmth radiated from the spot where he touched her. Tilly shook her head and closed her eyes, the pain had faded into a bone deep ache and an immense tiredness had swept over her.
“You cannot save me,” her voice was barely more than a whisper. “I took a youth potion and it has aged me further than a human body is able to survive. I had Damian bring me here so I may ask something of you. He needs somewhere to live, would you take him in? Will you promise to give him a home?”
“It is not true! You must save her.” Damian said stepping forward anger and frustration in every word.
“She is older than anybody I have ever seen, I am afraid there is nothing I can do,” Etienne paused his hand still on Tilly’s shoulder and she got the strangest feeling he was walking around inside her head. After a few moments he said, “yes, I will take him in.”
Tilly relaxed feeling too tired to breathe, to tired even to think. She looked up at Damian, he was the closest she had to family. It took more strength then she had to pull her dagger from the belt, but she managed it and pressing it to her lips she whispered a last incantation.
“Take it, keep it,” she said to Damian. He shook his head but she whispered, “you must.”
The spell had sucked the last of the life from her body, she closed her eyes as a kind of blackness washed over her. It had been a very long and in most parts a good life. She had done what she needed to and now it was time to rest.
And so Matilda, the old witch of the woods, headed off into the afterlife.