by Jamie Kleinkauf-Schmidt © 2003

It happened at midnight, the witching hour. One moment the courtyard was clear, the next moment it was full of enemy knights. I was looking out my tower’s window when my mage sight was blinded by the teleportation of a hundred warriors. My wards had been bypassed. There was only one person who could have done this without my knowledge. And he was conveniently absent from my bed. I grabbed a bottle in one hand, as if it was around his neck and hurled it at the door. Wine the color of heart’s blood rained down the sturdy oak. The sound of pounding feet blocked out the satisfying crash it should have made.

“Kill the traitor!” My thoughts exactly. Only, the men who were shouting it were referring to me. A few spoken words and an arcane twist of my wrist and the door was fortified against them. I was a lazy fool who forgot the one basic rule of wizardry: Trust no one but yourself. The crash against the door seemed to shake the very walls of the tower.

I grabbed my favorite books, stuffed them in a bag that was enhanced to lighten the heaviest loads. I dumped in the contents of my jewelry box, gifts from admirers and kings, and other bare necessities, haphazardly tossing rubies with silken undergarments. Closing my eyes to center, I wished I hadn’t wasted the vintage on the door. I blew out a shaky breath. Concentration would be the key to my survival. I needed to be invisible. Then I needed to fly. Then I needed to find Ferren. I glanced in the mirror and it reflected back only the room. I slammed my knuckles into it, spiderwebbing the clear surface, this time not destroying glass in anger, but in necessity. The blood on my hand added strength to my spell and I felt my feet leave the ground. Gods, I was tired. The three spells I cast had taken their toll on me. None of them would last much longer. Propelling myself out the window, I caught a thermal. I floated over the walls of my former home just as the door gave in under the barrage of armored shoulders. I soared over the siege engines of Taurig’s forces. He had been bold and his audacity had won the day. The keep was his without even firing a shot from the catapults. I found out later that the King had still been snoring when they cut his throat.

The invisibility would only last a few more minutes, so I headed for the Haunted Forest. I crashed chin first into a pile of dry pine needles about a mile into it.

The ghosts’ caterwauling woke me just before dawn. The freshly dead from the battle walked in formation into the forest. I pulled a bit of glamour over me to hide me from their tormented eyes. Fleshless, the damned souls cried for vengeance and for freedom. Tears wouldn’t benefit them now, nor would the blistering rage that threatened my control. If I brought their attention to me, the specters would turn on me and drain my life force, hoping to bring themselves back to life. I watched as more and more ghosts infested the forest and by noon, the sun’s burning rays chased them below ground, where I hoped they would find a modicum of peace.

The river was cool and refreshing. I used the power of the water to heal my hand and to change my appearance. I was no longer Adalaya the sorceress. My reflection in the pond showed me to be a peasant woman. I added a wart and crooked my teeth, less some nobleman decided to have some sport with a lone woman on the highway. I made my way back to the castle.

No one noticed another beggar sifting through the carnage and I was able to read the signature traces of last night’s magic. Not only had Ferren taken down my wards, but also it was he, who teleported in the enemy.

At dusk, the warlord Traurig decided to parade himself in front of his newly acquired populace. The serfs did their part by acting jovial and supporting. But truly, to them, a King was just a person they paid their taxes too. I knew that Traurig would bankrupt the coffers and move on within the next year or so, leaving the place open to the next warlord who would squeeze the peasants until they paid with their life’s blood. I had seen it in too many places before not to notice the signs. This place was already a wasteland.

I stiffened in reaction when Ferren appeared on the dais. He was dressed in his fine velvet robes, the sunset reflected off his shaved head and backlit him in shades of fire and approaching darkness. I tested the wards. He had rewoven them, but the lazy snake still kept my framework. The revelries lasted well into the night. When the last of the wine casks were drunk, the party dwindled out. The new King lay slumped in his throne, surrounded by staggering guards. Ferren had left earlier with a pretty maid.

It was midnight, the witching hour, when I teleported them in. The ghosts of the Haunted Forest swarmed over their murderers. No alarm was sounded as the revenants drank their fill. There was a crack and I looked up in time to see Ferren falling. I’d like to think he was still alive when he hit the ground, but he probably broke his neck when he hit the wards I raised again after the teleportation was complete. The wards negated his invisibility and his fly spell, both, which I taught him. The ground negated pretty much everything else. Turning my back upon the wasteland, I gathered my wards to me and walked away, leaving the dead to their own devices.

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