Unchosen Mage (Legend of Ravenwood), page 1
Legend of Ravenwood
Copyright 2011 M. Norton
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* * * * *
This story is dedicated to my son, Brian, the light of my life, who makes me smile every day. To my Husband, Rudy, who put up with years of my writing, rewriting, and even more rewriting. And to the memory of my Dad, who always believed in me and overlooked every mistake I made.
My heartfelt thanks go to many people who made this story possible. Brian and his friend, Sean - their friendship sparked the basic characters and adventures in this story. And Rudy, for his endless patience and support. Special thanks to Holly Hook for her extensive proofread; T L Gray, for taking me under her wing and teaching me "the ropes"; Ardyth DeBruyn, for shredding the story (as is her way) and helping me make it so much better; Carol Prothro, Mike Lopez, and Chrissy Kleps for being the sweet, wonderful friends that they are and for their endless help during revisions. And the rest of my writing group: Lucan, Jayde Scott, Katie Stewart, Wanita May, Patricia Puddle, June Bourgo, Summer Ross, Tiffany Cannon, Elizabeth, and Katherine for all their help during the painful rewriting process. I also want to thank my family, and several of my students, who read this story in so many versions—I'm sure they’re relieved it’s FINALLY done! And most assuredly, the Grace shown to me by our Heavenly Father, who makes all things possible.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The Choosing
Chapter 2 - Crillin's Warning
Chapter 3 - The Woman
Chapter 4 - Contact
Chapter 5 - Fallen Kingdom
Chapter 6 - The Barrier
Chapter 7 - The Dark Forest
Chapter 8 - Terror
Chapter 9 - The Moat
Chapter 10 - Lizards and Fairies
Chapter 11 - The Crossing
Chapter 12 - Remnants of Battle
Chapter 13 - A Glimpse into the Past
Chapter 14 - The Great Hall
Chapter 15 - Secrets and Mysteries
Chapter 16 - Tiny Troll
Chapter 17 - No Time to Waste
Chapter 18 - The Bowels of the Castle
Chapter 19 - Grimm's Desire
Chapter 20 - The Race to Save Peter
Chapter 21 - Wizard Standoff
Chapter 22 - Lost Soul
Chapter 23 - Counsel of Wizards
Chapter 24 - The Wizard's Apprentice
Chapter 1 - The Choosing
Today is not a good day to be late. Krys’ gut clenched and a trickle of perspiration snaked its way down his face. He straightened his brown tunic and ran toward the clearing in the center of Ravenwood Village. The day of his Choosing had arrived.
Activity was at its peak as visitors from across the land arrived in the small village for the annual meeting of the wizards, called the Gathering, and the upcoming selection of apprentices from this year’s collection of Lanterra’s fourteen-year-olds.
As much as he’d anticipated the future this day would bring, the ramifications of failure hung like a thick veil over him.
He skidded to a stop and scanned the meeting area. It was far from full. He’d made it in time. He searched for Peter, who’d left the Greenleaf cottage before Krys had woken up completely, saying something about wanting to investigate the food wagons at the festival.
Some of the youth who’d already arrived paced the ground, kicking up small clouds of dust with each step. A few girls fidgeted in their seats. Still other teens stood, staring straight ahead, no discernable expressions on their faces. Seeing so many students as nervous as he, Krys’s stomach tied into an even tighter knot and the cold sweat on his forehead made him shiver.
Finally, he spied his best friend at the back of the expanse, sitting amongst a grouping of stools made from cut logs, set on their ends, as far away from the raised platform as they could be. Peter wore his best doublet and breeches, and his new boots. His shoulder-length dark hair was tied back with a string of leather.
The smoke from the fire pit in the center burned Krys’ eyes as he passed by and weaved in and out of the seats, heading toward Peter.
“Are you ready?” Peter asked as Krys drew closer.
How could he ask such a question? Krys rubbed his eyes, still burning from the smoke. Tiny butterflies erupted in his gut and he swallowed hard and sighed. “I still don’t know how I’m going to impress the wizards.”
“You’ll do fine.”
“I can’t do magic in front of people.”
“You’re not applying for village wizard, just an apprenticeship.” Peter stood and extended his right hand, palm up. A small pulsing star appeared, cradled atop his fingertips. He stared at the glowing object and raised it into the air with his index finger. With his other hand, he massaged the air around the star and caused it to spin. With a flick of his wrist, he launched it toward Krys. “Catch.”
Krys raised his hand and stopped the motion of the flaming orb. He twirled his index finger and moved the star in circles. He jabbed at it, making it burn brighter and grow in size. “Dintabis.” The star disappeared.
“You just did.”
“But, how am I going to do it in front of the elders and—” Krys glanced around the sparsely populated meeting area. “—and all those wizards? And what about Zandur?”
Peter clapped Krys on the shoulder. “Don’t let him get to you. He only does it to get a reaction.”
“Easy for you to say.” Krys dropped onto a stool.
“That’s because I ignore him.” Peter grinned and sat on the stump next to Krys.
“Not to mention you can actually do magic.”
“You do plenty.” Peter pulled an apple from his pack and bit into it. Juice dribbled down his chin and he wiped it off with the back of his hand.
Krys swallowed the acid in his throat and wondered how his friend could eat on such an important day.
In an attempt to quell his fears and forget, for a moment, the possible outcome of the day’s exams, Krys changed the subject. “When we’re done here, let’s go to my cottage. There’s something I’m dying to show you.”
Peter pitched the chewed apple core into his pack. “Parents home, yet?
“Doubt it. They’re supposed to get back tomorrow or the next day. At least I think that’s what they told your father.”
“Where’d you say they went?” Peter picked up a stick and pitched it toward the fire pit. It made a graceful arch and landed in the center of the flames. “I can’t believe they missed the Choosing.”
“Cobble Village. Father said it was unavoidable. Something to do with a strange artifact found along the Artaxiad River.”
“Yeah it does.” Krys rubbed his hands together. “Glad I got out of that trip.”
Peter furrowed his brow. “But why did your mother go?” He cocked his head. “It’s not like both of them to miss something so important.”
“There were ancient runes on it that no one could read. And mother is—”
“Lanterra’s best rune expert.” Peter smiled as he finished Krys’ sentence.
“I’m glad they let you stay with us,” Peter said. “Father’s got some big celebration planned for us tonight, in honor of us getting our mentors.”
A tight knot formed in Krys’ belly. “I wish I had the confidence your father seems to have in me.”
Peter punched Krys in the arm. “Quit worrying so much.”
In small groups, the rest of the year’s prospective apprentices from across Lanterra filed into the meeting place. Some peered about nervously, others yelled for their friends and laughed. Parents of the prospects looked on from the perimeter of the clearing. A din of conversation filled the air. Seeing so many people in his tiny, quiet village made Krys even more nervous than before.
Six fourteen-year-old Ravenwood youths vied for wizard mentors, while nineteen others were testing for trades and the arts. Many dozens more from across Lanterra made up the rest of the crowd.
Not wanting to attract the attention of the other candidates, Krys glanced around the busy village. An old woman he’d never seen before emerged from the shadows near a low stone wall near the butcher’s pens. She beckoned him with her bony hand.
A breath caught in his throat. He turned to Peter. “Who’s the old lady by the goat pens?”
Peter turned around. “What woman?”
A rush of blood shot to Krys’ head. He spun in his seat to search for her. “She was right there. I think she wanted me to go over there.”
Peter shrugged. “I think you’re seeing things, ‘cause there’s no one there.” He turned his attention to a group of whispering girls several rows ahead and smiled at a pretty red-haired girl dressed in a tawny vest and skirts. She smiled back, then averted his gaze, a slight blush covering her fair cheeks.
“Krystomere Anderwood,” a low, raspy voice said from behind Krys.
A shiver shot up his spine and he turned. “Yes?”
From behind a stocky tree, the stooped figure emerged. Gnarled fingers stretched toward Krys. Her head was covered with a tattered shawl. Wisps of gray hair protruded from its edge and framed her face in silver. Ragged breaths came from her pale, dry lips. “You must go to the castle,” she whispered.
He wasn’t hallucinating. “What’re you talking about?” Krys nudged Peter in the ribs and then rose to his feet. He stood a head taller than her hunched frame. “I’m not going anywhere, The Choosing is today.”
“You must seek the wizard.”
“Go away, old woman,” said Peter, now standing beside Krys.
She stared at Peter, and then at Krys. “There is no time to waste.”
“I told you I can’t go anywhere,” said Krys. “Not today.”
Peter took a step toward her. She backed up and disappeared behind a tree.
Fear bubbled in Krys and a flush spread across his chest and rose to his face. “What a strange old woman.” He turned and sat down, but continued to glance over his shoulder. He saw her nowhere. He leaned toward Peter and whispered, “Have you ever seen her before?” After Peter shook his head, Krys scanned the space around him again. “She must have me confused with someone else.”
Peter plucked a piece of jerky from his pack and tore off a large chunk with his teeth. “Maybe,” he mumbled through his full mouth.
An uneasy prickle shot up the back of Krys’ skull, making his hair stand up. He knew the old woman remained hidden somewhere behind him. Trying not to let her get to him, he returned his attention to the reason he was here. Several of the other teens pointed and whispered as a long line of wrinkly wizards, led by Ravenwood’s elders, arrived. Their long robes brushed the dirt path smooth as they angled toward the raised platform at the opposite end of the clearing. They climbed the creaky wooden steps and sat on benches in front of the prospective apprentices. The craftsmen and artisans from across Lanterra arrived next, taking their seats next to the wizards. The assembled mentors, some smiling, some scowling, and others with no discernable expressions at all looked out over the collection of squirming students.
Krys’ heart beat faster and he felt his excitement rise. Mentors from all of Lanterra generally took apprentices from their own villages. From time to time, however, they chose one from outside a particular clan or community. In such a case, the protégé was being considered by multiple mentors based on the youth’s exceptional talent.
The annual Gathering served two purposes, both vital to the safety and future of Lanterra. First and foremost, the highest wizards of the land exchanged information in order to determine the current level of wizarding power and reported all incidences of evil sorcery over the past year. Secondly, they gathered to test the fourteen-year-old students of wizardry and other skills, ending in the Choosing: the taking of apprentices.
Wizard Crillin, Ravenwood’s instructor of magic, stood, threw his knee-length, braided beard over his shoulder, and raised his leathery hands. Silence fell over the clearing.
Falunsaar, a dwarf dragon, sat on Crillin’s shoulder, his crest no taller than the wizard’s ear. His scales, reflecting a myriad of shades of red, seemed to glow with malevolence. The small creature rocked back and forth, his keen eyes surveying the youth as if in judgment of their worthiness. The tiny dragon hated everyone but Crillin and took every opportunity to singe the hair off any unsuspecting person, or nip at a finger that got too close to its razor-sharp teeth. Over the years, there had been many failed attempts on his life.
He launched himself from his perch and swooped low over the crowd. Those in his path shrieked in terror and ducked to avoid his line of flight. Krys’ sandy-colored hair blew into his face as the tiny, glimmering wings fluttered within inches of him. The dwarf dragon angled upward and landed on a low branch not far from where Krys sat, hissing and belching small balls of fire.
Krys pushed his disheveled bangs from his forehead and avoided looking into the bottomless eyes of the small, nasty creature that he hated with a passion.
Several rows ahead, Vrelk Zandur turned around and glared at Krys. Zandur’s friends snickered and jabbed each other in the ribs.
“You shouldn’t have showed up, Anderwood.” Zandur sneered. “You know you’re not gonna be chosen.” He laughed. “Maybe I can get you a job as my little sister’s hand maiden.”
Zandur and his friends shoved each other and laughed snidely.
Krys clenched his teeth and fists, trying to ignore his bubbling anger. It didn’t work. He jumped toward the bully, wanting to pummel him where he stood. He felt Peter grab the back of his tunic and pull him back to his seat.
“Ignore him,” Peter whispered.
“Hmph.” Krys crossed his arms over his chest, slumped in his seat, and kicked the empty log in front of him. He gazed at the group of wizards on the platform to avoid looking in Zandur’s direction.
His hands clasped, Crillin scanned the fidgeting youth. “I want to welcome those who have traveled far to be here.” The wizard smiled. He turned and extended his hand to the wizards, craftsmen, and artisans. “I’d also like to thank our esteemed guests and our own citizens for offering their time and endless talents to train the youth of Lanterra.” He turned back to the young people in the audience. “I hope everyone is ready for the Choosing.” Crillin’s gaze met Krys’. Kindness glimmered in the old wizard’s eyes.
“Please exit when I call your group,” Crillin told the perspective apprentices. Those hoping to become blacksmiths, carpenters, healers, and a dozen other vocations left the clearing as the wizard announced their exams. Hopeful mentors for these students followed them out. Crillin then called for those wanting to show their talents as artisans and performers. Before long, more than two-thirds of the young people and adults had left the meeting area.
Raising his hands, Crillin waved those who remained toward him. “Come closer so an old
Zandur, his friends having left him for their specified Choosings, flopped on a seat amidst a half-dozen visiting girls, draping his arms around two of them. The girls giggled.
Krys and Peter moved closer to the platform, yet, remained at the back of the group.
“Shall we begin?” Crillin smiled, plunging his hand into a basket and pulling out a small piece of parchment. “Frayela Tanager, the village of Naes.”
A girl dressed in green timidly walked to the platform.
Krys’ muscles tensed when a warm breath brushed against his ear. He spun around in his seat. The old woman’s face was mere inches from his. Her clear eyes shone out from the deep wrinkles that encircled them.
He scooted away from her, almost falling off the edge of the log-seat. “Go away, old woman.”
“You can’t be here.” Peter waved his hand around the clearing. “This is important.”
Her gaze bore into Krys’, seemingly taking no notice of Peter. “You must go to the castle or Lanterra will surely fall.”
“What’re you talking about?” Krys said, louder than he intended.
Silence enveloped the clearing. Krys turned. Everyone stared at him, including the wizards.
Krys felt his cheeks burn as blood rushed to them. “Go away,” Krys turned his head and said between clenched teeth. But the woman had disappeared, leaving only a faint vapor in her place.
“Is there a problem, Mr. Anderwood?” Crillin asked from the platform.
Krys couldn’t locate the strange old hag. He sat up in his seat and straightened his tunic. “No, Wizard Crillin.”
“Good,” said the wizard. He returned his gaze to the frightened girl next to him. “Please make a brew to render the stare of a leopard scorpion useless.”
Krys craned his neck to get a clear view as she tested. Suddenly he was wrapped across the chest by a strong embrace. He struggled to free himself. Peering down, he saw no arms encircling him, but the pressure of the embrace tightened.