Mageborn the blacksmiths.., p.1

Mageborn The Blacksmith's Son, page 1


Mageborn The Blacksmith's Son

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Mageborn The Blacksmith's Son


  The Blacksmith’s Son


  Michael G. Manning

  © 2011 by Gwalchmai Press, LLC

  All rights reserved.

  ISBN 978-1463684341


  Printed in the United States of America.


  I would like to thank my family and friends for their continued support. I would not have been able to write this without their encouragement. I’d particularly like to thank my mother for her lifelong support and my wife for her encouragement, photography, and artistic skills in designing the cover.


  Elena di’Cameron was worried about her husband. He seemed fine when he returned from dinner that evening, but now he was ill. Normally she would have dined in the hall with him and her family. They were visiting her parents, the Count and Countess di’Cameron, but her baby had been fussy. Rather than drag him downstairs she had fed him in her room and taken a light meal there for herself.

  Tyndal, her husband and counselor to the King of Lothion, had returned right after dinner complaining of tiredness and had gone to bed early. A few hours later she woke to the sound of him retching violently. “Tyndal? What’s wrong?” She sat up and lit a lamp. He sat on the floor, holding the chamber pot as he heaved. She was shocked at his appearance. His face was pale and his black hair was damp with sweat. As she looked on he convulsed again, but his stomach was already empty.

  She went to him and wiped his face with a towel, “You don’t look good. Let me get the physician.”

  He waved his hands, “I just want some water, I don’t need a healer.”

  “I’ll get some for you.” There was no use arguing with him; she would call for the physician while she got the water. He could complain later, the stubborn fool. She crossed the antechamber and stepped out into the hallway. Her parent’s rooms were across from hers and the door was slightly ajar. That’s odd, she thought, but she continued down the hall, intent on her goal.

  As she rounded the corner she saw two men in black garb entering one of the empty rooms. Stepping back quickly she knew things were very badly wrong. Then she remembered her parents door. Rushing, she was back to it within seconds and thrusting it open she burst into the room. The doorway led into a small sitting room; the layout was similar to her own rooms. It was empty. A scream came from the bedroom and the opposite door flew open, as her mother struggled to get through. She was held from behind by another of the black garbed men and the front of her nightdress was soaked with blood. In the space of a heartbeat Elena saw her mother’s head jerked back and smoothly the man drew a short blade across her neck in a circular motion.

  Blood fountained from her ruined neck and the Countess di’Cameron sagged to the floor. In Elena’s heart a voice was screaming but no sound came from her lips; her teeth were clenched and her jaw set. The assassin looked at her grinning, the woman before him was no challenge, barehanded and still in her nightgown. Two short strides and he was to her, his open hand reaching for her hair. He barely lived long enough to regret his mistake.

  Elena was one of the Anath’Meridum, the secretive guardians that protected the line of Illeniel, and a lethal warrior with or without weapons. She stepped into him and her palm struck him in the chin, snapping his head back. The force of it caused him to topple backward, off balance. She stayed close, giving him no space as he stumbled. Holding his shirt she ripped his other dagger from its sheath and pushed him to the floor while sliding the blade into his chest, just under the sternum. A second thrust under his chin made sure he would not rise again.

  Her mother was dead; she knew that before she got to her. Her father the Count was dead on the floor of his bedroom, and the blood pooling on the floor shone blackly in the candlelight. Elena came near to collapsing then as the sight overwhelmed her, but a flash of light from behind kept her from giving in to her emotions. Returning the way she had come she saw the hallway fill with incandescent fire and the screams of dying men found her ears.

  The flames vanished as quickly as they had appeared and she ducked her head out, scanning the hall. Two men lay smouldering on the floor outside her own room, and Tyndal stood clutching the door frame. He was having difficulty staying upright. Gradually he sagged downward holding his stomach. More men ran past, one leaping over Tyndal to enter her bedroom while the other two paused to finish the dying wizard. They never saw her stepping out from the other bedroom.

  One raised his sword to strike Tyndal while the other looked on. Behind them an angel of death rose up in a white nightgown, blond hair framing flashing blue eyes as Elena struck. The dagger went into the kidney of the man watching her husband while her free hand jerked backward on the collar of the one raising his sword. Her bare foot was planted behind his right boot and he fell backwards. He never got the chance to get up; the dagger was back and in his throat before he had finished striking the ground.

  Tyndal was staring at her as she raised her head, loose hair hanging like a golden cloak over her shoulders. Her eyes met his and he tried to speak, “Our son...” his voice was dry and weak. She took up the dead man’s sword and raced past Tyndal without a sound. The nursery door was open and within she could see a dark form, the third man, holding a sword over the crib.

  This one heard her coming and faced her head on, forgetting his target momentarily. Steel flashed in the dim room for tense seconds, seconds that felt like hours. He was good... few swordsmen could have held her at bay so long... but he knew he was losing. A moment more and she would have him. Desperate he stepped to the side and feinted, not at her, swinging instead for the crib with its tiny occupant. Elena made the choice every mother would make, not that it was a choice, for there was no thought in it. The instinct of every woman in history that had ever held babe to breast made this choice for her, not that she would have changed it. She lunged, seeking to block the sword that sought her son’s life and barely she made it, but it left her off balance and exposed. The assassin’s riposte took her in the stomach, steel ripping her gown and the flesh beneath. Her own sword whipped back as she retreated, slicing into his face.

  The assassin screamed, blood running from his right eye. The pain and blood disoriented him for just a moment, and he tried to defend himself as Elena came back. She was clutching her stomach with her left hand to keep everything in, while her right drove him mercilessly backward with the sword. Her face was lit with rage and fury as she struck at him. “You will not have my son!” She struck again and this time his response was too slow; she batted his clumsy defense aside and pierced his heart, driving the sword between his ribs and out between his shoulder blades, pinning the dead man to the wall.

  Elena had no time for dying; she went to the crib, still trying to keep herself together. Because of her stomach she only had one hand, so she dropped the sword and tried to comfort her son with her free hand. She heard a noise behind her and if it had been another assassin she might have been undone, but it was Tyndal. He looked like death warmed over as he made his way into the small room. “Your belly...” he said as he gasped for air.

  “Never mind that, you look worse than me, and that’s saying something.” She smiled at him, the same smile that had won his heart years before, then she leaned back against the wall and slid down. Loss of blood had begun to make her dizzy.

  Tyndal sat down beside her and tried to ease her flat onto the floor, but the skin of her stomach separated as she straightened out, drawing a choked cry from her. “Dear gods Lena! I can’t fix this... it’s too much...” Tyndal Ardeth’Illeniel was the most powerful wizard alive then, but his knowledge of the healing arts was limited, and his own body was dying. The me
al at Castle Cameron had been poisoned, and every man woman and child within the keep that had eaten it was dying as well.

  He put aside his pain, focusing as he drew his finger across her belly like a knife. The skin drew together and closed at his touch and within a moment only a silver line remained to show where she had been cut. Elena’s pain subsided and she looked into Tyndal’s face. It was covered in sweat and drawn by pain and exhaustion. Still his brilliant blue eyes looked on her with the same sharp intellect that had always fascinated her. This man, her husband, was dying and she could do nothing.

  Able to sit up now she drew him to her, tears brimming in her eyes. They held each other for a long minute, till he began heaving again and pushed her away. He was bringing up blood now. After an eternity he stopped and managed to speak, “You’ve got to take our son and go.”

  Some women might have argued or wept, but Elena di’Cameron did not. She was Anath’Meridum, and she knew what had to be done. Nodding she rose and tested her wound. The skin and muscle seemed whole but a deeper burning told her that more was yet wrong within her. Tyndal leaned over the crib and picked up their son. He swayed a bit as he stood there, making her concerned he might fall with the tiny child, but he kept his feet. “Grow strong my son; live and make me proud.” He kissed his son on the cheek and handed him to Elena. “I love you both.”

  “Forever,” she replied and kissed him quickly.

  Taking her free hand Tyndal led her into the bedroom. She left him for a moment and gathered a few things. Dressing quickly she put on simple breeches and a plain tunic, then she slipped her surcoat over it. She buckled on her sword and joined her husband; he had gone out onto the balcony.

  Standing there she looked at the man she had pledged her life to protect. The man she had to leave behind. Doubt assailed her, “Are you sure?”

  “There is no other way. I am dying already; you must break your vow. You have to escape if our son is to live,” he replied. Tears stood out in his eyes.

  Elena looked away, then she went back inside. She pushed the furniture in the anteroom against the door then went to reclaim the assassin’s sword. She put the stranger’s weapon in her sheath and then returned to Tyndal, holding her own sword in her hand. She held the blade out to him and their eyes met. “I, Elena di’Cameron forsake my bond and I ask for your release.” She spoke the words no Anath’Meridum had ever spoken.

  Tyndal reached out placing his hand over the blade, “I, Tyndal Ardeth’Illeniel release you.” As he spoke the blade glowed for a moment before going dark, then it shattered like glass. “My strength is almost gone Elena, you have to hurry.”

  Dropping the hilt she embraced him and then took their child from his arms. “How is this going to work?” She wasn’t sure how he planned to get her down; the balcony stood nearly a hundred feet above the courtyard below.

  “You will be light, like thistledown. You’ll have to jump, but my magic will keep you safe till you reach the ground. I’m sorry, its all I have strength for...” he said. He spoke a few words in the ancient tongue and put his hand on her brow.

  "I love you,” she said and put her hand to the rail, holding their son close with the other.

  “I know. You carry my heart in you, and my life in your arms. I do not die tonight, so long as you live.” He kissed her and then she jumped, drifting down like a feather in a light wind. As she floated downward she heard a noise come from the room above and Tyndal turned back to the bedroom. Men were forcing the door inward, pushing the furniture aside. Tyndal walked toward them with fire dripping from his hands. A second later he was lost to her sight as she drifted lower.

  The night grew bright for a moment as flames shot from the balcony. The fire grew, brighter and brighter till it seemed as bright as the sun, consuming their bedroom and a large portion of that floor of the keep. Then it dimmed, fading back to an orange glow as the keep began to burn from within. Tyndal Ardeth’Illeniel, the last wizard of Lothion, was no more.

  Elena reached the ground and gazed upward a moment longer. Then she looked away and began running for the stables. She wept silently as she ran, holding her infant son. It would have been shameful for someone to have seen one of her order crying, but then, she was Anath’Meridum no longer.

  She reached the stable in less than a minute and ducked inside. Amazingly the place was empty. Wasting no time she saddled one of her father’s coursers, fast horses bred for the hunt. It wasn’t easy to mount carrying her babe, but she managed it somehow and then they were out, racing away with the wind whipping her hair back.

  They rode across the castle yard and through the gatehouse. There were men and horses gathered outside but she caught them by surprise and was past before they could try to stop her. Looking back over her shoulder she could see them mounting to follow, shouting at her to stop. She paid them no heed and rode on, flying headlong into the night.

  She rode through the night, pushing her mount, hoping to outdistance her pursuers. Sometime near dawn her horse faltered and nearly fell, forcing her to stop. She dismounted hastily before her mount collapsed. She had ridden it to death. The horse was blowing hard and its mouth was covered in froth but she had no time to mourn it. It sank to its knees, and trying hard not to think, Elena opened the artery in its neck, giving it a quick release.

  I have seen nothing but death this night, and I have nothing but more of it ahead of me, she thought. Another day she might have shed tears to have slain such a beautiful animal, but there were none left in her. She lifted her son and began to walk. As the hours drew on the pain in her belly grew worse till it felt as though her stomach was on fire. Something was broken inside but she could only hope it wasn’t enough to kill her before she reached Lancaster.

  The Duke of Lancaster was her father’s liege-lord and the closest place she could hope to find refuge. Eventually she found herself on the road again, and she walked eastward into the rising sun. She was uncertain where she had met the road, so she couldn’t be sure how many more miles it was to reach Lancaster. She kept walking. She could see smoke rising beyond the next hill so there must be a dwelling nearby.

  An hour later she was having trouble thinking clearly. Her mouth was dry and her body was hot. Fever had set in and she feared that she would collapse before reaching help. Glancing over her shoulder she saw a man following, a hundred yards back. By his clothes she could tell he was one of the assassins from the night before.

  Adrenaline gave her a moment of clarity and she sped up. He was afoot so she figured he must have ridden his horse to death trying to catch her during the night. She felt a moment’s pity for the animal. Her body was weak, too weak, and even the adrenaline failed to give her enough strength. The man drew steadily closer and she knew the result was inevitable.

  He was only twenty yards back now, and she could hear him breathing hard as he approached. Neither of them had the strength to run, making their competition into a grotesque parody of a sportsman’s race. He was striding heavily while she stumbled along. “Goddammit just stop!” he shouted at her. “Quit now bitch and I’ll make your last minutes pleasant before you die.”

  Elena di’Cameron was no fool. She could not continue and she had no strength to fight. Setting her son down she turned back. Five steps... then ten... she collapsed as he approached. She lay face down with the sword she had taken cradled beneath her. She would not think of it as her own sword; that sword had been broken. She heaved great lungfuls of air and dust from the road as she tried to get some strength back. Her only hope was that he was stupid enough to have some sport of her before he killed her.

  She waited till he stood above her, hoping he would pause. She seemed helpless, which was almost the full truth. Standing there he decided he was too tired for fun and drew his sword. Elena rolled and thrust upward, trying to impale him either in the groin or stomach. It very nearly succeeded, but her arms failed her and the strike was too slow. He kicked her sword aside and then came down hard, planting his knees on he
r shoulders. She felt her collarbone snap and screamed with what air she had left.

  Pinning her to the ground he drew out a small knife, “I’ll finish your kid with this after you’re dead witch!” His eyes held no trace of sanity. She tried to spit in his face but her mouth was dry and there was nothing left. Then an arrow sprouted in his chest. He seemed surprised, looking at it in astonishment. Dropping the knife he tried to pull it out when a second arrow appeared in his throat. He fell off of her, dead before his head found the road. Elena tried to get up, but nothing worked. She could hear her son crying as her sight grew dim. Darkness closed around her and she sank into oblivion.

  Some nameless time later she awoke. She attempted to move and her collarbone shifted, grinding. The pain forced her into stillness and she lay there taking stock of her surroundings. “Don’t try to move. Your body has been through too much,” a voice said.

  A woman sat beside the bed. They were in a small room, some farmer’s cottage perhaps by the look of it. She rinsed a cloth and placed it back on Elena’s forehead. “Your body is taken with a terrible fever. I thought for a while you might never awaken.”

  Elena stared at her; the woman had a kind face, with strong features, “My baby...”

  “Shhhh, don’t worry he’s ok. He’s right here. A good strong boy you have; he’s been crying lustily since Royce brought you in.” She leaned over and lifted Elena’s son from a makeshift bed they had set up in the room. Elena wasn’t able to hold him so the woman settled him beside her, where she could feel him with her hand.

  “I need to tell you some things,” she started.

  “Nah nah, don’t work yourself up. Your body is working hard to fight the fever. You need to rest. There will be plenty of time later,” the woman reassured her.

  “No, there won’t.” Elena said, “I’m hurt deep inside. Down here...” She tried to gesture to her stomach but it hurt too much to move. She was tired, bone tired, but she kept talking, and slowly she explained who she was to the woman caring for her.

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