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from The Way by Linda James

Chapter 5

They reached the town of Gretzgig and Bru found it had changed since she last was here. A crude wall had been erected and a stout wooden gate stood guarded by two sentries posted on a small platform. One of these called to them as they approached.

“State your name and business.”

“I am the wizard Bruhana. I have business with your mayor.”

The two guards conferred and the second one asked, “How do I know you are who you say?”

Bru bristled at that, but Zeke put his hand on her arm. “They’re scared. It’ll be dark soon, shouldn’t we get inside?”

“You’re right of course.” She turned her attention to the sentries, and lifted her staff and held it horizontal. She spoke softly and a blue glow emanated from the stone at the top. Her voice rose and the glow increased and a bolt shot from the tip striking a rock, which exploded impressively.

Suitably impressed, there was noise behind the gate and it swung open, the two sentries at attention as they walked through.

“If you could direct us to your inn, I would be obliged,” said Bru.

“We’re not so big to have an inn. At least, not since the last attack,” said Sentry One.

“We’ve lost a bit of the town, including the Lost Dog, but you can find a warm spot at the Sign of the Fig. Arfred’s got the largest place and serves as our Common House. You know, a place for us to have a pint and a game of rastle.”

“Good,” said Bru, “that is precisely what I wish to discuss with the mayor. Better that the entire village be there.”

“We mostly talk about the Darkness lately,” said Sentry One darkly, as they passed the remains of several buildings and saw evidence of many repairs. The streets were deserted this close to nightfall.

Zeke picked up his pace, tugging at the animals. “Where can I stable these?” he asked.

“Right across from the Fig. Not really a barn, but the place isn’t fit for human habitation and the stable burned in the last attack.”

“Lost three zorses and seven lumes,” Sentry Two said as they stood in front of the Fig. Zeke took their animals to the stable and got them settled with a rub down. When he came out the sun had just set and he quickly crossed the narrow street to join Bru at the Fig. It was after sunset when he entered, but it was full dark inside. He paused to let his eyes adjust and took a deep relaxing breath, which caught in his throat as the miasma of scents exploded in his head and he coughed violently. As usual with locals, suspicious eyes were on him and he could feel their fear as he crossed the room to the table in the back where Bruhana sat. Zeke had just sat down when food and drinks arrived at their table.

Zeke was always apprehensive when trying new foods and since he’d arrived in the Wold, he was even more so. Tonight though, he was pleasantly surprised. The best part was the beer was actually cold. It annoyed the locals, but pleased Zeke immensely. Another beer or two and he might actually begin to relax. It seemed he was always tense and had to remind himself to relax his muscles.

They ate quietly, but as soon as the dishes were cleared away, Zeke had enough. “The pterosaurs really did a number on this place.”

 “That wooden fence they’ve put up, it’s not going to stop those monsters. It’s a poor use of their resources besides,” Bru said.

“What they need are archers.”

“No, missus,” interrupted the serving woman as she returned with another cold beer for Zeke. “What we need is magic.”

“Bruhana looked concerned. “I remember there being a Lesser Wizard living here, Barthal. Why do you need more magic?”

“Gone?”

“Where?”

The woman shrugged. “Just gone.”

“That goes against everything a wizard is taught. I know Barthal, not well, but he is, or was, a good man.”

“You didn’t know?”

“Unless someone in Gretzgig notified the Council, I would have no way of knowing. Something must have happened to him. Did no one search for him?”

“What can harm a wizard?”

“A wildercat, a pterosaur, drowning. Wizards have magic and can protect ourselves from many things, but in the end we are flesh and bone and can die any number of ways.”

“What about Her?” someone asked.

Bru silently contemplated her feet for a long quiet minute. “If Kahi could be turned, why not Barthal? Certainly it is possible. I find it unlikely, and yet.” Somehow thinking Xanthipi was recruiting lesser wizards was almost more frightening than losing Kahi. “How many wizards have turned against their teachings?” she wondered.

A sudden gust of cold wind blew open the door, putting out the lanterns that hung about the room. The few high windows rattled violently. A good number of patrons lifted their middle finger to ward off any evil that may have blown in, as the proprietor rushed to shut the door. Servants quickly came out with tapers and lit the candles.

Several patrons dashed out and ran for home, while most hesitated and milled about muttering to each other. “Maybe no one should leave,” suggested a plump serving woman.

“I can’t stay here, me wee kiddies…” said someone, the rest of his comment was cut off by a gut-wrenching scream and panic followed. People ran about in circles wondering what to do. Several women began to cry and three men ran off in blind terror, leaving the door open in their wake. Some stood rooted by indecision. All were frightened.

“We’ve got to stop people from leaving,” Zeke turned to Bru, but she wasn’t next to him any longer. He scanned the room and spotted her in the center of the room, her eyes shut in concentration. Her lips moved ...






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