Authors: Robyn Wideman
Tags: #Children's Books, #Fairy Tales; Folk Tales & Myths, #Arthurian, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Fantasy & Magic, #Teen & Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Coming of Age, #Myths & Legends, #Sword & Sorcery, #Children's eBooks, #Science Fiction; Fantasy & Scary Stories
The Missing Mage
STONEBLOOD SAGA: BOOK TWO
Copyright @ 2015 Robyn Wideman
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SURGING SWELLS CRASHED against the hull of the
. High winds created a tempest out the normally calm waters along the Mithbea coastline. Nathan stood alone at the bow of the vessel, letting the rains pelt him. The sting of the wind-whipped water was a welcome distraction from the strong sense of self-doubt residing in his heart and mind. Large swells pulled the sleek, streamlined vessel back and forth in a violent dance. Nathan swayed with the motion of the storm. The dark, unsettled sea matched the mood of the young warrior.
Gazing out over the waters, Nathan no longer saw the shore. Somewhere off to his left, past the walls of waves and rain, lay Mithbea, a continent new and unfamiliar. It was with trepidation that Nathan was making this journey. He had not only made the decision for himself, but also for his three childhood friends. Ava, her little sister Rose, and Sharon were all that remained of the village of Elderwood. Without families to return to, Elderwood was no longer a home. It was a haunting memory of innocence lost. The village would be a constant reminder of the trauma suffered at the hands of the duke.
Nathan was taking them to Balta, the homeland of his late mother and her family. However, the decision was eating at him. Was it right to take them to a new city to start over? Should he have returned to Elderwood with the girls? But to what, a deserted village filled with the ghosts and memories of their slain families? No, Nathan thought to himself. The unknown and exotic nature of Balta would be a much better environment to help the girls move past the events of the last few months.
For three days, they had sailed west, traveling through the narrow strait, making the journey from Pailtar to Balta. After rescuing his friends from the duke and his men, Nathan had been tempted to stay in Pailtar. He wanted to search for the duke, who had slipped off into the night during the rescue. Nathan had little remorse for the killing of the duke’s men. His frustration came from the fact that the duke, the reason for all recent blood loss and hardship, still lived. A still-healing wound on his arm was a visual reminder of the deadly battle he had waged against the duke’s men. Only his concern for his friends and the wise council of his Uncle Verin had kept Nathan from hunting down the duke and seeking justice.
Nathan felt Ava’s presence even before she touched his shoulder. Their bond had grown since being reunited and he could sense her moods as well as location. Right now, he sensed her concern for him. Nathan put on a smile and turned to his friend.
Nathan pulled her close so she could hear his words over the howling wind. “Isn’t it beautiful? I love watching the waves crash into each other, while the rain pushes down on the water like a thick blanket.”
“Are you crazy, did you hit your head again?” Ava found nothing about the sea or this storm beautiful. “It’s cold, wet, and the rain is hitting so hard it stings. Come below deck where it is dry.” Ava pulled at Nathan’s arm, making the point that this was not negotiable.
Nathan took one last long survey across the dark stormy sky. Soon they would be in Balta, he wondered if the storms, in the sky and his mind, would end before they arrived at their destination.
DARK CLOUDS OF thick black smoke were the first signs of trouble. As the
made its way through the deserted docks of Balta, Verin worried. “There should be workers here, and why are there fires?” Verin turned to the captain. “Secure the ship. Keep the girls safely onboard.” Verin organized his weapons. “Nathan, you and I will go find out what is going on.”
Nathan grabbed his weapons and ran with Verin up the dock towards the closed gates to the city walls. As they got closer to the gates, a soldier posted on the walls recognized Verin and called out. “Open the gates. Ranger Verin has returned.”
With a loud creaking and crackling, the oversized, steel-reinforced doors opened. Inside the gate stood the captain of the guard, at attention waiting for them to come inside. Verin wasted no time on pleasantries. “Bravin, please report on the status of the kingdom.”
Bravin gave a brief look towards Nathan then swiftly filled them in on the situation. “Ranger Verin, your return is timely. The kingdom is under attack.”
Verin interrupted the man. “Morthon?”
“No, a dozen ships from the western lands. Our fleet is hunting them down as we speak, but the enemy unloaded troops up shore that are causing havoc in the villages outside the city walls. Everyone inside the city is safe, but those who were working in the fields or too far from the city gates are trapped between the marauders and the gates. The king is organizing a counterattack as we speak.”
“Thank you, Bravin. Could I get you to spare a guard to go down to the
and escort her passengers to a room in the east wing of the castle?”
Bravin, knowing that the east wing bedrooms were normally reserved for visiting dignitaries and other special guests, surmised the passengers aboard the ship were of importance. “I’ll handle it myself, Ranger Verin.”
Leaving the captain to take the girls to the castle, Nathan and Verin continued into the city. They walked out of the shadows of the thick stone city walls, following a cobblestone road that lead up through the city to the castle. The castle itself was like nothing Nathan had ever seen before. From the road he was able to look past the outer castle wall, the main structure had to be at least six stories high, with several towers that went even higher. Its grayed rock and plaster walls, dusty from the bustling city around it, did nothing to diminish its splendor. The castle of Balta was an intimidating and glorious sight.
As they walked through the open castle gates several of the guards nodded at Verin. Verin returned each gesture. Verin might be the king’s brother but he was obviously respected by the guards, noted Nathan.
The entrance to the castle itself was enthralling. It boasted two elegantly designed doors, made out of a dark wood that Nathan didn’t recognize. The two doors featured large carvings of an eagle, wings extended and clutching a sword in its talons.
Verin noted Nathan’s interest in the doors as they made their way inside. “It is the Albet crest. Any knight or warrior wearing the crest is in service to the king.”
Past the doors, the main castle entrance was enormous. Several large staircases branched off to either side and a main corridor went down the middle. It was a wide corridor with hallways branching off to the left and right. Verin walked through the main hall, turned and led Nathan up the first staircase on the right. They climbed several flights of stairs until they reached the fourth floor. Here Verin left the stairs and went down the hallway, stopping to enter into a doorway. Verin opened the door to the room. Nathan could hear the voices of several men talking. When the door was fully open, Nathan looked inside to what appeared to be a war room. Men surrounded a sturdy-looking large table, covered in maps, which dominated the spacious yet sparsely decorated room.
As they entered the room, the discussion halted as the occupants turned to see who was interrupting. A voice rang out from the far side of the table. “You sure took your sweet time getting back, brother. I am sure you’ve an interesting tale or two from your journey, but it will have to wait. Come join us. Plavicus here is about to explain the details of the attack. I welcome your council on how to deal with this situation.”
Nathan looked at the speaker. Nothing about his physical appearance or dress marked him as exceptionally different from any other man in the room. However, the way he carried himself and the kind yet authoritative voice spoke volumes about who this was. Without doubt, this was the king. As Verin walked across the room to greet his brother, Nathan lingered in the doorway, unsure how to proceed.
“Brother, it is good to be home.” Verin clasped his brother’s arm as he spoke, then turned towards the door. “I think you know who I brought with me.”
The king turned his attention towards Nathan.
Nathan stood tall, meeting the king’s gaze.
“He has his mother’s eyes but the rest screams northerner.” The king paused and then gave a small smile. “He could be no one other than our own sister’s son. Come to the table, boy. We can do a formal introduction later, but right now we have important business to discuss. These bastards form the west are endangering our people.” The king’s kind smile softened the abrupt introduction. The king then turned to Plavicus, motioning him to continue his report.
Nathan admired the King’s calm attitude. He was very similar to Verin in that manner. To listen to Verin and the king, one might not know the kingdom was under attack. Their calm and polite way of discussing crisis’ was reassuring.
Plavicus, one of Verin’s rangers, gave a brief description of the situation. “Our fleet is out now and the dozen ships will likely retreat. We don’t believe this is anything more than a diversion to distract us while the ground troops cause havoc in the fields and villages. The real problem is they have a skirmish line outside the main southern gates and no one can get to the safety of the city. We also can’t get out of the gates because they have a mage dropping fireballs every time we attempt to exit. The fire mage just stands there, safely out of the range of our archers. Their archers hit everyone we send to sneak close enough to attack the mage. We could load knights into a ship and sail upland but if they catch on and the mage attacks our ship, we lose more knights. Already 30 have perished at the hands of this fire mage.”
“What say our mages on this?” the king spoke to a tall man with dark robes standing at the table.
“Besides the fire mage, we believe a second mage is blocking us from using magic attacks against the fire mage. I’m afraid that a physical attack is only way to stop the fire mage.”
“Thank you Balthazar.” The king sighed, and looked at Verin. “Well brother, how are you and your rangers going to save us this time?”
“I’m going to ride out the gates, break up the skirmishing line and get the people to the safety of the city.” Verin spoke confidently but added no more to his vague explanation.
“Ah, an excellent idea brother,” the king clapped his hands together in mock celebration. “I forgot how painful getting details out of you can be. Now would you mind telling the rest of us, how do you plan on defeating the fire mage?”
“Oh, I’m not going to do anything about the fire mage,” replied Verin.
“You’re not?” replied the king starting to lose his patience.
“No, I am not, he is.” Verin pointed down the table to Nathan.
Nathan gulped. “Me?”
The southern watchtower rose a good 50 feet above the city. From this vantage point, Nathan could see almost the entire city of Balta. Its vastness amazed him. Balta was larger than all the towns and villages Nathan had ever been in combined. However, it wasn’t here to admire the city views. From the tower Nathan was able to look over the southern wall and see the tree line where the fire mage hid. When Verin had explained the plan, it had sounded crazy. Now that he stood up in the tower, it seemed even worse.
“When we open the gates, the fire mage will come out from the woods so he has a clean line of sight on the front gates. When he comes out you shoot him,” had been Verin’s entire explanation of Nathan’s role.
Nathan knew that with his bloodstone-imbued witch oak bow he could fire an arrow far, but Nathan was not half the marksmen that Verin was and if he missed his target Verin, his rangers, and the knights fighting with them would suffer a fiery death. When Nathan brought this to Verin’s attention, all he did was shrug and say that Nathan had better not miss then.
What Verin had failed to mention was the southern watchtower was almost a hundred feet back from the wall. Whatever advantage he gained from the extra height, he lost from the longer distance.
This is crazy,
Crazy or not he had no choice but to try. Verin had faith in him; he only wished he had as much faith in himself. Nathan avoided thinking of the consequences of missing. Instead, he concentrated on making sure his arrow flew true. He took a deep breath and focused on the task. He would not have a target until the gates opened but until then he would watch the tree line for signs of the mage. Luckily, there was only a small breeze coming off the coast to his back. Nathan felt slightly encouraged. If the wind had been coming from the south this would have been a near impossible shot, but today the wind was his ally.