PART THREE: MANIPULATING MAGIC
The spring of 594 had been one of the most pleasant in recent memories for the communities that dotted the Halcyon Meadows. The grass carpeting the plains was rich and green with frequent splashes of yellow, pink, and blue pastels where clusters of flowers thrived. The days were warm with brilliant sunshine. Rain storms were frequent, but came and went quickly, shedding enough water to keep the crops healthy without threatening to wash them away.
One of the largest settlements on the Halcyon Meadows was that of Falnora, the elf translation of "Freedom". Forty years ago, Falnora's population had numbered less than fifty. There were now nearly two-hundred permanent residents in the small community, and several dozen itinerants who returned to inhabit their huts several times a year, mostly during the winter months, when the weather in this part of the world was more temperate than elsewhere on Devforth.
Most of the inhabitants of Falnora were human - refugees from the six cities, Vorti and Fels in particular - but there was a contingent of elves, all of whom had joined the community since its naming fifteen years ago by the first elf to be accepted there.
Lora had arrived at Falnora in the company of Reg and Eya one night in the autumn of 579. She and the children had been looking for a place to spend a day or two before moving on, but the citizens of the village had offered them a warm welcome and their stay had turned into a sojourn of years. Now, Lora, Reg, and Eya called Falnora home. They lived together as brother and sisters with all the differences between them - of race, of upbringing, and of age - seen as irrelevant.
They never spoke of the final terrible days in Haven. In fact, they rarely spoke of the time before they came to Falnora, the home whose name Lora had coined. For them, it was as if their lives had begun the moment they arrived here. The tragedies of the past, if not forgotten, were firmly behind them. Dav's death and Mora's kidnapping were subjects none of them broached.
Following their arrival in Falnora, it had only been a matter of time before the truth about Eya's abilities became general knowledge. Without meaning to, she used her powers during a harvest - for everyone too see - and the secret was out. Eya's position in the settlement was suddenly elevated.
As the years passed, Eya began training to use her abilities under the tutelage of Falnora's leader, a kindly man named Wil who, as fate decreed, happened to be an Apath as well. Wil, like Reg, Eya, and Lora, had a sad and unsavory past of which he was reluctant to speak, but he admitted to possessing magical abilities and, although he rarely used them, he agreed to help Eya learn how to control and explore her powers.
Reg went through all the studies with Eya, and, although he possessed none of an Apath's talents, his mind was quick and he was able to analyze the methods his sister used and suggest modifications that made the process more efficient. It was remarkable how closely his and Eya's thoughts mirrored each other. At times, it was almost as if they were two halves of one person, instead of separate individuals.
While Wil was an introspective man, his wife, Lis, was as outgoing as she was beautiful. She became a surrogate mother to the three orphans and her own son, Gav, became their brother. Within a few years of their arrival in Falnora, all three refugees from Haven were living under Wil's roof as his children. They dwelt in peace and harmony as a family until events of the fateful year of 594 conspired to change things.
All six of members of Wil's household were seated around the table eating dinner while outside, in the fading twilight, the crickets chirped and locusts buzzed. The smell of damp earth permeated the air in the aftermath of a late afternoon rain, but the clouds had cleared off with dusk and the first stars were winking into existence in the canopy above. It was a peaceful night, typical of spring evenings on the Halcyon Meadows.
At the head of the table was Wil. Throughout his life, he had always looked younger than his age. As a lad, it had been a curse, but now, in his fifty-fourth year, it was a blessing. Even though he was an old man, he retained the look and build of a middle-aged farmer. His light brown hair, now almost all gray, had been cut off raggedly just below the shoulders and was drawn back from his face in a ponytail. His flesh, darkened by exposure to the sun, was wrinkled, but not nearly as badly as the others in Falnora who had reached his age. Wil had clear gray eyes set well apart beneath almost invisible eyebrows. His nose was thin and hooked. and almost beak-like in appearance. He was cleanshaven today, but in another week he might easily sport a beard or mustache, depending on his whim for facial hair. He wore a loose, open-necked tunic and lightweight leggings cut short above the knees.
Lis had not aged as well as Wil, but she was not an Apath with their affinity for defying the ravages of time. She looked every moment of her fifty-odd years, with thinning white hair and blue eyes that were beginning to cloud over. Over the past months, she had developed a noticeable limp and it was now difficult for her to walk. Her skin was paler than that of the other members of her family, since she rarely went outside. Nevertheless, she smiled often, and in that smile there was no regret at the approaching end of her life, only happiness at what lay behind her. She was dressed in a simple white frock; it was her oldest garment, one that she had made for herself over a quarter-century ago.
Thirty-five year old Gav looked nothing like his father, and only a little like his mother, from whom he had inherited his crown of rich wheaten hair. He had a strong face with firm cheekbones and a high forehead. Like his father, he was cleanshaven, although, unlike Wil, he did not periodically sport whiskers. Gav was a somber man who rarely smiled, or at least he had been that way for the nine years since the loss of his wife to a plague. He wore garments almost identical to those of his father, although, with his stockier build, he filled them out better than Wil did.
Lora looked much the same as she had fifteen years ago. For her people, physical change occurred gradually, almost imperceptibly, with the passage of decades. Although she had been born thirty-seven years ago, she looked younger than her human siblings, who were fifteen years her junior. Like many of the girls of Falnora, she dressed in a loose-fitting, high-necked top with an ankle-length wrap-around skirt. Unlike the humans, however, she refused to wear her hair in a bun. The long, black tresses, never touched by a blade, hung loosely to her waist.
Even at twenty-two years of age, and well into adulthood, Reg and Eya looked surprisingly alike. Both had long, wavy fair hair and a slim build. Reg's features were delicate for a man; Eya's face, on the other hand, was almost masculine. They shared the same blue eyes. Neither was especially attractive, although Reg's appearance suffered from their similar looks less than did his sister's. Following the example of Lora and flouting the conventions of Falnora, Eya stubbornly refused to bind her hair, although, also like the elf, she was willing to don the more traditional garb of the top and skirt. For his part, Reg wore his hair in a ponytail like Wil's and his garments copied those of the older men, albeit in light brown rather than white.
Through the first half of the meal, the conversation centered around the season's crops and the prospects of the upcoming summer's yield. Then, during a lull, Wil changed the subject.
"How are your studies coming, Eya?"
It was a subject he rarely broached, and even less frequently at a meal. Since he had stopped teaching Eya three years ago, claiming to have exhausted his knowledge, she had proceeded on her own, trying new experiments frequently conceived by her brother. Because of his wariness of his powers, Wil was reluctant to talk about magical matters with her. Occasionally, however, he would force himself to discuss them, sometimes in the most unusual of circumstances. Now was one of those instances.
After chewing a morsel of food, Eya set down her knife and fork. "Well enough, I think. Reg and I have been exploring the healing of wounds. I know you said it's a dangerous and difficult thing, but I believe there are ways to make it easier."
"Reg is not an Apath," cautioned Wil. "He may be quick and intuitive, but he cannot know what it is to transform emotion. You must weigh the alternatives yourself, Eya, and assess the cost. Healing is not something many Apaths try, because of the effort and knowledge required. A flesh wound is nothing. You can see the damage and how it can be healed. But for more serious wounds, there's so much that must be repaired, and most of it beyond the skills of the untrained. Knit something improperly, and you can cripple a man worse than the unhealed wound would have."
"They were just experiments."
"Do you feel you have penchant for healing?"
Lora watched the young Apath carefully, remembering a time long ago when a seven year old girl had brought a baby back from beyond death. She wondered if Eya was thinking of the same incident.
"I don't know. Sometimes I think I might."
Wil nodded. "Then perhaps you should consider leaving this village. The Halcyon Meadows are a good place for farmers who wish to live their lives away from the hustle of the cities, but it's not where an Apath should train, especially one who may have a talent for healing. It has been centuries since Devforth has been blessed with an Apath healer."
"What are you saying?" demanded Reg.
"That perhaps Eya's interests would be best served if she left Falnora. There are many across Devforth far better qualified to teach her than me."
"You came here from one of the cities," argued Reg.
"My situation was...different. And I had already received training of a bloodier sort than anything I would wish for Eya. Some of those lessons I would never pass on. If she wishes to use her powers for more than simple tricks, she must look beyond Falnora. Perhaps it was wrong of me not to mention this alternative long before now."
"I'm happy here," said Eya. "I have no desire to leave."
"Then don't," said Wil. "But I would advise caution and restraint in any magic you practise here. And know that you will never become a great Apath so long as you remain in this village."
"I have no desire to become a great Apath."
"How unlike me you are," said Wil with a sad smile. "When I was just a little younger than you, I had thoughts of ruling a city. I think perhaps you have the wisdom that it took me many deaths to acquire."
"If I have that wisdom, it is because you have instilled it within me."
"Then I've done something useful in my life. Still, you should consider the notion of leaving Falnora. Don't dismiss it lightly."
"Do you think I should go?"
"I'll make no judgements for you, Eya. The decision must be yours alone. But to be an Apath is a rare thing. Many would argue that to hide such ability in an isolated community is wrong."
"You could go to Vorti," said Gav. "The king there is said to be an Apath. Who better to learn from than the leader of one of the cities?"
Wil and Lis' features clouded simultaneously. "That I wouldn't recommend," said Wil, his tone bleak. "King Sor isn't the kind of man I would wish any Apath to be tutored by, least of all one who is as dear to me as my own daughter. I'm not sure he's even capable of teaching magic any more."
"Why not?" asked Reg.
Wil's only response was to rise from the table, his meal still unfinished, and announce, "There's still work to be done in the fields, and a full moon tonight. I'd appreciate some help when the rest of you are finished."
When he had departed, Reg asked, "What did I say?"
"You reopened an old wound," said Lis, her voice quiet. "A very sore wound."
"Something happened between Father and King Sor," added Gav.
"What?" asked Reg.
Gav shrugged. "I don't know. He's never talked about it, and I never felt it was my place to ask."
"You know, don't you?" This was directed at Lis.
She nodded. "I know, but it is Wil's story, not mine. If he wishes to keep it hidden, it's not my place to reveal it. But know that he will oppose any trip to Vorti, as will I. It's not a good place to go. And, after what he's done, Sor is not a man for any Apath to learn from. Not through his tutelage. Not even by his example."
Back To Main Contents
Back to Chapter Thirteen
On to Chapter Fifteen