Callo’s skin felt sunburned, and there was an acrid odor in the air. He looked around in the dusk and saw that he stood at the center of a blackened ring. He held his fingers up in front of his face and saw that they were blistered, the fingertips cracked and reddened.
The wild magery had escaped his control and burned everything around him. He was fortunate he had not set the mountaintop ablaze.
* * *
The walls Callo has maintained all his life to guard against his dangerous power are failing. Uncontrolled, his magic threatens his sanity and the safety of all those around him – even Kirian, who could be forced away by Callo’s misuse of his power.
Fighting with his own abilities, Callo still resolves to protect the young heir from the intrigues of the King. And Ander himself must decide whom to trust, as he becomes the target of an assassin.
“Riders, Lord Ander,” Shar said. Ander pulled up and listened. It sounded as if there were quite a few horsemen, maybe half a dozen. His nerves prickled. His guards pulled closer to him, loosening their swords in their sheaths.
Out of the darkness came the riders, appearing suddenly out of the gloom. As near as Ander could see in the night, their gray surcoats showed no badge of any liege lord.
“Who’s there?” Innes challenged.
There was no reply. Some of the new arrivals pulled their horses back behind the leaders. Then the new men were riding the Northgard group down, two riding abreast in the close quarters of the tree-lined trail.
Ander swore and dragged his horse’s head around. His heels drummed on her flanks, urging her away.
“Get back!” Shar yelled. Both of the Hunters shouldered their mounts in front of Ander, swords drawn to defend him. Metal clashed. Ander pulled his mare away, in the direction his stepfather had gone. But there was already a man cutting off his retreat, grinning at Ander’s effort, his sword ready. Ander grabbed for his own sword, praying to Jashan for aid against the massive warrior.
He heard a panicked shout as one of the horses went down. Hunter Shar was trapped under his mount, screaming as the beast rolled over him. Innes now faced two opponents. His sword flashed
in the erratic light of the moving roadlamp, but it was only a moment until he was disarmed. The sword went flying off into the woods and one of the attackers rode up and slashed the Hunter’s throat.
“Innes!” Ander screamed. Blood sprayed as the Hunter’s body fell too slowly from his horse to lie in the dirt.
Ander shoved down his grief and raised his sword to meet the massive weapon of his attacker. Their swords rang together. It was a good strike, but the older man laughed and shoved his horse toward Ander’s, trying to use his weight advantage to force Ander’s arm down. Ander struck again, aiming for the opening in the man’s mail at his throat. For a moment he thought he would succeed, but then his blade was struck aside.
Ander stared into his enemy’s grinning face. Someone shouted behind him; he was about to get overridden from the rear. He pulled his mare’s head around, trying to find a way around the man, maybe ride away into the woods. Two of the attackers rode past him, heading in the direction Lord Zelan had gone, cutting him off from help.
Ander’s attacker drew his sword arm back for the strike.
Ander had never before used the color magery in violence, though he had been taught to do so. He had only a second to act. He called on Jashan and felt the magery blaze up inside him. Always before, he had controlled the fire; he had spent much of his training learning to control it. Now he loosed his will, let his barriers fall, and blasted all the energy he could at the attacker.
Light leaped from his hands. It lit up the trail and the faces of the attackers and the lower branches of the surrounding trees. His attacker screamed and fell, arching backward as he hit the ground and color magery swept his fallen form, stopping his heart. Ander felt a blow and a sharp pain in his side. He jerked away as a second man pulled back his sword from his strike; pain bloomed up and down his side. He tried to gather his strength, tried to concentrate on the magery, but it slipped away from his control.
His attacker drew back his sword for a second strike. Ander tried to slide down the side of his horse and perhaps get into the woods. His foot caught in the stirrup. He threw his arms over his head in a useless attempt at protection, struggling to focus his magery.
The dark shape of his attacker was suddenly limned in light. The man screamed and fell backwards. Ander’s vision was scorched by the light of color magery; all he could detect were dark shapes, moving in on his attackers. One of them dragged the man back away from him. There were sounds of a brief, brutal fight: grunts, the crack of a bone snapping, and then a liquid gasp. Someone swore behind him, and there was another metallic crash of weapons.
Ander’s sight began to clear. He pulled his foot away from the stirrup and slid down from his mare. Someone else was next to him. He whirled, ready to fight, but it was a woman who grabbed his arm and dragged him away from the battle on the trail.
He let her pull him between the bushes, with his hand held tight to his wound to stanch the blood. On the trail, there was another flare of color magery. He heard someone scream. As he half-fell to the ground, he heard the beat of hooves coming fast on the trail from the direction his stepfather had gone.
“Sit still,” the woman whispered. “Are you all right? You took a blow.”
“I am bleeding.” Ander heard his own voice quaver, and was ashamed of his weakness. He took his hand away from his side and rubbed his fingers together; they were covered in blood.
“I need a light,” the woman said. It was black in the woods. The roadlamp had gone out, and the light of color magery had vanished.
Ander could hear Zelan’s voice shouting on the trail. It was not a battle cry; instead, his voice was raised in anger.
“I think it is over,” Ander said.
A man’s voice called from the trail. “Kirian? It is over. You can bring him out.”
The woman put a hand under his arm and helped lift him to his feet. Once standing, he was a full head taller than she was, but he still leaned on her in the dark as they stumbled through branches back to the trail.
There was more light on the trail from lanterns someone had brought from the village. Five bodies lay on and near the trail, as well as a grunting, terrified horse with a gash in its belly. A thin man held one of the attackers still, a knife to his throat. Lord Zelan and his remaining Hunter stalked toward a tall man with his straw-colored hair drawn back in a warrior’s tail.
“Who the hell are you?” Zelan shouted at the tall man.
“Callo ran Alkiran,” the man replied. “I think you are Lord Zelan of Northgard?”
“You came upon us just in time,” the Hunter said, reminding his lord of where thanks were due.
Zelan gestured at his Hunter, who went to take custody of the remaining attacker from the narrow-faced man who held him. The Hunter searched their attacker, going through pouches and armor
looking for any other weapons.
“We killed one of them who came after us at the village,” Zelan said to Lord Callo. “The other got away. Where you came from, I have no notion. It seems extremely convenient.”
Ander lost track of the conversation as a curtain of grainy darkness began to sweep over his vision. He grasped the woman’s sleeve. “I’m bleeding,” he said again.
“Unknown God, of course you are,” she said. “Sit down. My lord! This boy is wounded. I need light over here.”
Someone brought the lantern. Ander squinted against its light and lay back, allowing the woman to pull his tunic away from his side. He waited for her reaction so he could gauge how bad the injury was, but her face was impassive as she examined the wound.
Then Zelan was looming above them. “Let me help him up. I need to get him to Littleseed for proper care.”
“I am a Healer, my lord. You will do better to let me make sure the bleeding is stopped before we try to take him anywhere.”
“How bad is it?” Ander gasped as she applied pressure—more than she needed to, he was sure.
She smiled at him. “It is not so bad. You were lucky.”
Zelan peered over Kirian’s shoulder. “Ha! That’s nothing more than a scratch, boy. Any righ could bear such a cut. Wrap him up and let’s get to the village.” He stalked away.
Ander squirmed away from Kirian’s hands. “If my father won’t thank you, I will, and also Lord Callo. You have saved my life.”
Callo bowed in his direction. “I am glad we were here. Let us go to this Littleseed and get your son tended under proper conditions, Lord Zelan. I take it that is the village we passed not long ago?”
“Your man should keep a close eye on your captive,” the servant told Lord Zelan. “I believe I have seen this man’s face before. You will want to question him.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne Marie Lutz is the author of the fantasy novels Color Mage and Sword of Jashan. She has always loved to read — especially science fiction and fantasy. She has worked as an office manager and an operations analyst, but never forgot she really wanted to write. Anne Marie was raised in the Youngstown area. She currently lives in central Ohio with her family.
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