“We’re done Grandfather,” said Daniel.
“So I see.” he said, fitting his spectacles onto his face.
“How did we do?” said Ariel as she and Daniel sat beside him.
“A question like that has been nothing but a respectful formality for some time, my dear,” he said.
“Perfect then?” said Daniel.
“Absolutely,” he said with a deep nod. “And this completes anything which I might contribute until Neron has worked with you for a time and we get you ready to go study with Meri Greenwood. And it is he who will prepare you for your staves and take you to see Longbark in Mount Bed.”
“And then?” said Ariel. “Are we…?”
“Oh,” he said with a smile. “I expect we’ll have you back here again for one final inspection and a little practice.”
“And then we get her…” said Daniel.
“When the moment falls exactly right,” said Razzmorten as everyone went silent, listening to the swallows and the trickling water and the river pounding in the deep reaches, drawing away the echoes from the sink.
Daniel dug at the rocks with a twig.
“Great-Grandfather Razzmorten is naught but a matchmaker,” said Arial, giving him a peck on his cheek.
“Not at all. You’ve had your heart bond for all these years.”
“Are we done?” said Daniel.
“With magic, anyway. Go enjoy the day.”
“Thanks Grandfather,” he said, tossing aside his twig.
“Father keeps saying that in spite of the bond, I might eventually be safer away from Abby,” said Ariel.
“Yea? Is that what you want?”
“No you’re not. And worse than that, you’re guessing. How’s that fit for a young and powerful sorceress? What do you want to do with your guesses, anyway, break his heart and then go die? Maybe you’d better do what your heart wants.”
“You’re right as usual,” she said as she stood and brushed the seat of her skirt. “I shall indeed follow my heart.”
“And you’re not going to say another word about dieing,” he called out after her as she stepped into the lava tube. “Ye hear?”
Ch 2, Doom
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Heart of the Staff: Complete Series NOW Just $0.99 on Amazon
Excerpt From Elf Killers
“Isbal! Reina! Strangers!” bellowed the troll as he wheeled and vanished into the adjoining room.
“It talks!” cried Kieran, springing after to let fly an arrow which glanced off a long polished table top and stuck in the far wall.
“Stop!” shrieked a woman, suddenly appearing from the hallway.
“Aunt Isbal!” cried Oisin, letting down his bow. “You’re alive!”
“Yes I am. Now don’t shoot our troll…!”
“‘Our’ troll? Who else made it through the massacre? And how would you ever have a troll?”
“Your aunt Reina is who else. Now you heard me about not shooting him, right?”
“How does one not shoot a troll?” said Kieran.
“By being polite enough not to, Kieran!” said Isbal.
“I’m sorry, Isbal. I just saw them kill…”
“Yes. So did I. But this one won’t. Come on out Darragh. Come on now.”
After a pause, a chair scooted away from the long polished table with a screech on the stone floor as Darragh lumbered out from under it and slowly stood up.
“Now this is Darragh, and I swear he’ll not harm a single hair on your head…”
“What’s the matter with it?” said Olloo. “I’ve never seen one with snow white hair before. And what’s wrong with the thing’s eyes?”
“Shake their hands, Darragh,” she said as she gently took him by the wrist and held his hand toward Kieran.
Kieran stepped back as Oisin came forth in his place and took Darragh by the hand.
“How do you?” rumbled Darragh with a beetle browed nod as he pumped out a couple of giant handshakes.
“Carefully, sport,” said Oisin with a wary look as he stepped back.
“Meanie. And he meanie, too,” said Darragh, wrinkling his nose with a sneer and pointing at Kieran and Olloo
“Well shake his hand, Kieran,” said Olloo.
“No!” said Darragh, shaking his head from shoulder to shoulder. “He big big meanie. He dirtybutt stinkerman.”
“Well,” said Olloo, “there’ve been moments on the way here when we’ve thought so ourselves, Darragh.”
Kieran bit his lip and kicked Olloo in the ankle.
“See?” said Darragh. “Meanie!”
“So how did you come by him?” said Oisin. “And where’s Aunt Reina?”
“Back through the house,” said Isbal. “I can see that this will require some refreshments. Let me take you to the sitting room. Come along, Darragh.”
Soon they had exchanged greetings with Reina and were all seated comfortably around a tea table in a small parlour. Isbal and Reina disappeared into the kitchen and returned shortly with hot blackberry tarts and tea. “We harvested the blue maidenhair you’re about to drink last year right after the massacre,” said Reina as she set down the tray with the steaming pot.
“Why do you have it so dark in here?” said Oisin.
“The light hurts Darragh’s eyes,” said Isbal. “If we don’t keep it dark, he’ll sleep all day and keep us awake all night…”
“Drum and hoot-hoot, Isbal?” said Darragh as he tumbled onto the floor in front of her and pressed his cheek to her foot. “Please hoot-hoot?”
“That’s probably a good idea. Go get the instruments,” she said as he sprang to his feet and raced out.
He was back in short order with a field drum and two clay jugs. He set the drum on its side with a bang and reverently nestled the smaller jug in Isbal’s lap before plumping down cross legged on the floor with the larger jug. He scooted the drum about until he could touch its head with the ball of one foot. Like a conductor tapping his baton, he shifted about for a moment and got still. Presently he began a brisk tapping of the drum with his foot: pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum, pum..
Isbal joined him in time with her jug: foof…foof…foof…foof…
Darragh in turn added a commanding: toofa…toofa…toofa…toofa… so that together they went: foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa, foof toofa… for a very long time. After a spell, it became quite mesmerizing indeed. Suddenly he stopped his jug with a loud thump of his drum: bam!
Isbal continued: foof…foof…foof…foof… until Darragh went: wham! on his drum, sprang to his feet and gave a dignified bow. For a moment, there was not a sound in the room.
At last, Oisin set down his teacup with a clink. “Why, I’ve never heard the like,” he said. “That was quite impressive, Darragh.”
Darragh grinned hugely and bowed again and again.
“Darragh,” said Isbal, holding out her jug, “why don’t you go out and play for a while? I promise that as soon as Reina has the next pies out of the oven, we’ll call you in.”
“Oh good, good!” he said with a bounce as he gave her a squeeze and took her jug. He scurried out at once with the jugs. He was back immediately for the drum, pausing to stick out his tongue at Kieran. “Bad meanie stinky privy seat!” he rumbled. He gave his chest two good thumps with his fists and tramped out.
“Just what does he have against me?” said Kieran.
“I expect he takes exception to being shot at,” said Isbal.
“Nay. He’s just a good judge of character, is all…” said Olloo.
Kieran leant aside with a frown and gave Olloo a smack on the back of the head.
“Well, speaking of fighting and dying, if you know what I mean, how ever did you come by Darragh?” said Oisin. “Do you really trust him?”
“So the dear child scares you, does he?”
“Not as much as on first sight. Child? I can see that he sort of acts like one, but he’s a good head taller than me and might weigh as much as all three of us.”
“He’s not an Elf Killer,” said Isbal, looking up as Reina returned with another pot, “Well troll he be, but he is indeed innocent.”
“How can you call any sort of troll a ‘dear child,'” said Kieran, “or innocent?”
“Because that’s what he is, Kieran,” said Isbal. “Darragh wouldn’t harm so much as an insect unless it bit him first.
“Aye,” said Reina as she poured tea all ’round. “We reckon that trolls are grown enough to start pestering sows at about eleven. You’d have to bathe him, but you’d see he’s not near there yet.
“They’re pretty short lived. When did you first get giddy over girls, two hundred and ten or two hundred and twenty, perhaps?”
“But trolls are monsters, Reina,” said Kieran.
Reina sighed and carefully set the teapot on the marble tea table. “Monsters they be, Kieran,” she said. “We were captured, don’t you know, along with who knows how many others.” She turned a haunted look to Isbal and licked her lips. Isbal took up her hand and squeezed it, but neither of them smiled.
Everyone sat for a moment, stunned by this. “How did you ever…?” said Oisin.
“Oh, as far as we know, we were the only ones to escape their horrible fires. They had so many captives, and were all gone wild with their hellish carousal that they seemed to have no interest in a couple of dried up old gammers. They never even bothered tying us up. They just threw us down in the dirt outside where everyone could see us. We were so terrified that we just stayed right where they put us, doing everything we could not to watch what was going on. We still wake up in the night with horrible dreams…”
“Then a scrap broke out right in front of us,” said Isbal. “The big old trollbrutes tore Darragh away from his mother. The moment they took out their sharp flints, fixing to cut him open, she stopped kicking at them and began licking their feet…”
“With her tongue?” said Olloo.
“Yes indeed, all over the tops of them and between their toes, and it stopped the curses from cutting him open. They yanked him up onto his feet by his hair and shoved him at his poor mother…”
“And the instant they did that,” said Reina, “I grabbed Isbal and we ran for the brush as hard as we could go. Just after we’d got well out of sight of the fires, the mother grabbed us by the hair and yanked us onto our backs. As we were a-struggling to get up, she shoved Darragh at us and got on her hands and knees and went to whimpering and licking at our feet. Poor Darragh was crying and carrying on too, and she bit him good a couple of times and made him go with us.
“We ran for what seemed like hours, and Darragh stayed right with us, hanging onto us for dear life. When we got back here, we found no one alive and we spent the next several days, burying bodies. We just kept running into them. Darragh kept trying to help us, so long as we didn’t go out in the bright sun. He also started in right away, trying to use our words. He won’t use trollish…”
“How can you be sure he won’t turn on you sometime?” said Kieran.
Reina heaved a sigh. “Well he’s not about to,” she said. “A few weeks ago, maybe fifty trollbrutes came back here late in the evening and nosed around through building after building for long enough, we thought they’d never leave. Darragh hid us in a passage in the palace that he’d found. He was playing outside when they showed up and the very sight of them terrified him. He was trembling all over and he kept calling them ‘monsters,’ and we couldn’t begin to coax him out of the passage until long after they were gone. He won’t ever talk about living with the other trolls, but over time we have managed to piece together that he was tormented by them day and night, and that they were continually threatening to eat him.” She clapped her knees with sudden resolution and stood up. “I think the pies must be ready by now.”
“Yea,” said Isbal. “It might do you some good, Kieran, if you went out and got Darragh. My guess is that he’s out in the stable. He won’t be far. He’s crazy about blackberry tarts…”
“Just go out through the kitchen.”
Seeing that no one was about to come to his aid, Kieran sheepishly rose and followed Reina. Beyond a long roofed breezeway, he stepped into an enormous barn like a rough hewed cathedral. “Darragh?” he called. There was no answer. He went from stall to stall along both walls, standing empty in the cobwebs. “Darragh?” Not finding him, he climbed into the mow. Pigeons cooed and strutted along a great timber, high up the far wall. “Darragh? Darragh! Come on! They’ve got pie!”
“No!” cried Darragh, standing up in the hay. “You dirtybutt meanie!”
Darragh shook his head from shoulder to shoulder. Without warning, he threw a fist sized rock, taking off Kieran’s hat, making him see stars and setting him down hard upon the mow floor. Darragh was standing over him at once. “We even, Dirtybutt!” he cried as he gave his chest a good drumming with his fists. He held out his hand. “Now maybe you no more be meanie.”
Kieran took his hand and stood up.
“Now. Any more meanie?”
“No. I came out here to get you for pie.”
“Good, good! I like pie.”
“Even better than what you ate when you lived with the Marfora Siofra?”
“Boof! Dyrney no eat good things. Dyrney say they’ll eat me and say they’ll eat me and say they’ll eat me. Dyrney even want Fmoo to eat me.”
“Are Dyrney the Marfora Siofra? Who’s Fmoo?”
Darragh clenched his teeth and his fists and gave an angry shudder as he nodded and hissed through his nose. “‘Dyrney’ be troll talk for ‘people,’ but Dyrney no be people. Dyrney be awful, awful, awful, awful monsters.”
“Fmoo be my real momma. But ‘fmoo’ and ‘Dyrney’ be troll words. I hate troll words. Just Elf words, please? I be Elf now.”
“You’ve got a deal, Darragh.”
“Good, good!” cried Darragh, with a thundering leap on the mow floor. “We eat pie.”
The heady aroma of blackberry tarts met them as they returned to the parlour beyond the kitchen. “Kieran no more be dirty butt meanie,” said Darragh as he scurried up to sit on the floor before the tea table.
“Why, that’s remarkable,” said Olloo, earning another smack on the back of the head as Kieran took his seat. “We never quite managed.”
“At the moment, they are not yet wizards,” said Neron, “for as you say, they are babies. But as they grow up, they will indeed become wizards. When they’re older, they’ll come into their magic, and it’s absolutely vital that they begin learning to use and control it the moment you realize it has appeared. They will be more powerful than anyone has ever been before, even more powerful than the First Wizard.”
“Because there are two of them?”
“No, because you aren’t an ordinary Human, Lukus. You’re becoming a strong wizard in your own right, even if you’ve only begun your training. All Human wizards descend from the First Wizard, as you know. Your having children by an Elf, particularly one with a lineage as exceptionally endowed with magical ability as Soraya’s, means that those children cannot help but be the most magically gifted beings who’ve ever been born. They will be a favorable match for the evil that has recently been loosed upon the Continent.”
“But, Spitemorta and Demonica have the Great Staff and the Heart,” said Lukus.
“Yes,” said Neron, “right powerful objects indeed, created by the First Wizard, who was the most powerful until now…”
“You knew this,” said Lukus. “You knew this back when Rose and I first came to these woods. Danneth said something back then that stayed with me. He said: ‘then it is time.’ This is what he was talking about, isn’t it? Does Soraya know this, too? Is that why she married me, so that we could breed wizards for this evil age?”
Neron’s eyes flashed. “I see why you say this, Lukus,” he said, at once letting go of what had just flared as he sagged with a heavy sigh. “Would I do that to my own kin? I make mistakes, but have you truly seen me do things that would lead you to such an accusation? Things have come to pass due entirely to the Fates and to circumstance. We saw it coming, Lukus. That much is true, but we manipulated nothing. We had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with you and Soraya meeting and forming a heart bond. This I swear unto you: she loves you freely and unconditionally. Please, never mistake that. It istrue that when the bond between you was certain, we knew that things which could not bechanged had been set into motion on this path, but knowing it is not the same as causing it. You must understand that. I’m only telling you this now because you have to be told.Would you have had me tell you early on and risk injuring the love which was unfolding between you and Soraya?”
“I’m sorry,” said Lukus, slumping back against his chair. “I am indeed very sorry. Please do forgive me. You’ve been nothing but fair and wonderful the entire time I’ve known you. I’d not have had you do anything different than what you’ve done. It’s what you have to say that scares me. I fear for my children. They’re in danger, aren’t they?”
“From the moment they were conceived,” said Neron. “Until the evil ones and the Heart and the Staff are destroyed, Daniel and Ariel will live in the shadow of peril. Our single most important mission of all is to keep them safe.”
Ch 34, Stone Heart
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Lukus paused to listen to the rain of clicks and squawks from the oilbirds in the countless chinks and ledges throughout the gargantuan vault of cave ceiling over Gerddi Teg, kept daylight bright by glow lichens. He threw his panniers across Starfire’s rump, checked Shimmer’s girth and went back inside the cottage he and Soraya had spent the summer in.
“Your bags ready?” he said, hefting Soraya’s tightly packed panniers.”
“Tied tight and buckled,” she said from the next room.
“I guess I’m asking if we’re forgetting anything,” he said.
“We can’t be,” she said, walking in. “We’re still here, and nothing’s ever forgot until you get down the road and remember.”
“Yea. like one of the kids, or something.”
“No worry then,” she said with her serious face. “Grandfather would send us right back.”
“And not wait for us to catch up again.”
“Nope!” she said, erupting with laughter. “Not after we forget our own babaí.”
“You are the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen when you laugh,” he said, scooping her into a sound hug. “And you’ve been mighty sober lately.”
“Yea,” she said, standing arm in arm with him as they looked out the open door. “It’s kind of hard to leave a peaceful place after what we’ve been through. And the thought of being out in the open with Daniel and Ariel makes me feel, well, exposed.”
Lukus watched Abaddon in the yard, playing dragon and giving rides to Daniel and Ariel. “You know, they could really get hurt,” he said.
“From piggyback rides?” she said. “His piggyback rides? He is the gentlest boy I ever saw play with little kids, especially with Ariel.”
“They could still get hurt.”
“What is this?” she said. “The worst that would happen from some unlikely stupidity of his would be nothing more than a scrape or a knot on the head of one of them. And you’re not stupid, so why is this bothering you?”
“I know he has been good with them, but he is Spitemorta’s son…”
“And King James’s. And I’ve not heard you say anything but good about James.”
“And Abaddon is very magically gifted. He’s been good all summer, but what if he surprises us and turns out like the rest of his line back through Demonica? That’s a dark lineage.”
“Daniel and Ariel trust him…”
“So what?” he said, as he quietly pushed the door most of the way closed. “Children don’t have the experience and judgment to keep from being taken in by some…”
“Human children. And ours are half Elf, actually better than half, since you have Elf behind you…”
“But lately he finds a way to be here every single day. For a boy his age, isn’t that…?”
Soraya put her finger to his lips, kissed him on the cheek and closed the door. “I just became certain of something this very day,” she said, turning back to him.
“My word, what?”
“Ariel and Abaddon have a heart bond.”
“Fates! What if he’s evil?”
“I suppose it’s possible, but I’ve never ever heard of a heart bond between Elf and an evil…”
“When did it happen? Are you certain?”
“No one knows when a heart bond actually begins, Lukus,” she said as she took his hand. “I mean, when did ours begin? But it is completely out of anyone’s control, as you well know. And I’m so very sorry you’re troubled by this. I think Abaddon’s simply wonderful and I can’t imagine that he would ever harm either one of them.”
“I hope you are right. Because if he ever does, I swear I’ll fix him.”
“And with my help, dear,” she said.
“There goes Arwr,” said Lukus.
Arwr came to a springy halt some distance away and jogged back.
Abaddon wheeled about and scooped Ariel off the ground, giving her a grand giggly hug before setting her back down. “Bye Ariel!” he cried before dashing through the gate. “Bye Daniel!”
“Abaddon!” cried Ariel, trotting to the gate.
Abaddon stopped and turned back. “We’ll be together before the day’s over!” he hollered with a wave.
“See you!” she cried with a great bounce of her curls as he dashed away and sprang astride Arwr. She stood waving until Abaddon and Arwr had vanished between the cottages across the common.
Soraya squeezed Lukus’s arm as she put her head against his shoulder.
Ch 24, The Reaper Witch
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Rose washes up on the beach alone in The Burgeoning, the morning after their ship went down. When she starts a frantic search for him, she ends up lost in a mangrove swamp in The Reaper Witch. As evening approaches, she is at last discovered by Inney and Fuzz. The next morning, she wakes up beside him on the beach in Chapter 2…
The sudden cries of a tern directly overhead woke Rose. She opened her eyes to see a tiny hermit crab dragging a striped whelk shell toward her face through the white sand and found herself warm and snug against Fuzz under a silky feather-light Elven quilt. “I’ve never felt so wonderful in my life, waking up next to you,” she thought as she gently put her arm across him, “even if I’ve never been so stiff and sore.”
“Mmmp?” he said, rolling onto his back. “Rose?” He grabbed up her hand and kissed it as he opened his eyes.
“Fuzz, look at this little creature,” she said, holding the crab over his face.”Augh!” he said, sitting up at once to grind his fists into his eyes. “My word, that salty sand stings.”
“Augh!” he said, sitting up at once to grind his fists into his eyes. “My word, that salty sand stings.”
“Oh no! I’m so sorry.”
“Fiddlesticks!” he said, wincing and blinking as he grabbed her into a hug. “You can put sand in my eyes any ol’ day you want, just as long as I get to wake up beside you.”
“You can’t imagine how relieved I am to see the pair of you together this morning,” said Karl-Veur, coming up behind them with a strange Elf.
“Oh yes I can,” said Rose, looking up with delight. “Can you imagine our having to tell Yuna that we’d lost you? And here we are, putting you at Demonica’s mercy at the very least. Did you just get here?”
“We’ve been here since just after you two fell asleep, last night,” he said. “Rose, this is Obbree.”
Obbree gave a shy bow and a toothless smile.
“Obbree’s an austringa, just like Tramman and me,” said Inney, rushing over from where she and Tramman were fixing breakfast. “He’s bondmates with Aalid. Aalid’s the shawk spoogh ‘way down the beach, hunting crabs.” And with that, she dashed back to the fire.
“And Rose,” said Karl-Veur, taking her hand and giving it a squeeze, “You sound a bit like Yann-Ber at times. Please remember that this is entirely my doing. This risk with Demonica I gladly take for the House of Dark and for the House of Niarg.”
“Well there may be nothing come of it anyway,” said Fuzz as he got to his feet and stared out over the water, “depending on just how marooned we happen to be.”
“Why are we marooned?” said Rose as Fuzz helped her up. “Gwael is on the east coast, right? How far is that?”
Obbree nodded then immediately shook his head.
“I don’t know about Gwael,” said Fuzz. “I suppose we need to keep it in mind…”
“They have the only ports, right?” said Rose, “so what’s the problem?”
“Maybe Demonica herself,” said Karl-Veur. “King Vortigern and Demonica have a connection that comes up frequently when dealing with either one of them. If we leave
here by one of their ports, it will take some wary planning at the very least. Right, Fuzz?”
“Sounds like you know more than I do, but I was aware of Demonica having some sort of connection in Gwael which went back to the Razzorbauch days. If she and Spitemorta are trying to start a war with Niarg, I don’t know where that would put us when we try to get passage on a ship.”
“Inney,” said Rose, “just what is that tasty aroma?”
“Wild rice and a big mess of crabs.”
“If you’re considering following the coast to Gwael from here, I wouldn’t,” said Tramman. “You’d at least need preparations you won’t have, and going by way of Balley Cheerey is almost as close. And besides, I know some elders who’d give an argid mooar to trade tales with you ones. And you’re more than quite welcome to come.”
Obbree smiled grandly at this and at once gave a little sprint across the sand, ending in a cartwheel.
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Lukus strapped the last of their gear onto Shimmer’s panniers and turned to Soraya as she finished burying the coals with sand. “You reckon it would be too much trouble to send a message globe to Mother and Grandfather to let them know that we’re safe?” he said over the giggles of Daniel and Ariel as they each grabbed one of his ankles. “It’s been a very long time since we fled Oilean Gairdin.”
Soraya stood up and brushed the dirt from her skirts. “I’m sure they could do with one less worry,” she said, looking about. “Since it’ll be a while before we’re ready to leave here, why don’t we go find Great-Grandfather right now? I’d bet he has time.
Lukus scooped up a squirming and giggling Daniel and Ariel in each arm, blew a raspberry on each dirty little tummy and fell into stride behind the prettiest young lady in the whole wide world, off to find Neron. By the time Lukus was swinging his leg over Starfire’s saddle whistling Pigeon on the Gate, the message globe was hurtling over the Great Barrier Mountains like a shot.
Ch 40, The Burgeoning
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
Daniel and Ariel were brought up to have the most circumspect virtue and modesty. Even if they were to become the most powerful in the world amongst the magically endowed, they were never allowed to show it. It is not at all surprising then, that they kept many games and amusements to themselves. They routinely played a kind of invisible tag as they traveled by spell back and forth across the broad basin of obsidian sands between Spring ‘n’ Drain and Razzmorten’s great sink-hole “tower” at the Vaults of Niarg. Today, they arrived outside the Vaults playing a rough game of “spell jousting,” with Ariel getting there in time to knock Daniel a good fifty rods wide of where he meant to appear.
“Damn!” he cried, tumbling out of the air onto his hands and knees in the sand. “How’d you get here first?” He was on his feet at once, swatting his hat against his leg as he hurried over to where she stood. Suddenly he stopped short to watch a streak of lightning branch out across the heavens before a black shelf of lowering clouds. “What did you do to the sky?”
“Fiddlesticks!” he cried. “Here it comes!” And with that, they raced uphill for a gaping lava tube in time to be overtaken and thoroughly soaked by the arrival of a pelting wall of rain before they managed to get inside.
“How long’s it been?” she said, catching her breath as she squeezed water from her hair.
“Since the last rain?” he said, studying the deluge which was already tumbling in torrents down the folds in the hillside. “I was just thinking. I’d allow it’s been every bit of the seven years they say it’s supposed to be between rains, even if you did cause it…”
“I did not! And you know it. But I could sure feel the spirit of it in the air, right when we were spell jousting. I wondered why on earth it was so bloomin’ hard to heave you off to one side.”
“Maybe you thought so, but you sure sent me a-sprawling. You command a right smart amount of power these days, sister dear,” he said, pausing to squint at her face. “All right. What’s the matter?”
Ariel shook her head.
“Oh yes there is. I know my dear sister. What is it? Abaddon’s poisoning your well again? What’s he saying this time? The Prophecy’s just an old wives’ tale, or what?”
“He is not!” she said, biting her thumbnail as she looked out into the rain.
“Very well. He found out that the Prophecy actually came from the Fire Sprites of the Eastern Continent and not the Elves at all, so he’s begun using that.”
“He doesn’t want anything to happen to you either, while you’re being all hard on him…”
“Hard on him?” he said, flinging a rock out into the storm. “Shit fire! I don’t care if you do have a heart bond. You keep listening to his drivel and you’ll lose what it takes at the last minute and get both of us killed.”
“I will not! No way! Not with everything Grandfather’s taught us over the years…”
“Now that’s giving me credit…” said Razzmorten from right behind them.
“Grandfather!” she gasped. “How long have you been there?”
“You mean how much did I hear?” he said, lunging out with a proper brown spit for the storm. “I heard enough to know that your taking this particular time to worry about your heart bond may be putting you in peril. I mean, if you’re daring to think of anything but the task ahead, then I may well have been remiss in my teaching…”
“Peril! What earthly peril could there be when neither witch has so much as flown across the desert within our lifetimes?”
Razzmorten stepped into her gaze and gently patted her cheek. “Then I have indeed been remiss,” he said, “And Neron will return any day now.”
Ch. 13, Doom
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
The breeze rattled the cottonwood leaves overhead as it chased through the tall big bluestem grass beyond the butt and died away. Rose drew her bowstring to her cheek,
hesitated and planted her eighth arrow in the target. A warbling vireo went back to its
meandering medley from the crown of the cottonwood. Rose nocked her next arrow and
found the target with her eyes.
“My word!” said Fuzz as he walked up behind her. “That’s a whole bouquet of arrows in the bull’s eye. That looks like forty yard.”
Rose nodded and lowered her bow. “Father always had us practice,” she said.
“I remember seeing that light longbow of yours back home, but we were in such a rush that I never once saw you use it,” he said with a nod at the target. “You’re just plain good, particularly with this breeze. Have you missed any at all?”
“I’ve not yet been to the target.”
Fuzz whistled. “Well what do you think of Olloo’s spare bow? I’m all done feeding the birds, by the way.”
Rose raised her bow and quickly put another arrow in the bull’s eye. “I like it,” she said, letting the breeze blow a strand of hair out of her face as she turned to look at him. “But it’s not at all like the one Soraya had. This thing’s longer and shoots almost like a proper longbow.”
“Well that makes sense, out here in the open in the Strah,” he said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. “I knew Inney had got it for you, but I never asked you why. Are you wanting to be ready for Spitemorta or Demonica sometime after we get home?”
“I was thinking trolls.”
“Damned right!” she said with a fiery look. “Those were the sweetest three little kids I think I ever saw. That little towhead Aalin trotted up with her ringlets just a-bouncing and gave me a fistful of asters the very afternoon before the trolls came. I still see her face.” she thrust out her chin and picked up another arrow. “You know, that makes four men, three young ladies, one of them about to be wed, and six little scoots like Aalin since we got here. They’re going to get wiped out at this rate.”
“Probably not. They’ve been out here doing this for the last thousand years.”
Rose turned to face the target to find an old ewe and her pair of lambs in the way. “Yea?” she said. “Well what about our wee baban on the way, aye? One of those trolls gets too close to our little girl to be, and I’ll want to puncture the curse.”
“So that’s what this is about,” said Fuzz. “Have you forgotten that trolls don’t eat humans?”
“You think they’ll look at her ears after they grab her up? And can you imagine any trolls raiding Balley Cheerey who’d check each little girl for pointed ears before stealing her away? They’d just grab her up, right? And if they saw their mistake, do you reckon they’d dutifully fetch her back here? They’d either eat her for dessert or kick her out in the woods with the wolves.”
“Well, you’re right,” he said, squatting beside her and pulling a timothy head. “So what do you want to do?”
“Fight back!” she said, dropping to her knees beside him. “Or at least be able to. You know, I don’t really understand why the Elves haven’t wiped them out by now, Fuzz. Inney told me once about when they almost did. They tracked the monsters to their
stinking caves and killed nearly every one of the curses where they slept before the
handful which survived got away. And when they can do nearly everything just a little
better than we can, why didn’t they ever hunt down those survivors and end the menace?
When I think of little Aalin, it makes me want to cry.”
“Tramman was telling me about that, once,” he said as he watched the ewe graze bite by bite to the foot of the target. “He said that they did indeed hunt down the trolls that got away and they were right certain they’d got all of them, too. So when the next troll raid occurred years and years later, they were completely unprepared and lost eleven children all in one night. Can you imagine?”
“Oh Fuzz, what are we going to do? It’s a true paradise here without the troll raids. I’ve never in my life been around such wonderful, wonderful people. Inney’s the sweetest kid I’ve ever known. And I really did want to have the baby right here. But the trolls scare me. And I find myself missing Niarg more, day by day. I keep thinking we should be there for the birth. It’s where we really belong.”
Fuzz scooted closer, picked up her hand and closed his eyes as he kissed her wrist. “Then maybe we should go home, dear,” he said. “The Elves have told Karl-Veur and me that we might well hire a fishing boat from Gwael to take us across the sea.” He paused to look at her. “And there’s nothing to stop us from doing it right now if we were to buy our
passage with some of the jewelry that washed up on the beach in your trunk. Now believe
me, I’d never just up and tell you to do such a thing…”
“I’ll give every blooming jewel I thought was long lost if it takes it,” she said. “Well, not the emerald necklace from Mother nor your earrings that match. Well. You know, I’d almost give those to go home.”
“Then it sounds as though you might be serious. Well if you think it over and…”
“That would just waste time. I’m ready to go pack.”
“Then I’ll go talk to Tramman right now.”
“Fuzz,” she said, putting her hand on his arm before he got to his feet. “I will stay if you want.”
“You really would, wouldn’t you?”
“Of course I would.”
“That’s why I’m crazy about you, Rose,” said Fuzz. “But I miss Edward. I mean, what must he think after all this time?”
Suddenly two half grown strike falcons appeared out of the grass and came dashing up to them across the butts with a rabbit apiece, startling the sheep.
“Sidoor kept putting images of fat rabbits in my head, so I thought about you out here and turned them out.”
“So what about our birds, Fuzz? We can’t leave them behind.”
“Of course not,” he said as he watched the birds drop their rabbits and rip them into pieces small enough to swallow. “They go with us, and that’s all there is to it. Now, I think we should find Karl-Veur and see if he wants to go with us or stay here.”
“Or go back to the Dark Continent. After all, you know he misses Yuna and young Yann-Ber. I think we should let him know that it’s all right with us if he changes his mind about trying to get into Demonica’s good graces.”
“Oh sure. But I’ve got a feeling he’s set on doing what he came with us to do, in spite of the price he has to pay.”
“Let’s go,” said Rose as she unstrung her bow and picked up her quiver.
“I’m for that,” she said, squeezing his arm.
Ch. 20, The Reaper Witch
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps
They had their unicorns completely laden and packed before the first light. With the first rusty calls of the seaside sparrows as the sky turned deep blue, they wended between tussocks of marram grass into a landscape of sandburs and rolling sand dunes with Tramman, Obbree and Karl-Veur leading the way while Rose, Fuzz and Inney followed a rod or two behind. After tramping a good long way with no talking, Rose paused to shift her pack and to study the horizon.
“Young ladies were never meant to be pack animals, Rose,” said Fuzz. “I could take your bag for a bit.”
“And I suppose old bespelled bears are,” she said with her eyes dancing.
“Absolutely!” said Fuzz. “Going to find Gastro. That is indeed what it reminds me of, too.”
“What are you two talking about?” said Inney.
“You were a bear?” said Inney. “Mister Fuzz! You’re not a skin walker, are you?”
“You mean, could I change myself into a bear? Not at all. I could not begin to do something like that, even if I had forever and seven days. I was trapped as a bear with no
hair until the witch who did it to me was killed and her evil faded away some years later.”
“She was powerful, all right,” said Fuzz, “and made all the more so by having in her possession what we know as the Great Staff of Power. Your long lost brethren once called it Bata Millteanach. And it’s a very long tale that I can see needs to be told when we get to Balley Cheerey.”
“That’s a story I can’t wait to hear,” said Tramman, turning square about in the sand. “Let’s get on to Balley Cheerey.” And with that, the party resumed their tramp through the sand.
As the sun rose, the sand became unbearably hot, and since Rose, Fuzz and Karl-Veur had lost their shoes in the sea when the ship sank, they were forced to make emergency footwear out of a ripped kelp sack and strips of the skirt of Rose’s kirtle. By the time the sun was high enough for the sand to blister bare feet, they were underway again, listening to the endless calls of cicadas.
Grass was now covering most of the sand. Dickcissels called from the taller tussocks. Redwing blackbirds scolded from the air above their heads. “When the grass is all taller than we are, we’ll finally be in the Strah,” said Tramman. “Keep your eyes open for snakes.”
As Rose studied a particularly tall bunch of grass, she stumbled across a mound of sticks and grass. “Fuzz!” she cried, “Look! Huge eggs. The size of a baby’s head. Fuzz! This one’s hatched.” At once all three strike falcons dashed through the grass to peer closely at what she had found. “Are these strike falcon eggs, Inney?”
“Yea,” she said, picking up an egg. “These aren’t suppose to be out here, are they Tramman?”
“Not at all,” he said, letting go of his handful of reins to pick up an egg with both hands, “We thought we’d shot the last wild one maybe seven hundred years ago.”
“She’ll be your bond mate, if you want one,” said Tramman. “And wild ones? Really, really dangerous. They can take you out with one slashing kick. See Obbree a-stringing his bow? That’s what I’m going to do right now.”
“Take her with you. Inney’ll tell you what to do,” he said as he strung his bow. “Fuzz? Take my sword. I see Karl-Veur has Obbree’s. And everybody pick up an egg. Put it inside your shirt. We have to go. Now! Those parents could show up and kill someone in the blink of an eye. Somebody will have to come all the way back down here and hunt them down and kill them.”
Ch. 2, The Reaper Witch
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps