Kraznir Complications: A Resolution

We rode into the forest, far enough to avoid capture by either army. We dropped to the ground and lay amongst leaves and needles. We didn’t worry about our horse making noise, for they were trained to be still.

Little John pointed and waggled his fingers as Nix had done.

“Bae von ox nae,” I whispered while thinking of Kraznir’s army, “bae von ox nae.” And then we waited. And waited.

Both armies remained frozen. Because there was no movement, no blink of an eye, no leaning one direction or another, there was no way to determine if the spellbind had worked.

Time passed and we became hungry. “I’m going hunting,” Little John whispered. “I think I saw rabbit tracks.”

Doughty fell asleep. My eyes grew tired, but I kept them focused on the armies, looking for change. My head fell to my chest, then I forced it upright. Over and over I battled my body.

“I caught one” Little John said as he held up a good-sized brown rabbit. “Can you get a fire going while I skin it?’

I scooped together leaves, then sticks, then searched for larger branches. When I felt there was enough, I held my hands over the leaves, closed my eyes and thought “fire” for I didn’t know the actual spell. Imagine my surprise when a flame burst forth from the heart of the leaves!

I placed several sticks on top, then when they began to smolder, even more.

“Looks great,” Doughty said. “Add the bigger branches. That should work.”

Just when flames rose to shoulder height, Little John appeared with the rabbit on a spit. He held it over the flames, just out of reach so it wouldn‘t char. Soon the smell of cooking meat tickled our noses. My mouth filled with saliva in anticipation.

“There,” Doughty said, “it’s done.” He tore off a leg, bit into it, and smacked his lips with pleasure. “Wonderful.”

We enjoyed our meal. It was not the best one we’d ever had, but since we’d not had meat for the days of our journey, it was exactly what we needed.

“Can I have some?” an unfamiliar voice asked.

Doughty jumped up, pulling his dagger out of his belt. “Who are you?”

“Mastix, sir.” The man wore Kraznir’s army’s uniform. “I’m hungry. If there’s even a tiny bite left, I’d love to eat it.”

I tore off a piece, gave it to him, then watched him slowly chew with his head held back and his eyes closed. “Um, that’s delicious.”

“So, is there something else you want?” Doughty asked.

“A bath, clean clothes and a soft bed.”

“Okay,” I said. “But why did you approach us? Shouldn’t you be afraid of being seen with us?”

The man laughed. “You’re my friends, right? Can I go home with you?’

Little John laughed as movement surrounded us. In front of us stood Kraznir’s entire army, officers and lowly men-in-arms, all with wistful looks on their faces. “Your spell worked,” he said to me with a wink and a grin. “The war is over.”

“For now,” Doughty said. “Only for now.”

“We have no more food,” I said, “but if you ride with us back to Siln and swear allegiance to King Taden, you can live in peace in Siln.”

An officer stepped forward and bowed. “Yes. My men and I will gladly follow you. We have yearned for the freedom and prosperity of Siln, but had no way of getting there. You have offered us everything we’ve dreamt of. Freedom instead of torture, instead of forever being indebted to Kraznir. For that we are grateful.”

Doughty stood and held out his hand. The officer extended his. Once grasped, Doughty pulled the man to his chest in what was considered a bond of trust.

“We’d better leave now,” Little John said. “if we ride hard, we’ll be home by tomorrow night.”

My heart felt light. My spells had worked. No lives had been lost. No injuries incurred. Not a single soldier from Siln had deserted, but the entire army Kraznir had sent was now happily singing their way to Siln.

I knew that from now on I would no longer be a magician-in-training for I had saved Siln’s men from harm. Kraznir, for now, was no longer a complication.

Kraznir Complications: Into Danger

Nix called a halt sunder some low-hanging trees o that we could dry our mounts as well as ourselves. I removed Ruthie’s gear then walked her to an unoccupied patch of grass. She immediately got to her knees and then rolled onto her back. I laughed at her antics. I so wanted to roll about as well, but I felt that Nix would disapprove.

We ate a bit of biscuit and refilled our skins with fresh water. Doughty, Little John and I found a quiet spot away from the others.

“I’m worried,” Little John said. “Nothing has challenged us. Nothing has slowed us, not human or beast.”

Doughty nodded. “By now something would have heard us coming. It’s impossible to move a group this size without attracting attention, so it’s logical to assume that there will be battle soon.”

“What should I do? I’m useless with sword and spear.”

Little John snickered. “You and me both. The one advantage I have is size. I can slink under the bellies of their horses and cut cinches. Then we’ll laugh when Kraznir’s entire army slides off their mounts!”

I rested my chin in my hands. “I’ve been learning some new wards. There’s an invincibility one, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Maybe I’ll set that one up before we enter the forest.”

That’s when the call came to mount, so I saddled Ruthie and as I rubbed her muzzle, I said, “Arq ve naw. Arq se baw.” I repeated it three times, a powerful magical number, hoping that by following the norms, the ward would work.

Was I invincible? Probably not, but it didn’t hurt to think that a few magical words could protect myself, my friends and our entire force.

Nix did not lead the way which told me that he expected trouble. What captain would hide amidst soldiers rather than inspire them by his daring? One who feared death, that’s who.

I pushed my way forward until I was within talking distance of Nix. When Nix and I entered the forest, a loud, piercing scream rattled me so much that I pulled back on the reins, terrifying Ruthie into bucking. I hung on to the horn and gripped her sides with my legs so tightly that my knees ached. I leaned forward until my nose was buried in her mane and spoke reassuring words until her front hooves touched sand once again.

Our ranks were in disarray. Instead of an orderly procession of two horsemen riding  side-by-side, many of us stood alone. I, thanks to being near Nix, was engulfed by armed soldiers brandishing spears and longswords. No word was spoken, no orders given. All acted in unison, however, which must be due to years of rigorous training.

I pulled my sword from its scabbard and tried to hold it steadily aloft, but I was no trained warrior. In seconds my arm tired and the sword fell at my side. Instead I did what little I could do: I chanted wards over and over hoping that at least one would keep us safe.

Karznir’s army surrounded us. We couldn’t move in any direction. Only the outer soldiers could inflict damage, but the enemy was as well-trained as we were. They formed a line about ten feet away: far enough that no sword, no spear could harm them.

Nix glowered at me as he waggled his fingers at the enemy. I understood what he wanted: I was to employ a magic spell that would numb the minds of Kraznir’s men. I was to freeze their bodies into living statues. I was supposed to spellbind them to yearn to be free of Kraznir’s leagues and to skip to our side.

I raised my hands, palms down, closed my eyes and screamed so that my voice would carry over those still harbored in the forest, “Tre at na lee.” I repeated it three times, as all wards were meant to. Were their minds numb? Well, it seemed as if they were as all about me all I saw were blank eyes. Good for the enemy, but not for us! I hadn’t learned how to target spells at some leaving out others!

That left Doughty, Little John and I. The wards couldn’t touch us thanks to a reflection ward my mentor had employed before we left. We were the survivors. We could do whatever we wanted.

Doughty rode up next to me and whispered, “What do we do now?”

I shrugged and turned to Little John. He said, “We could sneak off into the forest, across rivers and mountains to another kingdom. But eventually King Taden’s forces would find us, tie us up, and throw us into the dungeon of Siln.”

“Or,” Doughty said, “we could ride among both sides and steal their weapons. If Touchfire can keep the ward alive, we should be able to disarm all soldiers and hide their weapons deep in the forest.”

They looked at me with hope in their eyes. I nodded, raised my hands, and chanted again. Doughty worked on our soldiers while Little John stole Kraznir’s mens’ weapons.

It took hours. Whenever I lowered my hands, within fifteen minutes a man would stir here or there. Eyes might blink. Coughs might rattle lungs. Then I’d raise my hands and chant, “Tre ot na lee,” and “Linx fa bay,” which was supposed to turn them into living statues.

I was greatly relieved when my companions were by my side once again.

“I have an idea,” Doughty said. “Follow me.”

The three of us wove in and out of Taden’s horsemen until we were alongside Kraznir’s. “Did you learn the spellbinding ward? The one the allows minds to change?”

“I was just starting to work on that one.”

He smiled a devilish smile and said,” Well, give it a try. If we can convince Kraznir’s men to join with us, this battle will be over once and for all.”

I closed my eyes and pictured the words in my spell book. I sept my arm across the enemy ranks and softly chanted, “Bae von oz nae.”

“Do it again,” Little John said.

When I was finished, he asked me to send out a suggestion that they come to Siln of their own free will.

I nodded, closed my eyes, relaxed my breathing, and imagined words traveling into minds. Words changing minds. Words changing allegiance.

We rode into the forest, far enough to avoid capture by either army. We dropped to the ground and lay amongst leaves and needles. We didn’t worry about our horse making noise, for they were trained to be still.

Little John pointed and waggled his fingers as Nix had done.

“Bae von ox nae,” I whispered.

Kraznir Complications: We Ride Off

I didn’t want to get near an active battleground, but I had to follow orders. I mounted Ruthie and set off, trying to stay as near the middle of the pack as possible, thinking that if arrows should fall, I would be somewhat protected.

We rode in as complete silence as one hundred could go. The jingle of harness had been reduced by padding and the iron shoes wrapped in cloth. Even so there are human sounds of coughing and sneezing and mumbling and whispering. Horse breathing, snorting, farting, pooping and peeing. But we were quiet enough not to attract any unwanted attention, for no orcs or wargs or soldiers rushed us.

When night fell Captain Nix commanded an invisibility ward over all, human and horse alike. I had never tried to cloak so many, but I gave it a try. I closed my eyes and pictured our group, than whispered, “Ing spe do nably.” I felt a tingle, but not a rush of magic, so I was unsure whether or not it had worked.

Nix nodded, then turned away. I guess just chanting the ward made him happy. At least he was away from me, which lessoned my anxiety.

The night was long and cold. None of us had warm enough cloaks and since we were traveling, none had blankets either. I rolled up in my cloak, like all the others, and rested my head in a pile of leaves, but no matter how long I lay there, I never slept.

In the morning we rode on. When we came to the river I looked about for the blue dragon, but Pineki was nowhere to be seen.  Doughty thought maybe she was afraid of the large group, for after all, she was only a little dragon.

Before I rode into the water, I watched for sign of crocodiles. I knew that they were upstream, and we had not seen any when we crossed her before, I was cautious. After fifty riders made it safely, I urged Ruthie in and across as quickly as she could manage. In fact, all of us made I without me employing any kind of ward, which was good as I knew none that kept away crocs.

Nix called a halt so that we could dry our mounts as well as ourselves. I removed Ruthie’s gear then walked her to an unoccupied patch of grass. She immediately got to her knees, then rolled onto her back. I laughed at her antics. I so wanted to roll about as well, but I felt that nix would disapprove.

We ate a bit of biscuit and refilled our skins with fresh water. Doughty, Little John and I found a quiet spot away from the others.

“I’m worried,” Little John said. “Nothing has challenged us. Nothing has slowed us, not human or beast.”

Doughty nodded. “By now something would have heard us coming. It’s impossible to move a group this size without attracting attention, so it’s logical to assume that there will be battle soon.”

“What should I do? I’m useless with sword and spear.”

Little John snickered. “You and me both. The one advantage I have is size. I can slink under the bellies of their horses and cut cinches. Then we’ll laugh when Kraznir’s entire army slides off their mounts!”

I rested my chin in my hands. “I’ve been learning some new wards. There’s an invincibility one, but I haven’t mastered it yet. Maybe I’ll set that one up when we get ready to move.”

That’s when  the call came to mount, so I saddled Ruthie and as I rubbed her muzzle, I said, “Arq ve naw. Arq se baw.” I repeated it three times, a powerful magical number, hoping that by following the norms, the ward would work.

Kraznir Complications: Preparations Begin

Doughty shook his head then wiped his mouth from which stew oozed down his chin. “Magic is important, yes. But you also need to know how to fight so as to support the army in battle.”

He was right even though I didn’t want to admit it. So I didn’t complain when after lunch I learned how to ride with a spear. It was hard to balance while bouncing up and down, at the same time trying to keep the point of the shaft aimed at the heart of a dummy on the other side of the corral. I rode again and again, stopping only when permitted, but despite hard work and countless attempts, my skills never improved.

Feeling quite useless, I returned to the barracks for a bath and change of clothes, then sat in the common area waiting for my companions. None of them showed up, so when fatigue took over, I went to bed.

 

Rumors spread that a force was being sent to counter Kraznir’s army which was thought to be assembling just outside Hagg Forest, too close to Siln to be ignored. Archers, crow bow wielders, horsemen and all varieties of wizards were to travel, forthwith.

Since I had no fighting skills and limited magic, I figured I would remain inside the castle grounds, but oh, no, that was not to be. An emissary from King Taden appeared in the barracks where I lived with a dozen other females late one evening. “Touchfire?” he called.

I rose and stood at attention, as dictated by protocol. The King commands you to prepare to join the battle force. Pack your bags and head to the stables.”

“But I’m useless! I’m just a trainee and a poor one at that!”

“Do as commanded or I have been instructed to remove you to the dungeons.” He waved his right hand and two heavily humungous soldiers entered.

I knew by their armor that they belonged to the King’s Guard, the mostly highly skilled soldiers in the kingdom. There was no way I could fight them and live, so I bowed my compliance. Once they were gone, I pulled my stuff-bag out from under my bed and shoved in clothes appropriate for travel: a heavy cape, a split-skirt, winter boots and two tops, one long-sleeved and one Sherpa-lined sweater.

The weather had turned while I was training. The days were chilly and the nights downright cold. I would need whatever protection my garments would provide.

I slung my bag over my shoulder and trundled to the stables.  Ruthie was brushed, fed and saddled. I lashed my bag in place, then stood by her muzzle until instructed to mount.

We were all agitated, riders and mounts alike. None of us knew what to expect. Would there be a battle in which we died? Or would someone negotiate a treaty to stop a useless war? I prayed for the treaty. I didn’t want any more of my friends lost and I certainly didn’t want to die either.

The pounding of boots approached the doors. When I heard them coming, I thrust my shoulders back and stood at attention. Captain Nix, wearing his best blue uniform, strode in with a sneer signaling what he thought of his so-called army. “Well, well,” he snickered. “How can a bunch of misfits defeat Kraznir’s well-trained armies?” He stopped in front of a short, stubby scout named Will.

“I don’t know, sir,” he croaked.

Nix sauntered down the line of us, flicking dust of the shoulder of one, slapping the back of another, harassing each person he passed. Until he stood before me. Then he laughed. No, guffawed. A loud, deep, gaggle of sounds erupting from the bottom of his chest. “What good are you?”

I cast my eyes downward to show deference.

“Answer me.”

“I can do a little magic.”

Nix turned to a soldier standing behind him. “Check with the quartermaster. I don’t recall asking for someone who can do ‘a little magic’. I wanted a master magician.”

The soldier bowed so low that his chin would have touched his knees were it not for his armor strapped tightly to his chest. He turned without saluting and left.

We stood at attention while Nix paced in front of us. He fiddled with a harness on Athor’s horse, the saddle on Will’s and had just reached toward Ruthie, my trusted mount, when the soldier returned. I let out the breath I’d been holding. If Nix’s fingers had gotten any closer, Ruthie would have snapped them off. I would then have been executed as a traitor.

The soldier bowed. “She’s coming with us,” he said.

“By whose orders?”

“Taden’s, sir.”

“But she’s useless!”

“Taden says no other magicians are available. They’ve been dispersed to the outer villages for weeks now. All except for Old Oscar whose blind and this one. Taden says Oscar remains and this one goes.”

Kraznir Complications: Continued

The underground tunnel was the smallest I’d ever seen.  Considering that our sleeping quarters were guarded, we were lucky that the jailers got drunk and forgot to lock us in the night we’d hoped to escape. We waited until what we thought were early morning hours before tiptoeing past two sleeping guards. We had no idea where the rest were stationed, but we crossed our fingers that we could sneak past them all.

Colwen lead us through the cellars, Doughty opened the secret door, and Athor used his low-slung body to lead the way.  Little John, being a hobbit, only had to bend a little, but the rest of crawled on hands and feet.  The cellar tunnel was disgusting. It stunk of stale water and rat droppings.  Slime lined the walls and stale water pooled on the floor.  In two spots the tunnel was so small that even Athor barely got through, him having to pass through like we had been doing. We literally moved on our bellies.

We came out in the stables just as dawn was breaking, as hoped.  Colwen and Doughty saddled up our mounts that the guards had confiscated, while Little John wrapped their hooves in rags.  Athor found our bedrolls and saddlebags, still full of supplies, stuffed in an empty stall.  I nosed around the head groomsman’s office and found a variety of useful weapons which I carried in my arms until they could be strapped onto our mounts.

We headed for Rea Forest because it’s a great source of meat and well-overhung by dense trees, which at this time of year, were covered in dark green leaves the size of a large man’s hand. The terrifying problem was that strange and frightening things lived there.  We’d heard tales of giant spiders, but none of us had ever seen either them or their webs.

I’d seen wargs which have tusks that could rip a man’s middle out of him before a blink of an eye.  They weren’t tall, but wide as a dairy cow.  Beady eyes and small brains.  Wargs were said to be spirits of sailors who died on land.

I smelled the rank odor of Orcs who must have passed through recently. They were taller than the tallest known man.  Shoulders broader than two doorways and feet as big as plows.  Hands that could squeeze the life out of two men at once.  What was spooky about orcs, though, was that they only had one eye and no nose.  They were thought to be smarter than wargs, which was why Walerian loved them.  He taught many to read and write and when their skills were passable, he sent them out as spies into neighboring kingdoms.

Before entering the forest, Doughty said, “Touchfire, can you disguise us as we ride?”

I nodded. “I think so, but I’m not very good. My wards are better. I can surround us with an invisibility ward that should keep wargs and orcs away.”

Doughty nodded. “Well, at least it’s something. Do we have to ride close together for it to work?”

I closed my eyes thought about it for a bit. My mentor snickered the last time I tried to become invisible, but he’s a powerful wizard. Orcs and wargs have no wizardry skills that I know of. “Yeah, we’d better stay as close to one another as possible. Also we should mask anything that might jingle.”

“I have already done that,” Doughty said as he climbed onto his horse.

I didn’t need wands or powders for my magic to work, but I did need incantations. I spread my hands wide, encompassing the group than chanted, “Ing spe do nobly.” Nothing changed. I could still clearly see everyone. “Little John, since you’re still on foot, walk over by the burnt tree.”

After five steps there was a wave of light and then Little John’s figure brightened noticeably. “Now return,” I said. It was obvious when he came into range, for again there was a blast of light. I smiled. “We’re okay.”

We headed into the forest somewhat confidant that we could not be seen, but we didn’t take any chances. Wherever possible, we sought cover from any eyes that might be watching, whether emissaries from the castle or strange beings that might crush us.  We didn’t ride fast fearing noise that would give our position away, but we did move steadily.

The forest towered blocked out the early morning sun, making us feel somewhat better.  However, disturbing noises assaulted us from all sides.  Some we hoped were birds, others we feared were prey animals, but most sounded like the snuffling of wargs and the grunting of orcs.

Athor wanted to ride ahead to scout out the area as he was feeling nervous, even though he knew that as soon as he rode beyond my reach, he would be easily visible by any and all that might want to harm us.  Fearful that his departure might cause a ruckus, we pulled out our weapons.  I had a well-used light-weight sword, which was just as well, as I wasn’t too skilled in battle techniques.  In fact, if you could only pick one companion on a journey like this one, you’d be better off leaving me behind.

The longer Athor stayed away, the louder the snuffling noises became.  The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention, and I gripped my sword so tightly that my fingers turned white.

We rode on and on, trying not to think too much about what might be out there and why Athor had not come back. We grew tired and hungry, but Little John would not let us stop until he recognized big droppings.  Gigantic droppings.  The droppings of Orcs.  And not just a couple, but lots.

And intermingled among those droppings were small dropping.  Piles of perfectly round droppings.  Wargs.  That’s when I knew we were in trouble.  No, worse than that: in mortal danger especially since there was nowhere to hide. No handy cave, no standing remains of a house, no copse of thick trees. Absolutely nowhere that Orcs and wargs couldn’t find us.

Summer Romance Dreams

It began like a million days before it. Blue sky dotted with wispy clouds. Slight breeze: just enough to tickle your cheeks. A chill in the air, but soon to be gone as the sun warms the earth.

But it wasn’t an ordinary day for Thomas. He had just graduated from high school, so no early alarm, no classes, no plans.

After breakfast he headed out to meet up with Saul, his best friend of many years.

Saul had something that Thomas had always dreamt of having: magic.

Saul wasn’t a showy magician like you’d see on television. He couldn’t levitate people or saw them in half or escape from a gazillion locks before drowning in a pool of water.

He could, however, predict the future, which came in handy when gambling on which of their favorite teams would win. Today they were going to try Saul’s skill on dating.

Thomas had fancied Marisal for years, practically drooling over her long brown hair and curvy body, while Saul was  in love with Janice, a brilliant brunette who had outscored them both on the ACTs.

The problem is that Marisal’s family only permitted her dating boys with some degree of magic, which ruled out the unhmagical Thomas. Thomas, with Saul’s help, planned on convincing her parents that, by association, he was an ideal candidate.

Saul’s problem was that Janice controlled various types of magic, from elementals to wizardly powers, such as altering substances and making things disappear. Her magic was way beyond Saul’s, which meant that they had never been in the same class, starting from preschool, since her skills had emerged at birth while his took time to reveal itself.

Sitting before Saul’s computer, the boys scanned which of the local baseball teams was at home. Fortunately, because of the easier commute from Fremont, the Oakland A’s were playing the Houston Astros. The Astros were sure to win, meaning that Saul wouldn’t even have to use his magic when making a prediction. He would need it, however, to convince Janice’s parents to let her go to the game with him.

“Okay,” said Thomas, “so how can you help me?”

“Well, let’s do a search,” Saul said as he typed in appropriate words.

Up popped links that seemed promising. The first one they chose suggested flowers of the non-magical kind, a box of chocolates and a good book. “I can do all that,” Thomas said, “but somehow I don’t think that will make a difference.”

The next link said to buy an amulet that promised love at first sight. “Let’s do that,” Thomas said. “Where do we get one?”

“Easy,” said Saul. “Mieve’s shop on Mowry. She carries a variety of magic items.”

The boys took off walking as neither owned a car. Along the way they spotted a kite flying over Jason’s house, no string attached. “That’s cool,” Thomas said. “I wish I could do something like that.”

“No use dreaming of what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you’re going to ask Meve for and how you can use it on Marisal.”

Meave’s shop was nestled into a corner of a strip mall just past the intersection of Cedar and Mowry. Neon lights blinked off and on, advertising a variety of potions and spells. Thomas’s attention was called to one appropriately titled, Call me Honey. “That’s what I want!”

“Don’t decide before you talk to Meave,” Saul said as he opened the door.

Three walls were lined with shelves full of vials, tubes and bottles. The labels were both colorful and intriguing. While Saul moved to the romance section, Thomas scoured them all, picking up one item after another, putting most back, but tucking the rest in the crook of his arm.

“Stop! Those things can be dangerous in the hands of a non-magical person,” Saul said. “In fact, even a skilled user can wreak havoc with just one of those if he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Put them back.”

Thomas put one back, but carried the rest tightly against his body, shielding them from his friend’s view.

Meave appeared dressed in t-shirt and jeans. Her hair was closely cropped, hugging her scalp in a tightly curled hood. “What do you boys want?”

Saul nodded toward his friend. “He has no talents, but he wants to woo someone who does. And her parents only approve of magical boyfriends. Can you help?”

She tapped her fingers against her chin, her eyes scanning her shelves. “Well, I’m not supposed to do this, but you seem like nice kids. I’ll only sell a potion if you agree to supervise.”

Saul nodded and Thomas smiled.

She sauntered over to the romance section and pulled down three different vials. “This one adds sparkle to the user, making him appear more attractive.” She held up a blue liquid, saying, “This sends out a signal that is designed to attract a target, but it often reigns in the wrong person.” She handed Saul the last vial, which was filled with smoke. “And this one is to be opened only in the presence of the target. It is the strongest, and therefore the most dangerous.”

“Can we take them all?” Thomas asked.

Meave carried them back behind the counter. She closed her eyes as she stood silent. “I see unexpected results if you use all simultaneously. Therefore I can’t legally sell all three to you.” She put the third one on the shelf behind her. “Only two. Only these two, but you still cannot use them at the same time. Do you want them anyway?”

Thomas nodded. After purchasing the potions, the boys returned to Saul’s house. They opened both packages so as to read the instructions.

The one which would work on Thomas said he’d have to sprinkle it liberally on his face five minutes before encountering the person he wanted to woo. “I can do that,” he said. “Easy.”

The blue vial had to be opened within about three to five feet of the target. “That’s going to be tricky,” Saul said. “How do you plan on getting near Marisal?”

“Let’s just go over there. When she opens the door, I’ll uncork the vial and wave it under her nose.”

“Where will I be?”

“Nowhere near.  I don’t want her to fall in love with you.”

The boys meandered down Smith Street, past a park and elementary school. Marisal’s house was at the corner of Allendale. It was easy to spot, primarily because of the gigantic plants in the front yard, all improved by Marisal’s mother’s gardening talent.

Thomas opened the first vial just as he stepped up to the door. He knocked. Footsteps. He held the blue vial up before his face, ready to pop the cork. The door opened. Thomas released the potion, then gasped.

Marisal’s face did not fill the doorway. Her brother Nathan stood there, all six feet of him, broad shoulders completely filling the doorway.

“Look who’s here,” Nathan said as his eyes slowly opened wider and wider. “You’re looking awesome,” he said with a wink.

“Marisal,” Thomas said as he took four steps back. “Is she here?”

Nathan leaned against the door frame, one hip suggestively thrust forward. “No, but I am. Want to come in?”

Thomas turned and ran down the sidewalk, putting as much distance as possible between him and the house. Saul caught up with him in front of the school. “So, what happened?”

“Nathan. Nathan happened, that’s what.”

Saul laughed a deep, throaty bellow. “So he’s in love with you?”

Thomas threw both vials into bushes near the park. “This stuff is crap.”

“Okay, so let’s work on my problem. How do I convince Janice’s parents that I’ve got powerful enough magic?”

Thomas shrugged. “Just be yourself.”

They crossed Smith Street and headed north toward a fairly new complex of condos. They found Building C, then climbed to the third floor. “Only talented families live here,” Saul said. “Be careful. Don’t touch anything. Not even the handrail. Everything will be protected. It could be dangerous for you.”

Saul rang the bell at Suite 307. Janice answered. “Hi,” she said as a smile brightened her face. “Come on in.”

The boys found seats in the front room. Janice sat in between, slightly closer to Saul. “Thirsty?” she asked.

“Sure,” the boys said in unison.

Janice snapped her fingers and two glasses of cola appeared on the coffee table before them. Saul leaned forward and indicated that Thomas was not to touch, but not in time.

Carelessly ignoring his friend’s command, Thomas tipped the glass to his lips and took a huge gulp. Immediately he began twitching from head to toe. His body stiffened, throwing his head over the back of the couch.

“What happened?” Janice shrieked.

Saul hustled to his friend’s side, cradling his head. “He has no talents! He’s been poisoned.”

“Didn’t you warn him?”

“Of course. I saw this happening, so I told him not to touch anything.”

“What do we do?” Janice said.

“Do you stock any antidotes?”

Janice went down the hall. After a few minutes she returned carrying a small brown bottle. “I think this might work.”

Saul held it in his free hand, closed his eyes, and began humming a low-pitched sound. He nodded, opened his eyes, and told Janice to pour some down Thomas’ throat. As soon as the tiniest drop touched his friend’s tongue, the tremors stopped. The next drop unfroze Thomas’s body, collapsing him into the couch. The last drop eased his breathing.

“He’s going to be okay,” Saul said as he handed the bottle back to Janice.

“Thank goodness you knew what to do! Wait till I tell my parents. You’re amazing.”

Saul blushed as he returned to his seat, Janice tucked against his side. He slowly put his left arm over her shoulders. She leaned her head against his and planted a kiss on his throat.

“So,” she said, “what are you doing this afternoon?”

“How’d you like to go to a ballgame?”

“Who’s going to win?”

“Astros. But the As will hit three homeruns and two doubles. It will be close.”

With that, Janice left a note for her parents. Before they walked out the door, they lifted Thomas’s legs in order to make him more comfortable. Saul gave his friend a thumb’s up as they closed the door behind them.

 

 

The Laugh

 

The laugh is a miracle waiting to happen

A gurgling stream bouncing over life’s boulders

Riotous, rollicking wit on which to lighten

Burdensome weights from heavily bent shoulders

 

Fluffy clouds frolic freely through each person’s mind

That soon bubble out in side-splitting guffaws

A feeling so wondrous, magical in its kind

Unique in its effect; mood altering awes

 

Liberally dished out in portions humongous

No meager spoonfuls for humanity’s sake

Spread across boundaries, in actions so wondrous

That ribs crackle, tears flow, and sides quickly ache

 

The sun’s golden rays blossom majestically

Illuminating rainbows in bright hues

Emotions explode into sounds musically

Harmonious tunes blend in colorful hues

 

Burdensome miseries removed from memory

Riotous, rollicking times for the taking

Gurgling rivers of life’s hilarious story

The laugh, a miraculous joyous speaking