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: 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.”

The Call of Books

I love books. I love the weight of them in your hands. The way they balance so nicely, with little effort, falling only if you let it happen. And I don’t. I worship books for they take me into worlds where I will never go, into situations that I’ll never experience, into characters’ minds that, with luck, I’ll fall in love with.

I love the way a new book smells. Crisp and fresh as a spring breeze just after a storm. The pages turn with effort and often times stick together, making me work for every word. The binding, not yet creased, so that it almost squeaks when opened for the first time. The difficulty reading the syllables inside the crease…making me appreciate even more the effort the author put into the work.

I love owning books. I cannot go down the aisles of Target without stopping in the book section. I gently pick up a book, examine the cover image, imagine the story, turn it over and read the back. I open to the first page and read a paragraph. I can tell by that little encounter whether or not I’ll like the book. Whether it will speak to me, enticing me to delve in as if for a swim. I always buy at least one book, then take it home and add it to my pile.

We do not have a bookstore here, where I live, so when I am able to go into one, my eyes light up and adrenaline flows. It’s the same rush someone gets before climbing El Capitan in Yosemite or skydiving out of a plane. My eyes dart here and there, latching onto titles that are intriguing and covers that beckon. It doesn’t take me long to pick up a book and cradle it to my chest. To carry it with me through the store like a mother carrying her brand new baby.

I go from one section to the next, skipping some, stopping at others, always searching for the prize. I know that I could walk out with ten books, twenty books, maybe even fifty if I didn’t exercise self-control.

My love of books did not begin as a child, for we had no books at home and did not go to the library. My parents did not read to me and there were no relatives living nearby who took on that role. When I began school, I was introduced to reading. It did not come easily to me. Vowels made no sense and consonants jumbled together in so many different combinations that I could not formulate them into words. My teachers must have grown tired of saying the same things over and over to me, of sounding out the same words time after time.

It was not until fourth grade that it suddenly made sense. Thankfully I had a kind teacher who let me borrow books and bring them home to read over and over again. I don’t recall how many books I borrowed, but it must have been quite a few, for by the end of that year I was an excited and fluent reader. And then we moved into the country.

In order to get to school, my mother learned to drive. This turned out to be a blessing, for she sometimes took us into town to the library, where we could research topics for school as well as check out books. I began with nonfiction, reading everything I could about Native American people. From there I branched into stories about horses, reading entire collections by select authors. Back to nonfiction and biographies, where I learned about men and women who overcame odds to accomplish wonderful things.

One summer a most wonderful thing happened that forever changed my life. A bookmobile came into our neighborhood and parked a few houses down the street. At first I was only allowed to check out four books, which I easily read in the week. Soon the librarian allowed me five, and then six books as I always returned them in the same condition they had been when I checked them out.

I was hooked. Each book carried me away from my home life and into magical worlds. Worlds of real people doing marvelous things as well as fairies and monsters who battled for the salvation of humanity. I read with the abandon of an escape artist, giving my whole self to the story, enchanted until the very end. And then immediately picking up the next book and beginning a new adventure.

I don’t know what I would have done in life if it weren’t for the gift of reading that my teachers gave me. My mom had an eighth grade education and while my dad graduated from high school, he never went beyond that level. In my family, girls married at fourteen, dropping out of school to tend babies and home. And that was their life. Which would also have been mine, but through reading I discovered possibilities and opportunities that went far beyond marriage, motherhood and home.

Because of books my life is richer than it would be without them. I always have something waiting in the wings to enchant me. Something to carry me away. Something in which to immerse myself from the first page to the last.

I cannot imagine a world without books.