“She was right here, father. ”
“I believe you, Adrian.”
“What am I going to do? Her father entrusted me to care for her-“
”He is not due for three more days, Adrian. We yet have time.”
“And if we don’t find her…?”
“Let’s not dwell on what may not be,” his father said.
Adrian sighed, accepting the advice as practical, if unhelpful.
He found a note on a knife blade stuck in his door.
If you wish to save the girl, come to Farspire.
Bring a purse of one thousand gold coins, and nothing else.
He showed the note to his father.
“Farspire? No one goes there. It is forbidden.”
”It’s a city of sorcery, Adrian. Have you not paid attention in your studies?”
“If Farspire were mentioned, then no, but I don’t think it was.”
“I can’t allow you to go.”
“If it’s where they have her, then I have no choice.”
His father looked at him.
He loves her, he realized. And that had its own complications.
He began pacing.
There was no way to talk Adrian out of it; he had a set look to his face that his father knew all too well. Nothing short of imprisonment would stop him, and he would not hold his son prisoner.
Love will do that on its own…
His father repressed the smile, despite the danger his son would face.
“Very well, then. I’ll send your brother with you.”
“You say you won’t allow me to go, and now you risk both of us?”
His father sighed.
“No, Adrian, I would see you return from your folly intact, and your brother is the better of you at fighting.”
The boy’s eyes flashed.
“For the moment,” his father chuckled, holding up appeasing hands.
Adrian grinned despite himself, and when his father turned away again to address him, he rushed him, tried to tackle him from behind, but the old man scooped him up as he would a small dog, and carried Adrian under one arm, and tossed him out over the threshold.
“Go, fool boy,” his father said, laughing.
Adrian took off.
“Next time!” he called over his shoulder.
Not if I can help it…his father would never admit it, but it had taken all his strength.
Mizzle shrouded the city, giving the lights the glow of halos in ancient paintings, but there was nothing holy here.
The sorcerers had been content to live in peace in Farspire, after being purged from their ancestral lands by frequent attacks.
They set up novelty shops of fortune, and apothecaries, and became healers, tailors, quilters, jewelry makers, smiths, millers and midwives, their powers latent, their lives peaceful, until a man no longer content to hide came to the fore among them after generations of peace, and urged them to take their rightful place.
Along with his wife, they ascended to the throne through dark magic and bloodshed. Lines of succession and descendants were abruptly, mysteriously severed, and the people saw the inevitable coming, unable to escape.
In morbid fear and abject terror, they took the harness of their new burdens, and when they could no longer pay in crops, coin and cattle, they paid in children, virgins, and sacrifice.
No one had come to stand against the sorcerers, and Farspire became a blighted land.
The brothers took the last ferry.
The black river water gurgled in protest beneath the ferryman’s sure paddling, unerring in his directions, even in the wet darkness.
Adrian morbidly looked for bodies, but didn’t see any.
His brother was in the back of the boat, shivering and muttering curses.
Adrian heard the word ‘fool’ emphasized quite a few times, but didn’t know if his brother meant himself, or Adrian. He didn’t ask.
“Aidan, why do you think they took her?”
“I have no idea, Adrian; she was in your care.”
Adrian didn’t say anything more.
“Do you have the bag?” Aidan asked.
“Yes, it’s right over there…”
“Over …over…”Adrian looked about.
“I don’t see it, Adrian. Did you leave it on the shore?”
“No! I put it over there with the rest of our things, right on top.”
“It’s not there now.”
“Hey!” Adrian shouted to the ferryman, “Did you see the brown leather bag I put on here? It had gold latches.”
“I saw it.”
“Where is it?”
“What do you mean ‘it’s gone?’ ”
Aidan stood up and pulled his knife. “It means he made it disappear…sorcery.”
Oh no! No, no, no!
“Who are you?” Adrian asked.
The ferryman turned and smiled at them, and his long paddle turned into a rowan staff, his simple clothes into a robe etched in runes, his curly black hair became a long ponytail of white down the middle of his back, and his swarthy face, now cerulean, was limned with white whiskers.
“My name is Sharvan. I am the guardian of the Sacred Tree, and the ferryman to the city you now enter.”
He gestured expansively with the staff, and the mizzle disappeared to reveal a city of marble and spires, minarets and gemstones, towers and temples, and in the middle of it sat the tallest structure, a spire like an ornate staff driven into the heart of the earth, carved all over with ancient symbols that shifted and scrolled down its length, ever changing, casting spells day and night, unceasing, flaring with eldritch light when the power in them ignited.
The hairs on the boys’ arms and the nape of their necks stood on edge at the sheer touch of dark magic that permeated the air.
“Welcome, gentlemen, to Farspire.”