Betrayers of Magic (Book Two)
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The word swept across the city like a harrowing disease. The Wanderer was to be set free from prison and the paid watcher waited not a moment too soon to tell the world of his imminent release.
As the morning sun glowed with an orange-gold light, the deadbolt was drawn back inside the prison and the strong timber door thrust open. The gaoler, guarded and alert, shot his eyes in the direction his prisoner should take if he wished to taste his freedom. He felt his lips tighten when he saw someone draw their arm close to his face. It was caked in a layer of dried dirt and he watched the prisoner block out the streaming rays of sun, with the back of his filthy hand.
‘Ger up with ya,’ the gaoler snapped, pointing towards the corridor. ‘Or I’ll ‘ave this ‘ere door shut faster than ya can say – filthy, dirty scavenger!’Muscle cramped from sleeping on a cold, damp floor,
the prisoner forced himself to his feet, wincing, when he threw his shoulders back to help ease the ache in his lower spine. He dragged his dark hair, lank and covered with lice behind his pointed ears, feeling it heavy with months of grease and ground in dirt. He dropped his hand, shifting towards the door and he pushed it wide, forcing the gaoler to take an involuntary step back, revealing to him the row of prisoners who were locked inside adjacent cells.On hearing a disturbance, the prisoners rushed to their feet, scurrying like rats to see who was being set free and in seconds, desperate shouts were ringing along the cold walls and a deafening drumming perforated the chilled
air. With a sudden fury, the inmates started hitting the metal bars and bare stone walls with their dented plates and battered cups, their despair at being locked away and forgotten momentarily heightened by the unexpected release of the Wanderer.
The Wanderer stepped out into the corridor, his lips pursed at the commotion and he slid his gaze to the floor, pretending he could neither see nor hear the din which followed him when he left the stinking hell hole
behind. Concentrating only on his freedom and what he would do next, his thoughts drifting to a certain accommodating maid who worked at the local inn that he’d used before being incarcerated.
left of his torn shirtsleeve. It’s not like she’ll have been busy with me being away…The gaoler turned towards him, a look of distaste clearly visible on his old, leathery face and he shouted to the prisoners to be quiet or face the consequences of their actions once he returned. The noise died in their throats when the gaoler flashed a menacing grin. He gestured for the Wanderer to take the lead until they reached the end of a second passageway where their exit was blocked by a thick oak door, rimmed with rusty steelwork.
‘Stand back and wait ‘ere,’ the gaoler ordered, pulling out a heavy set of iron keys and inserting one into the lock. The Wanderer did as he was told, eager to be set free without further delay. The door gave a loud screech when the crude bolt protested, forcing the gaoler to give it a sharp tug and light flared once again inside the corridor. The Wanderer shielded his face but appreciated the warmth of the sun when it touched his cold skin. He had been in semi-darkness for many months and his dulled retina’s hurt from the bright light, but his arrogance had seemingly not dimmed. He followed the gaoler, rubbing his burning eyes and walking between two marching columns of soldiers, most of whom he knew only too well due to their own underworld connections. Their faces shone with amusement when they caught his eye and their lips curled mockingly at him, for they knew he would return, it would just be a matter of time.
He passed a narrow archway which led to the lower set of dungeons and felt himself stiffen, for those prisoners who were held deep inside their belly would never live to see the sunrise and he gave an involuntary shiver. He trusted no one either inside or outside of the prison walls, for there had been a small bounty placed upon his head and some would not yet know he’d paid the price at the hands of the sentinel. He knew he had no more chances, yet he could never change his thieving ways and his mind drifted to his trial. The council had spared his life of which he was still stunned. King Gamada ordered for him to be executed, yet after his untimely death the council proclaimed a reprieve,
forcing the Wanderer to accept a further sentence of hard labour instead.
He’d worked in the charnel house, stripping the continual flow of dead of nothing but their rags and dignity. Disease ridden and half starved, the pile of mounting bodies lay waiting for a pauper’s mass burial. The stench of their
rotting flesh became his own personal torment as with every passing day his enslavement ate at his soul, destroying what was left of his already pathetic attempt at humanity.
Pushing these dark thoughts aside, he found himself exiting the compound and stepping out on to the streets of the city. His heart was pounding so hard when he heard the prison door slam behind him that he thought it would burst and kill him there and then. His shifty eyes observed his surroundings and he moved to a darkened corner where he could take a moment to get his bearings. When he felt it safe, he stole towards a set of four small cottages. His pace quickened when he reached a ginnel, the darkened passageway beckoning to him like a beacon in the night and he rushed forward eager to be swallowed by the darkness. His feet were silent as he made his way through, and once he reached the other side, he headed straight towards a common flowerbed.
After checking to see if he was being observed, the Wanderer scraped his foot along the soft, brown dirt until the heel of his ill-fitting boot stuck on something hard. Crouching low, he brushed the last remnants of dirt away with
his trembling fingertips to show a secret gateway where he found the quick release mechanism and pressed it. A portal sprang open and he closed his eyes and brought his hands to his chest in silent gratitude. He turned on his
haunches, pulling close the thin, tattered cloak which he’d been given by the gaoler and without a moment’s hesitation, jumped from one loathsome place to the next.
His eyes were sharp and his wits sharper still when he turned his head to focus on his whereabouts. The Wanderer moved like a slick cat over broken debris and rotting vegetation when the exposed portal sealed immediately
above his head. The chamber was foul smelling and damp. The dulled walls dripped with a constant stream of stagnant water, creating a stench within the air which would have made any normal being caught within its belly retch, but not the Wanderer, because this was his home and to him the smell brought only contentment.
He was met by a score of archways and twisting tunnels branching off into a sequence of passageways. He knew each destination would lead within the city walls and that on more than one occasion this knowledge
had been his salvation, however after some time he paused, checking for signs of being followed, his eyes already accustomed to the gloom. With caution burning in his eyes, he sieved through the darkness, searching the shadows for any clear warnings of danger and once he was satisfied he was alone, he turned
his attention back to the moment at hand.
Wiping away a patch of fungus and slimy mould, he mumbled an enchantment which caused a series of twisted
cracks to shoot along the wall. Like a zigzag of long, bony fingers the solid fractures reached out across the outer surface. Then small hairline cracks appeared, and he reached out, pushing hard against the stone. He took a step
back when a rush of rubble and fine dust fell at his feet and he shook his dirty boots clean. He took a shuddering breath, concerned that the sudden commotion might alert someone to his presence and he listened intently for any
approaching footsteps. When the dust settled and only the echo of silence rang inside his head, he drew away from a society he had learnt to hate and took back the life they’d tried so desperately to take from him.
Once inside his domain, the loneliness which he’d endured in prison returned but this time he embraced the isolation with an unexpected shiver of excitement. However, his many months away had seen his den grow dilapidated and neglected and many mushroom shaped organisms grew in several moist patches in the damp, mouldy earth. The stench of their musty aroma was overpowering, yet to the Wanderer it smelt like sweet perfume. His bed, covered in a simple blanket made of homespun yarn, lay thick with a layer of soft, green mildew. His meagre belongings stacked in the corner awaiting his return, looked pathetic and rather inadequate for someone who boasted having infinite wealth.
Gripping a candle, he threw his hand and a small flame shot from his fingers setting it alight. The candle’s glow illuminated a small, hollow cave revealing misty vapours which were hanging like fluffy clouds high above the roofline. They floated in odd shapes between the flowstone, clinging to the lime deposits which grew in sharp, pointy horns, creating a wondrous valley which allowed the mist to nestle between its colourful towers of stalactites. It was bitter cold inside his den and the air was thick and stale. The Wanderer moved with haste to where a fire pit had been carved centuries earlier deep within the stone. Another flick of his hand and a burst of fire blazed with a flurry of golden embers, causing the vapour to dance in a heat filled frenzy, until one by one, they each dispersed.
He gave a thankful sigh when the room filled with warmth and golden light and he strolled to the furthest corner, letting his hands touch the cold walls while he travelled. His fingers brushed the different contours of rock, touching the rich colours of green and white which were threaded through the limestone.
Bending down, he dug his fingers in the soft earth, tearing at the layers of dirt until the palm of his hand touched something solid. His fingers curled around two further objects and he immediately drew his hand to his chest. He straightened, opening his fingers like a careful child and revealed three small, shiny pieces of quartz; these
minerals were his very own Lodestones. He played with them like toys until they left the sanctuary of his palm, hovering unaided in mid-air, spinning like a sun with two moons. They were coated with petrified coral, making them stones of immense power. He had stolen these magnetised minerals from King Gamada’s treasury and the reason why he’d been dually punished, but even after his arrest, the Lodestones had somehow managed to stay in his possession.
Unbeknown to him the orbs were enchanted with a dark spell and their true powers, never unleashed – so far. The stones not only protected those who had accumulated a notorious large fortune, but they could also find rare and exquisite treasures, leading any gluttonous immortals who were foolish enough to wish to pluck more riches from the hidden depths of obscurity, straight to them. The Wanderer mumbled an incantation which allowed him to see through the solid rock face. He grinned as only the greedy do when his eyes saw the overwhelming display of
shiny gold, stacked high against a mountain of sparkling jewels. Piled high from floor to ceiling, his treasure was hidden in every conceivable nook and cranny and the pyramid of shimmering gems glistened like polished stars each
time they caught the glow from the flickering firelight. The orbs spun faster and faster while they cast their spell of protection and this caused his desire for more riches to intensify. His wealth and valuables were vast, yet he lived
like a common hermit, unable to stop himself from hoarding everything he stole or allowing a single piece of ill-gotten gold to ever leave his fingertips.
A thunderous blow exploded on the outer surface of his den, causing him to freeze like a frightened rabbit. He pulled a hand across his forehead when tension shot across his brow, unable to comprehend how someone had managed to hunt him down so soon after his release. Aware of his sudden vulnerability, he cursed aloud, feeling a numbing sensation rise through his body and he shot his hand to his mouth to stifle a cry. The continuous boom of an agitated fist grew more and more intense and the Wanderer’s resolve started to slip away with each shuddering vibration. He cast his mind, enabling him to speak to the intruder through the stone.
Who are you and what do you want? he demanded, noticing his mouth was turning dry while he tried to stay in
control. He swept the Lodestones into an inner pocket, forcing them to lie still inside the lining, his heart hammering in his chest at the mere thought of losing them to another.
I command you to open the door at once, replied an authoritative voice inside his head, yet the Wanderer didn’t
recognise it and his worry grew.He snapped his fingers to disperse the spell that revealed his hidden treasures and felt a trickle of cold sweat run down his cheek. He wiped it away with the back of his hand and then searched
his forehead for more. He found his brow to be drenched and he rubbed the rest away with the cuff of his torn shirt sleeve.
Be gone stranger, he commanded, for I am sure I have never had dealings with you in the past and I wish for none with you in the future.
I am here with a heavy purse of gold, the voice bellowed, sounding infuriated at being made to wait outside. However, I will not stand here all day and discuss my business for all but the rats to hear!
The Wanderer took a step forward, interest flaring behind his dark, narrow eyes and he managed a crafty grin. His insatiable hunger for wealth was starting to override his need to be cautious and he thought perhaps his visitor to have simply heard of both his talented reputation and recent release. This episode was unusual though, for any work he’d been offered before had always been through his strong underworld connections, reaching him via his favourite drinking hole, the Stumble Inn and although this thought niggled at him, he chose to ignore it.
For the first time in his life he felt trapped within his own den, yet a slither of excitement betrayed his fearful
judgment at the mere mention of a bag of gold. He sensed his visitor had not come through some idle whim. Indeed, he had earned the reputation of being a dangerous and notorious thief, yet here was a stranger banging at his door with a confidence he would not have expected from any living soul. Evidently his visitor was unafraid of any retaliation from such an unsavoury character or fearful of suffering a painful repercussion at a much later date…
The Wanderer pondered these facts for a moment longer, sensing that the intruder would not leave until some kind of bargain was struck between them. With growing anticipation, he called for the intruder to stand aside, mumbling the
spell which would open the entranceway and make him vulnerable to whoever stood on his doorstep. With the spell cast, the doorway broke open to reveal his unexpected visitor, giving the Wanderer cause to regret his somewhat impulsive action. He stood open mouthed, staring at the tall, dark silhouette which blocked his doorway and felt his heart miss several beats. He heard the figure speak and enter his domain without being invited in. The Wanderer forced himself to bow and listen intently to the strong, dominant voice who revealed to him a terrible, dark secret. The visitor appraised him for stealing the Lodestones and the Wanderer’s face turned white. His visitor ignored his look of anguish, choosing instead to explain what he had in store for him to do and all the while the Wanderer nodded, mindful that his own outrageous fantasies and unscrupulous ideas for the future, had just shattered like glass before his very eyes, only to be replaced by the perfectly moulded structure of someone else’s dreams …
© Lynette Creswell, 2013
The right of Lynette E Creswell to be identified as author of
this work has been asserted in accordance with section 77 of the Copyright,
Design and Patents Act 1988