Between the Strands

SS/Fantasy                                                A Crystar based story


                           By brian francis


Sitting in his balcony garden planning a new voyage with his small fleet, surrounded by his assistants, he perused the plans and expenses laid before him.  Welixs, Hawkes’ first mate and lead adviser recited the information from the reports with ease and accuracy.  He knew the names of each member of the fifteen crews of the fleet, he knew their skills, their strengths, their weaknesses. 

As a servant approached carrying a silver message plate, Welixs broke from his recitation and read the message.  “Bring them,” he said.  Turning to Hawke and retrieving his Captain’s hat.  Welixs said “the wizards have sent an envoy. Do you wish to meet them as a wizard or Admiral my lord?”  A smile formed as Hawke reached out for the hat. “Admiral it shall be.”

The four-man envoy approached having been forced to leave their guard escorts behind at the front door.  The four men each wore a cape of purple which bore a yellow slash and a ranking mark in the color of their orders over the right shoulder. Each of them was from the highest rankings, one of them held a rod of authority. 

“I announce a party sent from the Mordan.  Four magic users of various names.”  Welixs announced in an official tone.  Hawke lowered his head trying not to laugh out loud.  Welixs’ ability to casually insult was extraordinary.   

The one, of the four who carried the rod, stepped forward and announced somewhat arrogantly “We speak for the Mordan of Flowers.  We summon your devotion to the cause and direct you to meet the challenge of the Council in its order to subdue the heretic, Gadron Findellian. The council has declared him feral as he has no order.”

“Is that all?  The sum and total of your message?” Queried Hawke sharply.

“Why yes Master Hawke.  The council requests that you act on its behalf” stated the holder of the rod.

On its behalf. So, you say.  Because they know whoever attends this task will most likely perish.” Sternness was heard in his voice and seen in his demeanor.  “Let me tell you what I would want, were I to act on their behalf.  I do not intend to do anything but gently prod him in a direction of thinking.  You see, I know the wizard that you fear, and I do not fear him.  Not because I think I could defeat him.  But because I know him to be a man of high integrity.  I have knowledge of what happened in the Well of the Mordan.”  He stopped his pacing and turned to directly face the men of the council.  “I will only act as an arbiter.  I would therefor require absolute power of resolution.  I do not intend to be like one of your knights smacked around while you play your games of domination.” He turned and walked away to the table across the room where he picked up a document and began to study it. 

The council members turned toward each other and standing closely held a brief and quite discussion. “It is settled then.  Your instructions are to find a way out of this confrontation which allows us the opportunity to study this knew magic which is now only known to him.  Bring him into the fold if you can, he can head his own house and teach these new and amazing powers.” The rod changed hands and another began to speak. “There is a common concern that if he joins into an existing house, he will shift the balance of power.  This could endanger all of us.  If there is no option but to stand against him, we need to understand that you could do what needs to be done.” All four turned to face Hawke. Silent in their stare.

A chuckle betrayed Hawkes mood.  He too turned to face the three men. “I will promise you this – I will not tell him of your casual threat or the misguided thinking of your last utterance.  I will do this because his wrath could destroy Flowers completely.  He has tapped into some amazing source of power.  I do not understand it yet.  But I am sure I can approach him safely and in doing so learn some more of exactly what he can do and maybe even how.  His father, Fin was a benefactor of his studies and yet, he claimed he could only understand a rudimentary level of Gadron’s skill.”  Hawke turned at his desk chair and sat with a plop.

Again, the rod passed to another. “We can accept your proposition, but you should know that there are others also seeking a ‘resolution’.  We represent the High Mordan council, the others are acting on behalf of their order houses and power groups.  We can offer you no assistance with the others but we will also not interfere with your choice of dealing with them.” With that the speaker pulled out a pouch and offered it to Hawke.  “There is enough here to form and provide for a company for four months.   Should you succeed in your endeavors a doubling of this amount would be forwarded to your Flowers home.”

Hawke wore a sly smile as he shook his head in disagreement. “Firstly, if there is a challenge, I mean a serious challenge, there will not be enough left of those who partake; any assault on Gadron will find he is not shy with his power.  Neither will he be found alone – but surrounded by friends who will stand before him to gratefully fall to death.  His reactions will be quick and would undoubtedly offer absolute devastation.”  Now, he smiled broadly shaking his head in an affirmative motion.  “If they attack him there, he will destroy them and come to the valley of Flowers to dish out his personal revenge.  And make no mistake there is no member of the Mordan able to challenge Gadron.  If his anger becomes a rage, he could devastate the whole of the community, he would not even try to determine friend or enemy.  I have watched as your fellow High councilors have played your petty games with others; be clear, your actions will change the world, he will ride a dragon from the skies and burn the world of yesterday to build tomorrow.”  That last bit right out of the prophesies of Ligor the Great.  “In light of all of this, I will require a tripling again of this amount which you are offering.”  The four wizard’s faces melted, the confident façade fading as they considered the words of prophesy. 

They each approached presented a bag of equal value to him — laying them at his feet before returning to their formation and bidding farewell. Then one chuckled and said – “A dragon!” before they appeared to attempt casting a journey spell. They looked confused when their magic failed them.  Hawke smiled, as a thought of appreciation rose to his friend Gadron for that particular affect.  “Okay guys we will see you later” he said a final slap in the face.

As the doors closed behind them Hawke called to Welixs and started preparing to travel to Fin’s Keep.  In the valley of the caretakers there is a raised platform baring the design, called a grace, which is the focus for travel to the keep.  Only the most trusted friends of the Findellians were allowed to study the design. It is by memorizing the design or grace, which, allows people to travel to that grace’s location.  The complexity of the grace represents the difficulty of magical travel to the location, as the wizard must be absolutely accurate or risk being lost to the world.

The complexity of the valley’s rune grace is intense.  There are for gems in unique locations and the design is unlike the grace styles taught in Flowers.  In fact, graces of this type of design are pointedly avoided because of the dangers of complication. 

Hawke unfolded his silk grace mat and began drawing the grace in salted sand.  The actual drawing was not as complex as it appeared.  It was four ruins drawn in the primary directions.  The position of the gems was the intersecting points of the runes.  Unlike the designs taught in Flowers where the designs are rooted in geometry and the simple use of reflective imitation guided the design, where the caster stays to the bottom while drawing and casting, in the designs used by Gadron, the caster draws four runes from each of the primary positions moving four times the final move returning the caster to the bottom of the grace to place the stones and say the words.   

“Always I doubt myself.  The grace is correct, yet, I doubt.” Said Hawke, checking to make sure he has everything he might need before once again reviewing the grace he’d drawn.  With a “see ya in a bit.” He placed the stones and cast the spell before disappearing in a pop.

Welixs scratched the head of the dire wolf standing beside him. “Don’t worry boy he’ll be back soon enough.” Before turning and walking in from the balcony.  “Just being here when he makes those infernal marks and casts the magic it just feels weird inside.  We will never “pop” with him I can assure you of that Finerous.  No there is no worry of that happening my gruff friend.”

                                              *  *  *  *  * 

Instead of the nice field of herbs surrounding the platform of the grace, a small army was encamped in nice orderly rows.  At first Hawke believed that he had appeared among the enemy until he saw the banners.  They were elfin warriors only about thirty in number yet worth many regular soldiers each.  It wasn’t until he looked at those standing nearby that he realized he was the focus of numerous notched arrows.  “I am Hawke a friend to this place.” He said holding his hands in front of him palms out. 

“Speak to the truth stone.”  Came the reply from a human fighter who also pointed at a glowing stone.  “But I warn you it is a death stone so don’t even shade your answers.” He said questioningly raising his brows and tilting his head. 

“I understand”

“Then state your business”

Hawke turned to face the stone and spoke his truth.  “I am a friend of the wizard.  I am here to protect and defend him.  I am Hawke.  I am a wizard and I know what a death stone is and this isn’t one.” Hawke held his hand before him as though holding a ball.  He tested the air, there were no restrictions on his power, the human rose up off of the ground as Hawke’s anger flared.  “What is this game,” his voice unnaturally boomed. 

“Woe, woe, woe, woe,” came a voice Hawke recognized — it was Degar’s and he was approaching the platform and calling Hawke to calm down.  “Come on down big guy no one meant any insult I was just playing with you.  Come on put him down. He was just following instructions. 

Hawke lowered the man and turned his attention to Degar. “He told me you were coming. Sent me to greet you and carry if needed.”

Degar was a rough and tumble fighter whose skill was top notch though he liked to out strength his opponents so he tended to mercilessly pound and laugh and pound them into defeat.  Degar smiled wide his cockiness reminding Hawke just in time that Gadron had made him immune to magic.   

“Well, it is good to see you Degar. I assume all is under control.” Said Hawke brushing some imagined dust off of his lapels. 

“Well, wiz is pissed and he is prepared to destroy any comers.  We already have four companies down in the river valley by the temple.  We have been told even more are coming.  They were in the caretaker’s valley last week when Gadron went away The Elves came and we drove them out.  There were only around fifteen of them, in camp at the grace, ten made it down out of the canyon, five were lost to fighting.” Degar explained as they walked toward the keep.

Opening the door to the keep, Degar, stepped aside and allowed Hawke to enter. Gadron was resting at the table sipping tea and perusing a book. “Gadron. you unskilled, Flowerinian welp.  What have you done now?” Hawke’s smile was as wide as it could be, as Gadron was the only person who Hawke truly liked, who wasn’t in his service at least.  He considered each of these crazy loyalists who surround and protect Gadron to be family.  Almost as close to him as his own crew.  And Gadron was a brother as true as an arrows flight.

Gadron rose and the two embraced, a hug of relief for Gadron and a welcome home to Hawke.  “I have really screwed up here, I think.  I can handle most challengers but the whole of Flowers I don’t think it is possible without loosing myself in the violence.”  Gadron pulled away and Hawke saw tear filled eyes.

“Wait a minute.  Who are you?  I am not sure I know you. And when has Flowers ever agreed on anything.  You have far more supporters than detractors in Flowers, really, you are whispered about like a hero around the tables of the taverns and admired for setting them in their place by all those who feel the foot on their necks.  No Gadron, you are misreading the situation.  Sure, there are some who would kill you if the opportunity arose.  They are just the jealous and vengeful.  The stories have filtered down to the masses.  There is a version of the truth where you are portrayed as the wronged who struck back righteously, and it is to this truth, that the non-magical citizens of Flowers cling.” A big smile.  “You are their hero Wiz.”

“Don’t you dare call me that – I hate it.  I earned the WHOLE title fair and square.” Gadron raged.

“I was just kidding.  Look, Gadron, I know they treated you badly.  But you showed them, you did nothing but defend yourself.  No, they fear your power and they lust after it too.  They are fighting among themselves to attain you while they deny you to the others.  If you joined a house it would become the most powerful house.  If you fought a house in fair combat you would decimate it in short order.  They came to me, they asked me to come to you to seek a fair resolution that would align within the rules of Flowers.  I am technically representing the Mordan in this matter.  I have full authority to negotiate them into a corner.” Hawke smiled again, a more wizened smile than a cocky one, it was a smile born of conspiracy.  Gadron smiled too. 

At dinner that evening, plans were discussed regarding how to deal with the companies that were preparing to assault the keep.  The temple in the river valley had been hosting the numerous companies, though not so willingly.  Degar had spent time among them and had been prodding them and their competitive nature. In the past week eight men had been lost to fighting with six more wounded and out of service.  Always a danger with multiple competing companies seeking the same goal.  Just one of the many methods of disruption causing discontent and diminishing the overall morale of the venture.

During tea and cookies around the fire, Hawke laughed and told Gadron about the quote from the prophesy of Ligor — he will ride a dragon from the skies and burn the world of yesterday to build tomorrow.

“No, the quote is actually ‘to forge a better tomorrow’ Gadron mused aloud.  “Riding a dragon, he will swoop from the skies flame leading the way for the world to forge a better tomorrow” but that is from the original dwarvish and in a dialect that has not been spoken for generations.  It was the mountain people of the western. . .

“Gadron we really don’t care.  I mean we are glad you know the words and all, but the point was they shit themselves when I said it.  Really, we should glamor the image of a dragon and fly it over the Mordan.  They would die on the spot.” Hawke said his excitement showing in his voice. 

“I do think I might me able to do a bit better than a glamor image though.”  said Gadron, a glimmer of his inner demon alight in his eyes.  “Oh yeah we can do it like only a hero could.”  Gadron shook his head as the others sitting around looked at him quizzically.

Gadron smiled wide and a laugh shook his torso as he rose.  “Now, it is off to sleep, there will be time enough for playing hero tomorrow.” Bowing his head, he turned and climbed the stairs.

Gadron looked deceptively young for a wizard, but that was because he was elvish, another distasteful issue for the Mordan, Hawke suddenly realized.  An elf able to out cast and over power anybody in the Mordan, though realistically he could probably handle quite a few more simultaneously.  That had to cut deep.  His escapade into the underworld was now becoming known.  If true, and it was true, he was the only person to steal a soul from the underworld and return them to the living. Actually, one of the rare persons to go and return too.  The rest of the evening was ale and wine with Breg, a dwarf as loyal as a dog to Gadron, as well as Degar and Antio the miracle boy.  That was the thing about everyone at the keep.  Gadron possessed a power that causes people to root for him.  It has something to do with his ability to see into a person and give the exact advice and support that is needed.  He is forever helping, just as Fin, his adopted father had done.  Fin was proud of Gadron and would be proud of him today.  His focus was all about magic it was something he could manipulate like no one else something with which he could do wonderous things.  Things that would drain a powerful wizard dry, he is able to do over and over and over with little apparent diminishing of his power or ability.

The amazing thing about the keep is it is absolutely comfortable.  Many wizard’s live away from the world and they live very austere lives.  While there is a certain frugality that goes with living away from the world, here at the wizard’s keep and the caretakers valley, everything of comfort can be found fresh grown food and herbs, lamb, goat, milk and cheese. There is even a small linen manufactory in the lower valley.  Hemp grown by the temple is pounded and woven year-round.

Last evenings small gathering was a thing of beauty.  Breg broke out with his recent brew and it was amazing – Blackberry ale.  Antio supplied a garlic dill goat’s cheese, spread on a nice sliced round of long loafed hard bread, drizzled with a hint of honey and black pepper.  Antio, kept the plate filled with the rounds, olives and peppers, and boy was he busy.   Breg’s stories of his travels with Gadron kept Degar and Hawke in stitches all night.  Gadron takes a special delight in messing with people and Breg and Degar are his constant companions and toys of torment.  They are both happy for the attention and both are good sports when it comes to Gadron’s torments.    

The morning rose with a chill, and a walk around the upper valley was just the thing that was needed.  Besides Hawke had noticed a complex of brick buildings that he’d not before observed prior to yesterday.  As he passed the Elvin encampment, he could start to smell bread cooking. Now elves in general don’t eat yeast bread as the fungus bread they prefer is nature grown and just nasty too.  The complex came in to view; five buildings three stories tall, arrayed around a courtyard like area.  Smoke was rising from the chimney of the nearest building. 

Inside the air was warm and the odor was exquisite.  There was enough bread in baskets stacked around the walls to feed the Keep for a year.

“Sweet roll.” A lady offered a breakfast roll glazed in lilac honey.  The bread had a citrus flavor and a sweet delicious flowery finish of lilac.  With a cup of tea and a seat by the ovens; heaven was found if only for a few minutes while he listened to the valley’s specific form of gossip.   

Thanking Ms. Nilck for the fine breakfast he learned that the complex was a sort of business center for the valley.  The bakery and the wood working building and the school room are the only areas in use currently.          

Roaming the area he found the school room.  Gadron stood at the front of the class and every eye and ear was open and attentive.  There were only eight or ten kids but, it was a school room were these lucky kids had no idea that the teacher before them one of the smartest people they would ever meet, or maybe they did. 

Gadron was dressed in a tunic of grey green linen a bright red belt and an open grey monk’s robe, simple with none of the ostentatiousness of most Wizard’s.  Hawke was satisfied with the idea that he’d influenced Gadron’s eclectic tastes.  Though Gadron had taken it to a new level of casual living.  The wagons, that had been waiting empty by the bakery, started moving as Gadron came out of the School room and greeted him and the wagoneers who were turning into the dead end of the courtyard.  They rode toward one building which had a false archway where Gadron cast a travel spell and opened a portal for the wagons to pass into.  The wagons seemed to have different places to go as he would let one or two pass and then cast a new passage.  The first three wagons were empty, but the remainder carried herbs, vegetables, bread and craftworks.   

As the last wagon approached Gadron motioned to the passage way and said “Flowers?”

“No, I am okay.  Degar spoke to me about this business venture of yours.  How much can you clear?” Hawke asked an expression of being impressed worn with a smile.

“The three shipments to Flatfield, Freeport and Temarna should garner a hundred silver each or so and the shipment to Flowers contained a number of rare herbs collected by the sheepherders and shipped out weekly which should bring in around four thousand gold.” Gadron stated in a matter of tone.

“Gadron did you just say four thousand gold?  How often can you do that kind of a number?” Hawke asked as impressed with Gadron as he’d ever been.

“Twice a month, always between two thousand and eight thousand. But a quarter of everything made from Flowers goes to support the Orphant Society.” An organization Gadron and Fin had clandestinely started in Flowers twenty years before, after the Mage wars; which had turned into the many schools for children found spread across the Flowers valley.

Hawke’s jaw almost hit the floor. “Gadron, those numbers would make you the wealthiest man in most communities.  Damn boy I could triple my fleet with income like that being earned.  How big of a pile do you have and where?” His tone was incredulous, yet he knew better than to doubt Gadron’s word.  What really made him wonder was Gadron’s tendency to understate his own successes. 

Turning to face Hawke, Gadron said “This is something I wanted to talk to you about since your revelation about prophecy and its affect on those fine friends of ours.” A smile and a chuckle slipped out as Gadron asked if he could jump somewhere. Consenting, Hawke placed his hand on Gadron’s shoulder.

And this was the perfect example of the difference between the ostentatious wizards of Flowers and this self-realized wizard that was his friend.  Instead of a grace mat and careful meticulous design, Gadron drew a circle on the ground with his staff, opened a pouch and extracted a three fingered pinch before casting it and incanting a glowing grace on the ground which attracted the sparkling dust to it. A moment later they were on the top of a mountain, it was like a barren plateau about two- or three-square miles. 

“Come on, I got someplace to show ya.” Gadron said, before taking off at a good clip. 

“Whoa there, Mr. fit and fast, I ain’t quite got my land legs yet.” Said Hawke, hurrying after him knowing Gadron would continue at his pace.

Not far later a cleft in a lone low ridge opened into a narrow passage.  Light emanated from the top of Gadron’s staff lighting the way. After about ten minutes working down and though the narrowing passageways Gadron paused and said this is the place and asked if Hawke could see them.

Hawke all but spun like a top seeking the thing that Gadron wanted him to see.  Nothing but stone and rock. “Well, there is no guano” said Hawke

“Too high, but seriously look over my right shoulder can you see the strands of magic – vertical strands?  ??NOTHING??  Come here let me see your eyes.

Gadron grabbed Hawkes head and chanted as he pressed his thumbs into the eyes.

“Ou, Ou, ouch that shit hurts stop it. What the hell did you do to me.” Demanded Hawke scrunching forward head in hands.  “It hurts bad inside.”

“Give it a minute it should be okay soon.” Gadron said to sooth the moment.

“A minute.  SHOULD.  SHOULD. I SHOULD hate you.”   Hawke fumed.    

“I should have explained better I am sorry.”  Gadron said bowing his head in contrition.

“Ya think?” Cried Hawke as he raised his head up in challenge.  “I swear to the gods I should kick… Hnnnn, look at that, I can see them now.  What did you do?  That was amazing!  Will it pass?”  Said Hawke passing from his angry voice to a coyish playful voice. 

“Now remember do not even get close to the strands, for if they touch you — well let’s just say don’t touch them.” Cautioned Gadron.  Before beginning to work his way along the now very narrow rough hewn passageway.  Hawke followed close behind ever cautious of the approaching strands.  The first ones were easy enough.  But stopping before the last two Gadron explained that to pass the last ones you must press against the opposite wall and cross over to pass the next. 

You could feel them as they inched past like a feather tickling the spine.  When finally, past all of the obstacles, Gadron, sitting on a rock cautioned against even thinking about casting any magic.  Hawke had already confirmed his magic was stifled after the first strand. He was a bit jealous that Gadron’s staff still cast its light for Gadron.  Yet, another example of the difference in magics. 

“Hawke I am about to reveal something that will floor you.   I know there is nobody else in the world aware of what you are about to see.  Don’t speak, don’t pass me and don’t stare.  Okay?”

Hawke conceded his agreement.  Now, the passageway was a smooth hewn arch-topped hallway, leading to a set of heavy oak doors that opened as they approached, revealing a dimly lit, large chamber covered in gold colored flooring. 

Stepping into the chamber a few feet Gadron held up his hand and stopped.  “I have brought a friend with me.” He said in a calm tone.  “He is someone we can trust completely.”    

“Well then bring him forward and I will judge for myself.” Came a voice that was sweet and low with a kind tone.   Hawke was not convinced that this wasn’t simply a prank.  Gadron had the ability to really pull them off and often did at the expense of his close friends.  But he stepped forward and into the view of what appeared to be a large black and red dragon.  If it was a glamor spell it was amazing in detail and movement.  Hawke found himself squatting and falling on his ass.

“Yeah, sort of flabbergasting isn’t it.  He has been here for five thousand years trapped and alone.” Then turning to the dragon, Gadron said “Don’t test him his magic will not work for him here.  I brought him to you because he will be able to be your friend should I fail in my task and am lost.”

“Do you think that you will fail in this task?  Maybe you should flee and save yourself from the threat.”  The dragon said quizzically studying Gadron as he spoke. His nose flared and relaxed over and over as he seemed to muster sulfur fire as the odor increased dramatically. 

“Maybe I should!” Gadron responded, anger flaring in his voice.  “I can understand why they locked you in here sometimes.  You piss and moan, threaten and intimidate, but you need me to accomplish your release. It is at no small danger to my life, to overcome the work of such ancient Wizard’s and Druids.  I don’t do this because I am indebted to you, neither am I bound by any oath to your service. I do this because you and I are friends.  You have promised to reserve your diet to mostly wild animals.  At no time will you attack the civilized peoples.”

“Yes, yes, I have agreed and I will promise to refrain as best I can from eating your kind.  Although, I can smell the ocean on our new friend, it has been so long, and I am so tempted to snatch a bite and taste the ocean’s seasoning. But I refrain.”  Dragon responded sniffing the air while pointedly staring at Hawke. 

Hawke was still somewhat dazed listening to Gadron scold the dragon like he does any of his friends.  He had never seen a dragon, only heard the stories told to children about being snatched if caught in the darkness, and the ancient books and prophesies. 

“Dragon.” Spoke Gadron. “I forgot to tell you that I know your name.  I have found your story in the journals of the Priests of Fire at Star Point.”

‘Don’t name them in my presence.  I shall destroy them.  I shall eat every one of them.  They are my bane.”  roared the dragon, his anger shaking the very walls. 

“No, no, no you won’t.  We have an agreement between us.  If you cannot keep your word, then I  -should- just go away.” Gadron said calmly his voice almost a whisper.

“You would betray me?”  Boomed the dragon. “You would dare to betray me.” He repeated rising up and peering down on Gadron menacingly.

“Well, I would never betray my word to anyone.  But your leaving this place is based on my ability to trust you, as well as yours to trust me.  By your very words you announce your intention to start by doing the one thing you have agreed not to do. Kill people.” Gadron was shaking his head and looking down to avoid offering a challenge.  He had almost missed casting a protection spell in the beginning when dragon was distrustful and was holding a five-thousand-year grudge against magic users.

“Star point was destroyed by magical catastrophe, everyone in the Keep and its attendant village was killed, all monks and brothers were lost the harbor destroyed. And from what I can tell it must have happened around the time you were locked away.” Hawke announced looking satisfied with his knowledge and help.

The dragon raged; his fire spewed from his great maul.  Gadron had cast a protection around both of them, and pushed Hawke toward escape.

“Five thousand years I have waited to be denied my righteous revenge.  I will destroy them all, I will destroy all of you.”  And the fire raged.

Gadron changed the protection from a sphere to a bulkhead inside the passageway.  Still, flames licked at the barrier of magic unrelentingly. Heat still passed through the protection but thankfully most all of it was stopped from radiating through the barrier.  They retreated back to the opening being careful passing between the strands. Gadron was quiet, and Hawke was becoming more and more excited as the shock of the dragon’s revelation wore away or sunk in.

Outside on the top of the mountain, Hawke was dancing around like a kid awaiting presents.  Gadron sat on the ground exhausted and spent.  “I asked you to say nothing.  He was not ready to discover that information.   His anger is still being fed by his need for revenge. Well actually, his life is all about that revenge.” Said Gadron the right side of his face red from the heat.  Hawke also noticed his right-hand palm was burned the skin torn and curling away. Still they heard the muffled rage of the dragon rising from the cleft in the rock.

“Gadron, I can try to heal it for you, but I am not so good at it; I can do what we learned together what you taught me.  I can at least try.  It looks awfully painful.” Hawke said to his friend.  “I am sorry Gadron, I should have remembered about your caution, but I was just. . . Hell!  I still am quite flustered.  It is a dragon down there.  I really thought they were just stories or exaggerations.”  Hawke jumped and spun in the air throwing his arms over his head, his excitement remained unrestrained. “We could rule the world.  Who could stand before us and not flee, seeing that great wonderful beast?”

“Ah, now stop and think.  You are reflecting the dragon’s soul.  It is a real danger, just being around a dragon, their magical nature influences our very hearts and minds, and all without him making any effort. So, your desires to conquer the world are simply a reflection of his desires manifest in your mind.” Gadron spoke calmly though with the expression of pain washing over his face, even making him shake.   

“Oh shit!  I never even considered that possibility!  A protection spell then, before I go down again.  I was ready to declare war on the world a few minutes ago.  I really was influenced.  Now that is amazing.  I’m little more than a puppet to him, aren’t I?”  Hawke’s words drifted off as he considered what he’d just said.

Gadron glad to hear the waning of the dragon’s influence, was really hurting, blood was now dripping off of his hand from the cracks in the burn.  Worn, Gadron rose, and turning away from Hawke, Gadron, raised his staff, in his left hand, over his head.  Offering a mumbled incantation, he slammed the staff onto the ground.  A small one-story building appeared before him. He slumped to the ground.

“Damn boy, the shit you can do.”  Hawke declared as he gently lifted Gadron from the ground.  Carrying him into the building he found a nice pallet for sleeping and a fire burning with stew in the fireplace.  Laying Gadron onto the pallet he explored the little cottage before enjoying a bowl of the most delicious blueberry and venison stew and reading a book retrieved from his bag of holding. After a while he found himself waking, Gadron also stirring rolled over smiling — a forced expression.

“The house, how did you do it? Everything you need. Everything! Even food on the fire. I’ve never heard about such a thing.  I’ve never read of such a thing.  And I am a greater mage.  How?”  Hawke asked exasperation drenching his words while he stared at Gadron.

“I modified a duplicate spell with some twists woven into the mix.”  Gadron said looking at his hand which was healing rapidly, his strength also returned, so he rose and walked over to his chair.  “The rocker is mine. “ 

“Oh.  Sure sorry.  I’ll take a chair from the table.” Hawke rose and drew a chair.  “Gadron?” he waited until Gadron looked at him. “A dragon? How long have you kept that secret?” His eyebrows raised in question. 

“Fifteen years. Fin and I first approached him when the shepherds informed us of the accidental loss of the young man. I mean he was our charge he served the community.  Both Fin and I, investigated and discovered the beast. No one is allowed up here anymore.  I come most weeks at least once.  I stay as long as he is decent and does not actively try to manipulate me.  It is better, or at least has been better since Fin passed.  He and Fin were close.  I was better able to talk of magic with a modicum of understanding.  But Fin had studied the very times of the dragon’s reign.  They spoke like old friends over a draught.  Both acting like pushy old men at a party.  In fact, that is why I created the absent servant spell you like so much.  They treated me like a slave while they talked.  I just wanted to explore the cavern and treasure.  Instead of telling me what to get, Fin, would tell the servant.   Funny thing was the servant was faster at the tasks then ever I was, as the dragon knows the general location of everything, and could easily offer direction; everything in the cavern, in each pile in fact.”  Gadron’s explanation of the events answered some questions, about the past fifteen years that Hawke had wondered about.  As Gadron finished he noticed a tear in his robe. Drawing it up across his lap he shifted the tear and prepared to repair it.

“Well, I guess that is why you both became so reclusive after the bell tower escapades in Fernrug.”  Gadron’s face brightened up as he remembered the time.  He smiled and shook his head in affirmation before Hawke continued.  “and the books we stole from the College library in Flowers?  They were about the Priests of Fire.  You’ve been using me all along and keeping me away from the prize the whole time.  I am damn proud of ya boy, I never would have figured it out either.” Hawke shook his head.  “A damn dragon!” As Gadron began casting Hawke sat bolt upright staring at Gadron’s working. “I understand now.  I always thought your weird hand motions were just a peculiarity, but no, you are weaving the strands and I can see them. I can see them!” As he watched Gadron manipulate the strands of magic deftly, the magic reconnecting the torn threads of his robe, Hawke dropped his head and said; “I am no wizard! I am barely a carnival performer.”   

Gadron laughed his little annoying chuckle that had now taken on a new meaning, it wasn’t ignorance as he once thought many years ago, nor the arrogance that he has recently attributed to it, but it now seemed a patience; it was warming to Hawke just thinking. And Gadron said “They are the carnival performers.”

Then as their heads both snapped to, they smiled to each other. 

It was like they both thought it at the same time; Riding a dragon, he will swoop from the skies flame leading the way for the world to forge a better tomorrow.  Laughing, Gadron recited it aloud and they both laughed.  It was a conspiratorial laugh — it was the very moment the world changed.

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B. F. O'Connor

Born and raised in the idyllic environment of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. A rural paradise perfect for a roving childhood. Now living in the desert southwest, with a flock of parrots, a pigeon, and Three dogs.

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