Tales of Erogenia
Based on the online comic created by J.E. Draft.
Episode 2: Journey to Jinqua
Chapter 7: Mage
Departure was planned for the next day. Sir Varden planned to get an early start and as much as Zenaria hated being diverted from her mission she resigned herself to accompanying him to Kivalia. However, things did not go quite according to plan.
Zenaria awoke to a low rumbling sound. Jaree, whom she was using to keep her warm, was sitting up, her mouth open and golden eyes glowing with a strange light. Zenaria was instantly awake, her sword in her hand. Just for an instant she thought it might have been the moon and then realized that the light was pulsing, almost like the beat of a heart. Quickly she tiptoed across to the section of the ruin where Sir Varden and Derwald were sleeping. The knight had positioned himself well away from where Zenaria slept to avoid any hint of impropriety. From her point of view the knight was entirely too honourable for his own good, but she hadnt commented on the arrangement.
The knight proved to be a light sleeper and awoke at a touch. Princess what
Zenaria pressed her finger to his lips. Shh, she whispered. There is something strange outside. I think we should investigate.
The knight threw aside his blanket, for once not letting modesty stand in his way. He was clad in his cotton underpadding so there was not much to see, but Zenaria could not help but admire his powerful arms and broad chest.
Together, and with Derwald following, they went to the door of the ruined dwelling that served as their shelter. The light was coming from a section of the ruins that appeared to have once been a temple. Huge pillars marched in rows and in a few places a few sections of roof still remained.
Zenaria had slept fully dressed, and she waited for Sir Varden to pull on his boots, breeches, and jerkin before stepping through the doorway. Outside the light pulsed stronger than ever, rising and falling like the breathing of some great beast. Zenaria had never seen anything like it. The light she was used to flickered. This strange pulsing glow had her staring in amazement. Sir Varden was affected in the same way. I have never seen the like, he said, his voice tinged with awe. Tis like no normal fire or candle.
Her sword ready, Zenaria stepped toward the light. Wait, princess, the knight said, placing his hand on her arm.
Zenaria started, an electric thrill going through her as the knight touched her arm. Other than when he had healed her and tended to her injuries, it was the first time he had touched her and the sensation was so unexpected that she was temporarily disoriented. She looked at him, her loins stirring faintly. It was a feeling she had not experienced since her relationship with Tren. Certainly she had enjoyed bedding Cron and Theredin, but neither had been more than a passing fancy. This was definitely different. She shook off the thought, focusing on the current situation. Come on, Zenaria, she thought. Get yourself under control. This isnt really the time.
Sir Varden removed his hand from her arm. In the strange glow of the pulsing light his face seemed somewhat flushed, but his voice was steady as he spoke. My pardon, princess, but it may not be wise to rush toward this strange light like a moth to a candle.
Zenaria nodded, but said nothing. She stared toward the light and noticed that it was brighter toward the centre, but it was difficult to tell what was causing it as its source was shielded by the huge pillars of the ruined temple. Zenaria felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, but she made no move to retreat. Instead she turned to Sir Varden. We must see what this is.
I agree, the knight replied, but we must proceed with caution. This reeks of dark magic.
It seems more like light magic, Zenaria thought, but she answered with action. Moving forward she placed her foot upon the bottom step of the temple.
Wait, princess, Sir Varden protested, but Zenaria was already forging ahead, forcing him to follow.
Wending her way between broken chunks of stone, Zenaria climbed the steps, the knight scrambling in her wake. Jaree moved just behind her right knee and Zenaria noticed that the cats fur was raised as if it was approaching danger. That made her a little more cautious than she might have been, however, she reached the top of the steps without incident. If there was any danger it seemed to be waiting for her inside.
She had to squint hard against the light. This close it was almost dazzling. Centred in the middle of the temple, it formed a perfect hollow sphere about twenty feet across. What can it be? she asked. Cautiously she moved forward, well aware that what she was approaching was like nothing she had ever seen or imagined.
Beside her she could sense Sir Varden. The knight was murmuring the same prayer over and over again. Something about asking Saint Brenna for protection, but Zenaria was too focused on the incredible sight of the glowing sphere to really hear what he was saying. Slowly she moved forward, almost as if drawn by an invisible string.
She reached the edge of the glowing sphere. Through it she could see the floor of the temple. Slowly she reached out with the tip of her sword, but felt not the slightest sensation as the tip of the blade broke the surface of the sphere. Mystified, but feeling not the slightest threat, she touched the surface of the sphere with her left hand. Her hand went right through without the slightest sensation. She took a deep breath and stepped through. An instant later Sir Varden followed and then there was an angry howl.
Zenarias head whipped around. Jaree was pawing at the sphere, her fur on end and her powerful jaws wide as she snapped at its surface. For some reason the leopard was treating the surface of the sphere as if it was solid and from the way her blows and bites seemed to bounce away from the surface it seemed that so far as she was concerned, it was. Even stranger Derwald was pressed against the surface of the sphere frantically trying to follow but held back by some invisible force.
In sudden apprehension, Zenaria stepped toward Jaree and slammed into a wall. A trap, she thought. It allowed us in, but now seeks to hold us. Raising her sword she swung with all her might at the glowing surface. There was a loud clang and the sword rebounded with numbing force. Zenaria almost dropped her sword, her arm dead from the wrist to her shoulder.
Sir Varden fared no better. His two-handed swing rebounded with such force that it almost struck him in the head. Princess, he said, turning to Zenaria, it appears we are caught.
Zenaria was about to answer when suddenly the interior surface of the glowing spheres shimmered. She was struck with a wave of nausea and the world around her disappeared.
Zenaria found herself on her knees, trying very hard not to bring up her supper. Gasping she swallowed as saliva pooled in her mouth. Beside her she could hear Sir Varden moan, his hand pressed to his stomach as he suffered the same malady.
Sorry about that. The effect should pass in a few heartbeats.
Zenaria raised her head and looked about her. She was kneeling in the middle of an ornamental garden. Beautifully manicured shrubs surrounded her and the air was heavy with the perfume of flowers. To either side fountains shaped like some combination of an eagle and what appeared to be a large cat spouted water from their mouths into pools filled with orange fish and large floating flowers. There was also another smell; one with which Zenaria was unfamiliar, but which made her want to sneeze.
A few feet away sat a strange robed figure. He was surrounded by a small version of the sphere that had attracted Zenaria and Sir Varden to the temple and she guessed that he was probably safe from anything that she or Sir Varden could do. In appearance the robed figure resembled Tren, his eyes having the same almond shape, but she could not place his nationality exactly. His skin seemed a shade of yellow where Trens had been tanned. He wore his long dark hair in two long braids around which were woven bands of gold and silver wire. He sported long mustachios that reached halfway to his chest, and his chin was ornamented with a sharp pointed beard. He was strangely dressed, wearing long flowing robes made from a shining material Zenaria was sure was silk. The sleeves were so long that they completely hid his hands. His feet ended in slippers with curved toes that arched back toward his ankles. On his head he wore a small conical cap studded with a dazzling array of gems. He was of medium build, which meant that both Zenaria and Sir Varden topped him by more than a head, but no one would make the mistake of considering him weak. What was even more remarkable than his bizarre appearance was the fact that he was floating two feet off the floor. Zenaria suspected that if either she or Sir Varden made any attempt to attack the strange figure the glowing sphere that surrounded him would probably prove impenetrable.
Who are you? she demanded. And what is this place? She held her sword at the ready even though she knew it was probably useless.
I am Junalongunggolumpaluaman, the strange man replied, but I doubt that you can get your tongues around that so you may call me Junal. This place is the garden of my home and you are my honoured guests. And now that I have introduced myself please tell me who you are.
Zenaria could barely restrain her anger. For an instant she considered refusing to answer, but Sir Varden pre-empted her resistance. I am Sir Varden of the Silver Order and this is Princess Zenaria of the Tribe of the Snow Leopard. You have brought us here against our will and I demand you release us.
I apologize for the manner of your invitation, Junal answered. It is not something I enjoy doing, but I am in dire need of your help.
Still flushed with anger, Zenarias curiosity was piqued. What could Junal possible want with her and Sir Varden? And where in the name of the Moon were they? In addition to the sneeze-inducing smell there was a mysterious background sound that she could not place, but which resembled the rhythmic sound of air blowing through the trees. Their mysterious host had been rather vague about their exact whereabouts. She kept her emotions in check. She had to find out more about Junal and why he had lured them into a trap. What do you want of us? she asked.
Before Junal could answer Sir Varden once again interrupted. It was an annoying habit and one that Zenaria was beginning to resent. Where is Derwald and Princess Zenarias leopard?
The question reminded Zenaria that the knights squire and Jaree had not been able to penetrate the strange glowing sphere. It was another mystery she wanted the answer to.
I will answer all of your questions, Junal replied with a slight smile. But first would you please make yourself comfortable? He motioned to a pile of cushions near the side of the fountain. He then clapped his hands and several young women stepped forward from places of concealment. They were dressed in fine clothing that served more to show off their bodies than conceal them, and they gave both Zenaria and Sir Varden nervous glances.
Realizing that she was still clutching her sword Zenaria sheathed it. There seemed to be little immediate danger and she suspected that if there was she would probably find herself at Junals mercy in any case. Sir Varden, noting her action, followed suit and moved to sit on the cushions.
Zenaria seated herself a few feet from Sir Varden and the girls immediately brought them food and drink. She noted that the serving vessels were crafted of glass, a substance she had only seen once in her life, during her captivity in Sandak.
Although it seemed fantastic a sudden thought struck her. Jingua, she muttered. This place must be Jingua.
Junal looked toward her. I see that you are more knowledgeable than I supposed, he said. How came you to know of Jingua?
What is this Jingua? Sir Varden interrupted, as he reached toward one of the plates containing a pile of pile of unknown delicacies. Ignoring the small silver fork that had been provided he picked one up with his fingers and stared at it dubiously.
Jingua is the country I call my home, Sir Varden, Junal answered, and you are currently in it.
So your magic stole us from where we were and placed us in your power, the knight observed.
You may be in my power, Junal said, but I intend you no harm I assure you. You are my honoured guests, not my prisoners.
Then we are free to go, the knight said, getting to his feet.
Ah, Junal paused. Not exactly.
What do you mean not exactly? Zenaria said, moving to stand beside Sir Varden.
Please sit down, Junal said. Before we go any further you must give me a chance to explain. I meant to cause you no alarm. If you will sit and accept my hospitality I can make everything clear.
We would be more willing to listen to you, Zenaria said, if it was not so obvious that you fear us.
I see that I must do something to reassure you, Junal said. He motioned with his hand and the glowing bubble around him disappeared. Slowly he settled to a pile of cushions similar to those provided for Zenaria and Sir Varden. Now we are as equals.
Zenaria doubted very much that Junal had left himself vulnerable, but her curiosity was aroused. She still bridled at the way she had been treated, however she was willing to sit and listen. After all, she had nothing better to do now that the cha required she attend Sir Varden. The knight, however, was not so easily appeased. This has the taint of witchcraft, he said. I like it not.
There is nothing to fear Sir Varden, Junal replied. I use magic for good only. I would never use it to harm the innocent.
So thou sayest, Growled the knight, but thou brought us here without our say so.
Yes, Junal admitted, I am afraid I did, but if you listen to my reasons perhaps you will forgive me.
Zenaria nudged Sir Varden with her elbow. We may as well listen, sir knight, it does not appear that we are going anywhere.
Grudgingly, Sir Varden seemed to relax. Slowly he sat back down on his cushions. Speak then, and I will listen. Absentmindedly he popped the delicacy he had been holding into his mouth. Immediately his expression changed and he reached hurriedly for one of the goblets, almost splashing the liquid into his mouth.
Junal raised one eyebrow in what appeared to be mild surprise. I am sorry, I did not realize that you were not used to our food.
Hot, the knight choked. Hot.
Zenaria smiled and using the tiny fork placed one of the tidbits into her mouth. It was indeed hot, but she had grown used to spicy food during her adventure in Sandak and although it was hot it was nothing she found unpleasant. As a matter of fact the blend of spices was quite tasty and she took another.
Sir Varden looked at her, and this time using his fork took one of the morsels and took a small bite.
Actually, he said, it is quite good as long as one does not take too much at one time.
Junal cleared his throat, signalling that he would like to begin and Zenaria nodded. Go on. I am ready to listen.
Junal nodded. I will begin with how you got here and then explain further. First the portal. The portal was designed with a special spell. Without going into the complex details let me just say that it was designed to find two people matching your descriptions. The knight asked about someone called Derwald and if I am correct a leopard. He looked at Zenaria as he answered and she nodded.
You keep strange companions, princess, Junal said. A leopard. I would like to hear more about that sometime, but it can wait until after I finish my tale. Now, the reason this Derwald and the leopard could not come with you was simply because they did not meet the criteria of the spell I constructed and the reason for casting the spell in the first place requires a bit of telling.
Junal sipped from his wine glass and then resumed his tale. I was born a prince. The last part of my name paluaman indicates that I am a descendent of kings. Since I was the twenty-third of fifty sons, I was not expected to succeed to the throne so I was able to devote my time to other pursuits. My brothers engaged in the usual princely activities, hunting, whoring, and training for war, but I had no interest in such things. As a boy I was fascinated by the clever tricks of the court magicians and I spent hours trying to figure out how they performed their acts of conjuring. To my disappointment, I soon determined that they practiced no real magic, but the idea of that real magic might actually exist intrigued me and I decided to devote my life to finding out whether real magic could actually be done. And so I began to explore what were considered the dark arts. Since I had only a remote chance of rising to the throne I was very much ignored and allowed to pursue my interests without interruption.
Using my position as a member of the royal house, albeit a minor one, I haunted bookstores, libraries, scriptoriums, and the various merchants specializing in the arcane. Nothing was denied me due to my position and I soon acquired an impressive library. Many of the works regarding magic were, of course, completely useless. But amongst the many manuscripts I found there were a number that revealed what I had been seeking; the power of real magic.
I found, however, that magic is not easily learned, especially since the ancient magicians who had written down their secrets had made every effort to make their discoveries as difficult to discover as possible. However, I persevered and bit by bit I learned magic; real magic of the type I have demonstrated to you. It took me years, years in which I devoted my life to learning all I could. I dont know exactly how to explain it to you, but when magic takes you everything else becomes unimportant. Friends and family fade into the background and even personal relationships are sacrificed. As a result I paid little attention to what was going on around me. At least not until it was too late.
Immersed in my studies I ignored court intrigue; only becoming aware of it when it finally touched my life. I should explain that magic in my country is not forbidden, however, many fear the power of sorcerers and there was one among my brothers who took more than normal notice of my studies. I was unaware of this until the day came when I was arrested and hurled into the dungeons of the palace.
Zenaria fidgeted a little on her cushion, wondering when the magician would get to the point. However, his story was not without its interest so she remained silent and listened politely while he continued.
It turned out that I was only the first victim, a victim in a palace coup, Junal went on. The older brother by the name of Pulanandmopaluaman or Pulan, who had earned much fame with his military conquests, used the army to oust my father. He imprisoned any who were considered a threat to him including all of my other brothers and half brothers. I expect he started with me out of fear of my magical powers.
Zenaria surmised that the country in which Junal lived was one that allowed men to take more than one wife. It was a concept she understood, having encountered it among the Sandakar. However, Sir Varden was completely mystified. Pardon, he said. I do not understand this brothers and half brothers. And how can you have so many of them?
Junal explained, but it was an explanation that hardly satisfied the knight. This seems a strange custom. How can one man satisfy so many women and what happens to those who are without wives?
The idea is not for the man to satisfy the women, but for the women to satisfy the man, Junal replied. And as for those who do not have wives, they do not deserve them if they cannot afford them.
Sir Varden appeared even more perplexed by this reply and was about to ask another question when Zenaria stopped him. Hush, she said. Otherwise Junal will take forever to finish his tale.
I only wanted to ask what he meant by afford. Surely women are not bought and sold.
You have much to learn, sir knight, Zenaria replied. However, best I explain it later. Let us listen to what our host has to say.
Angry as she was about being abducted, it was clear to Zenaria that there was little to be gained by continually interrupting the magician. It was better to let him tell his story and find out what he wanted.
Junal continued. At first I was mystified as to why Pulan had bothered to imprison me and my brothers. It seemed to me that if he wanted power the best way to proceed would be for him to murder us. It was not until I had been in my cell for over a month that I learned what was going on.
I should explain that I was imprisoned in about as foul a dungeon as it was possible to imagine. It was completely dark and the only time I saw any light was when the guard came to serve my daily meal and opened a tiny hatch in the bottom of the cell door. Other than that I was enclosed in darkness. The cell was without amenities, not even a bed, and I slept on the cold floor and performed my bodily functions in one corner of the cell. Needless to say within a short time I was half-starved, filthy, and covered in vermin. Sometimes the guard who brought me my food would jeer at me, telling me how lucky I was to still be alive. I learned just how true that was about thirty days into my ordeal. The guard came with my daily ration of thin soup. It was so watery that it doubled both as food and drink, but I had no way of getting anything else. On this occasion the guard laughed as she pushed it through the small opening in the cell door. Not many more meals for you, he jeered. Soon youll join your brothers and sisters in the kings favourite ritual.
What do you mean? I asked, but I suspected the answer even before he gave it.
How do you think your brother the king managed to seize power? He used the services of a powerful magician to transport his army into the city a magician who has a taste for blood magic.
Blood magic? Sir Varden exclaimed. So vile a practice was outlawed centuries ago.
Perhaps so in the place where you come from, sir knight, but here it is still practiced, although only criminals are used as providers of blood.
Sir Varden made a warding motion with his hands and muttered something about the saints under his breath. It was clear that he found the concept of blood magic disturbing. To Zenaria it was no less so. During her childhood she had heard about the forbidden practice of sacrificing humans to invoke the power of magic. It was said to be a most foul practice that completely corrupted the user.
I see you find this disturbing. Please know that I have only used blood magic once and only under the most dire circumstances. If you will listen to the rest of my story I can explain.
Neither Zenaria nor Sir Varden said anything more and so Junal continued. As I was saying, the guard revealed that my brothers and sisters were being taken one by one and used as ritual sacrifices for the practice of blood magic. I could not imagine what sort of spells were being cast, but I feared that they could only be used for great evil. However, there was nothing I could do except wait until it was my turn.
Now, you might wonder why a magician of my obvious power could not escape and the answer is simple. I was not yet trained in the ways of magic beyond a few simple spells that were little better than conjuring tricks, and none of them could get me out of the cell. However, there was one that I had learned that saved my life. As Junal spoke he gestured and a dazzling light flared out from his hand. Both Zenaria and Sir Varden gasped in astonishment and not a little pain as they were completely blinded.
I apologize for that, Junal said. But I thought it might be a bit more effective for me to demonstrate the spell rather than tell you about it. Do not worry the blindness is only temporary and will wear off in a few minutes.
In total darkness Zenaria got to her feet. Her eyes throbbed with the intensity of the blinding light. I am tired of this, she cried. First you lure us into a trap, then you transport us to this dismal dungeon, and now you blind us. I have had enough of your games. We are not mice to be played with as if you were a cat. If you have a story to tell then tell it without such cruel tricks.
I apologize again, Junal said, his voice contrite. It was a stupid and thoughtless act. But I assure you it was a harmless trick and will cause no permanent damage.
Zenaria still seethed with anger, but was unable to do anything except sit and hope that Junals assurances would prove true. His little demonstration had shown just how much they were in the magicians power. Composing herself she waited for the rest of his tale. She had no idea what Junal wanted, but she had a warriors suspicion of the dark arts. True her sister, was a shaman, but Shalandra was not a practitioner of blood magic or anything like it. Magic the way it was practiced among the people of the Snow Leopard was never evil in intent. Shamans only used their power for good, not to lure people into traps and send them to the-Moon-knew-where or to perform parlour tricks that left people blind.
Where was I? Junal said. Ah yes, the spell I used to blind the guards. I had to wait to use it until the day that they came for me. There were three of them and they ordered me out of the cell. I came as ordered but used the spell just as I stepped through the doorway, being careful to keep my eyes closed against its effect. Blinded, the guards were helpless and I used their own weapons to kill two of them. The third I had another use for as I was not yet free.
Getting out of the cell was only the first step. Getting out of the dungeon required the use of a second spell and it is here that I used the blood of the third guard to engineer my escape. It was the first and only time I have ever resorted to blood magic and it was done only in desperation. The spell I used opened a portal that allowed me to transport myself to a place far from the reaches of my brother. I can see from you expressions that you find my actions disgusting, but how different was it from using a sword to fight my way out? Blood would be shed in any case.
The sword is an honourable weapon, not some vile conjuration, Sir Varden objected. Never would I dishonour myself or the gods by resorting to such a practice.
Zenaria nodded her agreement, but Junal seemed undismayed. I understand your point of view, he said, but you are warriors and I am not. You use swords; I use other weapons. And the weapon I used saved my life.
So, Zenaria said. You escaped. What then? Her vision had returned as Junal had promised, but sparks still danced in front of her eyes.
Yes, I escaped, Junal replied. And after that I fled the kingdom and devoted my life to seeking vengeance against my brother for his brutal acts. What I discovered was that Pulan had worked with a powerful magician by the name of Alzid. Alzid had used blood magic to transport several dozen of Pulans soldiers inside the palace where they slaughtered the guards, murdered my father and imprisoned my mother, brothers, sisters and the older concubines. Then they went even further, using the power of blood magic to discover and eliminate all opposition to Pulans rule. Hundreds of innocent young men and women were subjected to brutal rituals and thousands of citizens were arrested, and imprisoned. Many were killed, their property confiscated, and their families forced into exile. Others were allowed to go free after submitting to a humiliating oath and paying heavy fines.
Junals voice was bitter as he described the atrocities committed by his older brother, but he was not yet finished. Now my country languishes under a brutal tyranny. Young women are taken from their families and handed out to Pulans supporters. Taxes are levied without regard to the ability of the people to pay. Any resistance is met by cruel punishment including slavery and public execution.
I sympathize with you, Zenaria interrupted, but how do Sir Varden and I fit into this problem?
Ah yes, Junal said. I was just getting to that part. Needless to say Pulans tyrannical regime has made many enemies; so many that Alzid has constructed a magical artefact that creates what amounts to an impenetrable magical shield around the palace. Any intruder attempting to enter the palace is quickly detected and subjected to defences both human and magical. In spite of repeated attempts no one has yet gotten beyond the outer defences before being killed or captured.
I am beginning to see where Sir Varden and I fit in, Zenaria said. You want us for a suicide mission.
Not quite, Junal replied. I have detected a weakness in the spell; one that I can exploit.
You see, Junal continued, the artefact is tuned to screen out possible assassins or anyone who might be a danger to Pulan or Alzid. To that end, anyone who enters the palace without authorization is detected and then eliminated.
Eliminated? Sir Varden asked. How?
The spell creates a barrier of fire that immolates any who pass through its boundaries. By the time the intruder realizes he has been detected it is too late. I have learned this to my sorrow. I have sent several agents into the palace but none have survived.
So it is as Princess Zenaria said, Sir Varden observed. It is a suicide mission.
Not in your case, Junal replied. You see the spell I sent to find you was designed to find someone who could enter the palace undetected. The fact that you and Princess Zenaria were able to enter the sphere means you meet the search criteria.
And what is that? Zenaria asked. Two fools who are willing to give their lives on a mission that is certain to kill them?
There were two parts to the spell. The first part was that those it sought must have the qualities of a warrior. I see by the weapons you carry that it found true.
And the second part? Zenaria asked.
The spell I sent was designed to find only those who are sexually pure, Junal said, and that is why neither the leopard nor the person called Derwald was able to follow you.
By Saint Brenna, Sir Varden muttered. I knew I should have kept Derwald away from the scullery maid. He looked sharply at Zenaria and frowned in confusion.
Zenaria coloured, remembering how she had spoken of her lovers to Sir Varden. He would now think that she had lied and all because his powers of healing were more than he supposed. She thought of trying to explain and then snorted in disdain. A princess of the Snow Leopard need explain herself to no one.
Junal seemed to notice neither Zenarias consternation nor Sir Vardens bewilderment. It is an interesting combination is it not? A warrior and a virgin. Fortunately, it allows me to place a spell of protection on both of you.
Why did it find no one else? Sir Varden asked. Surely there must be more than two of us in the world.
Perhaps there are, Junal smiled. But the spell I sent was difficult and exhausting to construct. It took all of my power and I was able to maintain it only for a short time. I was on the verge of collapsing the spell when it found you. I could always send it out again, but it would take some time to reconstruct and I see no reason why that is necessary now that you are here.
You are assuming that we will be willing to help you, Sir Varden said. Zenaria who had been thinking the same thing nodded and waited for Junal reply.
Junal sipped at his wine and then replied. Unless I mistake myself, you, Sir Varden are a man of honour. Do you not feel in any way obligated to help me against so ruthless an oppressor as my brother and his pet wizard?
The holy knight might, Zenaria interrupted, but I dont. I wish to be returned to where you found me.
Junal gave an insincere smile. Perhaps I will let you think on this until tomorrow. It is a lot to take in and I do not doubt that you might fear going into so dangerous a situation.
Zenaria drew her sword and leapt to her feet in a single smooth motion. She was moving forward almost before she thought about it. You dare insult a princess of the Snow Leopard, she growled. You bring me here against my will and then accuse me of cowardice.
Junal flicked his fingers and she froze. It was like being held by a thousand hands. She couldnt move the smallest part of her body. Beside her she could hear Sir Varden grunt. Apparently the same spell that had immobilized her also held him.
That was foolish, Junal said. He got to his feet and walked completely around her and Sir Varden as if to emphasize his power over them. There is nothing you can do to hurt me and it will be wise of you to consider my words. Tomorrow I will speak with you again. For now you are my guests. I leave you to my servants.
Unable to turn her head, Zenaria did not see Junal leave, but when the spell suddenly ended he was not in the room.
She gasped as she regained control of her body. Unconsciously she had been straining against the spell and its sudden release made her stagger. Next to her Sir Varden did the same.
May the blessed saints protect us, the knight exclaimed. We have been captured by a demon.
Perhaps worse than a demon, Zenaria answered. Demons can be fought.
The serving girls had not left the room and one of them approached, her wide eyes and bowed low. It was apparent that she feared that the fierce warriors would take their wrath out on her. Please gracious strangers, come with me.
Zenaria sympathized with the young woman. Barely five feet tall, she and Sir Varden must have seemed huge and menacing. To be left alone without the protection of their master almost certainly placed them in a terrifying situation. She sheathed her sword and tried to smile reassuringly.
Sir Varden followed suit and they followed the serving girl through marble hallways toward another part of Junals home.
Home was perhaps not the best description of the opulent palace the serving girl led them through. Although not as large as some of the magnificent buildings Zenaria had seen in Sandak, it was big enough to comfortably contain everyone in her village. Sir Varden, who had seen even less of the world than she had was even more impressed, staring at everything as he passed splashing fountains, beautiful statuary, and rich draperies. But even Zenaria was impressed by something she had not expected. They were led across an open terrace that afforded them a view to the area surrounding the palace. To Zenarias amazement she could see nothing but water as far as the eye could see. Large waves splashed onto a wide expanse of white sand and unfamiliar white birds wheeled just above the waves.
The sea, she exclaimed. She had heard of it, but was not at all prepared for its blue immensity. The largest body of water she had ever seen before was a mountain lake in her homeland and she had been able to see right across that. This vast expanse seemed to have no end and the continual movement of the waves as they crashed upon the beach was almost mesmerizing. I never realized it would be so big.
Sir Varden too stood gawking at the ocean panorama, forcing the serving girl to stand politely and wait on both of them. Finally tearing themselves away from the view they followed the girl across a courtyard garden and through a wide arched doorway.
Here are your quarters. Refreshments will be brought immediately. Is there anything special you would like?
Zenaria looked around the room. It was large and well lit. One wall contained windows of expensive glass that afforded an incredible view of the ocean. In the centre of the wall was an arched doorway led to a wide tree-lined terrace. The room itself was sumptuously furnished with furniture constructed of dark woods that Zenaria did not recognize. In the middle of the room a small fountain tinkled musically and overhead large leaf-shaped paddles rotated slowly, helping to move the humid air. She wondered how it was done, but supposed that a sorcerer of Junals power could probably arrange for some magical spell to power the fan.
There were two beds set well apart, which Zenaria supposed, was a not so subtle hint to preserve the virginity of the two guests that Junal thought so important. Several young women bowed before them as they entered the room.
Zenaria noticed that the presence of so many nubile females was having the effect of making Sir Varden quite nervous. The knight, as she had already guessed was not impervious to female charms although he controlled his urges well. He had not so much as touched her other than when she had been injured, but she had caught him watching her when she thought she didnt notice. She had, however, no intention of attempting to seduce the knight. She had never done that with any man, and right now there were more important things to consider, such as how they were going to deal with Junal.
Apparently Sir Varden was thinking along the same lines, at least a far as dealing with the magician, because he spoke first. It seems, Princess that we are captives even though Junal calls us guests. What thinkest thou? I fear if we do not agree to his demands then neither of us will see our homelands again.
I think the same, Zenaria said, taking a seat by the fountain and selecting a grape from a large bowl of fruit held by one of the serving girls. We have no idea where we are other than the fact that we are in Jingua. However, where that place is I have no idea. I do note that it was night when we were swept her by Junals spell, but we arrived sometime in the afternoon. I do not understand this, but I think we may have traveled a distance greater than it is possible to return unless he desires it.
I have thought on this a little, Sir Varden said. I do not see why it would take two of us to do this thing he wishes. Tomorrow I will tell him that I will do the deed if he sends thee home.
Zenaria dropped the date she had been about to place in her mouth. She hardly knew how to reply, but she managed to force the words out between clenched teeth. Sir Knight, I tire of your assumed superiority. I need no protection from a man who knows so little of women that he thinks their only duty is the warm a mans bed and tend his children.
Twice I have rescued you, Sir Varden replied, calmly, and yet you insist that you can look after yourself. Somehow I think that you overestimate your abilities. A woman with a sword is still a woman and no match for the dangers of the world as you have clearly shown.
Zenaria found the knights calm manner infuriating. We shall see just how much of a match I am, Zenaria said, drawing her sword.
You challenge me? Sir Varden said, unbelieving. This hardly seems the time or place. Besides I have no wish to humiliate you.
Zenaria motioned toward the terrace. I will wait for you outside. I have no wish to stain the floor with your blood. Without waiting for a response she turned on her heel and walked onto the terrace. Outside the sea breeze swirled her hair. Quickly she gathered it up and twisted it into a knot to keep it out of her eyes. As she finished Sir Varden stepped onto the terrace.
This is foolish, the knight said. We should be considering our actions regarding our situation, not duelling with one another. It will do our cause little good if one of us is injured.
We have no cause if there is no trust, Zenaria replied. You think by virtue of your sex that you are better than me. We will resolve this now. If I defeat you then you will accord me the respect I deserve. If you defeat me I will act the compliant female.
Sir Varden sighed resignedly, as if to say What am I going to do with this stupid woman? But he drew his sword and moved it to the guard position. What will decide the winner? he asked.
The first one to ask for mercy, Zenaria replied carelessly. Her lips were a hard straight line, reflecting her barely restrained anger. The challenge she had just thrown out was deadly in the extreme. It meant that the duel would not end until one of the two proud warriors either surrendered or was too badly injured to continue.
That is a foolish answer, Sir Varden said, but one I would almost expect from thee. Very well then, I will try not to hurt thee too badly.
Look to you own safety, Sir Knight, Zenaria replied. As she spoke she attacked.
She almost won the duel in the first few seconds. Sir Varden was obviously not expecting her to be much of a challenge. Kivalian women had no tradition as warriors and in spite of Zenarias height and impressive musculature he was not prepared for the ferocity of her attack.
His training and reflexes saved him, but not before Zenarias blade sliced through the meat of his breast opening him up like a slab of butchers meat. The knight grunted in pain as he staggered back, blood streaming from his wound. Zenaria did not wait for him to recover, but pressed the attack with a vicious downcut that would have cut through his thigh if the knight had not stepped back. But Zenaria did not let up, striking again and again at the knight, each blow intended to maim or cripple.
Somehow despite the whirlwind attack Sir Varden managed to survive, but not without suffering a half dozen nasty wounds. Zenaria continued her attack, but now the knight fought back, striking into openings created by Zenarias assault. Although none of the counterattacks landed, it forced the Snow Leopard princess to step back, giving her opponent a few heartbeats to recover.
I see I underestimated thee, the knight gasped, his chest heaving. He was bleeding badly from wounds to his chest, arms, and a nasty gash across his thigh. Thou are indeed a warrior.
Zenaria crouched, ready to continue the duel. Do you yield? she asked.
Ive not yet bled enough, Sir Varden replied. His intense blue eyes were focused intently on Zenaria and it was impossible to read anything in them other than grim determination. Saint Brenna will aid me, he finished and then attacked.
Zenaria was not caught unaware, but even so the ferocity of the attack forced her onto the defensive as blow after blow came at her. So powerful was the knight that he was able to alter the angle of his blade in mid-swing, forcing her to constantly adjust to the attack. Back and back he forced her until her back was pressed against a stone wall at the edge of the terrace, and then he drove in for the kill.
Zenaria waited until Sir Vardens sword was descending before ducking away from the blow. Twisting her body she reversed their positions and thrust at the knights chest. It was a killing blow, but somehow the knight managed to block it in spite of her surprise escape. He cut back and this time he managed a hit.
Mmpph! Zenaria grunted as the tip of Sir Vardens blade slit the top of her deerskin shirt and cut through the skin of her left breast from the collarbone to the nipple. It also cut through her breast binding opening a wide expanse of female flesh to the knights eyes.
Sir Vardens eyes widened. For the briefest of moments he hesitated and Zenaria drove her fist into his jaw. She was still gripping her sword and the blow had all the weight of her body behind it and the reinforced weight of the hilt behind her fist. The knight staggered and his eyes rolled up into his head. Then stiff as a statue he fell forward.
Zenaria caught him as he fell, cushioning him as she lowered him to the terrace. I guess that counts as a win, she muttered. She got to her feet and moved back into the room just in time to meet Junal as he came through the door. Ignoring him, Zenaria spoke to the cringing serving girls. Help me carry the knight to the bed.
Junal looked on impassively as the girls hurried to do her bidding. Ignoring her own wound, Zenaria took the knight under the arms and lifted his torso while the girls took his legs. As they set him on the bed Junal spoke. I will send for my physician. I certainly hope that you have settled your differences. You cannot help me if you are dead or injured.
I have not said that I will help, Zenaria said. She wiped her sword on a fragment of her torn shirt and sheathed it over her back.
As I said, Junal replied. We will discuss it tomorrow. Provided, of course, that the knight recovers.
He has only a few scratches, Zenaria said. Hell be fine.
Junal stared at Zenarias bleeding breast. Your definition of scratches does not match mine. We will see just how well you both are tomorrow. He turned and left the room. A few minutes later a man of middle years with the same drooping moustaches as Junal entered the room. He was dressed in long white robes that reached to his feet, and carried an elaborately jewelled case.
The man set the case on a low table and then moved to the unconscious form of Sir Varden. Rolling back the knights eyelid he surveyed him critically. Then he placed his hand on the large vein on his throat. Strong pulse, he said in a high clear voice. And his wounds appear to be superficial. A few stitches and some sleep and he should be back to normal. He moved to the jewelled case and opened it, revealing a gleaming array of surgical tools.
The analysis did not surprise Zenaria who had surmised as much herself. But one thing caught in her mind. How is it that everyone speaks my language?
Actually, the doctor replied, no one here speaks your language. Master Junal has cast a spell that enables you to understand ours.
That is powerful magic, Zenaria replied, watching as the doctor threaded a needle with fine filaments of catgut.
The doctor finished stitching Sir Varden and then washed away the blood before applying clean linen dressings to the wounds. Then he turned his attention to Zenaria. She had staunched the flow of blood from the wound with her own torn shirt and he removed the bloody deerskin and surveyed the wound. Hmm, a clean cut. But it will have to be washed. I will give you something for the pain.
I need nothing, Zenaria said. Clean the wound and then stitch me up. I have suffered worse.
As you wish, the doctor replied. He took the same flask he had used to treat Sir Varden and poured a clear fluid onto a piece of clean linen. Then he dabbed at her wound.
Burning pain accompanied the touch of the clear fluid, but Zenaria had expected it. She did not so much as flinch as the doctor cleaned away the blood and fragments of skin and flesh lining the edges of the wound. Nor did she respond when the edges of the wound were stitched with more proficiency than she had ever known.
There, the doctor said. That should heal with hardly a scar. Now I suggest you refrain from fighting with your companion and have something to eat and drink and then get some rest. I expect you are going to need it.
Zenaria nodded. Much as she would have liked to disagree, it appeared she had little choice but to do what Junal wanted. She was trapped in an alien world, incredibly far from her home and with no way to get back unless the magician sent her back. As the doctor left the room she lay back on her bed and in spite of the throbbing pain of her wound was almost instantly asleep.