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Flight to Malmillard
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-591-6
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Fantasy/SF/Science Fiction
eBook Length: 156 Pages
Published: July 2008
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

Lord Erek's new tutor discovers that his magical talents are potentially awesome—or could be, if he gets the proper training. But training is something that his family will not allow. So Erek goes on the run with his tutor and three new friends: Ursyn, the burly warrior; Vlad, the wily trickster; and Commander DiaVandryn, a brilliant soldier who is hiding secrets of her own. But they are being followed, and if they’re caught—they all die.

Flight to Malmillard (Excerpt)


Prologue

The tall, thin man smiled down at the squat woman.

"I assure you, my lady, that I am correct," he murmured. "And there is no room for doubt in the matter. The boy is precisely what we have been searching for."

"But how can he be?" she harrumphed. "There has never been such a one in my family, in all its illustrious and glorious history."

"Be glad, milady, that he is so," the man offered another smooth smile. "He provides the last, the final piece in our puzzle."

"But he is…"

"A relative. I realize that, my lady. One of your own blood. A pity, is it not? But do remember…if our plan succeeds, you will be elevated far higher than any of your clan has ever been before."

"That is true…" A look of the most blatant desire spread over her rather flat face. "And he is useless, after all."

"Precisely. And if he does indeed have the ability that we need…well, no one will miss him, will they?"



Chapter One

There are few who can achieve the ultimate destiny of our race; few who can become master adepts. And of those few who are blessed-or cursed-with this shining ability, only a small number manage to survive past childhood. That is why a place must be chosen, teachers must be trained, and protection must be offered for these cursed and blessed few...for fear that the ones who do manage to survive without training and instruction, do not destroy themselves-and us-in the process.

-The Annals of Malmillard

Begun in A.E. 993 (unfortunately incomplete after the Great Fire of 1344)

These somewhat overpowering words are suspected to be by the very hand of Malcolm Malmillard, first recorded master adept and prefect of the Academy that bears his name. If so, one must wonder how much enjoyment he received from his admittedly purple prose.

-Unexpurgated Addenda to the Annals; 1579 A.E.

The tall man in the untidy red robes flung his arms wide, the bright morning light from the high windows at his back glinting off his corn-gold hair.

To Lord Erek, his tutor looked like some beneficial bird, looming over him in quiet concern.

"No, no, these are the correct movements. Observe, if you will, and remember," said Magister Andru, his narrow face splitting into a remarkably sweet smile.

Long arms still widespread and azure eyes fixed on a book that lay closed on a cluttered table before him, the magister began a series of intricate movements with the fingers of his left hand. He drew them in one by one against his palm, then flung them back with sharp snaps, quite audible in the stillness of the room. At the same time, he swept his right arm from its outspread position gracefully towards his chest, curling his fingers into a fist.

The massive tome that lay before him calmly opened its heavy cover, as though inviting a reader to partake of the wonders within. Pages, crowded with esoteric formulae and pictures and diagrams, flipped lazily and of quite their own volition one by one, stopping at last at a page depicting a rather cross-looking wyvern done in tones of green and orange and holding a bundle of arrows in one clawed paw.

"Do you see? The left hand draws the attention of the subject, while the right creates the proper containment field and thus produces the movement of the object itself. Keen observation plus the proper intention produce the correct result. Try it for yourself." Andru nodded, his soothing tones and kind expression showing that he knew full well his pupil was uneasy-as well as uncertain of his abilities.

Lord Erek-rising sixteen summers, though somewhat tall and coltish for his age- straightened his shoulders, took a deep breath and mimicked the movements of his tutor. He flung his own arms out. Left fingers wiggled like frantic snakes in and out against his palm, right hand with fingers splayed jerked spasmodically toward his belly.

Naturally, even as he moved his hands and arms, Erek knew deep inside that he would fail the test.

He did not, however, expect quite so impressive a failure.

A red and yellow parrot, one leg shackled with a slim gold chain to its carved wooden perch, raised the other leg and screeched in mounting fear and consternation. Books and manuscripts pitched themselves off their shelves along the wall, landing on the stone floor of the large chamber and just missing the cluttered table. The cold logs in the fireplace to Erek’s right burst into spitting saffron and vermilion flames. Out on the balcony beyond the tall windows, a heavy leaden pot full of late summer flowers jumped sideways its full length, bumped into a heavy chair and slid to a stop with an eerie squeal. A glass of water on the untidy table boiled merrily, splashing sizzling drops onto the close-written pages of that same massive tome that lay open and unprotected. Red ink began to run, as though the vellum sheets themselves were wounded by Erek’s unfortunate attempt.

"Oh, dear," said Magister Andru faintly.

The magister surveyed the mayhem created by his pupil, gave a sigh and a shake of his head that set his unruly curls a’bouncing. He then gave a brisk flick with the fingers of his right hand.

All commotion ceased at once-the fire died down to sputtering coals, the books flew back to their positions on the shelves and the glass of water ceased its boiling. Even the bleeding pages stopped their flow of ruddy ink, each red-tinged droplet skidding to a precise stop. Outside on the balcony, the peripatetic pot full of crumpled petunias slid back to its former position with another agonizing squeal.

Young Lord Erek looked up at his lanky tutor.

"I don’t know what I’m doing wrong," the boy complained as he tried to hold back the hot tears in his blue eyes. He took a deep and quite obviously pained breath. "I try to follow your actions, but my hands seems to have ideas of their own."

He spread his skinny, somewhat dirty hands before him and eyed them with some dismay, as though to offer up for punishment the real culprits of the former fiasco.

Magister Andru, his own hands clasped behind his back, cast a sweet smile down at his pupil, and Erek could feel his spirits rise within him at the sight. A sight, be it mentioned, that he had never obtained from any of his former tutors.

"Control comes with practice," said the magister, his tone as gentle as his words. "You will soon be proficient, I assure you. Practice, practice…and, for a change, a bit of practice."

Lord Erek nodded, his chin trembling, his shoulders hunched as though expecting a blow.

Magister Andru noted the boy’s reactions and placed them where they belonged, squarely on the head of his predecessor as tutor-and, as he was quite aware, on the young lord’s family. Apparently Magister Tomas, Erek’s former tutor, had not been dismissed soon enough. Furthermore, it was a shame that Erek was from such a highborn clan. His talents would not be appreciated, not by his lady aunt, nor any other member of his noble, ancient, and ridiculously hide-bound family.

Adepts gave up most family ties and links with former friends when their abilities manifested. Master adepts gave up even more than that; so much that some of them had been known to renounce their powers. That young Lord Erek had the potential to be a master adept, and a most impressive one, Andru was more and more sure each day.

Sure enough, in fact, that he had not dared mention it, even hint at it, to the scrawny boy that stood now before him.

Lord Erek swallowed and squared his thin shoulders. He was dressed in a fine blue linen tunic worked with silver thread, and leggings of the same hue, which matched the color of his eyes. His sleek boots reached to just below his knees and his thick chestnut hair was swept back from a high forehead and gathered in a silver clasp at the nape of his neck. He looked, as he was, a highborn young member of a noble clan.

To the combined dismay of both Erek and his tutor, a representative of just such a clan chose that precise moment to parade into the cluttered schoolroom.

"Magister."

The Duchess of Tarageen gave a scant nod, her tone thick with the sense of her own importance. The somewhat nasal tone said, without the necessity of mere common words, I am so far above you in birth and wealth that you should be eternally grateful I deign to speak with you at all.

It was an impressive trick, and Andru offered silent albeit heartfelt appreciation that the woman was not his aunt.

The lady duchess was dressed in that deep purple only allowed to the most ancient ranks of nobility, her tunic worked with pearls, her breeches tight across short yet ample legs. Her soft low boots of the finest leather, with interlay of beaten gold, tapped with irritated impatience on the stone floor.

To her nephew Erek, the Lady Ivera seemed always impatient.

Magister Andru smiled, ordered himself not to feel the vast inferior that the lady desired-even as he surreptitiously rubbed one dusty boot against the back of the opposite leg.

"My lady of Tarageen." The magister bowed, and he made it a perfectly elegant leg, in retaliation for the duchess’s arrogance.

"Sister-son," the lady nodded toward Erek, as if noticing for the first time that her dead sister’s only child was present, and that in his own schoolroom. "And how are the lessons proceeding today, Magister?"

As the Lady Ivera gazed about the untidy room, Andru breathed a sigh of relief that the duchess had not timed her weekly visit a bit earlier that particular day.

"Quite well, my lady, quite well indeed," assured Andru. He gave a slight jerk of his head to Erek while his lady aunt’s attention was fixed wonderingly on the nervous parrot, still prancing and capering on its perch and giving the occasional malefic squeak.

Erek looked about the room, wondering to what his tutor was trying to call attention.

His aunt turned to him and barked, "Erek!"

"Milady?" Erek gave a jerky bow, distracted with wondering what his tutor was so anxious for him to notice. Was it something on the disheveled bookcase, the disordered table?

"Why is the fire burning on such a warm morning? Have I not told the boy, magister, many and many a time, that a close room is anathema to the reasoning faculties? When my children studied with their tutors-all of the first rank from the Academy, you understand, but then my own children have important places to fill in the government, to be sure-my dears never had a fire until the weather insisted upon it. I am sure you agree with me, of course," she finished, a statement rather than a question, and waited with assurance for Andru’s craven acceptance of her comment.

The Duchess of Tarageen was used to being toadied to, agreed with, and feared by all about her on her large estate. When she departed to stay in the capital, where a fresh set of servants and sycophants awaited, her corpulent figure was barely out of sight before the relieved festivities began.

"Actually, my lady, the fire was a…a test of the young lord’s increasing abilities," Andru murmured, his head bowed in modest respect. "A test, I might add, which he passed with ease and finesse," he concluded, directing a smile at his young charge.

The duchess harrumphed and changed the subject.

"I understand that you are a friend of Commander DiaVandryn, magister?"

Andru nodded, his wide azure eyes narrowing at the lady’s tone. He assuredly did not like this sudden change in the conversation, and wondered what might have brought it up.

Erek, watching with rapt attention the interplay between these two, could see his tutor’s quick surprise, hidden almost as soon as it was evident. Was this particular question the cause of Lady Ivera’s visit, and not the usual check on her nephew’s progress, he wondered?

"I have that honor," Andru replied somewhat stiffly.

Lady Ivera snorted. Erek wondered how his aunt could manage to inject such distaste in so simple a sound.

"Honor? To be a friend of such a one as that? Perhaps; but one must recall what the philosopher has said of friendship, magister."

"And what is that, my lady?"

"Friendship is a ship-big enough to carry two in good weather, but only one in foul."

"I assure you, my lady, that the commander-"

"Oh, I entirely agree," interrupted Lady Ivera.

Agree with what, Erek wondered.

"The commander is of passing good lineage, I have been given to understand," the duchess continued blandly, "though her matronym is not one familiar to me; doubtless her family is one of those upstarts allowed into the nobility by our new queen." An irritated sniff, disdainful and full of scorn. It was well known by both Erek and Andru-and by anyone else who’d been in the duchess’s presence for more than a few moments-that the Lady Ivera did not approve of Queen Viianne, whose succession to the throne had been of a somewhat unusual nature. "But the commander’s birth is not at question, magister; it is her history. Her history and her personal life are not what I would have my late sister’s son exposed to, I can assure you. Mark me, magister. Lord Erek is to have nothing to do with this commander of yours."

Andru drew himself up to his considerable height, towering over the squat lady before him by a full head and more. Anger darkened his azure eyes to storm clouds of steely-gray.

"The commander, milady, is a close personal friend of her majesty, Queen Viianne," the magister pointed out in conciliatory tones, although his voice was tight and frigid, "and as such is surely-"

"Her majesty indeed!" The duchess somehow managed to peer down her rather bulbous nose at the man whose head was so far above her own. "Queen Viianne, is it? By all the gods! Why, I have from the best authorities at court that the woman’s birth name was Mildryd Ernestyne! And if that was not enough, her ancestors can barely be traced back more than a century or two! Why, when the old king was alive, he would never have allowed such a one to take the throne," sputtered the duchess, her tone and look both daring question or contradiction.

"If the old king were alive, milady, or had had an heir of closer blood, it would not have been necessary to choose a new ruler," Andru pointed out with some reason, the anger gone from his eyes. "And, as you are doubtless aware, Viianne was chosen by a large majority of the noble families, including several members of your own august clan."

Erek, watching intently, just managed to hide a secret grin at his lady aunt’s expression, which reminded him irresistibly of an angry pig.

Lady Ivera looked at the magister, uncertain as to whether she was being laughed at, then decided that it was an impossibility. She wasn’t sure if she quite trusted her sister-son’s new tutor, especially if he harbored such unsuitable friends and such very, very awkward ideas. Still, Erek seemed to be improving…

The queen is the queen, after all, no matter her lineage, thought her ladyship; though she was not aware of the fact, an even more unpleasant expression that usual haunted her face. Still, that is a matter that can be remedied, with any sort of luck at all-and with the proper…assistance. I must be sure that what I offer is only enough and not more. My contribution to this affair may well lead me even higher that I imagine…if the boy, scrawny and irritating as he is, will do….

Shaking her head and moving away quite literally from this uncomfortable internal discussion, Lady Ivera waddled through the open windows and onto the balcony, motioning for Andru to attend her.

Andru caught Erek’s attention and waved toward the cluttered table.

"The spell book," he hissed, pointing to the heavy tome that lay open to a page on transmutation-that same page that was guarded by the bored wyvern and his claw full of arrows. Then the magister followed the Lady Ivera outside, obediently positioning himself beside her sturdy frame, looking for all the world like a stork attending a hedgehog.

Erek listened with one ear as his lanky tutor offered some minor and inconsequential comment on the weather; it appeared that they would be some little time on the balcony, as the Lady Ivera was disagreeing with Andru about the possibility of rain. Satisfied, Erek dashed to the table and gathered up the massive manual in both arms. Thank Mithriata that his tutor had remembered it, before his lady aunt had noticed! Erek was supposed to be acquiring the simple spells necessary for a gentleman practitioner of thaumaturgy. Neither he nor his tutor though it expedient to inform his aunt what they had so recently discovered themselves-that Erek possessed far greater abilities than anyone had realized.

Erek did not think that his aunt would be pleased. In fact, he suspected that she might go so far as to forbid him his studies and, worse yet, remove his new tutor.

He looked around for a suitable hiding place, sparing one quick glance at Magister Andru and the duchess. Andru was waving a long arm to take in the vast expanse of the lady’s estate, visible from the height of the balcony, and making inane comments on its size and majesty. The Lady Ivera was purring in agreement.

Erek slid the tome onto the very back of the widest shelf next the fireplace and piled other books in front of it. He gave an unthinking flick of two fingers toward the still sputtering fire and nodded in satisfaction as it died out to cold cinders.

Then Erek turned in time to meet his lady aunt as she and Andru re-entered the chamber.

"As you say, magister, it is a quite decent estate. Of course, I do own others equally as large and one a good bit larger, but Tarageen was a favorite of my sister’s, so I stay on here to raise her son until he is old enough to present to the queen. My family is an old one," continued the lady duchess, in tones that suggested the longevity of her family was entirely due to her own efforts, "and, being from such a family, I say again that I do not wish my nephew acquainted with this commander of yours. Do you hear me, magister?"

Andru nodded once as his gentle touch on the lady’s hefty arm propelled her towards the door. "Indeed, my lady, I hear you most distinctly."

The duchess paused at the door to cast one final baleful glare at her nephew.

"I am delighted to find you studying at last, my lord nephew. Pray see that you continue."

"Milady," bowed Erek.

Andru shut the door with decision behind her.

Erek sank into a chair that was happily just behind him, his heart pounding in his narrow chest. A long sigh susurated from between his lips.

"I agree wholeheartedly," said his tutor, as though Erek had spoken his relief aloud.

Andru strode toward his pupil, slits in the skirt of his dark red robe flying open to reveal long legs encased in poorly patched leggings, one with the knee quite out, and tall scuffed boots. He stood, stroking his short golden beard in a meditative fashion as he gazed down at Erek.

Erek looked up the long expanse of his tutor. "Why doesn’t my aunt want me to meet the commander?" he asked in the most innocent of tones, his blue eyes sparkling with ill-concealed mischief.

Andru held up his hand; he was still a bit surprised at the resiliency of his new pupil. "The question is not why, young lord, but how," replied the magister, his tone just as innocent.

"How-what?" asked Erek in confusion.

"Your question could be expressed with somewhat more of clarity," reproved Andru, "but no matter. How are we to keep your aunt from knowing about your abilities? You have the capacity of being a magister, if not an actual master adept-"

"And my lady aunt would not consider that a suitable calling for one of my birth," Erek finished in dismay. "She expects me to learn just as much as other gentlemen learn and not one whit more. Not one iota more."

Erek was rather proud of ’iota’. He looked to see if his magister had caught it.

"Precisely. But now that we have discovered between us that your powers are-somewhat greater than expected, we must make other plans."

"Other plans, magister?" Erek heard his voice go up into a squeak, but he couldn’t help the excitement that was building in him.

The magister turned towards the cold fireplace. "I happen to know of someone who could advise us on this matter. Not a master adept, of course; but one who came near to developing certain abilities not accepted by the ancient ranks."

"Who?" asked Erek.

"Why, Commander DiaVandryn, to be sure. You did want to meet her, I believe? You seemed quite interested in our discussion about her yesterday."

Erek felt a grin spread across his face; he remembered that particular conversation extraordinarily well, and cast his mind back to their conversation, some three days gone…