Rosie fought her way to consciousness. It was an effort to open her eyes, but she managed, barely. Confused, she saw Leryn sitting in a chair, silhouetted in the darkened room. Realizing she was back at the Ploughman’s Inn, she closed her eyes against her tears. She had no idea how she’d gotten there, and couldn’t imagine what was wrong with her. Just breathing was a chore, and every part of her body ached. And thirst—she’d never felt such thirst.
Sensing her stirring, Leryn woke from his doze. He slipped his arm under her shoulders and raised her up, holding the cup of medicine to her lips. “Drink this love. It will make you well again.”
Obediently, she drank. The tea was cool and sweet, quenching her thirst and soothing her throat. She raised her eyes to his face, wanting to speak, but sleep overtook her, and once again she drifted away.
Leryn held her as the medicine took effect. Tears burned, but he refused to give in to them. He’d never before understood the many ways gratitude could bring a man to his knees.
Kissing her forehead, he settled her back into her bed. Sitting again in the chair beside her, he took her hand and settled back to doze a little more. He was aware that she would probably leave him again once she was well enough, but she was alive and that was all that mattered.
With Rosie getting better, Hannah sent Leryn to the docks with the bargemen’s pies. Returning to the Ploughman’s Inn, Leryn hung his cloak on one of the pegs near the fire.
He handed Polcock a purse. “Here are the coins from the bargemen. They were glad to have their breakfast pies still hot.” The last was said with a scowl cast at his landlord’s uncle, Ambrose, who’d obviously just woken up. “Apparently they sometimes arrive cold.”
Ambrose shrugged. “I’m not really cut out to be a delivery boy.”
Leryn stood before the fire, enjoying the warmth. “You aren’t really cut out for anything, other than making a fool of yourself with the wives of the local men, who’re rather fed up with you. Perkins pulled me aside just now—he’s not pleased with you.”
“I paint portraits. Nothing is going on with those fine ladies, but I need to earn a living too.
Leryn tried to contain his irritation. “Ambrose, listen. I’m grateful that you saved Rosie’s life. I can never repay you for that. But putting your hands on other men’s wives pisses off their husbands. And I think Mistress Perkins has more on her mind than merely posing for her picture.”
“I have to position them. If there is a misunderstanding—” Ambrose broke off as Polcock interrupted him.
“You’ve had your breakfast, uncle. The chamberpots await your expert ministrations. Perhaps you could paint their portraits.”
Sighing, Ambrose stood up. “How do you people stand yourselves?”
Rosie was awake, shaky, confused, and unhappy. Her voice trembled when she thanked Leryn for his care and asked to be moved to her old room. “I love you. But I can’t be with you.”
Leryn was hurt, but nodded and carried her to the other room, getting her settled.
Leryn brought a man called Ambrose, telling her he had healed her. She recognized that he was half-elven, which told her he was some sort of wizard. Leryn introduced him as Polcock’s uncle. She didn’t want to talk about it but answered his questions. Lancelyn’s new cat insisted on lying stretched out beside her, purring.
Ambrose was kind. “Tell me, where were you when you met the vampire?”
Rosie shuddered at the memory. “I wanted to remain hidden, so I took a path I hadn’t traveled before. I was still downriver from Bleakbourne when I passed some ruins. It was just after dark when I realized I was being stalked by one of the undead.” A perplexed expression crossed her face. “Usually, I can convince them I’m not a tasty morsel, but not this one. I was unprepared and wasn’t armed with my silver knife. I had to fend him off while trying to dig it out of my kit. Still, I avoided his bite and managed to kill him.”
Ambrose asked, “When did you begin to feel ill?”
“That night, after I was finally camped I felt ill. But I had passed through Birchford only the week before, and they were suffering some sort of plague. I must have gotten sick there, even though I didn’t stop.”
“You’re sure you killed the vampire?” Ambrose’s serious tones worried Leryn.
“Very sure. I left the silver dagger in his heart and dismembered his body. Then I buried each part a hundred yards apart, with his head facing east, as I’ve been cautioned to do.”
She could tell him nothing more and was too tired to talk further, so they let her rest. Rosie lay trying to sleep, fully aware she was the cause of her own unhappiness. But she loved the bard too much, and couldn’t bear the thought of his paying the price for loving her.
The cat’s rumbling purr soothed her.
Bramblestein, Lancelyn, and Galahad met Ambrose and Leryn downstairs in the empty tap-room. Polcock listened, occupying himself by polishing the woodwork.
The dwarf looked at Ambrose. “If you set the wards against Devere’s return only last spring, then something must have occurred to break your spell.”
“The wards still hold him in check. I’ll know the moment they are broken, no matter where I am. We both know no ward can last forever.” Ambrose gazed into the fire. “I doubt the vampire she met was Devere. Mordred has many minions to draw on besides him.”
Leryn said, “But it seems coincidental, that she should meet an undead at that place.”
“No doubt the creature was attempting to free Devere. He failed.”
The wizard’s smug expression aggravated Leryn.
Apparently, it also irritated the dwarf. “Your former protégé will send another and another until he prevails and Devere is freed. Too much of Mordred’s magic is tied up in creating a weapon out of Devere for him to stop now. Once Devere is free, Mordred will attempt to free Jason Tenneriff from his punishment, too.”
“Of course, he will.” Ambrose’s tone suggested it was nothing to worry about. “A portion of my magic is tied up in maintaining their imprisonment. Mordred must keep trying to break my spells, in order to weaken me.”
The others weren’t fooled. Bramblestein said, “You must face him before he gains their assistance. If he succeeds in freeing both Devere and Tenneriff, he will have robbed you of that part of your magic. He’ll use your own magic against you.”
Shrugging, Ambrose said, “That could happen. But remember: magic is a science of cause and effect, more than it is talent. Unlike you, Mordred was always a lazy student and relied on his ability instead of working to learn the craft. He’s investing his magic in the undead, spending it like water. He hasn’t examined his plan for the flaw that lies embedded within it. What works against me will ultimately be his undoing.” He refused to elaborate further.
Bramblestein’s fist hit the table. “Look! ‘Ambrose’ is the wrong persona for this, Merlin. His arrogance is getting in your way. Either be yourself or straighten him up. We have a town full of innocent lives on the line here!”
Knowing the dwarf was right, Ambrose looked away. “Would Noman be better?”
“Yes!” Bramblestein, Leryn, and Polcock said in unison.
Ambrose looked affronted. “Well. I’ve just been offered a commission in Londown.”
Lancelyn looked from Bramblestein to Ambrose and finally said what was preying on his mind. “My wife is no longer able to assist you in this, and that’s my fault. All I could think about was getting revenge for the curse I’m under. I provoked her, knowing she would lash out at me, and that her magic would rebound on her.”
Ambrose shrugged. “She and I weren’t getting along well anyway. I had suggested her temper would be her undoing, and she told me to mind my own business. She would have hesitated to step into what she perceived as my battle.”
“I have some magic ability, but I’m not in Morgause’s class. My skills run more to alchemy.” The dwarf came to a decision. “I’ll assist you, rather than returning to Londown as I had planned. The college can do without me for a season or two, and Janet would prefer to stay until Rosie is well. We need to bring balance to the fight, so you need an orb to focus and magnify magic, similar to one I lost last spring.” He looked out the corners of his eyes at Lancelyn. “But this orb must focus all the elements instead of only one. I’ll make it for you.”
At the mention of the missing orb, Lancelyn flushed and looked down but said nothing.
The dwarf continued. “If I’m able to create the orb, we’re still one sorcerer short of being able to seal the demon away permanently. Without a triumvirate, we can only confine him again.”
Ambrose gazed into a corner, his thoughts dark. “That will have to do.”
“This doesn’t sound like an ordinary charmed orb.” Galahad spoke from the shadowy corner. “What do you need to enable the creation of this talisman? We’ll mount the quest for the requirements tomorrow.”
“I can make the crystal of the orb myself. I have a special kiln just for such work. But I’ll need four bags of sand from the strand at Wixfjorde, on the island of Eyrland. I’ll also need a special wood for the fire, a type that is only found near Emydin’s Cave, in the north of Wēalas.”
Lancelyn stood up. “I’ll journey to Wixfjorde to get your sand. I’ve access to my brother’s ship in Tyrwyddn. I can cross the Eyrish Sea from there, but it will take me, at least, a month to go to Eyrland and return to Bleakbourne.”
“Galahad should go with you,” Ambrose agreed. “I’ll make the quest to the cave in Wēalas. I know it well. It’s been sealed up for a century or so. That copse is the only place where we’ll find wood that burns hot enough for making talismans. I’ll have to woo it from the grove, but if the bard goes with me, I can do it.”
Leryn was uncertain. His common sense said a short absence while Rosie recovered would be for the best, but his heart wanted to stay. “I’ve no skills you could possibly need.”
Ambrose looked sideways at him. “You’re exactly what this task requires. Certain magic must be sung. You’ve already proven you have the knack for focusing magic into music. You did that last spring when I set the wards against Devere’s return.” Ambrose’s gaze intensified as he opened his senses to Leryn. “Yes. You do have some latent talent. Not a lot, but it might be enough, at least for this. We’ll begin your formal training tomorrow.”
Leryn shook his head. “No. I don’t want this.”
“Stop sniveling.” Bramblestein glared at him. “Bards are gifted with a kind of magic or folks wouldn’t pay them to sing. You can learn more. We’re the only ones able to train you, so get used to the idea.” He jerked his head toward the stairs. “Rosie will be more agreeable when we return. I promise.”
“You’re coming along?” Ambrose looked aghast. “You can’t sing a note.”
“Dwarves understand nature as well as elves. Besides, I can charm the birds from the trees when I’m of a mind to.”
Leryn dropped his head into his hands. “God help me. I’m being kidnapped by the two grumpiest old wizards in Angland.”
Polcock had finished polishing the bar. He said, “It sounds like you’re going on a hell of a trip. Better you than me, bard.”
“Bleakbourne on Heath” © 2016 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
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Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.