“No, no, no!” Shay scolded as he pushed and prodded Lynthalsea’s limbs into the proper form. “You are casting a spell here, not making shadow puppets. It must be done exactly as described in the book, or there is no telling what will result. You did read it, did you not?”
“Yes, Shay,” his half-sister answered tolerantly, relaxing her stance for a moment to wipe the beading sweat from her brow. “I read the spell, and I know it has to be performed exactly. I’m just having trouble concentrating. We’ve been at this for over an hour and I haven’t even had breakfast yet. It’s a beautiful morning, and I’d much rather be running through the forest than cooped up in this stuffy tower learning how to wiggle my fingers properly.”
Though Lynthalsea’s tone was mild, the muscles of her slender jaw bunched and writhed with annoyance. Shay had been pushing her hard lately, constantly insisting that she study, practice, read, and study some more. And, while she enjoyed learning magic and was becoming fairly adept, there were times when she would rather be elsewhere. Right now, for instance, her mouth was watering as the scent of a distant rabbit wafted through the tiny window.
“The next time we have trouble with jackaleks or ogres, I will remember that you prefer running through the forest to learning how to ‘wiggle your fingers properly’,” Shay said. “I just hope that anyone suffering from your lack of magical skill is as understanding as I am.”
“Okay, okay,” Lynthalsea said, deciding that compliance was easier than resistance. She renewed her convoluted stance. “How’s this?”
She had almost argued the point—she had had no magical skills when they were searching for the cornerstones, yet had pulled her weight with her archery and wolfish abilities—but there was no sense in it. Shay was being contrary about everything of late. Apparently, he wasn’t finding that Refuge, the home they had built in the foothills of the mountains, was living up to its name. The keep was to be the culmination of Shay’s dream—a haven for wizards and priests who were outcasts or unwelcome in their professional circles. Now more than two dozen wizards and priests of many sects dwelt within the keep’s walls, providing ample protection. The beasts of the forest and mountains, which had plagued them during construction of the keep, had learned quickly, and now left Refuge well alone. So, Shay’s insistence that her magical skills might turn the tide was more than a bit exaggerated.
Which makes all these spells I’m learning rather superfluous, she thought as another wisp of rabbit scent tantalized her keen senses. She swallowed and tried to renew her concentration, knowing that her brother’s philosophy of continual readiness was well meant. Dealing with Iveron Darkmist had driven that message home; it was a lesson they would never forget, even if they wished to.
“There,” Shay said with satisfaction, “that is perfect. Now roll the pearl between your fingers as you recite the incantation.”
Lynthalsea complied, and as she finished the spell-casting, they were enveloped by a shimmering, multi-hued dome, a shield that would turn the sharpest arrow or the keenest blade. She allowed herself only the briefest moment of pride; complete concentration was required to maintain the spell. A sudden knock at the door, the sharp crack as it opened against the towering bookshelves, and a cheery “Hellooo!” broke her concentration like a fragile porcelain plate hitting the stone floor.
“Huh? Oh, damn!” As Lynthalsea cursed, the pearl slipped from her fingers. The sphere of magical energy collapsed into the dropped pearl, which spewed forth small globes of radiance, each colored a different shade of the spectrum. The red globes burst into tiny gouts of flame, the blue into water, the yellow into light, and the white into ice.
A torrent of uncontrolled magic sent the siblings stumbling backward as more and more colors burst forth with even more bizarre effects, including puffs of smoke, flowers, mud and noxious vapor. Shay quickly chanted his own spell and, with a puff of coal dust, clapped his hands. The volcano of chaotic elements immediately ceased, leaving a pool of brown, foul-smelling sludge in the center of the room.
“Oh, my goodness!” the untimely intruder exclaimed as she ventured further into the room. “I am sorry for interrupting. But…my! What a mess!” She glanced sidelong at Shay, a pitying expression on her slender elven face. “I hope that wasn’t anything important.”
“No, Mother, and it is not my mess,” Shay assured her. “Actually, it is a valuable lesson to Lynthalsea concerning the maintenance of concentration.” He shot his sister an “I told you so” glance that she answered with a sheepish shrug.
“It really isn’t that important,” their mother assured them. “I just had a little problem with two of our guests. I wanted you to have a talk with them, but it can wait.”
“It is all right, Mother,” Shay said as he straightened his robes and strode toward the door. “I will talk to—”
“Actually Shay,” she interrupted with an apologetic smile, “I was hoping Lynthalsea could talk to them. You see, they both seem to be smitten with her, and I was hoping she could…well, you know…smooth things over.”
“Oh!” Shay exclaimed, his graceful ears flushing crimson. “I was not aware that she…I mean that you had…” He stammered a bit, then waved the two out. “You two go do whatever it is you need to do to…whatever. We can resume this later.”
“Don’t worry, Shay.” Lynthalsea assured him, both relieved at her escape from the spell-casting lesson and amused by Shay’s reaction. “They’re just upset that I’m seeing someone else. There won’t be any trouble, I promise.”
She preceded her mother out the door, and wondered which of her would-be suitors were feuding this time. After so many years alone in the forest with only her wolf pack for companionship, she was flattered by the attention she attracted from the keep’s guests, but there was only one whose gentle advances she encouraged.
As the door closed, Shay toed the congealing pool of slime and considered the two women who had just departed. The mother-daughter resemblance was obvious looking at them side by side; they both had the same silky black hair, petite nose, and little crook to their chins. It bewildered him that he hadn’t noticed the similarities when he first met Lynthalsea. And that he had actually harbored amorous feelings toward his own half-sister, before he knew her as such, still embarrassed him, though Lynthalsea never mentioned it, for which he was eternally grateful. But he hadn’t known that she was seeing someone among the guests.
I suppose I have not been paying attention lately, he lamented, and wondered what else he might be missing. The first few months after he had purchased the land for Refuge, in the forested foothills of the mountains that harbored Zellohar Keep, had been hectic, but now the keep basically ran itself, or rather, ran under the able hand of his mother, Irielnea. She had been at Refuge for eight months now, and kept everything as tidy and organized as her own home had always been. She knew how important Shay’s studies were to him, and she did everything she could to allow him to concentrate, always encouraging him, unlike his father…
Damn! he thought. If his father had lived only three months longer, he wouldn’t have died thinking that his son was a heretic. Shay had been so proud—so arrogant, if he admitted the truth—ready to tell his father that not only had Tem accepted his arcane magical studies, but had granted him great spiritual powers. But by the time Shay and Lynthalsea had traveled to his parents’ home, it was too late. Shay’s heart weighed heavily in his chest as guilt washed over him once again. He considered praying for relief, then dismissed the idea. Whenever he closed his eyes to seek the solace of his deity, he saw his father’s face.
I wish I could talk with Avari, he thought. She would understand.
He skirted the puddle of goo and went out into the hall, starting toward the sweeping stair to his private workshop in the tower above. But as he grasped the balustrade, he stopped, one foot poised over the first step, and gazed upward toward the workshop door like it was a portal sheltering a forbidden pleasure. He had made such progress—such tremendous progress—in the last few months, that he felt drawn to his studies at all hours of the day and night. Lately, though, the subtleties of the increasingly complex spells consistently evaded his grasp. He could lose himself up there, studying his magical tomes, learning and practicing new spells, increasing his powers…
But locking myself in my workshop, he thought guiltily, is the reason I am so out of touch with everything outside my door. Shay tugged on his goatee in frustration, then snapped his fingers with a sudden decision, and backtracked toward his living quarters.
”DoHeney!” he said triumphantly to no one at all. “That is most definitely what I need!” He burst into his room like a whirlwind and snatched up his cloak. In a swirl of crimson, he was out the door and down the stairs, striding across the courtyard to the stables.
“Seeing DoHeney always puts me in better spirits!”