Fiction: A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part IX by Brian Joseph Johns

The Lady And The Magistrate

Shaela tapped the door again as she wasn't sure if he'd heard her or not. When she heard the giant bolt on the other side of the door she stepped back in presentation of herself.

"Good evening Lady Sheowellyn. I do so hope that I spoke your name correctly? It is a pleasure to have your company tonight, though I must confess that it is customary for a man to meet a lady with carriage in draw. Especially one such as yourself. Forgive me if I'm embarrassed." the Magistrate addressed his date for the night.

"And you my good sir look dashing and handsome. There are no apologies necessary as you'll find that I am a lady that's full of many surprises. I quite like being on top." she said hoping that she didn't sound too overt or sexual though fearing that she did.

He closed the big door and locked it with a skeleton key as they proceeded out the door together.

"We have many things to discuss and I've picked the perfect venue for us." he said to her opening the door to the carriage and helping her in.

A moment later and they were on their way.

"You're going to put me to test are you?" the Magistrate asked her.

"I must beg your forgiveness. It is not a test. It is merely to drop you and your tremendous pomp a notch. You've got enemies you know." she answered him.

"I? Really? Let it be known that there are those who disagree, opinion, attitude, good looks and all. Are you sure we're not in the midst of a Magistrate hunt more so than that of Wytch kind?" the Magistrate said to her coyly.

"It must be, for you've sent no Wytch to her grave. Maybe those seeking to hunt Wytches have given up altogether thanks to your effort and have set their eyes upon the Magistrates. Burning Wytches would be far less bureaucratic with you out of the way." Shaela responded.

"Do you mean my boss? He's overruled me every single time. They're definitely trying to remove me to make the process easier. I know it." he said astutely but seemingly unfazed.

"Then why don't you just go along with it?" Shaela asked him strategically.

"What they are doing is wrong. It's a travesty to everything for which I stand and everything for which I took up the gavel. It is clear what is going on but I'd rather not talk about that here. I'd much rather enjoy my time with you. Such peace is a golden treasure and rarely 'pon mine. I don't get much time for such and many of the folk who've prospered by the hunt have sought to make my life as miserable as they can. So I enjoy life when I can." the Magistrate answered her.

"I gathered as much. So are you going to tell me where we are bound?" she asked him keeping her smile.

"I do not know, but I will know upon whence we arrive." the Magistrate answered.

"What may I ask, is life and love about where you hail from?" the Magistrate asked her,

"Well that is a difficult question." Shaela answered him honestly.

"I beg to differ. The answer sounds much more difficult than the question." the Magistrate offered.

"I will give you that. Let me see. The coaches are much faster and run with fewer horses. There are also more of them. Everyone uses them. There are many more people led by the reigns of hustle and bustle. There are almost too demands in the course of a day and less time with which to achieve. There variety and something for everyone who seeks." she replied deep in thought about her real home.

"The real question is was there something there for you?" the Magistrate asked her.

"Yes. There is much that I miss but I do so much like the peace here. Now that you've taken the steps to rid the countryside of the Wytch kind." Shaela lied.

"You're a practiced artist, painting pretension in ways that masquerade it as truth itself." he responded catching her in her fib.

"Not quite like my friend." Shaela replied remembering Mila wondering where she was and what she was doing.

"But none the less creative I would say." the Magistrate smiled.

"Yes. We are very crafty. Very." Shaela returned a smile, keeping her own little secret.

The coach arrived at its destination and the Magistrate stepped out first and helped Shaela out safely.

The two walked in arm to the boarding point of a ferry that the Magistrate had chartered just for the night.

The boat was a small sloop that would make short trips up the river and out to the sea board for trading and supplies. In off season the Captain would rent it out for luxury travel and the occasional short cruise. They walked the length of the boarding ramp and were greeted by the Captain.

"Milady." he said lowering his head customarily lifting his hat for her.

"This is a beautiful ship Captain." Shaela said honestly.

"Thank you Milady. She has tended me well many a trip. Enjoy yours. I am at your service. Should you like anything for this trip up the river I have crew that will service your needs." the Captain pointed out the crew.

"Thank you Captain. We are ready to sail when you are." the Magistrate told him.

The Magistrate accompanied Shaela to the upper port deck which was set up with finely crafted wooden deck chairs and tables for the guests that he would haul weekly on a trip along the river for a taste of the coast. It was as if they sought to relive the memory of their migration once again but reflective of their success and style. The Captain of the sloop had with the right connections set up a successful business during the colony's struggle to survive. The Wytch hunt had hurt business as it had for many and the Captain of the vessel held no special love for those who conducted it. The one thing that the Captain held in common with the Magistrate and they'd formed a bond around it. That and their mutual and moderate enjoyment of liquor and wine.

Shaela enjoyed the view as the ship embarked on its four hour long voyage for their benefit and theirs alone. She'd never seen a wooden ship never mind one with a plated hull. The gentle motion of the boat stirred her stomach and for a moment she wondered if she might expunge her dinner of the prior night on the deck. She paused trying to catch herself as she began to feel dizzy. The Magistrate caught her and walked her over to the port rail.

"Lean 'pon this for now and keep your eyes upon the trees landward. See how they are rooted? Let that be the guide for your innards." the Magistrate advised her rubbing her back gently.

Shaela focused upon the shore and the trees as he'd suggested. Once she'd had a visual of something stationary her body did the rest. She remained focused upon the land and the trees and a moment later her stomach was settled.

"That's incredible! I mean I've never been on a boat." Shaela smiled uneasily still hanging onto the port rail.

"You did far better than I. I spent most my first voyage in the lower decks until one of the sailors taught me that trick. He works one of the Caravels that hauls colonists and supplies. They're back in Europe picking up another load." the Magistrate acknowledged.

"Of Magistrates I do hope you mean to say." Shaela replied.

"Likely not. The colony's administrator back in Europe is a bit stingy and trying to earn the entirety of his career on this one project. He wants to look good for his superiors on paper and their coin-purses. That is why the Constabulary is actually only a law office run by one man. As great a man as Evan is, this is far too much for even an ex-ironside like himself. I suspect that if Cromwell came here with his Cavalry in tow, that he'd join the Wytch hunt being a bit of a zealot himself. We're really quite in good fortune to have Evan here during this crisis. Between him and myself we've managed to keep the Mayor on our side and mostly out of treachery's reach. If even one of us gives in, many people as a result would perish." the Magistrate explained to her.

The departure took close to twenty minutes. Something to which Shaela was not accustomed but she'd grown used to many things in this world so far removed from the one she'd left.

For the Magistrate it was a similar feeling for since the hunt had started he'd become alienated from the very people he'd set out to protect from crime and corruption. He'd been isolated from them but he'd still managed to hang onto what his principles and stuck by them by hedge or high cliff, lest he learned differently or in a way that expanded his view. It was his responsibility to everyone to do so. Shaela was much the same and it was as if the two of them sitting at this table were sizing one another for their merit's measure.

"One of the first places I saw here was just over there. A scenic and wonderful night for sure." Shaela pointed to the stony shore where she'd encountered Evan and where the Shadow Cat had very nearly eaten her.

"Yes, this land holds many mysteries and wonders. But none such as you." the Magistrate offered her as the bottle of wine arrived.

Two wine crystal wine glasses were set upon the table for each of them and the ship crew mate poured a sampling of the wine for the Magistrate. He swirled it in the glass and took a whiff of its bouquet before tasting it thoroughly. When he was confident that it wasn't tainted (or poisoned) he nodded to the pourer who then filled Shaela's glass.

"May I see the bottle?" she asked the crew member.

He offered it to her and she spied the first ever wine that was crafted more than four hundred years before her birth. There was no label though it had been marked with a wax seal that was partly removed. She recognized some of the symbols upon it placing it in a region of Europe though it could have easily been from five different Lordships of that land at this time. Shaela had drank wine from every corner of the Aerth and every country that had made it but she'd never had wine from this time. She mouthed it first, swishing it gently in her mouth before swallowing. It was sweet and aromatic and much to her liking.

"Very nice. Thank you." Shaela gave her approval smiling to the crew member who glowed with the appreciation.

"It is as she said. Thank you for the service." the Magistrate offered though appearing impatient for his departure.

The crew member departed leaving the bottle on the table descending down into the bowels of the ship.

Shaela recognized this as the time in which she should come to her conclusions about the Magistrate and his motives. She'd need to use skills she'd nought used often.

"So why if not for other reasons did you approach me upon this the most opportune of moments upon my life to breach my defenses? Are you but a hollow horse perhaps with a hidden army to set upon me?" the Magistrate asked Shaela.

"No more than the fortress you'd set upon the hunters. Why did you not fall to their effort?" Shaela asked him sincerely.

"Perhaps I did not agree to it. Perhaps is too weak a word 'pon this the moment of my discovery by an angel forth sent by the heavens?" the Magistrate maneuvered.

"No angel am I. Lest you not be devil. Then and thereupon I am an equal though you were already in thy know." Shaela showed her propensity for playing with language.

"Whenst thou hast 'pon thy gaze the figure steeled fortune and lust into a twine that I cannot be freed from then hast thou snared my desires." the Magistrate offered her in return pouring his language on thick.

Shaela pondered for a moment savouring his statement. It amazed her that was so aware even of his own dialect and mannerisms as being different from her own that he could at will thicken them or lighten them as need be. Perhaps he was toying with her both in language as he may have been in obscuring his real motives?

"Your propensity for hopeless banter rivals my own. Are we then nought upon truth or there nearer to the lure of the point between where none can be sure. Despite the twines of my gaze." Shaela responded to his language skills.

"I stand bested and behested afore I've ingested the night's meal which I suspect is much more than I've been led by thyne and despite thyne twine. Cherish you another glass of wine?" the Magistrate yielded to hers.

Shaela weighed the Magistrate carefully before answering.

"You speak well in tongues, duality nested within speak thyne forth fostered forested seeds nought sewn by many as ye are one upon the furls of this my'ear." Shaela answered ringing true upon his.

"Then real ye are or are ye?" the Magistrate responded.

"Spake as ye did that words nought known by few but us. Or is it phew as us?" Shaela posited.

"None fewer or phewer as may be contented to live by many and amongst peace of all as none." the Magistrate stretched his vocabulary one last time.

"You speak beautifully." Shaela answered feeling her life within her and her lust creeping forth from places she'd never given a man.

"No. It is the poetry of your being that shapes what I've to say. I am a mirror, please show no doubt. If you see joy, that is your coat. Wear it well." the Magistrate offered for her approval.

"Then trust I shall this coat for from the reign it keeps me. Speak. Please do. Mine ears are as yours." Shaela hoped he would finish this line of speech.

"I'm done. You speak the language of arts beautifully. I've never heard it like yours. As you've guessed it I am not of the hunt." the Magistrate turned his head down.

"I know. They that are, they're hunting you now. They sent me to remove you. To be rid of their problem." Shaela spoke though her eyes communicating her seriousness and concern.

"Then I guess you best remove me." the Magistrate raised his glass and they toasted.

Jasmer's Questioning

Jasmer floated on a cloud gently buffeting with the turbulence of the air. He'd felt sudden urgency. The panic that had found him thrown from his horse, Dusty. 

"Horse? I have a horse?" he thought.

He awoke once again, Dusty moving forward gently so as not to knock him loose. He leaned up on his mount and shook his head.

"Where are we? How long was I asleep?" Jasmer asked aloud half expecting an answer from Winnifred. 

He'd momentarily fantasized by some miracle that the horse would stop and count it out with hoof claps on the ground like a parlour trick. Instead he was greeted by the breaking of a twig deeper from within the forest.

The light had begun to line the invisible horizon with the first welcome of the sun, though the canopy kept it well hidden. The diffuse light made the scenery glow lightly with a faint and eerie tint.

Jasmer looked around for a moment thinking that he'd seen shadows moving at the epoch of his vision. There was a loud noise and a sharp pain in Jasmer's head. He didn't know how long he fell. He only knew that it felt like an eternity. When his body found purchase of something solid, it hit him lengthwise the full run of his body. When he opened his eyes, he found that he could not move.

The air was dark around him though he knew that he was not alone. He turned his head to the left only to drive a shaft of pain up through his spine where he'd hit the snare that had thrown him from  his horse. He had no recollection of how he'd ended up where he was and wondered if he wasn't dreaming.

"You aren't." a dry voice spoke from behind him.

"I beg your pardon?" Jasmer asked still wincing from the pain of turning his head.

"Dreaming. This is a nightmare Jasmer. Not a dream. A real living nightmare. The worst you're going to have. Maybe the last." the voice replied.

"Who are you? Where am I? Where's my horse?" Jasmer asked uneasily shifting in the chair attempting to  buy himself enough reach with which to cast a spell.

"Who I am is not important. You're in the headquarters of the Culdar Rath in Alivale. Your horse is safe in the stables in town, possibly with a new owner." the voice responded to him pragmatically.

"Then I guess the question is why am I here?" Jasmer continued his quest for information.

"Indeed that is always the question is it not? Always befitting any situation whence you choose to ask it. You are here because you serve a purpose to us. We are not sure of that purpose and we need to find it in order to accomplish our goals here. When we do we will succeed in the time and place from whence you originated." the voice elicited confidence its owner taking a few steps toward him from behind.

"Why Alivale? Why not one of the other towns that have recently popped up in this pocket colony that you're trying to corrupt?" Jasmer asked him inquisitively this time keeping his head still to listen.

"Alivale as you know is Mila's home town in the future that you come from. What you don't know is that it is the headquarters for the Culdar Rath in this time, those that others call the Strangers. You may know us as the Strangers of Lorr. We are the ones who started the hunt in this time. We've started other great hunts as well throughout history all to assist the Culdar Rath and their goals. We intend to finish up in the next few weeks and by that time have full control of this colony. The first steps are under way to ensure that. You're already familiar with the invasion force outside of Haven I presume?" the voice asked him.

"Yes, and they are well prepared for you. You'd be a fool to attack them. Your men have only been taking down innocent people on the hunt that are ill equipped to deal with you. You won't have the same luxury with the Haven." Jasmer said defiantly.

"We won't need to. You see, by the time we break you, we'll have all that we need. That's when the whole colony will fall." the voice stepped back into the darkness.

"How do you know of our time?" Jasmer asked the voice keen on getting some more answers.

"I admire your tenacity and inquisitiveness. A sign of hope. Misplaced but admirable nonetheless. I am from your time. I left our future time a week before you were sent here with your friends, though I arrived here years before you did and have been here ever since." the voice staid it place.

Jasmer pondered this for a moment before speaking again.

"You said friends. Who else did you send?" he asked him attempting to wiggle his hand slightly to gain enough room to cast.

"Why all of them of course. At least the ones you're closest with and those whose activity seems to contribute to the functioning and the safety of the Sanctum of course. Mila and her all but useless fiance. Shaela. Sato. Nelony more recently. I think that's all of you. Oh, wait. And Yirfir, your fiance of course. How forgetful of me. She's worried sick about you right now. I wonder if she can sense your plight? Maybe I'll play upon that later as it might quicken the invasion of the Haven." the voice spoke confidently.

Jasmer tried to remain emotionless though he found himself starting to become impatient with the voice. He had to stay resolute to keep Yirfir's spirits high despite their distance. His thoughts were upon her safety.

"I've answered some of your questions now perhaps you'll humour me by answering some of mine. How many are the defense forces of the Haven and what is their tasking?" the voice asked him.

"Six hundred and fifty. One hundred light mounted cavalry. Two hundred arquebusiers. Another hundred and fifty mixed militia units. Two hundred First Nations warriors who've pledged allegiance to the Haven." Jasmer answered him after some pause.

"That sounds a little too optimistic for my liking. I say that they have a hundred units at most. Perhaps forty or fifty with arquebus or hand cannons. The rest infanteers and mounted infantry with minimal training. The First Nations people are of no consequence as we're ready to deal with them by trade negotiations and land acquisition agreements." the voice told him.

"You're wrong, but its the lives of your men at stake." Jasmer told him sternly.

"And your Yirfir." the voice came back.

Jasmer remained stationary.

"Who have been hunting our Wytch hunters? Some of the methods of death have been very unsettling and quite gruesome. That lead me to believe that you have a person of great power there. Have you met this person and is this person like us?" the voice asked Jasmer.

"What do you mean like us?" Jasmer asked the voice.

"You know. Crafty? Like us." the voice said impatiently.

"No, there is no such person there. It might have been a few of the scouts as they are very superstitious about killing the hunters correctly. You know. So they don't return from the grave." Jasmer told him.

"You mean to tell me that a group of people seeking refuge at the Haven from the hunters of the colony are superstitious? I'd have thought the opposite would be true. More people of the Haven are less likely to be susceptible to superstition. I think that you are hiding something." the voice stepped back.

The voice started mumbling quietly and Jasmer recognized it as the incantations for a spell though what its effects could be he had no idea.

The voice stopped and the air became quiet for a moment. A lucrid smell filled the air and Jasmer could feel something making its way up the base skin of his legs. He could not tell if it was one thing or many but its slow and methodical progress under his trousers continued upward. It passed the belt line, his legs remaining covered by it as the rest of it made its way up his chest. He looked at his arms to see a creeping clump of wet and mossy slime making its way along his arms, covering them both. His neck soon became covered with the moss which made its way up to his face stopping just short of his eyes.

"That's not so bad is it?" the voice asked him sounding a bit chide.

Jasmer dare not open his mouth for fear of the gooey fiber making its way to his innards.

"Let me speak for you. Krtharthkisk!" the voice commanded.

Almost immediately Jasmer felt the moss extend sinewy roots under his skin, the slime which had an acidic stinging sharpness to its odour drove spikes of pain through the entirety of his body, little of it uncovered by the moss.

"Ahhhhaarrurrrgh!" Jasmer screamed as fiber flew from the corners of his mouth.

"Felselfirthiss!" the voice spoke and at once the tendrils retracted from his skin and the acidic smell became soothing, like aloe, healing his wounds.

Jasmer sighed with relief from the easing pain breathing heavily as his body repaired itself with the help of the fiber like moss.

"You see how that works? For answers I like, you get the healing. For answers I don't, you get the harm." the voice explained the simple rules to this game.

"Great game. When is it your turn to be in the chair?" Jasmer said still gasping for air.

"Never unfortunately for you. But you could be out of the chair quickly if you answer correctly." the voice told him.

"I can handle this. Yirfir gets one of these at the spa every two weeks." Jasmer said trying to find levity in this situation to comfort him.

"I assure you, this is no spa. Krtharthkisk!" the voice spoke once again commanding the acidic moss to life.

Jasmer screamed struggling in the chair in attempt to break the bonds though unsuccessfully. He writhed in pain unable to get enough slack to cast a spell though he could hardly concentrate for one.

"Felselfirthiss!" the voice spoke once again sending the soothing and healing ooze back into action just before Jasmer fell unconscious from the pain.

"Now. Let's try that again from the start." and the voice began.

Haven Can Wait

Nelony woke up in the morning constrained and in a bed wrap, her arms sore as she rolled over. A soldier sat beside her wolfing down a piece of bread which he dipped into a bowl. He stared at her, voyeuristic in his brevity to do so only to become embarrassed when she caught him.

"Untie me so I can at least eat!" she scolded her admirer.

The man grunted barely audible his mouth full of food. They were in a make shift tent made from a collection of tanned animal skins though the weather had held out. She looked disgustingly at the tent around her before speaking again.

"I said untie me. I need to eat!" Nelony spoke more commanding this time.

"Let up a moment, ma'am." the soldier stood and stepped out into the morning sun looking for the commanding officer of the make believe army.

A moment later the commanding officer whom had seen her naked the prior night entered the tent to join her.

"A pleasure to see you on a morn as fine as this." he said to her as he untied her hands.

"You are welcome to eat, but you eat with the rest of us out here." the commander told her as he pointed to the fire pit in the center of the camp.

Nelony looked at him still disgusted with him and the animal skins that donned the tents and stomped her way over to the fire pit. One of the men there who appeared to be acting as a cook handed her a bowl of swath and a clump of bread for a utensil. Nelony sniffed it warily before sitting down on the other side of the pit from the commander.

Most of the other men had finished their meals and were cleaning up and preparing for the day ahead. Some cleaned their long barrelled arquebus' while others cleaned their uniforms and gear. Nelony looked around a bit sizing up their level of activity before grabbing a mouthful of swath dipped bread. It tasted bland and lumpy though she was too hungry to complain. In the last twenty four hours she'd undergone a tremendous transformation in both personality, character and power. Her body recharged her magical energy as she consumed the breakfast gloop forcing it down as she chewed it.

"Commander, we just spotted two scouts leaving the area surrounding the Haven headed south by south east." a man ran up to the Commander out of breath.

"Now where are they going. I don't suppose that you'd tell us ma'am?" the Commander asked Nelony under the impression that she was the Haven's leader.

Nelony sat still a moment making sure that she'd not regurgitate the slop before she spoke.

"They're just going to retrieve food from a local food storage and gathering ground we have there in that direction." Nelony bluffed remembering what Yirfir had told her.

"Why don't they store it at the Haven?" the Commander asked her.

"Because its emergency storage, Most of the food stored there is salted and spiced to preserve it. There's also some tools as well for dire circumstances such as these. They might be needed to shore up defenses against you buffoons. Though not likely." Nelony stuffed a clump of the gloop covered bread into her mouth to help the bluff.

She gagged a moment later making the Commander laugh.

"It takes some getting used to." he joked with her.

"Hmmmrph." she nodded forcing it down before gagging again.

They'd bought her bluff though she really had no idea where the scouts they inquired about might have gone. She was just trying her best to buy time for Yirfir and the residents of the Haven. When she'd recovered fully she might be able to help out in many more ways via the craft.

A small bird circled above her before flying down and onto the ground in front of her. It chirped and tweeted a bit dancing a few steps pecking at the bread crumb droppings as it did. It drew little attention from her captors but very effectively communicated to her.

"Yirfir is healthy and rested... She is currently watching over you while the Haven's Chief is tending to preparations... In case the bad men people hunters attack." the bird communicated to her grabbing bits of crumb between phrases.

"Now there's a nice little snack." one of the soldiers made a grab for the bird.

The bird deftly flew between his legs and off into the sky its little mission completed.

"You leave that bird alone!" Nelony scolded the soldier.

"How bout a taste of ye?" the soldier asked her, his breath making her sick once again.

"Ye'd better stay away from her! She's off limits to all of ye!" the Commander shouted to the men surrounding the fire pit trying to gain some confidence from her.

She immediately recognized the ploy. She was being played by them. Hot then cold, then hot, then cold. Being rocked back and forth to ultimately fall over and be broken by them. One of her first lessons back at the Sanctum taught by Yirfir was related to such methods of subjugation. Those who sought to pit the members of the Sanctum against one another often did so. A means to break even the sturdiest of them Yirfir had said and sometimes even gain limited control. The Norbids had used such techniques to break down their captives from the first Sanctum and to find its location before their attack that fated night. Jasmer had even been enticed to their side in the battle that had seen the Sanctum claimed by the The Power Lords. He'd left Yirfir for many years only to be reunited with her during the Norbid's attempt to kidnap her. When their enemies sought to do such a thing to their victims, they would isolate them and nobody would know the truth of what they did by such a means. It would be two different stories. One that was the truth of their activities against their victim and another they kept for the outside world. She valued that lesson and felt close to Yirfir now, being able to recognize it in a life and death circumstance. Nelony spied the Commander, glaring at him and looking right through him.

Everyone stopped and stared at the Commander like he'd taken their toy away. They all went back to the business of keeping the encampment functional.

"That doesn't make what you did yesterday alright! I was saving that for somebody and that somebody was not you!" Nelony told the Commander her temper flaring.

Despite the fact that no advances were made by him, she still felt violated by the fact that he took a special moment from her. Lost forever thereupon by taking her privacy while she was forced to change her clothes in front of him. She'd never have that first moment of undressing for the man of her dreams again. One of whose passion for life and virtue matched her own.

"I reckon then that I'll not be the last. Whether ye leave here alive or not." he said gloatingly.

"You bastard!" she yelled at him running towards him arms flinging.

"Look ma'am. You can take that as you will, but that's done and gone. You're a prisoner here and not a guest. Your time here will get worse unless you start giving us useful information. From there you had better start considering that you should join us, or end up at the bottom of a lake or some other summary execution for protectors of Wytch craft." the Commander's glare grew tense as he stared her down slowing her advance against him to a stop.

"Then tie me back up and leave me be until you have questions for me!" she glared back at him fearlessly.

For the time she would recharge and let herself heal after the traumatic events of the last few days. Days earlier she had been a device of the demise of humanity, feared by all of those in the know. The bringer of events that would close this chapter on humanity's mistreatment of the Aerth. Then when she'd been ready to receive the powers entrusted her, the Culdar Rath arrived to take it all from her for their own personal use and agenda. It was all part of a plan by those who'd sought to exploit that power.

She bore the weight of her own loss of innocence amongst those who had no value in it except to take advantage of it for their own benefit and gratification. They'd stolen more from her than one could comprehend while keeping their guile and malice hidden from everyone else. She was a toy to them and a convenience that had fallen into their laps sent directly from her own time by their "Gods", the twins. For now she'd bide her time. They had numbers and they'd effectively fooled many into buying into their hunt but they still lacked the one thing they needed most.

The Commander secured her bindings roughly and left her alone and in the make shift tent. The mocking laughter of the men outside drifted away from reality as she had a vision only to awaken a moment later startled.

"The Sanctum... It's under attack..." she mouthed as all hope disappeared beneath her closed eyes.

The Haven Trail

They had been on horseback for two hours before they had to stop to tend to Darben, his wounds causing him a great deal of pain. He had been riding on his horse since they had left Sharlesbury and kept his grief and pain to himself. Sato and Father Wilsen helped him down from his horse and laid him out on his back.

"I apologize for this but I cannot continue. You must leave me." Darben told the two men looking over his wound.

Melinda rushed over having retrieved her kit and the concoction she'd prepared for him back at her apothecary. Mila had careful gotten off the horse with Barris' assistance and was by his side.

"You speak nonsense Darben. I am not going to leave you any more than I'd leave any piece of myself." Melinda began applying the salve to his exposed wound.

She'd patched it with the leaves of a rare plant whose natural glue acted as a sealant for such wounds, though Darben's injury was beyond the help the plant could render. She retrieved the pain reduction remedy from her sash and held his head up to administer it.

"Drink this. It will help with the pain, then we shall see about the rest." Melinda took the wax seal from the vial and poured it down his throat.

"I hope that it works better than it tastes." he sputtered and coughed.

"We need to seal his wound and fast. The plant salve won't hold for long." Melinda told them seeking ideas.

"I can assist with his pain, but for his wound we need a solution." Sato offered.

Sato cupped his hands together rubbing them together before drawing in a deliberate volume of air. He then applied them to the air just above Darben's head. Darben simultaneously felt the effects of Melinda's remedy and Sato's energy and at once was relieved of his pain.

"That is much better." Darben exhaled, relieved.

"We still need to seal his wound." Melinda told them.

"Honey? What are you thinking?" Barris asked Mila who looked on with compassion.

"I could try something." Mila told them stepping up and kneeling before his body.

"Give her a little room please." Barris told them.

Mila began an incantation, weaving her hands etching the desired effect into the air above him. A glowing series of fibres appeared, growing in density as her fingers flowed through them together strands at a time. She then pushed the entirety of the weave downward upon his wound. It stuck to his skin cleaning it then fusing the wound together into a tattoo, the threads of a stitch clearly visible and rendered in great artistic detail.

"Shessspilth." Mila spoke aloud casting one final spell upon his wound.

The wound was now encompassed by a detailed tattoo bandage, cleaned and sealed by the same a series of stitches keeping it together.

"That should do. I do hope that you don't mind the body art?" Mila asked Darben.

"I shall wear it with honour and never a bane to my sight shall it be. It is clear that the wytch hunt is a dire and evil threat to us all." Darben told her leaning up to take a look at the artwork that replaced his wound, admiring it.

"Good. That will be two hundred dollars. Will that be on your charge card or in coinage?" Barris spoke aloud only to be greeted by puzzlement and silence.

He looked around at them quizzically.

"Is it just me or did humankind take much longer to develop a sense of humour than I'd thought?" he asked aloud, perhaps rhetorically more so than directly.

"That is a deal Darben. You still haven't received my bill." Melinda joined in the levity relieved to see that Darben's wounds would heal.

Barris relaxed a bit when others began to chuckle.

Sato offered his hand to Darben who accepted it. Sato hefted Darben to his feet watching carefully if he'd maintain his balance.

"It is a miracle and none too soon." Father Wilsen said in approval Kathryn by his side.

"I've never seen such a thing. You mean all this talk and heresy of the craft was true?" Kathryn asked Mila.

"There are many of us who seek to make the world a better place through balance and understanding favouring good. Why they sought to hunt us is the effort of those whose goals seek another fate for the world. To keep the power of knowledge for their own benefit and rule." Mila explained to Kathryn as best she could.

"Why ever would anyone want to seek to suppress such a thing as what you just did?" Kathryn asked Mila still amazed.

"There are many who don't use their abilities for the betterment of the world. There are those of us who are on the other side and who help hunt their own brothers and sisters. They pit you against us. That is how it has always been." Mila summarized.

"It is one big dance with which we've been engaged for all of history. It is the struggle we all face. There are many things yet we do not know and even more beyond that in the realm of what we cannot comprehend." Sato explained to Kathryn.

"That and they want everyone to sleep in sand paper pajamas every night." Barris offered for their amusement.

A smile crept onto the corner of Mila's mouth and that was enough to warm Barris despite the absence of laughter.

"This has been the same thing that has been explained in many texts, ancient and modern. It is good to pay attention to the wisdom one can find in parable and verse, yet not fall to zeal, pragma and dogma." Father Wilsen spoke looking to Barris in reminder of their heated discussion.

"Agreed Father Wilsen. But it is not for one to read blindly without the presence of their own faculties and mind to scrutinize what they consume as such. If you don't honestly consider and question what you do take in, then are you not setting yourself up to be misled?" Barris reposed defensively to Father Wilsen resuming their earlier discussion from the Church.

"If no one asked serious questions of the teachings of my Church then I would assume that nobody is listening. The question is the most important part of growth and learning. To accept without consideration is to not know and to not be interested. Words have no meaning when they are not considered. Considered not just with skepticism but honesty." Father Wilsen told Barris.

"One could say the same of any belief and of any learning. If you do not take the time to consider what you are learning then perhaps you aren't learning. Even our teachers stand on the forefront of what is known of a given subject. We might seek to learn and by considering what we learn from those who teach us, and by asking questions of them, we might arrive on the same shores quickly. Upon the shores of what is known about that subject. Though I suspect that wisdom is a very different thing." Mila interjected thoughtfully supporting both of their arguments.

"I agree. Teaching is not so much about telling your students what to know as it is about teaching how to learn. To learn when not in the presence of someone else who already knows. Independent learning is important as learning with others to refer to for possible answers." Kathryn answered.

"Yes, wisdom is what you understand after you have considered and seen the application of what you learn. Wisdom is knowing when not to say as much as it is knowing when to say." Father Wilsen replied to Mila.

"What about those who say what they think others' want them to say? Speaking only for the approval of others?" Melinda asked them while she examined Darben for any further ill effects or harm.

"I suspect that is rooted in a lack of confidence of one's self. The fear that one would lose the friendship of others if they said anything that contradicted what they thought their friends wanted to hear. Surely friends such as that are not worth the time." Barris added thoughtfully with a slight hint of defensiveness.

"It is not the fault of the friends, but the low esteem of one who speaks as such that is a shame and a loss. Many of the supposed Wytches and other victims of the hunt had been damaged by the same thing. Even the Widow Milaise before she died had her own loss of confidence and surety long before that fateful night. They had been abused by a number of hunters who did it secretly and discretely. The victims often exhibited this fear and lack of esteem. Broken. Speaking only what they thought the hunters wanted to hear for fear of isolation and further abuse. They never realized that the hunters were taking them for their most valued of possessions. Their identity. Their being. Their past and present." Father Wilsen spoke authoritatively on the subject.

Barris considered the Father's words for a moment nodding in understanding.

"He speaks truth. Even I had noticed this and had questioned the many times that I was called upon to round up a suspected Wytch. The hunters seem to have this effect upon their quarry. Many of the hunters walked away with the past of their own victims. Some victims buried with the vile deeds of the hunters whom had felled them. I had been ready to secretly free Father Wilsen if the arrest had gone as planned. That is why they contacted me. To act as one of their agents." Darben addressed them on the subject.

"Who contacted you?" Father Wilsen asked Darben.

"The Haven. The lady of the wilds and protector of the lost." Melinda informed them.

"So you were sought for your assistance by the ones at the place that we seek?" Father Wilsen asked.

"Indeed I was. And for the time I kept it secret. Now it may serve us well for we are all brothers and sisters as pariahs. Our bond is more than friendship for we will all receive the same treatment and be tried as Wytches and likely die with their sins to our name while they bare the triumphs of our lives." Darben told them.

"I remember feeling as such in childhood myself. Often ganged upon by many. Before long you lose yourself and start filtering everything you say. Making sure that it is what you want others to hear. That is why I left when I did. It is a scary thing." Barris spoke remembering the social scars of his youth.

"Honey. You learned to make peace with others using your wit and sense of humour. That's far more admirable and much sexier. Now I need you to heal me." Mila wrapped her arms around him holding him close.

Barris rubbed her back gently, enjoying their embrace as much as she did.

"Oh, I think those scars of youth are acting up again..." he said jokingly as she attempted to pull away.

She pecked his cheek with her lips and pinched his behind.

"It is true. And that is what we protect by taking these steps in seeking the Haven and what they stand for." Darben told them gesturing to Mila and Barris.

"Then perhaps I will be welcomed to a place where I can also be safely with my love for she already resides there." Melinda said speaking of Bethel, who had fled for the safety of the Haven months before.

Kathryn considered the sudden turn around in her understanding of the situation at hand. She'd considered Father Wilsen a wretch for so long she'd forgotten about their prior friendship and his virtuous honesty. She found it difficult to accept the fact that she had been fooled as had many by those that had started the hunt and now was the time to make amends as she was ready to forgive.

"We have many hours to go before we arrive. We should make haste then, now that I've been tended to by the best healers a man could hope for." Darben walked carefully to his horse feeling much better.

His wounds sealed and healing and his former pain a distant ebb, he jumped on the back of his horse. The others mounted theirs and they continued their journey in search of the Haven while word of their escape was passed amongst the Legal Officers of the colony and the Strangers of Lorr.

They had all become the hunted.

Continued in A Lady's Prerogative Book II: Wounded Aerth - Part X

Copyright © 2018 Brian Joseph Johns