Prompted by a cryptic message from her deceased master, Niome, a young wizardess, embarks on a journey to discover many truths. Leaving her country, Teloria, behind, and accompanied by her brother, his best friend, her brother’s master and his best friend, she discovers the prophecies that were written in the stars and dictated by the dragons. Being the guardian of the remaining safe magical book of spells, the Compliment Book, Niome and her companions quickly realise that they must go to the dark lands and retrieve the stolen Book of Enchantment from the evil lord who wishes to rule over all the lands. It is there where their Stardust Destinies are revealed.
Targeted Age Group:: 15+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The inspiration first came to me in a dream. I dreamt of Chapter Nine. So I wrote that, then I built my characters and the world as I slowly created the setting and wrote from the beginning towards that chapter. And then I continued writing it, and then continued writing some more. I am still writing the Stardust Destinies series, expanding the world and its lore and developing new characters all the time.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
In the dream I had, there were a few characters. As I wrote the story, I wanted my characters to have family, friends, rivals, ad enemies. I'd have to stop to think what name I wanted, but I knew right away what the character was going to be like. I did take some inspiration for some of the interactions between certain characters from interactions I've had with my siblings and my mother. Also, the five main characters each have certain traits that are similar to traits that I have.
Welcome to the Great Ocean Valley, where magic reigns and the dragons rule the prophecies. I invite you to take a look at The Stardust Destinies Appendices that accompany this book to familiarise yourself with this new realm, because the world of Stardust Destinies functions quite differently from many others. You will find them as a free download at http://www.binkyproductions.com/stardustdestinies.
In Appendix 1, Telorian History, you will learn how the polcs of Teloria exist, and how they measure time and age.
In Appendix 2, Kaulchèc History, you will discover how magic came to be in the lands of the Great Ocean Valley.
In Appendix 3, Counting Time, the seasons and how Telorians keep track of time are explained.
Appendix 4, Polken Talk, is a brief summary of speech and spells.
You will also find more complete maps of the Great Ocean Valley and its main countries.
However, it is in Appendix 5, A Dark Force Growing, where you will learn about all the evil that has befallen Teloria and its people, and discover the dark lord behind all the attacks—learn about his power, where he comes from, and what his dark motives might be. The power he wields is unique in Kaulchèc History. Be advised that, although you may look upon these historical texts and study the lore of this world, you should never look into the eyes of the great evil that is Mirauk, for his curse is greater than any magic that has yet been prophesied by any living being, save the dragons.
Timeline of Kaulchèc History
Our dear friend, the Great Wizardess Elina, has fallen ill again,’ said Gorthan, Chief Sword-master of all Masters and Knights. ‘I fear she may not survive the relapse this time.’
He and the two other men present in the small briefing room of the Governor’s Hall, once the Royal Halls of Teloria City, had important matters to discuss, especially now that magic was in motion again.
‘It has been nearly fifty years since her return from Mork,’ said Selemil the Governor. ‘She has managed to quell the symptoms before.’
‘We do not know the intensity of Mirauk’s curse,’ argued Gorthan. ‘It is her magic that has sustained her for so long. Sometimes I wonder if there is other magic at work.’ He shook his head. ‘Regardless, we knew that this day would come, when she would no longer be able to fight the illness that Mirauk bestowed upon her when he looked into her eyes.’
Henker the Elder sat pensive, rubbing his cheek. He stopped. ‘If these are the last of Elina’s days,’ he said, ‘then all our hope must lie in Niome, her pupil.’
‘Niome is too young still,’ said Selemil.
‘She is not much younger than Elina was when she became the best Wizardess of Teloria, even if it did take more time for her to become the Great Wizardess, officially and by title,’ said Henker. ‘All of Elina’s knowledge, all of her teachings—it all rests with Niome.’
‘There are other, more qualified wizards in Teloria,’ said Selemil. He leaned forward and tapped the table with a forefinger to punctuate his next words. ‘We cannot expect a young girl to know how to save our country.’
‘Not so much girl as woman,’ Henker corrected him. ‘The polc has come of age.’
‘Not much younger than . . .’ Gorthan trailed off. He looked at the other two. ‘When Elina and the team of Telorians left for Mork to take back the Book of Enchantment, many of them were not much older than Niome is today.’
‘And did they return?’ asked Selemil. He closed his eyes and shook his head. ‘Whether from spies, messengers, or rumour, there has been no word from Mork. If any from that team still live, they have surely been lost to the darkness of Mork. That mission cost us a slew of talented knights, and our Great Wizardess’s health. She is the only one who returned—empty-handed.’
‘May I remind you that Elina has taught Niome how to guard the Compliment Book? Should the Morkans come for it, she is prepared and knows what to do.’
‘The Morkans better not come before the repairs on the wall around Teloria proper are complete. The Big War caused much damage and loss.’ He turned to Gorthan. ‘Any word from the guards on the wall?’
‘The area at Telor is nearly finished,’ said Gorthan. ‘The tower at Lani has been reconstructed after long delay. That entire side has been completely undone and rebuilt and is stronger than the rest of the wall. The only area with a few remaining breaches that have yet to be patched is in the south.’
‘Has it truly taken us fifty years to rebuild the entire wall around our country?’
‘Recovering from the Big War took us fifty years,’ said Henker. ‘I have never seen such devastation before—the destruction, the famine that followed, the grievous hardship; all that came after. We tended the people, lifted their sorrow. We gave them hope back then.’ His gaze grew distant. ‘We must give them hope once more. Teloria is no longer vulnerable. Anyone who was imprisoned in Morkan encampments has been rescued. Yet the people of our country still grieve; they remember, they know, they fear. They fear the army that left fifty years ago has all but perished and they have begun to come to terms with it, but without hope, they will fear that Teloria will fall to Mirauk and his reign of terror over all the lands.’
Henker looked at Gorthan and Selemil. ‘The Morkans have left us alone for all these years, but everyone in this country knows as well as I do, they are planning something, perhaps something even bigger than the last time—and they fear.’
‘I have no doubt that Mirauk is planning another coup,’ said Gorthan, ‘and I have trained my knights and masters accordingly. But what is he planning? That is cause for much speculation and much of the fear, as well.’
Henker leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees. ‘With Elina ill again, no one knows what the future holds, not even our best prophets. Not even me. But if we can bestow hope again, then Teloria can win.’
‘I hope you’re not suggesting we go after the Book of Enchantment and send more Telorians to Mork,’ said Selemil.
Henker shook his head. ‘Despite everything that has happened to Teloria, despite everything that was lost, and everything that is yet to come, there is one who holds that hope.’
‘Niome,’ said Gorthan. ‘She is determined to save us all from evil, even if she has to do it alone. Her valour is admirable, but it is unnerving.’
‘Perhaps, but she is young, powerful in magic, optimistic, and determined. She can convey those attributes to the rest of the people,’ said Henker. ‘Let us give hope to the people of Teloria. Let’s let Niome share her strengths.’
‘She holds much responsibility,’ said Selemil, ‘but she is not alone.’ He nodded. ‘We remain here and wait for Mork to attack. We are strongest here. And we let Niome inspire with her knowledge and magic, and together, we can devise the best plan, should Mirauk attack us again. I’ve been working on a magical shelter I believe could help us. I think what our people need is purpose.’
‘With Niome’s aid,’ said Gorthan, ‘I’m sure we can achieve what has seemed impossible for years.’
‘Are we all in agreement, then?’ asked Selemil.
Gorthan and Henker nodded.
The old polc gripped his cane and stood. ‘Let us go speak with Elina. If her final days approach, then we will need all the insight she can give us.’
The other two stood. These were grave times; they had been for generations. But magic was in motion, and things were about to change, for ill or for the better. Best they ensure it was for the better.
Niome Fairhaven was a young polc of ninety with beautiful long, dark hair that glistened in the light, and bright eyes of golden green. She most often wore a purple dress that her sorcery teacher Elina, the Great Wizardess of Teloria, had made her. She felt very close to her master and now that Elina was ill again, Niome felt compelled to wear the dress, almost as though it would keep Elina on their earth longer.
As Niome looked through the ancient scrolls that she was studying, her father, Ceymi, bustled into the room. When Niome looked up and met his dark eyes, she saw the sadness upon his face.
‘Niome,’ he cried, shaking his dark head, ‘it’s Elina! She’s . . . her illness, it’s worse than ever.’
Worry fell upon Niome’s heart, for she had been Elina’s apprentice for over thirty years. Dropping the scroll she’d been reading, she brushed past her father and ran to Elina’s house.
Everyone, it seemed, was gathering at Elina’s door; she saw Gorthan the Chief, Henker the Elder, and Selemil the Governor among the villagers; even the tall Telorian who was her and her brother’s sword-master was there. They all know Elina is dying, Niome thought. No! Niome could not conceive that notion yet—the death of her master, the person she trusted most and who trusted her most, the person who was the most versed in magic in Teloria.
Niome entered the house and closed the door quietly behind her, then walked into Elina’s bedroom and stopped beside the bed with her head bowed low, trying to remember the few healing spells that existed.
‘Niome,’ Elina whispered with difficulty, ‘you must protect the Compliment Book. Do not let it get into Mirauk’s hands. Teloria’s destiny lies with you now.’ Niome nodded. ‘No spell can heal the curse that has been set upon me. Mirauk’s evil was too strong for me alone to destroy.’
‘I will find the Book of Enchantment,’ she replied.
Elina smiled and whispered strange words in her last breath: ‘Soû lagar andë roc, hëaûbo rede lari verei!’
In tearful sorrow Niome bowed her head even lower, and repeated the words in her head several times to remember them. Whatever Elina said was important and had great significance, Niome knew that much from experience. Then she blew out the candle that sat on the night table. She knew what she had to do to bring hope back to Teloria, but first she had to go out there and announce the bad news to everyone.
No doubt there would be a meeting with the council, and a great gathering to figure out what to do, now that the wisest and most powerful of them had passed away. Everyone was supposed to be present at the meeting, but Niome decided that she would be absent. She couldn’t stand those political gatherings. She wanted to be alone and do research of her own, especially now that she had a sentence to decode; that would help a lot more.
Niome left the bedroom and crossed to the door, where she paused with her hand on the latch. Drawing a deep breath, she swung the door open and walked over the threshold and outside.
* * *
A spiritual ceremony in Elina’s honour marked the day when everything changed forever. It was the eighty-fourth day of the year, at the very end of Winter. The Telorians grieved for a full week before the council meeting took place.
They gathered in the Governor’s Hall, a great, dimly lit room large enough to hold all Telorians, young and old alike. Gorthan the Chief, the Sword-master of all Masters, chaired the meeting, which was attended by Telorians from all of the surrounding villages, even those from the far south and wizards from the far corners, for this concerned the entire country.
Gorthan stood before the people, with Henker the Elder seated on one side and Selemil the Governor on the other. The great hall was filled with chatter that echoed the people’s fear, but when Gorthan stepped forward onto a little platform, everyone went mute, their impatience and agony hanging heavy in the silence that invaded the room.
Gorthan finally spoke in a deep, loud voice. ‘Polcs of Teloria,’ he said, ‘this has been a mournful time for us all, but we must not lose hope. I know that the warriors have been gone far too long for us to expect their return, but nothing tells us they are dead. Although Mirauk himself announced that he killed them, several did escape and I am hopeful in my heart that some of those brave polcs are alive still. They are powerful and skilled and whatever dangers they face will become nothing but a fleeting moment to them.’ Gorthan paused, wishing he could believe his own words.
‘If that is so, why haven’t they returned?’ shouted one of the younger Telorians, standing next to another young polc.
‘Because they are warriors,’ replied Henker the Elder. ‘They are explorers bound to find peace.’
The boy gave the other a discouraged look.
‘There is always determination and curiosity,’ Henker finished.
‘But what more could they be curious about?’ yelled the boy.
‘The land, other cultures, making allies. These knights know what they are doing,’ said Henker.
‘I know that!’ the boy retorted. It was the same story that Henker told again and again. ‘But what makes you so sure they are still alive?’
‘Six hundred twenty-eight years will get you far in knowledge and wisdom, young polc,’ Henker replied.
The teenage boy stayed silent for a moment, then said, ‘Hey, I do know a thing or two about the dangers of travelling. I also know a thing or two about magic. I mean, I am a Fairhaven, after all!’
‘Meysah,’ said Selemil, ‘everyone knows your parents are Ceymi and Latua.’
‘And Niome’s brother.’
Some of the other teenagers cast annoyed looks at Meysah for his boastfulness, but the young polc next to him only smiled in sympathy.
Selemil continued. ‘But you still have much to learn concerning—’
‘My brother was the second captain!’ interrupted Meysah. ‘I think I’m entitled to my questions.’
‘Indeed,’ said Henker, ‘indeed, and it is understandable, but you see . . .’ He paused as the three leaders vainly searched the room for Niome.
Gorthan continued for Henker. ‘All is not lost,’ he said. ‘Perhaps Elina left us, but her spells did not go with her. Niome Fairhaven was her apprentice and knows much. In time, she will become a great wizardess herself, so worry not for the future of Teloria—it lies in capable hands: Niome for great magic, and Selemil, our wonderful governor, who has kept us away from harm for so long.’
Selemil rose. ‘That is correct,’ he said. ‘And I have been preparing a secret hiding place for us, if ever we are in great danger. So do not fear, my friends. We are safe from the people of Mork, as long as we stick together and help each other.’
The words gave the Telorians a little more hope. Their discord turned into loud rejoicing.
Selemil smiled and stepped forward. ‘Telorians, your attention once more!’ Their voices died down and they focused on the tall polc’s long face. ‘This won’t be easy and it requires everybody’s cooperation. We need each and every one of you to train as a fighter. Most of you have swords or a weapon of some sort; it’ll do. We must get together and make as many weapons as we can, but most importantly, we must rebuild the last section of our barrier, the wall around our country, where I intend to put more watchmen than before. Those who can see far into the distance will sound the alarm when they spy the enemy. That is when we will hide and wait for the perfect moment to ambush them.’
‘How will they not find us?’ asked an elder.
‘With the little magic that I know, I will prevent them.’ Selemil raised his hand, palm towards the floor, and jerked it. A hole opened up and a great light surrounded it. With his other hand, he pulled a crystal from his backpack and held it up. ‘With this crystal, I can see what goes on in Teloria. And behold, the passageway to the secret hideout. An ancient spell from our ancestors is to thank for this.’
Everyone looked on in awe until, in a flash, it all disappeared.
‘We must work in haste. Whoever wishes to assist me today, you may, but I only require your help two days from now.’ Selemil glanced at Gorthan and stepped back.
Gorthan dismissed the people. A few hung back to help Selemil organise the repair plans for the wall; the others returned home.
* * *
Though baby-faced Meysah was younger than the sister he resembled by five polken years, he was almost more rational than her. After the meeting he rushed home, only to discover Niome wasn’t there. He went to the Magic Lab. She hadn’t been at the meeting and it was crucial not to miss one, especially in this case, especially because she had been the Great Wizardess’s apprentice. It was almost a disgrace. He needed to find out why she’d been absent.
He found her sitting at the desk, looking through one of the books from a pile beside her. Meysah rushed over and grabbed the book from her hands. ‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded.
‘What does it look like?’ replied Niome.
‘Perhaps you forgot something?’ suggested Meysah. ‘Someplace you had to be?’
‘I deliberately missed the meeting. I have no time to spend on anything but this,’ she said, reaching for the book.
He held it out of her reach. ‘Anything but what?’ Meysah asked suspiciously, yet his interest in Niome’s work grew as she explained.
‘When Elina died, she whispered these words to me: “Soû lagar andë roc, hëaûbo rede lari verei!”’ Niome stood and walked towards Meysah.
‘What, is that a spell?’ Meysah asked, reaching to open the Compliment Book, which had been left on the desk.
Niome grabbed it and put it in her cloak pocket, where the small book fit very well. ‘That’s what I thought at first, but then I discovered that the words were in the ancient tongue of the Kaulchèc people. How did I know? I looked through the language books and history books because I thought it was an ancient version of our tongue, but it’s not at all ours. In fact, I read that thousands of years ago, the people who marked their place here among the Telorians, the Kaulchèc, knew great magic, which of course is why we know it here today. The Book of Enchantment was a gift from them, before they left.’ Niome began to pace as she spoke.
‘I know my history, Niome,’ said Meysah, crossing his arms and giving his sister a lopsided smile.
‘Then you know that they used our tongue to create new magic.’ Niome picked up a large book. Not to be outdone, Meysah picked up another. ‘It says in this book that our spells, our customs came from a merger between our ancestors and the Kaulchèc. So I looked in the Book of Ancient Tongues and started decoding.’
Meysah looked at the cover of the book he held; it was the Book of Ancient Tongues, an old book with a dusty brown cover embossed with golden scripts. He handed it back to Niome almost reverently, as though it was too ancient and invaluable for him to hold. Right away she opened it, sat back down, and silently continued her decoding. Meysah waited until she finished and leaned back. He looked at her with anticipation. Niome put down her quill, still staring at her page.
‘Well . . . ?’ he coaxed. ‘What does it mean?’
‘“Under the Great Rock, by the river”,’ she replied. Ignoring Meysah’s puzzled expression, she continued to think aloud. ‘The Ortim River has one distinct rock. It’s huge, for one thing, and stands out because of the greyish-red streaks in its centre. I think there might be something hidden there.’
Meysah caught his sister’s drift. ‘But the Ortim River is more than a week’s travel to the north, and then we have to find the rock,’ he objected. ‘In this time of approaching peril, Gorthan and Selemil will never let you leave, let alone Mom and Dad.’ He again crossed his arms at the mention of their parents.
‘I’m still going. No one will stop me.’
‘I’m going!’ Niome glared at him, her mind set.
‘Then let me go with you.’
Niome lifted her sword and slipped it into the sheath at her belt. Looking her brother in the eyes, she shook her head. This mission was hers and although she wouldn’t mind the company, worrying about his safety would only be a distraction to her at the moment when she needed to focus the most.
They heard the outer door open. Meysah turned around and Niome rushed behind the desk and stuck her head into a random book just before Gorthan entered.
Gorthan stalked over to the desk and lifted the book slickly out of Niome’s hands. ‘Why were you not there, Niome?’ he asked in a stern voice as he set it down. ‘I am disappointed. Selemil was planning on letting you speak.’ He waited.
‘I apologise, but I needed to figure something out before it was too late,’ she answered after a long pause. ‘Look!’ Niome showed Gorthan the notes she had taken. He studied them carefully. ‘I believe whatever lurks there can help us,’ she added.
‘Well, perhaps once the construction is done we can take a look, but right now, no explorer can leave,’ said Gorthan.
‘That’s okay, I’ll go alone.’ Niome started packing her bag.
‘No,’ Gorthan said. ‘There could be spies out there.’
‘Then send someone to accompany me.’
‘We need all our best polcs.’ He turned to look at Meysah. ‘Even our apprentice knights. I mean, it’s over seven days’ travel to the Ortim River.’
‘Not if I don’t stop for the night,’ Niome was quick to answer, her words overlapping the end of Gorthan’s sentence. Even if he was the chief, she knew that she needed no one’s permission to leave. She only wanted the support of a trusted friend and teacher, out of courtesy.
‘And then you’ll have to find the Great Rock, then return to Teloria without running into trouble,’ continued Gorthan. ‘If all goes well and you find allies and explore the region, you could be away for several weeks, at least.’ He shook his head. ‘No, I won’t permit it. It’s too dangerous.’
‘I can do this! I know how to take care of myself!’ Niome exclaimed.
‘Can you defeat an army of Morkans if you’re on your own? You don’t know what they’re capable of. You were not in the front lines, as I was during the Big War.’
‘I won’t meet any Morkans,’ Niome insisted. ‘I’ll avoid them! I don’t understand why I have to stay here. I can’t do Teloria any good if I don’t know what I should know. Elina told me that for a purpose! Why can’t I—’
‘I don’t want what happened to Bahvley to happen to you!’ shouted Gorthan.
Gorthan was right. Even if Niome was correct about the importance of Elina’s words, Gorthan knew the dangers better than she could imagine at this time in her life. With danger approaching Teloria, there was no way of knowing what was out there or how soon it was going to come. Even if Niome had other authorities’ consent, and even though she need not tell anyone her intentions, if Gorthan said no, it was no.
‘You’re young, Niome,' Gorthan said in a gentler voice. ‘Even with what you know, you’re incapable of defending yourself against an army of fully trained warriors—most of us are, alone. Besides,’ he added with a sympathetic smile, ‘I need you at my side. You’re the one who knows the most magic.’ He laid Niome’s notes on the desk.
Niome stayed silent. She lifted her notes and sat down with a sigh. Gorthan stood silent a while, then glanced at Meysah, who had a sad look on his face at the mention of Bahvley’s name. With a last look back at Niome, Gorthan walked out. Casting a sympathetic smile at Niome, Meysah followed Gorthan out, leaving his sister to her thoughts.
* * *
Meysah woke at daybreak to find a note on the bed beside his pillow. He sat up and opened it. It was from Niome. All it said was Cover up for me; I’ll see you sometime—Niome. Letting the note drop, Meysah leapt from his bed and ran to his sister’s room. Flinging the door open, he scanned the interior. Though it looked intact, he recognised the absence of what she valued most. She had taken her things. She’s gone. He ran down to the barn and ran along the aisle, looking into the stalls. One of the horses was missing—her favourite mare.
He let out a long sigh. ‘She can’t survive on her own. I have to help her—somehow.’
Running back into the house, Meysah quickly gathered what he thought he’d need. Then he rushed up the street to Vigh Nimrod’s house and hammered on the door until his master opened it.
The tall, lean, rugged polc was one of those who had stood outside Elina’s door the day she died. His pale eyes regarded Meysah and his handsome features creased with concern. ‘Meysah! What brings you here at such an early hour?’
‘Master Vigh, I have a dilemma,’ said Meysah.
‘Well, come in.’ Vigh held the door open, then followed Meysah into the living room, where warm light from a lone lantern gleamed on the swords and weapons adorning the walls. Vigh barely had time to sit down before Meysah started blurting out words that didn’t make sense, he was talking so fast.
‘Niome wanted to go to the Great Rock but it was too far—she decoded words, so she had to go—because of the war. Selemil wouldn’t let her and Gorthan refused. We have to help her—she left me a note. It’s dangerous out there—’
‘Slow down!’ shouted Vigh.
Meysah stopped. He was breathing heavily, out of breath.
Vigh smiled. ‘Calm down. Start over—and please, speak clearly so I can understand.’
‘When Elina died,’ Meysah began, a little too slowly now, ‘she spoke some ancient words to Niome, and Niome decoded them. That’s why she wasn’t at the meeting.’
Vigh nodded and ran his hand through his dark hair, waiting for more.
‘They said to go to the Great Rock—the words, that is.’ Meysah drew a big breath. ‘Gorthan didn’t want her to go,’ he continued, picking up the pace, ‘because it’s too far and too dangerous and Selemil would never allow it. But Niome insisted, because she believes whatever’s there can help us. She was refused permission to go, but this morning I found a note on my bed and one of the horses is gone. She’s gone and she could be in danger and we have to help her to find out what’s there!’
Meysah stopped and plopped down on the soft couch, his eyes on Vigh.
‘Well,’ Vigh said calmly, ‘it looks like we have no other choice but to go and find her.’
Meysah nodded vigorously, but added, panic straining his voice, ‘What else do you think we should do? This is why I came to see you.’
‘Calm down. We’ll gather a team,’ said Vigh.
‘But no big team. Not anyone who will bring her home without letting her see what’s at the rock,’ Meysah said. ‘I know this is important to her and to Teloria—and to Elina, if she said it.’
‘You believe there’s something there also, don’t you?’
‘Yes.’ Meysah nodded vigorously again.
‘What will Selemil say?’ asked Vigh after a pause.
‘We won’t tell him. We’ll just go. Otherwise, we won’t be allowed to go, and it’s important that we do,’ Meysah blurted.
Vigh looked at him sternly, leaning his chin on his fist. ‘Okay,’ he said at last. He rose and walked into the next room.
A few moments later, he came back out, now dressed in heavy garments for warmth. He swung a cloak onto his shoulders and pulled the hood up over his head. Then he walked to the wall and lifted down the biggest of the swords and attached its scabbard to his belt. Next came a knife, which he slipped into his boot. He looked at Meysah. ‘Come,’ he said. ‘We shall see who is willing to come with us.’ Meysah gladly followed Vigh.
As they passed a red-roofed house, Meysah halted, remembering who had stood next to him at the meeting.
‘What is it?’ asked Vigh.
‘If we want a good team,’ Meysah said, ‘we have to get Jimmy to come with us. This is his house. I’ll go in and wake him. He won’t mind the early hour; the sun is almost completely up.’
Meysah ran up the steps and entered his friend’s house without knocking, as he often did. He ran to his best friend’s room and jumped onto the bed, bouncing Jimmy awake. ‘Wake up, Jimmesh! We have to hurry,’ he shouted.
Jimmy reluctantly opened his eyes. ‘What is wrong with you?’ he grumbled. ‘You’re yelling loud enough to wake the town. You’re lucky my parents are probably out in the garden.’ He sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. ‘What is it?’ he mumbled.
‘Niome’s gone!’ said Meysah.
Jimmy’s eyebrows shot up. ‘Why? Where?’
‘To the Great Rock to find out the secret,’ Meysah said. ‘But she went against orders, so she’s alone and we have to go after her and help her.’
Jimmy brightened. ‘Are you saying we’re going on a special journey? You mean, to save us from the enemy?’ Meysah nodded. ‘Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place.’ Jimmy flung the covers back and rose. ‘I love adventure!’ He walked to the window, saying, ‘What’s the weather like today?’
‘Cold,’ said Meysah.
‘But, it’s Spring!’ Jimmy said, sounding outraged.
‘The weather is as unpredictable as the enemy. And Niome. Besides, it’s only the first few days of Spring. Hurry, get your things; Master Vigh is waiting outside.’
‘To go where?’ asked Jimmy.
‘I don’t know, somewhere to find people who wish to join us.’
‘Who wouldn’t want to go on such an adventure! It sure is better than staying here and waiting to be attacked.’
‘Exactly what I was thinking.’
Jimmy quickly dressed and the boys ran out the door and down the steps.
Jimmy’s mother met them at the bottom. ‘Where are you two off to so early?’ she asked.
‘Oh, hi, Mrs. Hochka,’ said Meysah. ‘We have a project to work on together.’
‘All right, then. Just be sure to be back for supper, Jimmesh,’ she said.
‘Okay. I’ll see you later.’
The boys joined Vigh, who was standing on the road, gazing northward. He looked at them but said nothing, merely led the way down the muddy, snow-scattered road.
They met up with Lóim Weedler, who was Jimmy’s age, two years younger than Meysah. He had been at the meeting too, but mostly to mock. He was a boaster who liked to remind others about things they could not have. Not that he had them either, but he pretended to be the best and the luckiest. He always teased Jimmy and Meysah in school. ‘Hullo, you guys,’ he said. ‘Why are you in such a hurry?’
‘No reason,’ Jimmy said warily. ‘We’re just off with Master Vigh on a patrol.’
‘Says the polc with no master. Well,’ said Lóim, focusing on Jimmy, ‘I am going to train to defend the country and,’ he looked at Meysah, ‘I bet I could slay a dozen Morkans at once.’
‘Really!’ replied Meysah. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘Well, I could slay more than you ever will,’ Lóim sneered.
‘I think I could slay a dozen,’ said Vigh, ‘and if you don’t watch your tongue, Mr Weedler, I could slay you too! Or at least cut out that boastful tongue of yours.’
Lóim shut up and left, his nose in the air.
A short time later, Vigh stopped at a little hut. ‘Wait here,’ he said, and went around to the back of the hut.
After a while he came back and signalled for them to follow him to a small door in the back of the hut, so small they had to bend down to enter. There was only one room, warmed by a fireplace before which sat a rocking chair. A table occupied one end of the room. Stairs descended along the far wall, and the young polcs followed Vigh down them. At the bottom was a large kitchen and a bedroom area and another nook that seemed to be a storeroom for weapons. A short, lean, dark-eyed polc with blonde hair, much younger than Vigh but far older than Meysah and Jimmy, waited there. He was leaning against a wall, smoking a pipe, but when they entered he pushed away from the wall and approached the boys.
‘I am told you will need my help,’ he said.
‘This is my dearest of friends,’ said Vigh, ‘Boreth Culmik.’
‘Hullo,’ said Jimmy.
‘I believe we have met before,’ said Boreth, ‘though just in passing, and a good while back.’
‘Boreth has just come back from Telor,’ Vigh told them.
Boreth nodded and shifted the pipe in his mouth. ‘I’ve been there for a long while now, on a research project. It feels good to be back home.’ He looked at Vigh. ‘Funny how we change in so little time!’ Then he looked at Meysah, and actually stared at him for a long time. ‘Yes, I can see the resemblance—it runs in the family, eh? Adventure! Seems like yesterday.’ His smile faded.
‘What does?’ asked Meysah.
Boreth smiled again. ‘Bahvley, your elder brother, saved my life. I don’t know if Vigh has ever told you the story, but I was being held captive at a Morkan camp, and Mirauk’s best captain would’ve slain me himself, had your brother not come with reinforcements. My team, my captain, and I came home to help save Teloria.
‘This room you see here’ —Boreth waved his hand— ‘did not serve me as a hiding place during the Big War, but it saved several others, for which I am glad. I believe your sister hid here with a friend of your brother’s.
‘Bahvley helped many during his trip to Mork. I am gravely sorry for your loss,’ he said to Meysah. ‘I wish I had known him better.’
‘Did you see him slain?’ asked Meysah.
‘No,’ Boreth said. ‘He went to Mork and the camp where I was held was too far from Mork to receive any news. Perhaps he was captured; best to hope that. I know you heard from Elina herself that she was told he was dead, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he was.’ Boreth frowned. ‘But then again, if they say that Mirauk killed him himself . . . Well, Elina told you the story, no need to rehash it.’ Boreth paused. ‘I owe him a life debt and since I cannot save his life, I will save others in Teloria by assisting you.’
Meysah looked cheerfully at Vigh, who was smiling.
‘We need no great army if we are to be undetected, as Vigh mentioned before,’ Boreth said, ‘but we do need equipment.’
‘We have to go see Gorthan,’ Vigh said. ‘He will be able to provide us with the necessary equipment.’
‘What will Selemil say about all this?’ asked Jimmy.
‘We will first see Henker and Gorthan,’ replied Vigh. ‘They will advise us well. Gorthan knows that if Niome’s gone, he can’t do any more about it than to let us go after her. As for Selemil, he may have final say, but nothing can prevent us now. Selemil is a polc of tact, but knows little of magic on the deeper levels, not like Henker or Niome understand it. I sense this may be a case where magic could be our only reliable source. Selemil knows that the wizards can overrule the governor’s choice in certain circumstances. That’s how it was in the times of kings and queens. Selemil is playing it safe, but Mork will attack again and Mirauk will use all his best fighters, those strong in magic. We will have to rely on magic.
‘We must follow our instincts now. I know in my heart that this is the right thing to do and you are our guide, Meysah. Lead us to Niome. She will tell us what we must do.’
They all looked at each other. Boreth put his pipe down on the table and started up the stairs. The others followed.
They walked for a quarter of the day to reach the large house Henker shared with his cousin Gorthan, on the other side of the town. When they arrived, Henker was sitting on the front steps, holding his staff, as if he’d been expecting them. As they approached, he stood up and led them inside.
‘I have prepared lunch for you,’ he said. 'I knew you would be hungry when you’d get here.’
‘But how did you know we were coming?’ asked Jimmy.
‘I know more than destiny itself,’ Henker replied. He led them to the dining room table, where a meal waited. They all sat down and began to eat.
‘Gorthan will be arriving soon,’ said Henker.
‘Henker,’ said Meysah, ‘I hope you don’t think this crazy of me, but I believe that going out of Teloria is a good thing. Selemil thought it absurd; that’s why I mention it.’
‘Oh, I understand perfectly,’ said Henker. ‘It runs in the family, I see, and I am happy it does. This is progress, I know it, and I know why you must go. You are meant to go, all of you. It has been foreseen.’
‘Will we succeed?’ asked Jimmy.
‘That is for you to discover, for whatever I know now of the future may be changed by those involved.’ Jimmy cocked his brow and slowly nodded his understanding.
‘We’ll have to word it carefully when speaking to Selemil,’ said Boreth. ‘He may get defensive about our safety.’
‘Let me talk to Selemil,’ said Henker. ‘I told him I would have good news for Teloria that would seem like bad news to his ears. And he knows that when I do tell him, he must trust my judgement.’
‘Thank you,’ said Meysah.
‘Hopefully,’ said Jimmy, ‘we won’t run into too much trouble.’
‘Oh?’ said Henker, chuckling. ‘You may. There is no such thing as “not too much trouble”. But promise me this: when you come upon a grey house in the middle of a field, you will knock on the door.’
‘What’s in the grey house?’ asked Vigh. Henker did not answer.
‘I never heard of a grey house alone in the middle of a field before,’ said Boreth.
‘It’s there,’ said Henker. ‘And you must knock on the door.’
‘We will,’ said Meysah.
They heard the front door open and close—Gorthan was home. He walked slowly into the dining room and looked at the guests, then at Henker with tired eyes. He let his sack drop to the floor. ‘I didn’t realise we were having guests,’ he said to Henker, then he turned his attention to the other four sitting at the table. ‘You’ll have to excuse my weariness—I was up all night. Construction on the wall has begun and progresses rapidly; Selemil fears an attack soon.’ He sighed. ‘He’s been fearing an attack for the past fifty years.’
‘Have a seat,’ said Henker. ‘We need to ask you something.’
‘Oh?’ said Gorthan, sitting down.
‘Actually,’ added Vigh, ‘we need weapons.’
‘You see,’ said Meysah, ‘my sister left the city to go to the Great Rock, and I know she went against orders, but there’s something there that can help us and we need to go help her—Elina told her about it. Besides, the Wizardess of Teloria can defy certain rules, even the governor’s, if she knows it to be good, and with Elina being dead, that leaves Niome as the Wizardess of Teloria.’ Meysah wheezed to a finish, and Vigh gestured for him to breathe. Meysah drew in a huge breath. ‘We thought, since you’re the master swordsman and a mentor to us all, you could lend us a few weapons . . . if you please.’ Meysah stopped and smiled a desperately hopeful smile.
There was a long pause.
‘Well,’ Gorthan finally said, ‘as chief of Teloria, I forgive Niome and give you the permission to go. I can’t blame any of you for wanting to go out there and do something. It sure is better than waiting around here. To be honest, I suspected she might go. That is why I insisted so much that she stay. Now that she has gone, it proves to me the importance of her cause. And now that she’s out there, she needs all the help she can possibly get, as well as protection; it won’t be long before Mirauk discovers she is in possession of the Compliment Book. But I am not the ruler of Teloria and I’m wondering how to bring this up with Selemil.’
‘I will tell him, cousin,’ said Henker. ‘He will come to see me sometime today.’
‘Normally I’d be upset,’ said Gorthan, ‘but deep inside, I was hoping someone would be brave enough to step up and go out and do this rash thing. I can’t because I have too many responsibilities here; otherwise I would have gone a long time ago, using all the skill in weaponry and magic I know. I don’t want to waste time waiting for Teloria’s doom, and who better to plunge into this affair than you. When are you planning on leaving?’
‘As soon as possible,’ said Vigh.
‘Niome was gone when I woke up,’ said Meysah. ‘She must’ve left last night or very early this morning.’
‘Then we shall leave tomorrow, at the break of dawn,’ said Boreth.
‘Eat up,’ said Gorthan. ‘I will equip you after the meal.’
After lunch Gorthan led them to his private chamber. He took out a box and set it on the bed. Then he laid a few garments beside it. ‘I have been saving these for those brave enough to venture off,’ he said. ‘You have shown less fear than most, despite the dangers that await you.’ He picked up the warm garments and gave them to Meysah and Jimmy. Then he opened the box. In it were sacks of herbs. ‘These herbs will help you along your way. They will wake you, heal you, and invigorate you when most needed. They are magical. Take a sack each.’
When each had selected a sack, Gorthan set the box aside and gave Jimmy a sword and a knife. He gave only a knife to Meysah, who had a sword already. Then he looked at Vigh. ‘This is all I offer. The rest you have, except this.’ He took a smooth stone from his pocket and gave it to Vigh. It fit exactly in the palm of Vigh’s hand, and gleamed ruby-gold. ‘Keep this with you, close to your heart; it will bring good fortune.’
‘Very well,’ said Vigh, hefting the stone, which was surprisingly light. ‘We thank you greatly.’
They started towards the chamber’s door, but then Gorthan halted. ‘One more thing,’ he said. ‘Prepare yourselves! Rest now. Clear your thoughts of anger and vengeance because if your minds are set on negativity, Mirauk will detect you and find you with the power of his mind. Do not dwell on him. Concentrate only on the Book of Enchantment.’
They all nodded.
Gorthan looked at them and smiled. ‘This is good. May the stars shine upon you and protect you all.’
They saluted Gorthan and exited the house.
On their way home they met Selemil, who was walking swiftly towards Henker and Gorthan’s house. ‘Hello Meysah,’ he said. ‘Hello Vigh; Boreth; Jimmesh.’ He frowned as if wondering why the four were together. ‘Have you seen Niome?’
‘Not yet,’ was all Meysah said, but it was the truth.
‘Well, perhaps Henker knows where she is. I’ve been looking for her all morning and I’m getting quite annoyed.’ Meysah looked to the ground. ‘Oh well,’ continued Selemil, ‘I will see you later!’ He continued walking up the road.
Meysah and his three companions returned to their homes. He was packed for their trip and ready to go by sunset, and slept in his clothes.
* * *
Meysah woke early the next morning, so early it was still dark out, but he was anxious to leave and find his sister. He was dismayed when he found his father already up, and waiting for him. He must have noticed the preparations, Meysah thought, and wondered how to break the news to his father.
Before Meysah could formulate his announcement, Ceymi smiled and said, ‘I’ve set your things by the door.’
Puzzled, Meysah asked, ‘You’re not upset?’
‘Why would I be?’ He held up the note Niome had left, which Meysah had let drop to the floor. Ceymi smiled again. ‘You have found the strength to pursue what I was always too frightened to do myself. I knew your time would come. Just promise me you’ll be careful and if possible, to return. Don’t let Bahvley’s fate become your or Niome’s fate. Return home after you have found what you are looking for.’
They embraced, then Meysah gathered up his things.
‘Good luck,’ Ceymi said, and smiled. Meysah returned the smile, then stepped out the door.
Jimmy was trotting up the road already. He met up with Meysah and the two best friends continued together to the west gate of Teloria City to meet Vigh and Boreth.
The officer of the guard on duty there looked at them. ‘Henker has informed us of the importance of your departure. You sure are a brave bunch. Good luck out there. The Mighty Spirit alone knows what awaits you.’
‘Thank you,’ said Vigh.
Arrangements had been made to have their horses waiting for them, and Meysah found his Greyer there, eating some hay. Jimmy was given a horse, since he had none at home. Vigh and Boreth had their own there as well. They mounted up and urged their horses towards the gate, where Henker was waiting for them. They thanked him again, and he simply smiled and nodded.
Outside the gate, they urged their horses into a gallop, and left Teloria City behind them.
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