Art by John Howe
I wrote this story for my cousin, who loves the Fantasy Genre just as much as I do. When we were kids I wrote him stories all the time, and it was so much fun! To inspire this story he gave me three words: An old woman, a dog and a forest, and I had to include all of them in my text. I had so much fun writing this, and I hope you will enjoy reading it too!
He walked over to her quickly, shook her old calloused hand, and thanked her for her effort in the Kolkaran battle. She was dressed as she had been when they had first met, her criss-crossed face half hidden in a long muddy brown cape, her whole appearance dark and foreboding. She greeted Reeves courteously, but showed no sign of affection. Dagda Mora was not a woman of sentiment, she was a spell caster, and today she had won a war for her people. Well, they weren’t really her people, but she hated “the other ones” more, and consequently made her decision.
Reeves had been followed into the hall by Baylin, and a number of woods-men warriors seeking merit after the day’s battle. He had none to offer them. He knew there would be more battles to come. Dagda Mora sat down at the head of the table, enjoying her position as the eldest, Reeves motioned for Baylin to sit down next to him to the old woman’s right. Baylin was from the Westland and his lean, but strong built, had gained him the leadership amongst the men. Baylin’s thin brown eyebrows were raised in concentration as he studied the old woman who had, against all possible odds, been the heroine of the battle. “We need a weapon,” stated Reeves, and pierced his blue young eyes into Dagda Mora’s shadowy black. “And what makes you think I can produce such a weapon?” Croaked The old lady. “You are the spell caster, and I saw what you did on the battle field today.” Dagda Mora gave a hoarse eerie cackle that made Baylin jump in his seat. “I’m not a witch, you foolish boy”. Dagda Mora’s face had turned black and ugly with the torrent of rage produced by the inarticulate insult. “You can do it, and we both know it.” Concluded Reeves, unmoved by the charged atmosphere.
Dagda Mora broke into a violent laugh. “Of course I can, but what’s in it for me?”
For a brief moment Dagda Mora and Reeves locked gazes, as if to judge each other’s intentions. Dagda Mora smiled coldly at the young warrior, challenging him with her expectant silence. Baylin knew instantly that Reeves was inviting trouble, and that everyone in this room and beyond would end up paying for the foreboding favor. Reeves stood up determinedly and cleared his throat. Dagda Mora shot him an annoyed but bemused gaze. “What will it be, dagger boy, out with it!” She demanded blackly. “You will receive whatever payment you choose.” “Ha!” Cackled the old woman and broke into a roar of laugh. “So be it, gentlemen. I will claim my payment when I find it suitable.” For some reason, this particular answer, terrified Baylin more than any amount of gold, silver or even blood. A sense of foreboding filled his lungs and made him heave for breath. Reeves sat back in his chair, relaxing quietly in his seat, a barely audible sigh of relief escaping his lips as he coolly thanked the old woman for her cooperation.
Outside the assembly hall darkness had spun it’s black net of invisibility around the small houses and cottages in the village. The air was cool, and washed over Baylin’s hot grim face like a wave of chilled water. The shadowed moonlight barely made its way in between the eaves of the snug houses. Baylin leaned idly against the wall of the long wooden building housing the assembly hall. The meeting had concluded, and Reeves had asked him to wait for him. The tall chieftain was still inside making preparations with the old witch. Baylin knew that they could not expect to postpone the inevitable battle for too long. They were living like prisoners in Kolkaran , while the enemy prepared his battle plan.
Reeves looked quietly at his brother of arms, who stood lost in thought, staring at the play of moonlight and shadow on the darkened earth, and he felt a sense of betrayal, had he promised the spell caster too much? But then again, how could he have done things differently? She was their only chance. Reeves wished he did not have to involve the young warrior in this matter. But he had no choice. Baylin was his best tracker, and without a tracker they could not enter the Forest of Roan Mor.
Reeves was forced to call a second halt, only minutes after their journey through the forest had begun, to allow Dagda Mora another rest. The two men sat quietly down at the side of the trail and listened in dismay to the old woman’s panting. The roll of thunder, still distant, had been announcing its arrival for some time now, and Reeves did not like the slow pace they had to keep for the sake of the spell caster. Soon, the storm would be upon them, and the trail would disappear in mud and darkness. Baylin glanced over at the exhausted witch, her face was bloodshot and wet from perspiration, he could hear her moaning through shallow breaths. He looked at her and felt that this quest would fail and he himself would pay the price for this failure. It angered him, the whole idea of this journey was crazy, but he was loyal to Reeves and would remain so till his last breath left his body, something he suspected would be soon if the old witch didn’t decide to turn herself into a crow or something else that would suit her haggard exterior. But even then, could this old woman really save them from the warlock of Gundaban’s army? He had his doubts.
Reeves’ sudden whisper of warning startled Baylin who instinctively drew his sword, but Reeves shook his head and motioned for them to follow him under the cover of the leafy trees. There all three flattened themselves against the damp earth and waited anxiously for whatever had caught the Chieftain’s attention. A moment later they heard the distinct sound of paws dragging along the trail from the direction in which they were headed, a huge black animal came out of the darkness ahead of them moving in the direction of their hiding place. Reeves had to restrain Baylin from drawing his sword again and charging forward. The animal pacing steadily towards them was no ordinary dog, it was a Black Varg, a northern creature triple the size of a wolf. What it was doing in these parts Reeves could not tell, but whatever the reason, their best chance of survival was hiding and hoping the beast would pass them by.
A stillness settled over the forest, broken only by the expectant breathing of the three huddled together under the tree. Baylin glanced back at the trail they had come from. The path seemed undisturbed save for the deep footprints they had themselves made just a few minutes ago. Dust and fog swirled in the dark light. Nothing seemed to move. Baylin hesitated for a second, then Reeves motioned him to slowly get to his feet. Baylin moved quickly onto the grass followed by Reeves and a reluctant Dagda Mora. Baylin looked for any movement in the dim obscure light. But everything seemed to be shrouded in a grayish light. They were about midway to the trail now, and Baylin let out his breath heavily. Then the darkness in front of them moved and seemed to surge upwards and from out of the shadows a big black monster emerged. Doglike in appearance, the creature charged forward, filling the empty space before them with its enormous body. A shriek of fury escaped its clenched jaws and pierced through the forest. Long clawed paws reached for the Warriors followed by pointed yellow teeth and burning staring eyes glaring at them viciously. Baylin and Reeves reacted instantly, drawing their swords and pushing the old woman behind them. Reeves got the first hit, his sword cutting through the monster’s exposed flesh. The Varg reared back in pain, and Baylin quickly seized the opportunity to stab it again. But to the men’s shock their swords seemed to only scratch the surface of the creature’s flesh. It’s retaliation was quick and merciless, with a roar it charged forward against the men. Reeves managed to dive out of its reach, but Baylin was not so fast, and he screamed as the monster’s sharp teeth dug into his right forearm. Another scream boomed through the forest as the Varg made a second attack burying the claws of his paw into Baylin’s left arm. Baylin fell to his knees. Reeves charged forward, but was prevented by a surprisingly strong arm holding him back. Dagda Mora.
Then, just as Reeves was about to turn and fight off the spell caster, a blinding aura of blue light that caused Reeves to squint and shield his eyes overwhelmed the forest. Reeves was momentarily blinded, but fought hard to regain his vision. He blinked and rubbed his eyes fiercely until he could make out the form of a man standing at the edge of the forest. His hands were raised and blue streaks of light shot out of his extended fingers, striking the black dog with such force it reeled back from Baylin’s unconscious body. The Varg snarled and snapped it’s huge jaws , but before it could compose itself for a counter attack, the hooded figure , partly hidden behind the trees, raised his hands again and a new arrow of light hit the dog a second time. Baylin’s body slumped heavily to the ground as the Varg finally let go of its prey, wheeled about and scurried away from the piercing blue light with a long whimpering cry of dismay. Dagda Mora let go of Reeves’ arm and he charged forward to examine his brother of arms. Baylin had sustained some serious wounds and was bleeding heavily, but he was alive. ” I can help with that, ” said Dagda Mora, surprisingly softly, and lightly touched Reeves’ shoulder, he spun around fiercely, ready to tell her off for keeping him back, but before he could open his mouth the man who had saved them appeared by his side. “This is neither the time nor the place to exchange unpleasantries, warrior. Pick up your friend and come with me. Quickly!” ” Do as he says, boy!” The rough tone of an old wicked witch had returned to Dagda Mora’s voice. “I demand to know who this man is, and why he is ordering me about before I go anywhere,” responded Reeves while heaving the body of Baylin unto his back. “Watch your tongue, you fool, this is the wizard Roan Mor himself, the lord and caretaker of this forest.”
“Roan Mor!” Reeves couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The legend of the wizard of Roan Mor was well known in Kolkaran, as it was anywhere in these lands, but surely it was just that, a legend! “There is no time, young warrior, quickly now follow me!” The wizard took the lead and reluctantly Reeves, carrying Baylin’s body, followed, with Dagda Mor making up the rear. They walked briskly until they came to a huge oak standing tall at the banks of a still blue lake. The wizard tapped his walking stick thrice at the lower trunk of the tree, then, to Reeves’ amazement, a door opened under the vegetation. In a hushed voice the wizard explained to the astonished warrior that this was the secret passage to the underworld of the woods, the labyrinthine tunnels, indistinguishable to anyone who did not know what to look for. And so, the company passed through the door, and found themselves standing on a damp ground of solid earth. Roan Mor motioned them forward along the narrow earthen corridor with patterns of roots snaking alongside the thick brown walls. A few minutes later he halted before an abrupt barrier with the look and texture of bedrock. The wizard gently touched something in the Rock and a hidden door swung open to reveal another passageway. Roan Mor stepped inside and Reeves reluctantly followed. When all three of them were inside the passageway the stone door closed noisily behind them.
Reeves noticed that the air inside the passageway was more comfortable and easier to breathe, and the dampness of the walls and ceiling had diminished. The wizard kept leading them further and further into the passageway until they reached the end of the tunnel. An iron door was fastened into the Rock in front of them. Roan Mor reached into his pocket and fished out a big brass key which he inserted into the door’s lock. The door swung open with a hard metal thud that echoed through the deep silence of the tunnel. The company stepped into a large chamber fashioned like a hall or some kind of parlor. “Welcome, guests, to my humble abode.” Roan Mor reached out his hand and gave a theatrical bow. “This is where you live?” Asked Reeves with an undisguised surprise to his tone. The wizard smiled and nodded his head. ” You may relieve yourself of your burden here, warrior,” said Roan Mor and pointed to a wooden bed in the corner of the room. Reeves realized that the “burden” was Baylin, and he carefully lowered the young warrior’s body unto the readymade bed. Dagda Mora quickly came to his aid and started, with soft gentle hands, to examine Baylin’s wounds while she was muttering something under her breath. ” Come sit, my friend.” Roan Mor motioned for Reeves to sit next to him by a table where two mugs of cold beer had mysteriously appeared out of thin air. ” Now, tell me, what are you doing in my forest? And why was a Varg from Gundaban following you?” ” it wasn’t…” Started Reeves, but Dagda Mora interrupted him. ” You know damn well what we are doing here! Don’t play games, old man! We’ve come for your spell!”
” My spell is it,” the old man chuckled as though this amused him thoroughly, “and what spell might that be, old friend?” Dagda Mora shot him a dark and threatening look. ” Oh, give it up you arrogant fool, there is only one spell that can save us all from the warlock of Gundaban, and there is only one man who knows how to cast it, or should I say, undo it.” ” I see…” Said Roan Mor, the bemused look had gone from his eyes, replaced by a hint of annoyance. ” And why would I….what was it you called it…..undo….?….this spell?” Dagda Mora’s temper flared up and she spat the words at the wizard as though they were a curse….” Because the warlock of Gundaban is about to make mincemeat out of this entire world, and unfortunately, or should I rather say fortunately, the entire world includes you too you useless old man. You can’t hide away in your tunnels forever!” Roan Mor was not very impressed by this speech, he simplyshrugged his shoulders and sighed, ” can’t I? And by the way, what makes you think I’m hiding….and another thing, my dear lady, when did you all of a sudden turn into a hero? I dare say, there is something else in it for you, besides pure altruism, I mean. Tell me young chieftain, what did you promise the old spell caster in return for her help?” Reeves looked from the fuming Dagda Mora to the cool nonchalant wizard next to him, ” anything she wanted,” he replied firmly. The wizard broke out in a loud hearty laugh, ” well then, noble lady, do inform us, what is that you want desperately enough to want to break ice with me?”
“Enough of your games! You’re avoiding the real question, will you undo the spell or will you not?” Dagda Mora gave the wizard a challenging look. Reeves had had enough, he rose from his seat and spoke, with all the authority he could muster. ” Now, will you two please stop mucking about, and tell me what this spell is and how the undoing of it is going to help my men defeat the Gundaban Army?”. Roan Mor looked up at the towering Chieftain, surprise emanated from his squinting eyes and he reached out a hand to motion the warrior to sit back down. “Easy now, boy, that tone will get you nowhere in my house.” Dagda Mora sighed impatiently. ” if you will not tell him, then I will. Long ago this forest was the dwelling place of a clan of powerful Wood Sprites, they ruled these parts without interference, but then as the battles of the black armies broke out, a wizard crossed the boundaries of their territory and cursed them. He stole their life force and trapped it inside a seed. Nobody knows where the seed disappeared to nor the wizard, but not long after, a forest of trees rose up from the ground where the Wood Sprite’s territory had been, and this forest became the forest of Roan Mor.” Dagda Mora kept her eyes fixed at the old wizard, but he betrayed no visible sign of emotions. “So,” began Reeves in astonishment, ” you are that wizard?” Roan Mor looked into Reeves’ eyes and nodded his head. ” yes, yes I am. But what Dagda Mora here has failed to include in her story is why I put the wood sprites under a spell. You see, this particular clan was a warrior clan, dark and mysterious and notorious for their, what shall we call it….inability to die….” ” immortality?” Interjected Reeves. ” No, not immortality, they simply didn’t get hurt or wounded by weapons. So naturally that would make them a very powerful alley. And that is exactly what the warlock was trying to do, to convince them to join his army and eventually his rule. Now, Wood Sprites are fickle creatures, selfish of course, and they like to play for the winning team, and I could simply not risk it. Without any sense of moral there was no telling what they would do. I suspect they would choose to play for the team that offered them the biggest prize, which would of course be the cunning warlock. So I did what I had to do to protect the people of these lands. Your ancestors, young Chieftain.” ” So if that is true,” said Reeves, glancing over at Dagda Mora, still sitting on the bed next to the unconscious Baylin, “how will undoing the spell help us now? Will we not be faced with the exact same dilemma all over again?” ” No,” answered the spell caster and stared straight into Roan Mor’s liquid blue eyes, ” because I know something he doesn’t.”
“Oh, I’ve heard the old tales too, Dagda Mora, but they are just that, old tales.” Roan Mor chuckled and dismissed the old woman with a lazy wave of his sinewy hand. “What tale?” Asked Reeves, a little annoyed now at all the half-dropped hints and secrecy between the two spell casters. “Oh, it’s not a tale, it’s something that happened long ago,” Dagda Mora looked triumphantly into the wizard’s inscrutable eyes, then turned and gazed at the expectant young Chieftain. “As I said,” she continued, “long ago…the wood sprites, the ancestors of this particular wood sprite clan trapped in the Roan Mor trees, were attacked by an army sent by none other than the warlock of Gundaban. The attack was cowardly, it came at night and was aimed at the sleeping youngsters and the females. It was over in an hour. Few survived. The Wood Sprites attempted retaliation of course, but the warlock is cunning, and he keeps himself and his followers protected by walls of black magic, once inside those walls nothing and no one can penetrate their defenses. The Wood Sprites still carry the thirst for revenge as an inheritance passed from one generation to the next. That is why I know that given a chance they would ally with us against a common ancient enemy.” ” Well, yes, that is the tale,” interrupted Roan Mor, “but I have seen no evidence of this to be true. None.” “I have, ” replied Dagda Mora with a firm finality to her old hoarse voice, ” I have seen the attack with my own eyes.” Roan Mor flinched, his eyebrows arched and he studied the old woman’s face with obvious sign of astonishment. “How…..?” Began Reeves, but Dagda Mora dismissed him. ” That will have to remain a mystery to you for now. But believe me the tale is true, and the Wood Sprites would do anything to get their hands on the Warlock of Gundaban .” Roan Mor regained his calm disposition and said with a calm cool voice: “well, that my friends, changes everything. I didn’t know your magic ran that deep, Dagda Mora, but I know a liar when I see one, and you are not lying.” ” I certainly am not!” Spat Dagda Mora offendedly. ” So, will you help us?” Interjected Reeves impatiently, ” will you undo the spell and free the wood sprites?” Roan Mor closed his eyes in contemplation, then took a long sip from the now luke warm beer and nodded his head determinedly, calmness settling over his wrinkled face, ” Yes, young Chieftain, I will do as you ask. It seems we must all lay our trust in the hands of the Lady Dagda Mora if we are to succeed in this dark quest.” Dagda Mora winced, stuck up her nose and gave a sharp satisfying ” humph”.
Reeves and Roan Mor were walking briskly through the damp forest. Dagda Mora had been left behind to tend to the wounded Baylin. Reeves was glad of it, the old woman moved too slowly for his patience. The wizard and the warrior were moving through heavy mist and rain, at times staggering on the uncertain footing of the wet mossy ground. Reeves felt his mind begin to clear and his sense of purpose return as he walked rapidly next to the wizard. The seed had been buried somewhere north of the tunnels, that was the only information Roan Mor had given away, but it was enough to give Reeves hope and a renewed strength in his muscles. Reeves’ eyes searched the darkness about them for any sign of Vargs, but he saw nothing but empty black space. Then abruptly he picked up a sound, the rushing throb of water, perhaps a waterfall or a river. Moments later they stood by the pool of a descending cascade of white foam and blue water gushing unto banks of slippery rock. Roan Mor began moving closer to the thundering waterfall, peering into the hollow gloom behind the steady spray of cold water. Reeves followed the wizard without question, his eyes still searching the whereabouts for Vargs. The mist had begun to thicken and it would not be long before the visibility would be obscured into oblivion. Roan Mor led him closer to the enormous shower pouring into mists of rainbows, then he halted and indicated in gestures, to avoid being muted by the roar of water, a small break in the waterfall. Quickly the warrior pulled his hood unto his head and together the company of two pushed off into the cascade of water.
The water was cold and aggressive and with terrific force it wet the two men to the core. Reeves felt his bone going numb, but pushed on until they were both safely on the dry open space behind the cascade. Almost immediately Reeves felt the chill of the humid gloom cutting through his skin. It was another tunnel. Or perhaps not a tunnel, more like a cave with stale mossy walls and tomblike atmosphere. Roan Mor was moving slowly forward into a corridor leading up to some kind of iron door. Reeves followed him. Forcing down a knot of despair that this hollow room had conjured in him. Roan Mor approached the iron door and fished out a key from his robes. He unlocked the door with some difficulty, but finally the heavy iron gave in and Reeves helped Roan Mor to push the door open. Inside the door a dark room, looking like some kind of old dungeon, came into view. This was a place that would terrify most humans, lifeless and lightless with a clammy chill that cut into the bones. Glancing behind him in desperate search for light, Reeves could see to his horror that the day was dimming and the darkness of night would soon blacken the place entirely. Gritting his teeth he moved forward after the wizard. Then, to his astonishment he could suddenly see a faint light glimmering in the distance. Freezing into a motionless statue he squinted his eyes to get a better look. He could see it clearly now, it was weak, but it managed to break the darkness just enough for Reeves to see his own feet and hands. Roan Mor motioned for him to follow, and slowly paced towards the tiny flame. In carefully timed steps the two moved down the slippery corridor, like blind men seeking a flicker of light. Then, as thunder in a still night, exploded a thudding noise like the sound of a tomb being closed. Reeves looked panic stricken behind him into the empty blackness, he could see nothing, but realized with a rising feeling of terror that it was the iron door closing behind them. They were trapped.
Reeves paused, staring blankly at the wall of blackness that barred their way out. Then he turned and fixed his eyes on the mysterious flickering light ahead, ignoring the desire to run back the way they had come from. He locked the thought in his mind that salvation lay in the light alone. Reeves clutched the handle of his sword tightly as if trying to draw its strength, and followed the wizard further into the graying shadows of the dark tunnel, not once looking back into the dead silent of the shut walls. Minutes, that seemed like hours passed, before the chieftain and the wizard finally stood in the fringes of the lighted mist, cast by a tiny brass lamp fueled by a sweet smelling oil. They paused, studying the mystic lamp that marked the shrine of something that still remained invisible. Reeves waited impatiently for the wizard to proceed. ” There is madness in this, young Chieftain. Mark my words. You better pray the old spell caster is right.” And with those words Roan Mor lifted the lamp as though it was nothing but a cold mug of beer and poured its content into his mouth. Then, everything went black.
Reeves stared at the empty blackness where the wizard had stood. He carefully reached out his hand, and to his relief he could feel the rugged fringed fabric of his companion’s cloak. “Are you okay?” He whispered anxiously to what he gathered was the form of the wizard. There was no reply. Then suddenly he detected a faint, almost inaudible whisper: ” we must go on.” Reeves looked into the darkness, but nothing seemed to move. A few moments passed before Reeves felt something grab hold of him and pull him into the blackened haze.
Reeves could only make out vague shadows around him, as he stumbled after the wizard. There was no sound, only the thud of their boots and scrape of shingles. There was a damp dense mist about, giving Reeves the feeling of being slowly choked to death. Roan Mor moved faster as the tunnel deepened, giving Reeves the illusion of walking downhill. They walked for must have been hours in this blackened world of half-life, blurring their senses and confusing their understanding of time and space. Then at last the deep gloom began to draw back into a grayish haze and the contours of a rough and curt landscape rose out of the haze. To Reeves’ amazement he discovered that they were no longer inside the tunnel, but outside, breathing natural air again. Then abruptly the gray haze faded and the darkness was behind them. It happened so quickly Reeves was completely caught off guard. He stood in shocked silence as he discovered that the land surrounding them was the Forest of Roan Mor! The earth stretched away to the south, broken by wisps of grassland, and far ahead, shrouded in dusty sunshine, towered an oak above a blue familiar lake. ” How….?” Began Reeves in utter astonishment, but Roan Mor just tiredly dismissed him with a wave of his old pale hand. ” There is too much in this world you know nothing about, my young friend.” And with that he walked, rather briskly for such an old chap, towards the invisible entrance of his home.
Reeves, and the now fully recovered Baylin, stood a good distance away from the two spell casters in the dark wetlands of the forest of Roan Mor. Dagda Mora stared fixedly at the croaked over shape of the wizard, muttering inaudibly to herself. Amid the starkness of the scene Reeves could see the wizard for what he really was, an old weather beaten man weighed down by too many years of trials and tribulations. But there was a soft glow to his features, coloring the view of his being like a significant spark of a moment of exceptional extraordinarity. Then the vision exploded, and both Baylin and Reeves jumped and reached for their swords, but this was not something beatable by brute force, at least not that of a man and his iron sword. Suddenly a force, like an electric current seemed to strike at the wizard, hurling him several feet from where he had stood. Reeves forced himself to keep watching, unable to move, and before him was a light so intense he had to shield his eyes, it seemed to emanate from the wizard’s entire body, surging upwards from his open mouth. Beyond it, he could see Dagda Mora, her gaze fixed at the light pulsating feverishly. There was a sense of eagerness to its movement, as it strained to be released from the body holding it imprisoned. For a moment, the two warriors, the young Baylin and the Chieftain, struggled to comprehend the shock of the revelation happening before them, and they made no effort to advance or come to the wizard’s aid. Then their concentration shifted to the trees, completely immersed in the terrific light, their tall shape cleared with frightening sharpness, and abruptly their form seem to change, revealing contours of faces, arms, eyes. The flow of light went on endlessly. Reeves and Baylin recoiled in the mystery of what they were seeing, they simply could not accept the truth of the magic happening before their very eyes! Yet, they had to, their senses persuading them with the clarity of the vision in front of them. They could not sensibly deny this reality. The spell was being lifted, the curse broken. The trees had returned to their original form. They were no longer trees, but living breathing Wood Sprites standing as tall as their previous wooden form, glaring at the dwarfed wizard who had held them prisoner for so long.
Then a shadow descended upon the forest. The bright light emanating from Roan Mor dimmed sharply. Standing erect at the clearing, tall against the misty horizon, was a massive form shrouded in dust and haze. Instinctively, Reeves knew that this was the Chieftain of the Wood Sprites. His face was dark and deep set, and a green beard grew sluggishly underneath a mouth twisted in contempt. His eyes were fixed on the little wizard lying helplessly on the ground, completely fatigued by the undoing of his own spell. Reeves cried a warning to the old spell caster, but he was too late, the Wood Sprite Chief had already closed his claw-like hand around Roan Mor’s limp body and was, with tremendous ease, hoisting him into the air. Both Reeves and Baylin drew their swords and charged against the Wood Sprite, but Dagda Mora, who everyone seemed to have forgotten, stopped them by lifting her hand and freezing them into motionless statues. Helplessly they had to watch the scene unfold, paralyzed by the old woman’s powerful spell. The Wood Sprite held a iron-like grip around the wizard’s body, slowly squeezing the life force out of him, like the wizard had once done with him and his people. He wanted it to hurt, he wanted his capturer to feel terror, panic, fear, but the wizard showed no sign of any of these emotions, he just remained calm and dispassionate. The struggle was almost over for the old man when a shrill voice cried out. A voice that echoed authority and command. It was the voice of Dagda Mora.
The words were foreign to the two warriors, but the Wood Sprites seemed to understand, their chieftain hesitated, and his grip around the wizard’s body loosened slightly. The features of the Wood Sprite Chief twisted in recognition of the words, and his eyes widened in surprise. Then abruptly the unconscious form of the wizard was dropped to the ground, whether in anger or surrender was hard to tell. Reeves stared down at the crumpled form, suddenly he felt the spell holding him back lifting, and he darted to the wizard’s side, hurriedly checking his pulse for any sign of life. Now Baylin was there too, cradling Roan Mor’s other thin hand in his. “Is he alive?” It was Dagda Mora, still standing at the same spot, just a couple of feet away from the gathering of Wood Sprites. “Yes, but barely,” replied Reeves weakly. Dagda Mora sighed in relief.
As the mist thinned, Baylin could see that the forest was no longer a forest, but an open wasteland populated by hundreds of Wood Sprites. Before him Dagda Mora was kneeling over the limp body of the wizard muttering incantations. “He’ll be alright,” said Reeves reassuringly, “the spell caster knows what she’s doing.” ” What about the Wood Sprites?” Asked Baylin, ” What will happen to them?”. ” They will fight with us. Dagda Mora was right, they hate the warlock of Gundaban, and will do anything to have their revenge over him.” Baylin nodded. ” And what about Roan Mor?” ” He is too weak to fight in any battle, besides, Dagda Mora says battles are not his thing. He prefers to stay out of it.” Baylin snorted, somehow he found that hard to believe. ” And Dagda Mora?” “Will have her payment now…” Dagda Mora had come up beside the two warriors, standing as tall as she could against the black backdrop of a brightly starry sky. She had finally come to claim her share. Her promise fulfilled, there was nothing else to do but to give in to her demands. Whatever they were.
” Fifty years ago your father Treyan, Chieftain of Kolkaran, swore an oath, he would protect his land and people, no matter what. The promise was a black one, tied together with unbreakable magic, magic he extracted from Briannen Jain, a very powerful wizard, powerful and corrupted. If Treyan ever would break his promise and retreat from a battle, even if it was to protect his people, he would die. Treyan naturally became obsessed with winning, but he was no more than a mortal man. Again he went to Briannen to bargain another spell out of him. Briannen refused. But he had a weakness: gold. Treyan knew this and bribed the wizard with all the gold in his kingdom. So Briannen gave him a spell. A cunning one. When I met Treyan he was wandering the forest hunting game. He was alone. I didn’t know who he was, and I agreed to help him catch his dinner. I used a spell to lure the game closer, and Treyan was grateful for the help. But it wasn’t the game he was interested in. It was me. I had revealed my magic to him, and Treyan needed that magic to make himself invincible, so he bound me and my magical services to him and to his ancestors for as long as I would be alive. I helped him win many battles, as I have helped you win your battles, Reeves. But time has come for that bond to be broken, and for you and your people to fight your own battles. That is my price. That is what you will give me.” Baylin looked at Reeves, the shock was apparent in his eyes, ” brother, you can’t, we need her, without her magic we will never defeat the warlock!” Reeves stared at Dagda Mora, his eyes were solemn and unblinking. ” It is a fair price, Spell Caster. And I apologize on behalf of my late father, he was wrong to trap you, and you are right. It is time for Kolkaran to fight her own battles. I release you Dagda Mora. You are free.” The old woman’s haggard face broke into a satisfied grin, and she bowed her head in greeting and left, her shadow lingering on the barren land as a new sun rose from the white peaks in the distance.
Reeves and Baylin helped Roan Mor back into his house, where they left him with the company he mostly preferred, his own. ” Now what?” Asked Baylin as they stood side by side under the tall oak they now knew so well. ” We return to Kolkaran and prepare for battle. The Wood Sprites are already marching on Gundaban, we will not let them go to battle alone.” Reeves put his arm around the younger man’s shoulder, and together they started the long walk back to Kolkaran.
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