Liam Mandrake, as he approached the Enchanted Forest, wasn't worried about being followed. His relatives considered him completely useless. He had no magic to speak of and he was absolutely hopeless with weapons. Six-year-olds just starting their weapons training could easily defeat him. He would not be missed. The only thing resembling a weapon was his six-inch belt knife.
He dismounted at the edge of the forest. After taking the waterskin and the small bag of food and his bedroll from his pony, he removed the bridle, so it couldn't step on the reins. Turning it toward the castle, gave it a slap on the rump to get it moving. He stood motionless for a few minutes watching it head back to Mandrake Castle. He was already a bit homesick, but he didn't intend to return. The poisonous atmosphere that existed in the castle, had finally driven him away.
Nine years old, he was of average size for his age, his large eyes were a violet color. He had a small upturned nose with a few freckles on the bridge and his lips were pale. Aside from his eyes and his hair, which was of two colors, reddish-brown roots and the ends of the strands were blond, he was pretty, ordinary looking. That hair however would tell everyone exactly who he was and he had chosen this route in hopes of finding the Magician.
He was definitely lost; the tiny track that he had been following had disappeared completely. It shouldn't have. He had stopped the moment the track ended and turned all around looking for the way back. But it was gone, or almost gone. The part right under his feet and for a yard in back of him was still there, but the rest was just gone. He had retraced the short distance, still visible, hoping it would reappear but it hadn't.
He heard a high squeaky voice speak, “Be you lost, stranger?” He whirled about frantically, trying to locate the source of the voice, but he saw nothing but a small reddish squirrel sitting on a branch and looking at him. Unable to locate where the voice might be coming from and aware of the reputation of the Enchanted Forest, he finally fixed his gaze on the squirrel.
The squirrel said scornfully, “Been in front of you all the time. Took you long enough to find me. Hiding in plain sight, I guess I was. I said be you lost stranger?”
Though he had seen many strange sights in his short lifetime, he had never talked to a squirrel before. “Yes, I was following a trail and it just disappeared.” Liam said.
The sqirrel nodded, saying, “Aye, happens a lot around here. I hate to be impolite to a perfect stranger, but if you strayed off the main paths, you're not perfect, so I can tell you that was dumb. The main paths was put there for a good reason and they're the only ones that stays in place.” He began grooming himself.
Liam said, “I didn't come by the main paths, I just entered the forest, by a animal track.”
The squirrel stopped grooming himself and just looked at the boy in astonishment, then shook his head, “I changed me mind, you ain't dumb, yer just plain stupid. I gots no time for idiots, I's gonna leave you here now and go sociate with better class of peoples.” dropping to all fours, he headed for the trunk of the tree.
Liam, accustomed to insults as he was, was still crushed by such comments coming from a squirrel. He said desperately, “Wait! Can you tell me how to find my way?”
The squirrel stopped, “What's you gots to trade?” he asked.
Liam, thinking over what he was carrying, admitted, “Not much. Just some bread and meat and water.”
The squirrel said, “Hmmm, me's had bread before, tastes fine. I'll take youse to the nearest path, but that's as far as I goes. Ain't walking it, youse'll have to carry mes.”
Sighing with relief, Liam said, “That'll be fine. I can't expect any more than that from you.”
“Okays, heres me comes.” the squirrel said and launched himself from the branch to Liam's shoulders.
In spite of his insulting ways, Liam took to Nut, as he called himself, right away. Unlike the inhabitants of the castle, it was evident he didn't mean most of the insults he threw around so liberally. He was just as likely to be insulting himself as he was Liam or some of the other members of the forest.
They were almost across a large glade when a fox burst out of the underbrush just ahead of him. Liam set himself to defend Nut from the predator, drawing his small belt knife and crouching. As it leapt into the air, it disappeared.
Nut began laughing and fell off Liam's shoulder landing on the ground still laughing. “Don't youse knows was just lusion.”
Feeling foolish, Liam sheathed his belt knife, “How did you know?”
“No shadows underfoots.” said Nut.
Suddenly in their minds, they heard, *But don't you think it was very brave of him, squirrel. While large enough to hurt him, it wouldn't have been serious. He was defending you, not himself.*
“Yez,” Nut admitted, “Never thoughts of that. Thanks youse, boy.”
“My name is Liam,” he said quietly and then addressing the voice, “You are the Magician? May I come to see you?”
*You know I have no fond feelings of your family?* the voice asked.
Liam nodded, saying, “Yes, I know. I wanted to see you to get your help but I also wanted to see you. I know they have done things that have harmed what you are bound to protect and I wish to offer my apologies. MY APOLOGIES!” he emphasized. “My family will never admit that they have anything to apologize for.”
The Magician said, *All right child, you may come to me. Do you wish to come as well, Nut?*
“To sees the Magician. Yez. Want!” said Nut.
*All right, both of you may come.*
Darkness covered the two for a few seconds and when it lifted, they were in another glade. This one was much smaller and directly in front of them was a large tree, about six feet in diameter.
The Magician told him, *Knock on the door.* and Liam could dimly make out what appeared to be a door in the tree trunk. He knocked timidly.
The Magician said wth a sigh, *Firmly, child. Firmly. Storm doesn't answer to timidity.*
Liam knocked much more loudly and the door began to slowly open inward. He could see a cheerful light inside and he entered with Nut on his shoulder. As the door closed behind them, Liam looked around in wonder. He appeared to be in a normal cottage, with a couple of doors leading into other rooms.
A man, who Liam assumed was the Magician, was sitting at a table with plates for three, though it only had two chairs. The place without a chair had a plate of shelled nuts. He was elderly, with long shiny clean hair and beard, but it was gray in color not the pure white, that the boy had assumed he would have. He was dressed in normal clothing, shirt, trews and boots all of a dark brown color.
He waved at the chair, saying, “Sit and eat, boy. Obviously, the chair is for you. While small you aren't small enough to sit on the table.” the man grinned cheerfully. After years of gloomy and hate filled faces, Liam couldn't help but grin back.
Liam sat down in the empty chair. A glass of milk had already been poured and in the middle of the table was a loaf of bread and all sorts of fruits and berries. The boy wasn’t surprised since he knew the Magician was a vegetarian. But that was fine with Liam. After the Magician began the meal, he followed his host's lead, cutting a nice thick slice of bread and piling some of the fruits on his plate.
The man finished long before Liam and the boy could feel his eyes on him. He ignored the gaze, until he was finished. He knew that once he looked into those eyes, he wouldn't be able to eat any more. Finally he pushed the plate away and finished the glass of milk. Finding no cloth, he wiped the milk moustache off of his mouth with his sleeve.
Then he looked into the Magician's eyes. He fidgeted a little under that intense gaze, before the man said, “You are not much like the rest of your family, child. I accept the apology you offered on your behalf and I will aid you if I can. How can I help you?”
With relief Liam said, “I need help in order to run away. My hair,” and he wrapped a strand around his finger. “It's so distinctive, that I need a way to hide it, I can't just shave it off and try to pass myself off as a peasant child, I don't have the ability needed to survive in that type of environment. I can't just dye it, it resists all natural dyes, only magic can hide the color.
“Actually, I don't know if I can survive in any environment successfully. I'm pretty useless at most things. I only have a little magic and even boys and girls just starting their weapons training can beat me.
“Why didn't you stay home, child, at least you would have survived.” the Magician said.
Liam fidgeted before looking the Magician in the eye. He said forlornly, “Maybe. Only maybe. They've been planning something big for the last six months and in the last couple of months whenever they talk about blood sacrifice, they have been looking at me very intently. I think that they've decided on a human sacrifice and I think they've decided on me. To sacrifice a son and grandson would give them much more power than any other type of blood sacrifice.”
While the Magician was saddened by Liam's suggestion, he was not shocked. He was aware that the Mandrake's had performed human sacrifice in the past.
He sighed telling him, “All right child, I will help you. I can spell a magic brush so that it will cover the blond portions of your hair, though you will have to make sure to use the brush every day and I can offer you employment. One of my former apprentices, who has long since grown into a magician in his own right, is owed several favors by the Magic School in Dorn, the capital. The ability to read, write and figure isn't all that common. Many novices have to learn that skill before they can begin on magic. They are always glad to hire those who can teach those subjects so that they don't have to. They are under the protection of the King, so you should be safe there.”
When the King was mentioned, Liam's hackles rose and he showed hate briefly on his face before he forced the feeling down. The Magician commented, “So you share your families hatred for the King?”
Liam bent his head in shame, telling him, “I'm sorry, I can't help it, it's something that I've been taught all my life and when I'm caught off guard, it rises automatically. I'm trying to fight it, but it's hard.”
Liam had been working for the Magic School for just over a year. He'd made few friends and no enemies. Those he taught were always eager to get his lessons over with so they could go on to Magic lessons, so there was no problem with discipline. In the last few months, he had also begun to help the Master who taught the history of Magic. He could draw quite well and since much of what that particular Master taught required copying from magic books, diagrams and pictures, he was quite pleased to be able to help.
It was early afternoon and Liam was in the school library, finishing up the assignment for the Master. Tomorrow's lesson was to be on mythical creatures and the teacher had told him to pick out half a dozen different ones from the book, copy the illustrations and information of each onto a card. Liam had just finished doing that and all of his own teaching assignments for the day were over. He could go home, which unlike most of the students, was a boarding house where he had his own tiny attic room. Once there he had to copy each of the cards ten times. Luckily, a copy spell was one magic spell he could do perfectly. It would only take about half an hour.
Leaving the library, he debated about taking the long way around, rather than going by the Cathedral as he normally did. He knew the King would be there today, using his magic to put the final touches on the construction project which had just ended. He still had trouble keeping his hatred under control, even now, when he first heard talk about the King, or on the very rare occasions when he saw him, either alone or with members of his family.
Once the first gut reaction was over, he could listen to talk of the King without too much emotion. He heard that the King was a good one, loved by most of his subjects and was a good husband and parent. He was the father of a ten year old boy and six year old fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. He didn't have the engrained reaction to the King's family as he had to him and he had enjoyed seeing his wife and children, especially the twins.
to go the short way, beside the Cathedral, there would probably be plenty
of people there and he might not even see the King for the crowd. He
ended up in the second row and was too small to see anything without
trying to push his way though. But he saw people pointing into the air.
He could see what they were pointing too and it was a griffin. He had
seen them several times. But griffins were a dark green in color and
this one was mainly flame red in color, with only a bit of green on
the plumage. Then he stiffened and pulled the cards he had prepared
just a little while ago and quickly riffled through them. He found the
one he was looking for and turned it to look at the information he had
A Magic-eater looks much like an ordinary griffin in general conformation and looks. However, their plumage is mainly red. They were supposed to be from another world and they literally eat magic. They are summoned and sent against the enemy that is using the most powerful magic in the area.
They drain all magic from the victim including the life force energy that keeps the Magician alive. They are immune to most magic and small weapons.
It requires a very heavy arbalest, preferably of the siege type to kill them.
The last reported sighting was more than a thousand years ago.'
Liam had looked and found out the book had been written sixty-four years before.
Liam could do nothing and the man he hated would die. But Liam knew the King didn't deserve to die and he suspected that this is what his family had been planning. His disappearance must have delayed the plan for a while.
Liam just couldn't allow the Magic-eater to attack the King, not after seeing the man's family. His magic was trivial but there was one thing he could do. He burst through the people in front of him onto the street in front of them, yelling, “NNNOOO!!!” he pointed his hand at the Magic-eater and he tapped into his life-force energy with his magic and sent a blast of magical energy toward the Magic-eater.
For the fraction of a second that it took for his life force energy to drain from his body, Liam was the brightest user of magic visible, easily eclipsing the King's magic. It worked, the flare of magic drew the Magic-eater's attention from the King and broke the compulsion placed on her.
His energy expended, Liam crumpled to the ground as the Magic-eater plummeted toward him. Close to death, no longer breathing, Liam's mind was for a brief period wide open to hers.
She turned the little boy on his back with one taloned paw and then rested it on his chest. She directed her attention at the King, telling him, *Help me, man of magic. He has breached the walls of his life force energy. They are irreparable, but such a thing occasionally happens to our nestlings. We have developed means of providing a substitute, but I need additional energy.*
It being almost impossible to lie when talking mind to mind, he immediately sent a line of energy to her and she wove it and her own into a replacement for Liam's life force energy. As soon as she began, she realized she would have to use the alternative method her people had developed.
She had all the energy she needed now and she released the energy line she had been receiving from the King and completed the working of her spell.
Liam was breathing again, but it would still take a while before he awoke. The King, unafraid, walked up the griffin. “What was that all about?”
She reached out and delicately picked up one of the cards that Liam had dropped. It was that of the Magic-eater. She offered it to the King, who read it and whistled under his breath and handed it to an advisor. “I guess I owe him my life.” he said, simply.
She nodded, saying, *That and perhaps much more. Meet your cousin, Liam Mandrake. For a brief time when he was dying, his mind was wide open to me. He's been brought up all his life to hate you. He's been trying to fight through that hatred and perhaps in time he will succeed. But for the present he offered his life, not for who you are, but for what you are and equally for your family.*
“None of your people have been summoned for over a thousand years. Why would it happen now?” Liam asked.
She said with a fierce grin, *Oh, we have been summoned, little one, but the summoners have not had the power to hold us and ended up quite dead. But this time there were two major magicians and several of lesser ability. They were too strong for me to fight.*
He thought it over for a few minutes then went to a second topic. Liam said to the griffin, Fronn. “Let me get this straight. You have to stay here, because you mixed your magic with mine to create a substitute for my life force energy and you have to stay on my world to keep the mix intact.”
She nodded, telling him, *Yes, little one. The other method would have been better but I realized that it wouldn't work. But stop considering it a hardship. You will live somewhere around a hundred years. I still have close to a thousand years left to my lifespan. I have offspring but they are all well grown and I am past the age to have more. I will simply spend what to me, is a brief time on a pleasant world with a companion who I admire for what he did. Perhaps I can help you get over your hatred for the King.*