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The fair was bursting at the seams. Kael Estrish was wondering the Consice annual fair. The young mercenary and mediocre majican was looking for better weapons, work, and possibly some fun. He was browsing through the stalls, glancing here at an enchanted ring or there at some beautiful pottery, enjoying the engrossed expressions on the stall-keepers’ faces. There, a glint of shiny metal caught his deep blue eye. Kael stopped. Walking over, he sifted through the mass array of gleaming swords and bejeweled daggers. He saw it. The gleaming metal was the hilt of a rather rusty sword.
“AYE! Tha’s not fer sale!” An old man, gaunt, graying hair flying in the slight wind, ran up to the stall.
“If it’s not for sale, then why is it displayed for all to see?” Kael replied, replacing the sword on the table. It had warmed to his touch, a sure sign the sword was infused with Fire majic.
“Don’t go sticken’ yer neck out like some lonesome chicken, boy! Now git! I’m closed!” He turned around.
“Even for a customer?”
“Yer don’t got ‘nuff fer any a my wares,” he retorted thoughtfully, fussing with the amulet around his neck.
“Questions, questions! I’m too old to answer yer never-enden’ questions! GIT!” All calm and care was gone from his voice.
“Fine, Earth-worker.” The only way the keeper would know how much money Kael had would be if he was an Earth majic-wieldier.
“Shush, boy!” He looked around, a worried expression on his face.
“I come seeking work,” Kael leaned on the rickety table, “Should anyone need a mercenary or majican, I shall be in the southern-most food pavilion at dusk.”
“Do I git the privilege t’ know the name a said mercenary?”
“Kael. Here,” He tossed a sliver coin towards the old man, who caught it like a pro.
Dusk was approaching; Kael was sitting at a table in the farthest side of the pavilion, his back to the corner. He glanced up, summoning the bartender. “A mug of Ale, kind bar-keep.” The twittering old man returned just as a young woman walked through the open flap. She was tall, blonde, obviously Eythian, and the most beautiful creature Kael had ever seen. She peered around, slightly startled and scared looking, and then headed towards Kael. “Kael the Mercenary?” She asked timidly.
“That would be I. Kael Estrish, at your service milady,” He stood and went into a deep bow, blonde curls falling in his face, “Meaning no disrespect, milady, but just who are you?”
“Lady Lyf of the West Isles,” she curtsied, “I seek a bodyguard. I wish to travel north to Claro.”
“May I ask why?” Kael gestured invitingly to the empty chair across from him.
“Thank you,” Lyf sighed into it, “My uncle is getting married, and I just need to get away for a while.”
“Do you have any friends or family in Claro?”
“How long do you wish to stay with your grandmother?”
“About a month or two,” she looked on the verge of tears, “I wish they would just leave me alone.” She started sobbing loudly. Kael didn’t know what to do; he had never seen anyone cry over such a little problem before. “I’m sure they…”
“Oh b***er. (sniff) I’m not here.” She stood up, dabbing eyes dry, and, head down, walked away, right into the large, armored man who had just walked in.
“There you are! You’ve got your uncle worried sick! You know better than to run off. What would your mother say?”
“She’d understand, Kyle! I needed to get away! I can’t stand them!”
The man Kyle squinted at Lyf, “Still, you really should tell someone, at least me, where you’re going.”
“Like you’d let me go. Get away from me! Go tell poor old uncle I’ll come back when I’m bloody ready. Besides,” she sat back down stubbornly, “I haven’t yet finished my drink.” The mug of ale sat, untouched, in the middle of the table. Kyle couldn’t tell whose drink it really was.
“Fine. Be sure she gets home safe, Mr.…”
“Call me Kael. Don’t worry; she’ll be safe with me.” Kael moved to shake his hand.
“See that she is,” He sneered disapprovingly. And Kyle left.
“Sorry about that. Kyle’s a pompous waste of money. Father hired him when uncle invited me to the fair, but he just sits and admires uncle.”
“Why not just go with Kyle to Claro?”
“Oh, he’d never go. He’s too worried about pleasing his coin purse and the person filling it.”
“That’s understandable. I would be too.”
“Are all men alike?” The two sat talking about such interests as weaponry, jousting, and good drink. Then, Lyf deemed it time to go home. Kael placed some coins on the table, and they left.
They walked awhile; the moon was bright and luminous. Then they reached an inn, The Yellow Crescent. Kael opened the door for Lyf, who giggled and curtsied before walking in. “Auntie Lyf! Auntie Lyf!” A young, red-haired boy with green-flecked eyes ran up and hugged her.
“Hey, Owen. How’s my favorite nephew?” she rustled his hair.
“I beat the drums! Boom boom boom boom!” Owen held up two wooden spoons.
“Owen! Bedtime!” A sing-song voice came from upstairs.
“Coming Mommy! Bye Auntie Lyf.” He scampered up the stairs, waving behind him.
“He’s my sister Caldera’s son,” Lyf said, seeing the slightly puzzled look on Kael’s face.
“Does everyone in your family have green eyes?” He had just noticed her eyes were the most brilliant shade of green. She laughed. “No. Only my sister and her children…”
“Oh, My Lyfling! Where have you been?” A plump, slightly bedraggled looking woman ran up and tried to hug Lyf, but she cleverly sidestepped her. “Hello, Beatrice,” Lyf said coldly, casting a pleading, hopeless glance at Kael.
“I told you, call me Aunt B,” she said, a little down-trodden. Then she noticed Kael standing just inside the door. “And who is this?” She hinted suggestively.
“Leaving!” Lyf pushed Kael towards the still-open door. Then she whispered, “Meet me by the sword-sellers’ stand at sunrise. Be ready to ride.” And Kael left.
Kael walked to the old sword-sellers’ stand, the one with the rusty not-for-sale sword, a little before sunrise. “So, I see yer back. Yer won’t still be wan’nen that sword now, woo’ja?”
“I am merely waiting for a friend. I have no wish to purchase any of your wares,” Kael replied in his most scaldingly polite voice.
“I didn’ say anyting ‘bout buyen, now did I? I was tink’n of given it away. Tha’ bloody sword’s a nuisance. Here, take it.” The old man handed the firesword to Kael.
“I can’t accept this, here’s…”
“NO! I won’t be acctptin’ pay fer it! Keep yer money, boy!” Ignoring him, Kael placed a small handful of coins on the table, not nearly enough for any sword, but payment just the same. Then he heard galloping footsteps. Lyf, dressed in leggings, a tunic, and a green traveling cloak, rather plain and unflattering, rode up, leading a second horse.
“Good mornen’ Miss.” He went into as low a bow as possible, joints creaking, bald spot shining in the morning sun.
“Ready to go, Kael?”
“One second,” He turned to Tyson, “Here, I don’t need two.” He handed the shopkeeper his own battered and battle-worn sword. “Let’s go,” he said before Kael could change his mind. He practically owed his life to that sword.
They rode long and hard. Few people were out that early and even then they didn’t look up at Kael and Lyf as they rode past. They ate lunch while riding; Lyf wanted as much distance between her and her uncle as possible. They talked about politics and war, weapons and the past. Dusk was approaching, the sky slightly covered in clouds. Kael deemed it time to make camp. “Would you be so kind as to find firewood, milady?” he asked in his mock-formal voice he used with Lyf. She giggled, “Certainly, good sir knight. I’ll look over this way.” As Lyf walked away, Kael couldn’t stop thinking about her; the way she walked, the way her blonde hair swayed when she rode, the way she could carry an intelligent conversation about life issues. Not many young women cared much for brains. Kael was just clearing a spot for the fire, when he heard a blood-curdling scream. Dropping everything, he ran towards his sword, mentally kicking himself for taking it off.
A flash of lighting later, it started to rain, as if the gods themselves were watching Kael’s struggle with the Mother Earth. “Lyf!” he yelled. He had to find her. Dark thunderheads had moved in front of the dying sun, making the forest as black as midnight. Kael tripped over a root, and, extending his arms to break his fall, broke his wrist instead. Twisting his good hand complicatedly, Kael shouted, “Firaus Endus!” Everlasting flames danced around Kael’s head, extending his vision a few crucial feet in every direction. He heard a sound, a sinister slithering over the mulch. Turning towards it, Kael saw a trail of ash and soot, as wide as his thigh. “Lyf?” He looked up and down the trail, deciding which way to go. A feeble whimper greeted his left ear, “Kael…” He ran towards it. A few yards away, a crumpled body hailed him. “Lyf!” She lifted her head, golden hair soiled with bits of leaf and twig. “Oh, Kael,” She said, smiling. Then she fainted. As Kael approached to take her back to camp, he heard it, the slimy slithering sound. Drawing his sword, the firesword, Kael turned to face the threat. A firesnake, the biggest Kael had ever seen, reared its giant head, preparing to strike.
Now, Kael knew if he hit the snake with his sword, it wouldn’t hurt the snake, much. He placed the sword next to Lyf, hoping she would have enough sense to take it and stay out of his way. “Aquaus Flamus!” he yelled as he pointed at the snake. Jets of water spewed from his outstretched fingers towards the waiting firesnake. It shrieked and withered in pain, but refused to die. It lunged at Kael and made for his neck. Grabbing the snakes head in his hands, Kael whispered, “Die, fiend from hell. Deathus.” The snake’s eyes widened as he realized it was the end. As his dying act, the snake lunged for Kael’s arm, missed, and impaled its venomous fangs deep into Kael’s side, and died. Kael screamed in pain, and pulled the fangs out. He could feel the venom slowly working its way through his body. He released his everlasting fire, knowing the fire majic would only speed the venoms take on his life. Turning around, he saw the firesword was glowing in the near-darkness, slowly pulsing blue when the rain fell on it. Carefully he limped to Lyf’s side, sure to avoid contact with the sword. Kneeling, he checked her pulse, made sure she was alive. Yes, a faint heartbeat, but there all the same. He wrapped his hand in sodden earth, to protect himself from the sword, and picked both it and Lyf up and carried her to the campsite.
When he arrived at the waterlogged campsite, the strange, toothy man from the fair stood directly across from him. “Who are you?” Kael asked, startled. He set Lyf down carefully.
“You shud git sumon t’ look a’ that arma yours,” the man stated, fingering the glowing amulet still hung around his thin neck.
“It’s fine,” Kael replied, trying to wake Lyf up. He couldn’t quite tell in the darkness, but it looked like her skin was pale and she was shivering. She needed someplace warm and dry. Standing quickly, he found the man standing right behind him.
“Take this,” he lifted the amulet from his neck. “Put it on her. It will heal her.”
“How do I know I can trust you?” Kael stepped towards the pitiful fire. The man stepped into his path.
“It WILL help her.” His eyes showed a hidden wisdom beyond his ample years, a shining force that Kael could not ignore. Cautiously, he took the necklace and placed it around Lyf’s graceful neck. Almost immediately, she rolled over and started snoring. Confused, Kael sat next to her, feeling for a pulse. Strong, but faint.
“I haven’t been entirely truthful to you, sir.” The man sat down across from Kael, and proceeded to explain that he had done a terrible thing many many years ago, and he had been banished from his realm on high, until he had atoned for his wrongdoing. All through his speech, Kael nodded thoughtfully and Lyf slept. “She should wake by dawn on her own. If she doesn’t, take the amulet off her.” Nodding, Kael turned to check on Lyf. “Now I must leave. Thank you.” Before Kael could turn to thank him, the man was gone.
The rest of the journey was spectacularly uneventful, and Kael stayed with Lyf and her grandmother for a few days before leaving. He never discussed what the man had said to anybody, but always wondered what he had done to be banished.