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Crystal Sorceress CH 2

by  Patsy

Posted: Friday, January 27, 2006
Word Count: 6931
Summary: We get to meet the King.

Chapter 2
King Galen climbed the steps of the tower with difficulty. The journey to the blank wall at the top of the stairs was tedious, but well worth the effort.
Fumbling for a moment with a chain about his neck, he drew forth a golden key and inserted it into a niche high up in the stone. A pulsing blue glow spread outward from the key and ran down the wall like liquid light, forming a doorway within its borders.
Galen removed his key and stepped through the wall into the hidden room beyond.
The creature sitting upon its cushion regarded him with luminous blue eyes from its corner of the windowless, door-less tower. The slight figure had delicate features, and the tips of sharply pointed ears peeked out from under a shock of golden brown hair. She wore garments of rich blue, and a red cloak covered her narrow shoulders.
She was a mystic elf – foreteller of the future, and gifted with the ability to make magical objects of great power. Mystic elves were like no other in the land of Corinth. They were nomadic, solitary creatures that did not live in tribes like their brethren. Neither creatures of darkness, nor light, they fell somewhere in the gray area between.
She smiled at him, superimposing the features of an imp on that childlike face.
Galen didn’t like it when she smiled. He checked to make sure she was still chained firmly to the wall before he left the safety of his gateway.
“You appear well pleased for a slave,” he commented, stopping where he knew her chains would not allow her to reach him. Her appearance may have been frail and childlike, but given the chance, she was more than capable of killing him.
Her expression didn’t change at his jibe and Galen felt himself tense – when she smiled like that, it generally meant bad things for him.
“I am well pleased,” she replied in that soft, haunting voice. “Soon my servitude will be at an end.”
Galen managed a smirk. “I fear you’ve grown delusional at last, my dear. I’m the only one who knows you’re up here, and I’ve no intention of setting you free – ever.”
Her impish grin only widened. “Unlike you, the cards never lie.”
“Then cast your cards, Mirelle,” he challenged, feeling his palms go sweaty despite his bravado. “Show me this future.”
She reached within the folds of her cloak and withdrew a deck of cards formed of impossibly slender golden metal – their backs decorated with mysterious, looping symbols.
“I will cast my cards, pompous king,” she told him, “but you won’t like what you see.”
One at a time, five cards left Mirelle’s hand and dealt themselves out face up. Their faces were black, but held depth – as if each one was a window into a darkened room.
With a flourish, she held her hand above the first card and the window within came to life, swirling with a deep, pearly fog. “Behold, the Magician.” As Mirelle spoke, the fog resolved into the face of an unremarkable man with brown hair, a fringe beard of the same color, and eyes the color of river mud – about his head, there fluttered a compliment of tiny blue, firefly-like sparks.
Squinting, Galen leaned as close as he dared. “I certainly wouldn’t refer to that fool Frederick as a magician – a buffoon, perhaps. In any case, he’s not likely to be of much help to you, my dear.”
“Fate, has not yet visited the Magician – in her loving hands even a buffoon may become a champion.” Still smiling, she waved her hand over the next card.
“Behold the High Priestess.” Galen recoiled as the disturbing image came clear. The woman’s face upon the card was part goddess, part hideous beast. Cut between the eyes, one half of her face was fair, with blonde hair, full lips and a bright blue eye, but the other side was a gray skinned, pointy-toothed demon with ropy, white hair and a soulless black eye. In the flickering light of the candles, both eyes seemed to regard him with scorn, and oddest of all, the creature appeared to be underwater.
“Unjustly damned, the High Priestess will soon walk free again amongst mankind.”
He tore his gaze from the troubling image. “Charming, Mirelle, but if you’re trying to frighten me, you’ll have to do better than that.”
“The days to come will be far more frightening than anything I might conjure here,” she promised as her hand went to the next card.
“Behold, the Emperor.” As she spoke, the face of a man appeared in the mist and grew clearer. He had long, straight black hair and sharp hazel eyes. His features were chiseled – what some swooning female might even refer to as handsome. Upon his head, rested a crown of gold stained with blood.
“Corwin? An Emperor?”
It was just like her to parade the image of his most hated enemy in a futile attempt to annoy him, but when he broke out in a hearty laugh, she favored him with that diabolical smile again. “Laugh while you can,” she said sweetly, “for retribution draws closer with every pig-like squeal.”
Galen merely glowered at her, not willing to give her the satisfaction of a reply.
“Behold Justice.” Mirelle laid her hand over the next card and the fog resolved into another man. He had the same long dark hair as Corwin, but his eyes were bright green and he held a shimmering sword in his left hand. He too, wore a tarnished crown, but smaller, and adorned with creatures of magic. Galen dared to lean a bit closer. A white unicorn could be seen over his shoulder, head bowed as if in submission.
“And of course, Validamir. You think these upstart brothers are going to rescue you?” He laughed again – doing his best not to squeal. “Their forces are scattered and few. They’ve been trying to dethrone me for years, Mirelle. In fact, they paid me a visit earlier tonight.” With a smirk, he spread his arms, “As you can see – I’m still here.”
She smirked back. “And I’m not finished. Behold, Judgement.” Her delicate hand passed to the last card and the image of a woman took form. He leaned closer yet. Her hair was long and blonde, but her face remained shrouded in the mist. Two ethereal men stood in the shadows behind her, both reaching out as if to grasp this faceless woman.
The man behind her right shoulder wore a crown of gold in his long dark hair. His white shirt was open at the collar, and a dark blue cloak graced his shoulders. He bore a strong resemblance to Corwin or Validamir, but was far more intense and powerful. Galen didn’t know him, and he was glad of it.
The figure behind her left shoulder was more to his liking. He had a scar on his left cheek and his dark hair was pulled into a long braid. The eyes that gazed out from the card were dark and disturbing, and his reaching fingers were clenched into claws.
“Who is she?” Galen asked, captivated.
Mirelle looked up at him, the expression of an imp once more upon her features. “She is your end.”
He glowered back at her. “I did not climb all of those stairs to listen to your fantasies, Mirelle – If I want entertainment, I’ll talk to my daughter. No mere woman will conquer me.”
She laughed. “She’s not a ‘mere woman’, Galen. She is a sorceress – a sorceress who holds more power than your eyes have ever seen.”
Galen looked again to the blurry visage upon the card. “Who are the men standing behind her?”
“One is her protector; the other her tormentor,” she said, first indicating the crowned man, and then the man with the scar. “And both are attached to her soul as an anchor is bound to its ship.”
He frowned at her cryptic answer. “Why won’t her image come clear?”
“Because she is here, and yet not here.”
“Must you always speak in riddles, woman?”
“They are only riddles to those who do not hear,” she replied.
“Another riddle,” he said in disgust.
She shrugged. “You have your warning – this woman is coming, and she will seek out your greatest enemies and join with them.” As she spoke, she dipped her finger into a glass of wine and traced a triangle amongst the three cards, joining Validamir and his brother to this unknown woman. “When the triangle is complete, your reign will be at its end,” she practically crowed.
Within the triangle she had drawn, Galen saw himself – crownless, wild-eyed and disheveled – cowering in a thicket of bushes like hunted animal.
“What must I do to change this?”
Again that terrible smile. “You, change?” She laughed. “You are not capable of change, Galen. All paths you would choose will lead to the same end.”
Feeling an irresistible urge to flee, he drew forth the key and once again opened his magic doorway, pausing only long enough for a parting shot.
“I make my own destiny, Mirelle,” he said firmly, “and it does not include dying at the hands of this woman.” He felt her eyes on his back as he turned to depart.
“Run, Galen,” she said. “Run as far, and as fast as you can – it will do you no good.”
Galen found that his hands were trembling as he stepped back through the wall to the accompaniment of Mirelle’s laughter.
He hurried down the stairs and nearly stumbled.
Damn the woman! Despite his best efforts, she had managed to get to him after all.
He clenched his hands to stop their shaking as he reached the foot of the stair and found his way back into the throne room.
The King crossed the room and plopped down upon his throne – spending time in this elegant room usually worked to calm his nerves, but today he feared nothing would be up to that task.
The room in question was octagon shaped, the floor covered corner to corner with thick crimson rugs created by the finest weavers in Corinth. He had seen to it that the weavers were his “guests” until the task had been completed. His subjects always seemed to be more efficient at their tasks when they spent time locked in the chambers beneath the castle.
Rich tapestries covered the wall behind the throne. One bore a unicorn, and another, the image of a jebba leaping through the air with wings extended.
Around the walls stood impressive suits of armor from decades and warriors long dead. They had been stripped of their weapons to prevent any “accidents,” such as a visitor using one on their King.
Though according to Mirelle, such precautions would make no difference – he was doomed to fall to this powerful sorceress no matter what he might do to protect himself.
Frivolous nonsense. Through painstaking effort, he had seen to it that any sorcerer of power in the land was either firmly under his control, or dead. None could have escaped his search. Mirelle must be mistaken.
The cards were simply reflecting her own wishful thinking – that must be it – but what if it wasn’t? What if she was right?
“Something vexes thee, Father?”
Galen jumped at the sound of his daughter’s voice. “Must you creep around like a cursed cat?” he asked irritably.
Raven flipped her long, ebony hair over one shoulder as she sauntered across the room to sit beside him. “Corwin again, is it? You shouldn’t let him trouble you, Father.” She waived a dismissive hand. “He’s an insignificant, little flea.”
“My troubles, or lack thereof needn’t concern you,” he snapped, “and if you’ll recall, fleas carry plagues and can be far from insignificant.”
“He’s certainly put you in a temper,” she remarked. “I’d be careful if I were you – some might see your worry as a sign of weakness, Father.”
What went on in that sharp, little mind of hers? She was, after all, her father’s daughter. He narrowed his eyes at her. “I have no weaknesses. You – and they – would do well to remember that.”
She only smiled, for Raven had much of her mother in her as well – including the ability to detect truth from lies.
His first wife, Jael, had been a witch from the North Country. She’d not the talent of a sorceress, but she had possessed magic of her own – magic of the dark variety that Galen found so attractive and useful. Jael had been powerful in her own right and Corwin had killed her for wielding that power against him; for this among other things, Galen had promised revenge.
The sound of running footsteps and jangling armor issued from the hall, catching the attention of both father and daughter. Galen recoiled as a black clad man barreled through the door and dropped at his feet. He was breathing heavily, and bore symmetrical cuts on his wrists. Galen frowned, blood was leaking unceremoniously from his wounds and dripping onto his hand woven carpet.
The soldier wore the silver wings of an officer on his collar, the decoration marking him as one of Roth’s lieutenants.
“I would hope that you have a good reason for defacing my throne room,” Galen said ominously, glaring down at the man whose name he could not immediately recall.
“Yes my King,” he said breathlessly.
“Did you catch Corwin and his accursed brother?” Galen demanded.
“No, my King.”
“Then why are you bleeding on my floor?”
“You must come at once, your Majesty,” his soldier panted, grasping at the hem of Galen’s cloak. “Corwin and Validamir have found Lady Shallon.”
Galen yanked his cloak free with pudgy fingers. “And who, pray tell is this Shallon, and why should it concern me if she’s lost or found?” He was rapidly losing what little patience he possessed with Roth’s second in command – Quillan, that was his name.
Raven leaned toward him from her place at his left hand. “Do you remember the stories of the Crystal Sorceress?”
He looked down his nose at her. “You know I have far more important things to do than amuse myself with stories from musty, old books.”
“Shallon was much more than a story, Father. She was the protector of this castle when it was called Tia’s Crown. It took a great massing of dark sorcerers to be rid of her and the righteous king her family protected.”
“Ah, I have it now,” he said. “Her enemies entombed her in crystal, never to be seen again, blah, blah, blah.” He waived a dismissive hand. “That fable has been around for generations.”
“Do not dismiss this so lightly, Father. If this fool is right, it could be very bad for us.” Raven frowned, “Even Saber and his brother respect the power of the Crystal Sorceress.”
That got Galen’s attention. She must have been formidable indeed if Raven was worried his new twin sorcerers couldn’t take her. They had more power than any he had seen. . . then any he had seen?
Galen’s heart lurched, and then started to pound. “A sorceress who holds more power than your eyes have ever seen,” Mirelle’s voice mocked.
He shook his head. The creature was trying to deceive him. If she couldn’t free herself, she would be more than happy to turn him into a paranoid, slobbering wreck.
“Saber and Rogan claim to be descended of the line that vanquished her, don’t they? If this Shallon exists, why didn’t they know where she was buried?”
“They are descended of Jager’s line, but the sorcerers who imprisoned Shallon took the knowledge of her burial place to their graves.”
“Why didn’t they just kill her?” Galen asked – in their place he certainly would have.
“They feared a spirit so wronged would seek revenge if they killed her,” she told him with a snort of laughter. “She was considered too powerful to kill and too dangerous to be left free – by imprisoning her, they took all power from her.”
She paused thoughtfully, “though Saber told me, one of the three later snapped and tried to dig her out – for his treachery, the others killed him.” She shrugged. “The king and his family were wiped out along with most of their sympathizers, and our line has held the castle ever since.”
“The King was called, Jon, was he not?” Galen asked, and his daughter nodded.
“King Jon’s line, with the help of Shallon’s ruled for many generations.” Raven made a sour face. “How pathetic that must have been – like living in one of those wretched fairy tale books.”
The entire story sounded like a fairy tale to Galen. Shallon couldn’t possibly still be alive after all these years.
But what if she was? his little voice nagged.
“Go and find my sorcerers,” he instructed his daughter, “then meet me in the courtyard with a contingent of Roth’s finest soldiers. We will go and see for ourselves if this Shallon has truly been found.”
“As you wish, Father.” She rose from her throne and disappeared through the nearest door with a squeak and a jangle.
Galen shook his head in disgust. She seemed to have developed an unnatural fondness for wearing dead animals of late. Leather and multitudes of fine silver chains just were not proper attire for a princess. He suspected her like of the garments had more to do with her love of the hunt, as Raven killed the hapless animals that comprised this wardrobe herself.
With a sigh of resignation, Galen turned his attention back to the soldier at his feet – he had almost forgotten the man was still crouched there, leaking on his carpet – some days it was such a bother to be the King.
“You have done well,” he told Quillan. “You will escort us back to the place where this Shallon was found.”
“Yes, your Majesty,” Quillan said, standing and bowing deeply.
He would prove Mirelle wrong. This Shallon would never see the light of day, and with the help of Saber and Rogan he would have his revenge against Corwin and Validamir – soon, he would rule Corinth unopposed.
Holding his head high, Galen rose from his throne with all the arrogance of one of his station. He unfurled his red cloak behind him like a preening bird and followed Quillan through the left-hand exit from the throne room.
At the first junction in the corridor, Galen stopped by a pair of recessed doorways that were sealed with stone. Quillan stopped with him.
“Your Majesty?”
“When I was very small, my Grandfather told me the chambers behind this blockage of stone had once belonged to a powerful sorceress,” he said, pointing to the nearest of the pair. “Legend has it that all entrances to these rooms sealed upon her imprisonment. Our Shallon, perhaps?”
“I don’t know, your Majesty,” Quillan said, “but Lord Roth once tried to break into these sealed rooms and claim them as his own, but he couldn’t do it. He chipped away at the stone only to see it reform before his very eyes. He said the same of the chambers across from these.”
Galen nodded, remembering. “Those were said to belong to a member of Royal Family.”
“A prince, so Lord Roth told me,” Quillan said, wincing as he tried to stanch the steady flow of blood from his left wrist without much success – it still dripped freely from between the fingers of his right hand.
Galen reached out and ripped a piece of the man’s cloak and used it to bind his wrist. The fool was going to bleed to death before he could show them the way to Shallon.
“Thank you, Your Highness,” Quillan said as they started walking again.
Galen grunted. “I wish Lord Roth had not chosen this time to take a sojourn to the north country. I do not like these latest developments.”
Roth was his Master of Arms, and was well deserving of his title – he was a remarkable swordsman and strategically brilliant. Galen had come to rely heavily upon his council – perhaps too heavily, he mused.
“He is due back tomorrow, Your Majesty,” Quillan told him as they descended the staircase.
Galen wrinkled his nose at the scent of damp and mold that hung in the air. No matter the number of slaves he had scrubbing the castle, he could not seem to rid it of that pervasive smell.
“Tomorrow may not be soon enough,” he groused, his mood having gone as foul as the stench.
“Had he known trouble was going to arise, I’m certain he wouldn’t have gone,” Quillan replied nervously.
The man inspired undying loyalty in his troops, as was apparent by this soldier’s defense of him even now. Galen frowned. If Roth’s aspirations ever turned toward the throne, he would be a formidable enemy – just another bother to keep track of, Galen mused.
They exited into the courtyard where the night torches burned brightly in the twilight of dawn, their glow reflecting in the silver chains girding his daughter’s waist and in the light blonde hair of his two waiting sorcerers.
“Your coach awaits you, Father,” she said with an eloquent bow – one of the few social graces she could manage.
The coach itself brought a smile to his face. It was a thing of beauty, detailed with ornately carved wooden panels coated in gold. It was large enough to seat eight comfortably, and had to be drawn by a team of ten horses, all of purest white.
“Shall we go?” Raven prompted.
Galen sighed. “The sooner we get this over with, the better.” He turned to Quillan and found that someone had fetched him his horse.
“I will lead the way, Sire.” Mounting his steed, he headed to the beginning of their small procession.
Galen climbed into his coach with Raven and the two sorcerers and felt with certain dread that his life would change forever because of this night. His thoughts stayed dark as they left the castle courtyard and crossed into the quiet town.
The peasants were still snug in their little beds and therefore missed seeing the grandeur of his little procession as it passed by and crossed into the dark forest.
Mammoth, gnarled trees rose all about the path, closing the carriage in and leaving him with a feeling of vulnerability he liked not at all. Things moved within the trees, darting in and out of sight. Some glowed and flitted, and others moved with enough force to displace branches. He had never seen so much activity in this wood. After twenty, restless minutes of this, he encouraged the driver to whip the horses to a faster pace and they soon arrived at their destination.
The King stepped reluctantly from the safety of his carriage just as the sun broke the night mists of the forest. Sorcerers Grove was dark and foreboding at this hour, and Galen had no desire to be here. He peered uncomfortably into the semi-darkness and felt a renewed sense of vulnerability; he could almost feel the thrust of an assassin’s dagger in his back. His tight-fisted reign over his people had not made him a popular King. He rarely left the safety of the castle for that very reason.
His little party started toward the dark opening in the side of the mountain, skirting a fallen tree as they went.
Galen threw his arm out to stop their progress as a flash of brilliant blue near the mouth of the cave caught his eye.
He stared in awe as a glider stepped regally from the shadows and glared back at him with piercing green eyes. Its brilliant neon blue feathers shone brightly in the dim light as it hissed defiantly at them and flared its massive wings in warning. Galen took a startled step backward as it snapped its bright orange beak in his direction. He had never seen a glider up close, and he had certainly never seen one so angry. These massive birds with their thirty foot wingspans rarely left the highest trees where they made their homes. They were known for being quiet and docile, but this one was neither.
The undersides of its wings shone white as it flared them in anger, blowing up great billows of dust and leaves. It seemed quite perturbed at their intrusion in this place.
The King saw Saber raise his hand against it from the corner of his eye, and shoved the younger man’s arm down with a startled gasp.
“Are you mad?” he demanded in a harsh whisper. “If you kill it, you’ll bring the curse down upon all our heads.”
The feathers of a glider were highly prized as good luck charms and were said to possess magical properties, but to kill one was an invitation to death. They were a sacred bird, protected long ago by an ancient sorcerer who fancied the creature and wished to see it survive the hunting that was causing it to become extinct. To kill one brought unexplained ills down upon you and eventually some kind of slow, painful death. No one had ever figured out how the curse had been engineered or by whom, but it was not to be tested. It was powerful, and Galen had seen it working.
“I wasn’t going to kill it,” Saber assured him. “I was merely going to encourage it on its way a little.”
“Don’t,” Galen replied firmly. “If you should happen to kill it by accident, your intentions would not matter.”
“This is ridiculous,” Raven said, pushing past them and advancing on the glider.
The massive bird shrieked, and backed a step away from her as if frightened. As Raven drew closer, it spread its wings, took a few running steps and leapt into the air. Galen threw himself to the ground as it sailed over their heads.
Raven helped him to his feet, and they dusted themselves off. Galen’s gaze went warily to the sky. The glider’s uncharacteristic aggressiveness was an ill omen at best – he should never have come here.
“If that woman is not in this cave, I’m going to be very disappointed, and Quillan is going to be very dead.”
Raven’s smile was feral and predatory. “I will make sure of it, Father.” She lead the way over the jagged tree stump and into the cave.
Galen stepped into the gloom, holding his cloak about him like a shield. He peered curiously at the floor as he detoured around a pile of red flower petals; an offering left by Corwin perhaps?
His attention was drawn to the faintly glowing walls, and he stopped abruptly, almost tripping over his own feet. There was a drawing of him on the wall! He grabbed Raven by the sleeve and pointed wordlessly at the image. Granted, it was crudely done; his eyes were not nearly so sunken and cruel - but it was unmistakably he.
“It’s true,” Raven said, touching the image. “This is the Cave of Time.” She quickened her pace, pulling him along behind her. The walls contained other images, but Raven urged him by so quickly that he didn’t have time to distinguish what they were.
His daughter stopped dead in front of him and he nearly ran into her. Looking past her at what had so captured her attention, he beheld a vision of beauty imprisoned in a pillar of crystal, a spray of roses laid at her feet.
Rogan came up beside him, and he heard the young sorcerer’s breath catch in his throat. She was extraordinarily lovely; fine boned with long blonde hair and penetrating green eyes.
Raven shot Saber a dirty look as he suffered a similar response to this butterfly trapped behind glass.
Galen peered at her through the distortion of the crystal. She could be the woman on the card, curse Mirelle.
Rogan fingered the tiny braid he wore at his right temple. “Stunning, isn’t she, brother?” he asked, his gaze turning to Raven.
“Yes,” Saber admitted, and Raven stared daggers at them both.
Saber was Raven’s lover and she kept him on a very tight leash. Galen knew she had pursued both Saber and his brother, but Rogan had not been as susceptible to her charms as his twin. Obviously he was the smarter of the two.
No one would ever hold Rogan’s heart – He was as cold as ice and driven purely by ambition. Still smirking at Raven, he stepped forward and touched the crystal wall that separated him from Shallon.
A change swept over him as soon as his skin made contact.
“She is alive,” he told them, his voice softening, his expression becoming less feral. “Let us break the spell and free her.”
“She will be weak,” Saber added with a dark smile. “We can finish her off.”
“Yes, kill her,” Raven agreed, her eyes shining with anticipation.
Galen nodded his agreement.
“No,” Rogan said, and he said it quite firmly.
“No?” Galen repeated. “What? You suggest we let her go free so that she may destroy us?”
The man was clearly thinking with an organ other than his brain.
“She could be a powerful ally,” Rogan suggested, his gaze locked on her form.
Galen reassessed his opinion – Maybe the man wasn’t impervious to feminine charms after all.
“I hate to be the one to break it to you, Brother,” Saber said, his voice dripping sarcasm, “but she fought for the side of good – and that’s not us.”
Raven’s laughter bounced madly around the cavern, irritating Galen’s already growing headache.
Rogan tore his gaze from Shallon. “Yes, but she, does not know that. All we need do, is convince her that we are the side of good.” He gestured at their surroundings. “She has been here one hundred years. All of Corinth has changed in that time; everyone she knew is dead.” Rogan smiled darkly. “Who is going to tell her the truth?”
Saber returned his smile in kind. “We could dupe her into helping us destroy Corwin.”
“If she believes that we are in the right, no one will be able to convince her otherwise,” Rogan added.
“Perhaps in time, she could even be turned,” Saber concluded.
“With the right influence,” Rogan agreed, laying both hands against the crystal that held her, his eyes full of hunger.
“And how do you propose that we perform this miracle?” Galen asked, unconvinced.
“I will take her under my wing, of course,” Rogan offered, with a bow.
“Of course,” Galen replied dryly, “I should have guessed.”
Rogan, was by far the most level-headed of his two sorcerers, but Galen wondered at this suggestion. What could he hope to gain by having Shallon ‘under his wing’? Was he plotting something? Was he after the throne itself? Did he think this Shallon could get it for him? Valid questions all.
What ever the sorcerer’s game was, he wasn’t playing. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I want her dead. Now,” Galen ordered, his tone boding no argument.
“She would make us an easy victory over Corwin’s forces,” Rogan tempted. “If legend holds true, she by herself has the power of Saber and I combined – perhaps even more. And what better way to kill Corwin, than by the hand of a creature of light? The irony alone is worth the extra effort.”
Galen considered his words, and more importantly, Mirelle’s; ‘All paths you would choose will lead to the same end’. His strongest instinct was to kill her, but what if he did the opposite of his instincts? Could destiny be tricked? Could he cheat death? He was about to find out.
“Very well. Do it, but I am holding you, personally, responsible for the success or failure of her attitude toward us, Rogan.”
The sorcerer bowed to him again, confident as ever. “Of course, your Majesty.”
“Can you free her now?” he asked, gesturing at the wall of pink crystal.
“We have no control over this form of crystal so it will be more difficult, but if you’ll give us a moment to confer –”
“By all means,” Galen replied generously.
Rogan and his brother moved off toward the back of the cavern where a curious statue with a sword in its upraised hand stood, and Raven turned on her father with a frown.
“I don’t like this, Father. What if he can’t control her?”
“It is my choice, and it has been made,” he said.
Raven opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. “Gain control of yourself,” he advised harshly. “Your jealousy is unbecoming. If you can’t hold Saber on your own merit, you are not the daughter I rasied.”
Her dark eyes flashed at him. Sometimes he wondered if his daughter had higher ambitions for Saber than he knew.
“I am not jealous of this insignificant wench, Father,” she retorted. “Saber knows his place. I am simply trying to look out for your best interests. We don’t know what kind of power she truly has. If the legends are even half true, she’ll be beyond Rogan’s control, and if he fails to contain her, how are you going to eliminate one with such power? He is a fool, Father. He always has been.”
Raven could think up the most logical sounding arguments when she didn’t get her way, he mused, but his mind was made up. Besides – her warning had been far less dire than Mirelle’s.
“We have the two most powerful sorcerers in all of Corinth at our disposal,” he assured her. “And after all this time, surely Shallon’s power must have weakened.” He gestured at their surroundings. “Spending one hundred years is this dismal abode would be enough to weaken anybodies resolve.”
“I hope you’re right, Father,” Raven warned, “for if you are mistaken, it could be the end of all your ambitions.”
He shrugged off her worries and smoothed his graying black hair. He had charmed many women in his day. This Shallon would be no different. He would have her eating out of the palm of his hand like a pretty little fawn.
“I’m always right, Raven,” he reminded her, smiling.
“We’re ready, your Majesty,” Rogan said from behind him, and he and Raven turned to face them. “And I think you’ll find we’ve discovered an added bonus.”
Raven grabbed Saber by the shirt front and kissed him savagely. His lip was bloody when she pulled away. “Remember to whom you belong,” she advised.
Galen shook his head as she rejoined him. His daughter’s idea of affection left much to be desired, but apparently Saber found it palatable.
Rogan took a stance in front of the frozen sorceress, and his brother took his stand beside the statue, which Galen found curious.
“I would step back, your Majesty,” Rogan advised him, and Galen obliged willingly. The power these two threw around was not something to be observed from close quarters.
Eyes closed, Rogan stretched his hands out before him, palms down, and the silver ring set with its black gem started to glow brightly upon the third finger of his right hand. Sweeping his arms down, he clenched his fists and pulled, and a wall of dirt burst upward at his feet and hung suspended in mid air. Galen could see small rocks dancing within its veil, and he stared transfixed at the patterns they created as they hung in the matrix of his sorcerers’ power.
Saber raised his hands toward the sky, and his ring glowed as well. His hair started to swirl as in a strong breeze.
A roar, as of a powerful wind, drew Galen’s attention quickly behind them, and when he saw what was coming, he tried to meld with the wall. Galen wondered if Saber and Rogan knew what they were doing after all as the entire cavern shook when the whirlwind swept past him, sending small pebbles and chips of stone raining down on his head.
This miniature tornado stopped and hovered obediently beside Saber. Galen saw little charges dancing through its funnel like a storm of black lightning.
The sorcerers threw their hands forward, and the wall of earth and the funnel of wind leapt toward one another and combined forces. Another gesture, and the grinding funnel crashed into the crystal that held Shallon, filling the cavern with lightning, sparks, and raining stone. Galen was blinded by the light as it struck, and by the raining dust and debris that rained down upon him. The force of the impact threw him to the ground, and he felt something fall against him. He heard a howl of indignation, and knew it was his daughter. The blasting roar continued for another few minutes and Galen clutched Raven, and squeezed his eyes tightly shut against the noise and choking dust. And then it stopped just as suddenly as it had begun.
He sat up, still cradling Raven in his lap for protection, and opened his eyes just in time to see the crystal around Shallon begin to dissolve. The process started at the top of the pillar and the column simply unwound like a coil of rope falling into nothingness. To Galen’s surprise, the stone statue that Saber stood beside resolved into human form with a blinding flash of greenish light, and a tall muscular young man with dark blonde hair came into being. The sword in his left hand slid from his slack fingers and clattered to the ground.
The newly freed pair collapsed unconscious to the ground, as rose petals rained down all around them.
“Your added bonus, your Majesty,” Saber crowed, reaching down and raising the young blonde man by the hair. “Shallon’s brother.”
The boy’s hair slipped from his fingers as a shocked look came over the faces of Saber and his brother. Both men jerked backward as if struck by an invisible blow, but neither fell – it was as if some invisible force held their feet in place.
Galen tensed. Even with null sensitivity to magic, he could tell something was about to blow. Pressure was building in his ears and in his chest; he had a strong urge to flee, but Raven was still sitting on him.
“Saber!” She sprang from his lap and ran toward the seemingly paralyzed sorcerer, but a blinding flash drove her back.
When his eyes cleared, Galen found that Rogan was imprisoned in a pillar of pinkish crystal, and Saber had been transformed to stone.
Raven roared in outrage. “Saber!” She ran to him and laid her hands against the stone figure that had once been her lover then spun on her father, fury in her dark eyes. “I told you something bad was going to happen!”
Galen tried to wipe the shock off his face as he regained his feet.
“Now what will you do?” Raven demanded.
He looked from his imprisoned sorcerers to the prone figures of the sorceress and her brother. There really was only one option. “We will carry out Rogan’s plan until we can find a way to free them,” he said soothingly.
She hugged her transformed lover protectively. “You should have listened to me, Father. Look at what she’s done to us already,” she added, thrusting an accusing finger at the unconscious sorceress.
“Don’t pout, Raven, it’s unbecoming. Be a good girl, and escort our guest’s brother to Skull Island – I’m sure you can make him comfortable there. I will take Shallon to the castle.”
Even if Rogan’s plan failed to work, they would at least have a bit of insurance with Shallon’s brother safely hidden away.
“But what about Saber?” Raven demanded.
“When Shallon comes around, we’ll bring her back here and she can free Saber and Rogan.” Raven opened her mouth to protest, but Galen cut her off. “I’m not in the mood for any of your foolishness, Raven!” he snapped, rubbing his temple where it had begun to throb.
“But, Father!”
“If we are going to convince this woman that we are on the side of good, you must learn to control your temper. Do you understand me?”
“Yes Father,” she said grudgingly.
He nodded. “I knew you’d see things my way.”
“Quillan!” she bellowed. “Get some men in here to help me.” The latter came running, several of his men in tow.
Well, Galen thought as he watched his men drag Shallon’s unconscious brother out of the cave, Rogan has certainly made a fine mess of things – I knew I should never have trusted him.
Quillan himself reached down and effortlessly picked up the slight form of the recumbent sorceress, a smug smile lighting his features.
“What are you smiling at?”
“I’m sorry, your Majesty,” he said, but the smile didn’t diminish. “I was just imaging how angry Validamir would be if he could see me now.”
“He’ll be worse than angry before I’m through,” Galen promised. “He’ll be dead.” He gestured Quillan ahead of him, and followed as he carried his prize out into the steadily brightening sky.
He had time yet to figure out how he was going to convince this woman to destroy Corwin for him – Mirelle be damned, he’d have his way yet.