Okay, so maybe blowing up the evil wizard Fellmount's house wasn't the smartest thing Aser and Danner ever did. The clans of Ur suggest they not let the door hit them on the ass on the way out.
Rain Ur-Jennan came out onto the porch of the Hall of Elders with her staff in hand. I was impressed; the sturdy wood was perfectly oiled and not at all splintered or rotted; the tree from which she took it must still be growing healthily somewhere among the trees of Ur. Rainer was recognized not only as the eldest of the Ur-Jennans, but also as the most clever. I liked her stories and her name, and would have chosen it for myself when my Naming Day came around, except that she was not dead, and thus, still possessed it. At least she had been my teacher, I had that honor.
With her was one of the Ur-seers, Eye Ur-Trabben, and they were followed by a group of other Elder Jennans, who dropped cushions and sat down, arranging themselves for comfort.
Rainer thumped her staff on the stone porch. "Aser, what do you know about this wizard whom you suspect has been blown up?"
"He imprisoned a fire-djinn in a bottle for use as a refrigeration system, Elder, and then sold it to a merchant, not telling him that the creature would burst out of the jar and destroy everything around as payment for the imprisonment. We freed the afrit on the condition that it go back to the Realm of Darkness or to whoever captured it in the first place."
"What if this wizard had no idea what he was doing? Was he naïve? Did he know what kind of forces he was messing with?" The Chief Elder had to decide whether Danner and I had acted responsibly and justly, as well as in the best interests of the clan. "Did you fry a villain or just some poor fool?"
"Ahh, he was also involved in a murder cover-up, threatened to kill us all when we found out about it, and incidentally was the conjurer behind the curse that was laid upon the Jennan Well last year," I said frankly.
"That rat bastard?" Rainer yelled. "Are you sure?"
"Fellmount?" cried Cloudraft the Great. "We blew up my friend Fellmount?"
"Cloudraft and that sleazebag Fellmount were friends," Dan Ur-Jennan said to Rainer. "At least Cloudraft thought they were friends until Fellmount sold him down the river."
"SHUT UP!" Rainer roared, and Danner sat on the ground like a student. "When I want your testimony, I'll ask for it." She turned to Eyer. "Will you observe for us? We need to know if this wizard is alive or briquettes, and if he seeks revenge."
Eyer nodded, and looked up at the clouds high above the trees, leaning back against a pillar of the porch. He sighed, and as he exhaled, his body lost its alert stance, shoulders drooping, arms going limp. "Any idea of the location?" he said dreamily.
"Oceanwind Castle, south of Skuleflight Harbor," I offered.
"Okay," said Eyer, and turned his head towards the southwest a little. His eyes looked sleepy as he seemed to survey the sky. Then he started, his mouth open in surprise. "Whoa!"
"What?" we all chorused.
"Was there always a black, flat place at the end of the north side of the castle?" Eyer asked.
"Briquettes," agreed Danner and I.
"We made briquettes out of Fellmount of Verdansward?" Cloudraft whined. "My reputation is ruined."
"And the Rat Bastard Fellmount?" Rainer prompted Eyer. "Can you see his intent?"
Eyer cast his eyes about, seeking something in the sky. "No."
Danner and I matched glances. Nailed that money-grubbing jerk!
"Oohh, wait," Eyer exclaimed, "Does this dude run a little overweight, have a black comb-over, a square face, and used to have a hat that could now look like a crisped black octopus -- without legs, of course?"
"Shit," muttered Danner.
"That would be him," I admitted.
Eyer shook his head and looked at Rainer, then at me. "What I see is a wizard with a burned up hat. I see a wizard who is seeking revenge, but can't muster enough power until he finds another hat. I see the Jennan clan as a major target for this wizard when he can find a new hat." He slapped his face vigorously, alternating hands. "I see me heading right back to the Trabben lands in the next five minutes, before this guy finds the new hat."
"Do you see all this as inescapable future, or are you just speculating?" I asked the seer.
"I can clearly see the scorched tower and the burnt hat. You don't have to be a seer or a rocket scientist to figure the rest out," Eyer said, hoisting his travel-bag to his shoulder. "Rainer, my condolences," he said with a salute, and strode off the porch into the trees, headed northeast to the bridge.
Rainer stood looking at her dusty feet. One of the other elders raised a hand. "Wizard Cloudraft, could you cast a spell that would prevent this dude from finding a hat?"
"No," said Cloudraft. "I'm afraid I can't match his power. Without a hat, he can't transport himself from place to place, but he has several hundred years of experience on me, and as much as I hate to admit it, I believe he has the greater talent."
Rainer raised her head. "I don't believe that Eye Ur-Trabben is right about the entire clan being a target."
I raised an eyebrow at her, as the curse placed upon the Jennan Well by the aforementioned rat bastard Fellmount had been not only for money, but also just because his client was pissed off at me personally. (On the other hand, his client was an elf, and there is a long-standing tradition of Ur-Jennans and Elves having various conflicts.)
She shook her matted gray hair. "You and Danner and the wizard need to leave the Clan lands. You took on someone above your abilities without adequately considering the consequences, and that someone knows who you are and where you live. Follow the river downstream to deep water, and then we'll give you a boat. Get as far from the Clans as you can." She fished in a leather pouch at her side. Her fist came out of the bag and opened, casting white powder that fell on my robe and Danner's head where she sat on the ground. "I'm sorry, Aser, Danner. You are exiles now. Troll," Rainer said to Margot, our drinking buddy and fellow traveler, "take a different path than they do, if you want to live." She turned and went back into the Hall, followed by the rest of the elders.
Margot the troll rose to her full eight feet, brushing leaves from her mohawk. "I'm going to head north until I'm out of Ur, guys. I might hit the coast after that, and then head south again. I don't know. I've got a couple weeks leeway before I have to think about getting back to Skuleflight. Sorry, Aser. This was supposed to be a fun trip. But murder and revenge and more murder aren't why I'm on the road." She slung her pack across her back and headed off through the forest, her dog following at her heels. At least the dog looked back at us a couple of times.
Danner stood, and I walked through the gathered throng to the river path. "Kinda mucky, Danner. Do you think you want to take the horse with us?"
"No," Danner said with a rueful little laugh. "We won't need packs where we're going."
A thought struck me then. "No, we won't carry much at all. But we're not going down the river, we're going up. Right up to the source of the River Ur and over the mountains, all the way to the desert if need be."
"And whooose lands will we be crossing if we head straight to the desert people?" Danner asked sarcastically.
I matched her sarcasm and raised her a couple levels. "Look, I'm exiled from the clan lands, a powerful magician is going to try to make my general locale a smoking crater the size of Manhattan -- whose lands do you think I'd want laid waste along with my incinerated ashes?" I took the river path to the east and started walking.
A young girl ran up behind us with a sack. "Here, Aser, these are from Rainer. She says she's sorry." The sack was full of tiny dried fish, a travel food that is unsurpassed for energy and nutrition. I thanked her and she bounded back through the trees.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Cloudraft sputtered, waving his arms. "I have a better idea. Why don't I just transport us into a different dimensional world? Things might be a little odd at first, but we'd be much harder to find -- I can't believe that Fellmount would bother to expend the energy involved in seeking us across dimensions."
Danner and I stopped, and turned to look at him. "No, he wouldn't. He'd definitely take out his anger on the Clan if he couldn't find us. That's why we may as well do as much damage to the enemies of the World as we can while we're walking targets."
"Danner, at least you could come away with me," the wizard pleaded to his sometime-apprentice, sometime-lover.
"Sorry, Cloudy. I'm not leaving my relative to take the heat alone. I was the one who found the imprisoned djinn, anyway."
"Your relative!" the wizard snapped. "Why don't you admit it, she's your mother, isn't she? That's why you're so attached to Aser!"
"No, wrong again," I grinned to the wizard. "If she was my child, she'd be better behaved."
"Oh, bullshit," Danner replied to Cloudraft. "But I'm not interested in dodging this bullet. Why don't you poof yourself somewhere and be safe, though, Cloudy -- I'd feel a lot better about things if you did."
"But I can't leave my apprentice to handle magic on her own."
"I thought you fired me."
"I told you that you were reinstated, but you were asleep."
"That's sweet, but I'm still going."
"Cut the shmarm," I said, ducking the branches that have been allowed to grow on the unfrequented eastern path. "We're headed East to draw Fellmount's counterstrike away from the Clans. We'll either take a tyrant out with us when we're killed, or that Rat Bastard Fellmount will think twice about coming after us in the lands of Kaladang the Axe."
"He'll hunt you two down and change you into voles," said Cloudraft, wringing his hands, "and then conjure a fox to eat you."
"I don't think so," I countered. "His client was insulted by me personally, but his response was to curse the entire clan. Danner figured out his murder cover-up, but he was prepared to kill us all, dog, troll, baboons, Jennans and you, just to make sure he wasn't found out. I think his weakness is that he isn't able to be too specific with his power."
Cloudraft scratched at his beard.
"Furthermore, this creep imprisoned a djinn to be used at a bar for an energy source -- that takes real power. But he couldn't manage the maintenance to keep it going. No finesse."
In the crappiest moment of impending peril, there is often a glimmer of hope. The human heart leaps with the possibility of success, even in the darkest hour. What have I got to lose? asks the spirit of the person imprisoned, entrapped, beleaguered. I'll try -- this! And sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.
A farmer is drawing water from the family well, and as he bends over the low stone side, the billy goat he bought to keep his nannies in milk butts him in the backside, sending the farmer head-first down the deep well. He calls out for help, but no one can hear, as the whole family is out in the vegetable fields hoeing the weeds away. He tries to climb, but the walls of the well are lacking in handholds, and the well is so narrow anyway that he can't see if there are projections.
Thrashing, he puts his feet against the wall and pushes his head out of the water. What if I die in here and contaminate the well? he thinks. He puts his elbows and back against the opposite wall and lifts himself out of the water. In a sudden inspiration, he shuffles feet and elbows and finds himself several feet above the deep water of the well.
Braced against the sides of the well, he inches himself up, with a motion that he's never done before, far enough that he can grab the rope that fell in with him with Billy's butt, and grabbing both the pull side and the bucket side of the rope, then hand-over-hands his way to the top. He surprises his wife and children that night with an outdoor barbecue -- marinated roast goat.
Or like this retired pickpocket I met in Great Well, who had once found himself pursued by the local magistrate of Chai Oasis and his deputies. He turned a corner and found himself in a dead end alley. Sweating, he emptied his garment of all the loot that was the night's take and hoped that the booty on the ground instead of in his possession would gain him some mercy. At the last second, before the authorities rounded the corner, the pickpocket, on a whim (what could he lose?) leapt out and with wild wavings of his arms, shouted, "Booga-booga-booga!" and then ran through the array of stunned deputies, leaving them ludicrously dancing in place and trying to cover their heads. The pickpocket dodged down a few other alleys and streets and made his way out to the road, never to be seen in his former town again.
Danner and I may be exiled, we may be targets, but we don't have to sit still waiting for The Bomb to drop. We'll make as long a run of this as we can, and maybe something will occur to us while we're still on the move.
"See, when Fellmount did that curse before, he didn't even bother to try to locate me, he went for a broad brushstroke like a paint roller. I'm beginning to wonder if he can focus in on the subtleties of individuals. Besides," I said, shaking my staff at Cloudraft. "In your lofty wizard power, don't forget that one of the aspects of being a shaman is that we tell people on the face of the World how things are with the Unseen. And as that communication conduit, the Unseen will often assist us -- in this case, I hope, by mustering enough of a magical static charge to keep the Rat Bastard Fellmount from getting a fix on us. And we'll find plenty of Unseen Dead in the lands of Kaladang."
"I can't leave you," the wizard said, looking at Danner, "you're both completely irresponsible. But Fellmount would find me anywhere ... unless I reduce my own magical power signature." He pulled off his hat and drew his wand from the front side pocket of his robes. "Aser, could you carry these for me? Oh, wait," he said, and tapped himself on the head to change his robes for homely travel garb.
"Nice," said Danner appreciatively as I put the hat and stick into my pack.
Turning my back, I set off upriver, waving for the two baboon librarians to come with me. If we waited on Danner and Cloudraft to finish their compliments to each other, we'd have been there all day.
Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-05-05