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Chapter 1: Tempers Fugit Fight Now, Play Later


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Five:

On Things to Watch Out For

As he approached the location of the battle, Erwyn scanned the scene before him.

Chesric stood between Princess Fenoria and Viona, his hand on Fenoria’s chest to keep her from swatting the damselfly with the scroll she held clenched in her fist. Unfortunately for Chesric, the tiny damselfly was too small to restrain in the same manner.

Viona buzzed angrily around Fenoria’s head, pulling the princess’ hair whenever the mood struck her. Which it did with annoying frequency.

The fire burned cheerily, sending bright sparks up into the pale blue, cloudless sky. Very nice, but not very helpful.

On the other side of the fire, the two Marlian warriors, Kerissa and Lariyn, sat sharpening their swords with a good deal more energy than usual. Maybe they hoped the scrape of stone against steel would drown out all the yelling. From the frowns and sideways glances at the two combatants, their plan wasn’t working.

Devydd, the theoretical thief, stood off to the side carefully picking invisible specks of flotsam from his horse’s mane. He paid no attention to the spectacle ten feet in front of him. Or so it appeared to Erwyn—at first. Then he saw Devydd flinch as the volume reached “ear-splitting.”

With uncommon speed for a dainty princess, Fenoria dashed around Chesric’s restraining hand and whacked Viona with the scroll. The damselfly buzzed erratically, nearly crashing into an unfortunate tree before recovering enough to dive-bomb Fenoria’s head.

The princess screamed, covering her face—and hitting herself in the eye with the scroll in the process.


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Three:

On People and Their Influence

Viona giggled hysterically, the princess grabbed for her lost scroll, and Erwyn lost his patience.

“Could you two hold it down?!?” Erwyn bellowed as loudly as he could. What he wouldn’t give for a visit from Virgil about now. The vegetarian dragon had a voice that could shake castle walls.

Fortunately, anger had given him more than enough volume. In the sudden silence that followed Erwyn’s outburst, everyone turned to face the source of the latest shouting. Erwyn, on the other hand, was left feeling a little hoarse and more than a little embarrassed. He was still angry, though.

“I think I’ve figured out the real reason Sharilan wanted me to rescue Princess Fenoria,” Erwyn growled through clenched teeth.

“Really?” Viona didn’t recognize sarcasm, as usual. She fluttered up into Erwyn’s face. “That’s just wonderful. What is it?”

“She wanted to drive me stark ... raving ... mad!” There was some perverse satisfaction to be had from watching the little damselfly sail away in a backward loop-the-loop.

“I haven’t had a moment’s peace since you two joined us,” he continued, without lowering his volume. “You’ve been going at it, off and on, for about an hour, and we haven’t even had breakfast yet! Now, either the two of you lay off the screaming for a while, or a certain princess I know will have to find her own way home.” Erwyn took one threatening step toward Fenoria. “Alone!”

Fenoria dropped her scroll.

Viona giggled again and Erwyn turned to face her. “Don’t push me, Viona. It wouldn’t be difficult to whip up a nice little thunderstorm and ruin that new dress you worked so hard to make.”

Actually, a thunderstorm wouldn’t be a good idea. He still tended to get too much emotion tied up in that particular spell and he really wanted to survive the current confrontation. His threat worked, though. Not only did the tiny damsel stop giggling, but she actually flew behind Princess Fenoria for protection.

Satisfied, Erwyn allowed himself one last glare at the entire assemblage before returning to the space he’d staked out as his own. He did notice, however, that the twinkle was back in Chesric’s eyes.

The boy sighed. He wished the old knight would be the one to lose his temper. It would be wonderful to see someone else verbally beat the girls into submission just once.

The thought of Chesric standing in the midst of two screaming females, shouting at the top of his voice, cheered Erwyn somehow. He went back to his journal with a hint of a smile on his lips.

Actually, I’m not certain who will drive me crazy first. Viona and Fenoria with their constant fighting and bickering, or Chesric and his “smugger than thou” routine. Maybe I should look on the bright side. Like the fact that it’s been over a week since the other damselflies disappeared. Fifty less problems to worry about.

Of course, my evil sorceress buddy, Sharilan, hasn’t been seen since then, either. That’s probably one thing I should worry about. But I have no desire to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder just in case some blonde berserker is on my tail. Oh, well, I guess I’ll deal with her when the time comes.

Which would probably be sooner than he’d like. He sighed and closed his journal carefully. Unfortunately, worrying about what happened to Sharilan was not going to solve the current dilemma.

Erwyn took a deep breath and tried to relax. Maybe a little spell practice would help. He played with some sandcastles, trying variations in the method of casting both the spell and the castle. In a few minutes, the screams were only a memory.

“Hey, kid.” Devydd interrupted Erwyn’s exercises. “Chow time.”

“You’re kidding! How’d anyone manage to find anything to eat with all that fighting going on, much less get it cooked?”

Devydd shrugged. “You know the old man and his bag of tricks.”

Yeah, Erwyn knew Chesric. Or at least his bag of tricks.

“Besides,” Devydd added, “you’ve been playing over here by yourself for nearly an hour.”

“Playing?” Erwyn started to object. “I haven’t ...” He noticed the grin his friend wore and realized that Devydd was just teasing him. Erwyn resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at the older man. He took a moment to return Devydd’s grin, then put his belongings back into his pack and trudged off to breakfast.

Whatever it was, it smelled great. Unfortunately, he didn’t really get a chance to eat, much less enjoy his food. Viona and Fenoria had finally hit on the perfect way to make the young sorcerer completely miserable. They started working together.

Throughout breakfast, both the princess and the damselfly insisted on pouring on the sticky sweetness Erwyn so detested in members of the “fairer sex.”

“Erwyn, would you like some more—whatever this is?” Fenoria offered him part of her portion, neatly laid out on a convenient leaf and accompanied by a smile.

Erwyn tried to back away from her, an almost impossible task, since he was sitting cross-legged in front of the fire.

“Oh, Erwyn, you’ve dribbled, um, stuff down your tunic.” Viona fluttered up with a scrap of material and tried to wipe away the drip.

Fenoria caught sight of the piece of fabric, a small white square with something pink along the edges. “Why you sneaky little ...”

And it started over.

Fenoria chased the damselfly around the fire, trying the recover her handkerchief. Viona darted into the trees, heading toward the place they’d staked out the horses. Fenoria followed Viona.

Moments later, they returned together, looking contrite and determined.

Erwyn wondered how those two expressions could be used at the same time.

“We’re so sorry ...” Fenoria had the cloth and it was her turn to blot at the stain on the front of his tunic.

“We really didn’t mean to argue like that ...”

“Please forgive us ...”

An hour and at least fifty-three apologies later, they were packed and on their way. Erwyn was ready to scream. Again.

To make matters worse, a few minutes into the trip Chesric made the most impossible request imaginable.

“What do ye mean ye don’t think ye can do it?” Chesric bellowed. His voice carried all the way down the hill to the other members of the group. Erwyn could tell, because they all sped up to get out of earshot.

“I mean, I just don’t think I can do it.” And to think that only a short while ago he actually wanted to see Chesric lose his temper. Of course, he hadn’t planned to be the object of the old man’s anger.

“How can one boy be so dad-gummed insecure?”

“Insecure? I am not insecure! Just because I don’t—”

“Ye are too insecure!” Chesric interrupted before Erwyn could finish protesting. “In just a little over a year, ye’ve learned to create new spells by combining ones ye already know, and ye figgered out how to make sandcastles from out o’ nowhere. You’ve beaten an army, rescued a princess, talked a dragon out of eating you, and bested the most powerful sorceress in the land. And now you tell me you can’t do one simple, easy thing ...”

“Careful, Chesric, your accent’s slipping again.”

“... like be nice to Princess Fenoria!”

“I’m sorry. I don’t happen to know any personality transmutation spells.”

“For her, or for yourself?”

He kicked his horse and in moments trotted out of sight.

“Chesric, wait!” Erwyn tapped his heels to Bandal’s flanks, trying to catch up to the old man.

It didn’t take him long. Chesric had slowed to a walk just out of view. Apparently, he knew Erwyn would come after him, even if Erwyn didn’t.

The old man chuckled. “Took you long enough. I think you’re ready to talk, now.”

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