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Chapter 6: Old Friends, Old Enemies Stop You're Killing Me


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section One:

On Getting the Lay of the Land

Helpless, Erwyn could only stare at the glowing blue sphere Chesric had become. He couldn’t possibly best a fourth-level Master Sorceress in a fair fight and there wasn’t anything handy to hit her with. With so few options open to him, he decided to try reason.

“Um, Mistress Aralia? Could you please stop frying my friend?” He hoped his plea wouldn’t provoke her into using the spell on him.

Fortunately for Erwyn, the sorceress couldn’t hear him. On the other hand, the situation might have been unfortunate for Chesric, except that the old man was the reason she couldn’t hear anything.

“Would you mind turning off the fireworks, you big showoff? Those fairy flames tickle.” Chesric’s rusty bellow drowned out almost every other sound in the area.


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section One:

On Getting the Lay of the Land

The only noise competing with the shouting ball of flame was Aralia’s equally loud response.

“Not until you acknowledge that I can provide the boy with instruction that you are not equipped to give, you cantankerous old sardine.”

“Sardine!?! Why you—I’ll do no such-a thing, you fat powder puff! He’s mine! I found him first.”

“Powder puff? I’ll show you who’s a powder puff, you-you smelly warthog.” The flames disappeared, only to be replaced by a cloud of white dust.

During the spell switch, Erwyn caught a brief glimpse of the old warrior. Chesric stood in the midst of the maelstrom, his arms folded across his chest, foot tapping impatiently as he glared in Aralia’s general direction. Then the rising ball of dust cut off any sight of him.

Chesric hadn’t finished his tirade, however. From the center of the swirling powder came his creaky shout, “Do you mind? I just washed me hair and oiled me armor!”

“Looked to me more like it was the other way around. Tell me, old man, are your insides as rusty as your outsides?”

Erwyn didn’t understand the entire exchange, and he didn’t care. What he did understand was that, in spite of appearances, Aralia hadn’t actually hurt Chesric. Not yet, anyway.

As long as Chesric had a fair chance of surviving, that was good enough for Erwyn. He took the plunge. “Will you two just cut it out!” He punctuated his plea with a hastily conjured rainstorm, complete with lightning and a touch of thunder.

That got their attention.

The dust settled and so did the two verbal combatants. In fact, they both looked a little bit embarrassed.

Satisfied, Erwyn canceled the storm.

Chesric mumbled something about rust and mildew, but Aralia actually looked mildly impressed. “Not bad, young man. Not bad at all.” She scraped the excess water from her arms and gave her hair a quick twist. “Not quite localized enough, though. You could have confined the spell to just the two of us and avoided the spillover.”

“I didn’t exactly have enough time to worry about little details like that. I was too busy trying to keep you two from killing each other.”

“Oh, we weren’t going to—”

A loud squeal interrupted their discussion. Erwyn turned toward the source of the sound, then wished he hadn’t. In his haste to break up the argument between Chesric and Aralia, he’d forgotten about Fenoria.

She stood there, her hair falling in dripping ringlets, dress plastered to the curve of her waist and thighs. She didn’t look happy.

For a few moments, the princess glared at Erwyn while she tried to wring her hair dry. The sorcerer had the distinct impression that she only attacked her hair because his neck wasn’t in range.

Erwyn shuddered and checked for sharp implements within easy reach of the princess. Fortunately, there weren’t any, except for those Chesric carried, and she’d have to kill the old man first to get them.

He sighed with relief. “Uh, gee, Fenoria, would you like me to whip up a nice windstorm to dry you off?” It sounded lame, even to him.

“No, thank you,” the girl replied from between gritted teeth.

“What can I do to, uh, help?”

“Ooooh!” She stamped her foot, her hands clenched tightly.

Then she stalked off, leaving Erwyn completely flabbergasted. It was the shortest sentence he’d ever heard her utter.

“Strange girl.” Aralia’s voice cut through the silence following Fenoria’s abrupt exit.

“Uh, yeah.” Erwyn stared after the princess for a minute, then turned to face Chesric and Aralia. He wiped the water from his face and shoved his hair out of his eyes. “Would you two mind telling me exactly what is going on here?”

“Well, I ...” Chesric looked down at his steel- and rust-encased toes.

“Come on, give. Offhand, I’d say you know each other from somewhere. Pretty well, from the sound of it.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?” Aralia batted her eyelashes. It was a waste of effort, as far as Erwyn was concerned.

“Oh, don’t use that innocent ‘who me?’ routine. You’re supposed to be a fourth-level Master Sorceress. If that’s true, then either Chesric is a magic user and a hell of a lot more powerful than he lets on—”


“Or you weren’t really trying very hard to hurt him.”

Now it was Aralia’s turn to stare at her toes. She twisted her fingers in the folds of her robe.

“He’s got ye there, ‘Ralia.”

“You’re in this as deep as she is, Chesric. You were egging her on, which means you knew she wouldn’t hurt you. Now, if one of you will please tell me what the hell is going on, I won’t have to get myself killed trying to pry it out of you.”

“Well, uh ...”

Erwyn crossed his arms over his chest and stared at the old man.

“What Chesric’s trying to say is that ... “ Aralia’s voice trickled away to nothing.

“The truth is ...” Chesric’s voice, too, faded out.

Erwyn kept staring.

“What we mean is ...”

“What you really need to know...”

“We’re married.” Aralia looked at Erwyn, shrugging helplessly.

“You’re married? You’ve got to be kidding.”

“Nope, ‘fraid not, young feller.”

Aralia glared at the old man. “Cut the phony accent, you old reprobate.”

“Can’t. Gotta keep up appearances for the rest of the crowd.”

“Keep up—? What crowd?” Erwyn had something to say on that subject, too, but stopped in mid-sentence. “Chesric, has it occurred to you that somebody should have come looking for us by now?”

Chesric’s eyes widened as he considered the implications of Erywn’s question. “Uh-oh.”

“You said it. We’ve been making enough noise to wake the proverbial dead. And Fenoria should have joined them by now.”

“Wait a minute. Just how many of them are there?” Aralia stopped shaking the last of the rain out of her dress and stared at Erwyn.

The young sorcerer paused in mid-turn to answer. “Oh, about three, plus Fenoria, give or take fifty.”

Then, forgetting anything he’d ever heard about strategy and the art of surprise attack, Erwyn headed straight toward what he suspected was now an enemy camp.

He figured Chesric and Aralia would catch up with him at the clearing, so he ran most of the way, reaching the camp in record time. Just before he left the cover of the trees, he came to his senses and stopped, silently hoping he hadn’t been heard.

Chesric and Aralia came up behind him, a little slower and a lot quieter. Together, the three of them peered cautiously through the foliage.

Lariyn and Kerissa stood off to one side, their swords drawn. To Erwyn, however, they looked to be poised more for flight than fight.

Against the rocks at the far end of the clearing, Devydd sat, one hand held to his forehead. A thin trickle of blood oozed out from beneath his palm and one side of his tunic was ripped.

Fenoria lay sprawled in the dust, her hair spread out in a circle around her head. Mud caked her still-damp dress. Patches of the stuff fell from one side of her face as she alone fought the enemy that had cowed her intrepid companions.

Erwyn couldn’t leave her to fight alone. Without thinking, he dashed between the trees and toward the thick of the battle.

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