Back | Next

Chapter 7: Strange Enemies Strange Friends Curl Up and Die


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Five:

On Things to Watch Out For

“Aaaah! Get away from me, you little pest!” Fenoria twisted around, trying to get a good shot in.

A long strand of dark hair rose from the ground, then began rolling itself onto a short length of wood. Erwyn noticed several pieces of oak already clung to the princess’s head, held in place by small leather thongs.

“Just shut up and hold still, you big baby. This’ll look great when I get through.” Viona finished winding the hair onto the wood and secured it with the thong she had looped over her arm. Then she flew down to grab another curler and the next strand of hair.

“I don’t want to have my hair curled!” This time, Fenoria managed to land one feeble whack before Viona darted out of sight and out of range.

“Sure you do,” the damselfly replied, then added in a singsong voice, “Erwyn’s gonna love it.”

Fenoria stopped swatting. “He will?”

“Certainly. He just loves curly hair, like mine.” She gave her ringlets a pat.


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Five:

On Things to Watch Out For

Erwyn ducked behind the trees again. Leaning against a handy trunk, he put his hands to his head and thanked the Lords that the women hadn’t seen him.

“Purty fierce battle that’s being waged yonder. Looks like Viona’s ‘bout got the princess convinced about that there hair-do.”

“Shut up.”

“Next thing you know, that little damselfly’ll talk the girl into dying her hair red and wearin’ pink.”

“Shut up, Chesric.”

“And ruffles. Lots o’ ruffles.”

“Just what I need. A poor imitation of Heatherlyn.”

“I don’t think Fenoria’s got any money problems.”

“Okay, a rich imitation of Heatherlyn.”

“Heatherlyn doesn’t have any money problems, either.”

“What difference does it make? Rich or poor, black hair or red with teal stripes, blue velvet or pink taffeta. I can’t stand pushy, nagging women!”

“Like Fenoria, or Heatherlyn...”


“Or your mother.”

Erwyn scowled at Chesric. “Yes. And my—wait a second. What do you know about my mother?”

The old man darted between the trees, thus avoiding the question. Erwyn crashed after him.

“Chesric! What about my mother? You’d better tell me or...” He suddenly realized where Chesric had led him.

Fenoria sat on a small rock, her chin cupped in one hand, while Viona buzzed about her head. Strand by strand, the damselfly rolled the princess’ hair onto the wooden rods.

Three feet from the women, the boy stopped, uncertain what to do next. It didn’t matter, though. Neither princess nor damselfly noticed him. That rankled.

“Ahem! Excuse me. What do you think you’re doing?”

Viona quickly fluttered behind one of the rollers and Fenoria’s jaw dropped about six inches.

The sight of the damselfly peering from behind a pile of Fenoria’s hair, coupled with the shocked expression of the princess herself, almost sent Erwyn rolling on the ground with laughter. After everything that had happened lately, he needed a few moments of pure hysteria. But he exercised all the willpower he could muster and only allowed himself a tiny little smirk.

“N-nothing.” Viona’s muffled response prompted Fenoria to shut her mouth. Briefly.

“How long have you been standing there watching us? What did you see?” Very briefly.

“Not long. Not much,” he lied. He had, however, seen enough to make him good and nervous.

The women seemed relieved, though. Fenoria’s eyes stopped flashing and Viona fluttered into Erwyn’s face, squeaking with pleasure. “Oh, Erwyn. Just wait until you see what we’re doing. Isn’t it just wonderful?”

Wonderful isn’t precisely the word I’d use for it, Erwyn thought. Apparently, it wasn’t what Fenoria thought, either. Alarmed, she glared at the tiny damsel.

“Don’t you dare—oh, no!” One hand went to the top of her head. She fingered the sticks entwined in her locks, allowed herself a moment’s exploration of the mud still caked on her cheek, then made a mad dash behind the nearest rock.


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Five:

On Things to Watch Out For

Erwyn took another look at the bruised bodies and torn tunics of his companions and favored Viona with a glare of his own. “Are you responsible for this mess?” Privately, he would have given almost anything to see how she’d accomplished it.

The damselfly said nothing, but fell nearly three feet in mid-hover. Erwyn lowered his gaze to compensate.


“We-I-I was just trying to help. You’re always so stand-offish and I thought that maybe if the princess fixed herself up a little ... I mean, after all, she’s your size and I’m kind of tiny and ... um, I thought maybe you’d ...” She ran out of steam and sank lower, fluttering scant inches above the ground.

“Viona, there’s nothing you could do to help Fenoria’s looks.” Except maybe move them as far away from him as possible. Fortunately, he didn’t say the last part out loud.

The lady in question bolted from behind her rock, hair flying. “What, exactly, do you mean by that?”


— Sorcerers Almanac, Section Five:

On Things to Watch Out For

“Um ...” Poor choice of words. Perhaps honesty was not necessarily the best policy, where women were concerned. “What I meant was, um, there is nothing either of you could do to improve your looks ...”

Fenoria’s eyes were set on “angry flash” again.

“... I mean, uh, you look just fine the way you are.” No, that was so not what he wanted to say. Erwyn rolled his eyes.

“Do you really mean that?” The princess’ eyes still flashed, but the quality had changed. Instead of angry, they were—mushy.

“Me, too?” Viona darted between them, unwilling to wait her turn.

“Um, yeah. Of course I mean it. I wouldn’t change a thing about either of you. Nothing important.” Voice, personality, mode of dress, physical location maybe, but nothing important.

“In that case, sweetheart,” Fenoria leaned against Erwyn’s shoulder and looked up at him, eyelashes batting furiously, “I forgive you.”

Erwyn almost tossed his lunch, except he didn’t remember having any.

“If the war’s over, now might be a good time to make camp, so’s some of us can get cleaned up.” Chesric wrapped his hand around Erwyn’s bicep and tugged.

“Um, yeah. Sure thing. Right away.” Erwyn backed up so quickly that Fenoria almost toppled over. She glared at him briefly, but all too soon the glare melted into another watery gaze.

Erwyn took the chance that neither of the two would knife him in the back and turned to follow Chesric as fast has he could walk. He caught up with the old man just as Chesric reached the spot the others had decided to stake out as their camp. Erwyn was fully prepared to help with setting things out—anything to get away from the sugar twins. But Devydd and the Marlians had beaten him to it.

“There’s nothing left to do, Chesric. What did you haul me over here for?”

“I thought ye could use a little fresh air.”

“You were right.”

Devydd, Kerissa and Lariyn had even managed to get dinner ready while Erwyn and Chesric dealt with the damsels. Erwyn selected a spot between two trees, where there was not enough space for Fenoria to get too close, and sat down to supper. While he ate, Erwyn watched his assortment of companions.

Devydd sat next to Lariyn, apparently discussing the finer points of sword sharpening. Erwyn could tell, because every few seconds the thief would say something, change the way he used the sharpening stone, then hand it to Lariyn to try.

Lariyn didn’t seem to be interested in learning new ways to hone her weapons. She seemed intent only on improving the skills she already had. She kept returning to the same technique, no matter how many times Devydd tried to show her something new. But she still let Devydd keep trying.

Chesric sat next to Aralia across the clearing. He periodically looked at her, as though he wanted to say something but couldn’t bring himself to do so.

Kerissa remained at on the other side of the campsite, eating silently as she watched Devydd and Lariyn. Now and then, Erwyn thought he saw the hint of a smile on her lips.

He still thought she had a beautiful smile. Mentally, he compared her to his erstwhile fiancé, Heatherlyn. Kerissa, the seasoned warrior with, it seemed to Erywn, a soft heart and Heatherlyn, the pampered princess with the predatory tendencies.

No contest. He’d take Kerissa over Heatherlyn, any day. If Kerissa would take him.

Erwyn shook his head. He had no time for girls, and no interest in Heatherlyn. And he was pretty certain Kerissa would have nothing to do with him. He shook his head again, trying to make his thoughts stop drifing in that direction.

Halfway through the meal, Fenoria wandered over to grab something to eat. The mud had been wiped from her face, but half of her hair was still stuck to her head with wood and leather. She took a seat between Erwyn and Kerissa, then spent most of her time scowling in Erwyn’s direction.

After dinner, he slipped away to find a place to write. And maybe relax for a second or two.

“I think I need a vacation from my life!” He groused for a while, then pulled out his journal and sat cross-legged on a convenient boulder.

Once there was a young man named Erwyn who, try as he might, could not seem to find two consecutive seconds to have to himself. One day, in a fit of depression, he cut off his own head and fed it to the lions.

Growling, he ripped the page from the book, crumpled it, and tossed it into the air, igniting it as it fell. He tried again.

Today, I bested the powerful sorceress Aralia in a battle of wits and magic. While the others cowered against a nearby boulder, we fought with all the myriad spells at our disposal. She won’t be bothering us again.

Nope, it just wasn’t fun anymore.

“Erwyn! Where are ya kid? They need ya back at camp right away.” Devydd’s voice was, to say the least, unwelcome and untimely.

Of course, if he hadn’t wasted what little time he’d had...

“Be there in a minute.”

He pulled the page out of the book and sent it to follow its predecessor.

Princess Fenoria and Viona are a pain. Chesric’s a jerk. Aralia’s pushy. Devydd’s no help. And the Marlians are virtually non-existent, with their “we’re only here to get our talisman back” attitude. I killed a bunch of people accidentally, lost the princess, and nearly got Chesric killed. Plus, I think I’m falling for Kerissa, who would probably have my liver on a pole, if she didn’t think I’d need it to find the Tetraliad. It’s been a great day. In a miserable, I’d-like-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-someplace-safe-and-quiet kind of way.

That wasn’t quite it, either, but he was out of time. Reluctantly, he closed his book and stashed it. The journal would have to wait for another day. He rose from his rock and trudged back toward the campfire and the rest of the group.

“What kept ya?” Chesric’s voice was a little gruffer than usual.

“I was busy. What’s up?”

“Nothing much. We were just—” Devydd never got to finish the sentence.

“Have you seen Aralia lately?” Chesric’s concern showed in the fact that his accent slipped again.

“She was here when Viona attacked the princess with the curlers,” Erwyn replied. “And at dinner.”

“Well, I can’t find her.”

“She’d be pretty hard to lose.” For a second, Erwyn thought Chesric was going to hit him. The boy plunged ahead quickly. “Besides, she just turned up out of the blue this morning. Maybe she’s gone on without us.”

“Uh-uh. Not without this.” The old man held up a large velvet bag.

Erwyn didn’t remember seeing it before, but he could tell it was hers. It matched her clothing. Besides, it had the word “Aralia” emblazoned on it in six-inch letters. There was a rip on one side, as though it had been taken from her by force. Drops of something dark and sticky marred its silver-blue surface.

A few minutes’ search confirmed their fears. Near the place where Chesric had found the bag, the ground showed signs of a scuffle. Deep furrows had been gouged into the soil. Several of the dark, sticky drips glistened in the dirt. But they found no sign of the sorceress. Aralia was, indeed, missing. And, apparently, it wasn’t by choice.

Back | Next