Gaeladrial knelt, her eyes closed, in the tilled, fertile dirt of her father’s southernmost field. Her unbound copper hair fluttered in the soft breeze, brushing about her slender shoulders as she held silent communion with the earth and all the living things within it. This was when she most felt alive, with the ebb and flow of life and death all around her, it speaking to her in ways other than with words.
She held her place for many long minutes, coaxing the living things beneath her into growth.
Then, a voice interrupted her reverie.
“Sister, our father has requested your presence for talks of trade with Lord Eduard of Duskhaven,” her youngest brother, Vaughn, said quietly as his hand came to rest on her shoulder.
Gael raised her head, opening her crystal blue eyes, and though she did not yet turn to face the boy of merely twelve, she placed her hand softly upon his. She held the both of them in a moment of silence as she took in the changed scene around her. The entire patch of field was now speckled with green sprouts of corn, coming eagerly to her call, and now reaching with budding leaves for the sun above and spreading their small roots through the moist soil below.
Frowning with the realization of what his words meant, Gael sighed. “Just what my day was lacking, petty conversation with some pompous royal,” she breathed with a smirk to match her sarcastic words.
“Err, sister,” Vaughn began.
“Not to worry, dear brother,” Gael continued. “I will do this duty for our father. I know well how beneficial a trade agreement with Duskhaven would be for him.”
Vaughn shifted and pulled his hand away. Gael heard him take a step back, and was about the question the boy actions.
Instead, the woman spun her head around at the unfamiliar voice that addressed her next. “Forgive this ‘pompous royal’ for the intrusion, but I thought it best to see for myself the magic – literally, it would seem – that makes Niall Coghlan such a successor landowner.”
Gael brought forth her most convincing smile, and hoped her face did not betray her embarrassment. “Lord Eduard, I presume?” As she spoke, she got to her feet and brushed the dirt from the knees of her long skirt.
She took measure of the man, well-groomed and well-dressed. He wore a dressrobe of dark cloth, stitched and trimmed in the manner only the royals of Gilneas proper wore. The dark cloth complemented his dark features, glittering dark eyes and hair black as a raven and cut neatly to just above his straight shoulders.
“I am,” the man replied and gave her a courteous bow. “And you must be Gaeladrial. Niall spoke highly of your talents, but mentioned nothing of your beauty.”
At that, Gael did blush, but she quickly recollected herself and resumed her serious visage. She reminded herself of the worn and tattered robe she had worn to come out to the field, as well as the wind-blown mess her red hair surely was, and wondered if he mocked her. Before she could stop herself, she responded, coldly, “I thought you here to speak business, Lord Eduard. Or are we to trade only compliments?”
Eduard chuckled. “Trading compliments would imply they are going in both directions, Miss Gaeladrial. If I recall, you think me pompous.” At that, he smiled disarmingly. His grin stretched the edges of his neatly trimmed goatee in a most flattering manner. Lord Eduard was quite handsome, and even witty, and Gael decided that made her dislike him even more. She had no use for pampered, prancing royals.
“You wish to barter for the rich goods grown here at Farm Coghlan?” Gael continued, trying without luck to keep the annoyance from her tone.
“Indeed, milady,” Eduard replied with a respectful nod. “Duskhaven is home to many of the finest blacksmiths in all of Gilneas. It would seem beneficial to all to come to an agreement of trade – our implements for your produce.”
Gaeladrial was about to reply when a cry reached her ears from far off, to the northeast. Vaughn was next to her and then gone, no doubt curious about the commotion. He was already too far and getting farther by the time she thought to scold him with caution.
“Excuse me, milord,” Gael said to Eduard distractedly. “I know not what caused that shout, but I should at least ensure it poses no danger, especially to my young and impetuous brother.” She did not even wait for a reply before sprinting away, as another frightened shout came from the same direction.
Several fields away from where Vaughn and Eduard had found her, Gael came upon a chaotic scene. Farmhands with shovels and other tilling implements – interrupted from preparing the next field to be planted – swung wildly at a snarling pack of dire wolves.
Less than a dozen or so farmhands held off twice their number of the giant-sized, feral canines. One of each side of the conflict were already down on the ground. Many of those still standing bore bloody wounds.
What the woman found strange was the activity of the beasts during the day. Usually wolves, even their larger dire cousins, were nocturnal creatures. Why would they come in such large numbers, and against an alert human settlement?
Gael let out an unrestrained curse as she saw Vaughn standing amongst the defenders, wielding a pitchfork longer than he was tall.
She began to to reach out mentally to the life forces dormant within the ground around the defenders. In the midst of her call, she felt a presence run up beside her, but she continued to focus, though she grimaced at the thought it was likely Lord Eduard. Just what I need, a royal to protect too! she thought with a sigh.
Raising her hands, Gael brought forth the life forces she had been calling to. A great jumble of vines and leafy shoots climbed into the air, forming a green wall before the defenders just in the front of the man laying on the ground. In addition, one of those vines broke away from the others and lifted Vaughn from the ground. The vine wound around his midsection as the boy flailed and complained, and it deposited him before his very grim looking older sister.
“Uh, I just wanted to help,” the boy said sheepishly, looking down at his feet.
“This is a very serious matter, Vaughn. You could have gotten hurt,” Gaeladrial scolded.
Before she could say more, the woman caught Lord Eduard moving in the corner of her eye. He was whispering something and moving his hands. She glanced more fully in his direction and her eyes widened in the realization he was casting a spell.
She flinched backwards as a ball of fire flew from his hands, growing in size and intensity as it travelled. Gael’s eyes followed the ball and she stumbled backwards as it exploded amongst the dire wolves. Several of the snarling beasts fell to the devastating blast, and many more caught fire.
Then, the woman cried out as the living wall between the dire wolves and the farmhands caught fire as well. She felt as the greenery felt – burning pain. The vine wall began to retract at her command, even though Gaeladrial feared putting the farmhands back into danger.
Vaughn caught her left hand as she swooned, and someone was on her right – Lord Eduard. He steadied her as the pain receded.
As she regained her senses, Gael realized there was hardly credence to her worries for the farmhands. The dire wolves had taken notice of the three to the south – the source of the burning fire that still clung to the pelts of many of them. More than half the remaining pack charged.
Eduard sent forward a spray of frost before Gael could fully recover herself, freezing three of the dire wolves in place, the rest loping by without a backward glance.
Gaeladrial straightened herself and reached deep into the living earth once more. Thorny vines and stringy shoots, smaller and more numerous than those that had erected the protective wall, sprung from the ground. They wound around the legs of the charging dire wolves, tripping them, then holding them painfully in place as the thorns constricted.
But one of the beasts got through, its full attention on the woman still distracted by her call to nature.
Her eyes flying wide, Gael quickly summoned protection for herself. Within seconds, her skin turned into thick bark. It absorbed a good deal of the impact a moment later as the gigantic dire wolf collided with her chest and snapped and clawed viciously. It might as well have been biting the trunk of a tree for all the damage it did, and Gael let out a ragged sigh of relief.
But her protection would not hold.
The beast on top of her bit and raked her with increasing ferocity. It seemed to enrage at the ineffectiveness of its attacks, and came on her with a frenzy of teeth and nails. Gael feared the moment her protective spell gave way, both because of those teeth and the sheer weight of the beast. Fully on her chest, she felt it would certainly crush her.
Then, it yipped and spun upon her chest with a feral growl. Gael could just barely see the tines of a pitchfork, stained red at their tips with the dire wolf’s blood, and the boy holding the tool as a weapon.
“Vaughn, no!” Gael cried.
Lord Eduard stepped in front of the boy as the dire wolf quickly closed the gap to the two, snarling and salivating. His face was a grave mask. As she watched, the man protected himself and her brother with a shimmering purple aura.
The dire wolf sprang and collided with Eduard’s magical wall. It snapped it jaws and tore its claws across the surface of the shield, far from surrender but far from getting through.
Gael took the reprieve to skitter backwards on her hands and bottom far enough to clamber back to her feet. As she did, the bark coating her skin began to flake away to the ground, and she brushed the excess away distractedly, trying to think what else she could do. All of her communing with nature had left her drained, and the battle was still far from over yet.
Then, Eduard lifted his hand and shouted one word of command. Purple missiles of energy shot from his hands, each slamming into the face of the dire wolf, and each ripping a painful whimper from the creature.
It shook the attack off, dazed but not beaten, and went at the shield again. The dire wolf tore at it with abandon, each attack against the beast only seeming to further enrage it.
Pulling a handful of tiny seeds from the pouch on her belt, Gaeladrial spoke over them, causing the pile in her palm to glow. She gestured at the dire wolf and summoned tiny multi-colored flames around the creature, causing it to flail and roll on the ground. Before it could realize the flames were not burning it, Gael flung the handful of seeds at the dire wolf. Each seed exploded in a brilliant spark of light and set the beast to yiping pitifully again.
The distraction was more than enough time for Lord Eduard to finish his spell, and a great ball of crackling energy pushed forward at his will, moving slowly through the air. It collided with the dire wolf with a deafening boom, drowning out any death wail the creature might have uttered.
Gael accepted the congratulatory nod from the man, and returned it but briefly, asking him, “Can you summon another of your fireballs?” He nodded. “Good I have an idea.” Then, she sprinted half the distance between them and the trapped remainder of the dire wolf pack. Her thorns and vines held tight for the moment, but she knew not how much longer, and the icy tombs encasing the other three were being to melt in the warm spring sun.
Closing her eyes and steeling her small bit of remaining strength, Gael called to the life forces within the soil of the freshly tilled plot beneath them. Tiny at first, but enlarging quickly at her pleas, mushrooms of various shapes and colors sprouted all around the struggling dire wolves.
When the fungi were nearly even with the shoulders of the giant wolves, Gael gasped and fell to her knees, all her remaining energy spent.
“The mushrooms…” she panted from the ground. “The wolves… Fire there…”
Eduard was already casting before she finished.
The fireball exploded, and the dire wolves shrieked in pain. But the fiery explosion also set off a chain reaction of detonating fungi. The mushrooms and some of the spores released incinerated immediately – Gael flinched at the agony of the life forces she had sacrificed – but many of the spores formed thick clouds around the howling beasts trapped within.
The poisonous spores proved more deadly than the fire, as they clung to fur and skin and were inhaled by the panicked creatures. Sores formed and entire patches of fur sloughed away, while inside the spores ripped apart the lungs of the dire wolves like tiny shards of glass.
It was a gruesome sight, and Gael had to turn away as the beasts flailed and died miserably.
Lord Eduard stepped up to her side, his mouth agape. Then, he seemed to recall himself, and reached a hand toward Gaeladrial. “Milady, remind me never to cross your path,” he said in all seriousness.
“The farmhands… are they…?” the woman asked once she was on her feet, a wave of dizziness washing through her.
“They appear to be handling the one remaining dire wolf,” he replied.
“Vaughn…!” Gael cried suddenly.
“Right here, sister,” the boy replied. Her weariness forgotten, she glanced him over and ensured he was unharmed. “I’m fine,” he said, fidgeting beneath her scrutiny.
Gaeladrial turned to Lord Eduard, seeing him as more than merely a pompous royal now. He had certainly proven otherwise. “Thank you,” she said with sincerity. “Both for your help and for protecting Vaughn. Our mother would roll over in her grave if I let anything happen to him.” She shot the boy a withering glance at that.
“It was no more than I would have done had my own town been under similar attack,” Lord Eduard replied, his previous arrogant facade replaced with a more humble demeanor. Gael thought the latter more fitting to the man, and she wondered if she had been unfair in her initial judgement.
“Perhaps we should talk more of a partnership,” Gaeladrial said.
“I believe I see a lasting and beneficial relationship between Duskhaven and Pyrewood before us, Miss Gaeladrial,” Lord Eduard responded with a deep bow.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Awaiting the Muse by Jamie Roman AKA Effraeti is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at https://awaitingthemuse.wordpress.com/