The Silver Door – Two

Reposting in preparation for Bethany’s second story: The Goblin Tree

This post contains Copyrighted material and may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

Song Suggestion: Star by Break of Reality



There was an old gypsy on a particular mountainside, one that bore no name of honor and had not seen the horrors of any battle. It was just a mountainside well within the Blessed Lands and the gypsy liked it well enough. She had an old dog, an ancient cat, and a horse who was so old that her coat had turned a staring white. With the gypsy lived her granddaughter, a pretty child with long, curling black hair and a smile that had to be answered with a smile. Though they were polite, they stayed well off from others and did not try to mix with any, for they were each happy enough with the other’s company.

Once, the wagon had been painted, as all gypsy wagons are. Its central mural was of a large, silver, arched door surrounded by vines laden with blooms of blue and white. Time and weather had worn the paint away until all was naught but shadow, a ghost of the beauty that had once graced the wood.

Sometimes the girl, Bethany, would ask about the door, for gypsy wagons carry the tale of those who own them, like a book anyone might read, if they know how. Always, her grandmother said to her, “not yet, child, not yet.”

Bethany grew, as all children do, blossoming into a lovely young woman whose curling, black hair hung unbound to her waist and moved in the most becoming of ways when she danced, sometimes falling over her sharp, green eyes so that they glittered like hidden jewels from the shadows. Her grandmother, in balance, withered, as the old must do, until, at last, they stood exactly at the opposite ends of life. One was on the very cusp of adulthood, ready to start her true life, as the gypsy folk call it, and the other stood ready at the edge of death, waiting only for the Morrigan to speak her name and call her home.

“Come close,” she told her granddaughter one day when she found herself unable to rise from herbed. Bethany did as she was told. And the old gypsy whispered to her, at last, these words. “There is a door set into an ancient, living tree in the forest. It is high and wide and you might drive a wagon right through it. I will not tell you my story; it is ending and only a fool spends their last moments looking back. Just know that, when I was your age, I was not quite yet ready to settle down and bear children, for I did not yet know my own self. My grandmother lay dying on this very hillside and told me I had a choice, that I could stay here and live quietly or that I could go looking for adventure. This is what I will tell you, as once my own grandmother told me. Go and find the silver door, if you’ve the courage and the wish. Take the journey through. There you will find adventure and not a little wisdom, but danger there is too. I leave you all the clever beasts who have been my friends in life. Forsake them not and they will see you through, though I can not promise you will return if you choose to pass the door and leave the land of your birth.” The gypsy grasped her granddaughter’s hands. “No oath is laid upon you. Go, if you wish more from life than what you are given here. Stay if you like and that will be fine too. All the roads that lie before you are yours to choose. I’ve taught you all I can, given you what tools I deem useful, and there is no more left for me here. Do not weep, child, for a I go to my rest satisfied.” With that, the old woman closed her eyes and, within the hour, she died.

Bethany did cry a little, for she’d been fond of her grandmother and would miss the sound of her voice. She buried the gypsy within her rose garden, which was always her grandmother’s favorite place to sit and watch the bees, birds, and beasts go on about their lives. Then, Bethany set to deciding her own road over the bright, merry light of her fire.

The animals her grandmother left her were old, certainly. The dog’s muzzle was white, the cat did not often go chasing mice – though he always caught them when he did -, and the horse looked hard put to do more than nap all day in the sun and walked with a limp. Nor was the wagon in much shape to go anywhere. It had sat so long its rotted wheels had sunk deep into the hillside and it would take more than even a healthy horse to move it. Bethany had only once been further than the village and never to the dark forest on the horizon. Yet the spirit of the gypsy, a wild and rootless folk, lived within her, so she could not just dismiss the idea of it.

She stayed and muddled so long that the fire grew low and the bright, summer stars winked down at her like old friends. “If you’ve a need for advice, I’ve got some,” said a voice.

Bethany was only mildly surprised to realize it was the cat that had spoken; gypsies know that all cats can speak, when they’ve a mind to. “I’m not sure if it’s advice I’m needing or just courage,” Bethany replied, “but if you are offering, then I am listening.”

The cat looked up at her with eyes that shone like the first grass of spring. He was a large, heavy tom, almost as large as one of the hunting cats of Dumhaile, which stood near as large as medium sized dogs. His coat was deep silver, like twilight shadows, and, within it, there could be seen black spots, as though he had, indeed, descended from those wild, dangerous felines of the green land. And he said to her,” if you stay you will find a quiet life. It will not be exciting. You will not find danger or peril. You will live a perfectly ordinary existence with a man who will soon pass over the mountains from the west. You will bear him fine, strong children and he will love your beauty and your sparkling eyes. He will provide for you in daytime and lie happily with you at night, never straying or wishing he had chosen another. You will die satisfied that you did well enough for yourself, but for one thing. You will always question what would have happened, had you taken the door in the wood.”

Bethany did not question the cat; though they are not always right, cats are uncanny good at predicting the future. “And if I go?” she asked.

“There will be danger and peril aplenty,” the cat replied. It licked its paws and washed its whiskers before saying more. Then it gave Bethany a keen, sharp stare. “But. You will find that all adventures have that and though I cannot say you will survive to old age, you will live a very exciting life. Your only trouble will be knowing that there was the possibility of a life here that had not danger in it.”

Bethany frowned. “In both there is doubt, you say.”

“There is doubt in all life,” the cat replied. “All question, at times, what might have been. It is only a matter of which doubt you would rather have.”

“I do not mind children,” Bethany said quietly. “And to stay would be easier, for the wagon is well and truly planted. But Grandmother always said that inaction is easiest because it is lazy. Perhaps she did not mean me to remember it now, only when I did not do my chores, but now is when I am remembering it.”

“Ah, but there is no shame is a well lived life,” the cat pointed out to her. “And there is no inaction in raising children or keeping a man happy.”

“Only boredom,” Bethany said, realizing that she did not like the sound of that at all and not because she thought it a lesser life, but because her heart yearned to see what lay over the mountains, away from the village and the mountainside where every day was almost exactly like the last. Bethany was smart enough to see that, did she stay, she would not just wander. She would grow sour with her curiosity and resent all that held her from finding out. She would not mind the quiet if she had first seen the storm and might even, she thought, enjoy it. But to succumb to the silence without seeing what else there was felt like it would end in nothing but regret. Bethany smiled at the embers of her fire, for her mind was made up. “I suppose we had better go,” said she.


Feed The Author

Gray – Final

All material contained here is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.

Feed The Dragons

Song Suggestion: Desolation by Nox Arcana



“The forest is on fire.” Ty said. He stopped, looking back at Gray. The girl was asleep on Gray’s shoulder, crimson hair speckled with snowflakes. He’d wrapped the edge of his cloak around her to keep her out of the frigid air. He thought she might have a fever; the warmth coming off her was enough that, even with the chill wind howling around them, where she rested was near to sweating.

Gray looked up at the forest and his heart began to sink. Yes, the forest was on fire. The flames were not ordinary, though. They were a deep, angry red. They lit the southern sky in a wide swath, like a sunrise gone wrong. And at its central point, they rose up, clearly seen, a hellish, towering inferno.

“Mother,” Ty whispered and started to run toward the forest. Gray caught his arm and jerked him roughly back.

“If she wasn’t caught in it, she won’t be there now.” Gray said.

“And if she was?” Ty snapped, jerking free.

“Then you can’t help her,” Gray snapped back. “That’s dwarvish fire. If even a spark gets on you, there will be no putting it out. It will spread and burn until there is nothing left of the chemicals that feed it and it is hellish slow to consume itself.” He tugged at the boy’s arm. “Come with us instead. You might help me with the girl. You can save her yet. But if you run off into that forest, it is unlikely you will come out again.”

“I need to help Mother,” Ty said. “Or find her, at least.”

Gray shrugged. “Help me and we can look for her together after I’ve finished my business. This won’t take me long; whatever the boy might have been to the weavers, he’s gone now and they’ve only themselves to thank for it.”

“Aren’t you afraid they will blame you anyway?”

Gray patted his left breast, where the contract was sewn into the fabric of his cloak. “I’ve got insurance. I did not kill the boy or sabotage him. He died because the weavers were too impatient and forced him to expose himself. I tried to save him. Our bargain is fulfilled.”

“Weavers are liars,” Ty protested.

“That they are. Which is why, if you intend to deal with one, you need to know how to bind them to their word. No matter if they want to kill me – and I assure you, they will – there is not a weaver which has pledged himself to The Coven that may touch me, now.”

They walked on in silence for a few more minutes. Despite Ty’s insistence he must find Angelica, he stayed with Gray. They both knew why and it lay between them, heavy as an anvil, but they did not say it; it was easier to pretend they might find Angelica still living, far away from those fierce flames. But there was no question that, had she been able to escape, she’d have come after her son. Those booms they’d heard earlier were explosions and, unless Gray was miscalculating, it had been right where the camp was. He’d thought that when he heard them and now, seeing those flames, he feared the worst.

“Why do Dwarves need such fire,” Ty asked suddenly.

Gray was happy to answer, if only to avoid thinking about Angelica. “They don’t. It’s a byproduct. They call it by many names, but the most common is the mountain cleaver. It’s an explosive they mix up and they use it only when they’re digging out the first tunnel in a new mountain; for all that it might break a boulder in half, it also might bring twenty more from the ceiling. The fire it creates cannot be extinguished just by pouring water on it or trying to smother it. It will burn until there is none of the mixture left and, like I said before, it is a slow fuel.”

“Do the weavers have dwarves now too? Or is this something else?” Ty asked.

“That I don’t know,” Gray said. “They may have a new ally. There is no shortage of those that would like to gain more power. It wouldn’t be dwarves; they don’t attack other lands. They stay in their mountains, mining and building. They are fierce and they love to fight, but they don’t go looking for trouble. I think it’s odd that the weavers have their potion, but I don’t know where they would have gotten it. Dwarves loathe magic casters. They are sturdy, grounded folk that think it perilous to play with such things. They don’t give the cleaver to anyone, either; they fear it as much as they appreciate its usefulness. Some say there’s dragon blood in it, but I doubt that; a dragon wouldn’t give its blood just for blasting tunnels.”

They came to the long line of the forest on the eastern edge of the city. Here, the chemise vines hung in a curtain from the trees, like a lady’s skirts. Gray and Ty slipped past, into the dark under the trees, past the pale shimmer of the barrier. The first wave of warm air washed over them. Gray took a deep breath and was sorry; the acrid stench of the cleaver hung thick on the still, moist air and it gave him an instant, sharp pain in his head which felt like a very long, cold splinter driving into his brain.

They moved down a path laid with white stones, which had been wrought from moonsand so that they shown clear through the mist. No dirt covered them, none of the moss which grew in a thick carpet over all else had touched the stones, and they did not sink. For as long as Gray could remember, this had been true. Ahead, a wide, round clearing opened up and, over it, stood a tree. It was not like the slim, thinly rooted trees of the forest. It had a thick trunk and a wide canopy of twisted branches which reached out in all directions and were thick with pale, silvery leaves. Tales said that, when the first king was crowned in the clearing, before Blossom Town grew up around his castle, the tree had sprung up from the moss. Weaver magic, Gray suspected; they had loved their king, then. And every king since had been crowned there.

Now the lower branches of the tree were hung with dim lanterns and there were many weavers milling around in the light. Most of them wore the red and gray of ordinary weavers. One or two wore black. But the man Gray was looking for stood apart, leaning against the tree and Gray knew he was waiting for him. His robes were more silver than gray and the crimson edging looked like silk.

“Keep the girl here. Don’t show yourselves,” Gray said, handing the sleeping child to Ty. “My contract doesn’t include friends.”

Ty nodded and Gray moved forward. The Enforcers nearest the path looked up as he entered, but they did not move from their fires. They had meat roasting on spits and they seemed uninterested in leaving it.

The weaver under the tree stood up straighter at his approach. “Where’s the boy?” he asked without a greeting.

“Dead,” Gray replied. “You killed him with your impatience.” Gray didn’t bother to apologize; he’d done his best.

“He was a fire weaver,” the weaver said. “Surely he didn’t freeze.”

“He was a fire weaver freezing in a city full of Enforcers who kill every weaver they find.Would you like it spelled out for you?”

The weaver’s lips thinned. “So you’ve no proof with you?”

Gray sighed. “Well, you’re welcome to try and set me on fire. But, if I’m not lying, you know what will happen to you.”

The weaver raised one eyebrow. Then, without turning, he called out. “Mitrel. Come here.”

Another weaver jogged forward. His dark hair was slicked back and his bright, gray eyes were eager to please. “Yes, my Lord Tyrel, what do you need?” The new weaver was near to blushing and he bowed so low that he was nearly doubled over. If he had been a woman, Gray would have thought he was fawning over Tyrel.

Tyrel did not look impressed. “Burn this man,” he said, sounding bored.

Gray tensed; it was one thing to know, intellectually, that he was safe. It was another to test the rumors. He stood his ground, though. Mitrel turned and, with a small smirk, flicked his fingers at Gray. Fire flowed around him and he could feel the heat of it, deadly and hungry. But it did not burn him. Instead, it twisted back on its master, twisting itself around the weaver like a snake and sinking into his skin. Mitrel began to scream. His face turned ruddy then split open in cracks of fire. The flesh peeled back, burnt black, and he crumpled to the ground, smoke rolling from between his slightly parted lips. Silence fell.

Tyrel scowled down at the corpse. “Brother Mitrel wasn’t worth much,” he said. “Always getting in the way. The blizzard was his idea and he implemented it without waiting for me to return. So I suppose you’ve solved that problem for me. I’d rather have had him hung before The Coven by his toes, of course.”

Gray tried not to look disturbed and let his eyes wander up the tree. His stomach dropped. The lanterns in the tree weren’t actually lanterns of the normal sort. They were severed heads with their eyes cut out and mouths gaping, tongueless, so that the flames hovering inside could shine out.

“Ah, yes. The brigands in the woods. They’ve long been a nuisance,” Tyrel said, following his gaze. “Since long before we were driven from the city. They finally gave their position away and the queen ordered them destroyed. Those that did not burn ran right into the Enforcers. We gave them the meat; they don’t often get the sort of flesh they crave. But I didn’t want to waste their heads. Used in such a way, they keep off vengeful spirits, did you know that?”

“I didn’t,” Gray choked out, forcing himself to look away from Angelica’s face, beautiful, even now, in this terrible guise of death. “I’m sorry about the boy,” he managed.

“Did he have anyone with him?” Tyrel asked. “A friend, maybe? Or a girl? We thought he might have a sister.”

The instincts which had served Gray so well for so long kicked in. Maybe it was the slight inflection on the word ‘girl’ or the strange shine in his eyes, but the weaver was far more interested in Leo’s sister than he had been in the boy. Gray met his eyes and shrugged. “There was a young girl. She ran off during the fight and I didn’t think you’d care about her without him.”

“Indeed not,” the weaver said, but Gray could see his distress clearly now.

“She was only a little thing. Dressed in rags. She won’t last long in the storm. Most of the homeless are already dead. I wouldn’t worry about her.” Gray gave the man a thin smile. “You’ve no more use for me, I suppose. So I’ll just be on my way.” He made a bow and, somehow, managed not to look up at Angelica’s head, caught in the branches of the King Tree, guarding Tyrel from angry spirits. Had her son not been waiting in the shadows, if he did not feel it was his duty, now, to take care of the boy, he’d have grabbed the weaver and broken his neck, no matter the consequences. Instead, he turned and walked away and he did not look back.

In the forest, he quickly gathered the girl to him. “We need to run,” he told Ty.

“But Mother —”

“Forget her,” Gray said sharply. “We can do nothing for her now. The weavers killed them all and burned the camp.”

“We don’t know that they caught her, though,” Ty said.

“We do,” Gray hissed and grabbed his arm. “Your mother asked me to bring you back to her, if I could. I promised her that I would not let you come to harm. You must come with me, now. You must trust me.”

“How do you know she’s dead?” Ty asked.

Gray shook his head. “I will not tell you. Not here. This is no place for it. But your mother is gone.”

“Then I must avenge her,” Ty said, pulling away.

“And you will die,” Gray said. “Your mother spent her life saving orphans and protecting those that could not help themselves. She would not want you to throw your life away trying to take one or two weavers. If you want to hurt them, then come with me. There is something about this girl, something that has made them desperate.”

“Any idea what?” Ty asked.

“None,” Gray said. “But it was her, not her brother they really wanted. Which means we need to get her out of Iviradelle and figure out why. Will you come with me? Will you help me?”

“Where would we go?” the boy asked.

“As far away as we can get,” Gray replied, turning toward Aerie Falls. “Northeast, I think.”

“What’s Northeast?” Ty asked.

“Dwarves,” Gray said and started west; though he did not want the delay, he felt that Aerie Falls would give them a head start. The weavers would lose them there, if they tried to follow and, from there, he knew a path that would keep them hidden, so long as they were careful. “I want to have a talk with them about their knives.”

Gray – Ten

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Support The Author

Song Suggestion: Footsteps In The Dust by Midnight Syndicate



They heard the cursing as they turned back into a cluster of proper houses. Even above the wind, they could hear the shouts and laughter of the Enforcers. They could see the flashes of flame lighting up one alley. Even as they turned down it, Gray got that sickening twist in his stomach again. It wasn’t just any alley. It was the alley. His palm tingled along the old scar. He could remember the way the glass bit into his flesh and the gruesome line it had drawn across his sister’s pale throat.

Gray could see Jezzie so clear that, at first glance, he thought it was her he saw pressed up against the the North wall of the city, creating a dead end. Then he blinked and the girl he saw was a child only, perhaps half the age Jezzie had been. Her thick, crimson curls were a wild frame for her cherubic face and, yes, she did look like his sister, enough to give him chills up his spine. The boy in front of her was no more than twelve. He faced the three Enforcers with their heavy axes, his breath streaming in white plums on the frozen air. Leo’s hands were wreathed in flames that looked strange. They were pale, icy blue against his skin and tinted orange around the edges and something about that seemed wrong to Gray. The smell of burning filled the narrow space.

“If you still have that knife, we need it,” Gray said to Ty. Leo threw fistfuls of flame at the Enforcers. It rippled around them and died, seeming to peel off their skin like butter off a hot knife. One of the Enforcers laughed. Gray felt a chill. The man was much older now; there was gray in the dark cap of his close grown hair, but his face was all too familiar; Gray saw it every time he had the nightmare. Keder, they called him. And he had been following Jezzie for nearly a month before the night the Enforcers tried to take her, making lewd offers and telling her all the horrible things he’d planned for her. He tried his best to catch her alone, but Gray had been very careful not to let that happen.

It had been in this alley where, rather than give them what they wanted, Jezzie had asked him to help her escape and given him the long shard of glass she’d begun to carry in her apron pocket. Gray saw the knife in Ty’s hand, pulled from one of his many hidden pockets. Rage was unspooling inside him. He’d held it for so long, always thinking about this day, always looking for vengeance. He had nearly given up on finding a way to kill Keder. Revenge was the only reason he’d remained in Iviradelle. And, in less than a few minutes, Ty had given him both the answer and the method.

Gray lunged forward, his years as a thief wrapping around him, guiding him. One foot drove down on the icy cobbles and one hand made a snakelike grab at the knife, which his fingers curled around and steadied, the blade pressing against his forearm. His other foot planted itself on the wooden wall shielding the alley from the dark spaces beneath the surrounding houses. He landed with one arm curling around Keder’s thick neck and his knee was planted solidly in the big man’s back. He flipped the knife and did not take a even a moment to enjoy the sound of surprise the man made. Gray plunged the blade into Keder’s throat, all the way to the hilt, and it slid in easily. All this took an instant. No-one, not even Ty, had done more than blink.

“That’s for Jezzie,” he hissed in Keder’s ear. The knife moved easily through muscle and tendon, slicing the juglar vein so that bright blood jetted sprayed into the wind as Gray jerked the blade free. “And this is for my mother.” He drove the knife down again. The snow beneath them was a deepening red. Gray leapt away from Keder, carrying the knife with him, and the man dropped, clawing at his throat, and hit the ground heavily. Gray turned his attention to the other two Enforcers. They eyed his knife as if it might jump out of his hand and slash their throats on its own. Dwarvish runes cut along the center of the blade flared to life, burning red gold, as though the blade had just been thrust into a forge.

“Dwarf iron,” one of the men snarled. He began to back away. “Someone’s given him a dwarf fang to bite with. This is a weaver’s doing. They’ve broken the contract.” He spat to one side. “Filthy little moles have found us.” He glared at Gray. “Get the others. It’s time to be done with the casters, once and for all. Starting with this lot.” The Enforcer shoved his companion out of the alley, then turned and fled. Gray let them go. With Keder dead, all the rage ran out of him and he remembered why he was there. Not for revenge, but to collect the boy. He turned toward the children.

Leo was sitting on his knees, head bowed, as if exhausted, and his sister sobbed behind him. The smell of roasted flesh was thick. Gray was unnerved to see that the girl actually did resemble Jezzie, that it had not been a trick of memory and sorrow. Only her wide, shining eyes were different, not blue-gray, but paler, almost silver. Gray stepped forward and touched the boy, then drew his hand back with a hiss. Leo was boiling hot. The snow around him was melting swiftly and running in small rivers along the edges of the cobbles. Ty had another dagger in his hand, just an ordinary blade. He used it to tip Leo’s head up so they could see his face. He quickly let it drop again and he looked at Gray solemnly.

“He wasn’t skilled enough,” Gray said, when he could speak again. “He let it get ahold of him.”

“What will you tell the weavers?” Ty asked.

“That their impatience killed him,” Gray said. “If they hadn’t tried to freeze their way in, he’d never have exposed himself. Why the bloody hell they went through all the trouble of catching me so they could hire me,  then pulled this idiocy, I cannot say. They sabotaged any chance they had of getting him.” He turned to look at the girl again. She’d stopped crying and was watching them with her uncanny, pale eyes. He held out his hand to her. “What’s you name, girl?” he asked. At least Ty could take her back to Angelica. She would not turn away the girl, no matter what her brother had been. The child shrank from him.

“I told you, she doesn’t speak,” Ty said. “Least not that I’ve ever heard. Leo called her Sophia.” He moved past Gray and knelt down, holding out a small, dried apple that he’d produced from his pockets. “Do you remember seeing me before?” Ty asked. “Sometimes I help the orphans.”

The girl didn’t move for a long time. Her eyes flicked between them to her brother and back again. At last, she crept forward. She ignored Ty’s apple and went to her brother. Ty began to reach for her, but Gray stopped him. “She needs to know,” he whispered.

“But he’s….”

Gray nodded, his mouth a grim line. “But if she does not see him now, she’ll always wonder.”

“She’ll have nightmares,” Ty protested.

“Don’t we all?” Gray asked. “She needs to know; we cannot leave her here and we don’t have time to fight her.” They watched as the girl bent, peering at her brother’s face for a long time. There was none of the disgust or pain Gray was expecting, but he realized, when she sat back, that it was not because she did not feel anything. Rather, the emotion assailing her was simply too big and she was, after all, only a little thing.

There was a drop in the wind and they heard many booted feet moving toward them. “We have to go,” Ty said.

The girl looked up at his words and stood. She stepped to her brother and bent to give him a soft kiss on his sandy blond hair. Then she walked to Gray and held up her arms to him as though they knew each other very well. He hesitated a moment, then picked her up. He could feel her bones through her dress and she was almost as light as a bird.

Gray looked back, just once, at the boy. He vowed to himself that this would be the last time he left a body in this alley, lest it be those of more Enforcers. For a moment, he thought he saw a girl standing over the burnt corpse, slim and fair, with crimson curls dancing around her like flames. Then she was gone and Gray told himself it was just a trick of the snow and wind. He did not look back again.

Gray – Nine

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Song Suggestion: Loveless by Nox Arcana



Shanty town was just what it sounded like. Bits of burnt wood and tarp nailed together into ragged shacks. They had gone to the tavern first, but the door hung open on its hinges and the fireplaces inside were cold and dark. A quick search had revealed that there was no-one inside and even though neither of them said anything, Gray knew they were both thinking the same thing, that, storm or no storm, it wasn’t a good sign.

They had moved toward the shanties just beyond and Gray nearly stumbled into the first one and, when he put his hand out to steady himself, it moved too much for his liking.

“When the queen was still here, she’d not have any of the burnt houses left and she certainly wouldn’t have tolerated this. But nobody misses her.” Ty tried to smile at Gray, but didn’t manage it. “She did not like to see anything dirty or broken and that included people.”

“We used to scare each other with tales of her,” Gray said. “We used to believe she had all the most beautiful girls brought to her so she could bleed them out in her bathing tub and soak in their blood. We used to say that was how she stayed so young.”

“Better than what really happens to them,” Ty said. Gray felt the old, familiar burn of impotent anger in his chest; no boy, barely old enough to think of betrothal, ought to speak with such a world weary resignation.

“Sometimes death is better,” Gray muttered, thinking of Jezzie, defiant to the end, unwilling to let them have her, and of Mary, who knew what lay before her and had taken the only action she could to save herself from it.

He saw the snow was clearing a bit, opening up so the scattered shacks became gray shadows in the snow, creating a sort of labyrinthine maze. He spotted a strange shape, a soft sort of heap inside one of the shanties, covered by snow that had blown in through the doorway. He started to move toward it, trying to understand what it was, then it clicked home and he recoiled.

Ty stepped closer, following his gaze, and winced. “Aye, we better hurry. If Leo doesn’t use his gifts, we might already be too late. If he does….” He shook his head. “They can smell magic, you know?”

“Who?” Gray asked, trying not to see how many other lumps there were in and around the shanties. The shape that made them human had been softened by the snow lying over them, but that, if anything, made the scene that much worse; even in death the helpless of Blossom Town were given no dignity.

“The Enforcers. They can smell magic.”

“I’ve never heard that one,” Gray said.

“Because nobody else watches them,” Ty said. “But I’ve been trying to figure out a way to, you know.” He made a slashing motion with his finger across his throat. “Papa used to say the only way to defeat an enemy is to know their weaknesses and he was the one that had us trying to discover if they could be bested.”

Gray snorted. “They can’t. Think the weavers would be trying to freeze them to death like this if they did? Do you think the weavers would ever have left the city to them?”

“But the weavers don’t do knife work,” Ty said. “Don’t like to get their hands dirty, do they? And the Enforcers do have a weakness.”

Gray stopped and grabbed the boy by the arm. “Wait. You know of one?”

“I’ve seen it in action,” Ty said. “Black iron. The sort the dwarves call cold iron, according to Mother. They hate it.”

“Well, so do the weavers,” Gray said. “But it doesn’t hurt them, exactly. It just irritates their senses. Too heavy, I’d guess, if I had to. Black iron has a taste and a smell to it, even for normal folk and I’ve heard that those who deal in magic find it overpowering.”

“No, it isn’t like the weavers at all,” Ty said, impatient. “It’s like the fey. You know, like in the stories. It hurts them, even when it’s just close to them.” He paused, licking his lips. “You can’t tell my mother. I mean, it won’t make much difference; we don’t have much of the stuff here. The ground sucks up anything that’s got weight to it and pulls it too deep for finding. But I have been trying out different things. If she finds out about that, she’ll make me stay in camp and won’t let me leave for a good, long while, if ever.”

“How and what have you been trying out?” Gray asked, not promising anything; if Angelica found out, he’d not be keeping his mouth shut. They would both suffer her wrath at that point.

“I had a few of the orphans helping me. I decided to try iron because steel knives and swords just sort of bounce off. And the usual iron did the same thing. But I got hold of this black iron knife off an eastern trader we caught in the forest and robbed. It cuts right through them.”

“And your mother doesn’t know?” Gray asked, surprised; even Angelica would have been happy to have that knowledge, though not, perhaps, the way her son had come by it.

“Grandpa didn’t want her to. She’d have stopped us and he wasn’t ready to tell her; it may cut them, but you’ve got to get close enough to use it and the knife was only a small thing.”

“Aye,” Gray said. “Black iron comes from the dwarves and they only sell a few of those weapons, usually for more than even the wealthy can meet. I’ve never even seen a knife, though I’ve heard a legend or two about a sword.”

“Grandpa was looking for a better answer. Then he died.”

Gray nodded and touched his talisman. The cold iron ring around the silver triangle felt reassuring against his skin, now, a promise that, even if it couldn’t protect him, it might distract an Enforcer long enough to give him an escape, if they were caught. “I want a full account, later. First, though, let’s find the boy.”

Gray – Eight

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Feed The Beasties

Song Suggestion: Ceremonial Spell by Adrian Von Ziegler



There was a blizzard over Blossom Town. Thick, black clouds, lit from beneath by the light of the barrier. Around the outside of the soft, filmy shell, which glimmered and swirled like a lady’s skirts, the air was soft, warm, and fragrant. It was a few degrees cooler than the air in the forest, but not cold. Beyond the barrier, thick curtains of white billowed down and Gray could hear the wind howling. The wall of the town was barely visible through the falling snow and beyond that, all was lost.

Some of the snow drifted through, but, as it blew past the translucent barrier, it turned to rain and the howling gale became a soft breeze. Gray pulled his heavy cloak around him, glad he hadn’t left it behind at the camp; he’d been unwilling to chance parting with the contract he’d gotten from the fire weaver. “They’re idiots,” he whispered. “I never much doubted that, but now they’re flaunting it. They’ll freeze the kid to death if he’s an orphan.”

“They probably think he’ll be using his magic to keep himself warm. Or that it will use him. It’s like that, sometimes.” Ty shook his head and pulled his hood up. “I’d not be a weaver for all the silver in Iviradelle. It seems too much like they don’t have the power as much as it has them. Like it’s some sort of parasite.” He spat sideways.

“Using it would be suicide,” Gray said. “The Enforcers will murder him.”

“Weavers won’t consider that. You know what they’re like,” Ty said. “They don’t think, for all that they are meant to be educated.”

Gray nodded, grim. “About as subtle as a mad bull, they are. And not near as smart. Let’s go. I want to be done with this.” They moved forward swiftly. Gray hesitated at the barrier, but Ty slid through easily, so he followed. There was a tingling sensation, then the cold air hit him with a vicious slap that stole his breath and the wind began to tear at his cloak.

The closer they got to the city, the heavier the snowfall got, stinging Gray’s cheeks and forcing him to drop his eyes and run his shoulder against the wall to keep from wandering off in the wrong direction. “At least the storm makes an excellent cover,” Ty said. His voice was nearly lost in the wind. He turned and walked along the northwest wall. Like the roadways, it was made of wood which had been painted with a black substance, what the carpenters called vitarel, to keep it from burning. Stone walls were apt to sink and that made them crumble. Wood walls – and their protection from flaming arrows and lightning strikes alike – were necessary.

Ty stopped, suddenly, though Gray could see no reason for it, and turned. He touched the wall carefully, then pressed a board. A small section of the wall swung inward. “You’d think everyone would have fled through this by now,” Gray said.

Ty shook his head. “It only opens from the outside.And only we know where it is. The Enforcers have their spies. Some of them are the ones that have strange appetites, like the men that like children in all the wrong ways. Others are just doing it because it keeps them off the streets and makes them more important than they would be otherwise. And some are just too afraid to be called traitors, should an attempt to escape be discovered. There may not be any weavers left in the city, but there is still plenty of terror. Anyway, it’s harder to get a man to walk away from all he knows, even if none of it is good, than you’d think.” Ty looked back at Gray. “If the Enforcers found out about our little hole, we’d all be done for. That’s why Grandpa let them catch him. He died so they wouldn’t find our way in and out. It’s my duty to keep it secret and now it’s yours too. Not even mother knows how we pass into the city.”

“I won’t let anyone find it,” Gray said.

Ty nodded and stepped through. He followed and they were instantly out of the wind and snow, though they were no warmer. The space was small and smelled musty. Ty lit a candle and Gray found himself in what looked like a small shed. “Belongs to a friend,” Ty hissed. He bent and pulled a thin rope through the space between the wood floor and the door out.

“Leo and his sister usually stay closer to shanty town, over by the Rotten Blossom.” They moved to the door and peeked out. “It really is excellent cover, this snow,” Ty said again. “We could walk right down the middle of the street without being seen.”

“I’d feel better in the alleys anyway,” Gray said and stepped outside. “I’ve never heard of shanty town or the Rotten Blossom. Where is it?”

“Northeast side of the city,” Ty said. “The Enforcers burned down so many houses over there that it was just a pile of old ash and wood. The Blossom is about the only place where normal folk gather. It isn’t a brothel or a tavern Enforcers gather in. Mostly it caters to drunkards. But they sometimes let the orphans sleep in the attic when nobody’s looking. Beyond it is a sign for Ashland. I guess that’s what it was back when there were houses there. Anyway, it’s all shanties now. Anyone that can’t find a better place calls it home.” Gray closed his eyes; this trip down memory lane was determined to take him all the way back, to the places he’d vowed he would never visit again. “Hopefully they’ve got enough blankets to survive this without Leo using his magic. Or maybe they took refuge in the Blossom. The master might have opened his door to the homeless; even the Enforcers couldn’t protest such pity in this weather.”

Gray snorted. “I know too much of their kind to think that. If this cold hasn’t driven them inside, they are probably out watching orphans freeze to death and taking bets on which ones will live longest.” Ty didn’t answer, but there was a tightness to his mouth that said he knew just how possible that was.

They moved quickly. The world was so empty, no sound but that of the howling wind, all things turned to shadow in the drifting curtains of white, that Gray found himself imagining that they’d somehow crossed into the land of the dead. Even the river was silent, frozen and covered with a blanket of snow, visible only where the bridge cut the wind and snow, the terror of it’s deadly currents caught in thick, choppy ice.

They stepped up on the bridge and the wind tore at them again, stronger now, as though angry they’d escaped it for even a few moments. The snow grew heavier still, until they were no longer able to see much more than blurred shadows of each other. Once, the wind went still and Gray heard a succession of distant, thunderous booms coming from the direction of the forest. They both paused, expectant faces turned, waiting for some attack or rain of fire, but none came. Whatever the weavers were up to, it had nothing to do with Blossom Town.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Ty said.

“It’s got nothing to do with us,” Gray replied.

“It sounded as though it was in the forest. What if they found the camp? Mother….”

Gray caught Ty’s arm. “The camp is well hidden and has been for far longer than you’ve been alive. They have looked before and never found it.” Gray smiled. “And your mother is dead clever. I ought to know. I taught her.”

Ty paused a moment longer, then, with a nod, he smiled back. “You’re right. I’m sure she’s fine.” He relaxed and turned back into the wind. Gray followed him, his own smile fading fast. He glanced over his shoulder, in the direction of the booming, and there was an expression of dread and worry on his face.