by Olga Godim
part 1 of 3
The angry tears glistened in Kiryll’s eyes. Baker Rudolf had left him tied to the whipping post like a thief, and although Kiryll’s back smarted from the baker’s whip, the insult stung worse. He wasn’t a thief! A snatched berry tart wasn’t robbery, was it?
Kiryll cursed aloud, trying to ignore the burning in his back and the ache in his arms, tied over his head to the top of the blasted post. Damn the baker! Come nightfall, old Pock would wake up and see him fettered here like a criminal. It would be another beating on top of his stinging welts. Shuddering at the thought, Kiryll bit his lip and tossed the thick sandy hair back from his face.
His hatred towards the pudgy baker grew and sharpened with every minute, until it had morphed into a flaming whip. He would pay back to the sleazy bastard! Kiryll’s imaginary whip licked the baker again and again. Every time the whip plopped, Kiryll could almost see a red line springing along the baker’s fleshy arms. Of course, the baker wasn’t there. The entire vengeful scene was only in Kiryll’s head, but it was satisfying nonetheless. His lips curved in a grin.
“Stop, please! You’re hurting me!” a voice yelled behind him.
The blazing whip in Kiryll’s mind dissolved in a shower of pink sparks. Wincing, he turned as much as his tied hands allowed, but only saw a young traveler tugging at his donkey. What could a donkey possibly do to hurt a grown man? Kiryll returned his attention to his own predicament. What a shame to be tied to the post in front of strangers. The baker deserved what was coming to him. Grinning, Kiryll swished his scarlet whip again.
Suddenly, the owner of the donkey jumped in front of the whipping post, his huge brown eyes frantic, face taut with pain.
Kiryll stared at him in bewilderment, his fantasy whip gone. “You’re talking to me? Stop what, man? I don’t do anything. My hands are tied.” He wanted the man gone and his wonderful, phantom whip reappeared. He had almost forgotten the pain in his back and arms while meting out his illusionary vengeance.
“Yes, you do,” the young stranger insisted, his dark curls bobbing as he nodded. “Look.” He pulled up the sleeves of his olive-green tunic, exposing the angry red welts on his arms. They looked as painful as those on Kiryll’s back.
Kiryll tugged at his bonds. The man was touched, he thought wildly. Someone thrashed him and he blamed Kiryll for his troubles.
“The whip in your head. Please don’t use it again.” The fellow let his sleeves fall.
Kiryll gaped. “The whip in my head? How do you know?”
“I’m going to cut you down, then we’ll talk.”
The stranger’s knife flashed, and Kiryll’s arms fell free. Rubbing them to stop the tingling, he picked up his dusty shirt from the ground and put it on, hissing from pain.
“I’m Mark,” the young man introduced himself, stretching out his small, tawny hand and pretending he didn’t hear Kiryll’s muted obscenities.
“Kir.” Kiryll swallowed the rest of his damn-the-baker-to-perdition mumbling and shook the proffered hand. His own hands were much larger and tougher than Mark’s, even though he was only fourteen and Mark definitely an adult.
“Walk with me, Kir.” Picking up the reins of his donkey, Mark started towards the yellowing birch copse at the edge of the village.
Kiryll fell into step, studying his rescuer. What did the man want with him? Whatever it was, it must be better than slaving for old Pock, without even mentioning bad beatings for only one snatched tart. Maybe this crazy guy needed a servant. Feeling Mark’s scrutiny, Kiryll straightened his aching back, wishing to look as fit as possible.
At the small wooden shrine, Mark tied his complacent donkey to a young poplar sapling beside the door and gestured for Kiryll to enter the cool twilight of the tiny temple. “I’m a magician,” he said at last, “and so are you. Your magic called me here.”
“Yeah, right,” Kiryll muttered. Maybe he shouldn’t have come to the shrine alone with this whacko after all. On the other hand, how did he know about Kiryll’s imaginary whip?
“Yes, you are. You probably wanted to pay back to the guy who had beaten you, so you had conjured that terrible whip. Untrained magic like yours tends to attend to its master’s wishes quite literally. I couldn’t stop you. I could only intercept the whip.”
“Are you saying I can conjure anything? Just like that?” Kiryll snapped his fingers. “Can I conjure new boots?” He grinned, accepting the game.
“You can’t conjure boots from nothing.” Mark shook his head, white teeth flashing in an answering grin. “You can only find a pair close by and wish for them. With your power, you can probably filch them from miles away.”
“That would be stealing.”
“Yes,” Mark said.
Kiryll felt the first twinges of unease creeping up his arms. “What about that whip? I have never seen such a thing. How could I ... filch it?”
“It was not material, Kir. It was sheer power. You don’t need material to destroy. Only to create. Do you want to try the boots?”
Suddenly, Kiryll wanted to be anywhere but in the serene little temple, alone with this small, mischievous imp with black curly hair. Even the whipping post didn’t look so bad. “You’re not joking, are you?” he croaked.
“No.” Mark glanced at Kiryll’s bare feet, almost black from dirt. "What about those boots?"
Kiryll's mouth had dried out. “So I,” he squeaked and had to start again, after licking his lips. “So I wielded that whip? It was real? I could’ve hurt the baker?”
“Yeah, but you’ve hurt me instead.” Mark pointed to his arms.
“I’m sorry,” Kiryll gasped, his breathing getting erratic as he stared at the young magician. What if Mark took offence and turned him into a frog or something? Since magic had returned to the kingdom, all sorts of strange rumors flew around. “Why did you intervene?”
“I couldn’t let you use your magic on an unsuspecting man. Oh, don’t be silly.” Mark snorted. “I’m not going to retaliate. What have you done to get such a whipping?”
“I snatched a tart from the baker’s tray.” Kiryll turned away, studying the dark logs of the wall. An ant crawled industriously in front of his eyes, carrying a dry grass stem. Another followed empty-handed, probably chasing after a thief.
“Not for the first time?” Mark said behind his back.
“Your magic again?” Both ants disappeared into an invisible gap in the wood.
“A lucky guess. I’d like to speak to your parents, Kir.”
Kiryll glanced back at Mark. “Why? I haven’t got any parents. I live with Pock, the innkeeper.”
“I’m sorry.” Mark studied him. “Do you remember your parents?”
“I remember mom. She died when I was four.” It happened so long ago; the memory was fuzzy and warm but didn’t hurt anymore.
“Then I should probably speak to the innkeeper.”
“No, you don’t. Besides he’s asleep, won’t be up till dusk. He always sleeps a day off after drinking. What do you want to speak to him about?”
“Kir, your gift must be trained. You should come with me to the magic school in the capital, but I need your guardian’s permission.”
Kiryll’s heart fluttered like a fish on a hook. He could get away from here! He had to grab the opportunity before old Pock woke up and said no. “Nobody is my guardian. I’m my own man. I’ll go with you.” Breathing heavily, unable to sit still any longer, he jumped up and put all his powers of persuasion into his plea, “Let’s go now. There’s nothing and no one for me here. I’ll do anything you want, Mark. Let’s go.”
How could he convince the magician to leave immediately? If his wishes were coins, he would’ve showered the fellow with them. His imagination supplied a ready picture of silver coins raining at Mark’s feet, like that traveler last winter, who gambled in the tavern and then opened his blue velvet purse, pouring his coins onto the floor. A few coins even clinked merrily against each other, until Mark’s shout stopped their gleeful song.
Kiryll stared at a dozen silver coins at Mark’s feet, feeling suddenly stupid. Then he lifted his eyes to Mark’s face, wincing “Have I stolen them?”
Mark sighed in resignation. “I suppose I have to get you to Lady Eriale as soon as possible. Go pack. We’ll leave right away.”
“I don’t have anything to pack.” Kiryll shrugged. His winter boots were too small anyway, and the old shirt all in tatters. “What about those?” He nodded at the silver coins still dotting the shrine's earthen floor.
“We’ll use them to buy you clothes and boots in Caricap.” Mark bent to pick up the money. “You can’t walk all the way to the capital barefoot.”
“But it isn’t mine.”
“But you don’t know where it came from. You can't return the money anyway, can you?”
Shaking his head, Kiryll picked up a couple of coins to put on the altar and followed his guide and the donkey into the woods. He didn't look back towards the village.
“What’s the name of your donkey, Mark?” he asked after a while.
“Azza.” Mark smiled, patting the gray neck affectionately. “He was born the same day I came to Lady Eriale’s school.”
“Who is that Lady Eriale? Is she a witch?” Kiryll’s common sense, exiled by the whipping, started to seep back into his head, and the first doubts stirred uneasily.
“She is the magic school’s mistress. She’ll be your mentor, I guess.”
“Why can’t you teach me?” Kiryll couldn’t fathom a magician-lady as his teacher. He was just an orphan from Whitewood. “I can be your apprentice. I’ll work, hard, I promise.”
“I can’t teach you, Kir,” Mark shook his head. “Your gift is too strong for me. Your teacher should be able to control your magic, and I can’t. You could never have showered Lady Eriale with coins.” He fell silent.
Kiryll didn’t talk either, gazing thoughtfully at the deep woods closing in on both sides of the forest road. He’d never been this far from Whitewood and he wondered where the road that started from the whipping post in the middle of the village would take him. Maybe he had made a mistake. Maybe he shouldn’t have gone with Mark, at least not before he said goodbye to Pock. The old man was a drunk, true, but he cared for Kiryll and he needed his help. He couldn’t manage the tavern and the stable alone. Kiryll glanced at his companion, but Mark strode ahead without a worry. Azza ambled sedately after his master, snatching a loose leaf or a clump of grass at every opportunity.
“Mark, maybe I should return to say goodbye.” Kiryll stopped abruptly.
Mark stopped too. “Having cold feet already, your own man?”
Kiryll bristled. “I can’t slink away from the village like a thief. We can go tomorrow.”
“No, we can’t. We can’t afford another silver rain, or another whip.” Mark’s expression turned grim. “I sense your power growing and searching for an outlet. You might not have another day. I have to get you to the school with all haste. I hope it’s not too late.”
“But, Pock will be worried sick.”
“We’ll send him a message from Caricap. We have to hurry, Kir. Please.”
Kiryll didn’t understand the urgency, not feeling any more powerful than yesterday, but he nodded anyway, reminded of the flaming whip and the money stolen from he didn’t know whom. Mark started walking again, and he trudged along.
“We won’t reach Caricap before tomorrow,” Mark said later, when the sun crabbed down, and oaks and pines replaced the sunny white birches hedging the road. “We’ll camp here tonight.”
Ahead of them, at the turn of the road, a narrow ribbon of fast-flowing brook glistened under the setting sun. The clearing at the outer curve had evidently been used for camping before. The fire circle even contained some dry wood, and a grassy bed under a huge sprawling willow looked soft and inviting.
While Mark cooked, Kiryll took care of Azza, pouring his doubts into the big, gray ears of the donkey. “I will be a magician, so I shouldn’t worry, right? Your master knows what he is doing. We’ll send Pock a message from Caricap, and the old man would understand. I hope. And then we’ll go to the capital.”
After that was a blank. Kiryll couldn’t imagine what would happen once they reached the magic school. How did people learn to be magicians? The donkey obviously didn’t know. “You’re not listening, are you, silly donkey?”
Azza didn’t answer, chewing lazily.
After dinner, they lay down under the willow, sharing Mark’s blanket and watching the pale, creamy moon low in the twilight sky. The brook gurgled quietly, singing a lullaby.
“Tell me about yourself, Mark.” Kiryll yawned.
Mark started talking about his family, and how he had discovered his own magic, but although Kiryll tried to stay awake and listen, his eyes couldn’t keep open for much longer. Finally, Mark’s voice had dissolved inside his dream.
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Olga Godim