by Olga Godim
Part 1 and part 3|
appear in this issue.
|part 2 of 3|
Mark’s shout, combined with the donkey’s frightened braying, pulled Kiryll out of his shining dream-world. He sat up, heart beating frantically. The bright, midnight moon high overhead illuminated the little clearing. A few steps away, Mark tried to coax their banked fire back to life. The donkey, tied to a neighboring bush, tugged at his rope in a futile attempt to get as far from the road as possible. And across the narrow road, in the woods, a multitude of hungry, yellow eyes gleamed, pinpointing a wolf pack. Kiryll jumped to his feet, just as the bravest of the wolves risked the open space, approaching their meal on silent paws.
“Mark,” Kiryll whispered. The fire started at last and the gray predators paused.
Picking up a long thick branch from the ground, Mark ignited it in the fire and faced the wolves. “Kir, get my knife from the saddlebag,” he ordered without turning.
“That’s a pack of man-hunters.” Kiryll’s stomach clenched painfully. A small knife didn’t make him feel any safer. “A hunter in the tavern talked about them the other day.”
The wolves resumed their approach, snarling at the fire, more of them emerging from the woods.
“Now is the time for your whip,” Mark breathed. “Can you manage it?”
The first beast leaped. Deflected by Mark’s flaming staff, he bounced away from the fire, howling angrily, but the other two followed suit. Mark kicked one, swung his branch to get the other, but still more came.
Kiryll dropped the knife and closed his eyes, fear and anger boiling bloody-red inside his mind. Those foul predators would get neither him nor Mark, he vowed. He wouldn’t even give up little Azza. He would show them the whip. No, not the whip, something better; something to teach those gluttonous man-gobblers a lesson.
He imagined a hot-red rock in his hand and hurled it toward the closest wolf, then another one and another one. The rocks appeared in his hand out of nowhere; he continued throwing them without opening his eyes. None of his missiles missed the target, and every hit filled him with incredible joy, fueling more of his flaming projectiles. They danced obediently around him, ready for grasps, and the pitiful yelps of the wolves hardly penetrated the red crowd.
Mark’s voice came through distant and small, almost insignificant, and the meaning escaped Kiryll altogether. “Enough, Kir. Please, enough. Stop, Kiryll!”
Another hot stone appeared in Kiryll’s hand and he prepared to fling it at the wolves but suddenly couldn’t see them anymore. Instead of their bright, golden-brown auras, only small black puffs surrounded him now, and the rock started burning in his hand. Desperate, he searched for another target, any target, to get rid of the fire in his palm, found it braying nearby, and let the fiery stone fly. The braying had stopped.
Before Kiryll could snatch another of his victorious grenades, a splash of cold water in the face woke him up. Shuddering, he opened his eyes. Mark stood in front of him with an empty pot in his hands and white terror on his face. Kiryll’s hand still burned. He grimaced and then suddenly noticed Azza’s unmoving, half-charred carcass near the water.
A slimy cold licked at his face and neck, promptly sneaking inside, as the silence of the night swelled, huge and dark. Mark, still gripping the empty pot, watched him. Kiryll glanced over Mark’s shoulder, to the multitude of dark smoking shapes behind their small fire, and sank to the ground, his body shaking so hard his teeth clattered.
“What ... have ... I ... done?” Every word came out separately, interspaced by the rattling of his teeth.
“I’m sorry, Kir. I shouldn’t have asked you to fight. You’re not ready, not yet. I’m sorry.” Mark threw the pot away, wrapping Kiryll tightly in his blanket.
“I killed Azza,” Kiryll sobbed, weakness rattling his body.
“Yes. And the wolves. You’ve saved our sorry asses, Master Kir.”
“I killed Azza,” Kiryll repeated, his eyes glued to the small dark shape of the donkey that listened so kindly to his prattle last evening. “I almost killed you,” he whispered, remembering the joy and the red rocks that jumped so readily into his hand.
That hand still burned. Trying to suppress his tremors, Kiryll pulled it from the blanket to examine closely and gasped: the skin from his palm had been burnt away. “Could magic hurt its own magician?” It could kill, a small voice piped in his head.
Mark swore in reply.
They didn’t sleep again. Kiryll couldn’t. His hand hurt, his head ached, as if hammers beat on his skull from the inside, his back stung from the yesterday’s beating, and his heart wept every time his gaze fell on Azza’s dead form, still tied to a bush nearby.
Kiryll listened to Mark’s outrageous stories about his apprenticeship in the magic school with only half an ear, dread piling up in his mind. His magic, voracious and fatal like those wolves, wouldn’t have stopped devouring lives, if Mark hadn’t drenched him with cold water. He would’ve killed Mark too, he knew it. The wolves had to be dealt with, but why did he derive so much pleasure from every death? Was he a killer? Was his magic murderous? Maybe the baker was right to punish him? The memory of his ecstasy, while handling those red ... whatever, made him sick.
“Kiryll?” Mark propped himself on one elbow, his dusky face almost black in the predawn grayness. “Don’t blame yourself. You did great for the first time.”
“Did I? My magic killed, Mark. It wanted to kill.” Kiryll didn’t look at the older man.
“Your magic didn’t want to kill. You were scared witless, Kir. You fought for your life and mine. What you experienced tonight, every fighter knows as a state of battle madness. It passes. An experienced fighter once told me that he always felt dirty after a battle; and the bloodier the battle, the harder the aftermath.”
“But ... you didn’t fight with your magic. You fought with a stick.”
Mark laughed. “Because I can’t, silly. My magic is much weaker than yours.”
“What can you do with it then?”
“I help things grow. Look.” Mark touched a slender grass blade; the dewdrops on it tinted pink from the first rays of sunlight. A small greenish whirlwind, which always spun around the young magician, now trickled through his fingers into the grass, and it grew before Kiryll’s eyes.
Kiryll smiled -- he couldn’t help it. “That’s great, Mark! Um ...” He hesitated.
“You can ask me anything.”
“The green cloud around you, is it connected to magic? The grass kind of drank it up.” Noticing Mark’s odd expression, Kiryll crimped his nose. “It’s stupid, isn’t it?”
“No.” Mark shook his head. “It’s magic. But I was shielded. You shouldn’t have been able to see it. Your magic is even stronger than I thought.”
Kiryll had dismissed Mark’s concern. “Then everyone with a green cloud is a magician?”
“Every magician has an aura of different color. It’s like a hair color.” Mark grinned. “And the brighter the aura, the stronger the magic. Your aura was red when you fought, and it flared like a bonfire. Now -- it’s kind of pretty, twinkling pink. Tired, I guess.” He winked.
Kiryll blushed. “I don’t like pink,” he mumbled.
“Get used to it, great magician Kiryll.” Mark scrambled to his feet. “It’s light already. We might as well get going.” He began gathering their things, scattered during the fight. “Can you?”
But Kiryll wanted to know more. “Mark, all people have small clouds of color, mostly gray or brown. Animals too. What does it mean?”
“That cloud is a life force of a person. How long ago did you start seeing them?”
“Since forever. Doesn’t everyone? My mom taught me to see them.”
“Your mom must’ve had magic of her own. Only magicians can see those clouds, Kir.” Mark’s voice softened. “Your mom probably knew about your magical gift and put a veil around you before she died. It had slipped off when that baker whipped you.”
Kiryll nodded. The chat with Mark had calmed him a little, but he was still dubious about his new ability. And pink?
In Caricap, after visiting a healer and sleeping for eternity, he was ready for the world again.
“I sent a message to your village and talked to a caravan-master,” Mark told him over breakfast. “We’re leaving with the caravan tomorrow. Today, let’s go to the cattle fair.”
Kiryll nodded enthusiastically. He had always wanted to see a fair, and now was his chance. He would be a magician! He would go to as many fairs as he wanted, do tricks, and earn good money. Or maybe he would perform in inns. He glanced around the taproom of their inn, empty in the morning except them and the old, wizened man in the corner, who coughed more than he ate. Kiryll imagined the room packed, as Pock’s usually was every evening, smoke from many pipes rising in the air, mugs clanking, men slapping their tables to get the servers’ attention. And himself at the hearth, bowing to his happy customers.
“Kiryll!” Mark’s voice rang like a temple bell.
Shaking off his trance, Kiryll looked around, surprised by a haze of pipe smoke, hanging beneath the dark wooden beams of the ceiling. His customers’ clapping still echoed between the vacant tables.
“Are you burning my tavern, you ruffians?” A big, dark-haired woman, the innkeeper’s wife, rushed in from the kitchen, her suspicious eyes scanning the dimly-lit, empty room.
“It came from the outside, mistress,” Mark said smoothly, pulling Kiryll to his feet and tugging him towards the door. “Control your fantasy,” he hissed in Kiryll’s ear. “What did you think of now?”
“A full tavern.” Kiryll felt his cheeks and neck turning hot. His magic was playing tricks on him. He didn’t intend anything. It just took over his imagination. “Did I make that smoke?”
So now, he couldn’t even dream. Kiryll’s mood darkened. What was his damn magic good for anyway? So far, he didn’t see any benefits. Perhaps, he could become a hunter. If he learned not to burn his game, he could sell animal hides for a nice profit.
Copyright © 2007 by Olga Godim