Istria, 1679 A.D.
Sired by magick and violence, sixteen-year-old Liara is found guilty of witchcraft and banished from her tiny village by the very priest who raised, then betrayed her. However, a mysterious mage steps forward to assume custody of her: Nagarath, the Wizard of Parentino, whose secret spellwork has long protected both Liara and Dvigrad from the ravages of war. Despite Liara’s best hopes, Nagarath refuses to apprentice her to his craft but tasks her instead with the restoration of his neglected library. Liara gleans what magickal knowledge she can on the sly, determined to learn, come what may. But the first test of her stolen knowledge goes awry and renews an evil wizard’s interest in the people of the Limska Draga valley. Only by tapping Liara’s inherent magick and joining it with his own can Nagarath protect Parentino from suffering a horrible fate. However, her discovery of his secrets destroys their fragile trust and ignites the darker tendencies of her gift. Now, he must rescue her from the influence of his mortal enemy before their powerful new alliance destroys them all.
He was teasing her. She was certain of it. And she was not in the mood to play along—especially as she saw that he’d dumped something very foul-smelling into the cauldron she’d just gotten clean.
"Gah! You’re a mess. Do you know that? Is that your plan, Nagarath? Keep me stuck inside so you have a handy servant to clean up after your endlessly unkempt sorcery?” She wrinkled her nose. “Our supper comes out of that pot.”
“That was not ‘my plan,’ no. If you haven’t noticed, I, too, am stuck inside Parentino.”
“You’re a wizard. Fix your stupid spells.”
Nagarath opened his mouth, then shut it, turning away from her. She moved to apologize, stopping as he waved his hand over the pot, murmuring a sharp incantation. The glob of putrid potion lifted itself into the air, quivering before the mage sent it skittering out the door—also opened via his magick. “Better?”
“I meant the castle.”
“I know what you meant.” He still hadn’t turned back towards her.
Torn, Liara held a quick, silent debate: apology, or explanation? Neither came to fruition as Nagarath took advantage of her silence, turning to her at last and fixing her with those piercing eyes of his. “Years of effort have gone into defending my position in Limska Draga. To undo it at the snap of my fingers? Not possible. As complex as my system of wards has become, most any solution I rush into would be the wrong one.”
Nagarath and Liara visit Ink & Magick
The shoppe has been empty for most of my morning, and so it takes me by surprise when the door eventually opens and ushers in not one but two potential customers. The man—tall, thin, and admittedly handsome—doesn’t acknowledge me, having held the door open for the girl who followed him. He then immediately set his eyes about the shelves of arcana that fill the walls. Seeing the eager intelligence in his face as his gaze sweeps the space, I am not put out by the non-greeting. I doubt he has even seen me.
However, the girl—woman, really—has. And hers is a piercing stare. One of the first things I note: she’s heavily laden by all manner of packs and rolled-up bundles. I have seen my fair share of thieves over the years. It is easier for them to make off with things when they have so much distraction on their person. She has that look about her. Framed by dark, almost wild, hair, her pale face seems startled when I match her stare for unflinching stare, and her eyes flit down to the work that I had been doing.
Putting aside the book of spells that I had been translating, I fix a smile to my face and greet the two with one blanket statement, “Welcome to Ink & Magick. I am your friendly neighborhood witch. What kind of spell can I get for you today?”
It is the woman who speaks first.
“Heal—” The girl cuts herself off, and her eyes dart to the tall man, even as he turns to admonish her with a quiet, if kind, look.
In this moment of their duel reaction, I realize the error of my assumption. Different as day and night and having each ignored the other soon as they’d entered, they’re not strangers. The man and young woman are together. Interesting.
The man steps away from the wares at last, his smile fleeting as he stumps forward. Now I can see the limp in his gait, the reason the girl is carrying all their belongings. It is him for whom the charm is intended. And yet . . . something in the way he moves around the girl has me thinking that perhaps they both have need for the unrequested spell.
“Liara, we don’t know . . .”
“Come on, Nagarath. This was your idea. And I know you want one of the books at the least.” The girl—Liara—manages a smile of her own at last. And with it I see there is so much more to these two than initially meets the eye.
Nagarath turns a longing gaze back to the shelf of books near the door. “Maybe just the one . . .”
“Good luck picking out ‘just the one’ of the lot of them.” Liara’s smirk is good-natured, and this time she shares her jest by flashing me a knowing look. Moving to the shelf opposite the books, she peers through a rack of herbs, turning a jar here, a box there, before finally inquiring about a sachet of dried yellow flowers.
“That would be our famed helichrysum. Freshly dried and travels well,” I offer. “Good for stiff joints.” Emboldened by the woman’s quiet nod, I venture further. “If I may, you speak our language quite well, but I detect a bit of an accent nonetheless. From whence do you travelers hail?”
This time, Liara looks to Nagarath before speaking. It is not the deference of a subordinate but simple caution.
Speaking without looking, his pointy nose buried in one of the codices offered for sale, Nagarath simply says, “Dvigrad.”
As if I would know where that was.
“By way of Ragusa,” Liara offers, noting my confusion.
“Oh, that is a fair piece of travel. What brings you all this way?”
Nagarath shuts the book in his hand with a snap and replaces it on the shelf. “From whence we hail, magick has, shall I say, gone more underground than this”—he waves vaguely in the air—“by a fair bit.”
“Dvigrad. That would be under Venice’s control, then? Large town? Northward? South’ard?”
“A village. Inland from the coast and forgotten enough that we—they—considered themselves safe.”
I recoil from Liara’s quick and biting response. Something in her face, her voice . . . what I had mistook for bitterness or sullenness is pain, a permanent brokenness. Again, the impulsive request for a healing spell rings in my head and I reassess the aborted query. I want to tell her, there is no magick that can heal that kind of hurt, but I’m sure she knows that all too well.
My mind has caught on her words. This is the second time this week that I have heard a place described thus. Very far north, upwards toward Vrsar. These weary travelers have arrived at my doorstep the long way around. I say as much and am rewarded when the girl’s face lights up once more.
But her smiles are for the mage. “Nagarath! Could it have been him?”
“Krešimir? Doubtful.” Nagarath’s face is closed off, and he turns back to the books that had so engrossed him. “And besides, he would not have come in here. Not with how he hates wizardry and magick.”
But Liara is not to be deterred. In the long silence that follows, she picks her way through the arrayed herbs until she arrives close by my work table and bends down. Ostensibly reading the labels, she whispers, “Blond. A couple years above my age.” She blushes and darts her eyes back to mine, unable to continue the clandestine description under Nagarath’s distant frown and her own high emotions on the subject.
“Four days ago. Fellow appeared to be about twenty years of age and foreign as you—though his Italian was not as polished. Had some questions to put to me about Merlin, of all things.” Faced with the look in Liara’s eyes, I haven’t the heart to laugh, though the request had been rather comical. Everyone knew the archmage was long dead and gone—if he had even existed at all.
Lost in the armful of books that he’s gathered, Nagarath does not note the triumphant glance that Liara shoots him. I figure it is probably for the best. There’s something about the two of them that I cannot quite put my finger on. I have already surmised that the girl is the mage’s assistant, but there’s something else . . . something besides the shared pain and careful caution. Mention of the young fellow, Krešimir, almost unearthed it. Not quite a jealousy. These two are not together in that way, no. But . . . something.
“Ah!” Nagarath’s started exclamation has Liara putting a hasty, guilty distance between us and she looks to the mage, concern leaping into her frame. I suspect that if she had a wand, she would have drawn it.
Definitely an assistant, then.
“Sorry.” Noting our alarm, the mage sheepishly holds up a small codex. Leather-bound and careworn, I can tell it is one of my more unremarkable books and I raise my eyebrow, questioning his taste.
He elaborates—mostly to Liara, “Loothemere’s Philosophy of the Art of Magick. Used to be one of my favorites.”
An academic. I smile, "Mine as well. Even if his prose was a bit tortuous and his theories stretched.”
“Agreed. There was something to his groundwork, but I prefer a simpler approach.”
Curious, and encouraged for having gotten him to speak at last, I inquire, “What is your philosophy of magick, Magus?”
The twinkle in the wizard’s gray eyes grows distant and I realize that I have hit upon a favorite subject. Nagarath explains, “Magick . . . is a thread.” Pausing—whether it is for dramatic effect or merely gathering his thoughts, I cannot say—the silence draws Liara round, her attitude that of an attentive pupil.
Apprentice, not assistant.
Nagarath continues, dreamily. “Magick is water. Or earth. Or blood. It moves and changes and yet is bound. Not trapped. Not limited. But . . . channeled; made useful. Hence the thread analogy. On its own it is just a small useful thing. But woven . . . woven, it becomes something more. Something bigger and something beautiful. A cloak or tapestry.”
Blinking, the mage returns to the present, startled to note his attentive audience of two.
“And you?” I ask Liara.
Sputtering, the girl looks downward, a pupil caught without answer ready. "I am still considering that one. If you would have asked me before, I once thought it was . . .” Another thought avoided, Liara breaks off and looks to the shelves of books for inspiration. “A power. A gift. And it is . . .”—the next becomes nearly inaudible—“one that can be taken away.”
Setting her jaw, Liara’s eyes flash as she continues, strong once more, “But it’s really just its own thing. Of the world. And we just touch it, and that makes us the luckiest folk around.”
“Do you have a copy then? Of Loothemere?” A simple enough question, I am thrown by the results.
Liara’s face reddens, her hands tremble.
“Accidentally destroyed,” Nagarath speaks over the girl, deftly striding to my table to lay a half-dozen volumes on it. The motion is distracting, as I am sure he intended. But six books to be purchased? And all at once? The man must be building quite a library.
I raise my eyes to his, looking for the jest. This time the gray eyes are quite serious. Quite serious indeed.
“And . . . and some of your ‘golden sun’ flowers. For the rheumatism.” With a quick dart of his eyes to Liara, Nagarath manages a quick smile for her . . . one that is as sunny as the little yellow flowers that I carefully wrap for the curious pair. I cannot resist weaving a quick charm about the bundle of purchases, one that will hopefully see them safe to wherever it is they are going.
A Wisconsin gal with a Southwest soul, M. K. Wiseman can generally be found wandering happily amongst the pages of the largest book she can get her hands on. She came upon writing rather accidentally, finding that, sometimes, there are stories that simply must be told. A techie with a penchant for typewriters, she is a magnet for misadventure, though her own story has yet to unfold. M. K. harbors such dreams as someday possessing a library complete with hidden bookcase doors, piloting a hot air balloon, and running away in a sailboat.