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Here is an excerpt of the story

by Ed Knight

from Enchantments: The Many Facets of Magic
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The water had a red cast, as red as the blood of yesterday’s battle. The Captain looked across the Channel, the salty air filling his lungs. He was solemn, and more tired than even his men realized. The weight of his armor made him slump over and lean on his shield as he peered into the distance, watching, hoping. The mist enshrouding the Channel was thick and glowed silver in the light of early morning. He closed his eyes and remembered the corpses spread across the field—corpses already stiff, their dull eyes staring into a sun they would never again see. He took comfort in that. One of his greatest fears was that the soul might somehow remain trapped in the body after death. But he knew when he saw the corpses that the bodies were only lifeless husks, not unlike the rotting hull of a walnut, and he knew that somehow the soul had escaped them.

He sweated in the summer heat. A warm breeze drifted out of the mountains behind him, dissipating the heavy fog. For just a moment, he could see it: the distant shores of home.

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Captain?”

For over four years, he had answered to the name “Captain.” Now, it seemed he had never known another name. He looked at his own reflection in his shield. His face was thinner than it had been when he had come to this side of the Channel four years ago. His dark hair needed cutting. Still young, his haggard face gave the impression that he was a much older man.

“Too long, Aagard,” the Captain said. His bronze sword clanked against his silver-plated greaves as he turned to find one of his men looking toward the vaporous shore. He knew the longing in the man’s stare.

“Will they ever let us cross?” Aagard asked as he leaned on his rectangular shield. He was a stump of a man, balding with an oily complexion, his dented breastplate and notched sword indicative of four years of battle. The Captain knew Aagard to be as tough a man as any, but he thought a tear formed in the man’s eye as the breeze stopped and the mist closed to block the view.

“I don’t know,” the Captain said. “It’s been a year this week since any of the men showed a sign of the sickness. I don’t know why the King still waits. We should have defeated the Morth and marched home with three thousand men.”

“We’d be there now if the King’s Priestess wasn’t a fool,” Aagard said. “Still, she did even the odds.”

“We’ve had that argument too many times,” the Captain said. “They may have outnumbered us, but the blight nearly wiped us out as well as them.”

“And just three hundred men left,” Aagard said softly, almost to himself.

“And it spread to every village on this side of the Channel,” the Captain continued. “I have no love for the Morth, but innocent men, women, and children—tens of thousands of them—died.” He turned his back on Aagard to look out over the clearing Channel, shaking his head. “If those are even odds, I don’t want them.”

They climbed the bank to join the rest of the army, which was a mere shadow of the glorious force it once had been. They were a ragged lot: tunics filthy, armor tarnished, weapons worn. Once a cavalry unit, they were afoot now, the horses used as food years ago.

One person stood out from the rest. The woman appeared as a specter among the men, light hair flying in the warm breeze, her tattered, dirty, white gown billowing slightly. The Captain frowned as he went to her. He wondered at the courage it took to hold her head high while standing among the men she had tainted—men who might never go home again because of her. Still, she was one of them, one of the exiled.

“Still no fire?” she asked.

“No fire,” he said. “No signal to bring the King’s men home.”

The Priestess lowered her eyes for only a moment. “Perhaps it’s time to send another bird. Maybe my message was intercepted.”

“By what?” Aagard said. “A fish? Nothing touched that bird or the message it carried. The King still ignores us. We’ll never go home. He should have kept his Priestess in his bed chambers and let us—”

“You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me,” she said.

“Quiet,” the Captain said. “That argument has grown stale and I don’t want to hear it again.”

“You know you have no authority over me,” the Priestess said. “I answer only to God, the King, or the King’s generals.”

“Thanks to you, the generals are all dead,” the Captain said. “The King sits on his throne across the Channel. And your god deserted us four years ago—if he ever existed at all. That leaves me, a lowly captain, in command. Do you dispute that?”

Fury flamed in her eyes, but she stood rigid and shook her head.

Aagard called out, “Captain—”

“Shut up, Aagard,” the Captain said.

“Captain, there are men in the woods—up there.”

The Captain followed Aagard’s outstretched finger. Scores of men were breaking the tree line high above them.

“Phalanx!” the Captain bellowed.

In a precise motion smoothed by years of practice, the men formed a phalanx, ten rows deep and thirty wide. With their shields turned toward the woods, they looked like a multi-legged armored beast. Enemy arrows streaked through the morning sky in a high arc. One found its mark, a soldier’s neck. The rest deflected off the mass of shields.

“Forward!” the Captain yelled, and the phalanx moved toward the woods with slow determination. The attackers became spread out as they came crashing down the hill in a mad rush. The enemy was winded by the time they threw themselves into the mass of shields, but the phalanx was unstoppable. The men in back put their shields into the backs of the men in front of them, pushing the foremost into the attackers. The fighting was fierce; blood ran freely in the front lines. Metal rang upon metal as swords and shields came together with mighty crashes.

The Captain was on the front right corner. Since all the men were trained to carry shields on their left arms, this was the most vulnerable position, his right side being less protected. Aagard was to his left. The two worked in tandem to lay waste to the attackers, swords flashing from between shields.

Then a bank of dark clouds rolled in seemingly from nowhere, and a cold wind blew down the mountains and across the battlefield. Rumbling sounded overhead, echoing off the hillside, and blue fire crackled overhead. The Captain and his men had seen this before and knew it well.

Then the first bolt of lightning struck. A streak of blue fire turned two of the attackers to ash where they stood. A second bolt scorched three more. The third set the woods afire, and hidden archers there ran out, screaming, their hair and clothes burning.

The Captain saw the Priestess standing far to his right, her arms outstretched and her eyes closed in meditation. Her lips trembled in prayer as the dreadful fire continued to streak down. Finally, the enemy broke and ran. Some of the Captain’s soldiers fell into quick pursuit, but the Captain called them back with a word.

“That was stupid,” the Captain muttered. “I let us get caught with our backs to the water. If they’d been a larger or better force, they might have pushed us right into the Channel.”

“And if you hadn’t been quick with your commands, we might all be floating face down in the Channel with arrows in our backs,” Aagard said. He took his sword by the hilt and, blade down, slapped his closed fist into the center of his breastplate.

Shaking his head, the Captain returned the salute.

“How many did we lose?” he said.

“Three,” Aagard said.

“Tell the men to set up camp halfway up the hill. See that the wounded are tended to and the dead buried.” The Captain turned and walked into the thinning mist. Losing men, no matter how small the number, grieved him. He needed time to mourn the loss and reflect on his failure to those three.


Some time later, he came across the Priestess. She was on her knees at the foot of a pile of stones—a makeshift altar. He watched as she took a knife from her belt and sliced open the back of her hand, letting the blood drip onto the stones.

“What kind of god is it that you serve?” the Captain said.

She did not respond but continued to cut, soaking the stones in her blood. He had seen men injured in battle, watched their life’s blood drain away. He knew the frail woman was bleeding too much. When she stood, she was weak and wobbling from the loss.

“I lost three men—three more good men who will never see home again. Is it your god that holds us here? What kind of god was it that sent the blight at your request?..."

*     *     *

The Captain is about to discover the nature of her divine magic, but there are other things brewing. Soon, he'll question all he has fought against for survival these past several years, and his ragtag army will need not only her powerful magic... but his own as well.

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