is an excerpt of the story
by Ed Knight
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
“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
“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
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,
“Shut up, Aagard,” the
“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
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
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
“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
Shaking his head, the
Captain returned the salute.
“How many did we lose?” he
“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
“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.