In the Shadows

afraid of the dark

Are you afeared of the ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night? Are you afraid of the dark? Of the demons and devils that lurk at the very edge of your perception?

As night fell I lit the lamps around the room. As it became darker so I trimmed each lamp in turn to keep the room as bright as possible. I looked around and surveyed my work, searching for shadowed areas. They hide in the shadows you know. Whenever I saw a shadow I lit another lamp and placed it so as to illuminate that spot. My aim was to eliminate all visible shadows and, by doing so, eliminate all possible hiding places. I don’t know what it is that inhabits these darkened places, whether it’s the aforementioned demons and devils or whether its ghosts or ghouls or some other manifestation of unknown provenance. All I know is that if you don’t banish the shadows, something will emerge from them and come after you. I don’t know for sure why they come after you but it can’t be with any good intent. The creatures of the night are different to you and me, they serve other masters than those who benignly watch over us during the day. Perhaps they want your soul, to make you one of them, to serve their masters. I find this deeply worrying, the fact that to make you a creature of the night you have to be removed from the light and enter the shadows.

Looking around I can see no shadows, just a brightly lit room. I decide to read to while away the hours. Picking up my book and opening it I realise that I’ve inadvertently created another shadow, another potential crossing-over point for those that dwell in the dark. Hastily I arrange another lamp to banish this new shadow cast by the opened book but as I do so I become aware of a further disturbance to the balance of light and dark. It seems an unwinnable war, every time I change the lighting to eradicate an area of dark it seems inevitable that a new one is formed.

Every night is spent in a state of siege, a constant reinforcement of my barricades is necessary to maintain my defences against the uncanny enemy. Unthinking, I opened a cupboard in search of a wee dram. As I sit back sipping my drink I catch a vague movement out of the corner of my eye. Something has broken through. I’d forgotten to close the cupboard door and it had created a darkened portal allowing one of the creatures to enter my room. In the new shadow I saw a distorted parody of a head, complete with horns, start to emerge. As a gnarled claw slashed through the air towards my throat I drew my last line of defence, my trusty Maglite, turned it on and blasted the shadow out of existence in a beam of light. I hastened across the room and closed the door before anything else could materialise.

No, I’m not afraid of the dark, the shadows though, that’s a different thing entirely.

 

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink May 17th writing prompt competition

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The Grey Queen’s Consort

Rear-view looking glass

As the weeks passed things started to get back to normal. Border incidents reduced then faded to nothing. Banditry remained a problem, so a new body was formed to police the situation. It comprised both soldiers and foresters and was to be the template for a new, non-military, force of law. For the time being it was named the City Guard, even though it would mostly be operating outside of the city, and its remit was to enforce law and order. To back up its efforts an independent judiciary was also formed to see that justice was fairly carried out. No one was to be above the law; not the queen, not the mage, not the great and the good who ran the major families. We were taking the first step towards replacing an outdated feudal system with a modern democracy.

After our time apart during the war Rosamund and I took pleasure in each other’s company and slowly it dawned on me that I wanted us to be together permanently. I thought long and hard about us marrying but couldn’t bring myself to propose. I was too concerned with what effect our marriage would have on our fledgling democracy. What message would it send, the two great powers in the land joining together in matrimony? Finally I could stand it no longer, there was no choice but to bring things out in the open and discuss the matter. We had no one to advise us, the choice would be ours and ours alone.
Rosamund shared both my misgivings and my desire for us to be together. It was true, our marriage might be perceived by some as a way of us consolidating power, but perhaps we could distract them from that view by bringing forward our plans for democracy. I formally asked her if she would consent to be my wife. With a smile she agreed. And we kissed to seal our future fate. As an after thought I pointed out that I had no desire to be king again and that the only title I’d accept would be that of consort.
A meeting was arranged to discuss the democratic future of the kingdom. The major families were called together to express their opinions and they freely decided to maintain the role of monarch only that it would be a constitutional monarchy from now on. A prime-minister would be elected to lead the government but would continue to consult with the monarch and the mage in time of crisis. Oh, and by the way, the queen and the mage are getting married. There was an uproar. It seemed to be split between those congratulating us and those opposed to the idea. Eventually everyone came round to our thinking; constitutionally there was nothing that could be done to prevent our marriage at present, not to mention that it would take a brave soul to go up against our powers. When we took a back seat in the running of the kingdom our marriage would cease to matter.

Arrangements were made for the wedding ceremony and all the celebrations that would go with it. Rosamund and I pointed out that a celebration was overdue for our successful avoidance of an all out war with the horde and before long everyone was looking forward to the occasion. We decided to spend our honeymoon at Rosamund’s cottage. It would give us a break from the city and all its associated formality without taking us too far away in case of trouble. This pleased Rosamund’s followers who planned a second, more informal, reception to celebrate the occasion. After that was concluded we would finally get some time to ourselves.

The big day arrived and I donned my finest robes. When I turned to greet Rosamund at the altar I was startled to see what a beautiful woman she was, dressed in a stunning dress of her signature scarlet but edged with grey as a reminder of her status as the Grey Lady. A simple coronet of gold on her brow reminded all of her royal position. Time dragged. The ceremony seemed interminable and to go on and on until all of a sudden, with the words, “I now pronounce you man and wife, you may kiss the bride,” time sped up once again. Although we savoured the moment of our first married kiss it felt oh too short. Time continued to run at a higher speed as we feasted and celebrated the occasion. The entire city joined in our feasting and in deference to our wishes there were no wedding presents for the bride and groom, instead we handed out wedding gifts to the poorer people of the city.

I was eager to get away from all the ceremony and be on my own with Rosamund. I did my husbandly duty and helped her into the carriage. Noting that in our haste we’d managed to get ahead of the coachmen I impulsively leapt for the reins, cracked the whip and got us underway. There was a yelp of surprise from behind me as Rosamund found herself suddenly seated by our forward motion. Checking that she was all right, a quick glance at the at the rear view looking glass revealed a pair of legs sticking out of the coach at a jaunty angle.

Shouts rang out at our sudden departure. The Queen’s Men raced to their horses in an attempt to catch up with. Men stumbled into each other, tripped and fell. Behind me I heard Rosamund’s laughter as we left chaos in our wake. I continued out of the city, through the gates, and on into the countryside passing cheering crowds all the way. In no time at all we were at our destination. Rosamund’s followers were there waiting, ready to greet us. Somebody took the reins of the carriage from me then eager hands helped us alight. Again there was a cheer. Glasses of wine were offered all round and a toast was drunk to our happiness. The carriage cleared away, a space was made ready for an evening of dancing and music.
The Queen’s Men eventually caught up. Given the concerns about the ongoing banditry men were dispersed around the immediate area and pickets were set up along the road to protect the wedding party from any attack. Those soldiers not on duty were invited to join in with the merry making and were soon the favoured dance partners of many a local girl. Around midnight thinks started to quiet down and Rosamund and I left the party and retired to the cottage. Heads spinning from both the wine and the dancing we collapsed in a heap on the bed and reflected on the day’s events and wondered what the future would bring.

The city and the kingdom were well on the road to becoming a democracy. The old regime was slowly dying away. And we were happy with each other’s company. Perhaps, as things changed, we’d be able to fade into the background and live our own lives rather than that of the kingdom.

 

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink May 10th writing prompt competition

Home to the Grey Queen

hands - prompt

The threat of war had diminished but skirmishes with the remains of the horde were frequent. A few ragged bands roamed the countryside looking for easy pickings, fortunately they were restricted to the area around the border. The army and the foresters were on a constant alert ready to respond to news of fresh attacks on our people. Some of these former soldiers asked permission to enter the country in search of a new life, one away from the battlefield and death. Many of the horde had in effect been conscripts given the choice of join us and fight, or die. A number of the former horde had made their way into the Endless Forest and suffered the consequences. Foresters kept finding starving men lost deep in the forest; they’d gone there hoping to escape the fighting but discovered that the reality of the forest was worse than they could imagine. Although food was plentiful if you knew what you were doing, if you didn’t the consequences of eating the wrong berry could be fatal. What looked to be an appetising snack could be deadly while that disgusting looking fungus might make a feast fit for a king.

With the borderlands in a state of disruption my return to the city and Rosamund was delayed by many days. What had been a few days journey stretched into more than a week as I was forced to deal with the rogues terrorising my way home. Although I was no fighter my magic made me a formidable opponent. I kept my magical reserves topped up and was ready to face any threat, or so I thought. Magic is of little avail when the threat comes from afar, on more than one occasion I found myself pinned down by bowmen firing from a distance. It’s difficult to hurl a fireball at an unseen assailant, especially when there’s more than one of them firing arrows at you. Several times I was forced to detour from the most direct route when force of numbers dictated caution and ultimately I found that I was lost in the depths of the Endless Forest. Still, I had the book of power with me and was confident that I would eventually find my way to the city. A basic locator spell determined the direction that I should go to reach the city so I simply followed the magic.

As I headed deeper into the forest I kept seeing signs that I wasn’t alone and that there were others out of their element. Anyone leaving tracks couldn’t be a forester so I kept my eyes and ears open for any stragglers and a fireball at the ready. My first night in the forest was peaceful enough. I didn’t hear anyone moving around or smell any campfires. The next day brought me to the shores of a large body of water where I detected recent footprints along the shore. A small group must have stopped and drunk from the lake. I followed their example by filling my travelling flask with water. I cast a spell on the flask to purify the water before I drank from it and as I did so I noticed a semi-conscious man trying to drag himself out of the water close to where I was standing. I rushed to help him, dragging him free of the lake. He was bloody and bruised and looked to be the victim of a recent blow to the head. I cleaned him up, saw to his wounds and gave him a drink. When he had recovered his wits he thanked me and told me a little of his story. He was one of those poor souls effectively conscripted into the horde, he’d taken up with a small group of his former comrades but they’d started to disagree amongst themselves as whether to try and escape from the fighting and go home or whether to take to life of banditry. He’d chosen to return home and, as a result, had been cruelly beaten, robbed of his possessions, and left for dead. I told him that I was heading for the city and that he was welcome to accompany me. He readily agreed and offered any assistance that he could. It was late afternoon so I suggested that he gather wood for a fire and that we’d stay where we were for the night before pressing on the next morning. I had provisions more than enough for two and he looked in need of a good meal. Wary that his former companions might still be in the vicinity I started to prepare protective wards to keep us safe in the event of an attack whilst he built a fire. When I had finished I magically lit the fire with a casual flick of my wrist. With a look of shock on his face my new companion backed away in terror. I tried to calm him, explaining that it was merely utilitarian magic when I was shocked to learn that he was completely unfamiliar with magic.

Once the fire had taken I prepared our meal, a simple stew of dried meat and forest vegetables, and talked to my companion. His name was Conrad, his family had been killed by the horde when he was fifteen and he’d been given the familiar horde choice of fight with them or die. He’d chosen to live. He was glad to be free but sorrowful for all the dreadful things that he’d done as part of the horde. He wanted to make amends for his past actions so I suggested that he joined me as an advisor and help me sort out the aftermath of the horde and its dispersal. Conrad liked the idea, feeling that it would give him the chance to atone for some of the things that he’d done. He admitted that he was scared by my magic, never having encountered any before outside of folk tales and fairy stories, and was amazed when I told him how I’d disposed of his former leader. I was intrigued that he came from a land without magic and wondered how many other places it was absent from. I didn’t mention this to him but cautioned him against sharing this information when we reached the city. If we’d managed to defeat the horde using magic, yet no one was aware of that fact, it would be useful to keep it a secret as it would make us seem more formidable to any other lands casting glances in our direction.

We talked well into the night sitting next to the fire. I learnt more about the politics of our surrounding neighbours in an evening than I’d learnt in my years as king. Finally we slept, staying close to the fire for warmth. Shortly before daybreak my wards warned me of an impending attack. I nudged Conrad awake urging him to stay silent. Anxious about causing any further bloodshed I decided not to use my favoured fireballs: quick, easy, and lethal, but instead prepared to unleash a series of thunderbolts instead. Visually similar to a fireball, a thunderbolt gave off a bright, blinding flash as it exploded in a deafening cacophony guaranteed to confuse and disable the target without killing them. It was a co-ordinated attack, three men wielding swords rushed us; one from each side, one from in front. As they reached our small camp they hesitated, neither of us were visibly armed and they couldn’t decide which of us offered the greater threat, if any. Deciding the Conrad was the most dangerous of us they moved towards him. Shouting, I warned him to cover his ears and hug the ground. I then unleashed three thunderbolts, one after another, targeting each assailant in turn. The early dawn exploded in bright flashes and explosions. From the nearby trees roosting birds launched themselves into the air filling the sky with further confusion. A stunned Conrad busied himself collecting the weapons of his former travelling companions and stood guard as I tied them together in a chain with the intention of marching them back to the city. We broke our fast on bread and cheese, I shared sparingly with our captives. They were a sorry looking bunch who looked in need of a meal, I had no intention of starving them further but I was determined that Conrad and I would eat properly. I tried questioning them but their hearing had yet to return after being subject to my thunderbolts. I gestured to them to rise, tied them behind my horse, and led us deeper into the forest in the direction of the city.

I had reckoned that it would take two more days to reach the city but, as we had started the day early, thought that we might make it in a single day. As the hours wore on the forest thinned and I thought that I recognised the odd landmark. I was certain we were nearing the city. We pressed on not stopping to rest, I urged our prisoners on with the promise of food and drink, telling them that it wouldn’t be long before we could all rest. Unknowingly I spoke to soon. As I finally saw the road to Rosamund’s cottage we were attacked. Conrad and I made it into the undergrowth as a hail of arrows was unleashed on our party. Conrad was hit in the arm, I was unscathed, but our prisoners and my horse took the brunt of the attack and were slaughtered where they stood. It was no time for half measures, we were out numbered. Fortunately our assailants were grouped together, not spaced out. Perfect targets for a fireball or two but first I fired off a thunderbolt and then, when they were in disarray, threw fireballs to finish them off. I was angry about the loss of my prisoners, I was angry to be attacked so close to home, but mostly I was worried for Rosamund and the city. I saw more men approaching on horseback and prepared myself for a fight. I was relieved when I realised that it was a group of the Queen’s Men. We had been seen and recognised from the city and the guards had been sent out to help protect us, or rather me, from the marauders.

When I finally arrived at the city I was eager to be reunited with Rosamund and catch up on her news. I was surprised how much I’d missed her company and vowed never to be separated from her again.

#

 

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink May 3rd writing prompt competition

The Grey Queen

Best summer ever

Ironically, despite the ceaseless preparation for a war we hoped would never come, the following months turned out to be my best summer ever. Rosamund and I were in love and learning more about each other every day. This was despite the many distractions in our lives. We were having to make up a new way of ruling the kingdom and were doing so as we went along. We were only too aware of how fragile our attempts could be seen to be and knew something more robust was needed; especially at a potential time of war. A new way was needed of governing the kingdom, ultimately a more democratic one, but first we had to get through this time of uncertainty and to do that strong leadership was required. I was reluctant to take charge. I was the Mage, I’d been the king only recently and returning to that position could confuse the populous. It might be interpreted as a grab for power, something I didn’t want. The solution seemed obvious, how about a queen?

I called together the heads of the families of the city of Edge and made a proposal. Once the threat of war was over, I would like to see a new democracy emerge to govern the kingdom, one that would allow all to have a say. The Mage and the Grey Lady would take a back seat and only become involved to protect the kingdom from threat, be it internal or external. In the meantime, to help bring the people together under a single ruler, I suggested electing Rosamund as the queen for the duration of the war. At first she demurred, but eventually came round to the idea after realising that the people needed a figurehead to rally behind, some central figure to unite them to a common cause.

The head of the foresters questioned me on the suitability of a woman as the head of the country. I pointed out that if that woman was the one guaranteeing the safety of the city, then I was sure she was up to the job of leading the country. After some discussion the heads of the families all agreed to my plan. A queen regnant might be unprecedented but it would provide the kingdom with an authority figure to see it through uncertain times. A fresh coronation was quickly arranged and a confused populous was once again treated to a period of celebration. The Grey Lady was crowned Queen Rosamund, much to the delight of her followers and the confusion of those unfamiliar with her role in government. A little bit of magic on my behalf soon nudged those uncertainties aside. The newly crowned queen charmed the people and, as hoped, united them

After a few weeks the agents responsible for suborning the Lord Chamberlain were apprehended by the Queen’s Men. Careful interrogation revealed more about the threat from the North than we had known previously. It was a familiar story of what was once a small nomadic tribe grown into a vast ravening army living off the labour of others. Usually they took what they wanted when they wanted it. Trying to undermine the kingdom by bribery was a new tactic for them. I suspected the failure of this tactic would lead to a full on attack on the kingdom once they’d fished their current sacking of our neighbouring lands. I needed to prepare a devastating magical riposte to this horde, one which would dissuade them from attack. Although I could probably devise border defences which would prevent them from entering our lands, I didn’t think that would be desirable. It would leave the kingdom cut off from much of the world leaving only the sparsely populated lands to the South to trade with. No, cutting the country off from the outside world was not the answer to this problem. The horde needed to be dealt with and be seen to be dealt with. At its head was a charismatic warrior; our intelligence suggested that he was surrounded by yes-men having ruthlessly culled out any possible challengers to his power over the years. It seemed feasible that removing the leader of the horde would be the best solution. Without a chain of succession the horde would likely disintegrate as ambitious subordinates vied with one another to become the new leader of the tribe. I needed to examine the problem from a closer distance. I decided to head to where the fighting was currently taking place in an effort to learn more about our enemy.

***

Rosamund elected to stay in the city. It was her responsibility to walk the walls to keep it safe and she couldn’t do that at a distance. I made my preparations; I collected the book of power along with a few potentially useful magical items from the Mage’s Tower, and travelled to the border to meet with the head of our army. The journey to the border was longer than one would have thought necessary, it followed tricky undulating terrain that skirted the Endless Forest. A forester could have been there in half the time, even on foot, but not everyone was at ease in the forest. It was an exhausting three days on horseback, riding all day only resting at night. I stopped each night at one of the many inns dotting the route and took the chance to take the pulse of the nation. Travelling incognito it was easy to join in with my fellow travellers at the common table where many things were discussed: their new rulers, the war to the North, the state of trade. Foreign merchants were lauding this new trade route, it may have put miles on their journey but they found that they were safe miles, ones without robbers and thieves. The new queen proved popular; I was being treated with a certain amount of suspicion – why had I not reclaimed the throne? And there was also some ribald speculation about my relationship with the queen. I was so embarrassed that I was forced to feign a coughing fit to cover for my colouring cheeks. The war to the North was the big thing though. These travellers had seen the army reinforcing the border and were worried about what the future held. So far the sight of the army had dispelled any immediate fears but as the night wore on and more drink was consumed the tales that were told of the ravening horde became bloodier and bloodier.

During the day I rode with some of these fellows and learned more of their hopes and fears. I resolved not to let them down. I needed to find someway of taking the battle to the enemy and preventing conflict from coming to our lands. It would do us no end of good if we could preserve our status as a new trade route; that was something we should plan to build on, making our lands as accommodating as possible to our new merchant travellers. Our neighbours to the North would remain in disarray in the aftermath of the current conflict. There was much planning to be done, presuming I could rid us of our potential foes.

***

When I arrived at the border I announced myself to the guard and found messages waiting for me from both our neighbours, calling for our help in the war, and from the horde, calling for our surrender. I joined the head of our army in discussion with an ambassador from our neighbour where we pondered possible strategies to join forces and defeat the horde. I made no hint at my own intentions and left our neighbour under the impression that we would reinforce their army in due course. I requested an audience with the leader of the horde and then withdrew to our command post (the general’s tent) for some privacy. Once alone I opened the book and created a summoning circle. I then cast a further two spells, one of power, the other of protection. I rested and waited.

Although I was offered an escort of troops to go with me to my meeting with the leader of the horde I decided, much to everyone’s consternation, to travel unaccompanied. I left our border surrounded by around twenty fierce looking soldiers of the horde. They jeered at me and swung weapons in my face but I refused to be intimidated, I just rode along with them as they took me to meet their leader. After a full day’s travel we arrived at a mighty encampment. The timing suited me fine, it would soon be dark. We rode up to the largest of the tents where I met with an imposing individual; he was over six feet in height and had the bulging muscles of a fighter. He was handsome and had a glint in his eye that told you that he was in charge.

‘You, I am told, are known as the Mage. Is that correct? You were once the king of your pitiful kingdom but have given up the throne to a woman.’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘It would have saved a lot of trouble if you’d just given it to me.’

‘I have two gifts for you in exchange for peace. Would you like them here in full view of your men or there,’ I gestured at the tent, ‘out of their sight?’

After checking me for weapons he ushered me into his tent. We were alone.

‘I want this war stopped and I want it stopped now. Here is my first gift.’ I waved my left hand through the air then brought it down pointing to the ground in front of me and, flash, a summoning circle appeared. He looked at it curiously, ‘What is that meant to be?’

‘My escape route.’ And with that I lifted my right hand, pointed it at him, said two words of power, and blasted him out of existence. I then shouted out, ‘I accept your surrender, you’re coming with me under arrest.’ And then I stepped through the summoning circle and arrived back in the general’s tent where I dismantled the remains of my magic, making pursuit impossible.

The horde were in disarray. As far as they knew I’d abducted their leader, and they’d surrendered to me. It was chaos. Back at the border I suggested to the ambassador that their troops should disengage and watch what happened to the horde over the next few days. As I’d hoped the horde started to disintegrate. There was plenty of infighting as potential new leaders tried to wield their authority, the subsequent fighting over succession winnowed out many of the more capable leaders until all that was left was a leaderless rabble. Many withdrew from the surrounding lands and made their way back north to where they’d come from. Others formed small bands and drifted the countryside, they were still causing trouble but they were more manageable than an army.
I left our army protecting our borders and returned to the city and Rosamund.

#

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink April 26th writing prompt competition

A Homily

Eat your crusts, it’ll make your hair curly
If you eat carrots you’ll be able to see in the dark
You’ll catch cold if you go out with wet hair
Eating spinach will make you strong
If you swallow chewing gum, it’ll stick your insides together
If you sit on a stone step you’ll get piles
If you scratch it, it’ll never get better
That’ll put hairs on your chest
An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.
Opening an umbrella indoors is unlucky
Remember to tuck your shirt in
Don’t run with scissors
Don’t pull faces, if the wind changes you might stick like that
Don’t forget to floss
Eat up your greens and consume your five a day and make sure that you leave a clean plate
Ne’er cast a clout afore May is out
Don’t eat between meals
Always put the toilet lid down
All sage advice

 

Written in response to the Ad Hoc Fiction 150 word flash fiction competition and the March 28th prompt, “sage”

Driverless Cars

It was the morning rush hour and commuters were racing to get to work on time. Since the introduction of autonomous vehicles to the streets of Britain the rule book had been thrown out and two way laning was a thing of the past. Traffic went where it wanted as it wanted, algorithms were at constant work calculating routes and refining them, reacting to the ever changing flow.

The great weight of the traffic moved in one direction, impenetrable to anyone trying to travel against the flow. The few contrarians, night shift workers and partygoers returning home after a night on the tiles, boarded their vehicles and fruitlessly struggled to make their way upstream. One of these was Jean, she just floated along in her bubble reading, oblivious to all around her. She was in no hurry, if she had been, getting out and walking would have been far quicker. Around her all was chaos, albeit chaos in slow motion. Driverless cars had been intended to banish gridlock and make it a thing of the past but few had foreseen the additional burden placed on the system when every single non-driver took to the streets.

The wise never travelled without supplies, a few bottles of water and half a dozen energy bars at the very least, to cope with the inevitable delays. People set off days in advance to avoid being late for an appointment, A new mindset developed of hurry up and wait. People sat in their stationary vehicles dreaming of a time when personal mobility had freed the imagination. It still had in a way as it now meant that going on journey was the ideal time to catch up on one’s reading, Still not caught up with War and Peace? Just wait for your next trip.

 

Written in response to the Microcosms 300 word competition number 117 with reference to the prompt: She just floated along in her bubble.

The Grey Lady at War

stick with me - neon

Rosamund wanted to see the Lord Chamberlain before coming to any decision about the future of the king, a decision which would have echoing repercussions for the kingdom and the way it was ruled. I returned to the city and arranged two meetings for us, the first with representatives of the military family, the second with the chamberlain. I went on ahead while Rosamund stayed outside of the city until I could bring her in unseen. The mood in the city was troubled, the king’s men were searching for the Grey Lady and were starting to become arrogant in their manner. I overheard talk of the king questioning the need for the Mage. I heard support for the Grey Lady decrying the way the king was treating her, treating her as if she was some kind of an enemy. The populous were increasingly resentful of the highhanded way in which they were being treated and were starting to take against their new king. I stayed in the shadows using my magic to move around the city undetected. Once the meeting with the military was set I went to help Rosamund enter the city anonymously.

We met with the head of the military family and his sons and they put their case for removing the king from the throne and outlined what action they thought best to keep the kingdom safe from invasion. They made their case well and I could see that Rosamund was beginning to accept what I’d told her the night before was true. She asked the general to approach her and placed her left hand on his brow, uttering a few indiscernible words under her breath she searched his mind for any sense that he was lying or that there was any intention to use the opportunity to seize power himself. This changed the tenure of our meeting with the chamberlain, it was no longer just to convince Rosamund of his treachery; it was to confront him with it. One complication to be overcome were the king’s men, they were not controlled by the family, rather they were the king’s private guard drawn from all sections of society. A small private army within the city in parallel with the official militia of the family, they were a powerful force. To prevent unnecessary bloodshed it was decided that I would use my magic to disable the king’s men but to do this I would have to spend time in the Mage’s Tower preparing the spells required for the task. As the meeting with the chamberlain was to take place later that day in the tower we decided to go there now, escorted by a small contingent of the family’s soldiers. As we approached the entrance to the tower we ran into a group of the king’s men who demanded that we hand over Rosamund. I refused their demand, reminded them that I was the Mage and what the consequences for clashing with me might be — hinting at fire and brimstone along with death and destruction — and after some discussion amongst themselves they departed to report to the king.

Dismissing our guard we entered the tower, and I secured the entrance with magic.

‘The writing’s on the wall then, we declare the king to be an enemy of the state, arrest the Lord Chamberlain as a traitor, and then we take over the running of the kingdom with the blessings of the army.’ I said.

‘Yes, but first I must release you from the power I have over you before the king gets the chance to use his power over me.’

‘Can’t it wait until I’ve dealt with the king?’

‘No, if you try to go against the king or otherwise harm him before I release you the consequences for you will be immediate.’

‘So, what do you have to do to release me?’

‘There’s no easy way to put this. I must sleep with you to release you from my power.’

Taken aback by Rosamund’s reply I was momentarily dumbstruck. ‘You’re teasing me right? Like those times back at the cottage.’

‘No, I mean it, it’s the only way to protect you. Anyway, we both know that we’ve fallen for each other over the past few weeks. I’d have never believed that the day would come when I fell in love with the man that I used to fear and hate because of the power he held over me. But since meeting you and your becoming the Mage everything has changed.’

She moved next to me, settled her hand on my chest, then leaned in to kiss me. Despite my misgivings I found that yes, I did love her too. As she’d mentioned these past few weeks together had affected us both tremendously. She’d become my rock in an unfamiliar world, she’d been there when I needed her. Things moved on and before I knew it we were together in my bed. When I awoke later that afternoon it was to find that I was deeply in love but more than that, that my memory had returned. I was reborn.

***

When the Lord Chamberlain arrived we were ready for him. I now knew I’d been aware of his treachery before my memory loss. It was my haste to find a new mage that had caused me to make a mistake with the summoning spell and it was just luck that I had survived. Luck, and the fact that unbeknownst me I was fortunate to have enough of a tenuous hereditary link to the family of mages to qualify for the position myself. The chamberlain was no longer the affable person he was before, gone was the politician who helped us so eagerly when deciding who should be king. Instead we faced a confident man who thought that he was the winner in this game of thrones. Rosamund and I led him on and with some judicious questioning soon had him incriminating himself. When we had a full and clear confession that he was working for our enemies for the good of the kingdom we revealed that we’d known this for some time and that he was summarily charged with treason.

‘The king will destroy you wise woman,’ he blustered, thinking that he still had the upper hand.

‘You may have a point,’ I said, ‘it’s time to pay the king a visit and discuss this further.’

I called for the guards who’d earlier escorted us to send messages to the heads of all the major families requesting their presence at court along with one to the king telling him to expect us shortly. We waited until we could see the families lining up to gain entrance to court before we made our way to meet the king. Given the distractions of the afternoon I’d not yet had the chance to deal with the king’s men. I was glad to see that those few outside the keep had already been disarmed by common soldiers and that a few had even been detained by foresters. That meant the families were talking to each other. In time of war the foresters would be just as formidable as our army, especially if deployed in the Endless Forest where their skills would make them the ultimate foe.

Entering the court we were faced with ranks of the king’s men, all heavily armed. As we approached the throne I could see that the king was struggling to conjure up his magic, I could see streams of power flowing from his fingertips bouncing off Rosamund as he tried to neutralise her now vanished abilities. I moved in front of her absorbing the king’s magic, using it to bolster the magic that I was forming in my head.

‘Your majesty,’ I began, ‘I’m asking you to renounce your claim to the throne. I’ve learnt that you were falsely recommended for the position by a traitorous relative of yours, the former Lord Chamberlain, who has sold out our kingdom to a foreign power for his own personal gain. If you don’t stand down of your own freewill I shall be forced to use the power of the Mage over the King to remove you.’

Rosamund moving forward to stand by my side continued, ‘I have already relinquished my power over the Mage. He’s now the ultimate power in this land. Do not go against him or your death is assured.’

Some of the king’s men moved forward as if to challenge me but then hesitated. There was uncertainty among their ranks, it was only a few weeks since they’d served me, why should they lay down their lives for someone they’d only served for days? As the families moved forward to support Rosamund and myself, the king’s men lay down their arms and withdrew leaving the king standing alone.

The king dropped his arms in surrender, ‘I knew my cousin was a fool, I’d just hadn’t realised how big a fool he was selling out our country. I will write a letter of abdication and in recompense I offer my support and that of my family in the defence of the realm.’

‘Thank you, I’m glad it’s not come to bloodshed. For the duration of the threat from the North the Mage and the Grey Lady will rule the kingdom in tandem.’ I said.

‘Without any direct threat against us I’m unwilling to act aggressively,’ said Rosamund, ‘but we must make it clear that we are more than capable of defending ourselves. The army and the foresters are to fortify our borders while the Mage and I make ready our magical defences. You can rest assured that the city is safe under my aegis but the country as a whole is more vulnerable.’

‘If they return to the city, I want the army to apprehend the two agents acting as intermediaries between the former chamberlain and our foes.’ I continued, ‘I plan to use them to send a message of our intent. They have numbers and force of arms but given the magic at my disposal I can act with devastating force from a distance. I need to discover a suitable target with which to demonstrate our kingdom’s capabilities.’ As I finished a strange groaning sound came from beyond the hall, I noticed a look of concentration on Rosamund’s face and realised that she was strengthening the city ready for war.

She turned to me saying, ‘Stick with me and we’ll be unbeatable,’ before taking my hand and leading me out to see how our defences had grown. After her brief intervention the city walls now rose to twice their former height.

The city was impenetrable, it was now just up to me to protect the rest of the kingdom.

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Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink April 19th writing prompt competition