Meriben weaved the earth quickly; the soil rose to waist height and within seconds there was a sword in her hand. Given freely when asked, swiftly she took a defensive stance and held the sword ready in her left hand, and then she waited. She could feel a calmness wash over her as she channelled essence from the earth to enhance her vision. This situation was not the first and no doubt would not be the last. The laughter stopped abruptly when the soldiers realized they would have to fight for their sport. Confusion showed on their faces when they saw the sword. Three of them advanced cautiously as the other two moved to the right and left. The initiate Acacia, forgotten crouching on the ground.
Before anyone could react the sword slipped fluidly from Meriden’s fingers and changed into a handsome grey wolf, snarling and growling protectively in front of her. The distraction was enough; Acacia pulled her ebony handled dagger and threw at the one called Zabros. The dagger hit true finding his neck and disappearing to the hilt. His hand went up, his knees buckled and his legs folded like paper. Hovering for a moment on his knees he swayed then fell forwards, stomach hitting the floor before his big ugly head. His eyes stared wide as blood bubbled from his mouth with his hand clutching the hilt he lay motionless.
The other soldiers paused and watched in horror as the wolf changed into a swarm of bees, their comprehension of this kind of weaving just dawning. They covered their faces and ran in confusion in different directions to get away, the bees followed and struck randomly. They could not be swatted or outrun they just dissolved and reformed. To an outsider this could be seen as comical. The sound of squealing pigs could be heard from their mouths as the bees herded them to the centre, and kept them there.
Meriben watched for a few minutes, her dark eyes sparkling with amusement on a face of stone. Acacia remained where she was, still trying to redeem herself of the act she had just performed. Snapping her arms taut Meriben released the soil, it frittered to the floor. She stared directly into the pale blue eyes of the man to her left.
“You have less than a second to gather your fallen comrade and disappear.” She whispered.
He fled, along with the other three, leaving the dead man. Acacia started to giggle nervously her shoulders shook slightly and her breath was shallow. She had not killed a human before.
She had spent twelve of her seventeen years on the family farm. She knew what happened at lambing and she heard their distress when they were led to the slaughter, but that was how it was. She felt no remorse or guilt from the seasonal schedule, her families survival depended on it. But this was something totally different taking a human life, any human, was unforgivable.
Acacia was lost in the noise of the silence that surrounded them. She walked over and retrieved her dagger from the fallen man, his blood oozed out and soaked into ground causing her to jump involuntary. She slowly fell to her knees, time stopped in the moment and she began to cry.
Through gasping sobs she whispered, “I’m sorry.”
After a while Meriben placed a hand on her shoulder, Acacia stood and turned, wiped the blood on her white robes and replaced the dagger in its sheath hidden in her garment. Meriben wrapped her arms around her and Acacia melted into the embrace.
“sshh now, you did what needed to be done,” Meriben couldn’t find the words to justify the action, and she knew Acacia was the sort to carry her own punishment. When they first met Meriben knew Acacia was a strong person and she had shown over the years of their friendship she was capable of many achievements. But Meriben knew the hardest thing to overcome was self-destruction, and all she could do was offer help and support to Acacia but this was only possible if she asked for it. Not only had Acacia recently watched her mother die of disease, she now had to find room to forgive herself for today’s trauma.
Meriben sighed, “come on we need to be away from here. They could return with more of them, we should try and put some distance between us before nightfall.”
Meriben looked at the direction of the sun; it was nearly an hour past noon. She stepped away from Acacia and started to pack away the meal they had not started. Acacia was lost in the images of what had happened, she saw herself crouching on the floor, something she always did first when she was frightened. Then she watched as she threw the dagger with every fibre in her body screaming, “No this is all wrong,” as soon as the dagger left her hand the turmoil and need to survive ceased abruptly and a notion of calm took over her. She saw the hogged face of her mother, the body not long buried, she smiled at Acacia and tears fell slowly down her mother’s face, her mouth mimed the words I love you, and I’m always here for you. Then she faded, leaving Acacia smiling inside.
Between them the work didn’t take long, they were packed and had the horses saddled within a few minutes. Meriben turned to walk towards the woods holding the reins of her horse, star. Acacia pulled up beside her, handed Meriben her reins and walked over to the body of the dead soldier. She knelt down on both knees, bowed her head and asked the environment to embrace the body. The ground softened and the body slowly disappeared. Acacia knew she had to do this to start her journey of forgiveness so she watched numbly until the body had totally disappeared then she bent forward and kissed the ground thanking the earth for its help. Meriben watched as Acacia started her inward journey of healing, sadness crept into her as she embraced Acacia’s pain.
Daleson stretched catlike, rolled onto his side and visually devoured the face of the woman lying next to him. He smiled to himself and added the night’s pleasure to the numerous others. He noticed the sun falling across the curtains surrounding his large four-poster bed. Realising he had slept late; he rolled over to the end of the bed and heaved himself onto his legs. Stretching again he called upon the air elements to help him awaken his tired flesh, something that was happening frequently of late. They flew around him creating a whirlwind of colour and stimulating essence, his skin tingled in anticipation.
He dressed in the robes of pale blue silk instead of the usual dark blue reflecting his joy within. He walked into the adjoining room and simple white washed walls greeted him. Historical colourful tapestries hung on three of them and the fourth held a window with a door. The door was slightly ajar to encourage the sun’s warm rays to chase away the shadows and invite the slight breeze in to clear the smell of last night’s activities.
Breakfast was already laid on a simple hard wood table covered with a blue cloth. The smells of the table tantalized his nostrils with the promise of pleasure. Orange juice freshly squeezed stood next to toasted bread, deliciously soft where the butter had melted and dripped on the plate. A strawberry preserve sat in a little glass dish next to the lemon preserve.
Daleson had already consumed three slices spread thickly with both of his favourite preserves and was starting on the bulging pink fleshy segments of a grapefruit when Thom, his administrator, entered.
He smiled at Thom and nodded his appreciation of the excellent food selection on his breakfast table. Thom was a smart, neat and efficient administrator, and had come to the academy fourteen years ago. It was quickly recognised that Thom did not have elemental abilities but his practical and academic ones were outstanding. He was the quickest administrator to take the role.
Daleson had the opinion that Thom was a sullen man, always in the shadows and not prepared to take the limelight. This could also be seen as deceitful and underhand, but Daleson liked Thom and he had never given him reason to suspect otherwise. Thom was also his confidant and the only person he could trust. Daleson wiped his fingers and started on the rolls, spreading thickly the cheese and pate that came from the kitchen. Thom approached the table and poured two cups of coffee, sitting down opposite Daleson he held the cup forward then drank deeply.
Daleson leaned forward, “is this from our harvest?”
Placing the cup on the table Thom replied, “Yes it is, the chief grower has cross pollinated two of the more mature varieties and this is the first batch. This bean seems to grow to maturity quicker. Simon is very excited, the two aromas compliment each other and the taste is quite remarkable. I tried some earlier in the kitchen whilst you were still sleeping.”
Smiling Daleson got out of his chair and walked over to the window. Staring at nothing he said, “how much will be available for the trade negotiations?”
“We should have three fields ready to harvest before the negotiations start and three ready before the winter.” Replied Thom.
“Have some samples ready for the Festival of Calling, and work out how much we keep and how much we have to barter with. Oh! And tell what’s her face in there,” Daleson pointed to his bedroom quarters. “That she should vacate as quickly as she can.”
Thom picked up a chair and took it over for Daleson, he sat. He informed him that he would get someone to come and clear away the dishes and that “what’s her face” had already left, then he excused himself and left Daleson to his thoughts and the aroma of the coffee.
After shutting the door Thom rushed down the corridor to his rooms, he needed to compose himself. He always felt distressed at Daleson’s behaviour, how he constantly betrayed his wife, Selina. She was beautiful and elegant, witty and attentive and always made time to listen. He used to dream about long summer walks with Selina and making love to her in the flower filled fields. Thom smiled to himself and shook his head. Always the daydreamer he thought, as he stood in the window of his rooms looking out on the morning’s activities.
Thom sighed as he came out of his reverie knowing there was nothing he could do about Daleson. The only thing he could do was be there for Selina when she would need him. He knew Selina, how she denied the feelings that told her Daleson was unfaithful and he knew she was hiding from the inevitable, that’s why she spent so much time with her mother. He would wait, he knew her mother was dying and she would eventually come home.