“Why did you let her live?” Marakii was speaking as he looked down at the crumpled girl lying in the field where Sare had just knocked her out.
“The King will want to meet this witch.” Catching Sare’s eye I nodded toward the girl and he lifted her over his shoulder.
“I didn’t ask why the King wants her alive, I asked why you let her live. She killed our brothers, does this mean nothing to you?” Marakii spoke these words with an even tone, revealing no emotions on his face. Though having known him a long time, I knew for him to be speaking this much at all showed his concern.
I took his measure and responded in turn “I attacked her; I didn’t know she was alive. She was doing what any of us do when we are attacked, she shouldn’t be slaughtered for it.” I have no idea if my answer satisfied him or not he simply nodded and returned to his horse.
I saw Germ’s face for the first time as Marakii shouldered past him. He seemed on the verge of tears “How could you side with her, some rebel bitch, over your own brothers?”
“Because I don’t side with people purely based on my emotions.” I let my eyes rest on our brothers who were bundling the bodies of our dead to take back to the castle.
“We should just burn the bitch and be done with it!” With that all of our brothers turned to face him. An unmistakable hatred burning in their gazes.
“Perhaps, you should remember who your company is Germ. If left to the whims of others every man here would have been burned at the stake, yourself included.” I stepped up to him “Use your head and stop acting like an ignorant commoner.”
He collected himself a bit more with my words. “I’m sorry, I’m just…upset.” With a look of disgust he got on his horse and rode on ahead and the rest of my brothers turned back to their tasks.
I walked up to Sare who was strapping the little witch to the back of his horse. “What do you see in him again?”
“Much the same things I saw in you at that age.”
“Hmph, I don’t recall ever questioning you as much as that boy does.”
“Yes, well, not everyone grew up with military training. Besides, I doubt he’ll be the only one who disagrees with my decision.” I lifted the girls face, she was clearly malnourished. It would be a feat if we could even get her back alive.
“What was that anyways?” He finished strapping her down and reached for his water skin. “I mean, I saw her, she caught the flames and then… I mean, what is she, nine?”
“It looks like it.” I turned to face Sare and he offered me his water skin. I took a drink and leaned against his horse watching the others. There was a massive circular scorch mark in the grass where the girl had expelled the flames around her and the ashes from the corpses were leisurly blowing about along the ground. The mountains in the distance were hiding the sun as night approached, but all the same everyone seemed eager to leave this place. “Do you know why we don’t arm small children with crossbows?”
Sare made a sideways glance at me “because they’ll shoot their faces off?”
“Precisely, they can’t aim the device, but they can definitely pull the trigger.”
I could just make out Sare’s puzzled expression slowly turn into a huge grin “By the dead, you want to get her to swear the oath and train her!” he started to laugh “Oh, you weren’t kidding, others are going to ‘disagree’.” He got on the back of his horse, still laughing to himself.
“Are you saying you disagree?”
He shook his head, “No, no of course not Cecil.” He gave me a big smile and threw a small pack down to me. “She was wearing it, maybe you can learn something about our little sister-to-be in there.”
“Thank you, Sare.” He knew I meant it for more than just the pack. Then I found my own horse and we rode forward to join the others.
* * *
Once back at the castle I had Greilya secured in a cell and sent healers to tend to her. She only woke once on the journey back, and even then it was only long enough to eat some food, and then she passed out again. The news of our venture was spreading quickly through the castle, I sent Sare and Germ to report to the King. Though I knew he wouldn’t make any decisions about Greilya until after she had woken up.
I had read the girl’s journal, gleaning as much as I could about her and her family. There was an entry about the first time her powers came to her where she raised a dead bird at eight years old. There was only one other necromancer I knew of who claimed she had gained her powers so young. Her name was Iravit and I went to see her as soon as everything else was in order.
Iravit was the informal leader of the Speakers, which was a sect of our brotherhood that specialized in working with spirits. At first the King was not impressed with their abilities, but I convinced him that spirits could gain valuable information of his enemies. Since then they have more or less been spies for the King.
Iravit was my age now and, though I helped the speakers keep their place in the castle, I was definitely not one of her favorite people. Upon entering her room I was greeted with the strong smell of incense. She was sitting on a pad on the floor staring at seemingly nothing, her pale eyes contrasting sharply with her dark skin and hair.
“You’ve come to see me about the girl.” was the only acknowledgement she gave me.
“Have you added clairvoyance to your list of abilities now?”
She looked up at me clearing her hair and the feathers she wore in it from her face. “One doesn’t need powers to see what you’re about.”
I nodded and started looking aimlessly through the trinkets and bobbles she had covering every surface of her room “When you told me how old you were when you gained your powers, I may have been a bit too harsh when I said you were lying.”
“I believe your exact words were ‘you’re just a lying backwoods witch looking for attention’. Stop touching those.”
I put down the small animal skull I had been investigating “What is the point of all of these anyways? It’s not like they have any magical properties.”
“Witches are expected to have these things and sometimes looking the part has more power than you’d think. Did you come here for lessons Cecil? Because I don’t know if I have the patience to teach you.“
She was normally so calm and collected, no matter how old I got I still loved getting under her skin. “That won’t be necessary, I seem to be getting by fine without knowing the ways of a hedgewitch. I merely had a few questions.”
“Then ask them so I can go about my day.”
“You were seven when you first a brought a spirit back, correct?”
“Yes, it was a little girl, I’d seen my mother raise spirits a dozen times, but I was all alone. Scared me half to death.”
“You know, it’s not just that you were so young, it’s also odd that your mother was a witch too. I mean what are the chances?”
“What’s the expression, the apple never falls far from the tree. Do you think this girl had a witch for a mother too?”
“Maybe, something like that.” I pulled my hand through my hair and kneeled down across from Iravit “If she did she didn’t know it.”
“Does it really matter though? Surely the King won’t let her live?”
“I hope to change his mind on that point.”
She smiled at that, it was a beautiful smile, something that always caught me off guard. “You really do love the hated don’t you? It’s not enough that you have an entire brotherhood hated by the realm, you want to save the people who are hated by the brotherhood and the realm alike.”
“What are you talking about?”
“First the soldier, then the weak one, now the girl who killed our brothers. Do you never reflect on why you do these things? Do you even know why you want this girl to live?”
“She’s one of us, she just hasn’t sworn the oath yet.”
“No, you believe she’s one of you. We’re all hated, but for some reason you think you’re the worst among us. I assure you, whatever you have done, it is no worse than any of the rest of us have.”
“What’s your point Iravit?”
“My point, is that maybe you should let this one go. Even if she swears the oath, and follows orders perfectly from this day forth, many of our brothers will never forgive her. She’ll cause a divide in our brothers- something that we cannot afford to have happen.”
“I disagree, I think they will come around, once they see what she can do.”
“Some will Cecil, but not all. That’s the problem.”
“I was hoping you would be behind me on this.”
She tilted her head to the side “Cecil, has there ever been a time where the Speakers have not had your back?”
I thought on it, “No I suppose there has not.”
“No there hasn’t, but just between you and me, I think you’re an idiot.”
“‘l’ll keep that in mind.”
* * *
“I’ll have some food brought down for you.” I left Greilya’s cell nodding for one of the guards to walk with me down the hall. “She’s awake now, have some food brought to her. If she causes any problems you send someone to find me.” the guard nodded in understanding and I grabbed him by the shoulder before he could return to his post “Only me.” I slipped some coins into his hand and he nodded again. I hastened my way up the stairs, the King would want to know that the young necromancer was awake which would also give me the opportunity to speak with him in private about what was to become of her. Many of my brothers had already expressed to him that they wanted her dead. I could not allow this to happen.
I reached the Kings room where a guard led me in. King Aernoys was seated at his desk inspecting the maps that covered it. He looked up as I arrived and waved the guard away, though there will still three other guards posted in the room. “Is she awake?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“And what does the little hellion have to say for herself?”
“Not much, my lord.”
He leaned back in his massive chair and waited a moment before continuing “Speak plainly Cecil, I can tell you have something you want to say.”
“Thank you, my lord. I know my brothers scream for vengeance for what Greilya has done, but she is just a little girl who gained her abilities much too young. According to her journal she was eight when they first surfaced. She tried to hide them, not in rebellion to you, but because she didn’t want to leave her brother.”
“You say you got this information from her journal?”
The King nodded and motioned me to a seat as he had a servant pour us drinks, once she was done he looked to me “Continue.”
“The journal doesn’t say what happened, and she won’t speak on it, but I believe her brother died and she brought him back.” This was purely speculation on my part, but I had to tell the King something. “I believe that was whose hand she was holding when we found her. Whatever happened it clearly put her, at least temporarily, out of her mind.”
“So you think the attacks were the acts of a crazy child?” The King took a sip of his ale.
“In so many words, yes. I believe she didn’t really know what she was doing, she was in too much distress. And when we arrived, I fired at her first. Her actions against my brothers were purely self defense.”
“So, you’d have me what? Let her live and swear the oath?”
The King’s broad face was covered with a crisscrossing of wrinkles and scars, as he pulled his face in mild disbelief he looked almost young again “Care to tell me why I should take that risk?”
“Because I believe, with proper training, she could be teaching us new things in a few short years. The powers she displayed on the field are unparalleled by anyone I’ve ever met. She could be an invaluable addition to your army.”
“Power is only invaluable as far as you can control it.” The King picked up the dagger on his desk and began spinning it idly against the table “I’m a seasoned warrior Cecil. I’ve killed hundreds of men to get to where I am. But I am not so dumb as to think I’m a match for someone who can shoot fire from their hands and raise the dead.” He let the dagger fall on the desk “Let me ask you Cecil, why don’t you ever try to kill me?”
“I took an oath…”
“Don’t give me that drivel Cecil! The real reason!”
I could see the guards shift uncomfortably at their posts as I raised my eyes to meet my King’s “Because I remember the days before the oath of the necromancers. Because I believe this life is much better than the alternative.”
“That’s what I thought. And over the years you’ve helped keep the others in line as well, because you know what life was like before. You think you can do that with this girl? This child that has no grasp of loyalties or consequences?”
“The brotherhood is a family, a life, something I think she could latch onto. I believe with the hell she’s been through, life under the oath will be a welcoming change.”
“And if her craziness wasn’t temporary? If she’s too far gone to be controlled?”
“I will take responsibility for her, if she turns out to be too far gone… I will end her myself.”
“I think it will take more than just you to end her.” The King stared off into his maps, stroking his beard “If she kills anyone else, I’ll hold you responsible Cecil.” He looked back to me “Are you prepared to take that chance?”
“Yes, I am.”
He took another sip of ale, mine still remained untouched. “Very well, bring her in the morning to say the words.” He gave a wave dismissing me from his chamber.
“Thank you, my lord.” I gave a quick bow before making my exit. Outside his chamber I found Sare and Germ waiting for me.
My loyal entourage, Sare was bringing flames to his hand and extinguishing them off and on while staring out the window while Germ just stared at the ground. “I take it word got out that she is awake?”
Sare looked to me and nodded “We figured you’d be here pleading her case.”
“So what did he say?” Germ was still looking at the floor.
“If she’s willing, she’ll swear the oath tomorrow.”
Germ looked up at me with that “Do you really think our brothers will accept her?”
“At first, no, but that’s why we’re having her swear the oath so soon. They won’t have much of a choice once she’s one of the King’s.” His expression made it clear that he didn’t agree, though he was smart enough not to say so. “We’ve all done foolish things Germ, she deserves this chance.”
Germ simply nodded and looked back to the ground.
“Well I guess we should go see if she’s willing.” Sare led the way back to the cells “Has she said anything about what happened?”
“No, and I doubt she ever will.”
* * *
It had been two weeks since Greilya took the oath, I had her room with the speakers for the time being. It was just until I was certain none of our brothers were going to take matters into their own hands, I knew she would be safe under Iravit’s watch. She had spoken very little during her stay, but seemed to be regaining her strength with every passing day. She still did not look well fed by any means, but she at least looked more like a little girl and less like a walking skeleton. For this reason I felt it was time to begin her training.
I had cleared a time for us every day to practice in the courtyard where the soldiers usually ran drills. I couldn’t very well train someone so explosive inside the castle. Since the time with her journal I had taught her more about controlling her emotions and pushing dark thoughts out of her mind. It was enough to keep her in check from day to day, though I suspected once she was asked to use her abilities again she would struggle with controlling them. I had Sare and Germ collect her from her room and bring her to the courtyard for her first day of practice.
“Ok, Greilya” I brought forth the green flames into my hand “You’ve controlled the undead before correct?” She nodded keeping her eyes on the flames. “And how did you do that?”
She looked to my face and moved her arm up and down “It’s like moving your arm, you can’t command them, you just have to… move them.”
“That’s right, they don’t have minds of their own, you have to make their limbs your limbs. You have to move them yourself.”
She nodded at me “Yes that’s right.”
“This” I said, lifting my hand with the flames “Is all you, you do not control it like you do a body, you control it like you do a mind.” I made the flames dance between my fingers and rise ever higher. Greilya arched one eyebrow at me, seemingly unimpressed. I moved my arm and aimed at one of the dummies shooting the flames forward to decimate it into a flaming pile of wood planks. “It moves by force of will Greilya, and you can only will it with a clear mind and clear purpose.”
She mumbled almost to herself “I’ve used it before and I didn’t have a clear purpose.”
“No, what you did before was explode wildly with no regard for your surroundings, you had no control over the flames because you lacked any discipline to do so. We will remedy that here.” I went up to her side and put my hand on her shoulder “First things first, however, you need to call forth the flames.”
Greilya lifted her hand out as I had done and stared at it for only a moment before her hand began to glow green. “Greilya, how…” Before I could finish my sentence her whole arm was engulfed in flames. She looked up at me, her eyes like solid emeralds “Greilya,” I said keeping my voice calm “focus on where you are, you are safe here, among people like you.” her head tilted to one side as the rest of her body was slowly being covered by the flames. I backed away from her slowly so as not to get scorched “Greilya, you need to extinguish the flames now, clear your mind and calm yourself.”
It took some time but eventually she was able to put out the flames without Sare having to knock her unconscious, which was our back up plan if this all went wrong. Once her eyes returned to their normal dull green color I approached her again and knelt down to her level. “What did you think about to bring forth the flames?”
She looked uncomfortable at that question “I just remember hating everything, and it just happens.”
“Splendid.” Germ said from where he stood behind Greilya.
Sare was standing next to him chuckling to himself “Little sister, seems you’ve become a teenager a bit early.”
Greilya looked back at him with her face scrunched up in confusion “I’m not a teenager.”
“He was making a poor joke Greilya,” I stood back up and ran a hand through my hair “perhaps we could try calling forth the flames a different way, think more of mild irritations and less of killing everyone.”
“Yes I’m rather fond of living” Sare winked at Greilya and she actually smiled.
“Ok” she said and lifted her hand once again like I had, though this time nothing happened. After a few minutes she put her hand down “It’s not working, how do you do it?”
“Mine is a cold anger, by definition it is controlled. Yours is more of that hot anger, it’s going to be more difficult to control yourself and hence the flames.”
I could hear Sare clear his throat “May I?”
I gestured with my hand towards Greilya “By all means.” I traded places with Sare and stood next to Germ who was looking sullen.
“I know a thing or two about hot anger, follow me.” Sare led her to one of the wooden practice dummies. “Hold on a moment.” He walked over to some of the weapon racks not far off and began searching through various weapons “My father was a soldier, growing up he trained me to be the same. When I was teenager, there was nothing better than hitting something with a sword.” He came back to her with the smallest sword from the rack “Can you lift this?”
It was the smallest sword I had ever seen though I could tell Greilya still struggled to hold it up. Sare showed her the proper way to hold it and then stepped back “That’ll have to do. Now, that dummy there in front of you is a right prick, he’s the reason for everything that has ever gone wrong. So I want you to bring forth the flames, but this time as soon as it happens I want you to hit the dummy.”
Greilya gave a curt nod and within moments her hand was glowing green again. As her arm was being covered with flames so was the sword she was holding and she swung it at the wooden figure in front of her. I could tell she didn’t hit it very hard with the blade but the wooden planks caught fire with the first swing. On her second swing the flames exploded on impact leaving a pile of splinters. With nothing left to hit, her body started to be covered in green fire. I ran to her, but before I got there I could tell she was already getting the flames back under control. She was breathing heavily as they extinguished and looked up at Sare and I “How was that?”
I could tell Sare was proud of himself by the giant grin he was wearing “I think we’re going to need some stronger practice dummies.”