Mageborn: The Blacksmith’s Son

Michael G. Manning

Prologue

Elena di’Cameron was worried about her husband. He seemed fine when he returned from dinner that evening, but now he was ill. Normally she would have dined in the hall with him and her family. They were visiting her parents, the Count and Countess di’Cameron, but her baby had been fussy. Rather than drag him downstairs she had fed him in her room and taken a light meal there for herself.

Tyndal, her husband and counselor to the King of Lothion, had returned right after dinner complaining of tiredness and had gone to bed early. A few hours later she woke to the sound of him retching violently. “Tyndal? What’s wrong?” She sat up and lit a lamp. He sat on the floor, holding the chamber pot as he heaved. She was shocked at his appearance. His face was pale and his black hair was damp with sweat. As she looked on he convulsed again, but his stomach was already empty.

She went to him and wiped his face with a towel, “You don’t look good. Let me get the physician.”

He waved his hands, “I just want some water, I don’t need a healer.”

“I’ll get some for you.” There was no use arguing with him; she would call for the physician while she got the water. He could complain later, the stubborn fool. She crossed the antechamber and stepped out into the hallway. Her parent’s rooms were across from hers and the door was slightly ajar. That’s odd, she thought, but she continued down the hall, intent on her goal.

As she rounded the corner she saw two men in black garb entering one of the empty rooms. Stepping back quickly she knew things were very badly wrong. Then she remembered her parents door. Rushing, she was back to it within seconds and thrusting it open she burst into the room. The doorway led into a small sitting room; the layout was similar to her own rooms. It was empty. A scream came from the bedroom and the opposite door flew open, as her mother struggled to get through. She was held from behind by another of the black garbed men and the front of her nightdress was soaked with blood. In the space of a heartbeat Elena saw her mother’s head jerked back and smoothly the man drew a short blade across her neck in a circular motion.

Blood fountained from her ruined neck and the Countess di’Cameron sagged to the floor. In Elena’s heart a voice was screaming but no sound came from her lips; her teeth were clenched and her jaw set. The assassin looked at her grinning, the woman before him was no challenge, barehanded and still in her nightgown. Two short strides and he was to her, his open hand reaching for her hair. He barely lived long enough to regret his mistake.

Elena was one of the Anath’Meridum, the secretive guardians that protected the line of Illeniel, and a lethal warrior with or without weapons. She stepped into him and her palm struck him in the chin, snapping his head back. The force of it caused him to topple backward, off balance. She stayed close, giving him no space as he stumbled. Holding his shirt she ripped his other dagger from its sheath and pushed him to the floor while sliding the blade into his chest, just under the sternum. A second thrust under his chin made sure he would not rise again.

Her mother was dead; she knew that before she got to her. Her father the Count was dead on the floor of his bedroom, and the blood pooling on the floor shone blackly in the candlelight. Elena came near to collapsing then as the sight overwhelmed her, but a flash of light from behind kept her from giving in to her emotions. Returning the way she had come she saw the hallway fill with incandescent fire and the screams of dying men found her ears.

The flames vanished as quickly as they had appeared and she ducked her head out, scanning the hall. Two men lay smouldering on the floor outside her own room, and Tyndal stood clutching the door frame. He was having difficulty staying upright. Gradually he sagged downward holding his stomach. More men ran past, one leaping over Tyndal to enter her bedroom while the other two paused to finish the dying wizard. They never saw her stepping out from the other bedroom.

One raised his sword to strike Tyndal while the other looked on. Behind them an angel of death rose up in a white nightgown, blond hair framing flashing blue eyes as Elena struck. The dagger went into the kidney of the man watching her husband while her free hand jerked backward on the collar of the one raising his sword. Her bare foot was planted behind his right boot and he fell backwards. He never got the chance to get up; the dagger was back and in his throat before he had finished striking the ground.

Tyndal was staring at her as she raised her head, loose hair hanging like a golden cloak over her shoulders. Her eyes met his and he tried to speak, “Our son…” his voice was dry and weak. She took up the dead man’s sword and raced past Tyndal without a sound. The nursery door was open and within she could see a dark form, the third man, holding a sword over the crib.

This one heard her coming and faced her head on, forgetting his target momentarily. Steel flashed in the dim room for tense seconds, seconds that felt like hours. He was good… few swordsmen could have held her at bay so long… but he knew he was losing. A moment more and she would have him. Desperate he stepped to the side and feinted, not at her, swinging instead for the crib with its tiny occupant. Elena made the choice every mother would make, not that it was a choice, for there was no thought in it. The instinct of every woman in history that had ever held babe to breast made this choice for her, not that she would have changed it. She lunged, seeking to block the sword that sought her son’s life and barely she made it, but it left her off balance and exposed. The assassin’s riposte took her in the stomach, steel ripping her gown and the flesh beneath. Her own sword whipped back as she retreated, slicing into his face.

The assassin screamed, blood running from his right eye. The pain and blood disoriented him for just a moment, and he tried to defend himself as Elena came back. She was clutching her stomach with her left hand to keep everything in, while her right drove him mercilessly backward with the sword. Her face was lit with rage and fury as she struck at him. “You will not have my son!” She struck again and this time his response was too slow; she batted his clumsy defense aside and pierced his heart, driving the sword between his ribs and out between his shoulder blades, pinning the dead man to the wall.

Elena had no time for dying; she went to the crib, still trying to keep herself together. Because of her stomach she only had one hand, so she dropped the sword and tried to comfort her son with her free hand. She heard a noise behind her and if it had been another assassin she might have been undone, but it was Tyndal. He looked like death warmed over as he made his way into the small room. “Your belly…” he said as he gasped for air.

“Never mind that, you look worse than me, and that’s saying something.” She smiled at him, the same smile that had won his heart years before, then she leaned back against the wall and slid down. Loss of blood had begun to make her dizzy.

Tyndal sat down beside her and tried to ease her flat onto the floor, but the skin of her stomach separated as she straightened out, drawing a choked cry from her. “Dear gods Lena! I can’t fix this… it’s too much…” Tyndal Ardeth’Illeniel was the most powerful wizard alive then, but his knowledge of the healing arts was limited, and his own body was dying. The meal at Castle Cameron had been poisoned, and every man woman and child within the keep that had eaten it was dying as well.

He put aside his pain, focusing as he drew his finger across her belly like a knife. The skin drew together and closed at his touch and within a moment only a silver line remained to show where she had been cut. Elena’s pain subsided and she looked into Tyndal’s face. It was covered in sweat and drawn by pain and exhaustion. Still his brilliant blue eyes looked on her with the same sharp intellect that had always fascinated her. This man, her husband, was dying and she could do nothing.

Able to sit up now she drew him to her, tears brimming in her eyes. They held each other for a long minute, till he began heaving again and pushed her away. He was bringing up blood now. After an eternity he stopped and managed to speak, “You’ve got to take our son and go.”

Some women might have argued or wept, but Elena di’Cameron did not. She was Anath’Meridum, and she knew what had to be done. Nodding she rose and tested her wound. The skin and muscle seemed whole but a deeper burning told her that more was yet wrong within her. Tyndal leaned over the crib and picked up their son. He

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