‘Today we buy tents,’ Farron announced loudly, strolling back from the nearest bushes, tying his pants as he walked.
‘It’s certainly getting colder,’ Zorbel said. ‘I hardly slept.’
Helian nodded in agreement. ‘How far are we from a town?’
Zorbel pursed his lips and frowned, looking at some imaginary map that sat in the air in front of him. ‘If we go back to the road, only about five leagues I reckon. Myself and Farron could go and get what we need. If we are following dragons, it’s unlikely we will get many nights in a proper bed.’
‘And the further North we go, the sooner we will meet winter,’ Helian said. ‘Although I expect we will be heading west again soon enough.’
‘Can you get a map as well please,’ Petra added. ‘I prefer to know where I am. I have never been this far North before.’
Zorbel stood and wiped his hands on his breeches, dusting off a few crumbs.
‘You forgot some,’ Kintra said with a grin, ‘In your beard.’
The big man stroked through his beard with both hands and then leant down for her to inspect further.
‘All gone. You are presentable now!’
Zorbel nodded and beckoned to Farron.
‘Anything other than the obvious supplies anyone?’ Farron asked, bending to kiss her head.
‘If you come across an apothecary get me a basic first aid kit. I am out of some essentials,’ Petra said.
The two men left, and Kintra busied herself making more tea for everyone.
‘This gives us a chance to practice what I showed you yesterday,’ Helian said from the other side of the fire.
‘Are you nervous?’
She nodded, not looking at him.
‘Of me or the Wildfire?’
Kintra knelt and poured the hot water over dried Hibiscus and lemon verbena, the aroma filled steam accentuated in the cold morning air.
‘Both,’ she admitted after a pause.
He gave her a half smile and left her to go and fetch the book.
Vlarimar approached cautiously. ‘Did I overhear Helian say you were going to practice?’
She peered up at him through the steam from her cup and nodded.
‘May I join?’
He was so polite. Just as she had been…once. Petra sauntered towards them. Kintra gave him a nod.
Petra sat opposite her, crossing her long legs. Vlarimar assumed the same position as Helian returned. He sat down next to her. To her surprise, she didn’t flinch away. He opened the book at the page they had been using and then turned to her, a piece of charcoal in his hand.
She offered him her left hand and he drew the rune on her palm. Petra leant over, staring at the book.
‘What language is that?’
They all looked at her, and then at the open book. No one spoke. Kintra hadn’t even considered the letters on the page, she had just read them. But now she stared at each one individually, and realised they were like no alphabet she had ever seen before. She glanced at Helian, who was still staring in amazement at the book. He grabbed it, scanning through other pages. Then he turned to her.
‘Did you have any trouble reading this?’
She shook her head.
He handed it to Vlarimar. ‘Can you read it?’
The Prince skimmed through random pages, pursing his lips. ‘I can. But if I stop and look at it carefully, I don’t understand the letters. I have never seen such a language before.’
‘Perhaps it is enchanted,’ Petra said. ‘I cannot make head nor tail of it.’
Helian fished the stone that lit up when magic was being used, from a pocket in his tunic. Kintra noticed a rune cut deep into its surface. The stone remained dull. ‘This is strange,’ he muttered.
‘Can I see that stone?’ Kintra held out her hand. ‘I bet if you drew this rune on any stone, you would get the same effect. It’s not the stone that is magic, just the rune Helian. We could make one of these for each of us.’
He nodded, staring through her, thinking.
Petra took the stone from her. ‘It would be quicker and easier to carve the rune on wood. We have nothing that we could use to engrave on rock. Perhaps I could do this while you all practice this…’ she waved her hand at the book,’ Mumbo jumbo!’
Helian blinked and nodded. ‘I wonder if we can read it because we have the Earth Magic in our blood?’
‘That would make sense,’ Kintra agreed. ‘It also means that if the book fell into the wrong hands, it couldn’t be read.’
‘I got it from a sorceress.’ Helian was still deep in thought. ‘She gave it to me to read. She never said what it was.’
Vlarimar shuffled closer. ‘Was it a test? To see if you possessed the Magic?’
‘I think it must have been. That means the encounter was far from random. And…’ He suddenly took a deep breath in. Kintra saw a flash of sadness cross his face, quickly replaced by a stern look. ‘I was definitely fooled. But she is dead now.’
‘But I bet she passed on her knowledge of you,’ Kintra said quietly. ‘How long were you together?’
Helian looked round sharply and then his face relaxed and he let out a sigh. He stared into her eyes and she suddenly knew everything that the sorceress had meant to him. She jerked back, surprised by the sudden packet of information, but she couldn’t release her eyes from his. She felt his love, his ardour, his respect, the way he had crumbled on the inside when he found out she was using him. The anger, the fear, the sudden, yet controlled, release of Wildfire. The tears as he watched her burn.
He looked away and she fell backward, catching herself with her hand. She was shaking. His emotions filled her, and she had no idea what to do with them. The Wildfire rose quickly up through her body. He swung his gaze back to meet hers, grabbing her by the arms. ‘Kintra, breathe. Look at the rune on your hand. Kintra!’
The fire swept through her, up to her chest, where her heart felt as if it would break. She gasped. Helian grabbed the stone, holding it in front of her.
’Where do you feel it?’
‘I can see it,’ Vlarimar hissed. ‘I can damn well see it!’
‘It’s in her chest.’
Helian pressed the stone to her just as the fire burst forth. He winced. Kintra stared at the rune on her hand, trying to breathe. Suddenly Vlarimar was at her side. He wrapped his arms around her, and the fire went out as if smothered with a huge blanket.
Helian dropped the stone and ran towards the stream cradling his hand. Kintra shook violently. Vlarimar called to Petra, who came running from a nearby thicket, holding small nuggets of wood. He quickly explained to her what had happened. They wrapped her in a blanket and Petra ordered Vlarimar to help Helian, while prising open Kintra’s fingers and pressing the cold stone into her palm. It gave her something to focus on. The cool quiet of stone. Though her body shook her mind was clear. It wasn’t just the rune after all. It was the deep, cold, silence of rock, born millennia before in the molten core of the Earth, cast to the surface in its cold, permanent form. It was fire turned to stone. The rune was only part of it. Her heart hammered noisily in her chest and darkness drew over her eyes. A loud ringing in her ears became the only point of interest. Then she passed out.
She couldn’t have been out for long. Her head pounded, but the shaking had stopped. She pushed herself onto one elbow. Petra was wrapping Helian’s hand in cloth. Vlarimar sat next to Kintra.
‘Are you alright? I have a tea for you.’ He handed her a cup and she took it gratefully. It tasted awful, but she knew better than to spit out Petra’s teas.
‘You are pale.’ He said.
Petra looked over at her as she knotted Helian’s bandage in place. She seemed relieved to see Kintra awake. ‘How weak are you?’
Kintra scanned her body. ‘Only a little. My head throbs though. Helian…I’m sorry.’
He shook his head. ‘Don’t be. I was foolish. I should have been more careful. You obviously sensed my emotions. I can project my thoughts to others who can hear. It’s a side affect of the Earth Magic. I didn’t realise you had the skill too.’
‘I haven’t experienced that before either. I know things, but never have I sensed such…a range of emotion and vision. I’m sorry for what you went through.’
Helian looked away. ‘I was naïve.’
Petra stood and looked them over. ‘Are you three ever going to get to grips with this? It scares the hell out of me.’
‘It seems we all have different gifts within this Earth Magic,’ Vlarimar said slowly. ‘I saw the fire this time. That hasn’t happened before.’
‘And you put it out,’ Kintra said. ‘Thank you.’
‘I think we have the rune to thank for that,’ Vlarimar replied.
‘I’m not so sure. I had a revelation just before I passed out. The stone IS as important as the rune,’ she said holding it up. ‘It plays a part too, as a natural part of the Earth, fire that has been cooled and become a cold permanent object. I felt its deep silence and cool ancientness. And it helped. I think you have the gift, Vlarimar, of containing the fire, and the rune helps, but on its own it isn’t enough.’
They were all quiet, mulling over her words.
‘So Vlarimar contains the fire, Helian projects, what, emotion?’ Petra asked.
‘Not just emotion,’ Kintra said, ‘It was like receiving a whole story in my head in one go. That’s why the Wildfire rose up. I had nowhere to put the information, and it overwhelmed me.’
‘But you didn’t get the information?’ Petra asked Vlarimar, who shook his head.
‘So you are the receiver?’ She turned back to Kintra. Kintra shrugged.
‘Kintra’s power is stronger than mine,’ Helian said quietly.
Petra raised her arms in the air, then let them drop down to her sides. ‘I have no real clue what is happening here. But you three need to find out and quickly. As an outsider looking in, this Wildfire seems to be getting stronger. And more out of control.’ She kicked the bits of wood she had gathered for rune making into the fire. ‘I don’t think it’s a good idea to use anything combustible to contain Wildfire.’
‘Probably not.’ Helian stood up and walked away. Kintra guessed he had a lot to process.
It was an hour later when Farron and Zorbel returned a pack horse in tow. They brought pies, wrapped in layers of paper and still warm. Kintra was suddenly ravenous.
Petra related the events of the morning as they ate. Farron stopped eating mid bite when she got to the part where the Wildfire once more enveloped Kintra. She could feel his worry, and was relieved when he said nothing, only turning to her and asking if she felt alright now.
Zorbel didn’t comment until his food was finished. ‘Practice makes perfect,’ he said. Nothing more.
Petra raised her eyebrows at him. ‘Is that it?’
‘Not much more to be said. Although one of you should get on and finish that book.’
Helian, still not meeting anyone’s gaze, spoke. ‘I’ve done that. But the book is not meant for self study alone. It’s to be used with a teacher.’
‘And where would one find a teacher of Earth Magic?’ Petra asked.
Helian did look up then. ‘On an island in the Flaming Ocean.’
‘The where?’ Farron asked.
Helian shrugged. ‘I don’t know where. According to the book, which by the way, is not a modern tome, the School of Earth Magic is on the largest island in the southern archipelago in the Flaming Ocean. There are a few teachers who used to roam the World, but I have no idea if there still are.’
They packed the camp in silence, the mood sombre. Zorbel lay out the huge map he had bought, showing the largely forested region they were heading into, and the mountains beyond. There were a few villages, but only one town, nestled into the foothills just inside Erania.
‘According to the trader we purchased this from, dragons have been known to over winter in the mountains above the town,’ Zorbel said.
‘How many leagues is that?’ Petra asked.
‘He reckoned it was a couple of weeks solid riding.’
‘Well we won’t get there looking at a map.’ Petra walked away, Vlarimar followed. They swiftly mounted their horses, not waiting for the others.
‘What’s got into her?’ Farron asked.
‘I think she’s worried.’ Kintra replied.
Farron caught up the pack horses’ reins. ‘That’s not a good sign.’
Kintra swung smoothly onto Sorrel. Don’t I know it, she thought.