If you check some of the earlier posts you will see an different design for this volume in the Milward Chronicles. I decided to change it to fit with the others. Not much of a hard decision, really. The first design was all right, but it really had the look of a stand-alone rather than the continuation of a valid series.
Here is another snipit from the book:
Evard looked at the envelope in his hand and then at the path leading out of the wood. He was supposed to take it through the wood and deliver it to the old man who lived in the small hill on the other side and collect the two copper fee. A cobblestone path wound through a garden there. He had heard stories about the old man who lived at the end of that path and not one of them were in the least comforting. Some were downright frightening. Some folk said the old man was a wizard and that he had a temper. ‘Ee’l turn me inta a bloomin’ toad or somethin’ unnatcheral, ‘e will, the fellow thought. His mum said the old man was not just a wizard but also a famous one, one that had fought alongside Labad in the magik wars. He didn’t know about that. The magik wars were supposed to have been fought over a thousand years ago and the old man did not look much older than his mum did. He had picked up the envelope at the pub. The gaffer there poo-poo’d the rumors, saying there was more magik in one of his brown ales and said to go on and make the delivery. It took two more pints to put Evard back onto the road.
It had been a nice warm fuzzy feeling. The gaffer’s brown ale was good and strong; unfortunately not as strong as the apprehension he felt washing away the buzz. Maybe if he tiptoed in very quietly and just slid the envelope under the door…Yes, that would work.
He snuck his way through the trees as quietly as possible. When he reached the path leading to the house his feet froze. Evard was willing but his body was not. The cobbles of the path smirked rather than beckoned. The brightly painted door set into the side of the hill seemed harmless enough but you never knew…there could be fell things hiding in that garden, overgrown as it was. He thought he heard something shifting around, hidden in the herbs.
A cloud moved in front of the sun casting the scene into shadow. Now the door did not seem harmless at all. The old man could be hiding right behind it, waiting to jump out at him as soon as he stepped onto the stoop. What are ye, he thought a man or a mouse. The problem was he could wind up being a mouse not just acting like one.
A vagrant breeze blew through the trees. The sound of the leaves rustling sounded like a distant crowd whispering, Evard’s a git, Evard’s a git, Evard’s a git…
Evard looked down. He wasn’t on the path. He was on the stoop! What was he doing on the bloody stoop? He was supposed to be safely against the trees, not on the bloody, bleedin’ stoop.
Evard nearly levitated a good three feet off the ground. When he came back down, he clutched his chest and looked around wildly. “Ooo said that? Where are ye?”
“I’m right here.” The words seemed to come from everywhere at once.
Oh gods, Evard thought, the old man is a wizard. He’s gone an’ made hisself invisible. “Please,” Evard quavered, “don’t turn me inta nuthin’ unnatcheral.”
“Oh, please! Don’t tell me you’re one of those,” the voice sounded both disgusted and peevish. A figure rose up from behind a large thyme bush holding a trowel in one hand and a clump of weeds in the other.
The old man looked at Evard blew out his moustaches in an expression aggravation. “And don’t look at me that way. Do you have any idea how much effort it takes to turn someone into something else?”
Evard shook his head.
“Well let me tell you,” the old man said, tossing the weed aside, “it takes less effort to rebuild a village after a flood.” He looked down at where he had been working and then back at Evard. “Why are you here?”
Evard held out the envelope. It trembled like the leaves in the trees. “I brung you this, sire Wizard.”
The old man held out his hand and to Evard’s horror and amazement, the envelope floated over to the wizard.
“So, you’re a courier,” The old man remarked, looking at the envelope. “Where did you get this?” His eyes glanced at Evard from over the fold of the envelope.
“I…it were given to me from a bagman travelin’ from Beri to Dunwattle, S…sire wizard,” Evard stuttered.
“The name is Milward, and stop shaking, you’re disturbing the bees,” Milward muttered as he read the letter, “They can sense fear. Hmm, this is from Doreen. I’d been wondering about her and Bal…”
He looked back up at Evard, “You still here?”
Evard looked around, not as frightened as he had been, but still nervous. “Umm…my…ahh…it costs two coppers, sire wizard.”
“Milward, and what costs two coppers?” Milward spoke while reading the letter. “She wants me to visit her in Ort,” he murmured, “What are they doing in Ort?” He looked back up at Evard. “I said, what costs two coppers? A pint in the village is only a half penny.” He looked back at the letter, “For this? Are you telling me that carrying a letter from the village should cost me the price of eight pints?”
“Please, sire wizard, don’t turn me inta nuthin’ unnatcheral…I gotta get two coppers ‘cause I gotta share with the others what passed the letter on.”
Milward glowered at the courier, which did nothing for Evard’s bladder control. “If you insist on saying that I just might put out the effort and add you to my frog collection. Here, here’s two coppers. Highway robbery if you ask me. Now go.”
Evard needed no coaxing. He became a rapidly receding blur as he accelerated toward the woods.
Milward watched the courier disappear into the woods and smiled. Some jokes never get old.
Shaking his head and chuckling, he went back into his home. In the foyer, he racked the trowel and placed his dusty work boots onto their shelf.
Built into a long dead cavern within one of the hills to the north of the forest path, Milward’s home held decorations and furnishings suitable for bachelorhood. A wide fireplace promised old bones plenty of warmth on cold days, and a deep larder insured a full belly. One entire wall held shelf after shelf of books and scrolls. Cushioned chairs placed throughout promised a welcome spot for a lazy afternoon’s reading. Boxes of vellums and parchments were stacked ceiling high next to a massive reading desk covered in the drippings of over a century’s worth of candles.
Milward’s foyer held places for cloaks, boots and assorted garden tools. The thick bar placed across the stout door once shut made sure of a secure stay.
Underfoot, thick carpets gave tired feet a welcome release from the hard ground. Dozens of lamps with smokeless oil brightened the interior, and the warm glow of the oaken panels said home, rather than cavern.
Walking over to his desk, Milward pushed aside a few stacks of parchments and cleared a space. He then turned to a broad squat flat file and opened one of the drawers. From it, he pulled a large map of the known world and spread it out onto his desk. After weighting each of the four corners, he traced a line from his home down across the map in a southeastern direction to the great city of Ort.
“Ort,” he said to himself. “They were in Southpointe…why…” He turned the letter over and then said, “Oh.” As he continued to read, his brows knit together and he began to curse under his breath. By the time he was done, a small thunderhead had formed in his study and a wind was whipping papers and parchments across the room.
“It’s that witch,” Milward muttered, slapping the letter with the back of his hand, “She’s obviously stepping out on her own this time. Not even Gilgafed would…” He stopped, reached out, grabbed his staff, and then stalked out of the room, cursing fluently.
His epithets trailed off into an under-the-breath monologue as Milward stormed through his house. He passed into a hallway that led straight back from the living room to a door at the very end. Inside was a room filled with casks, pots, jars and boxes full of herbs, both dry and growing, bits and pieces of insects, amphibians and reptiles, as well as strange and wonderful oils, ointments and powders. The air within the room greeted the old Wizard with its heady mixture of odors. Worktables sat cluttered with tasks and experiments in various stages of completion, and an ornately framed mirror graced one wall bare of anything else but the twin oil lamps bracketing it. Milward stood before the mirror, his eyes burning with a cold fire. “Show him to me.” He snapped.
The mirror’s surface began to swirl with multicolored mists. A figure appeared, first as a silhouette, and then as Gilgafed himself.
“You!” The Sorcerer sat before a desk, in many ways similar to the one in Milward’s study. Papers, folios and scrolls littered its surface. A golden goblet filled with a deep red liquid was at Gilgafed’s elbow. Gilgafed scowled. “I thought we had an agreement, Wizard. Why have you broken it?”
Milward snarled, his voice fell and low. There was no sense of banter or play in his tone. Apocalypse lay in every syllable, “I have a very good reason for this, sorcerer. A message has reached me indicating Angbar may be extending its hand once again.”
Gilgafed sneered, “The witch? Don’t be foolish, wizard. She has no real power outside of her island and you know it. Besides, most of what she had was expelled during the magik war.”
“Tell that to Southpointe, Gilgafed,” Milward grated. “It is far enough from the population centers that it takes time for the rest of the world to notice. Why do you think she has brought the Maraggar into my world?”
“What?” Gilgafed’s sneer diminished. “The black-skins?” He waved the statement away. They mean nothing. All they are interested in is their religion. Ignore them. Eventually they’ll tire of Southpointe and go back home. Now leave me.” The sorcerer waved his hand. The scryglass rippled as a tiny spark leapt out and grounded against Gilgafed’s palm. He cried out in pain. In the background behind him, a small, mousy-looking figure came into the room and stood there, gaping.
With a satisfied grunt, Milward nodded. “Don’t try to end this scry, Gilgafed, it won’t worked. I’ve locked the shaping and you don’t have the strength to break it.”
Gilgafed glared at the wizard, his eyes narrowing in anger, “How…?”
“I told you before, Gilgafed, about wondering where I get the strength to do things. Now, what do you know about what is going on in Southpointe?”
“I’m…not doing…anything.” A little bit of the sorcerer’s strength and composure had come back. Cobain, his servant, the figure in the background of the scry rushed forward to comfort him but was roughly pushed away. “Like I said, that witch in Angbar has neither the power nor the connections.”
Milward scowled, and then shook his head. “I’m beginning to wonder…”
Gilgafed’s sneer returned. “So, you have holes in your vaunted wisdom after all.”
Milward raised his hand. “I’m not here to banter, Gilgafed. You and I both know each other too well to do that. I’m here for answers.”
Gilgafed’s face took on an expression of disgust. “Don’t remind me. I still have nightmares over what I saw during that melding.” He and the old wizard had joined their minds to battle the entity known as the destroyer. During the melding, each experienced the other’s personality. It was not a pleasant experience for either.
The sorcerer’s expression relaxed into thoughtfulness. “You could have a point, though. Her ambition was great.”
“Are you sure of this?”
Gilgafed grimaced. “You aren’t the only one with scrying ability, wizard. I have followed the signs of her doings for centuries. She has stayed in the background, working small intrigues, especially with those black-skinned Maraggar. This has to be her doing. You’re wasting your time questioning me. My realm is far too inhospitable for their liking” The look he gave Milward held no compassion.
“You should have told me,” Milward said slowly.
“I left that world centuries ago, wizard,” Gilgafed said, his voice rising in anger. I formed my own kingdom that functions by my rules. The petty concerns of your world matter to me not!”
Gilgafed stared at the wizard. “What do you mean by that?”
Milward’s mouth worked. “It seems to me that if an entity has the subtleness to hide what appears to be considerable power and influence from two of the most powerful magik workers in the world…that should concern someone. It also seems that something should be done.”
Seconds passed into minutes.
“Well, wizard, what are you going to do?” Gilgafed’s voice crackled with impatience.
“It appears,” Milward said into his beard, “that this matter requires further research.”
“I agree,” Gilgafed said, “but another…melding is out of the question. You will have to deal with this problem on your own.”
Milward replied softly, “Perhaps,” and ended the scry.
He sank back into his chair. The power he had used in locking the scry had nearly exhausted him. Now that the anger had begun to subside and its sustaining adrenaline left with it, he began to feel drained.
Gilgafed had been right. He had acted rashly and, like a fool had rushed to judgment without having all the facts. It had been wrong to bully the sorcerer, especially since both of them had been factors in each other’s survival. Now he owed an apology to the most disagreeable being he knew. It was not a pleasant feeling.
Forcing himself to stand, Milward shuffled his way back down the hallway to his kitchen. He had to get some food and drink into himself or the headache would be horrendous.
A jar of pickled eggs, a hunk of sharp white cheese, a few slices of crusty bread and a pint of strong brown ale were gathered up and spread onto the kitchen table. As he munched, Milward thought. Gilgafed at least believed what he was saying; the little elf was not that good of a liar. But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a possibility the witch had survived the magik wars last cataclysmic battle with her powers intact. If this were so, she would be the deadliest foe yet, not merely because of her strength but also because of her cunning.
The thief that had become the Shadow Realm’s link into the world had simply been a tool of brute force. The Witch of Angbar was another kettle of fish entirely. She had brains as well as beauty and, from what Milward remembered of his lessons with Daltwain, his old mentor, centuries more experience than he did.
The hasty meal took the edge off his fatigue and brightened his mood. He cleaned up after himself and, with a much lighter step, made his way back to his bedroom. If he were going to pay a visit to the Ortian capital, he would have to pack.