The scent of wood smoke lay heavy in the air, enveloping them. In the dim light of the fading dusk, Magda could just make out a cottage, and in its doorway, a man. No, she thought, as Bastian came to a stop with a soft whiny. Not a man, a boy. Not much older than she.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” he said, with a voice that was at once kind and calming, and decidedly not the voice she’d heard in her mind.
Magda let go of the reins, and slid off the fatigued horse. She managed one step toward the boy before exhaustion overtook her and she fainted into his waiting arms.
Over the weeks she’d been safeguarded, Magda had explored every square inch of what Mathias told her was protected by the shroud. A small stretch of forest, bordered by the thickets trees Magda had ever seen. Trees that wouldn’t naturally have grown in the kingdom, without a little magic. It was the trees, Mathias explained, that protected them from the King’s seers.
A small band of runaway servants and seers alike, Mathias and his companions knew the truth about King Cadriel. And like Magda, they’d tried to escape. But there was no escape from the far-reaching clutches of the demon king. He’d spread his seed far and wide among neighboring kingdoms, already ensnaring the people of the land with his spell. The only safe place was to hide in plain sight.
The morning air was brisk, sunlight seeping through the canopy of trees, as Magda lead Bastian from the stables. Mathias had gone into a nearby village, two days travel at best, with a former servant man by the name of Sazh. Though she’d only known Mathias a few weeks, when the boy was gone, Magda felt restlessness in her heart. The cottage walls seemed to press in on her, and the constant bustling of the other women, especially an elder seer named Celeste, made Magda long for open air and green pasture. Though she knew she couldn’t leave the safety of the shroud, she climbed onto Bastian’s back and led him into the forest.
The woods were silent and the air around her seemed thick and heavy. The shroud, she thought, for as she neared the border the weight began to lessen and her breath came easier. She peered through the thickest of trees, spotting something glinting in the distance. Water, she knew by the way the light bounced and moved in soft waves.
This way, Magda. The voice she’d heard just weeks before, when she came upon the cottage, was back again in that same soft lulling tone. Underneath her red robes, her skin prickled and she felt Bastian tense beneath her. The voice was familiar in a way that things sometimes are, without really being. Like a name long forgotten.
“Come, Bastian.” She clucked her tongue and nudged the horse’s sides with her calves. “This way.” But the horse refused to move, stomping his hoof in protest. She tried again, and Bastian locked his legs and jerked his neck, tugging the reins from her hands. She huffed, and jumped from his back, allowing the stubborn stallion to graze alone as she crept closer to the pool.
Magda. Her name was a whisper through the trees. From somewhere on the other side of the shroud, in the direction of the pool, she heard it again, and again. She glanced back the way she’d come, knowing the cottage to be near, but too far for her voice to be heard by the women. Mathias had travelled into the village many times before, and he’d never been detected by the king’s seers. They wouldn’t notice her. They’d probably long forgotten that she’d run away.
She turned back toward the pool, watching the peaceful waves drifting along it’s sunlit surface, reminding her so much of the pool back home, where she’d first learned to see, when times were better. Was it really better, to be naïve and believe her king was fair and just, and not the monster she now knew him to be? She couldn’t know, and decided it best not to wonder.
Though she missed her home, her life had not been a terrible one. She’d found Mathias and the cottage after all. And she still had Bastian by her side. The horse lifted his head and snorted once at her, as if reminding her of his presence, before he went back to grazing on a patch of purple clover.
Still, she thought. It would be lovely to see her home again. If only for a moment. She slipped between the trees, tearing her red robe as she made her way beyond the boundary of the shroud, and to the pool just beyond.
Magda knelt at the water’s edge, leaning back on her heels, not yet ready to gaze into the water. She could just see Bastian’s ears pricked and pointed in her direction from where she’d left him inside the shroud. She should turn back. She felt it in her bones, the fervent need to run back inside the shroud. Back to safety, back where she was protected from King Cadriel’s seers. Back to Mathias.
Magda, we’ve missed you. The voice sounded more like her grandfather each time she heard it. It beckoned to her, like a watery finger from beneath the surface of the pool. Without looking down, Magda drew swirls, circles, and runes with a finger, lightly skimming the surface of the pool. Any pool, she knew, could be used to see. If you knew how to use the magic the water held onto so tightly.
“Show me my home,” she whispered, as she leaned forward and gazed at her reflection.
Thanks for reading! Come back Friday for Part 3 by Natalie!
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