The Wounded Witch by Jeramy Goble (Part One)
Approximately 400 Years Before the Events in Coven Queen
The towering oak doors swung open slowly as their iron hinges groaned and complained. The room’s disturbance ushered in a gust of air that ruffled the long red carpet which stretched the length of the stone floor. The fabric rippled along gently for a surprisingly long distance before crashing like a stubborn wave against the bottom step leading up to King Baralli’s throne. The king, seated and reviewing parchments, looked up just as the doors banged against the walls. A guard trumpeted an announcement.
“Should it please Your Majesty,” the guard bellowed. “Grand Sorceress and Supreme Mistress of the Gifts, Colendra.”
King Baralli squinted. The room’s length, combined with the light coming in from the narrow windows, made the people and items at the opposite end of the room blur together. He shoved up quickly out of his throne, dropped his parchments in the seat, and scurried down the steps of the throne platform. He then ducked his head into a bit of shade and smiled.
“Ah, wonderful,” he began. Baralli stepped slowly towards Colendra as she bridged most of the distance between them. “I am so pleased to see you.”
Colendra stomped closer with a confident rhythm, returning the king’s smile. Once they were within a few yards of one another, Colendra stopped. Instead of a bow, salute, or curtsy, she snapped down to one knee and held her arms out to their maximum width. As she started to curve her arms upwards, a torrent of fire appeared over her, encompassing much of the cavernous space in the throne room. The fire quickly consolidated into cohesive strands and currents before taking the shape of a gigantic dragon. A symbol of Baralli’s house, this magical demonstration was how Colendra, and other Nurudian practitioners of the Gifts, greeted their sovereign at private audiences.
The beast roared to temporary life overhead. The bright flashes brought an even broader smile to the king’s face. He opened his own arms wide as if preparing to embrace the fiery display. But as Colendra stood, she allowed her creation to extinguish. Baralli chuckled and brought his hands together in a clap.
“Oh, I don’t believe I will ever tire of that!” he thundered with appreciation. Colendra bowed her head gently in acknowledgment of his praise.
“No, I don’t think I will,” he repeated. The king stepped over to a table and motioned for Colendra to follow. “Will you have some refreshment? Wine, perhaps? I can send for food.” Baralli poured a drink for himself with one hand and snapped with the other, without looking up. “You must be tired from your journey. I had no idea you would arrive so soon after I recalled you.”
“Thank you for the offer of wine, Your Majesty, but no. And, yes, I am somewhat fatigued from the road, but it’s nothing that deserves a second thought. I would like to get back to the front, my king, to be with my people as they fight at Rischurn.”
King Baralli took a drink from his chalice and licked his lips before turning back to Colendra.
“Mmm. Rischurn is the only city of resistance left on this continent, no?”
Colendra opened her mouth and swung out her chin. Baralli saw her.
“No?” he asked again.
“Yes, my king,” Colendra replied, ending her hesitation. “Once Rischurn falls, you will have seized the entire continent. Nurudia will be bound only by the seas.”
Baralli’s eyes settled on Colendra, before a mischievous grin slid up from one corner of his mouth.
“Ah, yes,” Baralli started, jogging up the steps to his throne. He snatched his pile of parchment and raced back down. He flipped through a few pages and handed one to Colendra.
“There are other lands in the seas,” he said.
Colendra took the parchment and recognized it immediately as a map of Kynpahl, the largest continent in the world, far west across the Dryntavic Ocean. She whipped her eyes up back to the king almost immediately.
“Your Majesty, if you mean to sail west, I would strongly suggest we wait until…”
“Grand Sorceress,” Baralli interjected, “We have been extremely successful across this continent, and have relatively low casualties and exhausted very few resources. Momentum is one of the most powerful tools in conquest and is too often squandered. I will not waste this opportunity.”
Colendra stood, mouth agape, eyes frozen open. Baralli continued.
“I want you to recall your Gift Warriors from Rischurn, resupply, and prepare for an invasion of Kynpahl.”
Colendra closed her mouth, noticeably collecting her thoughts.
“My lord, I will of course do as instructed and endeavor to see those instructions done as swiftly and effectively as possible, but I’m simply concerned for the well-being of my people, all of our people, our armies. We haven’t yet walked through the gates of the last standing city on this continent.”
“But that victory is imminent,” Baralli countered. “Do you disagree?”
“Well, no, my king. I just believe we would be rushing…”
Baralli interrupted again.
“We will be rushing, but with strategy and resources. That makes the difference between rushing and seizing momentum.”
Colendra was lost for words again.
“Colendra, I have already discussed this at length with my advisors, and the decision has been made.”
The Grand Sorceress swallowed and blinked.
“Yes, of course, Your Majesty. Please forgive me if I sound like I’m arguing. I am not one of your advisors and have not been privy to those discussions. I’m merely curious about the next step in this suddenly expanded war.”
Baralli nodded and sipped his wine and, for the moment, continued entertaining Colendra’s questions.
“How quickly are you intending to sail for Kynpahl?”
“Once we get word that Rischurn has fallen and that the city is secured and a magistrate has been installed, I will order the majority of our forces to return and prepare.”
Colendra’s brow wrinkled. “But do we have enough ships to transport our people?”
“When I started this war,” Baralli began, “I issued a secret directive to our shipwrights to increase our fleet by a factor of five.”
“Five?” Colendra asked, amazed.
“Five,” Baralli confirmed.
Colendra’s head dropped slightly as she scanned the floor.
“I’m sorry, my king, I am just worried that we will needlessly waste lives,” Colendra began to rattle off. “Surely you must see how there is no need to pivot away from one war instigated by us, and so quickly begin another.”
As Colendra finished her complaint, Baralli, trained to a respectable degree in the Gifts himself, drew his sword and whipped it around in the air in one circle before bringing the blade down in a vicious slam on the floor.
Sparks and fire tore along the spaces and cracks in the cobblestone floor. The connected energy rose up and enclosed Colendra in a circle before raising up off the floor. Conventional guards and Gift Warriors alike, previously hidden by the shadows of columns along the wall, stepped out, prepared to attack Colendra or defend the king, or both.
The energy of the sphere tugged at Colendra’s limbs, pulling them out taut. She was at the King’s mercy.
“There is no greater cause,” King Baralli began, “than that of extending the lands, resources, and future of our people. Do you understand me?”
King Baralli approached Colendra as he spoke. His neck bent back the closer he walked. Hers remained locked in place by his sphere of magical restraint. The guards took two steps in unison, closer to Colendra who remained hovering overhead.
With no warning, the room began to shake. Sounds of rumbling and muffled thunder seeped into the room, seemingly coming from deep within the world, and immeasurably high in the sky.
With a shattering explosion of sound, King Baralli was flung far back to the rear of the throne room, slamming into a massive pane of stained glass which cracked and splintered as he smacked into it. Simultaneously, each of the guards were thrown backwards as well, and pinned against the columns they had stepped out from behind.
Lastly, the massive sphere of flame encircling and restraining Colendra began to cool. Its flames grew dim, and its energy faded. The sphere rapidly transformed into a delicate shell of ice which tore along weakened rips and shattered out into the room. Colendra, having never moved a muscle or showed any signs of straining, gently floated back down to the floor. The king, and guards, still stuck to the walls, could only watch as Colendra freed herself.
“I understand, my king.”
END OF PART ONE