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Chapter 2 Ch-line

The Knife’s Edge


‘Y our fate is to save magic, or destroy it. The future lies on a knife’s edge …’

Jelindel dek Mediesar stared with alarm at the large woman slumped in the ridiculously tiny chair. The woman’s eyes had rolled back in their sockets, and she was drooling. No wonder some call it the ‘idiot trance’, thought Jelindel, although those who experienced it preferred the term ‘oracular vision’.

Jelindel’s heart skipped a beat; the woman’s words were … unsettling.

Cimone, the most famous farseer in D’loom, renowned for her foretellings, blinked for a moment and awoke, staring about. Her eyes came into focus, peering at a slim, dark-haired and very intense girl who sat opposite. Jelindel seemed somehow much older than eighteen. Cimone beamed, revealing cracked, yellowed, but nevertheless clean teeth. She was a stout motherly woman, rather than actually fat, but would still have made three or four of Jelindel. She slapped a thigh the width of a tree trunk, causing it to ripple like jelly, and laughed raucously, as if the trance had left her elated.

‘Well!’ she exclaimed. ‘And what did we learn today, dearie?’

‘You don’t remember what you said to me?’ asked Jelindel, her green eyes bright in an expression full of doubt.

‘Not a word, and glad I am too, else someone would have parted this poor old head of mine from its shoulders long ago! Was it important?’

‘I – think so.’

Cimone nodded sagely. ‘I only get the big seeings. That’s my gift.’

‘You read dreams, yes?’

‘That’s what the sign says, dearie. Have you a juicy one?’

I will destroy magic, or save it. What did she mean? Jelindel wondered. Aloud, she said, ‘Last night … ’

Jelindel awoke drenched in sweat.

Echoes of screams faded, but the nauseating stink of burnt flesh did not. Jelindel sat up quickly, straining her eyes in the darkness. Was that real smoke, or just the remnants of her dream?

She shivered, pulling the blanket tighter about her.

She had been on the roof of a great mansion, gazing at stars, when a shriek cut through the night, making her stomach lurch. Sounds of commotion followed, then more screams, and the ghastly smell of burning. Although it was night, an enormous sun hung in the sky, but it was completely black. For some reason Jelindel thought that none of this was unreasonable, but she nevertheless felt confused. Dreams tended to be like that.

Only minutes earlier, or so it seemed, she’d been dancing with some pompous son of Skelt nobility, smiling at Grandmama and the new baby, and eyeing tables piled high with an extraordinary array of food: huge tureens of soup and stew, and whole boar, roasted till the skin had crackled, and likewise chickens, ducks, turkeys, not to mention fish. Platters were piled with spicy rice from far off Hamatriol, and with sweetmeats, and puddings, fruits and nuts and cheeses, and the freshest bread straight from the family ovens. Gravies, sauces, and syrups filled pouring jars, jugs and beakers, as did wine and beer and exotic juices. There were cakes and biscuits of every kind, bearing intricate designs in chocolate, jam and cream. Serving boys and girls passed amongst the guests offering exotic platters of meat and spiced pastry. There seemed to be enough food to feed all of D’loom for a day, Jelindel reflected, yet despite the mouth-watering temptation, she hadn’t stayed.

The stars had beckoned.

Dressed in the clothes of a stableboy who had never heard of baths, she had climbed onto the roof to watch a rare eclipse, and had just noticed the black sun hanging huge and swollen in the sky, when the first scream came, filling her with panic.

Now, soaked in sweat and still gripped by panic, Jelindel pulled on a night-smock and stood up. She could still smell smoke. Where was Daretor? Surely he should be home by now?

She went to her table and searched frantically for something. Not finding it, she went to her chest, her bureau full of drawers, and then her wardrobe.

It’s gone,’ she muttered, trying to push back a sense of calamity that threatened to overwhelm her. She hugged herself, turning round and round: where could it be?

Had she left it someplace, lost it? Was it stolen?

Then the feeling came over her: she was not alone in the house, and her heart hammered in her chest. She picked up a sword, slid it noiselessly from its scabbard, and crossed to the door, easing it open so it did not creak.

Fighting back panic, she moved out onto the landing and leant over the railing, peering down into the darkness of the living room. Everything was still, strung with shadows. Shafts of moonlight slanted in from high windows, but did not light up the scene.

Something was wrong. Anything so surreal just had to be bad.

Jelindel sent her mage-sense down into that darkness, probing. Was something there? Suddenly, she bit back a scream. She had felt and tasted fire where there was none.

Then the entire ground floor exploded into flame. A roaring fireball erupted upwards, and Jelindel sprang back as the fireball obliterated the entire landing on which she had been standing.

A hand fell on her shoulder and she whirled. This time she did scream.

It was Father, his face almost burned away, the flesh melting as she watched, like candle wax in fiery, ropy threads.

Jelindel staggered back, horrified. ‘Poppa?!’

He grabbed her by the shoulders, stared at her with his sightless eyes. ‘Soon, Jelindel. Soon. You can’t wait here much longer.’

Poppa, I’m sorry.’ She was crying, wiping away tears.There wasn’t anything I could do. It all happened so fast …’

He shook her slightly, not urgently, but his voice became urgent.It’s dying, and when it’s gone, no one will remember. Jelindel, you must remember the past!’

Poppa, I don’t understand!’

He started to turn away.

Poppa, don’t go!’ Jelindel clawed at him desperately, trying to stop him going, but her hands passed through his scorched coat as if it wasn’t there.

He paused, looked sadly back.Jelindel, child, make haste. Without you, it will die. And without it, you will.’

What?’ Jelindel’s panic mounted to a kind of hysteria.

The soul of Q’zar,’ said her father.It gasps for life, even now. The old pact cannot hold. Go to the place of light and darkness, Jelindel. Face the shadow from the past …’

He turned, and was gone.Poppa!’

She woke then, drenched in sweat, and breathing heavily. The wordPoppahung in the air. It was still dark, and she could smell smoke. The dregs of her dream?

She groped out, uncovered a lamp.

And sucked in her breath sharply. She could feel the lamp’s heat, but saw nothing.

She was blind.

‘Blind, you say? Now that’s something! But go on, dearie,’ said Cimone.

Could it be a darkness spell? If so, then someone was coming, someone who would take advantage of the darkness.

The smell of smoke subsided a little but her panic did not.

Jelindel heard a noise, and twisted around.

‘Ooh, I do like the difficult ones!’ said Cimone, rubbing her hands in glee. ‘Now let me see …’

Jelindel hugged herself, as she had in the dream, an old, lost feeling flooding her. The dream had first come a month ago. In it, she relived the night her family was murdered, the night she had been ripped from her world, the night a fourteen-year-old daughter of a noble family was brutally thrust into the life of a fugitive. The deaths had left her as a countess, but also a vagabond mage-to-be, always fearful her family’s assassins would come after her. She found perilous refuge in the shabby streets and markets of D’loom.

‘But there’s more,’ she said.

‘One bit at a time, dearie. The old memory isn’t what it used to be. Now you mentioned the black sun. That’s a dark omen, that is, and no pun meant. You’ve dreamt it before, I’ve no doubt?’

Jelindel nodded. ‘A – a few times.’ She answered hesitantly, not sure how much she wished to share with a total stranger. But if not Cimone, then who? Daretor? ‘Usually I’m standing in a tiny room in a high castle. I feel trapped, imprisoned, and then I see the sun, even though I know I’m in a room. The sun turns black and stops moving. It gets very hot, and my skin starts to burn and blacken. I feel … I feel ashamed, like I shouldn’t be there. Like I shouldn’t be – alive … And at the same time, the black sun is – it’s eating the light! And I’m always very frightened.’

‘Interesting,’ said Cimone, stroking her chin between a thick finger and thumb. ‘And is the sun at zenith? At the midday hour?’

Jelindel looked at the woman, startled. ‘Yes.’

‘Then congratulations, for you have arrived at the middle of your journey, despite being so young.’

‘Congratulations? I’m going to die at thirty-six and you say congratulations?’

‘I said journey, not life! Who is supposed to be the seer here?’


‘All that has gone before has been a test, to forge you for the task ahead, like a sword blade bein’ beaten and quenched by a smithy.’

‘I certainly feel beaten.’

‘First you must go to the land of the black sun, that’s what your poppa said: go to the place of light and darkness. Or else It will die.’

‘What will die?’

‘How should I know, dearie? Mayhap I told you in my trance. Mayhap I didn’t.’

Your fate is to save magic, or destroy it. The future lies on a knife’s edge … Was magic the ‘soul’ of Q’zar? Jelindel swallowed.

‘And the burning, the flames?’ asked Jelindel.

‘That’s symbolic of bein’ tested. The gods always put flames in dreams, when they want to show hardships to be endured. You know, cities bein’ burned by the enemy. I mean, what enemy would run through a city throwin’ snowballs? Gotta be flames if it’s serious.’

‘So there’s a test to come?’ said Jelindel, trying not to seem impatient.

‘Oh aye. You must pass through death, the great mortification. You must pass beyond your own sunset, to achieve your task, and to be free. In freeing yourself, you will set something else free. Can’t say what, view was fuzzy.’

‘A short-sighted seer?’

‘One more remark like that, missy, and you can do yer own seein’!’

‘But what does all this mean?’ asked Jelindel wearily, drumming her fingers on the table.

‘Tell me the rest.’

Jelindel groped blindly along a wall, and stopped to listen.

The house was quiet. Too quiet perhaps, as if it were holding its breath. Outside, she knew, the rain was pouring down harder and the wind prowled about the houses, scouring the dark streets of D’loom like a maid cleaning up after a very messy revel. Night watchmen tugged the collars of their capes up around their ears, stamped their feet, and sought what shelter they could, holding aloft their hissing, spluttering lamps, peering down streets and lanes then hurrying on, anxious to reach the warmth and shelter of the taverns.

Then she heard it.

It was the tiniest of scuffs, as if soft leather had brushed against wall or furniture. It was to her left, twenty feet away.

So there was somebody else in the house!

Her pulse quickened but she stifled her reflexive gasp. No point in betraying her position. The intruder might not be blind, but it was still dark. And Jelindel had one advantage: she knew the place, it was her home. Perhaps two advantages, in fact. Her hearing had also sharpened, heightened like that of the blind.

Then came a second sound, a soft thump, different from the first. It was from the opposite direction. Damn. There were two of them. Their positions were like an army trying to catch the enemy in a pincer movement.

Where was Daretor?

She had thought to make a run for the door, but now she changed her mind. The second intruder stood between her and escape.

Soft footfalls.

They’re closing in.

Jelindel felt a moment of lurching fear. She was trapped, at their mercy. They could see and she could not. There was only one way this could end. Unless she could

Remove their advantage.

‘Now what kind of dream is that?’ complained Cimone, knitting her brow.

‘Actually, it wasn’t a dream.’

Cimone stared at her. ‘You mean there were people trying to kill you?’

‘Three of them. Assassins.’

‘You said two.’

‘There was another outside.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I slew those inside and wounded the other.’

Cimone’s eyes went wide. ‘But how, if you couldn’t see nuthin’?’

‘I used a blinding spell. It’s a brilliant flash of light.’

Cimone continued to stare at Jelindel for a moment, then sat back and broke into peals of laughter, slapping her thigh as before.

‘Missy, you got guts, that’s all I can say. You’re a mage then? I sensed it but didn’t like to pry. A blinding spell! Well, I never! And them as clumsy and noisy as a herd of oxen afterwards, I’ll wager.’

‘They lost their advantage,’ said Jelindel. In the light of day it all sounded simpler than it had been, and less scary. Her sight had not returned till daylight broke the spell and she had sat shivering in the room for hours, emotionally drained, aware of bodies tumbled on the floor about her, and the metallic smell of blood.

‘Is there any more you can tell me?’ Jelindel asked.

‘The thing you were looking for, that you were scared you’d lost …’


‘That’s the thing-hard-to-find. I think it’s in the place of light and darkness.’

Jelindel looked unhappy. She remembered the awful urgency.

Cimone patted her hand. ‘The task that’s before you, and the thing-hard-to-find, they’re tied up with one another, that I can tell you.’

‘But what is it I’ve lost?’

Cimone eyed her. ‘Yourself, dearie. It’s your self you’ve lost. Mage at eighteen, whoever heard of that? You’ve growed up too fast.’

Jelindel left Cimone’s stall in the D’loomian marketplace, her mind in turmoil. She wandered past the spice sellers and the merchants hawking exotic cloths just in from the many ships swaying at anchor not two hundred yards off. It was a bright sunny morning, and she needed the sun’s warmth to disperse memories of fears felt in darkness.

In the four years since her family had died, she had tried not to think of them, indeed had never wanted to. So much fear and anger was bound into that appalling night, the night she was forced to grow up. It was an anger she could not control, so she shut it out, but nothing could stop the nightmares. She remembered watching the sun set beyond the harbour that evening, but it was not a child who saw it rise the next morning.

Amid the terrors between dusk and dawn, something had been lost. The road to its retrieval, if Cimone were to be believed, would begin in Sezel.

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