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Weaving the Strands of Love
© Lazette Gifford 2000, 2012
(This story was originally published in Twilight Times ezine)
A storm invariably gathered over the mountains when Prince Idas visited his brother the magician. He'd come to expect the weather and dressed for rain no matter how sunny the weather had been at the Dendari castle. By the time he reached the mountainside, the weather would always have turned cold and wet.
He'd asked Pelias why this always happened, but his younger brother shrugged the question away. Idas suspected the weather reflected Pel's moods. If so, this boded ill. Pelias was on his way to becoming the most powerful magician in the world. Someone who possessed such inherent ability could be a danger to others, until they learned self-control. No one had realized the boy had magic until his teens, long past the time to begin training. So Pelias lived alone in his far tower.
"Damn weather," Idas mumbled as the clouds opened up yet again. He grabbed at the slick pommel of the saddle, and cursed under his breath.
Marl, the Centaur he rode, gave a quick flick of his head and a snort of amusement. "You say the same thing every time. You still make this journey every few months. You might think about taking one of the horses next time and at least let me stay dry."
"You know a horse won't come near this place because of the magic."
"Oh, true. You'd have to walk, wouldn't you? What a horrible thing that might be, the fine prince putting his dainty feet in the dirt."
Idas refrained from pushing his not-so-dainty feet into the Centaur's ribs. He'd learned not to give in to Centaur wit, because a Centaur would leave even a Prince of the Line sitting in the mud. Marl's grandfather had once bucked off the King himself, and lived to tell the tale to several adoring generations of Centaurs.
He appreciated Marl's companionship, which took his mind off the reason he came here. Prince Idas's fingers touched the pouch beneath his cloak. Under the fine silk he could feel the small mass of thirty long, golden hairs wrapped in a circle and placed them within. These were the last ones he would have to bring to his brother. Soon the spell would be finished.
Marl stomped through the mud puddles, either having a lot of fun or very mad. Idas could never be certain of centaur temperament, despite having grown up with Marl. Idas had spent more time with Marl then he had with Pelias, in fact. His brother, younger by five years, had always seemed odd to him, though he had liked the boy.
He watched ahead, hoping to see his brother's tower. He couldn't judge how long the journey might take since the tower moved from trip-to-trip, another vestige of his brother's vigorous magic.
"I think we're getting closer." Marl lifted a hand to the air, and felt for magic, which a centaur could sense.
"Good." Idas pulled at his cloak and tried not to think fondly of the castle hall, and the warm hearth he'd left behind. He'd be glad to see Pel. He missed his younger brother. Pel had come here when the priests realized the boy had magic, but not learned any control. And Idas. . . .
Idas knew his life would soon change because their father wasn't well. The Prince already handled most of the daily work. The King wouldn't live through the next winter, and after the passing Prince Idas would become King Idas of Dendari. He shivered at the thought.
"You can't be that cold, and I know you aren't afraid of Pel, so what's bothering you now?" Marl asked.
Damn the centaurs, who never missed anything. He almost shrugged off the answer. However, they were alone here, and he could trust Marl, who was an old friend. "I'm thinking about the future, Marl."
"Ah." Marl stopped and twisted his head to look at him. "You'll make a good king."
Idas couldn't have been more stunned if the Centaur had thrown him in the mud. "Thank you. Your words help. Everyone accepts the change is coming but I doubt they've thought about what will happen when the king dies."
"Oh, some of us have considered the situation," Marl replied, starting along the trail once more. He still found every mud puddle. "The general consensus is you'll throw a damn big party. You won't disappoint us, will you?"
"Ha!" Everyone knew Idas loved gatherings. "We'll have to wait until it's . . . seemly. Besides, I'll need time to settle in."
"Just don't settle in so well you're no fun anymore," Marl answered. He sounded serious. "We've had enough of dourness with your father. He never was much for enjoyment. He should have remarried."
Prince Idas didn't answer. The conversation felt uncomfortable, touching on why he made this gods-be-damned trip.
His fingers brushed the silk and he thought about his wife, waiting for him to come home. He wished he could trust she would always be there.
"You're too quiet," Marl complained.
A clap of thunder startled both him and Marl, saving Idas from having to answer. Idas grabbed at the pommel, wishing Centaur saddles were a bit more generously proportioned. He suspected the Centaurs made them this way because they liked to dump humans who annoyed them.
"And there the tower is," Marl said.
The sudden appearance of his brother's keep still amazed Idas. He couldn't get used to the magical materialization of something so substantial which should have been rooted in one place. The building rose in several odd layers, as though different architects had made designs and then someone jumbled them all together. The trees and plants which had been displaced by the arrival still moved a bit, settling back in. He couldn't watch those rearrangements without feeling a chill of distress so he watched the tower instead. He saw a glowing light in an upper window; a promise of warmth and someplace dry, at least for a while.
The gate opened without one around. They entered the courtyard as the storm let loose once more. Idas scowled at the sky, growling a little curse at the weather. He slid from Marl's saddle as Pelias hurried out into the rain.
"Idiot!" Marl shook his head in disbelief. "Get in out of the weather!"
"Come in, come in!" Pelias grinned with delight to see him so Idas refrained from complaining about the ride and the weather.
"Is Ela around?" Marl asked, looking off to the left where a light flickered.
"She brought me books earlier so she might be," Pelias replied. "Check the stables. If not, come and join us. I'll leave the door unlatched."
Marl pranced off toward the stable. Idas grinned, watching him go. No wonder Marl had been so willing to bring him here if he thought the lovely centaur Ela might be around.
"I wasn't sure you'd return," Pel said.
"Is there something I should know?" Idas asked. "And is this something which must be discussed in the rain for some arcane reasons which are beyond the understanding of poor, magic-less humans?"
Pel grinned and glanced into the sky, shaking his head. "I don't know why the weather keeps changing. I had a lovely, sunny afternoon. Come in. The fire's warm."
Pel led the way inside. Idas always enjoyed visiting is brother, despite the weather. Pel didn't treat him like the heir-apparent or the soon-to-be-king, bowing and simpering at his presence.
Well, maybe the most powerful mage in the world didn't need to bow and simper to the king of any country, including the one at the base of his mountain. There was a humbling thought. He needed humbling now and then.
They climbed one set of stairs past the ground floor storage area and to the living quarters. The place felt warm, but lacking in the trappings of civilization. The tower room held no more than two chairs placed by the central hearth and a table stacked with books and papers sat by the open window. A soft breeze blew through the opening, though no rain penetrated his brother's warding spell. A parchment lay half uncurled and weighed down with an odd shaped rock. He wondered what Pel studied.
Pel reached the fireside damp dark hair falling across his eyes. Idas couldn't make out his expression, though from the sudden flash of lightning and the crash of thunder, he could guess something troubled his brother.
"What's wrong?" Idas asked. "You're bothered by something."
Pel paused for a moment. "There's nothing you can help with."
"Not surprising. You can still talk to me anyway. Pel, I've been worried about you here alone. This life can't be easy, despite your magic."
He started to speak and stopped himself yet again.
"You could always talk to me," Idas replied as he settled into one of the chairs by the fire.
"This place is empty," Pel admitted softly.
Idas suppressed the urge to answer with something trite or to order Pel home. Neither would help. "I'm sorry," Idas replied. "Perhaps you should get a servant or two at least."
"No. I can't. They wouldn't be safe." Pel threw himself into the other chair, pushing aside wet hair and shaking his head. "I'm not safe to live with. And at least Ela comes by to visit often."
"After all this time you must have gained some control," Idas said.
"Some," he agreed. "Otherwise you wouldn't be safe here. But there are times when I can't control what happens. I could hurt people, which is why they made me come here, and why you're the only one who visits."
"No one else?" Idas frowned now. "I thought you had friends who would visit. And the priests come here. They told us you needed teaching."
"They send me books by Ela. No other humans." He stopped and took a deep breath. "This is the way things have to be."
"Why?" Idas felt angry for Pel's sake, which surprised him. "You were not that much trouble at home!"
Pel laughed suddenly. "I took half the roof off-the keep, Idas."
"But you never hurt anyone!"
"Because they got me away in time," he replied and glanced once around the room. "Staying here is the best answer. Just not a comfortable one. But enough. Do you have the strands?"
"Yes." Idas pulled the pouch from his belt, quelling the surge of guilt as Pel took it.
Pel looked into Idas's face. Idas couldn't remember the last time his shy brother had done so. He'd forgotten Pelias had their mother's bright green eyes.
"You don't need this spell," Pelias said.
"I can't risk the chance!" Idas gave voice to the thoughts he'd harbored in the dark of the night, the fear growing over the last two years. "I don't want to be like our father. If Vania left me the way mother left him --"
Pelias winced. He'd been very young, and Idas didn't think the boy remembered the day their mother had packed her belongings and her servants to return to her father's great castle. She'd told the king she'd done her duty, and given him two sons. Their father let the woman go. He never trusted another one.
And never cared much for her sons, either, though he did his duty to the Prince Heir, and made certain he learned what he needed to rule. Pelias, though, had gotten nothing from the man and precious little notice from anyone else. Idas had been too busy, half a decade older, and heir to the throne.
"Idas?" Pel whispered, drawing his attention again. "Will you take my advice and drop this?"
"I can't risk the chance," he repeated automatically. "Dendari has suffered enough, don't you think?"
"The land is at peace, the people prosperous and content," Pel answered. "Dendari hasn't suffered for our father's lack of love."
"But you've suffered or else you wouldn't be here, would you?"
"Maybe not. If someone had taken the time and noticed my gift when I was younger --" He stopped and waved those words away. "But the real truth is you are the one who wouldn't be here if you hadn't suffered."
"You wouldn't want a spell to ensure the love of a woman who has already given you all her heart."
"I can't take the risk!" Fear and frustration pushed him to his feet. "Our parents had an arranged marriage, like mine. How do I know theirs didn't start out this way? Pelias, I couldn't risk it. I couldn't bear the loss."
Pel's his face grave. He had never seen such a look before. "Sit. Let me explain to you how this spell works so you fully understand."
Idas settled in the chair, his heart pounding. He knew magic always came with a price. When Pelias had accidentally destroyed the roof at the keep, the boy had been ill for days afterwards.
Pelias reached towards the right; a little flicker of light appeared, and he held a small canvas in his hand, painted with the likeness of Vania. A very good likeness, in fact.
"You've never used magic to bring something to you before, Pel."
"You can learn all manner of tricks from books." He shrugged and held the portrait out to the light. His brother had been very good at drawing. He'd gotten better. "I've woven her hair into the canvas. These last strands will complete the spell, and the magic will be set before you get home. However, we need to talk about the price magic takes. This isn't something paid in gold."
"I know." He felt a little surge of dread this time.
"Love spells are especially complex because love is a magic all its own. This is the only magic all humans have the ability to create. There is a kernel of love in everyone which can blossom, but, as with all magic, this kernel is finite. A mage can create a spell to give someone more than their share of love. However, to do so, he must take love away from someone else."
"What do you mean?"
Pelias stared into his brother's face once more. "You take more than you create, and deny someone else their share of love."
"They'll never marry?" he asked.
"Love is more than the relationship between a man and a woman, Idas. All love this person might have created with others will be gone."
The knowledge bothered him . . . but not enough. He'd been trained to be king and he knew about difficult choices and matters which would not always be fair to all sides. Idas had accepted such burdens and responsibilities. There would be worse choices when he became king.
Idas gave a bow of his head. "I understand."
Pel held his stare for a long moment. The storm raged and then subsided as his brother turned away. Pel pulled the first strand from the pouch and laid the golden hair against the canvas. Sparkles of light traced where his finger moved.
"Once completed there is no going back," Pel added as he smoothed another strand into the cloth.
"Good. I want this finished."
Pel straightening another strand. A soft glitter of light brightened the strokes as his brother meticulously worked each strand into the portrait. The work took time and Idas soon grew bored. He wanted to go home and smiled at the thought of Vania waiting for him, his forever.
Another strand. Idas stood and headed towards the door. No reason to stay. Pel didn't need his help.
He took a dozen steps before he turned to watch his brother working, the magic growing stronger beneath his fingers.
Gods! A truth Pel hadn't explained reached him. He froze.
Pelias glanced up, his face calm and remote. "Yes?"
"You know from whom you are taking the love, don't you?"
"And the spell began to work as soon as you began weaving the spell months ago, didn't it?"
"No." Idas crossed to the fire and grabbed his brother's arm. "Not you. I can't do this to you."
"And I can't do steal from some poor stranger who might have a real hope of family and friends." He pulled away and his finger wove a little more of the strand into the painting.
"You are the only one who ever visits me, Idas. Ela only comes by to drop off the books. Even before the spell. This is the best choice."
"No." Idas took the canvas from his brother's hand. "This is the best choice."
He tossed the painting into the fire. Magic flared bright and exquisite for a moment and died away in normal flames.
Pel stood with a hand on the arm of the chair. He appeared stunned and unsteady as he watched his older brother. "I never thought even you loved me."
"Gods, boy. I'm sorry." Idas held out his arms.
Pel took a step forward and collapsed against him. He felt almost limp and unexpectedly cold and trembling.
"A moment," he whispered and waved a hand towards the fire. "That was a harsh way to break a spell."
"It's all right." He laughed and stood straighter, smiling brightly. "It's wonderful!"
Idas stayed, talking with his brother all through the night. The visit helped them both. When he and Marl walked out of the courtyard the next morning, the day had dawned bright and free of any hint of clouds.
He and Vania would visit soon. He'd already promised Pel.
"Beautiful day," Marl said. He looked at the tower which, remarkably, remained in place as they walked away. "About damn time he settled down. Now we have to find him a woman."
Idas thought to berate him for his usual crass irreverence and changed his mind. "Yes, Marl," he agreed as he walked beside the centaur. "I think you're right."
About the Author:
Lazette Gifford has publications in both electronic and print format, including material from Double Dragon Publishing, Yard Dog Press, Eggplant Literary Productions, Ideomancer, Fables, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and more. Having joined the ranks of Indie Authors, she has published both new material and previously released stories and is having a wondrously fun time.
She also owns Forward Motion for Writers and is the editor/publisher for Vision: A Resource for Writers.
Connect with Zette:
Web Site: http://lazette.net
Joyously Prolific Blog: http://zette.blogspot.com/
Other works by Lazette Gifford
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