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Primed and ready to cast the most magnificent spell of her career, Aetria strode confidently to the crest of the hill overlooking the battle that raged below. To her right the 23rd Kelrossian Lancers cantered, preparing to charge. On her left were the elite Royal Guard, ready to supply the crushing blow to the Hermanian front lines. In front of her was the bespelled squadron of cavalry she had previously conjured for this most grand diversion of hers. She turned and looked behind her at the small group of black-robed Magi watching her from a not too distant hill.
Raising her arms, she summoned the Power and cast the spell, pouring every ounce of energy she could into the illusion. She felt the surge go through her as the Power shot out and the spell blossomed into being. In horror, she watched the glamour fall from the bespelled squadron as it became the herd of cows that it was. The glory and grandeur disappeared from the assembled armies, and the power of truth exposed all for what it was. She looked down at her body and saw a sad, frightened little girl clutching a stuffed toy dragon, and she began to cry.
The Hermanian army sent up a wild cheer and attacked. The Kelrossian Lancers wheeled in anger and ran. Their leader charged directly for her, his lance pointed at her heart. She hugged the dragon to her and begged him, "Save me, Rajii, save me." The thunder of the horse was upon her, the gleaming silver of the lance point at her heart, and…
* * * *
Aetria sat up in bed, the nightmare dissipating back to whatever dark corner of her mind it had come from. Her night robe was soaked, and she pulled it offover her head and threw it down on the floor. She walked over to the washbasin and picked up the towel she had placed there earlier for the very purpose of wiping off the sweat. She was tired of these nightly visits and longed for a decent night's sleep. For the past week she had relived, in one strange form or another, her loss of control at the battle fought four years ago. The dreams were never too near the reality, but not absurdly far away either.
She spoke a calming spell to slow her hammering heart. She began a litany that helped to slow her mind down and bring her back to normalcy while she dressed in her student robe and prepared for this important day in her life, her rejoining the Sorcerer Corps of the Delmathian army.
"I am not a child, but a woman," she said to herself. "I am not a helpless waif, but a magic user of the Sorceress rank, one step away from Adept, and two steps away from Mage. I am a skilled artisan in the use of illusion spells, one of the best in the sorcerers' training lodge of Inhestia. I am not a child, but a woman…"
* * * *
Aetria glimpsed a figure dressed in the deep-purple robes of an Adept entering the Weapons Training Hall main door. She called her recruit company to attention. Their less-than-precise response to her command was embarrassing enough, but when she recognized the Adept Commander striding swiftly towards her, she braced herself mentally and physically for the acidic remarks she knew were coming.
By the Power, why, of all the officers that could have been sent from the Corps to accept this company, did its commander, "Crusher" Pleates, have to come himself?
The very tall Adept's arrival directly in front of her placed her in the position where her rigidly locked-forward eyes were staring at his prominent Adam's apple. Many a subordinate had watched in fascination and horror as the Adept's slow swallow before delivering a reprimand caused the large lump in his throat to rise slowly, then move downward sharply as he tore into his victim. The similarity between this movement and that of a smith's hammer stroke to an anvil had created the nickname "Crusher."
"It seems your period of 'retraining' here at Inhestia has taken the edge off your military skills, Aetria. This company bears little resemblance to any you and I have ever served with."
The utter lack of any warmth of recognition or welcome in his first words to her in four years matched the chill of the cold night air trapped within the confines of the stone walls of the training hall. A colder line of nervous sweat slid down her spine, leaving her thoroughly numb, inside and out.
"Begging the commander's pardon, Sir, but this company has only been in existence for one week. It does not mean to dishonor you, or our Order, by its lack of military training. I fully accept that dishonor for my role as its commander."
"Apology accepted, and the discrepancy noted. I am sure in your future role as sub-commander of this company that you will make up for your errors and have it well trained by the time we reach my regiment's encampment. You only have two weeks, Sub-Commander Aetria."
"Two weeks, Sir? At most, the army is a week away by transport. Will you be remaining here at Inhestia for a week? That would certainly be convenient for conducting the Novices' training."
"We depart tomorrow after the morning meal, Sub-Commander. We will start out from Inhestia heading due west towards the Hermanian border, instead of northwest to the army. I have promised the general a survey of the borderlands to the west. He is worried about their security and was going to dispatch a cavalry squadron to make the survey. We can do that simple job for him, and it will only add a week to our transit. Be thankful for the time, Sorceress Aetria. From the looks of these Novices you have thrown together, you will need it. Why are there so many Provisioners? I need Aggressors, not more commissaries."
The arrival of Headmaster Kelristo saved Aetria from having to answer Pleates' question. The elderly man, dressed in the flowing black robes of a Mage sorcerer, had been visiting with his Healer students among the recruit company while awaiting the arrival of the Sorcerer Corps officer. He reached up to touch Crusher's shoulder with a long, thin hand speckled with age spots.
"Commander, welcome to Inhestia! What a pleasure it is you have come to accept this year's company into your regiment. Let me introduce you to my students."
Pleates was ever mindful of his station in life and respectfully held back the retort he normally would have made to someone interfering with his business. "I am very pleased to be able to make this journey back to Inhestia, where I received the training and skills with which I have humbly served the Order and the army. I would be most honored, Mage Kelristo, to meet such a promising company."
The headmaster guided the commander towards the awaiting students, glancing briefly at Aetria as they passed, his eyes filled with sympathy and understanding. She made no move to follow.
Aetria watched Crusher moving amongst her charges as they eagerly awaited their introduction to the commanding officer of the famous General Mythrian's First Sorcerer Regiment. The war had aged him noticeably since she had seen him last. He was only thirty years old when he led Inhestia's first volunteers into Delmathia's army.
Now, at thirty-five, a perfectionist who believed only he could do anything right, the stress of command had lined his face, and a frown of disapproval seemed etched into it. As he approached the Novices, he made the effort to put a slight smile to his lips. At least this time her Novices would be spared his acid tongue. The next time would be entirely different, as she knew only too well. They would have to adjust, even as she was making that adjustment now.
Copyright © 2004 by Margaret L. Carter and Leslie Roy Carter
Posted December 31, 2009
No text was provided for this review.