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The Quiet Mage
Part Two of
The Stone Dragon Series
By Lily Byrd
Read by Asclepius
‘There is Virtue in sacrifice for the greater good. There is no Virtue in sacrifice without purpose.’ Tsuneo, Shogun of Ardoris.
Chapter One. A Letter Arrives.
Late in the afternoon at the end of summer, I arrived at the bottom of this sheer pebbled cliff path a little dusty and a little thirsty after skipping down from the ancestral home of the Byrd family. Perched above the lush coastal town of Jade Valley here on Elysium Island in the southwest of Novia, the Moon Tower Keep may be slightly crumbly and possibly still full of mice (even with cats in residence), but it has stood the test of many generations and would sturdily stand for many more generations. It had been there when the Jade Valley Moon Tower was completed on Moon Mountain centuries ago. I recall the sudden appearance of Aunt Morgana, Owain’s sister, and the building of her keep up beside the tower. Her insistence that the Byrd family would be caretakers of the tower would not be quelled and so we all became caretakers and still are to this very day. Even Aunt Morgana, long lived as she was, eventually succumbed to an untimely demise. Novia was not safe from incursion and my aunt fell to one such event centuries before.
“Hmpfh.” I grunted.
I had just realized that as I departed from the keep that morning and waved goodbye to Daisy, that I had returned the same wave from the parapet each time I left the keep over the generations all the way back to her grandmother’s grandmother’s grandmother and after all this time I only just now looked old enough to be a grandmother for the fifth-generation adult granddaughter of the woman who first took me in.
Taking a moment to stare out to sea from the bottom of the mountain, my stride slowed. I had been here in Novia a long time, a very long time. Straightening up to stretch my spine, I ran my fingers through my tangled blunt cut silver hair and reminisced. I had arrived as a grown woman from an Outlands that I barely remember. There is only a vague recollection of who I was before being swirled into a rip of space and time that deposited me here on the shores of Novia. There was no way to find out where I had come from nor how to return to that unknown place. I was a stranger in this land with nothing and no one to guide and protect me as I learned where I was and that I could not return. Those were dark years.
“Enough of that,” I scowled. Then with a shake of my head to clear it of the despair that still lingered. “Just LOOK at that sky!” and I spun in a circle laughing joyfully at the sight of the crescent bay spread out before me.
Thankfully, no one was near to see or hear me have this conversation with myself, as many of the local Novians were already suspicious of the woman who didn’t die. When I had appeared in Novia, the good people who took me in gave me a sense of belonging that has lasted through several generations. An outlander, some called me, but the Byrd family has always made me feel welcome and loved here in this sometimes-brutal land. Just walking a wooded trail could be a life-and-death adventure in these territories, as I had learned early on after arriving in Novia unequipped and uneducated, during a surprise encounter with a large mountain troll. It was vital to have a clan of people who would help each other. That’s what the Byrds were like. We helped each other, daily.
Early on, I learned what a powerful symbol the Ankh could be and that, as an Avatar in Novia, I was destined to feel the piercing of death without the permanence of death over and over here in this world, brought back by the grace of the life-giving Ankh. There was something special about being from away that gave the effect of immortality to those of us who were thrust into this place from another realm. Though I aged, it was slowly. Decades would fly by for the Novians while I barely changed at all. It was unnerving but something I had come to accept here as normal for me.
Centuries of Novian time have passed since I first arrived and there has been much to learn, even as a not very enthusiastic learner, training in family history and customs, accounting, law, geometry, cooking, medicines, potions, archery, self-defense, geography, music and so much more. I trained animals to be my companions and sewed armor for myself over and over, making stronger armor as I learned from experience just how to make a seam last, how to cobble a shoe, mend a stocking, how to aim a bow, and how to fletch an arrow properly. I learned magic and potions, spells too, and heal many who ask for a healer in this world. And still, with all this knowledge and after all these years, the most pressing thing I have to do today is to pick up supplies in town for the annual brewing of hops and grains.
“It’s good to be ALIVE!” I shouted into the wind. I grinned, then laughed out loud again.
I could no longer see the family crest that I had helped to stitch nor the crest of the guild that my family was part of, both flapping in the breeze from the ramparts of the stone keep but I knew later that I would still be able to see at least the tower’s tops from town. It was still a long walk from where I was all the way over the stone bridge and into the town proper. The banners would not be visible again until I returned up Moon Mountain, but I would be able to see a smoke signal and if there was danger there would be a signal with lamps. That meant return immediately. Three long, three short, and three long blips of light would alert me to a pirate attack, or a dragon, or anything exciting at all. There had not been a signal in the last several decades since that business with the stone dragon, but my family had firmly instilled a sense of responsibility that meant I would still check over every now and then through the day to see if there were any smoke or lights flashing from the towers. I could always enjoy the hope that something exciting would occur. It rarely did.
This year, for several phases of the planets, I had been working with our caretakers and gardeners, digging in the dirt, tending to a heap of neglected accounting and correspondence for the Byrd family businesses, and generally poking my nose in all of the family affairs. Today, it felt exhilarating to be out of the stuffy old rooms and into the clear afternoon light, free from paperwork and ink.
I stopped to catch my breath in the shade under one of the large swaying trees along the path by the edge of the bay. From here, I could see all the way across to the fishing shack beyond the pier. One ship was in mooring which meant the markets might have the ingredients I needed to find. This mostly-peacefully valley at the edge of the sea was warm and fair, but the bit of bite of air in the mornings told of changes up in the high mountains of Elysium that would soon flood the valley with colder winds, even if today the air was still warm and windy.
No matter, I was now away from my desk in the tower and my work was caught up (sort of), though I did stuff the last few letters in the drawer and pretend to myself that they were complete. I’d be back soon enough and could feel guilty then. It was my own fault really; I had put it all off for far too long.
Earlier in the week, when I could not sit still any longer and simply could not look at one more piece of paper, I had escaped out into the gardens to help a little with the preparation for harvest of the brewing grains that we grew in raised beds on the wide tops of the walls of the old keep. My wildly eccentric Aunt Morgana had always said that if we were under siege at least we had dirt to grow food in… and dirt to put out fires from flaming arrows… and dirt to bury the dead in if it came to it. Now I was glad that she had them installed; the view while I gardened was stunning.
Although leaving the harvest work to my Uncle Owain’s cousin’s daughter’s family was probably something they all wished I would do, I did a little anyway because I nearly always felt a great deal better after working with the living plants than I ever did after balancing the bookkeeping. I hadn’t recently killed even one of the precious hops and Uncle Owain grudgingly admitted my gardening skills had matured since I had first arrived in Jade Valley, though he was drunk at the time and didn’t remember saying anything nice at all when I reminded him of it.
No matter, I had heard the words and taken them to heart. It didn’t matter whether I got praise from him for learning, so it didn’t really matter to me whether he remembered saying anything. He was right, I had improved. That’s the part that mattered; I had improved. I could see the plants and they were healthy. That was praise enough. This year so many of the Jade Valley farmers were still recovering from the devastating events of the destruction of River’s Crossing that none could spare help for our harvest this year. We were on our own after all, so even my hands were welcome when we are this shorthanded.
The harvest is imminent and, with a distinct shortage (due to rodent activity) discovered at the last minute before dumping the sacks of sugar into the vat for brewing (yes, vermin are still an issue up here in our kitchen storage even with the addition of my many beloved cats), someone needed to be sent to town for sugar. Errands need running and since I am still the least experienced farmer among the whole keep, I was sent to procure the things on a list placed carefully in my apron pocket by our cook and brewer and cautioned to return right away. NO DAWDLING!! Several warnings of time management that I could have done without followed, but this reputation is the result of years of forgetting to do assigned tasks. I can’t escape my past.
I sighed. “At least I’m out from behind that desk.” I murmured to no one.
It may also be that this was the family’s way of getting me out of the way and out of their fields, but I didn’t mind; I needed to walk some of the energy out of my mind after sorting numbers, and anyway, it was time to check on the Hall of Enquiry and Learning.
There were always books to sort and shelve when I had a free moment and, truly, as the town’s only librarian I felt responsible for the state of the bookshelves. I wasn’t a very good one, and quite slow at cataloguing anything at all, but I was fairly enthusiastic about reading the books in the library at least and could recommend a good book or direct patrons to the section they wanted to browse.
Finally, I made my way over the Stone Bridge of Happy Arrival after meandering past Doc Tud’s hospital and the Jade Valley Lighthouse. On the town side of the bridge, I didn’t go into the busy marketplace; I first waved to Becky, one of the Town Criers, then I turned south and walked past the Graewitch Gardens’ Vegs and Regs Market, the Jade Rose Tea Room, and the Byrd’s Nest Inn, where I saw the new barmaid sweeping the stone steps before the afternoon crowd starts trickling in.
“Hello, Lily!” Her friendly greeting rang out as I passed by.
Gathering up my skirts, I hurried my step past the Hall of Enquiry and Learning, mostly so I wasn’t tempted to go inside before I gathered the needed supplies. I waved at my neighbor as he hurried by on his own business across the street. Then, like a sweet breeze through a cherry tree’s blossoms, the sight of my little cobble cottage near the river greeted me.
This view never seemed to disappoint and, of course, the scent of roses carried me the rest of the way home. I stepped up to the little white archway covered in small, flowered vines and a picket fence bordered with more flowers. Looking back north toward the market, I took a deep breath, enjoying the sensation of the clean fresh breeze off the bay mixed with the cooking smells at the food vendors nearby and the sounds of commerce winding down for the day. Sometimes living near this center of commerce and trade was too much for my senses but today I grinned as the haggling and hammering sounds wafted toward me.
Glancing at the ancient solid stone structure of the Hall of Enquiry and Learning next to my little cottage reminded me that there were errands to do here in town before I could make a cup of tea and put my feet up with a good book. Tending to books is the passion that keeps me sane while I listen to and write stories of adventures: those that locals tell me from their travels in the lands and, sometimes, adventures I’ve lived through. I collect and catalog the books written by other Avatars as well and spend many enjoyable hours reading those tales in the comfortable seating at the Hall library.
Books that I’ve written are far rarer, as I really am not as brave as many of the more experienced Avatars whose stories of courage, truth, and love I never tire of hearing. Wandering adventurers also leave their stories for me to keep in the library or I collect them during my own travels. That little library collection has become my rock while I grapple with grief of losing those close to me. I had grown to love and respect my adopted family and always enjoy watching them grow from sweet babies to old grumps, but each time their deaths are still profound.
Setting up and running the library was the only interest I found I still had any stomach for after most of my adopted family died in the raids on Port Phoenix long years past. Sorting and cataloguing books kept me alive while I grieved the loss of people whom I cared for deeply. Many of those days are lost to the swirls of my mind but the result was that the bookcases had been built and the Hall of Enquiry and Learning had been set up. My sister Violet and I had escaped our family’s fate only through a personal act of rebellion. The punishment for our rebellion was living while they had died. Though grief and guilt are a painful journey and one that each of us learns to cope with on our own, I had come to terms with the loss over time. The pain has dulled with time but didn’t disappear. I tried not to dwell on it today.
It was when the entire Byrd family holdings were given over to the care of my sister Captain Violet and I that I, Lily Byrd, started to learn the history of the world I had been thrust into and that I now found myself loath to leave. I felt I had let my family down with a variety of youthful indiscretions, so I now intended to learn to perform my family duties to the best of my ability even if it was too little and too late. Only, I missed the adventures and indiscretions. I missed my parents and Aunt Morgana. Those thoughts led me to other friends who had gone missing: Dragosani, Calan, Joe, and all those others lost to the swirl of the Outlands. I missed people here in Novia too, Lucy and Torgin Featherbright and Phlebus. Lastly, most of all I missed the quiet and thoughtful archer, Zyrina. She and I had become close friends while she tried to cope with some Obsidian magic that had plagued our valley and the menace of an old mysterious book of magic. People tend to bond when facing large enemies of immeasurable strength with unknown odds of survival. I smiled then, remembering the stories of fighting for her life alongside her friends.
Even though it had been years since we lost the trail of the mysterious magic book. Although I had not heard from any of my fellow adventurers for far too long, I still longed for something new and exciting. A large sigh escaped me then, and I crossed my arms in front of me. I knew telling stories of brewing, gardening, mushroom-finding, or fruit-growing didn’t have the same appeal to the folk who might stop by to hear a local story or two at the library either; story-time had become just me sitting among the books reading bits from my favorites to myself.
Living here in a farming and trade village really wasn’t much of an adventure, but this was a good village to settle into if you want to watch the world go by. Most of the local library patrons enjoy enough of a thrill from reading about the world or hearing the stories I tell them about the goings-on in Novia, gleaned from travelling and listening. They were the farmers and fishers who found no sense in leaving their valley to travel anywhere. I respected their caution regarding travel but did not share it to the same degree. I may not seek out spider-filled caverns on my own, but I travelled as often as I could, and I carried a bow and several poisoned arrows with me at all times, even here in Jade Valley.
Looking down after my musing, I realized I had halted while beginning to open the squeaky door of my little wooden post box. I winced and promised myself to remember to oil it before the day was over…for sure this time. Truly, it’s not an overly exciting event, opening a squeaky and mostly empty post box. Generally, if anything were in it at all, it would be flyers for various sales and events, but today among the sales fliers there was a letter. I smiled and plucked it from the fliers now destined for the outhouse paper stack. I could recognize Zyrina’s writing anywhere. Having just been recalling past adventures that we shared, I really wanted to savor this moment, pour a cup of tea, sit in a comfortable chair, and enjoy opening the missive but my impatience once again got the better of me and I didn’t even make it inside the gate before I haphazardly tore the envelope open in my haste to get to the paper inside:
I’ve just arrived home. Come quickly. There is too much to tell since we parted. Here’s a quick summary: Torgin found another lead regarding that little artifact that you found (yes, Emrys confirmed that the artifact that you dug up when Arabella was kidnapped during the Mystery of Treasure Island Adventure was indeed a little leather-bound book).
Then the artifact vanished again only to reappear when we all joined forces in Jade Valley during The Stone Dragon Mystery. Merrik Dragon’s suffering was profound during that adventure and was absolutely linked to a specific spell from that particular little leather-bound book. Torgin and I found out it resurfaced at River’s Cross when mages misused a spell from its pages while drunk. Phlebus helped us find the thread of the story but I won’t divulge more details here as they are many and hair-raising; it was not simply a dragon burning down a village as we thought it was, that’s for sure.
This is the first time Phlebus, Torgin, or I have heard whisper of this book in many years. It is far too dangerous to leave to the continued misuse of the uneducated with ill intent. Torgin had much to say on the topic which I would like to tell you in person.
Come soon. When you arrive in Jade Gardens, you can find the little elven cottage I rent from your sister Violet Green and her friend Aslinne Gradh. Remember there is a hot air balloon that will bring you here from Jade Valley; it’s faster than ship or wagon. Please hurry. I’m going to need your help, Lily, at the very least to help get Torgin out of whatever it is he’s getting us into this time. Bring your herbs and potions; we will probably need them.
…and your bow. We will definitely need it.
Well. Now THAT was a letter. I absentmindedly stuffed it into my little skirt pocket and patted it smooth. This was going to take a little planning and a lot of effort. And I definitely was not going to help with the harvest nor finish my bookkeeping. Now I was really smiling. First, I needed to get the provisions sent up the mountain, then I needed to arrange for help at the library while I was gone. Of course, I rushed madly off in all directions.
And of course, the letter worked its way out of my pocket during my preparations and I didn’t have a clue how to find the cottage when I finally arrived in Jade Gardens days later and exhausted after dark. Wandering into the hamlet after the hot air balloon dislodged its passengers, I found myself lost for several hours traipsing among magnificent gardens, one after another heady with fragrance and flowery night blooms. Eventually, hearing him call out the hour, I came across the town crier near the docks. He directed me to the little elven cottage that Zyrina rented from Violet Green and Aslinne Gradh (Sequanna knows how they got into property ownership together… I assume it was the spoils from a gambling wager of some sort). So, I set out in the correct direction this time, and made my way by starlight to Zyrina’s home.
Echoes From the Caverns