The Forest of Welkan
Shape shifters died out in Teladorn long ago. With the making of the Stone — a reservoir of magical power — those who protect the land became lesser magicians. Lana, a young village woman, finds herself unexpectedly chosen as apprentice to the most powerful present-day mage. She follows him to the Forest of Welkan far to the north where she discovers that Teladorn is under threat and will soon realize the depth of its loss in no longer having shape shifters.
In the course of her adventures, Lana discovers that she herself has unknown powers while two other shape shifters miraculously appear on the scene. Can their united strength be enough to save Teladorn from the evil that threatens on every side?
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An Excerpt From
Palivore came to himself staring at the cold ashes of a long dead fire. He had finished the trek to Ruíne in late afternoon and found lodging for himself. He was in a small, and not very clean, room at the Blue Stone Inn. The fire grate could certainly use a sweeping. It was sufficient, but far from the nicer lodgings that the mages were expected to inhabit. As a member of the council, he was permitted to stay at any inn of the city, but as Palivore had picked up some news that he did not quite like, he thought it best to remain aloof from the other mages for a time.
He had heard it from a merchant who was traveling to Ruíne to set up shop as one of the street vendors during the council. The friendly man had offered Palivore a seat on his wagon and tied Zod to the back. “Dangel’s the name,” he had greeted Palivore. “Mighty pleased to make yer acquaintance. ‘Spect you’ll be wanting to hear the news from hereabouts, as yer from further off.” As he said this, he ran a quizzical eye over Palivore’s clothes. Palivore was dressed as a merchant as well, with the typical loose leggings gathered at the knee and the leather jerkin. But his bore designs of trees only worn by those from the North who lived in the shade of the forests rather than the rocky hills of the South.
“And what news is there this time?” Palivore asked with a smile in his voice. “Has old Malen set the women gossiping by taking a wife, or has Janson added another apprentice to his school?” Dangel laughed, for many women had tried to woo Malen these thirty years and none had ever succeeded. Janson ignored the unspoken rule that a mage was supposed to have only one, or at most two, apprentices at a time. He currently had six—not quite a school, but certainly getting close.
“Neither,” Dangel said, “but Salara is said to be bringing a new master. She wants her apprentice to join the council.”
Palivore raised his eyebrows at this news. “A new master? It has been many years since the council has had an addition.”
“Yup,” Dangel rejoined, “there hasn’t been a new master for fifteen years. Not since Palivore joined. You know,” he went on, disregarding the small smile that touched Palivore’s face at hearing his own name, “they say that Palivore is the most powerful mage, for all that he’s the youngest.” Palivore’s smile got larger at hearing of his own reputation. “Course, you must know all about ‘im, being from up north.”
“You give me too much credit, friend. He doesn’t mix much with the people. I’ve only seen him from a distance. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. He keeps everything quiet, and who am I to tell a mage that he should talk to a humble merchant?”
“Quite right,” Dangel replied. He seemed to be pleased that his companion was less informed than himself.
“But,” Palivore began, “I don’t think he is the most powerful mage. He spends all his time in the trees or at his home. They say he even talks to himself. I think he keeps to himself so people won’t find out that he can’t do even the half of what people think he can.” Palivore found this picture of himself amusing, but he found even more amusement in Dangel’s reply.
“Show’s how much you know about magic. They say that you have to speak out loud to get things magicked, and he probably keeps to himself so’s other people can’t find out his secrets. Anyway,” he went on, “the other mages say he’s that powerful, and they know more about it than any merchant, even if he is from the north.”
“I can’t argue with that, friend.”
“No, I don’t suppose you can,” Dangel said with just a hint of smugness. “But,” and here he dropped his voice and glanced quickly around, “but the real news about Palivore is what the other mages have got planned for ‘im.”
“And what’s that?” Palivore asked with a bit more intensity.
Seeing that his companion’s interest was piqued, Dangel answered, “Don’t know as I should tell you, see? You being from the north, you might try to warn him and that’ll take the fun outta seein’ it.”
“Seeing it? Then they are going to do something to his person? Now you are jesting,” Palivore said.
“Of course not,” Dangel replied with a bit of impatience. “Haven’t I just told you he’s the most powerful mage? No, they can’t do anything to ‘im like that, but they can throw the rule book at ‘im.”
“Rule book? The mages hardly have enough laws to call it a book,” Palivore laughed. “Palivore has done nothing wrong. I may not know him personally, but I at least know that he is honest.”
“Well, it’s got nuthin’ to do with honesty, does it?” Dangel retorted with a knowing wink. “It’s got to do with...” Here he paused for a sidelong glance at his companion. “See here, if I tell you, you won’t go spillin’ the beans to ‘im, will you?”
“I shall not tell a soul,” said Palivore with a grin.
“Well then, they’re goin’ to make ‘im take an apprentice. There’s a rule what says a master is required to take an apprentice after four terms. Well, a term is three years, ain’t it? An’ Palivore has been a master for fifteen years now.”
Palivore stared at him in disbelief. “There is no such rule.”
Dangel chuckled. “Well, that’s the best part, isn’t it? They say it’s a little known rule that even Palivore himself doesn’t know about. They say no one knows about it because it’s never been used before. Palivore is the only master who’s ever gone so long without taking an apprentice.”
* * * *
True to his word, Palivore had not told a soul. But the merchant had given him plenty to think about as he sat in his dingy room. An apprentice could certainly hurt him. He would be expected to teach the youngling at least enough magic to be useful in his or her village and that would mean taking the apprentice to his home in the North; but his home was the last place he needed to have someone prying around. Palivore would either have to find a youngling who could be blindly loyal or one who could be a good friend—a best friend, he thought wryly as he considered some of the things that he had not shared with anyone.
The greater problem with the situation, though—if there could be anything more daunting than having an apprentice always at his heels when he most needed privacy—was what the council hoped to gain by such a move. Palivore knew exactly why they would try to force him to take an apprentice. The stone had become harder and harder to keep in check with the passing years. Even the people knew that now, what with the unusual weather and the activity of the animals. Summers usually saw rain, but nothing like the ones that had come this year with the dark purple, brooding clouds that refused to lift for weeks. And then there had been wild beasts coming down out of the mountains to plague towns that had seen nothing more fearsome than a stray dog for years. In the north, the problem was certainly less pronounced, but even there the woodland creatures were becoming more and more restless and the ground was not always content to lie still beneath their feet.
Because the council thought that Palivore was more powerful than the other mages, they also thought that it was more needful for him to have an apprentice. Perhaps an apprentice to Palivore would be more likely to become a master than another, and the stone would soon need more masters to keep it in check. Palivore understood the reasons that would drive the council to such a step. He did not blame them for their thoughts, and even believed that he might act the same in their place. And yet, Palivore’s position was no easier for his sympathy with the council. They did not understand that an apprentice would slow him down in his work; that he had more chance of mastering the stone alone; that there were secrets of magic that once discovered by a mage could not be shared.
Tired of the endless circle of his thoughts, Palivore took himself to the bed. He did not know what he would do about taking an apprentice. He supposed that in reality he had no choice. Perhaps the morrow would bring some other tidings. He had one more day to learn what he could before he must face his fellow mages.
* * * *
Lana slowly dragged her feet through the crowded street full of merchants, shoppers, and gossips. The figure of her mother pressing through the crowd in front of her was all that kept Lana from finding somewhere to collapse and stay for the last few hours of daylight. They had been almost two days at their shopping, packing, sewing, cooking and other chores to get Lana ready. Nearing the end of their marathon, Lana’s mother seemed to gain new energy even as Lana lost all thought except the one that kept telling her to put one foot in front of the other. Everything was done except finding a pendant to wear with the dress. Lana thought it was a waste of good money, but then she thought that about the dress too. Her mother had insisted, though, and now she found herself at a small table set out by a merchant from the north.
Lana barely paid attention as her mother began to haggle over the pieces laid out. She cared little about what she wore except that it give her as little trouble as possible, so she was content to let her mother handle it while she watched the crowd. Having lived all her life in the village before the city, Lana had seen many strangers come and go and even been on hand for previous meetings of the council, but this time there were more people from farther flung places than she had ever seen. There also seemed to be a certain anxiety about the people now that she had not seen before. They still gossiped and laughed, but the faces were more earnest and the laughs had a harsh undercurrent. “Or perhaps it is that I have changed,” Lana thought. “Perhaps...”
Slowly, Lana became aware that the merchant was watching her. He was still speaking to her mother, but his eyes were on her. As she turned towards him, her mother was just saying, “Lana is one of the younglings going to the council tomorrow.” At these words, his look changed from one of casual indifference to an intense gaze. Lana raised her chin and met his eyes without flinching. Much as she did not wish to be a mage, she did not want him to think that she was too timid or weak to become one. She expected to see derision in his eyes, but instead she saw surprise and ... recognition. She knew she had never met him before, but he seemed to know her or something about her. Lana almost felt that she could feel his eyes piercing to her very core. After what felt like minutes, but must have only been seconds, he turned back to her mother.
“If the young lady is to be an apprentice, then she shall have the pendant for free. I would like to have the good will of a future mage, if something so insignificant will catch her notice.” He gave a little bow to Lana, and then to her mother.
Finished with their shopping, Lana and her mother were now on their way home. Her mother could not stop talking of the merchant and Lana’s thoughts were equally caught by him; but it was his eyes and not the gift that kept her attention. What was it he had seen that surprised him? Maybe he just always made people feel as though their inner being was open to inspection? For all the intensity of his gaze and the time she spent dwelling on those eyes, Lana could not remember their color.