Jarl is the son of the Vanir High Mages and heir to the throne. Though young, his parents entrust him with the care and training of the captured Traveler foal. However, none of the Vanir understand just how intelligent the Travelers are and they may have given Jarl more than he can handle.
When Saga escapes, the High Mages decide she is too much trouble and has to be killed. Jarl defies his parents and goes after her. Will they remain enemies when Jarl finds her, or will they form a bond of friendship strong enough to save Saga’s life?
“My Prince, High Mage Nessa sent me to fetch you.”
Jarl considered ignoring the servant. He was in the middle of a great battle with a couple of the other mage children and he wanted to test his catapult. If Jarl sent him away, he knew his parents, the high mages, wouldn’t be pleased. The thought of actually having to do chores, even if only for a week, was distasteful. They had servants for a reason, after all.
Jarl sighed and waved at his friends before acknowledging the servant. The boy wasn’t much older than him, and wore plain brown as all the servants did. He looked up hopefully from the ground, briefly meeting Jarl’s eyes, before remembering his place and casting his gaze to the ground again.
That breach of etiquette could get the boy flogged, and perhaps Jarl would save him greater punishment later if he had him whipped now. It was only a lash when you met the eyes of a son or daughter of a great mage or noble. The twenty required if you dared to look into the eyes of one of the mages would probably kill the boy. Jarl decided it was too much trouble and ignored the eye contact.
“Their private rooms.”
Jarl’s stomach sank. Maybe they’d found out about the prank he and Conor had played on Cook. It hadn’t been nice, putting cheese crumbs in her favorite apron and leaving it where the rats could get to it, but she was mean. She’d been head cook for as long as anyone could remember and made the most amazing pies, which was probably why his father tolerated her disrespectful attitude.
Jarl nodded and headed across the well-manicured grounds toward the castle. Built with magic and stone, the castle towered above him. Banners flapped from the battlements, snapping in the breeze that didn’t reach down into the walled grounds.
One of the side entrances was closest and, once inside, he dashed into the servants’ ways. He wasn’t supposed to run through the narrow hallways and grand corridors because a ruler’s son was always composed and regal. He could get away with it in the dank servants’ ways though, as long as he wasn’t out of breath when he arrived.
In good shape, Jarl could run forever like the dire wolves that hunted the northern mountains. It was completely permissible for Jarl to run outside and he loved the feeling of freedom that it gave him. One day he would be permitted beyond the confines of the castle and would race all over his world.
Those musings kept him occupied until he ran out of back ways to dash through. He stopped and took a few deep breaths to calm his racing heart, made sure his clothing wasn’t disheveled, and then stepped into the opulent hallway that led to his parents’ suites. The thick blue carpeting muffled his footfalls and he felt the eyes of the guards stationed periodically through the hallway on his back. When he boldly looked at them however, none seemed to have moved a muscle, not even to twist their eyes and look at him. The guards wore dark green livery emblazoned with the crystal and the griffin. Only mages wore blue. Even mages in training couldn’t wear blue until they reached the first order.
Jarl reached the heavy oak doors carved with the ever-present griffin and crystal symbols. The guards ignored him and he knocked on the door. An attendant inside opened it for him. Jarl hurried through the outer receiving room, well used to its ornate decorations and elegantly carved furniture. Blue dominated the room. Mostly bare except for some comfortable furniture for lounging and tables and lamps for reading. The private room beyond contrasted sharply. The tapestry and the picture of Jarl and his mother were the only decorations.
His parents sat at the table reading. They both looked at him when he entered, and Jarl tried not to act guilty.
“Your hair is sticking up. I do believe you have a leaf in it.” His mother sounded stern, but he could see a glint of amusement in her eyes.
“Sorry, Mother.” He ran a hand through his short curls and pulled the offending leaf out of his hair. Then he held it awkwardly, not knowing what to do with it.
“Oh, throw it in the fireplace and come here.” She smiled and stood. Jarl did as he was told and hugged his mother tightly.
His father stood. “How are you today, son?”
“Fine, Father. What can I do for you?” At only ten, the formality was hard for Jarl, but he did try.
“We have a surprise for you.”
Jarl’s heart lightened. They hadn’t heard about the cheese! He couldn’t understand how though, as Cook had raised a huge fuss when she’d found her rat-chewed apron.
A slight smile creased his father’s face at the eagerness in his voice. Jarl had tried to contain it, but he loved good surprises. The smile made him even happier, slight as it was. Geraint Ilmarinen was not a man used to smiling.
“If you’re good, and you master that spell you’ve been struggling with, you’ll find out tonight. Meet us in the stables an hour after dinner.”
Jarl’s heart sank again, but only a little. He almost had that spell down. Requiring concentration on two different components at once, thus far he’d managed to fail at the last minute every time.
“Go practice, Jarl. We’ll forgive you if you need to miss your dinner.” His mother’s smile appeared more often, but still he treasured it. He grinned back at her.
“Yes, Mother. If I may be excused?” Having permission to skip dinner meant he could send a servant for food and avoid having to dress nicely and all that stuff he hated about court.
He gave a quick bow and, unable to contain his excitement, he ran from the room.
“Walk!” The tolerant reprimand followed him out the door and he forced himself to slow once he reached the public hallway.
It didn’t take long for him to arrive at the practice room, and he set to work on the spell with renewed enthusiasm.
∞ ∞ ∞
It took him several hours, and he almost forgot to eat the dinner that the servant brought for him, but Jarl finally got the spell to work. For all the effort, it was a relatively simple result. He was supposed to take a regular candle and make it burn with a green flame. Lighting the candle with magic was simple enough. However, altering the components of the wick to make it burn green wasn’t as easy. Jarl could have cast a simple illusion on the flame, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. Supposedly, once you could perform the spell reliably with a candle, and then other fires, you would be able to apply the principles to much more complicated and powerful works of magic.
Jarl, now able to focus on something other than the magic singing through his veins, distantly heard the bell toll seven times. He was late! He should have left for the stables twenty minutes ago. He hastily grabbed a fresh candle, along with the one he’d managed to craft the spell on, and slipped into the servants’ ways so he could run. His parents would understand. They always did when magic was involved, however he didn’t want to keep them waiting, or they might decide he hadn’t mastered the spell in time.
He hadn’t even had time to wonder about the surprise. He thought it might be a horse of his very own since they were meeting in the stables. He could ride any horse he wanted—as long as it wasn’t one of the hunting or warhorses. To have one of his very own seemed special. It also meant his father might start taking him out into the countryside more. Jarl felt confined, like he was missing out on life, since he mostly had to stay on castle grounds until he went off to school in a few years. Those with magical talent had to be protected until they could protect themselves. Shadow creatures called Ovattr hunted mages, very effectively. Now and again, a body would be returned to the castle, or the Mage School, torn by claw and tooth. The treacherous Alfar created the creatures long ago to destroy the human mages.
Jarl forced himself to walk when he reached the door leading from the servants’ ways to the outer courtyards. Though still light out at this time of year, the oppressive heat of the day had lifted, and a light breeze dried the sweat dampening his hair. A seabird cried out, circling overhead, seeming to mock Jarl for running late. In his impatience, Jarl ended up half jogging when he wasn’t in view of the stables, and walking as properly as he could when he knew his parents might see him. Liveried guards stood outside the main doors, the green contrasting nicely with the stone that made up the front of the stables. They didn’t so much as glance at Jarl. Still, he imagined he could feel their eyes on him as he scooted passed their forbidding presence. The statue-like guards had always unnerved him, though he worked hard not to let it show.
Airy and open, the stables smelled of horse and dust and sweet hay. A dapple-gray that Jarl occasionally rode nickered when he saw the boy. Jarl smiled and scratched the horse on the nose before heading deeper into the large building.
A high-pitched angry squeal, followed by the thump of hooves against a wooden stall, startled him. By the time most horses made it into the stables, they were quiet. The horses in training and the warhorses were kept elsewhere.
A bucket crashed to the ground. Jarl heard other angry thumps and squeals, and he thought he heard the ghost of a voice screaming: Let me go!
Julie has been many things over the last few years, from college student, to bookstore clerk and an over the road trucker. She’s worked as a 911 dispatcher and in computer tech support, but through it all she’s been a writer and when she’s not out riding horses, she can usually be found sitting in front of her computer. She lives in Colorado with her three cats, her vampire-hunting dog Kira, her new horse and Traveler-in training, Triska, and her Irish Sailor.She is the author of many Vampire and Ghost-Hunting Dog stories and the young adult fantasy series Tales of the Travelers. She’s a member of the Horror Writers Association and the Dog Writers of America Association and the editor for Steampunk Trails fiction magazine.