- Chapter Three -

The Amulet 

 

 

As the wizard drove the horses through the darkness, I became even more convinced I had entrusted my life to a madman. I thought, surely, no sane person would drive a wagon in the dead of night. What if we ran off a cliff or into a tree or a river?  But my master appeared to know where we were going, and, amazingly enough, the horses seemed to trust him. I held tightly onto the handle at my side, listening to the whispers of the grass and the smacking of small branches as they hit the carriage. The anticipated crash I was certain was imminent never came. Stranger still was the smoothness of the road. It felt as though we were floating on air rather than driving on the ground. Rarely did a rock or ditch disturb the wagon, and when it did it was only with a small bump rather than a jolt.

The wizard’s eyes remained fixed ahead, narrowed in concentration. I saw little beyond the wagon and the horses and wondered what he was looking at. The full moon and the stars peeked through the trees, but layers of shadow covered everything else. At first I was too frightened to fall asleep, and then I fought to stay awake so I might have some idea as to the direction we were traveling. It seemed if I knew where we were going, I might have a better idea of how to get back. But I was exhausted. The long trek down from the mountain we call home and through the woods, the almost sleepless night I had spent under a tree with Amder, and the ordeal that followed all took their tolls. Though I fought sleep, it soon overpowered me.

I awoke alone hours later to discover that I had been placed once more inside the wagon. I tried both doors, but they were locked. Sunlight streamed in through the cracks in the walls and roof, so I knew I had slept well into the morning. A peek through the slit in the backdoor told me I was in an unfamiliar town. I sighed.

My heart jolted when I suddenly heard the wizard behind me.

“Had a good sleep, did you?” he asked.

“Yes, Master,” I replied.

He handed me a loaf of bread, his large knife and a small jug filled with milk.

“Sit at the table,” he said. “And don’t forget to clean your hands first.”

I found a water flask, washed up, cut a slice of bread and took a sip of the milk.

“You will do everything I tell you to do, won’t you?” he asked.

“Yes, Master,” I replied quietly, my head bowed.

“You will not attempt to run away.”

“No, Master.” 

“For if you do…” He took the knife from the table and pointed it at me. “…You will be punished. Now finish your food quickly. We have a lot to do today.”

I was so anxious to obey that my hand shook, and I accidentally spilled some of the milk on the gray tunic.

When I finished eating, he proceeded to teach me my first spell. He lit a white candle, held a needle over the flame and took my hand. I winced as he pricked my finger and squeezed out a tiny drop of blood. He placed it inside a little vessel made from green glass veined with streaks of blue and white. He added nettles and a few drops of white, candle wax.

“This is a protection spell,” he explained. “It’s complex, but vital for every magic wielder to know.” He tugged on a thin gold chain around his neck, drawing out an amulet of orange glass from under his robe. “You see? I wear one, too. Now recite after me. Vilakchoo meen-hudom, viyinatnoo baklee.

Vilakchoo meen-hudom, viyinatnoo baklee,” I repeated.

Vayehee hudom lachem le’oat,” he continued.

 Vayehee hudom lachem le’oat,” I said.

Vayipasach huroo’ach alechem,” he said.

Vayipasach huroo’ach alechem,” I said, “vilo yeheeyeh buchem negef.” 

My eyes opened wide with horror, and I gasped. The wizard was also clearly amazed, but the look on his face soon changed to a smile.

“How do you know that spell?” he asked.

“I don’t!” I stammered and jumped up from my seat. “I mean I… I…I couldn’t. How could I?  I couldn’t know any spells!”

“But you know that one.”

“My mother taught it to me!” I blurted. “I didn’t know it was a spell!  It’s a charm to protect the land. The nettles and wax are the same, but she taught me to put them inside a hole carved in the corner posts of the field with a bit of soil, not blood.”

I slumped down on the chest again, and my eyes fell upon the little amulet on the table. This was the first time I saw Bender smile, and I decided I would rather have him scowl at me.

“The method your mother used to protect your family’s land is the same as the one I use for my wagon,” he said. “The only way she could have known it is if she were a witch.”

“She was not!”

“But she knew that spell.” He paused a moment.  Then his face brightened. “Your mother isn’t still alive, is she?”

“No,” I grumbled.

“Well then, how did she die?”

I shut my eyes tight and wished he hadn’t asked. I didn’t want to think about it. 

“It was almost exactly a year ago,” I told him, “a year after my father died.  My mother went to sell our wine at the autumnal fair in Pardessia. We worked all spring and summer long. It wasn’t easy without my father, but we still managed to fill four barrels.  I remember how cold and windy it was the day she left.  After we loaded the cart and harnessed the horses, my mother took me to the corner posts and had me recite that charm. She was so proud I knew the whole thing, and I was just happy to have a little time alone with her, truly happy. We expected her to return two days later, but she didn’t. A third day passed and a fourth. On the fifth day I found her collapsed on the ground only a few steps from our door. The horses, cart, and the jewelry she had always worn were gone.

“Her skin was ghostly white except for red patches around her eyes. There was an unseeing stare on her face – such a frightening thing to see. Her lips were tinged with purple, and her whole body shivered. I did everything I could think of to save her. I had Amder carry her to a bed and my sister Shennen brought healing herbs, which I made into a drink. I placed it on mother’s lips. I wiped the sweat from her brow, stroked her hair and sang to her. I told her how much we loved and needed her. I begged her not to go and held her hand. She slipped out of my life without a word.”

Once again I fought back my tears. Bender listened and nodded. When I finished he asked, “Is your mother the one who told you the tale about the wizard?”

I shook my head. “That was my father.”

“Your father.” He raised one eyebrow. “Was he a storyteller?”

Again I shook my head.

“A wizard, then?”

“No!” I shouted. “He was a vintner. Both sides of my family have been growing grapes and making wine for generations.”

“And how did he die?”

“The same way my mother did,” I said, “after he returned from Pardessia to sell our wine at the autumnal fair. He came home three days later and became more and more ill until he passed away. ”

Bender frowned and stroked his short beard. He sat down again opposite me. The he began to chuckle.  At first it was very soft. Then it was silent. And then he let out a howl.

He practically roared with merriment, and the longer he laughed the angrier I became.  How dare he? I thought. I watched both my parents die horrible deaths, and he thinks it’s funny? How dare he?

“What is so amusing?” I asked between clenched teeth.

“Your mother,” said Bender, wiping tears from his eyes as he tried to regain his composure. “If she had only known about the amulet and the blood, she could have saved herself and your father with that spell.”

I was stunned.

The wizard sealed the little, green glass container with a silver lid attached to a chain and slipped the necklace over my head. He began to chuckle again.

 “I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard in my life, “ he said. “Really, you should have told that story in the market. I would have paid a gold piece for it. Two people possess the key to their salvation, and they die anyway, because they don’t know how to use it?  I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. Oh well, their loss is my gain.”

He tossed a box with scissors, needles and thread into my lap.

“Fix that tunic and the leggings you’re wearing. We’ll get something better as soon as we can, but you’ll need to make the best of them now. They’re the smallest I have.”

At first I couldn’t move. My mind reeled with thoughts of what could have been. My parents could have still been alive, and I wouldn’t have been sold as an apprentice to a heartless wizard. I wished there was some way I could go back in time, so I could save them.

But I took a deep breath and returned to what was. I went to work on the clothes. It wasn’t easy. The shirt came out fine except for the collar, which was hopelessly too big. Sacrificing fashion for modesty, I only removed a bit at the bottom so it would come down to my knees. The leggings, however, were beyond repair.  The best I could do was to remove a little of the wool from the openings and thread a ribbon along them. I tied each as tightly as I could around my thighs, but they billowed over my calves like sails. Even after my adjustments, the only things that actually fit were my underwear and the old shoes that used to belong to Amder.

When I was fully dressed again, we went to the market. I was surprised to discover I had slept past noon. My master instructed me to stand by his side and watch, listen, and learn. There was a great deal to see and hear, although I had no idea what knowledge there was to gain from any of it.

The wagon stood on the edge of a small plaza, not very different from one in Pardessia. Alleys flowed in all directions around building and under overhanging structures of white stone. Balconies with elegant, iron railings protruded above the walkways. Shops rose to the sides, and peddlers behind carpets and temporary stalls filled the open area. People sold everything from furniture and horses to jewelry and vegetables. The usual cacophony of a crowded market day struck at the air with vendors loudly advertising their wares and customers trying to bargain the prices down. The smells of animals, leather and dust mixed with the delicious scents of fruit, spices and freshly baked goods. There was, however, no trace of the sweet fragrance of fermenting grapes, and high mountains didn’t peer over the tops of the buildings. It was familiar and probably still in the region of Sepheria, but it wasn’t home.

Still, my master told me to observe, and that was what I was trying to do when a man knocked me to the ground. Instead of apologizing, he shot a dirty look.

“Watch where you’re going, boy!” he yelled at me.

My master saw what had happened and shouted back at the man, who walked away cursing. The wizard mumbled a few words over his open palm and blew. The stranger tripped and stumbled, knocking over an open barrel of salted herring. He regained his footing for only a second, before he stepped on a fish and landed with a splash in the brine. Several people laughed.

“If he is going to curse like that, he might as well have something to curse about,” said my master with a smirk and a wink.  

As he grabbed my arm and walked off quickly through the crowd, I could hear the fishmonger argue with the man sitting in the stinking puddle about who was going to pay for the ruined fish. It was then I realized that Bender wasn’t the worst master I could possibly have. Despite all his threats, and the way he laughed at my pain, he wasn’t going to let anyone bring me any harm. 

 ~~~