Xan the Warder stared at the newcomer with a skeptical eye. The man was a sorcerer of some kind, to judge by his robes. Xan knew little of magic, but enough to know that its users were not to be trusted. They were fiends, as likely to summon some demon from the depths of the many earths as to cast a curing spell and mend a broken leg. She had heard tell of a man, desperate in his affections for a woman, who had begged a wizard for a love potion, only to find himself short six coins of the realm and madly in love with a toad.
“What brings you this way, stranger?” Xan said. She swept the cloak back from her shoulders and let her hand rest upon her sword. A message of sorts.
The newcomers gaze followed the movement of her hand and a small grin touched his lips. “I’ve heard the air in these parts is restorative.”
“If you can restore something that’s been froze solid with your magic, then perhaps it might be,” Xan said, looking out over the frigid wastes that extended in all directions before her.
The newcomer laughed, his breath clouding the air. “My name is Ves. You are?”
“The Warder,” Xan said, refusing to be enticed by his friendliness. The wind swirled around them and the sorcerer shivered.
“Where’s the prison?” Ves said.
“Do you think I’m a fool?”
Ves laughed again. “I suppose not. It is a rather remote clime for a prison, wouldn’t you agree?”
Xan did not reply, staring hard at the sorcerer.
Ves shrugged, as if he could not understand her reluctance to talk. “Come now, Warder. Surely you must get bored being here, all alone in the cold? I’m only asking for a moment of your time.”
Xan rolled her eyes. “No one comes here to pass the time. I’m not much for conversation. Get to the point.” She moved her hand to the pommel of her sword.
“Easy now,” Ves said, holding up his hands. “Don’t you think you should be careful? You don’t know what kind of sorcerer I am.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Xan said, her voice sounding of death.
Ves smiled. “If you say so. You needn’t worry about me anyway, Warder. I’m just here to meet someone.”
Xan had to resist a laugh. “I doubt there is someone else in the realm foolish enough to wander out onto this wasteland for a chat.”
“But there is,” Ves said, gesturing with his hand as if to point out the person.
Xan followed the movement of his hand and the world went black.
She blinked, worried for a moment that the sorcerer had put a sleeping spell upon her. But it was just that the light had gone from the sky, which, now that she thought about it, was considerably more concerning than a mere sleep spell. The light returned a moment later, the vast wasteland of ice, snow and rock, appearing again before her.
The sorcerer, however, was gone.
She could almost swear she heard his laughter from somewhere behind her. That, she knew, was impossible. Though she dearly wanted to turn around to confirm that, she resisted, her eyes alight to any movements before her. She fingered the pommel of her sword, but did not draw it. Now was not the time to panic.
Her patience paid off as the air before her shimmered, a glare of light coming forth, refracting off the snow, and the sorcerer emerged with a kind of shrug, as if to say he was sorry, but he had to try.
“Ah well,” he said, looking mildly embarrassed. “I don’t suppose you would believe I was just over that hill looking for my friend.”
“I would not,” Xan said.
“Perhaps we can come to some sort of understanding.” Ves reached into his robes, as if searching for his purse.
Xan pulled her sword, baring an inch or two of steel, but keeping the rest within her scabbard. “We cannot.”
“I see,” Ves said, nodding. “Well, it appears I’ve wasted my time here.”
“And mine,” Xan said.
“Apologies Warder, but—”
“Do not waste anymore,” Xan said, raising a hand to forestall him. “My patience is at an end.”
Ves nodded again, his eyes downcast. “I see. I understand entirely. It must be so hectic here, watching the wastes. Hard to find the time for anything really. Has anyone told you that you look lovely in the frost?”
“Be gone.” The frigid air seemed to crack and groan around them at her words.
Ves winced, looking behind him, as if he expected an avalanche to sweep him away. “Yes, of course. And I will, certainly. But before I do, you must admit that you get lonely out here. A solitary sentinel against the scoundrels of the world.”
Xan resisted a sigh. “Whether I get lonely is no concern of yours. But you needn’t worry about me, I have enough scoundrels to deal with.”
“But do any of them warm your heart?”
“My heart needs no warming,” Xan said, thinking of the man in love with a frog. If she was not mindful, she might end up lusting after a raven, or an outcropping of rocks, or whatever else in this vast empty land the sorcerer laid his eyes upon.
“But it’s so cold and so lonely here. Surely you must long for a moment of surrender?” Ves looked hopeful, as if that surrender might come with him.
Xan rolled her eyes. “Honoring my duty is warmth enough, I can assure you.”
She tapped at her exposed sword with a finger indicating that his time was up. The sorcerer nodded, ducking his head a little, as if he realized he could delay no more. He started to turn away, before stopping, his eyes brightening, as if something had just occurred to him.
“Could I entreat you with a bribe?”
“What sort of bribe?”
The sorcerer considered the question, clearly suspecting some sort of trick. “I know many spells that might be useful. Love spells, hate spells, killing spells, and spells of transmutation. That is only a selection. I’m sure I have one that would meet your needs.”
Xan considered this a moment. “Do you have a spell that can transport a person somewhere?”
“Yes,” Ves said eagerly. “The only question is where. To a warmer clime perhaps?”
“That would be agreeable,” Xan said. “Now, what would you have me do?”
“There is a certain prisoner held here.” He gestured behind Xan, though that was not where the prison was concealed. “A Yon.”
“I know the knave.”
“He is only here due to a slight misunderstanding between him and the magistrate. Some matter involving the Duke’s wife. I won’t bore you with the particulars. If we are agreed, then you can set him free and I will cast the spell.”
“We are agreed,” Xan said. She extended a hand and they shook upon their agreement.
“Excellent,” Ves said, rubbing his hands together in delight. “Now, tell me where you would like me to send you.”
“It is not I who I wish to send away,” Xan said.
Ves looked at her blankly.
“I want you to transport yourself away. Somewhere across the far seas will be acceptable.”
“But our agreement,” Ves sputtered.
“I will honor it,” Xan said in a calm voice. “The scoundrel Yon will be released, as soon as you transport yourself away.”
“But what good is that? If he is here alone, how can he hope to make his escape?”
“He cannot,” Xan said. “He will be arrested for attempted escape. There will, of course, be some punishment incurred for that.”
Ves looked at her, a sour expression on his face. “You are a trickster, Warder.”
Xan shrugged. “We have an agreement. We shook before the gods. I expect you to honor it. If you don’t, I can arrest you and place you here.”
The sorcerer gave a bitter shake of his head and vanished, the air flashing in the place where he had stood. Xan smiled and pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders.
In A Flash: read a new story every Thursday…
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