The four soldiers reached the outer edge of the thin woods and stopped to take it in. Ahead of them lay a grassy, poppy-filled field. In the middle of this was a small manor, two-stories tall and made of dark weathered stone. The front had a tall pinnacled tower with building wings to the right and left of it. The wings didn’t stretch too far, maybe fifty feet. It looked more like a church than a castle. Pretty modest, but that’s where their enemy was so it didn’t matter that it looked cheap. All that mattered was their quest.
“How do we approach, lieutenant?” asked Victor from the rear. He was their archer, and a surer shot you will never find. He could shoot a fly out of the air while on horseback in full gallop. A thin man with a short beard and curly black hair, he looked very handsome in his garrison uniform, which consisted of a red woolen overshirt and breeches, a wide belt, and the symbol of the realm they represent, Elenor, stitched on the back, which was a griffin with fire for a mane holding oak leaves in one paw and arrows in the other. He couldn’t wait for this to be over. Going against wizards was not his thing, and he could only hope to survive this.
Lieutenant Stark surveyed the lay of the land. He wasn’t sure if attacking during daylight was a wise option, but attacking at night could be worse. They couldn’t sneak up to it because there was nothing to hide behind, no trees, no hills. And he had a suspicion that the wizard knew they were there. He didn’t look as handsome in his uniform as Victor. Neither did Chance and Philip, the two other soldiers with them, probably due to their stockier build. His brow furrowed under his reddish hair as he pondered the best way to go about this.
Finally he turned to the men and spoke. “I don’t know if we’re going to make it out alive. But I will give my all into stopping this fiend. All I ask of you is to back me up. And if I die, don’t let me die alone.” He looked at each of them, who nodded silently. “That being said, let’s take the fight to him. Onward!” He kicked his heels into his horse and trotted toward the manor, not knowing what to expect but not willing to show his concern to the men who followed dutifully behind him.
They rode straight for the tall front door. As they neared it opened for them. They didn’t expect that, and they had there swords out before they knew they had drawn them, such was there training. They reared there horses back, waiting for whatever fate had in store for them, only to be presented to two comely maids.
They gathered in the center of the open doors, turned to the soldiers, and curtsied.
“Welcome to Castle Jarond, home of the Wizard Jarond” said Shiela.
“He is awaiting you in the library” said Samantha.
“May we take your horses?” they said together.
Chance, Victor and Philip were taken aback by this simple greeting. They didn’t expect to gain entry this easily. Lieutenant Stark wasn’t. He had a feeling they were being watched and he was right. He sheathed his sword and motioned for the men to dismount. He looked to the ladies and said “Thank you for this kind welcome. I fear though that after today you may need to find other employment.”
“Oh my”, said Sheila to Samantha.
“Do you think the wizard knows this?” said Samantha to Sheila.
“He’ll know soon enough” said Sheila to Samantha. “Now make haste and take their horses. I’m sure they don’t want to spend their time with the likes of us.”
And with that the maids grabbed the reins of the horses and walked them off to the right side of the castle.
“The library is to the rear” said Sheila to the soldiers as she walked.
“It’s straight on, you can’t miss it” said Samantha following along.
Another moment and they were out of sight, disappearing around the outer wall. The soldiers left to their own devices. They looked at each other, then at the open door, then at the Lieutenant. “Well men”, he said, “First obstacle cleared, gaining entry. Now let’s go meet our fate.” With that he led the way into the manor. I mean castle.
A short walk down a wide hall and they were in front of the door to the library. Lieutenant Stark turned to his men and said, “Remember the plan. Whatever happens, one of us will strike him down. Ready?”
They all nodded. The lieutenant opened the door and walked in, followed by Chance, then Philip, and last was Victor who came in low to avoid being seen.
Jarond stood in front of his table with a smile on his face as the soldiers spread out, the lieutenant in the center and Chance and Philip on either side.
“Welcome gentlemen”, said Jarond with a smile. “How can I help you today?”
“Now!” shouted Stark. The three men rushed Jarond, drawing their swords in such quick fashion. Victor stood and fired three arrows in quick succession, all of them flying over the lieutenant’s right shoulder. This was the plan, to use speed and surprise to bring Jarond down. And if the wizard was sharp enough to stop one attack, the distraction should be enough so that any one of them could strike.
The arrows had already reached Jarond before the other three soldiers had cleared half the distance, but they disappeared, bloop, bloop, bloop, one right after the other, as if they were shot into a pond. Jarond, still smiling, rippled as well. The three raised their swords and drove them hard into him, but their inertia carried them into him, and they disappeared, bloop, bloop, bloop, into the pond. Victor stared at him, still standing there like nothing had happened, still with that questioning look on his face, and he didn’t understand what he just saw. He got over it quickly and notched another arrow, but too late. What looked like heat shimmer emerged from Jarond, headed straight for Victor and wrapped itself around his ankles. With a yank he was flat on his back and was pulled half-way across the room in a flash, stopping just a few feet in front of the wizard. Victor shook the cobwebs out of his head from being slammed to the floor and looked up, to see that he was actually in front of a standing mirror that had the wizard’s reflection in it. But he was not behind him, so maybe it was a window, to a place he knows not. He could see his own reflection, and Jarond’s, but Jarond was not in the room. He couldn’t grasp what he was seeing, and even less of what happened next.
Jarond stepped out of the mirror, holding the arrows Victor had fired. “Now what’s all this then?” he asked. Victor was still blinking at what he saw as Jarond tossed the arrows on him. Then as Victor watched, he turned to face the mirror and reached into it. It disappeared into the glass, rippling it once more. Jarond gave a yank, and the other three soldiers came tumbling out, hitting the floor hard, swords and armor clanking against the stone floor. After a moment of regaining some of their wits, Chance asked “What just happened?”. The lieutenant just groaned from hitting the floor, and Philip was left rubbing his head. It was the lieutenant who first noticed Jarond standing over him. He tried to rise to meet the challenge, but was as late as Victor. Jarond had raised his right foot as if to step forward, then brought it down to the floor. The four soldiers fell back to the ground as if that foot was standing on each of their chests, and heavily at that. They clutched at it, but of course there was nothing there.
Jarond watched as they groaned, struggled, and wriggled, smiling the whole time. “I learned this trick from a fellow in the Far West” he told them. “It comes in handy when you want to keep folks subdued. Or when you need to discipline a brat. But, like I said before, what’s all this then?”
“We came to smite you, foul demon!”, Stark said while struggling for every breath. “We’re not done with this fight! We brought talismans! Together men, draw them out!”
Jarond watched as the soldiers dug into their belts to produce small pieces of parchment and bared them to him with much bravado. “Know now that you are not dealing with ordinary men!” continued Stark. “Look upon these and quiver!”
A quiet moment passed. Jarond looked at the parchments they held, and then asked, “Was something supposed to happen?”
“Well, yes”, replied Stark, a little stunned. “You’re supposed to be writhing in pain or something, maybe banished to another realm.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yes. We got them from our wizard who guaranteed they would work. Do you feel anything at all?”
“I am feeling a little tickle in the back of my throat.”
“No. Who did you get these from?” Jarond took the one Chance was holding. He scrutinized it carefully, looking for anything that was useful.
“From our wizard, Darius the Great. He said these would keep you at bay.”
“Oh, I see what’s wrong. He put an ’S’ where it should have been a ‘PH’”.
“No. These are complete gibberish,” he said as he tossed it to the floor. “They mean nothing at all. So why don’t you tell me what’s going on here. What did I do to warrant such an attack?”
This time it was Philip who spoke. “Darius had a vision, that you were coming for us.”
“Darius, that two-bit magician? I’ve heard of him. He said I was coming for you? Why, do you have something I want?”
“Our lands, our women, our riches. He said you wanted them all.”
“Darius said this?”
“Yes, he did.”
Then Victor piped up. “Could you ease up with the foot thing you’re doing? It’s rather uncomfortable.”
“No”, replied Jarond. He was finding their squirming amusing, like watching fish try to make it back to the river. He would have found their confusion amusing too, except he was just as confused. “But back to your lands, your women, your riches. Are the lands special in any way?”
Stark replied “No, uh, just ordinary land I guess.”
“And you’re women. Are they made of gold or whatever?”
“Um, no, just the regular kind of women you see everyday.”
“And I have no need for riches, so what do I want with your, uh, stuff?”
“We go by the word of the wizard. He has never been wrong before.”
“So you thought you would catch me before I came for you, ‘stop the evil wizard, he wants our stuff’. Let me tell you young man, between your fop of a king and your two-bit magician, if I wanted your lands and your women and your riches I would have them already. Now what do you think of that?”
“Our king is not a fop”, shouted Victor, desperately trying to notch an arrow. All it took was for Jarond to twist his foot to make Victor cringe in even more pain from the grinding force, dropping his bow in the process. Of course the other soldiers felt the grinding too, each of them groaning from Jarond’s efforts.
Lieutenant Stark looked at Jarond, then turned his head to look at Philip, who looked back and could only shrug. Then he looked at Chance, who also only shrugged. He couldn’t look at Victor, given his position above his head, but if he could he was sure he would only shrug too. He looked back at the wizard, and didn’t know quite what to say. “Well, uh,” he stammered, “we just, um, I think that, hmmm. I don’t know where…”
“Oh quiet you”, said Jarond. “It’s become quite clear that you men have been sent on a fool’s errand, and if I’m going to get any answers I should get them from the source. So you’re from Elenor, correct? King Percy the, ahem, ‘Mighty’ is your ruler?”
“Yes, yes, that’s our kingdom”, replied Stark. His struggling was sapping his energy, making it harder and harder just to catch his breath.
“Hmmm”, replied Jarond. “We’ll just see how mighty he is. Come on then.” He lifted his foot, relieving the soldiers from the burden on their chests. They barely had time to catch their breaths when Jarond lifted his hand, causing them to lift into the air. They floundered there, waving their arms like maniacs, crying in surprise. Jarond laughed at their efforts, then waved his hand to the mirror and in they went, bloop, bloop, bloop, bloop. Then he did a little side step, one back, one forward, a little shuffle, a quick little dance, and then he dived into the mirror. The mirror suddenly turned ninety degrees, then reflected itself in front of itself, so that now there were two mirrors. The new one began to shake, followed by a low rumbling that grew and grew. Suddenly it shot into the air, through the roof and into the sky.
The maids were tending to the horses when they heard the noise. They also saw the shingles flying everywhere from where the mirror created the hole. Samantha turned to Sheila and with a big smile said “Finally, something to clean up!”
“Oooh,” said Sheila. “Lets go get a broom and a mop!” They could hardly contain their excitement as they ran back to the castle door.