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Wilderness: Book One - The Forest (Chapter Eleven - Hidden Facets)

Colin Frayn
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Several days passed before work resumed on the moat. The almighty battle had reduced the three friends to their last drop of energy, and left them bruised and battered. For once, it was nice to have Tarok run errands for them. The wizard was grateful for the skilled defence of the fort his friends had managed to muster, and was only sorry that he had not been able to lend a hand. With a wizard on their side, the fight might have been won much more easily.

Tarok had at first thought it amusing that his friends had managed to win such a great battle on their own. Now, however, his heart was beginning to fill with guilt as he watched them limping around the fort in clear discomfort. If only he had been awake and able to defend himself, his three friends need not have been so badly injured. He should never have stretched his powers so much that he could not help to defend the fort. Though those walls were strong, they were no match for a determined assault.

Three days after the battle, Tarok's curative magic and Carek's herbal remedies had more or less managed to restore the group to fitness again, though there were still a number of injuries that would heal only with time. Carek had been badly injured by the Chieftain's sword, and was lucky that the blow had not struck any vital organs. He would probably remain scarred for quite some time, if not forever. It would serve as a good reminder to him to be more careful when fighting unknown foes. Many years of learning this the hard way had given him a number of scars. Each told their tale, and each taught the young half-elf a very valuable lesson.

Work on the moat recommenced, and soon the familiar sound of shovelling soil filled the air once more. Tarok decided not to use his magic so much, as the risk to their safety was too great. The ogres were still out there somewhere, hiding in the darkness and waiting to strike. Tarok wanted to be well and truly awake when they did.

It was about a week after the battle, and Carek was wandering around the edge of the fort at night. His three friends were all asleep, but he was restless; he couldn't sleep. For the past few days, he had been thinking about Tarok's magic, and recalling fond memories of his childhood.

In the village there used to be a mage. This elderly elf would teach all the children in the village about the forest, and the strange and wonderful creatures that lived out in the wide world past the confines of the trees. To the young elven children, this man seemed to be the wisest of the wise. They followed his every word, and all dreamed of someday being knowledgeable and powerful like him. Most elves were at least proficient with the fundamentals of magic, and a large number were actually rather good at it. Their bodies were much better suited to harnessing the mystical powers than those of humans. Elves were an elder race, and had turned many centuries ago from the path of physical warfare towards the mystic arts. Dwarves had followed the other route, shunning magic wherever possible and preferring a good, sturdy axe.

Carek remembered how the village mage would amuse them all with tricks and how, when Carek was only very young, he would visit the mage at night to learn magic with the other children of the village. He remembered the pebble trick. Somehow, he had to lift a pebble in the air using magical abilities alone. He could never manage even that, the most basic of spells. Some of his friends could, and they would taunt him about it. They were pure elves, and presumably had a better natural talent for it. It was infuriating but Carek always remembered that, being half-human, he could always beat them in a fight!

Carek knew that if he could learn magic now, he would be able to help the group immeasurably. Just the thought of another fight without a wizard was enough to help him decide. He was going to have to try something that he had never tried before, and he didn't like it one little bit.

That very night, Carek crept into Tarok's hut, and picked up the mage's basic sorcery book from the table. Tarok was asleep, and Carek was quiet as a mouse. He took the book, left Tarok's hut and went to sit at the top of the tower, looking up at the stars. Carek slowly opened the first page and read the first few lines. He remembered those frustrating nights of his childhood, never quite being able to move the pebbles no matter how small they were. Perhaps his mind had matured a little now, and would be able to absorb the magical forces a little more readily. To be a truly great magician, one had to start from an early age and work at it all through childhood when your body was developing. This was no doubt what Tarok had done, and consequently the magician was able to withstand much more magical energy than Carek ever would. Having said that, Carek was half-elven, so he probably had a little bit of an edge from birth. Being in the forest for so long must certainly have attuned his mind to the levels of concentration and self-control required for spell casting. He hoped that it would be enough.

Carek read for an hour, desperately trying to understand the arcane words. Tarok's writing was not the most legible, and Carek's parents had not taught him how to read human writing until a late age. It had been quite some time, but the characters soon began to make sense, and the half-elf read on. He reached into his pocket and drew out a shiny silver pebble, placing it on the floor beside him. Reading carefully from Tarok's book, he lifted out his hands and concentrated, willing the pebble to move. Carek tried to remember what he had been told before: "Don't try to force the object to move, simply harness the magical energy all around you and it will do all the work itself. Trying too hard is the failing of most young wizards. Your body has to be totally relaxed or you will never be able to summon the energies required."

Carek stared at the pebble again. It was perfectly still. He stared some more, and then tried to relax. He remembered those years of training so long ago. Surely they had taught him something? Suddenly the pebble shook gently on the planks, and came to rest again. Could it have been the wind? Carek tried again, and it shook again. Carek tried several times more, with the pebble moving slightly more each time. Finally, it lifted gently from the table and into the air. It rose about an inch and then fell down again. Carek smiled happily to himself. He could do it!

Carek closed the book triumphantly, and with a loud bang. Scrambling to his feet, he checked he hadn't woken up any of his friends, but they all appeared to still be asleep. He sat back down, knowing that he would soon be able to learn some other spells, and help Tarok when the group got into trouble. True, he would never be able to master magic to anywhere near the level that Tarok had managed, but at least he would be of some help. Never again would the group have to survive without a magician to help them. Never again would they be in such danger, or feel so helpless as they had done the other day. Carek picked up the pebble, flicked it up into the air and caught it. He replaced it into his pocket, and then wandered back down the tower to get some well-deserved sleep.

It was not the big spells that Carek wanted to master: he would never be good enough to manage those. No, it was just the little spells. Carek wanted to be able to light fires without tinderboxes, and improve his healing skills. Just those small talents would be of immeasurable importance. Tarok had far more important things to be doing with his time than every tiny task that the group required of him.

For the next few days, Carek concentrated on finishing the digging of the moat. It was hard, tiring work, but the task was drawing near its close and they knew that the finished moat would be an invaluable help when the ogres came. Almost as soon as the last bucket of soil was hoisted out of the trench, Tarok created a large volume of water, which splashed ceremoniously down onto the soil, and soon spread out until it filled the channel to an insignificantly shallow depth. However, this was just the start, and Tarok worked at filling the moat for the remainder of the week, casting this spell each day as many times as he felt he could manage, and sure enough, the moat was almost one third full by the end of the week.

This presented Carek with an ideal opportunity to practise his magic as Tarok was always very tired when he had used so much of his own powers. Carek crept into Tarok's hut each night and took his sorcery book, going up to the top of the tower and reading for a few hours before going to bed. This continued for quite some time while Tarok was filling the moat, and every night Carek would stay up late, studying the books he had managed to lay his hands on, and desperately trying to master the powers contained within. He was, unsurprisingly, mainly unsuccessful, although he did manage to repeat the pebble trick several times, much to his own satisfaction. Sooner or later, he was going to have to confront the wizard, and ask for advice and training, but for now he knew that Tarok had other things on his mind.

Of course, all these late nights studying had begun to make Carek more than a little tired. The group noticed that the half-elf was getting up almost as late as they were, and he tended to yawn more often. This was confusing them all, and they were beginning to get a little worried about him, presuming him to be ill. Of course, Carek just laughed whenever this subject was brought up in conversation, denying illness, but refusing to talk about the real reasons behind his fatigue. That would wait for a suitable moment, he thought.

Carek was beginning to get very excited about his magic, and after a considerable amount of night time study, together with an even larger amount of practice which he managed to squeeze in secretly during the day, he succeeded in learning a completely new spell. This new spell was the infamous 'glowing hands' spell that all apprentice wizards learnt within the first few months of their studies. This was a simple and more or less pointless trick, but could be used to create a faint glimmer of light at night time. It demonstrated the wizard's first ability to control their own body, and as such was an important step towards some of the more powerful spells that Tarok had used before.

In order to master some of the more difficult spells, many magical disciplines were necessary. One of these was material control, which Carek was already beginning to learn by the pebble trick. He had already managed to extend this onto different materials - leaves, small stones and sticks to name but a few. It was as if each different material had a different magical signature, and required different techniques to move. Each one had taken several hours of intense practice before he had even noticed the slightest movement, but Carek was always very reluctant to give up, and was determined that he could master these simple tricks.

Another discipline was that of self-alteration. This was necessary in many of the more important spells that Tarok was only just beginning to learn now, such as the fire conjuration spell, which required the wizard to control his body in such a way that it was immune to the heat of the magical flame. Clearly, this was dangerous spell for novices to attempt, as it could go so painfully wrong. This fire spell also used the disciplines of conjuration and elemental control, which were much more difficult to master for beginners. They required not only controlling what was there, but also bringing into existence what was not.

Carek lifted his hands out in front of him, and concentrated on them, imagining them glowing as if on fire. He had been practising this spell now for several days, and though he felt that he was improving, he was only now beginning to see actual results. A magical light began to emanate from his palm, and soon enveloped his whole hand from his wrist to his fingertips. It was very faint, but could just about be seen if he covered his hands up with a cloak so that they were in total darkness. It was just as the book had said; the feeling was quite remarkable! It was not hot like a real fire, nor was it particularly painful. It was a strange sensation, rather like a thousand tiny pin pricks running all the way from his fingertips to his wrists. Presumably, this is what all wizards felt like when they were only beginners in the arts. Carek spent many hours perfecting this spell, as it was such an important step onto greater magic in the future.

As the moat was progressing so well, Doragon decided to tell the rest of the group about his idea to build a tunnel system. They were understandably very critical of the idea, saying that it would not only be difficult to dig but also unsafe. Athena suggested instead that they build a set of steps leading down into a cellar beneath the ground. It wouldn't need to be too big, but would be a safe place to leave their money and possessions when they went off on an adventure. If the trap door were covered with soil then no one would find it. None of the group really knew anything about structures or how to support large bodies of soil using only wooden planks, but they also realised that this would be a very useful addition to the fort, and so Tarok began calculations to work out whether Athena's idea would be feasible at all.

Tarok suggested that he could use his magical powers to change the wooden logs into strong stone pillars. It would take some time, and it would only be a gradual change, but the result would surely be worth attaining. Carek listened intently as the wizard explained how he could manipulate the elements of the wood, and transform the structure of the posts into gradually harder materials until they became as hard as stone. It was a difficult spell, but Tarok believed that, with a bit of study and a lot of practice, he could manage it.

Tarok also calculated that the soil from an underground cavern and entrance tunnel such as the one that they planned to build would make the hill almost a yard higher, then a small enclosure could be built on top of it, just as they had decided. A short rope bridge would link the hill enclosure to the main fort, and a set of steps would lead back down into the courtyard. This rope bridge would be suspended fourteen feet above the ground to evade the blows of even the forest ogres, who could only reach about eleven to twelve feet upwards at full stretch. Carek pointed out that the ogres could probably reach higher than that if they had their heavy clubs with them, but would be unlikely to do so when faced with a barrage of arrows from above. Besides, at the sign of any serious threat, the adventurers would desert the lookout post, and cross back over to the main fort, pulling up the rope bridge behind them.

One final decision needed to be made - where was the entrance to the tunnel to be? Doragon's idea of the base of the tower was impractical because it would undermine the foundations. It was not practical to just have it in the middle of the courtyard, as this would be too obvious, and would get in the way. It really needed to be somewhere well hidden, and preferably somewhere under cover.

After a lot of careful thought, the decision was finally made to put the trapdoor by the side of the herb garden, which was raised one yard high already. By concealing the entrance to the tunnel with a false wall that could swing outwards, and covering it with ivy, or a vine or some other kind of disguise, it would be more or less undetectable. They could even leave a pot plant in front of the entrance to further conceal it. Only the most determined of raiders would find such a cunningly hidden tunnel.

To test out their idea, Carek made a small tub out of planks of wood, into which Tarok planted a shrub that he had collected from the surrounding forest. This would be just the right size to cover the wall, so they left it there in front of the herb garden, just as they proposed. Sure enough, it looked perfectly acceptable there, and covered the wall behind it nicely. Carek and Tarok spent a while neatening up the herb garden and the moveable pot, planting extra flowers herbs around the edges to make it look even more innocuous.

Tarok was still using his magic to fill the moat at this time, and so Carek kept up his night time studying, learning even more about the magical arts. He was particularly interested by the idea of this wood to stone spell that Tarok was currently researching. All round Tarok's hut were pieces of wood, or twigs and branches, all in some stage of magical manipulation. Some of the twigs were so brittle that you could snap them by touching them. There were slightly more successful attempts elsewhere, all neatly and logically categorised by the ever methodical wizard. Carek was quite amazed, but decided it would be unwise to disturb his friend's preparations, as Tarok was renowned for his orderly and precise manner, and would certainly notice the intrusion.

It was about one week later when Tarok decided to test out Doragon's tunnel idea. He wasn't altogether sure if it was practical, or even possible so he was eager to find out. Tarok woke up early one morning, and walked over to the edge of the garden where the tunnel was to be dug. He dismantled the wooden spikes around the border and marked out the place where the entrance was to be. Concentrating, as before, he summoned all his energies and cast a spell to dig out the first few feet of the tunnel, just as he had done before with the moat. This was a little harder, as he also had to make the tunnel slope downwards away from him, but he nonetheless managed to perform it successfully after a bit of a struggle. He made sure that he didn't dig out too much of the tunnel, but conserved his energies instead so that his friends didn't suspect. He moved the chunk of soil over the mound, which was now getting quite high, and let it fall on top.

Next, Tarok took some nails and nailed the spikes together so that they would not fall apart. He then fixed a smaller pole and three loops of vine at the edge of the opening to act as hinges, slotting his makeshift 'door' through the loops and testing to check that it swung open properly. Finally, he manoeuvred the plant in the tub around to the door as before to cover it up as well as he could manage. Tarok stood back to see how his camouflage had worked, and was very pleased. The plant had covered the door perfectly, and he felt sure that none of his three friends would notice.

Tarok walked over to the fire, and threw another handful of sticks on it. He placed the pot on to boil, dropped in some herbs and vegetables along with a few slices of meat, poured in some water, and sat back as his breakfast soup bubbled slowly. He knew that he was now getting quite a name for his excellent soups amongst the group, although most of them had been helped along with a subtle, but noticeable magical enhancement or two. Tarok lay down by the fire and waited for the first of his friends to wake up. He hoped that the temporary deafness spell that he had cast on them had worked and that they had not heard him bashing away. It only lasted for about half an hour and then wore off, so he knew that he didn't have much time to complete the job. With a bit of luck, they would never find out.

Carek was the first to get up and he wandered over to the fire to try some soup, commenting on Tarok's early awakening that morning, as the wizard was normally the last to appear. Tarok watched as Carek sipped his soup, but the sharp-eyed half-elf didn't seem to notice the secret door by the herb garden. Doragon was next to wake, followed shortly by Athena. They too seemed oblivious to Tarok's alterations, which pleased the wizard a great deal. Tarok smiled, and everyone stared at him as his smile broke out into laughter. "What's so funny?" asked Doragon, "You've been acting strange this morning. What are you up to?" Tarok continued laughing for a while, much to the confusion of his friends, and then he stood up, beckoning everyone to approach the herb garden.

Tarok explained, "I've been conducting a little experiment which has been, I am glad to announce, a resounding success. I was up early this morning, and prepared a small demonstration of the camouflage that we will use for the tunnel entrance. I wanted to see if anyone noticed the door that I tried to hide, and you didn't. Allow me to show you."

Tarok pushed the plant to one side, and pulled open the door leading to the small section of passage that he had excavated earlier on. Everyone gasped in awe, and all were very pleased that the camouflage had worked so well, even if it did make them feel slightly foolish for not noticing. It was a very effective demonstration, though no one really understood how Tarok had managed to carry out the work without any of them noticing. The wizard wasn't saying a thing, as he doubted that any of his friends would be too pleased if they knew the truth.

Carek proposed that they immediately start collecting wood to hold up the first section before it collapsed, and he went off with Athena to cut down a suitably sized tree. They returned half an hour later with several small sections cut to the correct length to act as supports. Doragon, who was now becoming very useful as the smallest, crawled down to put the first support into place, keeping a nervous eye out on the roof just in case. They also slotted a few planks in the ceiling of the first section as it ran steeply down underneath the herb garden. Tarok didn't want to collapse the tunnel with his weeding, after all. They ended up removing quite a lot of the soil from the garden, along with the plants that had been so recently moved there. Tarok wanted to make sure that this tunnel would be safe, and insisted on putting a sturdy and solid wooden roof to at least the first yard or so of tunnel that he had excavated. After he had done this, they replaced the soil on top, and replanted the herbs back in place. The tunnel was beginning to take shape.

They decided to catch and roast a boar for dinner that night, so Carek and Doragon took their belongings and set off into the forest. They walked a few hundred yards away from the fort and sat down, resting and waiting for a noise that would alert them to their quarry. Carek was a well practised hunter by now, and Doragon may not have been such a good fighter, but he was small and could hide well and move almost as silently as his half-elf teacher.

They rested and talked for about fifteen minutes, and were beginning to wonder where exactly the boars had all gone when Carek heard a rustling in the bushes about ten yards in front of them. He whispered to Doragon to be quiet and slowly stood up, taking his bow and placing an arrow silently against the string. Suddenly a mass of brown pelted from the bush before Carek could take aim and charged straight into Doragon, knocking the poor halfling over onto the floor. Carek turned, aimed and fired an arrow into the creature's side. Then another. It staggered dead to the floor.

Carek walked over to Doragon who was lying against a small tree, clutching his leg. The boar had managed to cut him quite badly, and Carek quickly wrapped some cloth tightly round the wound to stop the bleeding. Then he raised his hands, and placed them onto Doragon's leg, staring carefully at them. Doragon frowned, "What are you doing? I must get to Tarok so that he can heal me!" Carek smiled at Doragon, and then concentrated on the poor halfling's wounds. Carek's hands began to glow and Doragon felt a soothing warmth pass through them into his wound. The flow of blood slowed slightly, and Doragon breathed more evenly once more. Carek lifted his hands, and stood up next to his injured friend. Doragon could hardly believe it - Carek had learnt magic. It wasn't by any means a great healing job, but the blood flow stopped, and at least the halfling would be more comfortable now whilst they wandered back to the fort.

Doragon slowly stood up, putting his weight on the other leg, and holding Carek's shoulder for support. He congratulated his friend. "How long have you been able to do that?" Carek smiled as he wandered over to pick up the heavy boar. "Maybe two or three days. I'm not very good yet as you can see. Come on, let's get back to the fort." He carried the boar over his shoulders, and Doragon managed to limp slowly alongside him. They soon reached the fort, and Doragon told Tarok about Carek's magical healing. Tarok seemed impressed, and then cast a healing spell of his own onto Doragon's leg. The wound sealed up, leaving little trace of injury.

Tarok left the halfling, and wandered over to where Carek was sitting, looking very pleased with himself, and smiling contentedly. The wizard was the first to speak, "I suppose that's another one of these little things you picked up on your own is it?"

Carek laughed.

"I wish I could have learnt something like that when I was alone - it would have given me something to do with my time. As it happens, this is a new skill, and I believe I have a confession to make."

Tarok raised his eyebrows, "I see. Let me guess." Tarok had worked it all out by now, and was just playing with his friend's guilt, "You stole my spell books, and studied them whilst I was asleep?"

Carek smiled once more, "Well, that's not entirely true."

"Which part? The stealing? I don't see how you could have learnt all these skills without using my books, and I certainly didn't give you permission to read them. Or perhaps you meant the studying. Well my friend, if you could learn powers such as these without any work then you're a far greater talent that I will ever be."

Carek bowed his head, "Well then, I reckon both parts were true."

Tarok smiled, and reached out his hand, "Congratulations friend, welcome to the Tarok Gallantin School of Magic!" Carek laughed, and shook his friend firmly by the hand. So he wasn't going to have to pluck up the courage to ask after all - it seemed that Tarok was more than willing to teach.

As for Tarok, well it took some of the responsibility from his own overburdened shoulders. Although he was slightly annoyed that Carek had stolen his books, he promised his friend that he could use them from then on whenever he wanted to. Maybe he could teach his new apprentice a spell or two himself. Carek was very pleased with his achievements, and had finally succeeded in what he had spent years of his childhood failing to do. Maybe his spell powers would help him against the ogres - he didn't really know. He had yet another advantage now, and knew that he would soon have a chance to try out his new found skills.


WILDERNESS : Book 1 - The Forest Chapter 11 - Hidden Facets © Colin Frayn

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