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The Crier’s Sacrifice

Part II: Imprisonment

Chapter Four: A New Journey

Nathan Black
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The first few days of his travels were uneventful. Tyrdonne had teleported him to a location about twelve miles to the southeast of Pakil, and Nilrid began his journey immediately. Though he resented the absence of a good horse, he traveled quickly, averaging about thirty miles a day. On the eighth of August, he entered the town of Crossroads.

He used what little money he had left to buy an inn room in the town. Asinai had given him food for a few weeks, but had supplied not one coin. The establishment he stayed in was far from ideal, but there weren’t any brawls and the meals were edible, so Nilrid paid the rent without haggling. It was a poor idea to haggle with a businessperson in Tanaveri.

Nilrid had arrived in Crossroads before nine o’clock in the morning, so he used the rest of his day to explore the town. It wasn’t very large, but seemed full of people—perhaps a thousand in all. Flies buzzed around, irritating the boy beyond belief, and making him wish he could use some kind of magic to fend them off. But any sort of casting here would probably attract another humanoid horde of enemies that he would have to try much harder to get rid of.

It was near dark when he finally went back into the inn, ate an adequate dinner for a very steep price, and retired to his room. He didn’t notice the dirtiness very much; this was the first time in months he would have a room all to himself. Even so, he slept restlessly that night, and was grumpy in the morning.

Dressing slowly, he picked up his pack of supplies and prepared to go down to the first floor and eat breakfast. Then, checking the money in his pouch, he realized he didn’t have enough even to do that, so he dug around in his own provisions for something to eat.

It was all gone!

Stomping down the stairs, Nilrid hurled himself at the innkeeper’s desk and presented the light, almost empty bag to him. “All of my food has been stolen,” he announced.

“I’m sorry,” the innkeeper said softly.

“By Malthan, I wasn’t born yesterday!” the boy remembered at the last instant to take his enemy’s name in vain. “I know about you seedy innkeepers. Now give me back my supplies, or have you already fed them to the morning rabble? If so, I’ll be happy to borrow a few provisions from your own stock.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, sir, but I suggest you leave before I have to call in the Royal Guard.”

Nilrid stood there for a moment, fuming and trying to think of a retort. Finally, realizing he was going to lose the argument no matter what, he said something very unsightly and stormed out of the inn.

I’d like to roast him, he thought angrily as he made his way off the Pakil Highway and onto Ilsonne Road. Tyrdonne had said that Nynbas was a week’s travel away, but without food or water, it would certainly take longer. In fact, if he didn’t come up with something in the next fifty miles or so, he might never get there. That was even more frustrating to the boy—to have come across the world, face a Tanaverian execution and slay a dragon just to die of starvation.

No, he wouldn’t starve. Even his young body could go for three weeks without food. But water was a different matter. Why under Gelz had the innkeeper taken his canteen? That was nothing short of indirect murder.

He was about five miles north of Crossroads when he started to get hungry. This was not going to be an enjoyable journey.

“NILRID,” a voice boomed in his head, “IT’S ABOUT TIME I TAUGHT YOU TO HUNT.”

The boy almost fell over with surprise, but he recollected himself quickly when he realized who it was. For a moment, he’d thought Malthan was speaking to him again, though why she would be helping him was beyond explanation.


“Thank you very much,” Nilrid said gratefully.


Obediently, the boy stepped off the Ilsonne Road and walked in a straight line to the west, until Gelz stopped him.


“No,” Nilrid replied.


“My mother taught me,” the boy said. “She used to be an advisor for the Mallseyan army, and specialized in...”


At that very moment, an innocent-looking doe sauntered across the barren plain.

Nilrid tried not to smirk as he drew his bow and shot. He hadn’t practiced archery for years, but his aim was still excellent, catching the startled deer right in the center of her chest. She went unconscious and died long before the pain set in—the boy liked it much better that way.

“GOOD AIM!” the God of Daylight congratulated. “NOW, FOR THE PREPARATION OF THE CARCASS, YOU NEED... OH, I FORGOT TO GIVE YOU A KNIFE.” The arrow in the doe’s body changed into a long, slender hunting blade that looked like it could slice through oak. “HERE’S HOW YOU REMOVE THE INTERNAL ORGANS...

The method of cleaning out an animal corpse will not be described. When Nilrid was finished, he had about fifty pounds of prepared meat in his pack, but didn’t feel like eating any of it.


Nilrid leaned over gracefully, and was sick right there.


The divine entity retreated back to the small corner of the boy wizard’s mind, where he always was.

Fort Malthan was not the tall, looming strategic stronghold that Nilrid had imagined it when he saw the sign five miles to the south, around midmorning on the twelfth of August. Instead, it was just another small town on the edge of the intimidating Ilsonne Marsh.

Eating his midday meal and then arriving in the vicinity of the town a half hour later, his first instinct was to find an inn. But he had grown rather untrusting of those establishments lately, so instead he selected a comfortable-looking expanse of soft grass to the southwest of town, and made camp there. After setting unpleasant wards and traps to guard his remaining possessions, he continued into the actual community of Fort Malthan.

The atmosphere was a bit busier—a bit more frantic—than that of Nynbas. Merchants clustered to the sides of the streets, calling to the townspeople and the few other travelers. For lack of anything better to do, Nilrid walked around the market-like town and looked for useful (or at least interesting) wares.

One in particular caught his eye. He was a tall, elderly man with a rough face but a mischievous air about him. When he saw the boy’s interest, he called him over to his ramshackle stand and began a speech that sounded like it had been rehearsed several hundred times.

“Ah, these tired eyes have spotted a musician!” he exclaimed. “You look talented—although young—yet in desperate need of an instrument. Well, look no further!”

He produced a rusty flute from under his stand. Putting it to his lips and taking a filling breath, he played an impromptu tune that, while a bit off-key, was quite beautiful. Nilrid shook his head in wonderment, trying to figure out how anybody could make a good sound on that elongated piece of metal.

“I’m actually a town crier,” he admitted finally, when the merchant had finished playing. “Do you have any trumpets?”

“Of course!” the merchant assured. “This is one of the best.” He pulled out another slightly rusted instrument. The valves looked like they hadn’t been pressed in years, and the tuning slide appeared to be frozen in place; a virtual nightmare for any sort of musician.

Nilrid pretended that he was examining the trumpet, cocking his head and narrowing his eyes. After a polite pause, he said, “I’m sorry, but I think I should take my business elsewhere. Thank you.”

“Do you have any other occupations, young man?” the man asked quickly, as the boy was turning away.

That took him by surprise. Nilrid froze for a moment, carefully calculating the appropriate, evasive response.

“I thought as much,” the merchant chuckled, a piece of folded paper suddenly appearing in his right hand. Lowering his voice, he continued, “I’m sorry your musicianship cannot be satisfied, but I have resources for Querisian spies as well. Take it, Nilrid, and read it before you leave town.”

The boy gingerly slid the message out of the spy’s hand and slipped it into his pocket. Without another word, he turned around and made his way out of Fort Malthan. He didn’t want to risk being seen.

Once he was back at his camp, he pulled out the note, unfolding it carefully. It was a lengthy message, written in the flowing script of an educated, well-versed and generally brilliant person:

Nilrid of Fyr’nay
To be delivered as soon as possible
Fort Malthan, Tanaveri
August 10, 1128

Dear Nilrid,

I am aware that at the time this letter will reach you at an extremely inconvenient time, but I must warn you of the impending dangers near the location you are currently at.

A number of my other agents, including the one who delivered this message to you, have discovered a plot to assassinate you within Tanaverian borders. I doubt this surprises you—nor will the fact that the assassination was organized by King Ranyeb Vinatira himself. However, the attempt on your life will take place much sooner than you might anticipate. An ambush has been staged approximately two and a half miles north of Fort Malthan, just inside the Ilsonne Marsh that has hidden so many political enemies of Gelzan society.

It is believed that the first ambush will not consist of more than a few bogfiends and a troll commander. Without the element of surprise on Ranyeb’s side, you should be able to overcome them quickly. However, there are quite a few more assassination attempts planned along your journey to Endineer. I doubt that Ranyeb will be able to commission a dragon to come after you, especially not before the official Mustering. However, we have learned that he has planned for a number of his Necromancer comrades—perhaps even for a personal appearance—to make sure you don’t get to your destination.

Please be careful as you make your way through the Marsh. It is doubtful that King Ranyeb will be honorable and try to launch a direct attack; instead, you must be wary of your surroundings at every waking moment, or else a fully-prepared Vinatira may jump out of the trees.


Dalinare of Perisanta
Personal Scribe for
His Majesty King Jizir XI
Realm of Querisia

That raises my spirits, the boy thought dryly as he gathered up his supplies and left town.

He timed his journey carefully, counting his steps so that he reached the two and a half mile point just before dusk. (Counting 13,200 steps, each a foot long, proved to be extremely tedious.) Looking around him as the sun began to set, he wondered if perhaps his King had been mistaken.

The mosquitoes zeroed in on him as soon as he stood still. If not for the accursed bugs, the Ilsonne Marsh might be an interesting place—it was too far north for the weather to be bothersome, and there was an odd beauty to the watery patches of overgrown vegetation and gnarled trees. But the smaller inhabitants rarely saw a big, warm-blooded human, and just couldn’t help themselves when it came to attacks. Ambush or no, Nilrid decided, I’m going to have to keep moving along. 13,201, 13,202...

Pain suddenly shot up his leg. With a cry, the boy fell down, barely noticing the malicious-looking crossbow bolt in his thigh before it buckled under his suddenly heavy body.

Jizir never said they would be using crossbows, Nilrid thought bitterly as he created a reflective shield around himself (the same kind he’d used in Wystarin against the corrupt Querisian sentry).

Soon, the jeers of delight from the bushes alongside the road turned to shrieks of pain as the arrows turned around to meet the archers. Eventually a rough voice, no doubt belonging to a troll, ordered, “Don’t just keep shooting, you idiots! Draw your weapons and advance!”

Frowning, Nilrid wondered why the commander had been foolish enough to speak Ulistan to the bogfiends. But there was no time to worry about that now. His adrenaline pumping, he quickly put down the reflective shield and raised another barrier, this one of crackling, intensely hot fire. In a few moments, its color changed from bright orange to being completely blue.

A Vinatira, or even a remotely intelligent Malthanian human, would have taken the defense into account and ordered the bogfiends back into the bushes, to resume firing. The arrows would have cut through the blaze, damaged but still sharp, and would have forced the boy to maintain two shields at once. But instead, the troll’s voice yelled over the frightened howls of the bogfiends, “Go in! Now!!!

Most of them never made it. Nilrid had to fight two of them, but they were so badly wounded that he couldn’t tell what they normally looked like. He was an untrained hand-to-hand fighter, and his leg hurt every time he moved, but his hunting knife sufficed to end their misery. They died easily—and gratefully, Nilrid suspected. When the sound of turmoil around him had ceased, he lowered the fire and cautiously took in his surroundings.

A large, enraged troll barely gave the boy time to blink before hurling a long sword at him. It was poorly-aimed, and a poor weapon for throwing, but it came at Nilrid so fast that all he could do was duck.

The sword went hurtling past him and sank into the murky waters of the bog. Eyes wide with sudden terror, the troll cried out something in its native language and began to run like mad.

“Stop!” Nilrid barked. Seeing that the only surviving enemy would soon escape, he created an iron cage, set it out in front of the troll, and sent a gust of wind to slam the door shut, with the commander trapped inside.

Not wanting to leave the road, the boy stayed where he was and shouted, “Now, if you answer these questions truthfully, you’ll live. Otherwise...”

“All right, all right!” the troll cut in, blubbering like a hurt child.

“How is it that you speak my language?” Nilrid asked.

“Another troll taught it to me when I started human extermination,” the beast sobbed. “He said it would be best if I knew your tongue...”

“Why then, did you use Ulistan when commanding your party? Did you think I wouldn’t notice?”

“I wanted to act with honor—with glory!” the troll declared, seeming to forget its predicament for a moment. “A job like this is the best a poor soldier like me can get, and I didn’t want to seem unsophisticated!”

The boy shook his head with dismay. Trolls were often known to make their honor a higher priority than their intelligence (and survival). No wonder Malthan left the real commanding to dragons and Necromancers! “Where and when is the next attempt to assassinate me going to take place?” he demanded of the inept creature, his voice unnaturally harsh.

“I... I don’t know,” the troll stammered.

“Are you really this intent on dying today?” Nilrid hissed. “If I had known, I would have finished you off much earlier.”

“No!” his prisoner begged. “No, please let me live! The next ambush will be on the Endineer Trail, sixty miles west of Nynbas. An entire army of trolls will be there, waiting for you to pass through!”

“Thank you very much,” the boy said. “I’ll be going on my way now. I’m sure your superiors will be happy to let you out of your cage once I’m a reasonable distance away.”

The troll just moaned.

Well, the boy thought as he limped down the road, that wasn’t so bad. Killing those two bogfiends had been a little gruesome, and something would have to be done about his wounded leg, but fighting wasn’t meant to be pleasant or enjoyable—at least, not to the sane mind. He hoped he would be able to circumvent most of the other, more pressing dangers coming up ahead.

Out of laziness and an urgency to keep moving, Nilrid healed his leg magically. It was in perfect condition by the day after the attack.

Nynbas was a bit quaint, but the change was welcome from the untamed wilderness of the Marsh when Nilrid entered the town on the fourteenth, two days after the bogfiend ambush. Feeling a little more trusting than he had in Fort Malthan, he slept in the local inn that night. Fortunately, his instincts were correct, and he awoke the next morning with all of his possessions present and intact.

The Ilsonne Road continued north along the edge of the bog for which it was named, but the boy remembered where he was actually supposed to be going. He found the Royal Escape Trail, or Endineer Trail as the troll had called it, easily. It wasn’t marked, of course, but it was the only path heading west, and he left Nynbas by it the morning after he arrived.

Moving through the Marsh was quite a bit more difficult on the trail than it had been on the main road, and Nilrid estimated that he’d only covered about twenty-five miles by the end of the day. Though this wasn’t terribly short of the thirty or so he usually traveled, he decided that it wouldn’t hurt to keep going into the twilight hours, and make up for lost time.

Around midnight, when he had gone about ten additional miles, his tired body and persistent mind finally agreed that it was time to bed down for the rest of the night. He spread out the roll of blankets that had sufficed for a mattress by the side of the road, and prepared for a much-needed sleep.

He was about to crawl into his “bed” when suddenly, he saw a brilliant, flashing white light in the distance. It came from the south, and was well off the trail, but the boy was overcome by curiosity. Taking along his hunting knife, he squelched through the saturated vegetation of the bog toward the strange beacon.

It was only a few yards away when his feet started to sink into the ground. Quicksand! Heart pounding, Nilrid abandoned his nearly-gone physical strength and levitated out while he was still over knee deep. Putting himself back down, he gave a weary sigh of relief.

The globe of light moved closer, and then the boy was able to see a small baby bird, the annoying type that made nasal calls day in and day out above his head. It hesitated above the young animal, which was flapping its wings unsuccessfully and slowly sinking into the quagmire. Nilrid thought he felt and air of expectancy, and perhaps impatience.

Understanding, the boy used a sizable amount of his power to lift the bird from the quicksand, holding it until it could shake its wings free of the grime and fly clumsily away. The stupid thing had probably tried to land in the wrong place after getting lost in the almost black, moon-less night.

The spherical light glowed brighter. A voice in his head echoed, “Thank you for your service to the Marsh. I have been informed of your quest, but you were the only magically able being besides myself in the vicinity, and my power is useless in matters of the ground. Despite the impressions you may have received, the bird is a member of a rare species, and her death would have increased the chance of extinction even further.”

“A pleasure,” Nilrid replied aloud. “I admit I haven’t seen one of your kind before.”

I am the Spirit of the Ilsonne Marsh,” the entity told him. “As a low deity, I answer directly to Tyrdonne as I oversee this specific part of the world. Both of the true divinities of Derenda have asked favors of me, and recently Gelz asked me to look over you as you traveled through my territory. At first I refused, since I am supposed to stay neutral and your quest is a deliberate effort to harm Malthan, but because of your kind act I will now assent. Should you ever need me, I will send the creatures of the Marsh to your aid.

Turn around and walk straight ahead, and you will return to your camp. It was a pleasure meeting you.” With that, the Marsh-Spirit vanished.

Toward the end of the next day, Nilrid realized that he had gone almost sixty miles from Nynbas. Not feeling particularly in the mood for fighting an army of trolls, he decided to leave the trail again and go around about a ten-mile stretch of the route to Endineer. He trusted that the Spirit of the Ilsonne Marsh would keep him from having any more trouble with quicksand.

As the sun began to set, the boy was starting to reconsider his decision. As he sloshed through stagnant water and pushed away the moist, clinging foliage, he stirred up a thousand regiments of mosquitoes. He batted futilely at the masses of insects, but they still clustered around him until he could hardly see straight.

Finally, he used magic as a last resort to keep from going mad. It worked miraculously, and his assailants cleared away as he pushed away a huge, green plant and stepped into a clearing.

There were at least fifty trolls standing outside a large cave, making preparations for what looked like was going to be a very efficient ambush. Stifling his surprise, Nilrid wove a cloak of invisibility around himself before any of the stupid, lumbering beasts could notice their visitor. It was a terribly weak shield, and could be seen through by any wizard of decent strength, but it was sufficient for the small army he was going to have to deal with.

Levitating to a safe spot in a fairly high tree, the young wizard casually encased the first troll he set eyes upon in a box of ice. The beast died quickly, of hypothermia rather than suffocation, with an expression of sudden shock on its grotesque, lifeless face.

The camp immediately fell into a panic. Trolls scurried around wildly, trying to find their attacker. With each passing minute, fewer and fewer of them were able to give their angry yells.

Almost none of them were left when Nilrid suddenly cast the wrong spell. A beam of bright yellow light shot from his hiding place in the tree, easily killing the troll it hit but exposing his location to the rest of them.

One of the larger beasts yelled an unintelligible command, and immediately the other four remaining trolls approached the tree with huge axes. Silently cursing himself, the boy froze all of them, but it was getting difficult to summon enough energy to continue his castings. The yellow beam had been very taxing for him; because it had been completely accidental, he had been unable to control the amount of power he used all at once.

By the time there was only one of the monsters left, Nilrid was thoroughly drained of magical energy. The troll approached swiftly, brandishing a battle ax of its own, as the boy tried without success to cast one final spell. As the ax began cutting into the young, soft bark of the tree, he realized that he wasn’t going to be able to use anything but his tense muscles for several crucial minutes.

Drawing his hunting knife, he prepared to jump from his perch and fall upon his enemy. He would, at least, have the advantage of surprise, though the troll had superior strength by far.

Just when he was about to spring, an idea hit him.

Carefully, he eased back into a safe position on the tree, and waited. In a moment, the poor plant would come crashing down, and all Nilrid had to do was direct the way it fell...

The noise of cracking wood below him barely entered the boy’s ears, filled as they were by the sound of his heart pounding. With all of his might, he strained himself and pushed the falling tree in the direction of the troll, who naturally hadn’t thought to get out of the way.

It did realize what was happening at the last moment, but it was far too late to avoid the attack. The stump hit him right between the eyes at, literally, a breakneck speed. Another crack, this one the sickening noise of breaking bone, sounded as the beast fell down dead.

The body of his enemy cushioned Nilrid’s own fall, and he walked away from the tangle of branches with just a few cuts on his arms and legs. Surveying the quiet scene of death, he admonished himself for not being more careful with his magical reserves, and then made his way back to the Endineer Trail.

Three days later, in the middle of the afternoon on the eighteenth, the boy reached an old, abandoned city. At first, he thought he had reached Endineer at last, but a few hundred yards into the town there was a sign reading:

City of New Pakil
Designated Royal Shelter

Disappointed that his journey was not yet at an end, Nilrid passed through the ancient streets and back onto the Royal Escape Trail without incident.

His travels were getting truly dull by the twentieth, as he stopped for the night about fifty miles to the west of New Pakil. It was quite cold for once that evening, so he wearily built a fire and huddled next to it.

The moon climbed higher, and Nilrid was just about ready to curl up and fall asleep when a shadow suddenly crossed the brightened roadside. It was small and fleeting, but most certainly human.

Nilrid stiffened, Jizir’s warning flashing back into his mind. “I doubt that Ranyeb will be able to commission a dragon to come after you, especially not before the official Mustering. However, we have learned that he has planned for a number of his Necromancer comrades—perhaps even for a personal appearance—to make sure you don’t get to your destination.”

There was no doubt in his mind what he was up against as he summoned his Black Staff. Carefully conserving his power, he sent a modest probe out into the surrounding marsh. At first, it seemed that he had been mistaken, that there wasn’t a Vinatira for hundreds of miles... and then the probe hit something. The moment the phantom was discovered, it vanished.

Instants later, it appeared right in front of the boy’s campfire.

“Good evening,” the Necromancer said. She was about six feet tall, which was extraordinary for a woman in those times—but then again, she was not in the least bit human.

“How long have you been following me?” Nilrid growled.

“Me? Not very long,” the Vinatira replied in a smooth voice. “But my King has been watching you ever since you left Pakil.”

“Then consider this a punishment for nosiness!” the boy snapped, sending a powerful cloak of fire to envelop his enemy. She countered quickly, raising a reflective shield and forcing him to create one of his own. The spell bounced back a few times between them, and then died out.

“You’re strong, Nilrid of Fyr’nay,” she laughed, “but not strong enough. I’ve been an ordained Wizard of Malthan for more than eight hundred years. That’s longer than even Wystarin has existed!”

Lightning abruptly struck the ground under Nilrid. Fortunately, his heat shield was still up, and he only felt a small jolt of electricity when it hit him. Gritting his teeth, the boy sent a block of gelatinous tar towards his adversary, just as Pakil had done in their confrontation. But the Necromancer must have been educated in that type of offensive magic, because she broke out of the trap immediately, scattering black goo all over the surrounding area.

Twenty barbed arrows immediately launched from the Vinatira’s fingers. The attack caught Nilrid off guard, and he had no choice but to raise himself up and allow the bolts to bury themselves in his legs. Had he moved any slower, they would have gone through his chest and stomach, killing him almost instantly.

Collapsing in pain, the boy closed his eyes and prayed silently to Gelz that his last resort would work, and kill the right person. Iquen had taught him two months ago never to do anything he wasn’t familiar with (despite encouraging the young wizard to learn teleportation on his own), and the spell he was about to cast definitely qualified as dangerous and, very possibly, fatal.

A massive Whitefire Spell flashed through the Ilsonne Marsh, detected by both great and small wizards for hundreds of miles. When Nilrid opened his eyes, there was nothing around him but charred wasteland.

“What have I done?” he gasped aloud. There wasn’t one single green, living thing in sight.

It would be impossible to fall asleep now. Besides the huge amounts of adrenaline in his body at the moment, there was the danger of aftermath fires igniting in the charred wasteland and consuming the unwary. With a deep sigh of regret, the boy used the rest of his power to heal his legs, and then continued down the road, which, without the protection of small trees or vegetation, had changed into a windswept and dusty trail.

The area of total destruction ended at a wide stream about two miles down the path. On the far side, small, pitiful plants that had been protected from the blast by larger vegetation still grew in limited abundance. But the damage was still severe, and impossible to ignore all the way from the stream to the town of Endineer, where Nilrid arrived around noon on the twenty-first of August.

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Copyright ©Nathan Black, 1998
By the same author RSSThere are no more works at
Date of publicationMay 2000
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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