I'll meet with you in a dream, she said, and a silver star lay upon her head, a silver kiss upon her lips...
Fragment of a folksong. Anon.
Kernew struggled to his feet, hot pain in his cheek and the taste of blood in his mouth. His new apprentice was already halfway across the square.
“Stop!” he shouted. The boy didn’t hear him. The grass around his feet withered as he drew power from it and from the earth. His own was spent. “Stop!” he shouted again, magic released on his breath. He hated to use magic unformed. It should be prepared, woven, precise in its intent, not flung haphazardly. It should be a fine and polished blade, crafted and worked, not a crude cudgel. It did the trick though, his apprentice dropped as if he’d been grappled. When Kernew got to him he was lying on his back on the muddy grass. “When I tell you to do something, you’ll do it,” Kernew told him. “My name is Kernew de Seballe. I’m your master.”
The boy’s face was in shadow, but his eyes burned as if he had a fever. “Modesty,” he said. “You…you’ve killed her! Didn’t you see? They took her!”
“I know. But you think you’ll catch them on foot? Running in the dark with nothing! They won’t kill her, but you might kill yourself.”
“I have to save her,” the boy persisted. Kernew had expected anger, grief maybe, but the boy’s tone was chilling, as if he’d already left such simple emotions behind him, stricken so deeply. The magic he’d used was already waning so he stretched out a hand and hauled the boy up. Waunn he was called, wasn’t it?
“Waunn,” he said gently. “She is as safe right now as if she was still here at your side, believe me. The travelers planned this. They prepared their magic, timed their arrival and arranged everything with that one objective. Do you think they would do all that to slit the throat of one country girl? I thought her lips were painted. They weren’t were they?” Waunn said nothing, only stared out of Wahleiss, the direction the wagon had taken. “Waunn!” he said more sharply.
“Her lips are silver,” Waunn said. “Only…only today. It was on her neck before. She’d try to hide it, you know? With scarves and a high collar. But everyone knew…” his voice tailed off. For the first time he looked properly at Kernew. “You know about it!”
“Yes, some but…”
Kernew sighed. “Waunn. You’re my apprentice. Do you understand that? You’re bound to serve me, to learn and to follow my path, not I yours. You will not demand answers from me. If you have a question, you may ask. Politely. I know you are grieving for this girl, but you will learn to control yourself or there will be consequences. We can’t go after them tonight. It won’t happen. Your friend has been taken. She’s gone. I’m sorry for it, but there’s nothing you nor anyone can do about it right now.” He ran a hand over his face. “Look around you Waunn. Your family, your friends. Can you really leave them here? What if you walked off now on your hopeless mission? That was a potent magic. It will keep them asleep for hours, if not all night and into tomorrow. If we leave them here on this damp ground who can say some won’t catch a chill from it that could kill them?”
Waunn looked where he was pointing, followed Kernew back to where they all lay on the trampled grass; little Tudfry and Fina curled up together, Waunn’s mother Tuetha Carah slumped on the legs of a farmer. Kernew went over to her and lifted up her arms.
“Help me Waunn. Take your mother lad. We need to carry them into the warm.”
They carried the sleepers into the inn, stoking up the fires in all the rooms. When they ran out of space there they filled the nearby baker’s house, and the Smithy, fetching blankets and pillows. It took hours. By the time they were done Kernew’s back and arms were aching with the strain and the night was half over. Waunn hadn’t uttered a single word the whole time, his face pinched and white and with a hectic glitter to his eyes that made him look sick. Finally, after it was all finished, Kernew watched him kneel down in front of the inn fire and heave a deep, shuddering sigh. Waunn dropped the poker with a clatter and wrapped his arms around himself, head bent as he sobbed.