Okay, I finally finished chapter four! Action is happening at last. We last left Mark helpless at the point of William's sword, about to be murdered in a rather painful fashion. Lovely cliffhanger, that. Oh, BTW, I got tired of pasting links to previous chapters, so just use that lovely search button up there or click on the label 'The Heroes' Inheritance.'
Mara let out a scream of denial as she saw Mark fall. When William proceeded to crush his fallen opponent’s ribs, she leapt from her seat, agonized by her brother’s pain. His fear she felt as her own; her own chest ached as William ground his boot into Mark’s chest.
William lifted his sword; Mara saw her twin’s blade lying on the ground several feet away. Clenching her fists, she willed him to reach for it. But his eyes were fixed on William’s blade, hovering over him.
Suddenly, Mark seemed to jerk back into focus. As William’s sword flashed downwards, he rolled aside, just avoiding being impaled on its tip. Mara whispered a quiet prayer of thanks, her shoulders sagging.
The mediator was up again, marching towards William behind the younger man’s back. Meanwhile, William charged towards Mark, who was on his feet once more, sword in hand. Mara stared, stunned, as her brother appeared to instantly recover. He used the momentum of William’s charge against him, sticking his foot out and sending the older man tumbling to the ground. Instantly, William tried to get to his feet, but Mark stepped smoothly towards him and slammed the hilt of his sword into his opponent’s temple. William silently crumpled to the dust, unconscious.
Mara let out a deep sigh of relief, along with the entire crowd. The mediator looked triumphant as he easily hauled William up and dragged him by the collar out of the ring. Mark, for his part, stumbled out of the arena and sagged wearily to the ground.
Later, in the tiny healer’s hut, Mark grumbled as his injured arm was thoroughly checked over by one of the village healers. The woman was rather short, with grey hair and wrinkled but kindly features, and she evidently knew her business- by the time she had finished, the herbs she had put on Mark’s arm had reduced the former agony of the wound to just a dull ache.
The twins thanked her warmly, and left. Marianna insisted that they eat at her home; actually, ‘insisted’ was a bit of an understatement. She ordered them to eat at her home. Meekly, Mark obeyed, and after leaving the village square, he and Mara rode alongside their aunt and Adam on the way back to the lake.
Mara shifted in her saddle, grunting softly. Then she took a deep breath, blurting out, “Mark, what happened in the armory?”
Mark froze. How did she know about the armory? He hadn’t told her yet- though he had planned to. “What do you mean?” he asked nonchalantly.
But she had noticed his hesitation. “Something happened between you and William.”
He sighed, then quietly asked, “How did you know?”
She sighed. “Well, judging by that bruise on your jaw, you had obviously run into someone who didn’t like you. When you fought William, it was pretty clear who it was. Also…” she trailed off.
“What is it?” asked Mark and Adam at the same time.
Mara smiled briefly at them. “Well… you’re going to think I’m crazy.”
“That’s okay,” replied Adam. “We’re all a little out of sorts upstairs, if you know what I mean.”
“Yep. I mean, I’m having creepy prophetic dreams where I speak to my own parents real-time,” Mark pointed out.
Mara sighed. “Well… I think I heard your thoughts.”
“Huh,” said Mark softly, as Adam exclaimed, “That’s crazy!”
But Marianna let out a strangled gasp and whirled around. “Come with me!” she demanded, her tone making it clear they were not to argue with her. She urged her horse to a gallop and set off towards the lake.
Mark followed, sensing the urgency in her tone. Within a few minutes, the four of them had arrived at the house.
Marianna dismounted. “Adam, help me get the horses. You two-” she pointed to the twins- “get inside, quickly.”
Not daring to disobey, Mark led the way inside. Behind the closed door of the little cottage, he faced Mara. “What in the Father’s name was that all about?”
She shrugged, looking equally alarmed. “I suppose we’ll find out,” she said optimistically.
Minutes later, Marianna burst through the door. “Sit down. All of you.”
Worriedly, the three teenagers sat at the oak dining table. Marianna left for several moments, then returned holding a rolled-up piece of parchment. She sat before them and fixed Mara with a hard look. “You heard your brother’s thoughts, you say?”
Mara nodded, looking worried. “It seemed that way, anyway. I don’t… that is, it’s impossible for me to hear people’s thoughts.”
Marianna smiled grimly. “Unfortunately, no.” She stood. “When I met my husband and his brother, I didn’t know everything about them at first. When I married Caleb, he told me where the two of them had been before they came to Travela, why they had been there, and why they had left. Have you ever heard of a place called Liphaeum?”
“Say that one more time, please,” asked Mark.
“Li-fee-um,” she enunciated slowly, unrolling the parchment and smoothing it out on the table. It was a map, showing what appeared to be the whole of Mindelar.
“Haven’t heard of it,” Mark replied, scanning the southern portion of the map until he spotted Travela.
“It’s in the Telliar Mountains, to the north,” Marianna continued, pointing to a place several inches above Mark’s finger. “There’s a village there of significant size, but it’s named for something else.”
“Castle Liphaeum,” Mara murmured. Sure enough, the map showed a tiny depiction of a tower, and next to it the words CASTLE LIPHAEUM.
Then Mark remembered. “I’ve heard some of the villagers talking about it,” he mused. “Some of the stories are a little strange. Tales of magic, and wizards. It’s all nonsense.”
Marianna paused. “But it’s not nonsense. Those stories are, in part, actually true.”
Mark wondered vaguely whether his aunt was perhaps getting a bit old. Seeming to sense what he was thinking, Marianna gave him a hard look. “I’m not crazy,” she said firmly. “Anyway, your parents- and your father, Adam- lived there before coming to Travela. Liphaeum is one of the six large settlements of wizards across the world.”
Mara held up a hand. “So there really are wizards… as in, they can do magic, right?”
Marianna nodded, and seeing their doubtful expressions, sighed and smiled dryly. “I should know, I think. After all, I married one.”
Adam’s jaw dropped. “Dad could use magic?”
She nodded. “Trust me when I say that he and his brother, along with Naia, were not ordinary by any stretch of the imagination. Mark, Mara, your parents and Caleb were almost legends in Liphaeum- some of the greatest wizards ever trained there.” Her eyes shone with pride as she spoke, but then they dropped to the table and her voice dropped to barely a whisper. “Of course, where good lies, evil must also dwell. High in the north, there lies a fiery mountain known as K’Raya, or ‘Molten Stone.’ That is where the Dark Wizards make their home. Decades ago, they allied with another deadly enemy of the wizards- the dragons of K’Raya. They, together, held quite a grudge against the Farlanders, and eventually, Emil, Naia and Caleb left Liphaeum in search of a more peaceful life for their children. They truly believed that the problem of the Dark Wizards and dragons was over.”
“But the dragons took them captive,” Mark whispered.
Marianna nodded. “Yes. Their enemies had plotted against them for years, and finally, they succeeded. Now they are at the mercy of the Dark, and have been for these last three years.”
“Oh, Father,” Mara breathed, eyes wide. “That’s…”
“So crazy it must be true,” Mark finished. “But what does that have to do with Mara hearing my thoughts?”
“Part of the reason the Farlander were so powerful was because both the Farlander line and that of your mother’s family were blessed with the gift of mind-speech.”
“What’s mind-speech?” Adam asked.
“It allows you to speak to other people with your mind,” Marianna explained. “You can project your thoughts onto the minds of others or hold a private conversation. Emil, Naia, and Caleb all had the gift.” She paused. “And so do you.”
They all stared at her for a moment, uncomprehending.
“All three of you are wizards,” Marianna continued.
Adam blinked. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
His mother shook her head. “No. What I say is true. Which means that all of you are in danger.” She stood and beckoned to them.
“How come?” asked Adam, following her with his cousins as she walked to the back of the house.
“Because the Dark Wizards have been watching you, as have the dragons,” she replied as she opened the door to her room. “They will seize any chance to strike. They might kill you… but more likely, you’d be taken to K’Raya to be trained in Dark magic. And we can’t let either of those things happen.”
“So what now?” Mark asked, watching as his aunt dug through a large oak trunk beside her bed.
“I’m going to take you to Liphaeum,” Marianna said matter-of-factly. “Hold this.” She passed him a long, cloth-wrapped package, and he took it with his uninjured arm, grunting at the weight. Adam noticed and took the package, and Mark nodded in appreciation.
“Thanks,” he murmured. “It’s a little hard using just one arm.”
“No problem.” Adam returned his attention to his mother once more as she withdrew another bundle and stood. “Come with me,” she told them.
Once back at the kitchen table, she took the package that Adam held and opened it. Inside, there lay a sword. The hilt was leather-bound, set with a sapphire the color of an afternoon sky on a clear day- the most brilliant blue Adam had ever seen.
Marianna picked up the sword and unsheathed it. The blade was long and slim, shining almost blue in the dim candlelight. Adam inhaled sharply, admiring the workmanship.
“This was your father’s blade,” breathed Marianna. “And now you must wield it as he once did. Here, take it.”
He took the weapon reverently and sheathed the blade. “Thanks, Mum.”
She opened the second parcel. “Mark, you have your father’s sword already, right?”
Marianna unwrapped a smaller bundle within the first, and Adam gaped. Inside the cloth wrapping lay two daggers, sheathed in identical leather scabbards, with leather-bound hilts and solid metal pommels. They weren’t fancy, but Adam could see that the quality of the blades was outstanding. “Mara, these were your mother’s,” said Marianna softly. “In close combat, she never used a sword, just these- and she was known widely for her skill with them. She’s responsible for as many dragons’ and Dark Wizards’ deaths as your father is.”
Mara’s eyes lit up as she picked up a blade and unheated it. “It’s not steel,” she murmured, confused, as she inspected the blade.
“They’re forged from solid silver,” Marianna explained. “It’s deadly to creatures of the Dark, including dragons.”
“You think we’ll have to fight?” Mark asked.
His aunt nodded. “Now that the first signs of your powers are showing, the Dark Wizards will have sensed you- and your line is so strong that you three are guaranteed to be extremely powerful. They will want you as an asset…”
“…Or want us out of the way.” Mark finished her thought grimly.
Marianna nodded, then opened the last bundle. “Mark, this was your father’s. He planned to give it to you when you were old enough.” She pulled out a long, tapered wooden stick, flexible and polished till it gleamed. At either end were two notches, one on each side of the stick. At the middle, the wood was wrapped in leather. It was only when Adam saw the other contents of the bundle that he understood what it was.
“A bow,” he whispered.
Sure enough, the bowstring was rolled up beside a leather quiver and about thirty black-feathered arrows. Absently, Adam touched the tip of one and cursed quietly as the razor-sharp metal tip cut his fingers.
His aunt gave him a look. “Language, Adam.”
He nodded meekly and turned his attention back to the bow, sucking his cut finger. Mark ran his hands up the smooth wood, then picked up the bowstring and looped it around the bottom end of the bow. He held it there with one foot, his back and upper arm muscles flexing as he bent the heavy bow, slipping the loop into place in the top notch of the bow.
“The draw weight is incredible,” he murmured. “The power of a short-range shot would be huge.” Experimentally, he drew the bow, then slowly released the pressure. “Thankfully, it’s not too much… but I can’t guarantee accuracy.”
Marianna smiled fondly at him. “Practice,” she told him. “You’ll get better, especially once that arm is healed.”
“I hope I don’t have to use it,” Mark said grimly.
Adam wasn’t sure what to think. He was a practical person, and simply accepting his mother’s claim that magic and wizards were real was hard for him, to say the least. He wasn’t sure about the whole ‘hey, let’s go to Liphaeum’ idea, but he supposed it couldn’t hurt. Besides, there could be some truth to what Marianna said. After all, it definitely wasn’t normal to hear someone’s thoughts.
Now I'm getting excited! I want to tell you all everything, but I can't! WHHYYYYY?!?!