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The Banished of Muirwood

By:Jeff Wheeler

CHAPTER ONE

Kystrel

Maia watched from the window seat as Chancellor Walraven’s eyes turned silver. The councillor reposed on a stiff wooden bench against the wall, lanky and relaxed, his aging body covered in the black cassock of the Dochte Mandar. Incongruously, he wore brown leather clogs over his dark stockings. A golden tome sat open in his lap, and one of his hands stroked the gleaming aurichalcum page; the other hand rested crosswise against his breast, just under the kystrel that hung from a chain around his neck. His wispy gray hair was askew, and a thin trimmed beard adorned his jaw.

As he invoked the magic of the kystrel, whispers of the Medium swept through the tower cell and filled the turret. Maia felt a shudder shoot through her, the sensation tinged with excitement and fear. Every time she watched him use the kystrel, that same nervous feeling squirmed to life as she stared into his glowing eyes. His gaze was fixed on the corner of the turret, where several books bound in leather had been stacked haphazardly. Aisles and aisles of books, tomes, chests, and urns cluttered the circular space. The only window in the tower was above her seat, and she could feel the dusky light bathe her small shoulders as she looked on with utter fascination.

Maia was nine years old and she was a princess of Comoros, the only child of her parents. On her name day, she had been bequeathed the name Marciana after a distant ancestor related to her Family, but her father had taken to calling her Maia, and it had not bothered her in the least.

Scuttling noises sounded from the stairwell. Maia shivered involuntarily and kept her legs tucked tightly underneath her, despite the pinpricks of pain that shot down to her ankles from staying in the same position for so long. She gazed in wonder as the first arrival appeared from behind a worn leather book, drawn forth by the kystrel’s magic. Dark beady eyes and twitching whiskers announced the arrival of the mouse. Then another appeared. And another.

As Chancellor Walraven sat idly, absently stroking the tome, the rodents began to flood the turret floor. The air jittered with squeaks and rustling as the mice began to file toward the chancellor, sniffling around him as if he were a piece of sweetmeat. Soon the floor writhed with gray fur and twitching pink ears. The feeling of power lingered in the air, thick and palpable, and the chancellor’s silver eyes focused on the doorway, his expression weary yet firm. He shifted on the bench, and the wood groaned softly beneath him.

“Do you sense the Medium, Maia?” he asked her in a soft voice. “Do you feel its power holding them in thrall?”

“Yes,” Maia answered in a hushed voice, the hairs on the back of her neck prickling. Part of her feared that some of the mice would leap up onto the window seat, but she knew that she needed to control her fear or else they would. She sat stone stiff, eyes watching the mass of mice in fascination.

“The mice must obey the summons from the kystrel. They cannot help themselves. They are drawn to it. They cannot think right now. All they can do is feel. If I asked you to open the window, I could fill them with fear and make them rush off the edge and plunge to their deaths. And they would, Maia. They would.”

“Kara Cook would thank you for it,” Maia said, a twinkle in her eye. She shuddered with revulsion at the teeming mass that only continued to grow. A few rats began to appear, their whiskers even longer, their front teeth like saws.

The feeling in the chamber began to ebb as if it were water draining from a tub. As the Medium dispersed, the spell broke. The mice and rats scrambled with chaos and fled the turret down the steps, cascading over each other like pond waves. Maia started when several tried to leap onto her lap, but she shooed them back into the avalanche.

Maia tried to calm herself, touching first her heart and then the jeweled choker around her neck. She gulped down huge breaths of air, waiting for her nerves to calm.

“To use the Medium, one must be able to control their thoughts and emotions,” the chancellor said. He shook his head. “You are not ready yet, Maia.”

A pang of disappointment stabbed her, and she tried not to grimace. “Not yet?”

He scratched his cropped whiskers, making a scratching sound. “You are still young, Maia. Years of turbulent emotions lay ahead of you. Wait until you are say . . . thirteen, hmmm? Turbulent emotions aplenty then! No, I will let you read the tomes, even though it is forbidden, but I cannot trust you with a kystrel until you are much older. The old Dochte Mandar failed because they used the kystrels’ power unwisely. The maston tomes have taught us the proper way to use the Medium, and we must ensure that kystrels are only wielded by those who will not abuse them, whether intentionally or not. You, my dear, are not yet ready.”

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