Damsel Knight Part 1: Chapter Eleven

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Bonnie watches Neven prepare to cast his first magic with her hand firmly on the hilt of a knife. She knows that if it goes wrong, all the swords and the knives in the world won't stop what happens next, but it gives her some comfort. Someone once told her that magic is like standing before Gods and asking them for a favour. You'd best know exactly what you're doing, or they're just as likely to tear you into pieces as grant your request.

He reads through the yellowed page of the book for the tenth time, and then smoothes out the map for the eleventh. The map barely deserves that name at all. Bonnie drew it, as she has more experience with penmanship than Neven, and is the only one of them who has actually seen a map. Still, writing had never been her favourite subject, and her mother hadn't considered it an important subject either. Reading is a fine thing for a highborn woman to learn, to keep themselves quiet and occupied, but writing is for men who can put the letters to good use. So the lines are heavy and scrawled, and in many places the ink is blotched. The parchment is rougher than she's used to which only serves to spread out the ink more.

A small lopsided circle sits in the middle of the page. Above it are the words 'Claudia's house' in messy uneven letters. She's taken care to add in the small shed outside where the witch keeps most of her stores, the wood pile at the back of the house, the small vegetable patch beside it, and the carved rocking chair that sits in the largest patch of sun. She even circled the house carefully, trying to place bushes and trees on her map as they are in life. Everything beyond that is a blank of yellowed parchment. They'd considered adding trees, but didn't want to confuse things by adding trees where there should be a clearing, and clearings where there should be trees. The spell says the more accurate the map, the more accurate the location given, but this should serve to give them an approximate direction.

He holds his hand out to Bonnie, and grudgingly she presses the hilt of the knife into his palm. She feels weaker without it, despite the weight of the sword on her back and the charred shield on her shoulder.

Neven shifts as if the bag on his back weighs a lot heavier than when they were running through the forest. Nether of them speak of it, but both are kitted with everything they had before the old woman found them, and everything they need to leave her. Bonnie knows Neven would rather stay. For whatever reason, he trusts the witch, and magic lets him dream a life beyond taking over his father's farm and scraping by on what small portion of his hard earned money the King doesn't take as tax.

She understands the lure of dreams. Farming is good honest work, and she doesn't doubt many a man can live a happy life with a spade in one hand, and seeds in the other, but she also doesn't doubt that Neven is not such a man. He's too curious, always wondering how things work, what he can do to transform metal and wood into creations up until then only alive in his imagination.

The druids might not take him at his age, but watching him, she resolves to use the gold earned from avenging her parents to persuade them to try.

Neven squeezes his eyes shut and draws the knife quickly over the ball of his thumb. The knife clatters on the table, and he stares at the blood welling up with a grey face. He swallows like he might throw up. "You can get this sickness from being cut by old metal. A poisoning of the blood. It draws up all your muscles tight, and your jaw locks shut. In the end you starve to death."

"The knife is clean," Bonnie says, picking it up and wiping it off on her shirt before slipping it onto her belt. "You're not poisoned."

Neven gives a slow nod, still staring at his thumb. Eventually he shakes off whatever thoughts haunt him, and turns back to the book. Holding his thumb over the map he begins to chant. The words are gibberish to Bonnie. Some long dead language that sounds sweet even on Neven's halting tongue.

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