Chapter 1 – Rebellion
Stone walls do not a prison make; Nor iron bars a cage.
~ Richard Lovelace ~
The night Charlie was beaten, when we’d been abandoned by everyone but the gods, I was forced back to the Elementalists’ Third and locked in a solitary room. I had tried to follow Uncle Padraig as he half-carried my chosen to Danica’s house of healing, but Sebrina and her coterie had stopped me. When I tried to run, Pollona Morningstar stopped me in my tracks with earth, and Betrys Darkmane bound my limbs with air until I could barely breathe.
That didn’t stop me from screaming at them to release me, all the way back to the Elementalists’ Third. Under cover of darkness they should have been able to secret me away undetected, but when I had done with demanding to be released, I began screaming and swearing at them using the exceedingly foul language that I had picked up while on the road with Charlie. I made such a commotion that the front doors of every single house we passed were thrown open, their inhabitants bursting forth either to protect or defend. Brilliant bursts of spirit magic and great gouts of flame shot into the midnight sky to illuminate the streets so that the grove was lit by flashes of actinic blue and flaming orange.
In my anger and distress, there was still a small part of me that smugly relished the fact that my captors’ progress was slowed by the necessity of stopping to reassure the citizens of the grove. A great many of their faces revealed a righteous distaste of their ArchDruid’s heavy-handed methods. Several even tried to persuade Sebrina to set me free to return to my chosen’s side – Heracles Crawford and Nioba Starseeker among them. Like me, they all shunned any use of violence in the situation – a decision which I later came to regret. At that moment, however, I took pride in my peaceful resistance and in the willingness of my fellow citizens to speak up for me.
Sebrina never attempted to stop and explain, merely barking orders to “Get out of the way” and “Mind your own business!” It was dreadfully rude and disrespectful, but everyone already knew what had been done to my chosen. No one was surprised that I, too, was being taken for punishment. After all, it wasn’t the first time.
Once in the Elementalists’ Third, they carried me onward to Small House and Tiny House. Neither was really a house; both were box-like rooms that had been built for the express purpose of dealing with girls who “misbehaved.” Standing side by side, the two structures could not be more dissimilar. Small House was a tiny room with walls and ceiling of earth. It had no windows or doors. Only an earth elementalist could provide entrance and exit – adequately providing containment for those who wielded fire, water, spirit, or air. Tiny House was constructed of glass cubes filled with water, which only a water elementalist could penetrate – a prison for spirit, air, and earth elementalists.
The ArchDruid and her Tetrarch dragged me into Small House and dumped me onto the floor. Freed of my bonds, I leapt to my feet and bolted for freedom but Pollona had already closed the gap. Howling in rage, I beat my fists against the dirt wall, then summoned as much spirit magic as I could and attacked it with a furious violence. Again and again, bright blue lightning forked from my fingertips, crackling across the walls and ceiling in an attempt to destroy the room.
Physically taxed and out of breath, I ceased my mindless emotional storm and stood in the total darkness with only harsh breathing to keep me company. Tears of frustration burned in my eyes, threatening to turn into all-out bawling. Harshly I scrubbed them away – crying like a little girl would not help my chosen. Nor would it provide me with a means of liberation.
Charlie wouldn’t have given in to anger and fear. He would have reasoned out different methods in which he might address the task before him, trying them out methodically one by one until he had accomplished his goal.
I made myself sit cross-legged on the floor for several minutes, calming myself with deep breathing and quiet meditation. When my heart had ceased its frantic hammering, my thoughts turned to escape once more.
Like my father, the gods had gifted me with the elements of spirit, water, and air – commonly known among druids as a “triple threat.” This prison was designed to keep elementalists like me confined. Spirit magic, my offensive weapon, would not penetrate earth. I had only ever used Air as a shield, or to summon a cooling breeze. Neither of those things were of any use at the moment. Water, however…
My lips twisted with uncertainty. Water could infiltrate these earthen walls – if I had some. I could use the same trick that I’d employed when dueling with Onóra at Mabon – if I had some water, which I did not.
Fear and helplessness bubbled up within me once again, but I combatted them with more deep breaths, thinking back to all the times I had ever used water in a method that had nothing to do with healing the earth or growing plants. The first that came to mind was when I’d been stolen from the caravan by bandits, when I had used water magic first to dehydrate my captor, then drown her by forcing it all into her lungs. I had siphoned water from the air all the way from Jonesboro to White Oak Grove, but collecting it that way would take too long. I had woven water into solid ropes to catch fish, but that would not help me now.
Remembering the fish made me remember how enjoyable it had been to swim in the cool water with Charlie. Only, at that time I only knew him as Davis, because he dislikes his given name so. It made me smile a little to remember how modest he had been, how he’d insisted upon me averting my eyes while he undressed. Of course, I snuck a peek anyway. I couldn’t help myself, reasoning that a mere glance would be quickly forgiven, and perhaps not thought of as terribly forward.
I had been so impatient to claim him for my own – body, soul, and spirit – when we had first met, but his distrustful, standoffish behavior had created a situation in which it would have been entirely inappropriate for me to strip naked and slip into his blankets. He probably would have stabbed me, I thought with a snort. What a prude – but a prude with a sense of honor and loyalty that few of the druids I knew could match.
When Charlie had volunteered to suss out why Missus Hayworth’s fresh water spring had gone bad, he had said that it was so we might have supper and a bed for the night. However, when I saw the single-minded way in which he pursued the investigation, it became obvious to me that he would have done it for nothing, simply because it was the right thing to do.
Until that moment, I’d been so desperate to possess him that I hadn’t taken the time to discover who he really was. Even when he had initially agreed to escort me home, I was still concocting various ways in which I might entice him – to ensnare him, to be perfectly honest – into agreeing to be my chosen warrior.
Uncovering the reason that children had been poisoned by a previously good spring was my first real glimpse into who Davis really was. Without any real consideration, I ceased my plans and schemes and became as dedicated to solving the problem as he was. Together we had tracked the poison to its source, facing down the foul men doing the unthinkable, pouring gallons upon gallons of foul excrement upstream in an effort to drive the Hayworths out so they could claim the lucrative spring water business for their own.
Forgetting in the heat of the moment that I had no spirit to use in an attack and no air with which to shield myself, I had jumped into the stream demanding that they cease and desist. Shock lanced through me when I saw the glint of their knives, the greed of their hands, and the lust in their eyes. Then, standing bold and confident in the stream, the man that I knew only as Davis the Traveler transformed into a courageous protector. The sun set his black hair to shining like a raven’s wing and his eyes of brightest gold blazed with intensity. His copper skin glowed in sharp contrast to the obsidian weapon in his hands that seemed to draw all light into it even as it spit fire and roared like thunder.
I had thought him handsome when we’d first met on the road, but then, as he stood unyielding against the enemies of the earth, I saw him as he truly was – beautiful and terrible, possessed of both fire and darkness, a veritable demigod, sent to be my chosen warrior.
The idea that this was a man for whom I would have to become worthy came as quite a shock, for I had anticipated exactly the opposite. This was not someone who would need training in how to fight and protect – this was a man well versed in both killing and in exercising the wisdom used in making the decision to end another’s life.
Who was I, compared to that? I was nothing more than a little girl who had played at games with magic, who had read book after book on heroic druids, who had spent hours and hours imagining myself following in their footsteps with a chosen warrior who supported and protected me. Compared to this Davis, this Traveler, I was a babe in the wilderness. It was a near-devastating realization. How could I hope to match his strength, his wisdom, or his experience?
And yet, when our enemies had been dispatched and their foulness sent back whence it came, he had turned to me as an equal – a partner – in solving the problem of cleansing the polluted stream. Davis had looked at me with those golden lion-eyes, still glowing from the heat of battle, and had asked if I could fix it – me, an unproven elementalist who had given up spirit and air, foolishly embarking on this trip with only the useless element of water.
Troubled by these thoughts, I had evaded his request at first, but the challenge in his voice and the disappointment in his eyes was more than I could bear. I was terrified of failing and insisted that we move further upstream to buy myself time so that I could relax and summon the magic within. I stood knee-deep in the stream, uniting with the element of water as much as possible. I had no idea what to do, and my fear of appearing a failure and a fraud in his eyes disrupted my concentration for a time.
However, the peaceful sound and soothing feel of the gentle stream calmed my nerves. I had spent little time practicing with water, but there was no way I was going to allow my inexperience to keep me from doing my part. My chosen had no magic, and so the responsibility for repairing this insult to the land lay squarely on my shoulders. I was determined to succeed and refused to allow any further doubt to hold me back.
The gods rewarded me with the roar of rushing whitewater that would have swept us off our feet and away downstream, had it not been for a certain Traveler’s quick thinking. My greatest reward, however, was not the increased flow of water responding to my bidding or the knowledge that the stream would soon be safe again. It was the belief in his eyes and the appreciation – no, the absolute wonder – in his voice, when he told me that not only did he believe I possessed magic, but that water was a good gift to have.
He was right.
Water was a good element to have.
I created a few spirit lights and floated them up to the ceiling of Small House and took a look at my surroundings. I reminded myself that the earth was not my enemy; my cousin Duncan would have felt contented in such a place. This place was a prison only as long as I believed it to be so.
True, there was no stream for me to stand in, but I had been working with Arrie Stoddard on dowsing deep for aquifers and underground streams. She had “shown” me the great network of druid-made aqueducts that carried water all over the grove, without which we would not have had indoor plumbing. True, it was easier to manipulate water if I could touch it, but the task was far from impossible.
Releasing the spirit magic, I closed my eyes and dowsed deep for the nearest aqueduct. It was small, but close. Greeting the water like a friend, I mentally rode its currents, tracing them to ever larger pipelines, all the way to the reservoir.
Feeling giddy, I summoned a thin stream of water from the closest pipe, drawing it until it popped through the ground at my feet. I didn’t bother to light the room again; I could smell the water as well as sense its presence. The thin, snakelike projection wound itself around my fingers and then my wrist. Had it not been for the seriousness of the situation, I would have giggled with glee.
“Set me free,” I said, and sent it to invade the earthen wall.