When I was born, a clever mage, who was also my mother, made for me a triptych: three panels, attached in a row by hinges, depicting paintings of our home. The middle panel depicted our capital city, where we lived. The left panel depicted my mother, her hands raised as if in the casting of a spell. The right panel depicted the Arx, the great tower of knowledge where mages learned their trade. The flanking panels were each half the width of the middle one, so they could be folded inward, and the image could be hidden. And strangely, my mother had built a lock into the triptych. Once folded, the triptych could be secured. I did not know why it would need to be locked. There were no secret or blasphemous things depicted in the paintings, as far as I knew.
The king is the hound and the hound is the king.
The feasters come and eat, but they don’t suspect a thing.
It’s a feast like none they’ve seen, a spectacular repast.
They never e’er suspect that the meal will be their last.
“There is no cure,” the baker said as she peered into the mage’s eyes.
I found it when I was doing my yearly “let’s look through all my stuff and see what I still care about and what I can let go.” Such a mundane activity. So, fathomable. I stopped to reminisce about a few of the photos, journals, letters and the like. There were some precious items that were worn from over three decades of existence and yet were keepers. And some items that I couldn’t remember why I’d kept and that I gladly put in the donate-or-recycle pile. But then, tucked away in a black briefcase bag I was clearing out for donation, I found a dried out stick. My lucky stick.
There were five great mages from the House of Frogs who mastered magic that they used to serve their fellow humans. Their House was named for the animal their founders chose as their totem. The reason was long forgotten by the time these five mages came to be. They too used totems to perform their magic sometimes. Sometimes they would even give the totems to people afterward as tokens of remembrance or good luck. And some believed a bit of magic remained in those totems.
Not long ago, there was a rich land ruled by an assembly of three known as a Triarch. Always there were three. One had a claim of blood. One was chosen by the people of the land. And one was selected by the other two. But all had to prove themselves worthy. All had to prove victorious, both standing alone and standing together, in a contest devised by a king who feared that his realm would pass to an unworthy heir.
“You’re almost there. Keep going!”
Sola heeded her leader’s words and resisted looking behind her as she charged down the hallway of the castle’s central tower. She ignored the flashes of reddish light that illuminated the hallway behind her. She felt the claws of the dayhawk on her shoulder dig in tighter, just as her boots had dug into his flanks when she had been riding atop him. He flapped his sun-yellow wings, but thankfully did not cry out. The potion that protected Sola from the dayhawk’s strident call had worn off only moments ago. She nearly blacked out when he screamed at the guards that confronted them when they landed on the bridge that led into the tower.
Those guards should have been distracted away. Too much had gone wrong once they had reached the central tower of the castle. If she didn’t know any better, Sola would have wondered if their enemy had been warned. But she did know better. Their enemy was just that daunting.