Frej Wasastjerna


     The nomads were still too far away for any details to be seen without magic. Nonetheless it was clear that they were an armed band, not a tribe on the move.

     That might not be so bad if the Kerren tribe, whose territory this was, were hospitable. However, their eastern neighbors, the Magrauen, had warned the expedition that the Kerren didn't like strangers and sometimes killed and plundered them.

     Moreover, there must have been at least sixty of those nomads. The White Order had been able to spare only four wizards and twenty soldiers for the expedition it had sent to explore the western lands. Only Kelevrin, the leader of the expedition, was a master wizard.

     And now Kelevrin had said that he had to try to negotiate with the nomads.

     Radeyann, a twenty‑three‑year‑old journeyman wizard, didn't like this situation at all. As the second most senior wizard, he had been ordered to take the rest of the expedition northwest while Kelevrin rode southwest to meet the nomads.

     He fretted as his superior rode into danger. Kelevrin was far more than a mentor to him, more like a foster father. When Radeyann had come to the Order's headquarters at Miann‑Shadalni for training at the age of nine, after a  talent scout had found him in his home village, he had been excited but very, very lonely. Worse, the other children scorned him. Most of them were Tshezz, with a few other ethnic groups represented as well. All of them looked down on the Kahha, considering them to be no good for anything except tilling the soil ‑‑ at best. Without the support of Kelevrin, a Tshezz himself but unprejudiced, Radeyann might not have survived.

     He decided that he needed to see in detail what happened to Kelevrin. That required a Farsight spell. Casting spells on horseback tended to be somewhat more difficult than doing it on foot, but not very much more so, and this was an easy spell. He gestured the rest of the expedition to continue while he dropped back, then he let his horse Whitejaw slow down.

     Next he drew a deep breath and cleared his head of extraneous thoughts, concentrating on the idea of vision ‑‑ on the concept of seeing things at a distance, clearly and in detail. He raised his hands above his head with his fingers extended, then brought them sideways and down, feeling uruop, magical energy, flow into him. He spoke an incantation and moved his hands in the passes required to shape the uruop into the proper spell, then touched his hands to his eyes.

     He let Whitejaw turn left and stop, so that he could look south, where Kelevrin and the nomads were approaching each other.

     He gasped. The nomads had nocked arrows and drawn the shafts as far back as their small but powerful bows allowed, then they let fly. Almost all the arrows hit Kelevrin, who slumped in his saddle and fell to the ground.

     Then the Kerren turned towards the expedition and spurred their horses to a trot.

     Radeyann felt sick. For a moment he couldn't decide what to do, torn between the twin responsibilities of commanding the expedition and trying to save Kelevrin, if he wasn't dead already. What he really would have wanted to do would have been to save Kelevrin and let the expedition take care of itself, but duty required him to do otherwise. Anyway, there was little chance that Kelevrin could be saved.

      He spurred Whitejaw towards the expedition and shouted  "They shot Kelevrin", gesturing northward, away from the nomads. The expedition's horses began trotting northward.

      The expedition would be able to stay out of range of the nomads for a while, so now he had a little time to think. The shock of Kelevrin's death and his dismay at suddenly having been saddled with the responsibility of leading the expedition in a life-and-death crisis gave him stomach cramps, but he had to ignore that and figure out what to do.


     Best not to gallop. The horses would tire soon enough even at a trot. The expedition's horses were bigger and faster than those of the nomads but had far less endurance. The nomads were about a mile behind right now, and initially the distance would increase. However, after a while the expedition would have to slow down to rest its horses, but the steppe ponies of the nomads would just keep on coming. It was necessary to either shake off or fight off the nomads somehow.

     Shaking them off didn't seem like a promising idea. The tree‑less semi‑desert, with no vegetation apart from sparse tufts of grass, offered no place to hide. Fighting them off wouldn't be easy either, they outnumbered the expedition badly.

      Still, it might be possible. One weakness of the nomads was that they rarely had sorcerers worth anything. A member of the White Order, even one as young as Radeyann, might well outmatch anything the nomads had.

     Besides, he itched for vengeance. Kelevrin had been like a father to Radeyann. Now he had died -‑ if he really was dead -‑ before he had actually fathered any children. When the expedition returned to Miann‑Shadalni he would at last have been allowed to retire from active wizardry and marry. He had even agreed with three of the young female students in the Order that they would become his wives, but now they would have to find somebody else. Well, that would be no problem for them, but Radeyann suspected that Kelevrin would have made a better husband than most men.

     So what could one half‑trained wizard, two almost untrained ones and twenty soldiers do against maybe sixty or seventy well‑armed nomads?

     Letting the soldiers fight would not be a good idea. They might be somewhat better trained and armed than the nomads, but not enough to compensate for the disparity in numbers. It was necessary to use magic.

     Radeyann shouted to Beredan, the older of the apprentice wizards, to take command if he got killed himself, then he reined in Whitejaw and turned to face the enemy. He would have to use some spell that would kill more than one nomad. The only such spell he had was a fireball spell, and he had to get much closer to use it.

     While Whitejaw panted, Radeyann prepared a fireball spell. At best it might kill about ten nomads, and he wouldn't be able to cast it more than twice or thrice before he was too exhausted to go on, but maybe one fireball would scare off the pursuers. If not, then two or three would at least even the odds substantially.

     Sitting astride a stationary horse rather than a moving one, Radeyann could cast that spell rather quickly, so by the time the nomads were some three hundred yards distant he had the fireball ready and let fly. The range was still long enough that the fireball would be rather weak when it hit, but if he had waited longer he would have been well within range of the nomads' compound bows. As soon as the ball was on its way, he turned Whitejaw around and told her to go. He looked backward, however, to see how well the fireball worked.

     It flew straight and true, right at the center of the clump of nomads, who didn't even try to evade it. Then, just before it reached its target, it splattered.

     For a moment Radeyann wasn't sure whether it had worked properly or not. It was supposed to burst right among the nomads, burning everyone within ten or twenty yards. After a moment he saw that none of the nomads had been hurt. He must have been right when he got the impression that it burst in front of them as if it had hit an invisible wall.

     Gritting his teeth in anger, he spurred Whitejaw to a gallop to get away from the arrows falling just behind him. A few even fell beside him, but fortunately they went wide. Just shooting arrows that far was impressive, actually hitting him would have been a matter of luck.

     As Whitejaw carried him out of archery range, he concluded that the nomads must have some kind of ward against magic, maybe protective amulets. Whatever they had, it was enough to protect them from the likes of him, though possibly a really powerful wizard might have been able to penetrate that protection.

     What to do now? With the nomads protected against magic, fighting them seemed even less of a good idea than before. But how to escape them?

     First, however, he had to check whether Kelevrin was alive or dead. If he was dead, there was at least no need to save him. Then Radeyann could concentrate on one impossible task rather than needing to accomplish two.

     He was already tired after having cast the fireball spell, but fortunately he had so many things that had been given to him by Kelevrin that using a Find Person or Object spell to find out whether their former owner was alive was easy, even on a galloping horse.

     No trace of a response. Kelevrin was definitely dead. It was a bit shameful to feel relieved at that, but, after all, there was no way he could have been rescued. He was really better off this way.

     All right, how could Radeyann save the expedition? An invisibility spell would have been useful, but nobody in the Order knew one. Besides, the tracks left by the horses would have been easy to follow even if the expedition itself had been invisible.

     Whitejaw was a strong and speedy horse and had rested for a short while, so she was catching up with the expedition. Radeyann and Whitejaw were now only some fifty yards behind the last members of the expedition, with the nomads about half a mile behind.

     Radeyann coughed. More seriously, the dust kicked up by the horses in front was bothering Whitejaw as well. Radeyann reined in Whitejaw to a trot and steered her a little to the left, to windward. That way they would get out of the worst of that damned dust.

     Damned? Well, maybe not...

     He shouted to the expedition to bunch together so that they could all touch each other. Then he joined the others, riding close enough to touch Kalen's left knee with his right, and began to cast a new spell. Fortunately it was again a fairly easy one, though he would have to sustain it for quite a while.

     By the time he was ready, the nomads were little more than a quarter of a mile behind the expedition's tiring horses. This spell worked rather gradually, so it took a little while for the wind to pick up. But soon the air was full of sand, driven by a northerly gale. It was getting difficult to breathe. Radeyann took a scarf from his left saddlebag and tied it about his face. Whitejaw would just have to manage as best she could, at least for a while. More welcome, it was also difficult to see anything. Even looking sideways one couldn't see much farther than maybe forty or fifty yards. Anybody looking forward would have got his eyes full of sand in a moment. Now it was time to turn either right or left to shake off the nomads.

     Which direction should he choose? When it had first sighted the nomads, the expedition had been heading west, toward the fabled land of Halann. It had then turned north‑west to keep its distance from the nomads in the south‑west, while Kelevrin approached them to talk. Presumably the nomads would either expect the expedition to keep going north or to turn west. Then the best thing to do would be to turn east, even though that meant getting farther away from their objective and having farther to go across Kerren lands if they decided to continue. "Turn right! Head east!" Radeyann shouted, hoping that all members of the expedition would hear but none of the nomads would, or that, if any nomads heard the shout, they wouldn't understand Tshezz.

     After a while, Radeyann decided that the expedition was probably far enough east of its previous track that it could pause, so he called a halt. The horses were provided with masks over their muzzles to protect them from the worst of the sand, then the expedition mounted again and went on eastward. It kept moving for the rest of the day.

     No nomads showed up. When it was finally dark enough for the night to hide the expedition from the nomads without help from the sand storm, Radeyann let the spell lapse. He croaked rather than shouted an order to halt, and slid down from his saddle, almost collapsing from weariness after having maintained the wind spell for hours. Without a spell to keep it blowing, the wind gradually faded.

     He really should have supervised the expedition while it made camp, but he was far too tired. He began to unfasten his  sleeping bag from Whitejaw, but before he could finish that he slumped down and lost consciousness.


     When he woke up he was lying in his sleeping bag, surrounded by his tent. Daylight was seeping in through the tent walls.

     For a moment he just lay there, enjoying his rest. Then he remembered the preceding day's events. He threw open his sleeping bag and ran out of the tent. "Is everybody present? Did anybody get lost in the sandstorm?" he shouted.

     Beredan turned towards him. "Kenavik and Hedral got lost, but Garak found them with a Find Person or Object spell and guided them here. Everybody, except of course Kelevrin, is present and accounted for."

     Except, of course, Kelevrin... Those words hit Radeyann like an arrow, emphasizing his loss. Even so, the apprentice wizards had done a good job. He told them so. They smiled, pleased at his praise.


     That day the expedition rode north. The next day it turned west. After three days it had left the Kerren lands behind with no further encounters.