Welcome along to the start of a new series and a new world! The Mages of Royas Bay (Book 1 of the Mages of Wrystan series) is another high fantasy world, but with magic, mages and mage-beasts. It also has knights, witches and other interesting things thrown in along the way.
I used to class it as MG, since the characters are a little young for YA. However, as you’ll see by the end of this chapter, things are a little dark at times, so I’ll say it’s teen fantasy and leave it at that.
As this is a bit shorter than the Wingborn books, updates will be Fridays only, unless I feel the need to speed things up. More information can be found on the Serial page. Hope you enjoy it!
SOMETHING WAS WRONG. Hawk stood on the knoll above camp and stared out across the forest. He’d felt uneasy since their second day amongst the trees. It was too quiet here, too dark. Every direction looked the same; the thick carpet of pine needles muffling every sound.
Hawk tried to shake the feeling off, thinking himself paranoid. He hated being shut in, and this forest seemed to close in further every night. Over the last three days the feeling of wrongness had grown and Hawk was starting to believe it had nothing to do with the trees.
“Do you know, Cyrus?” he murmured to the slate-grey sparrowhawk drifting on the wind before him, its underside a bright, vivid orange. “What’s wrong with this place?”
Holding out his arm, Hawk waited for the familiar thud of sparrowhawk on glove before looking down. Squad Leader Ren peered up at him.
“It’s Irissa, milord. She senses something.”
As he skidded down the slope, Hawk wondered who Irissa was. Then he remembered. It wasn’t that hard. There were only two ladies in the camp and one was a carrot-headed ball of mischief known to all as Lady Sid.
Which left the witch. Hawk grimaced as his feet slipped and he skinned his palm on the sapling he’d been holding onto. Cyrus took off in a flurry of angry feathers, and Hawk reached the bottom of the slope in a shower of pebbles, leaves and curses. Just about keeping his feet, he took a moment to gather himself, while Cyrus landed on his shoulder with a reproachful thud.
Ren was waiting with the witch, both keeping their faces carefully blank. For all that Hawk was just fourteen years old he was a lord and a mage-page, which meant he outranked all the men here. The fact that they’d come from his father’s lands, travelling to Royas Bay to further their guard training, meant they also owed Hawk their allegiance.
It made him uncomfortable. He didn’t want their respect because of his father, he wanted it because he’d earned it. Tumbling down a slope like a scrubby school boy and gaining a handful of splinters was not the way to do it.
Happy for an excuse to look away, Hawk swiped the dirt from his tunic and breeches. “See the kind of training you’ll get in the city, Ren?” he joked, despite his embarrassment. “Isn’t that worth coming all this way for?”
The squad leader grinned and looked like he wanted to ruffle Hawk’s hair, though he didn’t quite dare. For which Hawk was grateful.
“You should’ve stuck around the Ridge, milord,” Ren chuckled. “Our lads climb like squirrels.”
Hawk smiled, knowing he’d missed out on a lot by spending the last four years in the city. Except staying at home in the mountains of Gunnis Ridge wouldn’t have taught him how to become a knight or a mage, nor would it have befriended him with lords and princes. Still, he did wish he could climb better.
The chuckles faded as Hawk felt a touch on his sore hand. Looking down, he barely withheld a flinch. Witches and mages did not get on. There was too much history there, all of it bad, much of it deadly. Witches hated mages, claiming they stole the most powerful witches away by giving them mage-beasts and contaminating their powers. Mages thought all witches were spies and rebels, spreading trouble wherever they went.
Gunnis Ridge was no stranger to witches, but even growing up Hawk had felt the prejudice. It was only natural in a family where his great-aunt, one of his uncles and his own mother were mages. Yet the ordinary folk trusted witches and went to them for healing, charms and childbirth. Hawk had grown up knowing that witches were helpful and approachable, while mages were often too intimidating to be bothered with everyday troubles.
Then he moved to the city where witches did not go, because they hated being cut off from the earth, trees and sky. Hawk had fought against the prejudice he found there, but it was difficult and it was all he could do not to yank his hand away and hiss at the woman.
Irissa. He should have learned her name before; they’d been travelling together for two weeks.
She touched his hand warily, sensing his dislike and sharing it. However, she was a witch and witches healed. She prodded the largest splinter and shook her head. “You’ll have to dig these out, my lord. They’ll get infected else.”
Hawk eased his hand away and nodded. “I’ll see to it. Thank you.”
“I’ll give you a herb wash,” she added reluctantly. “That’ll sort out any bad juices.”
Hawk smiled politely. He was a healer mage-in-training and could take care of any infection himself, but had too many manners to say so. She was trying and so must he. Ren looked on with a big smile, certain that witch and mage were getting along like old friends. Which was important to Ren since the witch was his sweetheart, and he was the only reason she was going near the city at all, while the mage was his special charge.
The sparrowhawk on Hawk’s shoulder ruffled his feathers, reminding him why he’d come down from the knoll. “You said you sensed something?” he asked Irissa.
She was staring at Cyrus, unable to hide her disgust at what witches called the unnatural bond between a mage and his beast. To Hawk it was the most natural thing in the world. One day he’d found a sparrowhawk chick squawking on the forest floor and felt compelled to pick it up. When he touched it – click – his magic came to life. It wasn’t forced, it wasn’t painful, it was all and everything.
Even so, he tucked his hands behind his back while the golden light of his magic went to work pushing out splinters and burning away any infection.
Shifting uncomfortably, Ren gave Irissa a nudge. “Tell Lord Hawk what you told me.”
The witch blinked and looked away from Cyrus. “Something stirs in the forest, my lord. Something restless and dark hiding in the trees.”
So he wasn’t just paranoid. “How long have you felt this?”
“Since our second day here,” she replied, and when Ren started anxiously twisting his hands because she hadn’t spoken up before, she gave a small smile. “They weren’t so close then. I thought we’d not meet them.”
“I’ve felt them too.” Hawk nodded. “I thought it was just the trees getting to me.”
The witch blinked, astonished that anyone could not like giant pines towering over them, blocking out the sky. “You’ve been too long from home.”
He didn’t disagree, though he’d never been fond of the forests around Gunnis Ridge. The mountains had been his refuge; high up amongst the rocks with the world laid out before his feet. That was freedom. That was the home he missed. “Who are they, do you know?”
“No, my lord.” The witch seemed frustrated by her lack of knowledge. “They’re all dark. I can’t see them. Only their purpose shines out, oily slick and filthy.”
“Why you, my lord.” She stared at him as if it should have been obvious. “You and the girl. They want your magic, and they plan to steal your mage-beasts to get it.”
~ Next Chapter ~
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