Wandmaster/C2 Chapter 2 The Journey Begins
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Wandmaster/C2 Chapter 2 The Journey Begins
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C2 Chapter 2 The Journey Begins

John lost count of the number of times he had read William's letter. Its quaint style and air of mystery, which hinted at a journey of discovery for John himself, had caused him discomfort in the beginning, but now when he read the letter, he tried to find more in the words, a clue as to where the journey might lead him; where it might begin. He noticed that these days he had a heightened awareness of atmosphere, a deeper appreciation of his surroundings, of mood, of the world around him, a world which he had never found remarkable before. Was this the journey? Was he waking up to his environment and learning to see himself as a part of it rather than as an island in an indifferent sea? That was positive, he thought; if it was true. He was more at ease at work, in daily communications with his colleagues, in general more cheerful. It could be that his interest in the crystals absorbed him to the point that he didn't have time to analyse his failings, as he saw them, and left him free to just be. Yes, thought John, that was positive, and he smiled as he once again closed the lid of the chest and turned over on his side to sleep. In his dreams he floated through a landscape of suffused light, like the world in eclipse, and he knew he was supposed to be there but didn't know why. He looked around him trying to find someone to ask, but the land was empty of people and desolate, so he wandered on and on till he woke to find himself troubled and unrested in his bed and with a feeling of unfulfilled purpose in his heart.

It was Saturday. The weekly shopping was done and John was free. Usually, he would have attended to some small job in the house or sat down to watch the sport programmes on tv and relaxed, but today he had been for a walk to the park, fed the ducks, watched the squirrels and admired the lush green slopes as he breathed in outdoor air. It had a different quality to the air-conditioned stuff he inhaled at the office or the somewhat stale air of his flat, which was closed up all day when he was at work. He felt good, hungry and refreshed as he unlocked his front door and walked into his hall. He went into the kitchen and prepared a large green salad, cut a piece of cheese and a couple of slices of brown bread and sat down to eat with a large glass of fresh juice to accompany it all. A breeze blew through the open windows and he ate with appetite. Yes, his diet was changing too, and as a result his body felt lighter, more nourished and stronger. His trousers were a little loose these days, but that was good and he was pleased by the changes in his appearance. It wasn't that he had intentionally gone on a health drive, but his body's needs had changed or maybe he was hearing the voice of his body for the first time and responding to needs which had always been there. Whatever the reason, he felt good, increasingly good.

After lunch, John sat in his favourite chair, not in front of the tv, but placed near the large window which overlooked the park opposite. The sun was shining and the curtains moved in a light breeze, which lifted his hair and cooled his face. As usual, the box of crystals sat at his side on a small round table, and John opened it and considered them one at a time. Was there any particular order to their positioning? He had not moved them around, but had he wanted to it would have been difficult, as each indentation seemed to have been individually worked to take the dimensions of its occupant. There were seven of them plus the long thin wand, which was so delicate he avoided handling it for fear of snapping it in two. Working from the right, the first crystal was a dark smoky brown colour, clear, transparent and with internal flaws which gave it the appearance of depth. He picked it up to see it in greater detail. There were strands moving up through the centre of the crystal, some of which branched and moved outwards towards the faces, of which there were six. As the light caught the different facets, individual features came into prominence, like flat platelets deep within the crystal's heart set at varying angles and reflecting the light differently. He was turning it round very slowly, studying it, and as he stared into the centre, he caught just a glimmer of red, flickering like flames, ruby-coloured flames deep within the crystal and he turned it a little to the left or right watching the red colour intensifying and fading like fire.

The crystal had warmed in his hand and the by-now familiar "I am," led John to open his awareness, stretching to reach and connect with the crystal. He felt a pulsation throughout his whole body, flooding through him in a wave. He tried to draw back, found he had his eyes closed now and was unable to open them, but still he saw the crystal before him, the orange-red flames drawing closer as he felt himself being sucked inwards. His ears rang to a resonant chord as he drew closer still and his stomach felt nauseous in his struggle to maintain control, but the attraction was stronger than he was and he lost the battle, feeling himself being drawn away from his view of the park and deeper inward.

The magnetic pull stopped and he found he was standing at one of the faces of the crystal, magnified now to twice his own height and his hands were flat on the dark glassy wall before him. Inside, he could see the red of the flames, but also other undefined movement. He pressed his nose up to the face of the crystal and stood still, trying to distinguish what was causing the movement he could see, but at the same time to gather his wits about him and steady himself. He wanted to pull back and to detach himself from the attraction that was drawing him in further and further. He saw his reflection behind the transparent wall. Two hands touching his two hands, two eyes staring into his. He blinked. The other eyes stared calmly back. In a shock of realization, he knew that the eyes looking back were not his own. Fear took hold of him but there was no help now, the will of the crystal had him completely and he slowly passed through its flat surface and into a shadowy landscape, shimmering darkly and flecked with red, the wall of the crystal now firmly behind him.

Alert and alarmed, he stood perfectly still. He pressed himself back onto the inner face of the wall now behind him hoping it would give way and yield to his desire to pass back through it, but it felt hard and glassy and did not relent. Scarcely daring to breathe, he scanned the area around him and felt he had somehow stepped back into the shady dream world he had been walking of late when he slept. He was alone; perhaps the face he had seen had been a reflection after all and not another person though he was so confused at this point that he didn't know what to think. He desperately hoped he was dreaming and that he would soon wake as he felt trapped and panic was beginning to take hold. He was in a clearing and in the centre of it was a ring of round boulders of roughly even size and shape, in the middle of which were flames of golden red, flickering upwards but making no smoke or smell of burning, and in the tongues of fire which reached upwards, John could detect a second movement, independent of the moving flames, as though there was a human shape within them, standing and looking out. The person was tall and thin and was perfectly at ease in the flames, not burning, but contained within their glow. The features of the man in the fire were not easy to discern but it seemed to John that the eyes were studying him. He stared back and the man raised one hand in salute and then, as if a candle had been blown out, the flames and the man in them were suddenly erased from his view.

John was by now so stunned that he didn't know how to react, and finding the unbelievable to be his only reality for the present, tried to think and take stock of his environment. There was a softly mulled light all around, and air whooshed past him catching leaves in its passage. His eyes adjusted to his new environment and slowly he began to make out the details of his surroundings. A shadowy world of tawny colours and subtle greens surrounded him. The rush of panic he had first felt was now subsiding, to be replaced by a colder fear as the situation he was in showed no signs of proving to be a dream, though the quality of the light around him again reminded him ominously of the dream world he had been pacing recently searching for...... he didn't know what. He was not inclined to leave the wall of the crystal, which felt solid against his back, so he allowed himself to drop to the floor and sit propped up against it. If he just sat there and wished to go back, maybe he would put the process into reverse and find he was home again in his chair asleep in the sun. If this was a dream though, it was a strange one because he felt that he was wide-awake, and he looked down at himself to confirm that his body was intact and saw with a start that his clothing had changed. His head jerked backwards in surprise and hit the flat surface behind him with a thunk, causing sharp pain, but it didn't wake him up. He was wearing a black leather jerkin and light trousers, soft leather shoes on his feet and at his waist was a belt, while across his chest was a kind of halter with different compartments and pockets stitched on to it. On examination, he found the pockets contained articles a hunter might use, a sling and a few smooth stones, a knife, some twine and fine string, and in a long thin section the crystal wand from his chest back home. He drew it out carefully, afraid to break its fragility, but saw that it too had changed. It was darker, stronger, almost metallic in its appearance, and he ran his finger along its smoothness. The pain as it drew dark red blood was real and he swore, looking around for something to wrap around his finger but finding nothing suitable, he sucked at the cut, which fortunately wasn't too long or deep; he had withdrawn his hand at the first sensation of pain, but nonetheless it was bleeding.

"That was foolish," said a voice and John jumped in alarm to see a man of about his own age and build and similarly attired standing just in front of him with his arms folded and a hint of a grin on his face. John was on his feet in an instant, his finger still in his mouth and his eyes wide, but too astonished to reply. He looked around him to see if there were any other people about to spring out of nowhere, and also to see where his new companion had emerged from, realizing that he could have been concealed behind any of the nearby trees and bushes, observing John since his arrival. It occurred to him that he might have been expected, there being no other explanation for the presence of the man in this lonely spot. That thought chilled him and he recalled the figure in the flames watching him, adding fuel to the suspicion that he was not there accidentally, but that he had been brought. Somewhat abruptly John spoke. His voice emerged rather loudly, forced through a throat constricted by fear, and he demanded,

"Who are you?" but the stranger ignored the question.

"Let me see," said the other man and held out his hand.

"It's all right, it's nothing," said John not allowing the other man to touch him.

"A cut with the wand is never ‘nothing'. It won't stop bleeding till you make it," he said calmly.

John gingerly held out his hand and the man put his underneath, palm upwards.

"Use the wand to heal it," he said. "Touch the wound with the tip and tell it to heal."

John was suspicious and disbelieving; he still wasn't sure if what was happening was real but the bleeding was continuing and red drops were falling to the leafy floor. He pointed the wand at the wound and said "Heal," in a shaky voice and saw that the tip of the wand glowed blue for an instant and then shot a sliver of that blue light into the wound. It stopped bleeding and the skin closed as he watched it. The other man removed his hand and surveyed John thoughtfully. There was a silence as the two men studied each other with curiosity.

John eventually spoke again, but his questions tumbled out one on top of the other.

"Where is this place, how did I get here.......... and who are you?"

"Gilladen is my name and I think you know where you are. You also know how you got here."

John thought about the answer. Yes, he did know where he was and how he had got there.

"Inside the crystal!" he said, "One minute I was at home and the next I was here. Am I dreaming?" he asked, looking carefully for the first time at his companion, who had a friendly, rather pale face.

"Have you ever had a dream as real as this?" asked Gilladen.

"No, not like this. I can't wake up from this one."

"Hmmm. Nor will you."

"What!" gasped John, alarmed "Do you mean I'm stuck here?"

"For the present, yes. But come on, we have to leave this place."

"Leave?" bellowed John, "I'm not going anywhere except home! I want to get back through this damned wall!" he insisted, and turned about face, hammering with his fists, slapping with his palms and shouting, "There must be a way out!" Again he pressed his nose up to the crystal face, this time from the inside, seeing nothing but dim shapes. Gilladen turned on his heels and headed off, calling after him, "We can't stay here, it's dangerous. Come on!" John, after protesting and trying once more to get back through the wall without success, called out to the back of the man now walking away,

"Hey, come back! Tell me how to get out of here!" But there was no reply and the man was increasing the distance between them. Not knowing what else to do, John tore himself reluctantly from the wall and followed. When he drew level, he opened his mouth to speak.

"Not now, there will be plenty of time later for questions," said Gilladen before John could utter a word. They picked up their pace and the reluctant adventurer looked around him as they trotted along, assessing and fretting about his predicament. They were in a shadowy forest whose trees were tall with elegant trunks and full leafy tops. The ruby glow had disappeared along with the flames in the clearing and here the sunlight, which filtered through was subdued, as was John himself. The sombre mood of the environment suited his own.

This was no small world. The land of the crystal was expansive and as they emerged from the trees, rocky hills came into view to the west, while a smooth plain opened out to the east. Emerging from the forest, John felt he was leaving behind him his last chance of return and he looked longingly back, trying to memorize the trees, but he knew it was useless. He was not going to be able to get out of this place alone. He needed the aid of his guide, and he wasn't going to get that, at least for the moment, so he had no choice but to co-operate in the hope that he would be able to undo the process which had pulled him into this strange place. They headed towards the hills seeing no other sign of life, and the only sound was the plaintive call of an unfamiliar bird from high up in the treetops now fading away behind them.

At the foot of the hills was a path leading upwards. They turned their footsteps towards it and began to climb, jumping brooks from time to time, which coursed downwards. The pace Gilladen set was steady and fast and John found himself hard-pressed to keep up, but made a determined effort and managed to stay on the heels of his guide. He thought that if this was a dream, then he shouldn't be feeling tired and his feet should not be hurting. In fact, he was now hoping they would soon reach their destination, wherever that was, so he could rest; he didn't know how much longer he could keep going without stopping to recover. At a point some half way up the hill, a wall of flat rock barred their way and John halted, looking at Gilladen for guidance. His companion, who neither halted nor spoke, was making straight for the rock face, so John followed, and when they got up closer, he saw that the rock face was in fact a cleft; one rock face over another further behind it. From a distance, the light and shade made it appear to be one smooth surface, but now he could see that Gilladen was still following a path of sorts, which continued right to the end of the rock face, and then turned behind it so that momentarily his guide disappeared. John hurried to catch up and turned behind the first rock face to find the path continuing deeper into the cleft, high cliffs now on either side of them.

They continued in zig-zags through a rock maze until John was hot and tired and absolutely sure he could not find his way back again alone, having to accept that he was trapped at the whim of the crystal that brought him into its world and the guide who led him deeper. He was musing uncomfortably on this fact when they eventually cleared the last rocks and John found himself staring across a broad plateau, encircled completely by rock walls. He panned the entire plain from his position up on one of its steep sides, and marveled at how tiny everything below him looked. It put him in mind of model villages and toy train landscapes which had fascinated him as a small boy.

At the base of the rock walls were caves, and John could see people, as small as ants, milling around their openings. In the centre of the plateau was a structure, shaped and coloured like the crystal, which had brought him there with smaller replicas joined to it to form an elegant temple-like building of many towers. They started their descent and eventually reached the level of the plain, and as they continued towards the caves, people came out and watched, pointing and talking among themselves. Gilladen marched directly for a large cave opening, outside which stood two tall stone pillars, white and smooth in contrast to the slate grey of the rocks all around. Two armed men stood at the opening, their spears crossed, barring the way.

"Guardian Gilladen brings the Wandmaster," reported Gilladen, halting in salute.

'The who?' thought John 'Is that supposed to be me?'

From behind the crossed spears appeared two more guards, and from within the dark halls behind them, a figure dressed in ornately decorated black leather. He was a strongly built man with thick white shoulder-length hair. He struck his chest with his hand and bowed his head smartly at John.

"Raise your spears," he ordered the guards and then he addressed John, "You are welcome here Wandmaster John Stone, please enter." Gilladen nodded to John to precede him and the guards allowed their passage. John moved stiffly forward, unsmiling and hesitant, and Gilladen introduced him.

"Wandmaster John Stone, I present to you the Chief Guardian, Overseer of Order in the Realm, the Lord Menoneth." Besides still being in a suspended state of comprehension, John was unused to meeting people in authority and was unsure how to respond, so he mumbled a "How do you do," which seemed very inappropriate as soon as he had said it but Lord Menoneth smiled kindly at him and reached to take his hand in greeting.

"Come inside, you must be tired and thirsty after your journey, Gilladen will show you to your quarters where you can wash and rest a while and then we will talk and you must be presented to the Council." With that, Lord Menoneth turned and walked away, followed by his two guards, and Gilladen tapped John's arm, motioning to a side-corridor and led the way along it.

Still in a daze, John followed his guide along the corridor, noting that there were openings in the ceiling of the tunnel allowing light to enter and also alcoves, which glowed softly in the walls creating a warmth and feeling of comfort he would not have expected. After a short walk, they stopped outside a door on the left, which Gilladen opened and then stood back for John to enter. The soft lights were present here too, and they outlined a room, carpeted and complete with bed and dark wooden furniture. There was a homely atmosphere, if somewhat different from his own modern flat, and he relaxed a little as though the room itself had welcomed him home.

"There is a water chamber through that door, and you will find fresh clothing in the closet there," said Gilladen, pointing to a small wooden door in one of the walls of the room and a large carved wardrobe. "I will be back to collect you in about an hour. Rest well friend," Gilladen smiled and left, closing the door behind him.

Alone for the first time since entering the crystal, John heaved a huge sigh and let his voice out of its strangled tension.

"What in all hell is going on?............. What am I going to do?.................. this can't be happening!........ I must have lost my mind or something!" John tried to slap himself awake but he couldn't; he was already awake. He sank down into the comfortable chair and closed his eyes to try to think straight. It just couldn't be real. Is this what madmen felt, he wondered, totally sure that they are sane but trapped in an impossibly insane daydream? After about ten minutes when no amount of pinching or rationalising had changed anything, John got up and went to the water chamber; which he would have called the bathroom. As he opened the door, the sound of running water met him and he saw that his idea of a shower fell far short of what greeted him there. He had his own personal waterfall, spilling out of a source just about head height and filling a rock pool set in the floor. The water tumbled and splashed joyfully and he put his hand in the spray. It was icy cold. He let out a roar when he first got under the stream of water and his breath stuck in his chest, but it refreshed him in no time and he stayed in as long as his flesh would bear before coming out. His w.c. was fed from the constantly running water pouring from the rock pool so there was no need to flush. He was impressed he had to admit.

He dressed in the clean shirt and trousers left for him and put the leather jerkin back on again, surprised at how comfortable it felt. The two belts he left off for the time being and he lie back on the bed to wait for Gilladen to return, his tiredness washed away in the cold sparkling water and also some of his tension. His senses were alert and he tried to accept the here and now and to face the fact that there was nothing he could do to change his current situation, so he would have to come to terms with it. This outlandish adventure was running its course, whether he liked it or not and he was evidently a major participant in it. There was still a chance it was a dream and that he would wake up and find himself asleep in the chair at home, but that seemed to him to be getting less and less likely by the minute. He tried to remember everything that had happened to him in sequence, and closed his eyes to concentrate. He was musing on his cut finger, which had healed so miraculously and the name "Wandmaster" given to him by Gilladen and Lord Menoneth when he heard the door of his room open. Expecting to see Gilladen, he lifted his head and focused on the doorway. There stood a young woman, leather clad in soft brown with a long braid over one shoulder and eyes like pools of dark water, smiling at him studiously. John stared back, pouting in surprise.

"Who are you?" he asked abruptly. He was being rude, he thought, and stood up hurriedly, holding out his hand. "I'm John, John Stone," he completed.

"I know who you are, Wandmaster, John," said a musical voice, "and since you ask, I am Guardian Jazlyn." She took his hand in hers and John 'connected'. He couldn't put it any other way, just like he had with the crystals, a contact somewhere inside, a vibe, an awareness. He looked at her dumbly, still holding her hand and she laughed gently, removing it and smiling warmly.

"Are you rested?" she inquired.

"Yes, thanks," he replied, "And you?" He knew he was tripping over his tongue but had lost his way a little in the darkness of her eyes.

"I had no need of rest," she replied, "My duties were light today."

"Oh. Good," nodded John, not knowing what else to say.

"Mmm," she nodded approvingly. "Shall we go?"

John thought 'Anywhere with you!' But said in his most manly voice "Lead the way...... Jazlyn."

They walked side by side in the dim warm light and John was a happier man. He sneaked as many glances at Jazlyn as was decent and took absolutely no notice of anything else around him. When at last the footsteps at his side paused, he saw that he was at a very large double door, again with two guards outside, crossed spears barring the way.

"Guardian Jazlyn to present the Wandmaster to the Lord Menoneth and the High Council." The guards stood aside and pushed the doors open to allow them to enter. The hall was majestic; tall and sculpted with pillars of stone at the outer walls, while in the centre of the room was an enormous table surrounded by heavy wooden chairs, all of which were occupied, except two, one at the head and one at the foot nearest the door. Jazlyn led him to the vacant chair nearest the door and instructed him to stand until her Lord entered and then she left. He felt very inadequate, but he stared ahead of him resolutely, his heart racing, his mind in turmoil and his legs turning to jelly by the moment. He had never been one for the limelight, in fact, he hated being the centre of attention. Nonetheless, here he was, with all eyes on him, and having no idea what was expected of him or why he was there. It didn't seem like he was going to be treated badly; in fact, everyone seemed to be treading on egg-shells in his presence and calling him "Wandmaster." There had to be a mistake here somewhere and when he got a chance to explain to these people they had got the wrong man, everything would be sorted out and he would be home before he knew it, he comforted himself. A tiny voice at the back of his mind was whispering doubts about the crystals he had received and a certain William Stone, but he was determined not to listen. When Lord Menoneth entered the hall near the head of the table, everyone else rose and in unison chanted "Honour to Lord Menoneth." When Lord Menoneth took his place, they all took their seats. John followed suit, grateful for the support of the chair.

Lord Menoneth, who had remained on his feet, raised his hands for silence.

"Good evening, Council Members. You are all aware of the presence among us of our new Wandmaster, John Stone, and I would like you now to greet him and welcome him to our realm."

"Honour to the Wandmaster," came the chant from all in a single voice.

"Um, no, you seem to have made a mistake," John began, but Lord Menoneth had fixed him with his commanding eyes and said, "You have been formally greeted by the Grand Council of the Realm, Wandmaster John Stone, and a fitting reply is expected." There was a stern note of reprimand, and John felt like a schoolboy caught cheating in a test and felt it wise to be as respectful as he could manage for the time being. He would have his chance to explain later, he hoped. John didn't know the formal reply so he borrowed the greeting and returned it, saying "Honour to my hosts," which seemed appropriate, certainly better than "How do you do" he thought, and sat down again. Lord Menoneth smiled and John assumed he had momentarily avoided Menoneth's displeasure and any consequences that might have followed.

"The Wandmaster comes at a time of peril for our realm when our enemies are striving to create disorder and destruction. He has come to add strength to our struggle against Ataxios, his growing armies and the foul beast, The Akryd, and it is only through the Wandmaster that there will be any hope of our survival."

John listened in alarm. His hair stood on end on his neck and head, and panic was growing with every word Lord Menoneth uttered.

"The Wandmaster must lead us through these evil times with the power of the wand which fate has placed in his possession and we must follow him and support his efforts. We pray that our realm will be spared and that through us, other realms will be able to resist and win through against the evil that also threatens them."

Lord Menoneth was studying John's face closely and was clearly aware of the effect his words were having.

"Wandmaster, I know that you have been brought here from your world against your wishes, and I also know that you had, up to this moment, no idea as to why. One of your blood was aiding our cause, Wandmaster William by name, and he still adds his strength to ours and to yours also. It was he who passed on the burden of the wand to you, but, unprepared even as you are, we ask that you do all in your power to aid us. No-one else can. You are the Wandmaster now and until your passing, the Wandmaster you will remain. You have no choice in this; it is an inevitability you must learn to accept. All of us are dedicated to helping you in any way we can and, in fact, you are the reason we are all living here in this settlement. We have been awaiting your arrival, and we cannot allow you to leave us in these troubled times because you are essential to us and you must understand that if we fail in our task, your world will also feel the consequences." John was in a cold sweat, his head in turmoil, but Lord Menoneth was looking at him, awaiting an answer, as were all the others in the hall, and John knew he had to reply.

He stood up slowly, and his voice was unsteady as he replied.

"Lord Menoneth, I am John Stone, plain and simple John Stone. I have no gifts or talents to offer you and I am here by accident. I can't accept the responsibiility you place on me. I think William Stone must have made a serious mistake in his judgement in choosing me, you see, he never even met me and I strongly advise you to find another 'Wandmaster'. It can't be me. Not only do I not want to be this 'Wandmaster' person, I am not suited or able to be. I would gladly hand over everything my relative left me to someone else. Please help me to return to my world. I can see that you have very difficult times ahead, but don't honestly see how I can be part of them. I am nobody, nobody at all and if the future of your realm or my own world depends on me, then I'm afraid the battle is already lost." John saw anger, disappointment and hopelessness on the faces around the table. Voices muttered, heads shook and John wished with all his heart to wake up in his armchair at that moment, but Lord Menoneth held his eyes.

"You are the Wandmaster, whether you accept it or not. You were chosen through your bloodline and by the previous Wandmaster, and if you can't help us, we are lost. There is no other with your qualities. At the moment, all this is new and unbelievable to you, but in time you will come to see there is no alternative to what fate has decreed. The wand is very powerful and you will learn to use it wisely with practice, but this responsibility cannot be denied or passed on to another. Fate is fate and yours is to be the Wandmaster."

John sat down heavily and said no more. He was unable to take in what was being said and felt hopelessly trapped and unwilling to believe he was anything other than John Stone, a clerk in Prowess and Dibbs in his unexceptional suburban life in the world he had grown up in and knew to be real and substantial. Nothing made sense and he was shaking as he stared at the table in front of him, his hands resting on it, limp and useless. The meeting broke up and John found himself looking into the face of Menoneth standing at his side.

"Sleep tonight, Wandmaster John. Tomorrow we will meet in the temple and you will begin your preparation."

"The sacrificial lamb?" asked John

Menoneth smiled wryly and answered "No, hopefully the ravaging lion."

He felt rather than saw Jazlyn standing behind his chair waiting to take him back to his room, and he rose and went with her. Her presence was comforting but his spirits were very low and he trudged along at her side without speaking or looking at her. She touched his arm before leaving him at the door and whispered

"Bye for now, Wandmaster."

"John," he replied, "just John."

He removed his belts and leather jerkin and lie down between the clean sheets. He had been on his feet all day and should have fallen immediately into a deep sleep but so much had happened that his head was thumping with trying to take it all in. His stomach reminded him that he hadn't eaten either and he knew there was no way he was going to sleep on an empty stomach and an overfull head. He sighed, got out of bed and seated himself in the chair beside the dimly lit alcove. There were no external windows, but from somewhere sweet fresh air was circulating in the room. He closed his eyes and took deep soothing breaths, trying to calm his jangling nerves, and would have succeeded if his stomach hadn't been rumbling so much. He heard a soft knock on the door and he sprang to his feet, his heart racing and his breathing becoming silent as he listened for the next sound. His senses were keen and he was alert. He heard the knock again, and to his surprise, he could feel who it was. A slow smile spread across his face."Jazlyn," he breathed. He moved across the room, opened the door and was not disappointed on two counts.

Food! John gratefully accepted the tray she offered him and said

"I was beginning to think no-one eats around here."

"Oh, we eat Wandmaster," she smiled "and we apologise for keeping you hungry till now, but sometimes the head is clearer on an empty stomach, and Lord Menoneth wanted to hear your thoughts before you broke your fast." Her face was troubled and it was clear she had learned of John's words to the Council.

"I spoke the truth," he said firmly and held her eyes.

"I believe you spoke from the heart, Wandmaster..."

"John," he corrected her.

"John," she said with discomfort. Then in an outburst of feeling, added "But I believe you were not sent to us by accident but by the workings of fate, and you should at least try to believe that because you are so important to us that if you reject your role, fate will be unable to work for us. Do you understand? You will block the workings of fate and we will be thrown into confusion and disorder, which is exactly what Ataxios wants, it's what he's trying to bring about!" She was speaking quickly, as though trying to find the courage to get the words out before she lost her nerve.

"Fate and order don't make good bed-partners in my experience," said John. His analogy struck him as bold in the close proximity of those dark eyes, and he was amazed at his own ease in producing it. "Fate is an unknown, chance-luck series of events, whereas order is papers in a file, records well kept, knowing what comes next, things like that. Chalk and cheese, oil and water, fate and order are completely different."

Jazlyn was staring at him with such intensity that he lost his train of thought; put down the tray he was holding on the table beside the door, reached out and stroked her cheek with his finger.

Her dark eyes widened in surprise

"I must go," she said and drew back out of the doorway.

"Must you?" John probed "It seems to me we wouldn't be lost for topics of conversation and I would welcome some company while I eat." He stood aside and waved a hand into his room, his eyes now burning into hers.

She smiled, a womanish smile, a wonderful smile, but shook her head and looked at him with her head tilted and a twinkle in her eyes.

"I have a feeling Wandmaster John Stone that if I come in, I might find it hard to get out again!"

"Call it fate," teased John, "Didn't you tell me I shouldn't reject what fate puts in my path?"

"Fate," laughed Jazlyn "can wait! Enjoy your meal and goodnight." She was gone and John stared stupidly after her for a while. When he closed the door eventually, he thought about how he had behaved. He had flirted outrageously with her, something he had never done with any woman before. He wasn't sure he had been good at it, but he had made her uncomfortable. He remembered the tilted head and the little smile and he grinned to himself as he took the cover off the tray. There was a chair at the table and he settled down to eat with appetite, bread, cheese, fruit, milk, some green salad; just right for a late supper. Things weren't so bad here after all, he thought, but as the glow of Jazlyn wore off, the words of Menoneth came back again, John's heart sank once more and his fears returned.

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