Creative / Prose

Hero


Title: Hero
Author: Julianna Coleman
Rating: G
Genre: Fantasy
Summary: The wizard keeps turning up and asking questions she’s not sure how to answer.

Hero

She notices the wizard following her about four months after her sixteenth birthday, when she is in the middle of fighting a dragon.

“What are you doing?”

Swish, slash, stab, a blow that takes off one wing and its head in the same stroke, and she answers the gray-robed old man curtly as she wipes her sword on the grass. “Fighting. What does it look like I’m doing?”

He just considers her calmly. “Why are you fighting?”

She sheathes her sword without answering, and when she turns, he is gone. But his question remains: Why are you fighting?

When he turns up again three weeks later, she has an answer. Hanging exhausted from both hands halfway up a cliff, she notices him standing sideways on the stone. He says nothing, but she already knows his question.

“I’m fighting because I’m—” A gasp as one hand slips and she’s hanging sideways as well. The wizard does nothing as she scrabbles to regain her footing. She pants for a moment, just hanging there, and looks up at him. “I’m on a quest.”

Eyes gray as his robes meet hers. “Why are you on a quest?” Her hand slips again and he vanishes before she can get back to solid ground.

Two days later, after she’s battled her way to the castle of the evil lord the local peasants told her about, the wizard finds her in the rooms she has been ever-so-graciously granted after finding that said lord is guilty of nothing more than taxing said peasants just as much as they deserved. The wizard cocks his head at the chains that bind her arms and ankles to the gray stone walls of the prison, and she laughs.

“Once upon a time, an ancestor of mine liked questing so much that a wizard cursed him to search for quests forever, never to return home again. He lived a hundred years and never found someone who could take the curse off, so it just passed to his descendants. I’m the eldest, so I get to go questing for the rest of my life.”

Only silence answers her as the wizard just looks at her. Eventually, tired of his constant study, she coughs. “Well?”

“Why was he cursed?”

As she opens her mouth, the wizard dissolves and she is once again alone.

After escaping the dungeon of the not-evil-but-also-definitely-not-stupid lord who found all of her lock picks except the set hidden in her shirt hem, she considers the answer that she had almost given the wizard. It’s not the right one, she realizes, and wonders when she’ll see him again so she can tell him.

An hour later, when she is captured and sentenced to death for killing a prison guard while trying to steal back her possessions, the wizard shows up on the steps of the gallows. The executioner blanches and moves to defend himself, but she just looks into the now-familiar gray eyes.

“My ancestor was cursed because he scorned the wizard by being too stubborn and prideful to ask for help.” She takes a deep breath and prepares to undo centuries of tradition. “Will you help me, please?”

He smiles, at last, the first expression she has seen on that lined and wrinkled face, and lifts his hand. At once, she is standing at the front gate of her own dear home, and the heavy weight of the geas she has felt pressing on her since birth is gone. As she collapses in joy and relief against the warm stone of the place she never thought she’d see again, her wizard’s voice echoes on the wind.

“My dear, all you ever had to do was ask.”

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