Secrets of the Sorcerers, Chapter 1

by Joan Marie Verba

Secrets of the Sorcerers cover

Part I: The Revenge Quest

Chapter 1

Having a wedding in a palace full of frozen bodies was not the idea of High Sorcerer Marlys, but that is what the couples asked for, so she consented.

Looking around the otherwise empty audience room, she could appreciate the reason for choosing this location. The palace fortress had exquisite stained glass windows, the walls were of the finest marble, the floor had been set with the finest tile. The ceiling was high, the room was airy. Light of many colors streamed in.

Even the frozen bodies added a decorative touch. Not that they were literally frozen. Marlys had suspended them in time twelve years ago. They remained alive. If she released them, their lives would go on.

For now, they stood as they had for twelve years. Sorcerers all. Dressed in their finery. Tir had adorned them with garlands for the occasion. An outsider might have mistaken them for statues.

The sorcerers and apprentices began streaming in, chatting merrily. Women all, except for Tir. Only a small number of women could generate or use magic, or so it had been thought. Of those women who could use magic, most did not progress beyond household spells. Becoming a sorcerer required training, and talent.

Then came Tir. He was assigned female at birth. He insisted he was a boy as soon as he grew old enough to speak his truth. From then on, he lived happily as a boy in his community. When Tir reached a certain age, his family brought him to Marlys and her assembly for his transition. Spells to alter the appearance of a body were well-known and numerous. Transition spells also required changes to the inner workings of the body. None of them had cast a transition spell before, but they consulted their library of spell books, and, after seeing nothing helpful there, made a search of the fortress. Sorcerers in ancient days had simply written spells on parchment and secreted them anywhere that seemed to be a secure hiding place. Eventually, they found the spells they needed placed within walls of the deepest and least visited levels of the fortress, under spell lock which had to be sorcerously broken. As a result, Tir transitioned into the young man he was destined to be. Since he had demonstrated the ability to use household spells, they invited him to come back when he reached the age of apprenticeship. Upon returning, he completed the training and became a sorcerer himself, celebrated by all.

Watching the to-be-married couples, Marlys reflected that marriage, too, had been a change. Sorcerers had been known to be largely uninterested in coupling since ancient times, although, every once in a while, the sorcerous community would hear of a secret dalliance among them. Although unusual, this was not considered scandalous. But after freezing her former colleagues in time, Marlys had discovered that celibacy had been placed upon her—and every other apprentice—by spell without her knowing when she had arrived to be trained. When she had her own apprentices to train, she did not use that spell. As a result, many still chose to remain celibate, as she had, but others had chosen to marry openly. The first marriages were sorcerer to sorcerer, woman to woman. Recently, Marlys had officiated at weddings with women sorcerers and (non-magical) men. None of the sorcerers' ability to use magic, or do their work, had been affected in the least. Marlys could not help but wonder why the celibacy spell had ever been used in the first place. This was one of the questions she had in mind to ask High Sorcerer Thorne if Marlys ever released her from the time-spell.

Everyone at the gathering was younger than Marlys, who became High Sorcerer for the region by default in the absence of Thorne. Once Marlys had frozen her colleagues in time, she was the only sorcerer in the region. Those times had been hard for her. Many tasks required the skills of a sorcerer—binding mortal wounds, repelling intruding behemoths, and everything else a sorcerer was expected to do for her region. She had been forced to find apprentices, and quickly. Marlys had been able to find enough eager young people with the ability and willingness to become sorcerers. But training took time. The apprentices could perform simple household spells, but to do more complex spells needed sorcery.

That was the heart of the matter. High Sorcerer Thorne continued a tradition that had been around for ages and in just about every region, which presumed that in order to progress from performing simple spells to the complex magical tasks of sorcery, cruelty was necessary. Punishment was necessary. Torture was necessary. Marlys had nearly died several times when her fellow apprentices had abused her, supposedly to bring out her sorcerous powers. None of that had worked. Instead, she became a sorcerer, and a powerful one, just from desperately trying to free herself from a clutching bog. The experience had been tremendously painful. But no cruelty had been involved. Once she had demonstrated her skills to High Sorcerer Thorne and the other sorcerers and apprentices on these very grounds, they had accepted her into their ranks as a sorcerer. Afterwards, they had congratulated themselves on making Marlys's training as excruciating as possible, telling her this was lamentable but necessary.

That was all Marlys could take. Having taken a binding oath that she would not harm a fellow sorcerer or apprentice on penalty of death, she could not take revenge and harm them, and she had no desire to do so. Instead, she froze time around the entire group and walked away. Since no one but the spell caster could undo a time-binding spell, she felt secure in the knowledge that they would stay there indefinitely, until she felt it was safe to release them…or until she died.

From time to time, Marlys entertained the idea of releasing them, but every time she saw the joy of her apprentices, the friendships made, the love matches thriving, she could not bring herself to do it.

Tir touched her arm. “Why so solemn? This is a happy occasion.”

Marlys turned to him and smiled. “You're right. It's just that every time I'm in this room, it reminds me of what they put me through.”

“If that's so, you're still letting them possess you. Stop allowing them to roam freely within your mind and be at peace.”

“Easier said than done.”

“I did not say it would be easy, but it could be worthwhile.”

Marlys nodded. “I can't disagree with that.”

Serena, a slim young woman with a glorious crown of black hair, walked up to them. “Everyone's here. You can start at any time.”

“I think I will.” Marlys walked up to the steps to the dais where the High Sorcerer's throne stood. The former High Sorcerer stood in front of it, frozen in time, her expression deceptively kind. Marlys, now taller than she, and dressed as elegantly, positioned herself so that she blocked the view of her predecessor.

“Dear friends, we are gathered here in the presence of the Bright Beings and the Ruler of the Universe to bind together our beloved companions Isador and Sorcerer Skye, as well as our fellow Sorcerers Bronwen and Fern. Please come forward.”

The two couples approached the dais, standing at the foot of the steps. Isador was a cobbler that Skye had met while performing her sorcerous duties. He wore a princely outfit that Tir had helped him pick out. The sorcerers all wore their finery. Among the gifts the residents of the various regions willingly gave to the sorcerers in exchange for their services, fine clothes were abundant and never lacking.

Marlys opened her mouth to continue the wedding ceremony, but was distracted by a multi-colored circle of spinning light forming at her right. She turned to see two young women step through it.

Before anyone could react, the taller of the two women extended an arm. “You and you and you and you.”

The two couples froze.

Instantly, Marlys time-bound the two newcomers. Exclamations of shock and distress from the onlookers met her ears.

“What is it?”

“What's going on?”

“Marlys, what did they do?”

Marlys faced the assembly and raised her voice. “Everyone. Leave. Leave now.”

“We aren't leaving you to these scoundrels,” Tir said.

“You have to, before they can cast a spell on anyone else. Out of sight will do. Go!” When the others did not move, she added, “I'll tell you what I find. But I cannot find out anything from these two and protect you at the same time.”

Rochelle, the most stalwart and strongly-built of the sorcerers, pointed. “That's Zaria.”

“Traitor,” Serena said.

“Yes, I recognized her, too,” Marlys said. “Now go.”

“Who's the other one?” Tir asked.

“I'll find out. Go!”

This time the assembly moved out. Marlys was relieved. Most spells, including the most disruptive spells, were line-of-sight spells, that could only be effective if the recipient were within view. The time-binding spell was one of those. Once the other members of the assembly had disappeared around corners, Marlys released Zaria.

“Who's your companion?” Marlys asked.

Zaria glared at her. “Nessa.”

“To what do we owe the honor of your presence?”

“You know.”

Marlys stifled a sigh. “Pretend I don't.”

Zaria held out an arm and swept the room. “We only discussed this a million times.”

“Oh, yes, you objected to my keeping these sorcerers frozen in time. So you left. I see you're still an apprentice.”

Zaria maintained her icy stare. “I will be a sorcerer one day.”

“What?” Marlys scoffed. “Did sewing you into a bag with a couple of angry weasels and throwing you in a river not work?”

“They did not do that.”

Marlys grasped Zaria's wrist and extended her arm. “Those bruises and burns show they did something. Recently, too, or else you would have been able to heal them by now.”

“None of your affair.”

Marlys released Zaria's wrist and turned to Nessa, reversing the time spell.

Nessa came to life. She was younger than Marlys, with straight, light brown hair which brushed her shoulders. Sturdy build, average height. She turned her head from side to side.

“The others are gone. You can't touch them.”

Nessa spotted the two almost-wed couples, frozen in place. “I've done enough.”

“Yes, you have. I wish to ask you to release them from your spell. They've done nothing to you.”

Nessa gestured toward Thorne's still frame. “My aunt did nothing to you.”

“That's disputable,” Marlys said.

Nessa stepped forward until she stood nearly toe-to-toe with Marlys. She had to look up slightly to make eye contact. “Then let me be clear. Thorne was like a mother to me, after my own mother, her sister, died. She said she'd train me herself to be a sorcerer when I came of age to be an apprentice. She was kind and loving to me. Then you took her away. I've spent the past twelve years becoming a sorcerer, learning spells, building my magical strength, until I could come here and take what you held dear so you could feel the grief that I've felt all these years.”

“You've succeeded. First, in becoming a sorcerer. Shortening the distance between two places is an advanced spell, and making a portal end point is something that I can't even do. Second, you have grieved me. Greatly. All of my apprentices, my students who are now sorcerers themselves, and their families are also my family and deeply beloved.”


“Do not underestimate what I will do to get them back.”

“Only I can reverse the spell.”

“I know that. Nonetheless.”

Nessa took a half step back and faced Thorne. “Release my aunt, and everyone else you have frozen. Then I will release your loved ones.”

Marlys regarded Nessa silently for a few moments. “You have no intention of doing so.”

Nessa threw back her head and laughed.

“Confirming truthfulness is an advanced spell, but still common. I'm surprised you didn't consider I would use it.”

Nessa shook her head. “It doesn't matter. I'll keep your loved ones frozen until eternity passes so that you can suffer as I've suffered.”

“That will not bring your aunt back.”

Zaria stepped closer. “Or you can die.”

Marlys nodded toward Nessa. “She won't kill me. I can tell that when your High Sorcerer confirmed her, she took the same oath as I did. If she harms me, her life is forfeit.” Turning back to Zaria, she added, “As for you, you'll find me tremendously difficult to kill.”

“What are you going to do, then?” Nessa asked.

“I was just about to ask you that question.”

“I learned how to conjure the end portal by studying spells. There are spell books kept by sorcerers for centuries throughout the regions of this world that I have just begun to plumb. I'll find a way to restore my aunt without you. Then you will be left mourning your loved ones for the rest of your life.”

“As will everyone else here. Can you afford to make that many enemies? They'll still be here long after I've gone and have memories as along as yours.”

“I have little confidence in the powers of a sorcerer who has never known pain.”

“In turn, I have scarce confidence in the power of a sorcerer who knows so little about the pain others feel.”

Nessa extended her arm and described a circle. The portal reappeared. “We'll see.”

“So we shall,” Marlys said as Nessa and Zaria walked through the circle and disappeared.

Secrets of the Sorcerers copyright © 2023 by Joan Marie Verba. All rights reserved.

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