Forlorn [Temple of Time Book 3]
Click on image to enlarge.
by Jane Toombs
Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Fantasy
Description: Forced to flee or die, Wilda discovers the only way to stay alive is to venture to a place no sane person would go ... into the forbidden Temple of Time. But there she discovers more than safety ... she finds another world ... and love.... Rating: Contains mild violence and sexual content.
eBook Publisher: New Concepts Publishing, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: November 2006
20 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [167 KB]
Reading time: 104-146 min.
Wilda heard the correct pattern of knocks at the door to Renz's tower and hurried to open it. A hooded figure slipped inside, hissed at her to shut the door, then threw back the hood. Wilda stared at the pale face of Petra, Renz's would-be lover.
"The Mizpa tribunal vote has been cast," Petra said. "Is he packed to leave?"
"If he is, he hasn't told me."
Petra took a deep breath, opened her mouth and yelled, "Renz, you fool, the guards will be here any minute!"
A tall, darkly handsome man in a midnight blue robe materialized beside the two women. "No need to shout, I am far from deaf."
Petra scowled at him. "The tribunal found you guilty of dark sorcery, and you know very well what that means."
He shrugged. "They don't dare kill me."
Petra grunted her disbelief. "If you don't care about your own skin, consider Wilda's plight. She's known to be your assistant."
"Ah, yes, the reluctant little witch." He half-smiled.
Wilda glared at him. She didn't actually hate this sinister mage she'd had no choice but to become apprenticed to. Still, he certainly wasn't her favorite person. He was supposed to be helping her hone her talents--instead, he usually made a practice of belittling them. She couldn't understand what Petra found desirable about Renz.
Wilda respected his considerable expertise as a mage, but she'd begun to fear that some of his spells verged on dark sorcery. Obviously the tribunal thought so, too.
"I don't think he cares what becomes of me," she told Petra.
"He blasted well better care what becomes of us all," Petra said, "because I sense guards approaching the tower."
"Cease this nattering," Renz growled. He closed his eyes, spoke words Wilda didn't recognize, but filed away, all the while weaving his hands in intricate patterns she strove hard to remember.
After a time, Renz opened his eyes and gestured toward the door. "Leave, both of you. Now."
"My belongings..." Wilda broke off as he shoved her toward the door.
He pulled a pouch from his robe, dropped some coins in her hand and opened the door. Though the sun had shone earlier, now heavy mist swirled into the tower and a dense fog obscured everything outside. Petra grabbed Wilda's free hand, pulled her through the door and along a path invisible to the younger woman. Hearing a clinking that sounded very much like guards' armor, Wilda stifled any impulse to speak.
The fog seemed to hinder their passage, seemed to be trying to push them back, but Petra plunged relentlessly on, pulling Wilda with her. How could the older woman possibly tell where they were headed?
On and on they stumbled, until at last the tendrils of mist thinned and let them go. Wilda saw they were near the outskirts of Mizpa. She looked a question at Petra.
"Best we separate," Petra told her. "Take what he gave you and buy a cloak with a hood to hide your hair. Never doubt the guards will search for you as well as Renz."
"What about you?"
"'Tis well known I'm a warrior as well as a far-seer, but despite this I intend to lay low for awhile. As for you--in my opinion Renz taught you little because he sensed you had powers that could become greater than his. You'd do well to disappear entirely in case those of the tribunal can sense what Renz did." With that, Petra hurried away.
Confused by Petra's parting words--powers greater than Renz?--Wilda shook her head. He couldn't be right. But, since she was known as his assistant, to disappear was the only way to survive . Wilda tried to think of what to do. Buying a cloak was easily enough accomplished once she ventured farther into the city, but then what? She'd come from Ely, a far off outer province, and had no friends or relatives in Mizpa. Once she had the disguising cloak, should she try to find a way to return to where she came from?
Where they hated and feared her? No, impossible. She looked at the coins still clutched in her fist to be sure they added up to enough for a decent cloak and saw among them a gem stone, an amethyst. Renz never did anything accidentally or without reason, but she hadn't a clue why he given her this. She slid the amethyst into an inner pocket and the coins into an outer one. Nervous and wary, she headed into the city, wondering if Renz had also left the tower. She presumed he had, since he was no fool, black sorcerer or not.
She wished she had a few of his abilities, for there was no doubt he'd be able to hide himself far better than she was able to. Disappear, Petra said. But how? She knew no spell to make herself invisible and shapeshifting was too iffy, especially since she didn't remember how she'd done it that once. She hadn't changed shape since she left Ely. More accurately, since she fled the province in fear for her life. The folk there, her father included, wanted nothing to do with a woman who could change into a beast. She hadn't known she could when it happened, and was as surprised as the three louts who were trying to rape her. Not too surprised to retaliate--one of them had lost a man's most prized possession.
But none of that was any help at the moment. Citizens of the city wouldn't care to have a beast padding along the streets of Mizpa, even if she could recall exactly how she'd managed the change. What she needed most was the hooded cloak Petra had urged her to buy. Some ordinary women did have dark hair that peaked in the middle of their foreheads, but only true witches bore the tell-tale white streaks to either side of the peak. Ordinarily, a witch wouldn't be persecuted in the city, but if guards were after Renz, they'd be searching for his assistant as well, so no witch was safe tonight. Covering her hair was imperative.
Wilda breathed a sigh of relief when she came on what she recognized as a thieves' market--folding tables set up near an alley so the tables, the goods on them and the sellers could vanish quickly if needed. She shuffled through the piled clothing until she found the only hooded cloak for sale, one of them black velvet. Though she loved the feel of the velvet in her hands, she really needed a more utilitarian one, so she hesitated and was about to put it back, when the woman behind the table spoke.
"Give ye good price, meda. One topa only."
Though she knew she could drive the price down by haggling, one topa was reasonable. And the sooner she covered up her tell-tale hair, the better. She selected one topa from her pocket, handed the coin to the woman, picked up the cloak and donned it, covering her head with the hood. Evidently the woman the velvet cloak had been stolen from had been tall, as she was, for it fit well.
"Best keep off the streets, meda," the woman said. "Thick be the guards this eve."
No need to put on an act; the woman had seen her hair. "I heed your warning," Wilda told her.
Heeding it would be easier if she had any place to go that was off the streets. The alleys, haunts of thieves and worse, were unsafe and, as a woman alone, she feared to venture inside an inn. As she walked away, she tried to think of some place in Mizpa where she could hide until true darkness. What part did most folk avoid that would be safe enough for a lone woman?
Unable to come up with any better idea, she decided to head for the more affluent section. Not because she thought it a good place to hide, but she reasoned the guards would feel the same and so there would be fewer there. She passed a food seller and bought a meat pie, eating as she strode along as though she knew where she was going. Luckily she'd been working in the garden before Petra came, so still had her boots on rather than her soft inside slippers.
After a while, she realized the street she'd chosen led to a place no one wished to go--the Temple Of Time--and veered away. No hiding places there unless you went inside, and no one in their right mind would willingly do that. She cut a corner short and tripped over the legs of a man leaning against a building. In struggling to keep her balance, the hood slipped back and, oh, megrim horrors, the man was a guard.
Before she could gather herself to flee, he grabbed her and shouted for help. Two other guards came running.
"She's a witch, no doubt about that," the first guard said. "Think she's the one?"
"The tribunal will know," the second said.
The third whipped out a knife. "Best clip off her hair so she can't work her spells on us afore we get her there."
Two held her while the third sheared off most of her long dark hair with his knife. Then she was forced to watch him burn it, feeling her talent ebb with the stench of the burning hair.
"Not a bad looker even with no hair," the first said.
"Don't go thinking to tup her," the third warned. "They got teeth in there where no teeth belong."
The first winced and covered his crotch with his hand. "Heard that, but thought 'twas a tale."
"No tale. Truth. Tell you Zaner's sad story while we trot her over to the tribunal. Seems he was in the woods north of the city one day, and he comes across..."
Wilda tuned out his voice as she was marched along between two of the guards. Whatever happened to Zaner, he deserved it, like all men. In her case, this business of teeth in her woman's parts wasn't true, and she suspected no witch truly had teeth there. But the belief was certainly to the advantage of all witches. If such a belief had traveled as far as Ely, those louts would never have touched her, she wouldn't have shifted shape and her father wouldn't have turned her out of the house. Ely was so backward they didn't know what the white streaks in her hair signified. Even she hadn't known until she came to Mizpa.
She'd learned much since arriving in the city, but little of it from Renz, even though he'd accepted her as an assistant. But who would believe that?
She tried to keep to her feet as they hurried her on, thinking she'd escaped the threat of rape, only to face--what? Death, most likely, if the tribunal could identify her as connected with Renz.