One. Meeting in Midsummer

For Pati.

Who has her ownspecial brand of magic..

Itwas a fine Mid-Summer’s morning and Moira the hedge witch was out gatheringherbs.s.

“Tansyto stop bleeding,” she said to herself, examining the stand that grew onthe bankside. Carefully she selected the largest, healthiest stems and,reciting the appropriate charm, she cut them off low with her silver knife. Sheinspected each stem closely before placing it in the straw basket beside her.her.

Whenshe had finished, she brushed a strand of coppery hair from her green eyes andsurveyed the forest with all her senses.s.

Theday was sunny, the air was clear and the woods around her were calm andpeaceful. The oaks and beeches spread their gray-green and green-gold leaves tothe sun and breeze. In their branches birds sang and squirrels chattered asthey dashed about on squirrelish errands. Their tiny minds were content, Moirasaw. For them there was no danger on the Fringe of the Wild Wood, even onMid-Summer’s Day.s Day.

Moiraknew better. Back in her village the fields were deserted and the animalslocked in their barns. The villagers were huddled behind doors bolted withiron, bound with ropes of straw and sealed with such charms as Moira couldprovide. Only a foolhardy person or one in great need would venture abroad onMid-Summer’s Day. Day.

Moirawas out for need, the needs of others. Mid-Summer’s Day was pregnant with magicof all sorts, and herbs gathered by the light of the Mid-Summer sun wereunusually potent. Her village would need the healing potions and the charms shecould make from them.hem.

Thatmost of her fellow hedge witches were also behind bolted doors weighed not atall with her. Her duty was to help those who needed help, so she had taken herstraw basket and consecrated silver knife and gone alone into the Fringe of theWild Wood.ood.

Shewas careful to stay in the quietest areas of the Fringe, however. She hadplanned her route days ago and she moved cautiously between her chosen standsof herbs. She probed the forest constantly, seeking the least sign of danger orheightened magic. There was need enough to draw her out this day, but no amountof need would make her careless.less.

Hernext destination was a marshy corner of a nearby meadow where pink-floweredmallow grew in spiky profusion. It was barely half a mile by the road on whosebank she sat, but Moira would take a longer route. Between her and the meadowthis road crossed another equally well-travelled lane. Moira had no intention ofgoing near a crossroads on Mid-Summer’s Day. Day.

Shewas fully alert, so she was all the more startled when a dark shadow fell overher. Moira gasped and whirled to find herself facing a tall old man wearing arough travelling cloak and leaning on a carved staff.ff.

“Oh!Merry met, Lord,” she scrambled up from the bank and dipped a curtsey.”You startled me.”.”

“Merrymet, child,” the man responded, blinking at her with watery brown eyes.”Why it’s the little hedge witch, Moira, isn’t it?” He blinked againand stared down his aquiline nose. “Bless me!” he clucked. “Howyou have grown my girl. How you have grown.”wn.”

Moiranodded respectfully and said nothing. Patrius was of the Mighty; perhaps themightiest of the Mighty. It behooves one to be respectful no matter what styleone of the Mighty chooses to take.ke.

Thewizard sighed. “But it’s well met nonetheless. Yes, very well met. I havea little project afoot and perhaps you can help me with it.”.”

“Ofcourse Lord, if I can.” She sighed to herself. It was never too healthy tobecome involved with the doings of the Mighty. Looking at Patrius she could seemagic twist and shimmer around the old man like heat waves rising from a hotiron stove.ove.

“Well,actually it’s not such a little project,” he said confidingly. “Arather large one, in fact. Yes, quite large.” He beamed at her. “Oh,but I’m sure you’ll be able to handle it. You were always such an adeptpupil.”il.”

Infact Moira had been so far from adept she had barely survived the months shehad spent studying with the old wizard. She knew Patrius remembered that timeperfectly. But if one of the Mighty asks for aid he or she can not be gainsaid.id.

“Lord,”suggested Moira timidly, “might not one of your apprentices… ?””

“What?My apprentices, oh no, no, no. They don’t know, you see. They can’t know yet.Besides,” he added as an afterthought, “they’re all male.”.”

“Yes,Lord,” Moira said as if that explained everything..

Thewizard straightened. “Now come along, child. The place is near and wehaven’t much time. And you must tell me how you have been getting along. It’sbeen such an age since I saw you last. You never come to the Capital, youknow,” he added in mild reproach.ach.

“Forthose of us who cannot walk the Wizard’s Way it is a long journey, Lord.””

“Ahyes, you’re right, of course,” the old man chuckled. “But tell me,how do things go on in your village?”?”

Moirawarmed. Studying under Patrius had nearly killed her several times, but of allher teachers she liked him the best. His absentminded, grandfatherly mannermight be assumed, but no one who knew him doubted his kindness. She rememberedsitting in the wizard’s study of an afternoon drinking mulled cider and talkingof nothing that mattered while dust motes danced in the sunbeams.eams.

IfPatrius was perhaps not the mightiest of the Mighty, he was certainly the best,the nicest and far and away the most human of that fraternity of powerfulwizards. Walking with him Moira felt warm and secure, as if she were out on apicnic with a favorite uncle instead of abroad on the Fringe of the Wild Woodon one of the most dangerous days of the year.year.

Patriustook her straight into the forest, ignoring the potential danger spots allaround. At length they came to a grassy clearing marked only by a rock off toone side.de.

“Nowmy child,” he said, easing himself down on the stone and resting his staffbeside him, “you’re probably wondering what I’m up to, eh?”?”

“Yes,Lord.” Moira stood a respectful distance away..

“Oh,come here my girl,” he motioned her over. “Come, come, come. Becomfortable.” Moira smiled and sat on the grass at his feet, spreading herskirt around her.er.

“Tobusiness then. I intend to perform a Great Summoning and I want yourhelp.”.”

Moiragasped. She had never seen even a Lesser Summoning, the materializing of aperson or object from elsewhere in the World. It was solely the province of theMighty and so fraught with danger that they did it rarely. A Great Summoningbrought something from beyond the World and was far riskier. Of all the Mightyliving, only Patrius, Bal-Simba and perhaps one or two others had everparticipated in a Great Summoning.oning.

“ButLord, you need several of the Mighty for that!””

Patriusfrowned. “Do you presume to teach me magic, girl?””

“No,Lord,” Moira dropped her eyes to the grass..

Thewizard’s face softened. “It is true that a Great Summoning is usually doneby several of us acting in consort, but there is no need, really. Not if theplace of Summoning is quiet.”t.”

Sothat was why Patrius had come to the Fringe, Moira thought. Here, away from thebustle and disturbance of competing magics, it would be easier for him to bendthe fundamental forces of the World to his will.ll.

“Isn’tit dangerous, Lord?””

Patriussighed, looking suddenly like a careworn old man rather than a mighty wizard orsomeone’s grandfather.r.

“YesMoira, it is. But sometimes the dangerous road is the safest.” He shookhis head. “These are evil times, child. As well you know.”.”

“Yes,Lord,” said Moira, with a sudden pang..

“Eviltimes,” Patrius repeated. “Desperate times. They call for desperatemeasures.s.

“Youknow our plight, Moira. None know better than the hedge witches and the otherlesser orders. We of the Mighty are isolated in our keeps and cities, but youhave to deal with the World every day. The Wild Wood presses ever closer and tothe south the Dark League waxes strong to make chaos of what little order thereis in the World.”rld.”

Moira’shand moved in a warding gesture at the mention of the League, but Patriuscaught her wrist and shook his head.d.

“Softly,softly,” he admonished. “We must do nothing to attract attention, eh??

“Weneed help, Moira,” he went on. “The people of the North need helpbadly and there are none in the World who can help us. So I must go beyond theWorld to find aid.”d.”

Hesighed again. “It was a long search, my child, long and hard. But I havefinally located someone of great power who can help us, both against the Leagueand against the World. Now the time is ripe and I propose to Summon him.”m.”

“Butwon’t this alien wizard be angry at being brought here so rudely?””

“Idid not say he was a wizard,” Patrius said with a little shake of hishead. “No, I did not say that at all.”.”

“Whobut a wizard can deal in magic?””

“Whoindeed? Patrius responded. “Who indeed?””

Itwas Moira’s turn to sigh, inwardly at least. Patrius had obviously told her asmuch of this mad venture as he intended to.o.

“Whatwill you of me, Lord?” asked Moira..

“Justyour aid as lector,” the old wizard said. “Your aid and a drop ofyour blood.”.”

“Willingly,Lord.” Moira was relieved it wasn’t more. Often great spells requiredgreat sacrifices.s.

“Wellthen,” said the Wizard, picking up his staff and rising. “Let usbegin. You’ll have to memorize the chant, of course.”.”

Patriuscut a straight branch from a nearby tree, stripped it of its leaves and stuckit upright in the clearing. Its shadow stretched perhaps four handsbreadthsfrom its base, shortening imperceptibly as the sun climbed higher.er.

“Whenthe shadow disappears it will be time,” he told her. “Now, here iswhat you must say…”

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