Cursed Blood

Morgwyn had travelled on a long and arduous journey to find the curse breaking mage Islegard. Each day she removed her long leather gloves only to see new angry symbols etched onto her skin, angry red lines carved into her skin. She remembered how frightened she was when the first red line appeared on her skin, the disgust on her fathers face when he turned her out of the house in the middle of the night. The rumours calling her a ‘cursed sorceress’ and the accusations of witchcraft which followed her from village to village.

She looked ahead at the road leading to a grand tavern floating on the lake. As she drew closer, she could make out many familiar faces amongst the crowd, men and women who drank together and laughed at one another's jokes. The tavern was not known to her and its immense size gave Morgwyn a sense of panic when she entered it. She looked at around for the mage but couldn’t find him. Stepping up to the bar she caught the eye of the innkeeper, an ogre with tusks prutruding from his lower jaw.

“Where can I find the mage Islegard?” she said with some authority, her gloved hands lay firmly at her side.

The innkeeper frowned and looked her over carefully, his brow furrowing further as he took in her ragged appearance and worn clothes. “What makes you think you can speak the name of the mage?”

Morgwyn glared at him, trying her best to remain intimidating. “I came all this way, please just tell me where I can find him.”

He eyed her again before sighing deeply. “He is upstairs drinking his ale, take yourself to the back entrance and knock, ask for Islegard.” He gestured to a door at the back of the inn.

She nodded and thanked him before turning away as swiftly as she dared. She didn’t know what she would do if her plan went wrong. She walked slowly and quietly through the maze of tables until she came to the door. Inside she spotted the tall form of Islegard sitting at a table near the far end of the room.

“Islegard!” she exclaimed.

The gloominess of the room shrouded the figure of the young mage. The smoke from his pipe billowed out around him and his long dark hair fell forwards hiding his emerald green gaze.

“Morgwyn.” His voice was deep and resonated through the air, through her bones.

“How do you know my name?” she said timidly.

She had found herself drawn to his eyes despite the darkness. They were deep and mysterious like the forest that she had travelled through.

“You have been walking in a forest that no human should ever venture in, you have made many enemies along the way.”

Morgwyn swallowed thickly as she felt the anxiety rising within her. His gaze dropped to her gloved hands he removed his pipe from his mouth.

“You are cursed.”

Her heart sank in fear and she stared down at her fingers, wondering if Islegard had read her thoughts and was about to tell her what she had feared.

“You must remove your gloves so I can see the markings on your hands.”

Morgwyn raised her eyes to Islegard's and was surprised by the warmth she saw there. She pulled the gloves off, letting them fall to the floor without looking to see if they were lost or stolen. Her bare skin exposed, she held her hands out to him in case Islegard had anything else to say to her.

Instead he leaned forwards and followed the markings with his fingers before laying his hands on her wrists . A shiver raced down her spine and she wondered if Islegard could feel her shaking.

She felt Islegard's magic wrap itself around her like a warm cloak and she closed her eyes as she felt it seep into her pores, warming her body from within.

When she finally opened her eyes Islegard' hands were still resting on her wrists but they were beginning to fade and disappear into the runes on her own skin. She watched as his palms disappeared into the marks that covered her arms and hands. Islegard’s eyes remained locked onto her face and her breath caught in her throat as the blood markings faded away and were replaced by new ones.

Her eyes widened when she realised that the new markings had settled into glinting silver runes as they became brighter. “They are beautiful,” she breathed.

“As are you.”

The sincerity behind his words shocked Morgwyn and she felt a light blush spread across her cheeks. She had never been called pretty before but she knew he did not mean it cruelly. “Thank you.”

Islegard reached out and traced one of the runes on her arm. “There will be trouble in the north soon, I cannot predict exactly when it will strike but we are preparing for it. You have the strength to fight now.”

Morgwyn’s stomach rolled uneasily at the prospect but she nodded anyway, unsure why her heart was thumping faster than usual.

A sudden gust of wind blew through the tavern sending Morgwyn stumbling backwards and Islegard standing suddenly. “Someone’s coming, stay here,” he commanded as he moved towards the back of the room. Morgwyn stood still for a moment, listening to the footsteps drawing close.

Suddenly a shadow passed overhead and a low growl filled the air. Morgwyn looked above her shoulder to see a strange cloaked figure with blood red eyes staring down at her. She heard Islegard return from the back and shout something in elvish causing the figure to turn on its heel and run from the room. Morgwyn waited until the stranger left before stooping to grab her gloves from the floor. Islegard placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.

“Are you alright?” he asked, concern filling his eyes. Morgwyn nodded, pulling the gloves back on over her hands and moved it up to hold Islegard's forearm.

“I’m fine.” She smiled. “Just a bit startled, is all. Are you sure we shouldn't go?”

Islegard shook his head, taking her hand to pull her towards the door. “We need to prepare ourselves, this tavern is warded against evil.”

“Warded?” Morgwyn questioned and then gasped as Islegard lifted her into his arms and carried her through the door into the main room. The innkeeper looked over and nodded before instructing one of the serving maids to bar the door.

He set her gently on her feet and held her steady with one hand on her waist while his other held hers.

“Do you remember when I removed your curse markings? It alerted the caster to your location. They are coming now and I doubt that they mean to leave you alive.”

Gasping for breath, Morgwyn tried to pull herself away from Islegard’s grasp but he simply tightened his grip until she was pressed flush against him. She could hear his heartbeat thundering against his chest.

“I won't let them kill you, Morgwyn,” Islegard promised. Morgwyn wanted to believe him but as the footsteps grew louder she could feel his pulse race beneath his hand and she knew he was lying to her.

Before she had a chance to react the doors burst open causing them both to jump apart. She stared with wide eyes as three men dressed entirely in black stepped into the tavern.

One man strode forward and pointed his weapon directly at Islegard’s chest. Another two men stood on either side and each held a wicked looking axe which they gripped in their right hand.

The first man looked at Morgwyn who had turned towards Islegard and was now holding tight to his arm. His gaze narrowed.

“So you are the one, the cursed sorceress!” he said.

Without hesitation Islegard swung round and struck the first attacker in the chest with his staff causing the man to collapse onto his knees. Without wasting time Morgwyn swung round and hit the second attacker, knocking him off balance enough for Islegard to kick him hard in the side before turning to deal with the third attacker, striking him in the head with his staff once before bringing his foot down and catching him under the chin with such force that the man collapsed to the ground unconscious.

Morgwyn quickly ran towards the remaining attacker, raising her hands and preparing to cast a spell. The man however, raised his axe in response. Morgwyn gasped and dropped to her knees as Islegard appeared beside her. He threw himself between her and the man swinging his staff with such vigour that he knocked the axe from his grip, causing him to drop it.

As soon as the man’s axe flew out of his hand, Islegard snatched it up and swung it upwards hitting him squarely in the jaw. He groaned as blood poured freely down his neck and into his white shirt as Islegard spun round and raised his staff. With an almighty swing he sent the weapon flying straight towards the assailant.

The man stumbled to one knee before falling on his back. The tip of Islegard’s staff pierced straight through his head as he lay unmoving on the floor.

Morgwyn turned and stared at Islegard who had his back towards her. For a few seconds neither of them spoke, both waiting for the other to speak first.

Finally, Islegard sighed and turned towards her slowly. “We need to leave for my lands in the East were we will meet the enemy head on.”

Morgwyn nodded in agreement and grabbed a pack from the table behind them and slung it over her shoulders. As they walked out of the door, she paused to look at Islegard who held tightly to his staff, watching carefully out of the corner of his eye as though someone might appear behind her and attack.

They turned towards the path that Morgwyn had used to get to the tavern. During the silent walk through the forest Morgwyn thought there was something strangely familiar about the tavern they had just left although she could not remember what it was.

She looked at the strong figure that Islegard cut striding through the forest with his bloodied wooden staff in one hand. His expression was grim and determined yet somehow he looked handsome in this way. There was no trace of fear in his eyes; they burned with rage.

Morgwyn wondered if Islegard knew that he was still holding her hand.

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