A Glibertarians Exclusive:  Season of Ice IX

At the homestead

One evening as they sat in their chairs in the house’s main room, watching a fire burned down to coals, Hengist asked her about the magic academy that lay on the Beretan coast.

“My sweet,” he explained, “there are a fair number of Ikslund captives held there.  You’ve remembered that yourself.  How difficult for my men and me to take the academy, and free those captives?”

“Impossible,” Mabinne replied.  “It’s not just the students.  If it were, you could probably manage.  Even one of the instructors, you could probably deal with, one way or another.”  She remembered all too well how easily Hengist had overpowered her on their first meeting, powers notwithstanding.  “But there are at least a dozen instructors.  Their specialties run the gamut – fire magic, ice, wind, you name it.  But still…”

“What, sweet?”

Mabinne leaned forward in her chair.  “You could take one advantage.  You see, you know those magic-users are there.  You have a fair idea of their powers.  They, on the other hand, will see only a horde of raiders with swords and axes, and will suspect they’ll be able to handle you with ease.”

Hengist knew she spoke truly so far as it went; Ikslunders weren’t much for the magical arts.

“But if you took me along,” Mabinne continued, “I could immobilize the instructors before they could respond to your attack.”  A note of pride entered her voice.  “I was, after all, a distinguished student; old Master Etienin said I was one of the most powerful ice-magic users she had ever seen.  And they won’t be expecting me.”

“If something went wrong, your own folk wouldn’t take kindly to your helping us.  You’d be hanged as a traitor, sweet.  I don’t know as I want to take such a chance.”

“I know the risks.  I know what would happen in that case.  And I’m willing to take that chance.  I want to help you, Hengist.  I didn’t know how much your people had suffered at the hands of Beretan.  And nobody deserves to be held in bondage.  Not anyone, anywhere.”

“As I held you,” Hengist said softly.

Mabinne reached out and took Hengist’s big, rough, callused hand in her own soft, long fingered one.  “That was before,” she assured him.  “I’m here of my own accord now.”

Hengist squeezed her hand gently.  “Let me think on it, sweet,” he said.

Three days later, a rider came and left a leather message-container in Hengist’s hands.  Mabinne saw him unroll the message, read it carefully, and give the rider a reply before the young man rode off.

That afternoon, while Mabinne was feeding the ducks, Hengist called to her.  “Sweet?  Could you come here a moment?”

“Yes?” Mabinne answered.  She walked the few feet to where the big Ikslunder stood with a slight smile.

“Hold still a moment.”  Hengist reached out, tapped the contacts on the binding collar, then placed his thumb on the stone.  The collar fell to the ground.

Mabinne felt as though a dagger of ice had entered her chest.  She felt the cold swelling within her.  Her eyes flared with an awful blue light, as the cold swelled, swelled within her; she had never felt anything like the incredible surge of power.  Hengist’s eyes grew wide as the temperature dropped suddenly around his Beretan wife.

“I’m sorry,” Mabinne said through gritted teeth.  “It’s been a while… Have to gain control…”  Slowly, the cold faded.

Mabinne held up her right hand, looked at it.  A slight sheen of frost lingered on her fingertips.  “I seem to have gained some power,” she said, “while restrained.  I wonder how that happened?”  She prudently didn’t mention all the times she had tried to overpower the binding collar.

“Hengist,” she said after a moment, “Walk to the dock with me?”

“Of course, sweet.”

They walked to the end of the dock.  The lake was open now in the warm spring sunshine, but Mabinne knelt on the end of the dock and put a hand in the water…

The lake froze over almost instantly.

Mabinne withdrew her hand from the glaze of ice.  “It will thaw by tomorrow,” she guessed.  “I only froze the very top.  I just wanted to see how much I’ve gained, and it would seem to be a lot.”

Hengist nodded.  He was looking at the ice.  “Good,” he said after a few moments.  “The men are already putting my ship to rights.  We’ll leave for Port Stronghold day after tomorrow.  The raiding season is upon us, and those captives in the academy are waiting for us to come free them.”

A ten-day later they were at sea.

Hengist had argued through their first evening in Port Stronghold and through most of the next day to get his men to accept Mabinne’s presence.  Only after an explanation of the proposed attack on the magic-users academy, after which his second in command Jorgunn gave in and agreed, did most of the men accept her on the crew – all but two who refused to go to sea with a woman on the crew.  They left, and Jorgunn recruited three youths to take their place.

Now Mabinne stood in the prow of the ship as it made its way down the coast, her long hair trailing in the wind like a battle flag.  She wore all Ikslund garb:  Heavy tunic, leggings, stout boots, and the heavy coat Hengist had bought her in Port Stronghold the year before.  She looked much like any other member of the crew save that, when she wasn’t wearing her heavy coat, her clothing could not quite hide her gently curved figure – or her beautiful (and beardless) face.

“There is a large river,” she had told the men the night before sailing, “that empties into the sea a few leagues south of the academy.  If we can row up that river there are a number of small villages, and many small farms.  They won’t be well-protected that far south.”

The farms and villages proved to be just as Mabinne predicted.  The first village fell almost at a stroke.  As the ship approached a cry of alarm went up.

“Get the ship in to the bank, as fast as you can!” Hengist roared at the rowers.  “It’s a good-sized village, we can’t let them get any defense ready!”

They didn’t have to wait to hit solid ground.  As the rowers moved the ship close to the bank, Mabinne put her hand in the water and froze the river solid.  “Go over the ice,” she told the raiders.  They did, slipping and sliding over the frozen water, and swarmed into the unprepared settlement.

A magic-user proved to be in the village.  One of the raiders was burned to a cinder by her first attack, but Mabinne’s long-denied magic proved stronger; she froze the girl’s hands together in a block of ice, preventing her from further action.  The raiders put a binding collar on her and took her captive, looted, and burned the village, then moved on upriver.

As they rowed upstream, Jorgunn came to sit next to Hengist and Mabinne.  “Chief,” he said, “that went very well.  I never thought of having a magic-user on the crew, but we would have had a deal more trouble in that village without her.  That fire witch, she could have burned half of us before someone got to her.  Now, she’s just another prize that will fetch a good price in the markets at Port Stronghold.”

“A practice Ikslund should look at,” Hengist agreed.  “We have never considered having women among our raiding crews, and most magic-users are women.”  His eyebrows raised a notch.  “Why is that, sweet?  We have few magic-users in Ikslund, but the ones I have seen have all been women.”

Mabinne considered that; it was a serious question.  “At the academy, almost all the students were girls, as were all of the instructors.  We were told that women have an affinity for magic that men lack.  Now that I think on it, I can probably count the number of male magic-users I’ve encountered on one hand.”

Jorgunn grinned.  “Now I’m more inclined than ever to take this magic-users academy.  We’ll take some good captives, and we have enough collars for quite a few.”  He tapped a heavy jute bag with the toe of his boot.  The bag clanked; there were at least thirty binding collars inside.

On the afternoon of the next day, the ship grounded near a small farm but the old man who lived there, apparently alone, scrambled on a horse, and rode away to the south before the Northmen could stop him.  As evening was approaching, Hengist decided they would butcher a couple of the old man’s goats for the evening meal and plan their next move.

“That old man, he’ll return with a company of provincial guards within a day, bet on it,” Jorgunn said around a mouthful of cooked goat.  He, Hengist, Mabinne and two other senior raiders sat around a fire, eating roast goat, and drinking Beretanian ale, which the Northmen reckoned weak stuff but better than no ale at all – and the old farmer had a big barrel full.

“They’ll know we are here,” Hengist agreed, “if they didn’t already.  But we’ve a fair profit already, and I’m not inclined to move farther upriver and give the guards a chance to cut us off.  Better, I think, to head down river, to someplace they won’t be expecting us.”

“The academy,” Mabinne said.

“Yes,” Hengist said.  Jorgunn and the others nodded.  “It’s time.”

“Good.”  Mabinne leaned forward and scraped a patch of dirt clear with her boot.  Most of the raiders would have used a stick to draw in the dirt, but Mabinne extended her hand, and ice congealed into a three-dimensional model of the academy where it sat on a bluff overlooking the sea.

“The problem is approach,” she explained.  “There is a road coming to the academy from inland, but the two towers you see facing inland are used by the watch; one of the instructors is always on duty in each of those, and we’d be cut up badly before we could even get to the gate, much less breach it.  Now, on the back, the academy is open, as the walls only go to the edge of the bluff.  There are wards around the edge that would make it impossible to get around there, but there is nothing but gardens and grass behind the academy proper to the edge of the bluff.”

“Looks like a hard climb up from the sea,” Jorgunn said.  He leaned forward and squinted at the model.  “No good place to land the ship there, either.”

“No, but there is another way.”  Mabinne explained for some minutes.  “Even now, it won’t be easy, but I think I can do it.”

By the time she was done, the Ikslunders were all grinning.  “Damn me for a fool, Hengist,” Jorgunn chortled, “but I was almost persuaded to vote against bringing your girl there along.  Thought for sure she’d be bad luck.  Gods take me if I wasn’t wrong, and I’ll be the first to admit it.”

“We’ll make contact with the raiding fleet first,” Hengist said.  “Some ships are always laying a way off the coast, planning their next moves.  The take from this will be considerable, we’ll need several ships for loot and captives.”

Everyone agreed.  “Good,” Hengist said.  “Get some sleep.  I want us on ship and moving down-river before sunup.”