|Written by Melinda Moore / Artwork by Marge Simon
Farrah clutched the urn to her chest. Her eyes stung from the tears that had prevented dreams in the
night and forgetfulness in the morning. A tree root as wide and long as the Great Hall's dining table
separated her and Sage Olfin. He chanted with his arms spread apart under a white robe, sending the
Mage Lord's soul to the Valley of the Gods. He paused, his pale skin made whiter by grief, and looked at
Farrah with wet and worried eyes: it was time for the first test to see if she could rule in her father's
Though not bound yet by the exchange of blood and sap, she knew the root would open for her. The
Great Oak had cradled her in its boughs during her infancy, listened to her secrets as a child and
comforted her woes of adolescence. She knelt in her black robe and brushed her brown fingertips across
the bark, the tip of her scabbard digging into the earth.
With a voice that carried to the back row of the gathered countrymen, Farrah intoned, “I give to you the
ashes of the one who ruled with your aid: Mage Lord Ciardha Stone.” For a moment, nothing happened.
Farrah looked up at Sage Olfin whose head shook feebly from an affliction of the elderly. In the front row
of the army, Nolan, her second cousin and lieutenant, stepped forward. Her mind flashed memories of
whispered words from their last conversation a week ago and the brief brush of his lips on hers. She had
spent a night and a day of fizzled spell work and unheard meetings while she anticipated what the next
kiss would be like, but it never happened. A wind storm from the Groduhn mages swept in a war and
blew them apart. What he was about to say was nothing romantic.
Before he spoke, a moan reverberated through the Great Oak. The stone of the mage tower the tree
had grown into creaked, though no rocks tumbled down. The earth below Farrah and the inner circle of
nobles and officers shook as the root split open, but Farrah dared not sigh in relief. Instead she opened
the urn and sprinkled her father's ashes into the crack. “May his remains nourish you as his blood and
the blood and ashes of his ancestors did before him.” When the last fleck had slipped through the great
crack, the tree groaned, and the root closed once again.
Farrah stood and looked up, catching her breath in anticipation and sorrow. The umbrage of the tree
atop the tower turned from summer green to crimson, orange, gold and brown. The entwined oak and
edifice swayed, rocking the limbs at the top and dropping the leaves in an autumn shower on the
mourners below. She envied the sobs and choked cries she heard from the countless subjects gathered
and took comfort in knowing the soldiers, most of them bandaged but clean, fought as hard as she did
to keep their composure: her father had been beloved.
With chin still tilted up, she began a hymn of life and joy. Her voice soared between the falling leaves and
was joined by the audience—their harmonies as distinct as the varied colors yet unified in form like the
leaves. When the last leaf fluttered to her feet, one teardrop fell from Farrah's eye and splashed on it to
darken its crimson.
A hush settled on the crowd, but Nolan stepped forward again, crushing the brittle foliage beneath his
foot. His hair was brown, but his skin was only a light tan. Though Farrah was younger, her own skin
was already the color of mud and her eyes as grey as slate, showing she had taken more earth magic
into her body than he had—one of the few things she had in her favor. “Lady Stone, your father was a
great man and my grief for him runs deep. I apologize if I seem hasty, but Cashel Gardens needs a new
mage lord now. The people of Groduhn are always fast to heal and regroup. They will attack again soon.
Or worse, the roschen will come and pick off what they have left.”
Farrah swept her black hair over her shoulder. It was in many fine braids, and the beads at the ends
clattered in a way that eased her tension before she spoke. “I know you speak the minds of the subjects
and army, Lieutenant Stone. And I am prepared to take on the mantle of Mage Lady of Cashel Gardens
Murmurs rustled among the people while the army stood still. It had been several centuries since a
woman had ruled them.
Nolan spoke again. “I know it was your father's intention for you to inherit the crown, but he also
intended to live a long life. You have just now reached adulthood and you are, well, a woman.”
The crowd stilled. Farrah clasped her hands in front of her stomach and said, “My skills in magic match
those of the oldest noble. I was among the ranks of mages who fought in this last battle. I am prepared
to protect our province from the next wave of war from Groduhn.”
“It takes more than magic to lead. As the next male in line to the crown I challenge you to a Tritess.”
Nolan unsheathed his sword and swung it towards Farrah. She was quick to unsheathe her own, and the
sound of clashing blades rang through the air.
“I accept,” said Farrah, the urn falling and shattering despite the leaves below.
~ * ~
The mourning atmosphere had changed into an almost fair like environment during the hour Farrah had
to prepare for the Tritess. As she walked to the first contest through the open field between the broken
and twisted forest and the mage tower, she saw children play acting at sword fighting and wounded
soldiers placing bets on the trial of swords. Farrah only hoped the army of Groduhn was still tending its
wounds and the roschen hadn't heard the Great Oak was without a master. Her people would be wiped
out if either attacked.
No longer in her black silk robe of mourning, Farrah wore a white tunic and brown pants with her many
braids tied together at the nape of her neck. Next to her, Sage Olfin struggled to keep up with her long
“You don't have to do this,” he said.
“I do if I want to be Mage Lady,” Farrah said.
“Nolan would make a good ruler.”
“I would make a better one. His magic is weak.”
“He has the backing of the army. If you relinquish the crown and marry him, you could rule together
without fear of a rebellion.”
Farrah stopped. “Who has spoken of marriage between us?” Their brief romantic encounter had
happened in the library of the tower where servants rarely dusted. She had believed them safe from
“Please, Farrah,” pleaded Sage Olfin. “Your father always said you needed to turn your ears more to the
people, but did you really not know a union between you and Nolan has long been desired?”
Farrah searched his eyes but found only earnestness and no guile. Her mother had always shielded her
from such rumors, wanting her to follow her heart instead of politics—her father must've done the same
after her death.
She squared her shoulders. “Obviously he has no interest in marrying me since he is the challenger. And
we don't have the luxury of revolt when the Mage King of Groduhn has decided to expand again. We
don't even have time for the Tritess. It could be our ruin.”
“Then let Nolan have the crown. Continue as a battle mage. There is much honor in it.”
“Sage Olfin, if you don't believe in me, then don't stand with me. I will stand alone.”
Sage Olfin straightened his back, and his head began shaking again. “I stand with your father, and he
wanted you to be Mage Lady.”
“Then kindly shut up.”
They strode into the open circle ringed by soldiers and subjects. Nolan stood in an outfit similar to her
own, though he had a pin attached to his tunic signifying his rank. Farrah hoped her expression was as
stoic as his. Next to him stood the general who bowed to Sage Olfin before speaking, “The first trial of
the Tritess is swords. You will fight to first blood and not beyond.”
Farrah and Nolan grasped forearms. Her memory of his embrace started to betray her, telling her to give
in and hope for marriage, but she pushed it out and thought of the times they had sparred as children.
She had won at least a third of the time. The general and Sage Olfin backed away before the general
shouted, “Let the Tritess begin!”
Farrah and Nolan drew swords with a resounding clang. Neither was one to back away at the beginning
of a fight, and their swords banged in rapid repetition. They stepped closer and closer until their swords
slid together and they pushed off from each other. Her arm already throbbed. She had neglected her
sword study for magic too much.
Nolan lunged for another attack. Unable to trade many blows, Farrah jumped back and switched her
sword to her left hand. Nolan grinned. “You tire faster than you used to, Farrah.”
Farrah lunged, trading swift blows with her sword. She got a jab on his arm, but it only cut his shirt
without breaking skin. His eyes widened as he checked for blood. Farrah jumped back when his sword
slashed across where her stomach had been. She switched hands, and once again they traded blows
until they were in close. Nolan pulled her hair and set the tip of his sword on her neck. As he drew a drop
of blood he said, “A roschen would behead you and then Cashel Gardens would be leaderless again.” He
placed his mouth right next to her ear and added, “And my heart would die with you.”
Farrah broke his grasp and scurried back as she placed a hand over the cut. She wanted to spit in his
face but instead turned away as the crowd cheered.
~ * ~
Sage Olfin had just finished dressing Farrah's wound when the flap of the tent opened. Olfin's eyes
widened and he nodded before Farrah turned around. It was Nolan. He cleared his throat and said, “May I
speak to you in private, Farrah?”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest. “There is nothing between you and I that Sage Olfin cannot
“I was leaving anyway,” Sage Olfin said. “I must discuss with the mage nobles what they have chosen for
the trial of sorcery.”
Farrah wanted to cast stone blood on him as he left, but she remained with her arms crossed and looked
beyond Nolan instead of at him.
“I think there has been a misunderstanding,” Nolan said.
Farrah met his eyes. “Everything is perfectly clear to me. We both want the crown.”
“I called the Tritess for your sake.”
“For my sake? I didn't have to prove myself for the crown. It was mine by birth.”
“The people don't want a woman ruler. You should hear what the soldiers are saying about it. But you
will be able to show off your prowess in magic next, and when I win the last challenge we can marry and
Farrah walked up to him—vision blurred from anger and slapped him across the face.
“Hey! What was that for?”
“When did I say I would marry you and when did you ask? I don't need you to let me win the second
round and I'm certainly not going to stand back while you climb to the top of the tower and bind with the
Great Oak. It is my blood the Oak wants.”
He put his hands over his face and then swung them down before speaking. “I said that all wrong. I love
you, which I was trying to tell you at the end of the sword fight. I don't know if I hate the Mage King of
Groduhn more for killing your father or for interrupting our courtship that had just begun.”
He loved her? Farrah stepped back, her hand going to the bandage around her neck.
“I'm sorry I had to cut you,” he said with a lowered voice as he stepped forward. “I'm sorry the night in
the library was the first time I began to share how I feel about you.” His umber eyes looked plaintive as
he encircled her upper arms with his hands and pulled her in for a kiss. Even as her body relaxed against
his, her mind revolted.
She pushed away and said, “You need the approval of the mage nobles as much as I need the approval
of the army. Do you love me, or are you just angling for political gain?”
Surprise crossed his eyes an instant before he pulled his heels together as if he stood at attention.
“Don't worry. I won't let you win anything.” He turned and strode out without looking back.
Farrah hung her head, unsure if she had made the right assumptions.
~ * ~
Farrah and Nolan stood before a path in the forest that stretched a morning's walk to the mountains
dividing Cashel Gardens and Groduhn. On either side were bent, twisted and uprooted trees. After spells
of destruction had created the path, the Groduhn army had thundered down it to rampage over the
Cashel Garden army still struggling into formation. Farrah and Nolan's task was to replace the forest. The
side of the path with the most full grown trees won.
They had not spoken to each other since the tent and the arm shake to start had been terse. As Farrah
unlaced her boots and pulled them off, Nolan finally said, “I think the mage nobles wish to embarrass
both of us. This is an impossible task.” He cast a look behind his shoulder as he spoke.
Farrah felt the eyes of the audience watching them, even though they were hundreds of yards back. She
knew what the mage nobles wanted, but was too stubborn to give into it. “It needs to be done. We can't
leave such an open wound untended. I'm sure the mage nobles will finish what we start.”
“Why did you take your boots off?”
Farrah gave him a sideways glance before saying, “And you wonder why the mage nobles don't support
you.” She stepped up to the path. It was five horses wide and she had chosen the right half. Nolan
stepped up to the left, boots still on.
She dug her toes into the ground, slowing her breath and chanting the words she used to focus on the
magical aura of dirt and seeds. Next to her, Nolan began to chant out of time and key with her. The
halves sparked against each other with the blue aura of magic as they cast their spells. She connected to
forgotten seeds below the dirt. Closing her eyes, her hands and arms rolled in front of her to the beat of
her heart. Nolan chanted louder now, as if he tried more to break her concentration than to keep his own.
Farrah pushed her toes deeper into the soil and crescendoed to drown out Nolan. Instead of the magic
flowing freely, it struck against his spell and jarred her body. Before going into convulsions, she took
another breath and whispered her chants. Ignoring Nolan, she reached out to the soil through her feet.
Seeds laying dormant twitched and cracked as sprouts pushed to the top. Her own energy was threaded
throughout the blue aura, encouraging each seed to grow. Once they burst to the sun, the entwining of
elemental magic and her soul sprung from her fingertips, drawing up the saplings like they were
marionettes. As she felt leaves pop open, her energy surged and vanished, and she collapsed to the
“Dragon shit,” Nolan swore.
She opened her eyes and saw his proffered hand, and beyond it the row of about a dozen trees she had
brought into existence. Though healthy looking, horses could easily jump over them. Next to her row
was a pale sapling that could be crushed by a boot. Worse, the shadows had lengthened: she had been
concentrating much longer than it had felt like. She rolled on her back and closed her eyes again. How
much longer would the Groduhn army stay away?
Nolan's boots scuffed around before he said, “Looks like you won. The mage nobles are on their way.”
Farrah sat up and saw the delegation walking towards them. “No, we can't end it like this.” She jumped
up and would've fallen down again from weakness if Nolan hadn't caught her.
“What are you talking about? You can't even stand on your own. Besides, they can't really expect more
than you've given. I've never seen one mage grow a copse even that tall on his own.”
Farrah pushed off him and stood with energy that arrives only after a person thinks the last drop has
been spent. “But we want to rule,” she said. “If you climb to the top of the tree first, everyone is going
to be thinking about this sapling one step away from a dead stick that you grew, and my copse isn't
enough to erase the prejudice against me being a woman. We both need more.”
Nolan looked back at the mage nobles approaching. Beyond them the army and subjects didn't cheer as
they had at the end of the first trial. He looked at Farrah again and said, “Okay, how?”
“Take off your boots and socks.” As he obeyed, she continued, “You're a warrior mage. You're trained to
use magic on your own. But battle mages know we are strongest together.”
When his boots were off, she gripped his hand and closed her eyes. She kept telling herself this was the
right thing to do for the protection of her people, but knew it would look like she was giving in to the
love match between her and Nolan. Elemental magic pulsed through their hands and arced between their
feet. She guided it out and joined it to the roots of the copse. “Breathe with me,” she whispered.
It took a few uneven breaths before they found a beat together. With each exhale, the spell pushed the
trees higher, with each inhale, the spell spread out to open new seeds. The magic between them made
her stronger rather than draining her. She guided the blue aura down until she felt the push of a spring
below. Not water mages, the only way they could control the spring was to part pathways in the dirt for
it to bubble into. As the water joined with the roots, the bond between Nolan and Farrah fused in a way
she never wanted to release.
“Open your eyes,” Nolan whispered.
She did. Before her, the path glowed azure as pine, oak and cedar trees stretched to their full height and
new ones continued to pop up to the end of the path by the mountain. The spell tapered away, but
Farrah kept her hand in Nolan's.
A murder of crows burst out of the back of the forest to the right of the new trees, cawing through the
silence. “I don't think I should give into you just because the people want a man to lead.” Her voice
shook as she spoke, and Nolan gripped her hand tighter. “This joint effort doesn't mean I'm just going
to let you walk up to the top of the tree and claim victory. I will race you all the way.”
“I don't think I would be in love with you if it was otherwise,” he said.
Farrah turned, put her hand behind his neck and pulled him to her for a kiss. Their lips lingered together
as the crowd cheered from far behind them.
Despite the careening joy in her veins, she was still grounded to the forest. Footsteps faster than any
human pounded through from several directions. Farrah and Nolan broke apart and exclaimed,
“Roschen!” at the same time.
“Weave the branches together!” she yelled. Still holding hands, they began casting a new spell. The
mage nobles ran to join them, and they stood in a row connected hand to hand with Farrah and Nolan in
Arcs of azure light crackled throughout the forest as boughs, stems and leaves laced together to form
walls of foliage. Despite the strength of the spell and trees, Farrah could feel roschen tearing through it
as though it was parchment.
“We need to bind with the Great Oak,” said Farrah. “It's the only thing strong enough to fight against
“Go!” yelled the mage noble next to her.
She and Nolan broke the line and ran back towards the tower. As the calvary fetched their horses, the
foot soldiers were already moving into formation. Farrah had sensed about a dozen roschen in the forest
and knew the foot soldiers would be slaughtered if they didn't reach the tree before the roschen broke
the mage line. At least the subjects were heading for the basements of the tower and might be well out
of the way.
The after waves of an earthquake sent through the forest knocked her down, but Nolan pulled her back
up. Though calloused, rocks still cut into her feet as she struggled to keep up with his pace. Perhaps
trite in the face of the roschen, she still planned to be the first one to the top.
A scream cut short made her turn around. A roschen, standing at least two feet taller than any of the
mage nobles, was caught in twisted vines with a dead mage at his feet. Other roschen, with long hair
usually black or blond, ran past the battle mages with celestial grace. Their beauty was part of their
terror as if the gods had created something they thought was too lovely to behold.
“If you see a roschen, you're dead,” was the old adage that ran over and over in Farrah's mind. Close to
the tower now, she and Nolan leaped onto the root by the staircase and ran up to the crook between
root and trunk. Embracing the tree, Farrah whispered the words for an attachment spell. The blue aura
of elemental magic glowed as her hands and feet stuck fast to the bark. She climbed without fear of
As Nolan did the same, she looked out into the field where sinkholes and grasping vines had done little
to stop the roschen. Some were slaying the foot soldiers while others were attacking the calvary. One
had spied Farrah and Nolan. She leaned her cheek on the bark and whispered, “Help us to the top so we
may bind with you and chase off the roschen.” Beneath her fingers and toes, the bark folded into
notches where she could plant herself firmly as she climbed.
“Follow me,” she said to Nolan who saw the notches. Though she had never read of it, perhaps the tree
would bind with both of them.
They were about halfway to the top when the dread feeling of a roschen touch seeped into Farrah
through the bark. She heard Nolan draw his sword, and she yelled, “No! Keep climbing!”
“I'll hold him off while you get there!” Nolan yelled back, his sword glowing blue.
The roschen was close to Nolan, cold and beautiful without breaking a sweat. His porcelain face framed
coal black eyes—black with no white surrounding them.
Farrah chanted a spell that wrapped around the roschen and he froze. “Hurry. Stone blood won't hold
him for long.” She scraped and gripped her way closer to the top. Roschen had strong hearts, the only
way to truly kill them was to rip their hearts out—he would be pumping blood again soon.
She heard Nolan sheath his sword and scramble behind her. As she reached the lowest branch that
jutted out of a stone, Nolan screamed below her. Looking down she saw his leg at an unnatural angle
and the roschen reaching for his other leg. Nolan hung onto the tree with one hand while he slid his
sword out with the other. The blue blade slashed across the roschen's arm, a blow that would've cut a
human's limb off. It only made the roschen pause and grin after licking blood off the wound.
As Nolan brought the blade around to slash at his neck, Farrah decided the only way to save Nolan and
possibly herself was to bind with the tree right there. She had never heard of any of the mage lords
doing it while hanging off the tower and fighting for their lives, but she had to try. The words gushed
together without eloquence of ceremony, “Great Oak, bind with me as you did with the mage lords
before me. Combine our powers so that we may protect Nolan and Cashel Gardens from the roschen.”
She watched Nolan's blade miss because the roschen jumped up to him, caught the bark with one hand
and broke Nolan's neck with the other. As the bones snapped, a thick splinter shot out of the branch
Farrah was holding and into her arm.
The pain blocked her eyesight and hearing as the tree sucked out her blood and pumped its sap into her.
Ancient anger over the displacement of the roschen coursed through her. She couldn't understand. The
tree didn't hate the roschen, he just hated them being here. But she hated the roschen and pulsed her
anger into the Oak. Branches, the tree told her. She gritted her teeth and pushed the blue elemental
magic to the top of the tree. A branch elongated, whipped down and impaled the roschen beneath her.
Farrah heard him bellow and lashed the branch around until he was flung off.
Roots guided the tree. Farrah drew the magic from the top to deep in the ground where the roots ran
far and wide. The tree could differentiate the roschens from the humans. Runners sprouted and
entangled the roschen before flinging them beyond the forest and into the mountains. Drawing out the
last bit of magic from herself, Farrah and the tree built a wall with the fallen trees in the forest to better
block Cashel Gardens from Groduhn. It wouldn't last, but it would give her people a small amount of time
Fatigued beyond even grief, Farrah slipped off of the splinter only to be caught by the bough and swung
up to the top of the tower.
Nolan was dead. She stared with unseeing eyes, trying to grasp the thought so simple yet so filled with
emotion as to render her mind blank. When her vision focused after countless moments went by, she
noticed the Oak had placed her by the pond made from a crook where the tree split and bent to join with
the stone in the tower. Farrah tilted her head and gasped. In the water, she saw her own reflection. Her
stone eyes were now green as the oak leaves in summer—as green as her father's eyes had been.
With one last force of will, she stood and walked to the edge of the roof. The dead were being piled up,
the wounded being tended. Again, they would have to light the funeral pyres and she would watch as
Sage Olfin sent the spirits to the Valley of the Gods—sent Nolan. Cashel Gardens would soon be extinct
of humans if the wars didn't stop. She would have to forge new alliances and discover the secrets the
Great Oak held about the roschen—all while convincing her people that a woman could rule.
Melinda Moore lives in Albuquerque, NM: The Land of
Enchantment. Possessing a love of adventure, she has been a
dancer, professional musician, music educator, recipe creator,
parent and now published author. Her awards include The Sallie
Mae First Class Teacher Award and Finalist in the Pillsbury
You can view her current thoughts at Enchanted Spark.