Master Solomon's home towered over every other building in the tiny village of Sacca. Most of the homes and businesses there were small one or two story structures, mostly made out of wood and mud. Master Solomon's tower, was made almost entirely of cinder block, was seven stories tall and reached eighty-two feet into the air, measured from the ground to the very top of the pointed roof.
Master Solomon was one of the few master wizards still around. The need for wizards and magic had fallen away over the last one hundred years as technology made life easier and easier for the humans of the world and as the need for them shrank, so too had the number of novices wanting to study the ways of the wizards. After fifty years with only a few novices a year beginning their training, the number of accomplished, senior, or master wizards had fallen off sharply as the older, most experienced wizards continued to die, often without anyone to take their place. Most expected that the secrets of the arch-wizards, otherwise known as battle mages, would die off with this generation.
It was rare for anyone to choose to approach Master Solomon's tower unless they were required to. Young Elwood, alternatively known as dumb Elwood or brave Elwood, depending on you asked, who was a stock boy at Gaylord's General Store, made the trip to the tower every Tuesday and Friday to deliver the old wizard's groceries. Mason Welford, was the only mason in village who would go near the tower, was called to the tower two or three times a year to make repairs to the ancient tower. Then there was old Dulcie, who most thought of as the town crazy, who entered the tower every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to clean up after Master Solomon.
Most of the residents of the village of Sacca were born and raised in Sacca and had heard all of the stories - the real, the assumed and the imagined - of what the old wizard did up in that tower all of their lives. So it was rare to see a citizen of Sacca approach the tower to ask the mage for a spell, potion or even a cup of sugar. Most of those who did approach the tower to ask something of Solomon came in from out of town to do so and usually didn't spend much time talking to the locals. If they did, they often left without ever approaching Solomon's tower.
Like all the other citizens of Sacca, Chrystanna had heard all the horror stories. She had heard how wizards were all power happy, how they sat in their towers and plotted and planned to overthrow the good King Yudell and put a wizard in in his place. How they wanted to call the dragons and giants back down from the frost-covered caves near the top of the Jora mountains where the last wizard King, Sig the silent, had demanded they be entombed hundreds of years earlier. Stories of how wizards loved to abuse young children – the wizards hated young children as it brought back memories of their own childhood which had been ruined by their own desire to learn magic – and women, whose pleasure they were forever denied for fear of the woman stealing the wizard's heart, and his magic with it.
Chrystanna, like most reasonable adults, knew that most of the stories about wizards, and especially those about Master Solomon specifically, were really nothing more than tales told by adults to frighten their children into behaving. There were tales from long ago, so exaggerated and changed over the decades and centuries, that there was no way to decipher what was real and what had been created from the minds of some terrified human. Then there were the incredible, imaginative, often colorful stories made up by a child, or children, who misunderstood something that seemed ominous to a child but was actually quite innocent.
Chrystanna's mother had been born and raised in Sacca, her father was born and raised in a nearby town and moved to Sacca in hopes of finding a bride. Chrystanna had gone to school in Sacca and had married a boy from Sacca.
Chrystanna's husband, Vian, was a carpenter and had spent every day he had off of work, building them a beautiful little cabin in a small clearing near the road just east of the center of town, less than a mile from Solomon's tower. Chrystanna had given birth to Vian's son, Parlan, in that small cottage and the three were oh-so-happy.
Vian was off work on a beautiful Monday and had agreed to stay home and care for Parlan while Chrystanna walked into town to shop at the farmer's market. Normally, if Vian was at work, she would have to take Parlan with her, making her legs and back ache from the strain, so she happily whistled a tune as she walked, carefree, into the village square. Chrystanna had picked up some cabbage and spinach at the market and some lovely cuts of pork at Wakely's butcher shop and was looking for someone selling carrots and beets when the news spread across the market. To the east of town, black smoke was rising above the trees.
The village of Sacca didn't have a formal fire department, there just were not enough fires to make it necessary but the small town did have some of the newfangled fire fighting equipment and every man in the village was a volunteer. The garage where the fire fighting wagon was stored, was thrown open, two, random nearby horses were drafted to pull the wagon and were quickly hooked up. Seven men jumped onto the fire wagon, dozens of people, including Chrystanna, who realized the fire was somewhere very close to her cottage, followed the dust trail the wagon made out of the market, out of the village and to the small clearing where Vian and Chrystanna's cabin had been only an hour before.
There was no way to determine how the fire had started. By the time the fire wagon got there, the cabin was little more than a pile of charred wood. They found Vian's body in the embers, baby Parlan was wrapped, protectively, in his father's arms, clutched to his chest. Chrystanna broke down, fell to her knees and screamed her agony out for the whole world to hear as they loaded Vian and Parlan onto a makeshift stretcher, covered them with a blanket and, followed by a somber parade of mourning town folk, made the long march to the north end of the village were Chrystanna's husband and son were buried.
Chrystanna's mother, Nettie, was brought to the grave site to comfort her daughter and mourn the loss of her only grandchild. She took Chrystanna home and tucked her into bed and fed her soup and bread trying to keep her alive, and beer, hoping to help her forget. Chrystanna didn't leave her childhood bed for near two weeks and then, only at the insistence of her father who dragged her from the bed and ordered her to clean herself up and dress or he would "throw ya out into the streets exactly as ya are." When Nettie tried to protest his treatment, the old man backhanded his wife and told her to get her daughter cleaned up.
Chrystanna luxuriated in the feel of the warm bath water until the water grew cold and she did feel better after a good scrubbing. She dressed and her mother brushed out the tangles in her hair, just as she had when Chrystanna was younger. Now decent, she faced her father who told her she couldn't stay with them.
"Women can not own land, Gowan, where is she to go?"
"I'd recommend finding a new husband to support her.""She's still in mourning," Nettie shouted.
"Nettie!" Gowan growled at his wife's insolence.
"No man in town will have her, Gowan," Nettie said, quietly and with much more respect.
"Then she'll need to move on," Gowan stated. "I'd recommend Everton. It's an easy days walk and it will take you right past Old Solomon's tower."
"Solomon's tower?" Nettie whispered, almost afraid to say it. "Why would she wish to go there?"
"For a man to marry a widow, especially one as young as Chrystanna, is bad luck, everyone knows that. To capture a man, even one who knows nothing of her past, she will have to lie and say she's a virgin maiden, an orphan I would think, to explain why she has no family traveling with her. For her to be believed as a virgin maiden, her maidenhead must be restored. I've heard that wizards can do that."
"You wish me to say I have no family?" Chrystanna asked, tears streaming down her cheeks. "You wish me to deny, not just my love for, but the very existence of, my beloved Vian and our son, your grandson, Parlan? You are a cruel man, father. Much crueler than I ever imagined!" Chrystanna turned and ran back into her bedroom. She threw herself onto her bed, buried her face in her pillow and cried again.
Gowan stood from his chair, gave Nettie a withering glare to keep her silent and in her place, then steeled his nerve and followed his only child into her bedroom. "I don't say and do these things easily, Chrystanna. I say and do these things because they must be done." Gowan sat down on the edge of the bed he had built with his own hands some twenty years earlier, as a birthday present to his beloved daughter on her fifth birthday. He placed his hand in the middle of her back. "Your mother and I can not support you and no man in this town will have you. You must move on, Chrystanna. You must find yourself another husband but no man will marry a low woman, and only a low woman would lay with a man before she was married. If you tell them of Vian, then you must tell them of his death and death of Parlan, and no man wishes to marry a young widow.
"To that end, you must become someone else. You may keep your name but you must return to being an innocent maiden. To be anything else, would ruin you for all time. No man worth a whet will ever want you. To be a maiden, your late husband must go, and, by logic, he must take your son, my grandson, with him. To be a maiden, you must have your maidenhead or no man will believe you a virgin at your age. The only place I know of where you can become a virgin again, is in the tower of a master wizard. Fortune smiles upon us that we have one here, in our village.
"I know this is a horrible thing I ask you to do but there is no other choice, Chrystanna. I am getting old. My knees, my eyes and my back do not work as well as they used to. I can not work as many hours, or as fast as I used to. Quillan continues to employ me only because of our long friendship. If you stay here, all three of us will starve. You must move on, Chrystanna."Chrystanna rolled over and looked up at her father. "How can you be so callous, father? How can you throw your own daughter, who is still mourning her dead husband and child, out in to the streets with nothing? How father? How can a man with a beating heart be so cruel?"
Gowan looked down at the floor, his chin to his chest. "There is nothing here for you, Chrystanna. Stay if you wish. There isn't enough money to support us all. Your mother is already sick and weak. A few weeks on fewer rations will drive her into the grave. Only the gods know how much longer my knees and back will continue working before giving out and leaving me hobbled and useless. I will end up sitting on a corner with old Denby, begging for silvers." Gowan shrugged. "I guess if things go too badly, you could always get work at The Jewel."Chrystanna's face flamed red and her mouth fell open. She jumped out of the bed and scrambled away from her father. "You would whore out your own daughter?"
The Jewel was known as a back-alley. It was dark, dirty pub in a rarely seen corner of the village. Most villages had such a place but no respectable citizen ever went there. They served alcohol and usually a small selection of food but it was the upstairs that men went for. Upstairs, was the brothel. Young women who had embarrassed their families, who were unacceptable to any decent man, went to these back-alleys only when they became desperate and starving. The matron of the establishment would feed them, give them a room, make them comfortable and then, after a few days, tell the girl that she would have to find a way to pay for her accommodations. They would give the girl a couple shots of moonshine for the first few men. By the time they stopped giving the 'shine, the girl's dignity was so damaged, her pride so low, that it no longer bothered her to sell her body for money.
"No Chrystanna, I wouldn't. Not by my choice. It would be by yours. I much prefer my alternative. That you leave here, go to Master Solomon, pay his price and have him return you to your maiden status. From there, move on. Go to Everton. Go to the church, tell them you are alone, beg them for a place to stay for a few days, find yourself a new husband and live a decent life. That, my daughter, would be my preference.""And how shall I pay this wizard, father? Shall I whore myself for him.""If needed, yes! But I think this might help." Gowan reached into his pocket, then held his hand out. Chrystanna heard clearly the clink of money. She stepped forward and looked into her father's open hand; four gold whets and six silvers. It was more money than she had ever seen in her life. Vian was paid only seven silvers a day for his labors as a carpenter. Gowan, her father, a senior man at the mine, was paid only one whet and one silver a day after more than thirty years on the job.
"Where did you get this kind of money, father?" Chrystanna asked, taking the money from Gowan's hand. She rolled the coins around in her hand, enjoying the feel, the weight of it.
"It's mine and your mother's entire life savings. We kept it as some insurance against that day when my knees won't keep me upright any longer.""I can't take this, father."Gowan rose from the bed and backed away from her. "Take it, Chrystanna. Take it and go. Go as fast as you can. Take nothing. Just leave this house and go make yourself a new life in Everton. Please! Your mother and I aren't important. You are our legacy. You must carry on. I don't want to see you sit in this bed and become fat and crazy. I want you to go out, find a new husband, have his children and continue my line into the future. Take the money, Chrystanna. Take it and go. Please." Gowan, his head hung low, left Chrystanna's bedroom, and then the house. Gowan didn't return before it became too late. Nettie begged Chrystanna to stay long enough to say good bye to her father but Chrystanna knew if she stayed any longer, it would become too late, too dark and she would be forced to wait another day. So Nettie begged her to wait until morning but Chrystanna knew if she waited, she would never leave.
Chrystanna gave her mother one final hug and kiss, threw a sack over her shoulder, containing a few articles of clothing, the four gold whets and six silvers her father had given her plus the two silver she'd had with her on that day in the market, and the few scraps of food Nettie could afford to give away, and headed south into town. At the village center, she turned east and headed down that dirt trail she knew so well. The same one she had followed, going the other way, going into the village, the day her family died.
When she came to the fork in the trail she stopped and just stood there staring for a long time. The right fork would lead her deeper into the forest and to the base of Solomon's tower. The left fork would take her on to Everton, taking her right past the small clearing where Vian had built their cottage. With tears streaming down her face, Chrystanna turned and set off deeper into the darker, less traveled regions of Falda Forest.
Under the thick green canopy of Falda Forest, Chrystanna lost all track of time as she walked, deeper and deeper into the forest. Finally, Chrystanna stopped at the edge of the woods. Beyond was a clearing, in the middle of which stood Solomon's Tower. Standing there in its ominous shadow made Chrystanna feel small. She had never been this close to the tower before. Her and her friends had started up the right fork in the trail numerous times as children but they had always turned around and ran home at the first sound that may have been the wizard Solomon coming after them. To one side of the tower was a plot of dark soil, a garden, she realized. It was too late in the fall though and there was nothing growing. The plot would lay fallow through the winter. Beyond the tower, was a small run down stable with barely enough room to shelter two horses and one of those stables held a two wheeled chaise. If there was a horse, it was out of sight.
Chrystanna took a deep, calming breath to steel her nerves, then stepped into the clearing. With each step, Chrystanna expected an explosion or attack that would end her life. She expected the wizard Solomon would come out once she was incapacitated or dead, would collect her body, carry her into the tower, butcher her, eat what he could and use the rest for the evil potions he made. She wondered if, someday, her mother, or maybe her lifelong best friend, Sela, sick or injured, would come to Solomon for a potion and end up, unknowingly, drinking her liquified eyeball or some such. The thought made Chrystanna laugh for the first time in two weeks. She continued walking, slowly, but making steady progress toward the tower, and the wooden door at its base.
The wooden door at the base of Solomon's tower seemed very large to Chrystanna but she decided the tower was very large so a large door seemed somehow appropriate. Chrystanna was assuming the wooden shape now before her was a door as it showed none of the normal signs of a door besides its location and general shape. There was no knob, no handle of any kind and no knocker. In fact, she could find no way of opening the door from the outside. Chrystanna looked around for a rope pull, a button, a lever or some such to notify whoever was inside that she was there but didn't see anything. Deciding this may not be the door, Chrystanna turned to her right and made her way completely around the base of the tower, looking for a door but ended up back where she had started without having seen anything else that even resembled a door. Finally, deciding this had to be the door, Chrystanna made a fist and pounded on the center of the door five times. She then stepped back and waited. After more than five minutes of waiting, she pounded the door again. Another five minute wait and she pounded it again.
Deciding, if anyone was even in the tower, they obviously could not hear her pounding on the door, or didn't wish to answer it, Chrystanna moved away from the tower and looked up the tower to see if she could spot a window, maybe see movement, maybe even spot an open window, maybe she could shout to get the old wizard's attention. She saw three windows, the lowest was about twenty-five feet off the ground, the next was forty-five feet and finally the top one was over sixty feet off the ground. Each had a glass window and what looked like vertical iron bars, similar to what one would expect on a gaol or prison. Chrystanna once again, circled the tower. She discovered that there were a total of twelve windows in the tower and seemed to alternate floors. The side with the door had windows on the third, fifth, and seventh floors while the side opposite the door had windows on the second, fourth and sixth floors. The windows on the other two sides were arranged similarly and opposite. The first floor, the ground floor, had no windows.
Chrystanna shouted at the windows, at the door, picked up and threw numerous small pebbles at various windows on the tower, trying to get the wizard's attention but she never saw movement, no face ever appeared in a window and the door never creaked open even a crack.
Disappointed she had left her family home and come all this way into Falda Forest, only to find the wizard either gone, or was choosing to ignore her, Chrystanna put her back to the wooden door of the tower, tucked her skirt up underneath her and slid down and sat in the cool grass to decide on her next course of action. She decided she had only three choices; return to Sacca, go on to Everton or wait and hope. Gowan, her father, had made it very clear that her being there would cause only more hardship, not just for her, Chrystanna, but also for them, the parents who loved and raised her.
Going on to Everton, without having her virginal status returned was a waste because, while Gowan had been particularly abrupt with his statement, no man worth a whet would take a woman home if she was not a virgin. She could go on to Everton, the church there would probably give her a warm, dry place to stay, give her some task to keep her busy, she may even get very lucky and find a job that would pay, a job for a woman was rare anywhere, especially outside the larger cities, but what then? She couldn't own land. As a woman, she couldn't even rent a dwelling where she could live. She would have to live at the church full-time. Something that was frowned upon. No man would ever have her. If she lost her place at the church, as her father had said, it would be the streets for her a back-alley and a life spent on her back.
Chrystanna decided she had a small amount of food, and thought she had spotted a pump for a well, back near the stables, where she could draw water to drink. She would stay until weather or hunger forced her to return to Sacca, or until the wizard inside opened his door. The thought of the wizard opening the door made Chrystanna fear what he would say once they were face to face. Did she have enough whets to pay the wizard to return her maidenhead? Could she bring herself, was she desperate enough, to whore herself out to this wizard in order to get what she wanted? Fear of the unknown, thoughts of Vian, Parlan and her parents and the fact that she would never see any of them again brought her to tears. She sat there, leaning against the door to Solomon's tower, buried her face in her hands and cried.
Chrystanna remained there in the clearing that held Solomon's Tower all that day. As she thought, there was a well pump back by the stable where she could drink and, depending on how long she was forced to wait, bathe if needed. She rationed what little food she had, eating just a single apple for lunch and two slices off the half a loaf of black bread her mother had given her for dinner. She spent most of her time there right in front of what she was assuming was the door but boredom drove her to wandering the clearing, examining the stable, looking for a horse, checking the small chaise wagon that was in the stable, she took time to closely examine the fallow garden, hoping she would find some abandoned vegetables to add to her dwindling supply of food. She circled the edge of the woods looking for fruits, nuts, berries or even roots she knew would be safe to eat, she found one small black berry bush but only managed to collect a handful of berries, most of which she immediately ate.
The tall trees of Falda Forest hid the sun by late afternoon leaving the entire clearing in shadow. By the time the stars began to appear, it was becoming uncomfortably chilly. Chrystanna wrapped her shawl around her shoulders and huddled close to the tower. She finally gave in to her need to be warm and moved first to a different side of the tower, allowing the tower to protect her against the light breeze. By the time the full moon became visible over the trees, she was forced to retreat into the empty stable. Chrystanna spent that night curled up in the back corner of the stable, nodding off, only to wake up again after only a few minutes rest.
Chrystanna didn't sleep much that night and was up and about as soon as daylight brightened the stable. As she sat in front of the tower door, watching the sun burn off the morning dew, she nibbled a slice of black bread with a smear of marmalade and decided she would not spend another night like the previous. She decided to assume she would be spending another night, maybe multiple nights, camping out under the stars waiting for the wizard to return home, or, if he was inside, to take pity on her and open his door. She would have to make preparations.
Unable to do much about her limited rations, she decided her first concern was shelter and warmth. The unused stable offered some shelter but the neglected roof and unpatched walls left much to be desired. After breakfast, and a trip into the woods for her morning pee, Chrystanna climbed on to the roof of the stable by first climbing onto the chaise carriage, then out a hole and onto the roof. Deciding she would take shelter in the empty stable, instead of in the, potentially more comfortable, chaise carriage, Chrystanna, using her hands, pulled shingles and loose planks of wood from the side over the carriage and used them to patch the roof over the empty side of the stable. She was forced to climb down from the roof to find a large stone to use as a hammer and was forced to recycle the rusted nails she found on the roof. After two hours of work, Chrystanna felt the roof was as good as she could make it with the resources she had at hand.
After washing her hands and another slice of black bread with marmalade, Chrystanna used the small bowl she carried to scoop up black dirt from the wizard's garden, she then used the well water to turn the dirt to mud and used the mud to patch the smaller holes on the back and side walls of the stable. She knew the patches wouldn't last long, but it would keep the wind from blowing through the stable for a few days. Since her bowl was shallow and only eight inches in diameter, she had to make constant trips to the garden, then the well and back to the stable. She worked for as long as she could, when she became tired, she would wash her hands, sit in front of the tower door, regain her strength and then return to work.
By the time the sun was high in the sky, Chrystanna felt the roof and side walls of the stable were as good as she could make them. She wandered the clearing aimlessly as she scoured her mind and memory for some way to close up the front opening of the stable. She searched the chaise, hoping to find blankets she could use to cover the opening but found only one small burlap cloth that she felt would be better used to cover her body than to try and cover the large opening at the front of the stable. Chrystanna spent the early afternoon on her hands and knees gathering and moving what little straw lay on the floor of the stable to the back corner for her to use as a bed.
She spent the rest of the afternoon gathering dry wood to make a fire if needed. Starting a fire on the bare wood floor of the stable didn't seem like a good idea - it seemed like a good way to burn down the wizard's stable in fact - but she couldn't find anything to light a fire in and didn't think starting a fire outside the stable would do her much good. She stacked the wood, to keep it handy and dry, inside the stable and put off where to start the fire and chose to ignore, for the moment, how she would even start a fire without a match.
When the sun, once again, fell behind the trees of Falda Forest, the wizard's door had not opened. Chrystanna had, three times during the day, used her fist, or a good sized rock, to bang on the door, and had flung pebbles at various windows to try and draw the wizard's attention but nothing seemed to happen. A couple of times during the day, she thought she had seen a shadow cross in front of one of the windows but was never sure if it was from someone moving around inside, a trick of the light or just her imagination showing her what she wanted to see.
Chrystanna stayed at her station there in front of the door as long as she could stand it before the chill air and the darkness forced her to retreat into her corner of the stable. With the stable patched, and the addition of the burlap blanket, Chrystanna managed to get a decent nights sleep that night and awoke excited for another day. It had dawned on her as she lay on her pile of straw trying to go to sleep that the wizard had regular visitors that she knew of. Elwood, from Gaylord's General Store, normally made a delivery twice a week and Old Dulcie, who reportedly cleaned up for the old wizard, came out three times a week. It occurred to Chrystanna that one, or both of them, should come every day but Thursday yet she hadn't seen either of them the previous two days. She wondered why this was but woke up supremely confident that one of them would show up today and show her how to gain entrance to the wizard Solomon's tower.
Thinking that maybe the wooden area wasn't the door, that maybe she was watching the wrong place, Chrystanna, this day, stayed on her feet as much as possible, constantly circling the tower, hoping and expecting to see anyone who might approach the tower so she could watch how they gained entrance.
Chrystanna focused all of her attention out towards the woods, expecting to see Elwood or Dulcie appear from the woods, so much so that when the tower door did open, early that afternoon, she missed it the first time she went around and nearly walked past again the second time. Even when she did turn and notice the door was open, it didn't quite register in her brain what she had seen at first and she turned her eyes back to the woods and kept walking for a few more seconds. She then stopped and turned slowly to see the door now standing open.
The doors, as there were two of them, were now swung outwards, one to each side. Inside Chrystanna could see a cement floor and wooden steps that led to the upper floors. She hesitated, unsure of what to do. Were the doors open for her? Were the doors, in fact, open for Dulcie or Elwood who would be appearing out of the woods in the next few seconds or minutes? If they were open for her, should she go in immediately or should she run to the stable and retrieve the small sack with her clothes and small bits of food? Chrystanna stood there for a long moment, took a deep breath to steel her nerves, and marched up to the entrance. At the entrance, she hesitated. She put her hands out and made sure that she wasn't just seeing things, to make sure she wasn't about to break her nose or lose a tooth running headlong into a closed door or brick wall. Feeling nothing, Chrystanna extended her left foot into the opening and felt hard cement. She shifted her weight to her front foot and slowly stepped forward with the other, bringing her entire body into Solomon's tower.
Once inside, Chrystanna just stood there for a moment, waiting for something, she didn't know what, just waiting for something to happen. For the wizard to appear, for an attack that would kill her, or immobilize her but nothing happened, no one appeared. She moved forward and stepped up on to the first step. As she did, there was a groan of wood, a creak of metal and the room began to grow dark. She spun around and saw the doors closing. She rushed back but was too late. The doors slammed shut and she heard, but couldn't see, a locking mechanism slam home. She had waited for more than two days to get into Solomon's tower, and now that she was in, she suddenly wished she was back outside. She searched the doors, and the wall around the doors, for a way to open the doors again but, just like outside, found nothing.
She was trapped.
Chrystanna was scared and breathing hard when she turned from the door. She gasped and stumbled back into the door when she found a man standing on the third step and staring down at her. The man had long, snow-white hair held back in single pony tail. He had flashing blue eyes but a thick, collar-length, snow white beard covered the rest of his face. He was lean and stood close to six feet tall but seemed gigantic to Chrystanna from her vantage at the bottom of the steps. He wore an ankle length gray robe and sandals.
"You have been squatting in my stable for the last two nights, banging on my door and throwing pebbles at my windows. Why?" The man demanded.
Chrystanna realized this was the wizard Solomon. Her mind immediately told her that wasn't possible. Solomon's tower had been built, according to legend, when her father's father was but a child, close to a hundred years ago. To already have become a master wizard, and only master wizards or better built themselves a tower, he would have had to have spent years, decades before that studying, practicing and perfecting his mystical ways. Solomon would have to be one hundred-fifty to two hundred years old. Chrystanna knew wizards could, potentially, live that long but she could not accept that the man standing before her was any where close to that old.
Chrystanna got her feet beneath and stood up and squared her shoulders before speaking. "My name is Chrystanna. I come from the nearby village of Sacca, the same village where young Elwood, who delivers your groceries lives, and where Dulcie, who cleans your tower...""I did not ask who you were or where you came from, woman. I asked why you have been squatting in my stables, banging on my door and throwing pebbles at my windows."
"I wished an audience with the great wizard who lives in this tower. I wish an audience with the great wizard, Solomon," Chrystanna told the man, acting much more confident than she felt."Why?" The man asked. It suddenly dawned on Chrystanna why the man seemed so scary, besides the fact that she was trapped in the tower, alone with this man, who was looming over her. She realized, except for his mouth and eyes, the man had not moved since she first saw him on the stair. His eyes stayed locked on her, unblinking, and his body stood straight and stiff, without even the slightest tremble.
"I need a service only a great wizard can perform."
"Even wizards do not work for free. Do you have money? Can you pay for these services?" The man asked.
Chrystanna nodded. "I have some money. Not a lot but some."The man stood there studying her for a long moment. Then turned on his heels, "Follow me." The man started climbing the spiraling staircase. Chrystanna took a deep breath, swallowed hard and followed the man up the stairs.
The second floor of the tower appeared to be a kitchen. There were cabinets and tables and a stove and a sink. The entire place looked to be a disaster and Chrystanna couldn't help but wonder what old Dulcie did here three days a week. The man continued up the spiral staircase, past the kitchen and up to the next floor. The next floor obviously served as the great wizard's library. There were shelves built along every available piece of wall and boxes, full of books, stacked five feet high, leaving only a narrow trail from the steps to the shelves of books. The fourth floor was empty except for a large stuffed pad and pillows. It took Chrystanna a moment to realize the pad covered the entire floor so the entire floor could serve as one giant bed.
On the fifth floor, the man stopped climbing and led Chrystanna into what appeared to be the wizard's sitting room. There was an old leather couch and a few leather chairs to sit in and a fireplace with a fire smoldering, giving off just enough heat to keep this room warmer than those below it. The man moved to a chair near the fireplace and indicated Chrystanna should take a seat across from him. Once Chrystanna was seated, the man sat back, looked her over again, then steepled his fingers beneath his chin and nodded. "Now woman, be as precise as possible. Exactly what services are you looking for?"
Chrystanna tried to sound as respectful as possible. She had heard that wizards could be quite temperamental and she did not wish to feel his wrath. "Are you then, the great wizard named Solomon?" The man nodded. "I am the wizard Solomon. Who else did you think I might be?""It's just, you appear so young, I know you can't be..."Solomon smiled. "We wizards live long lives and have ways of keeping ourselves young and vital. If it comforts you, I imagine I passed the century mark sometime before the birth of your parents. Now, please, what service have you come here seeking?" "I recently lost my husband and child in a fire.""I am very sorry for your loss but, even us wizards are incapable of restoring life.""That isn't why I have come. I have nowhere to go. Jobs for women are few and women can not own property. My parents are elderly and I would be nothing but a burden to them if I stayed.""I assume this explanation will lead to the service you wish to hire me for, at some point?""I apologize. I am very nervous. You are the first wizard I have ever seen, much less, spoken with."Solomon nodded. "Continue.""I need to find a new husband, master wizard, but no man will look twice at a widow as young as I am. It's said to be bad luck to marry a woman who has already killed one husband. I plan to move on to another town, Everton probably, I can lie about having been married and having had a child but that will get me only so far. No man will marry a low woman and if I say have not been married, then only a low woman will have no maidenhead.""You wish me to return you to your maiden status, is that it?" "Yes, master wizard. I have money. I have four gold whets and eight silvers in my sack out in the stable. Will you help me?"
The wizard lowered his head and thought for a moment. "Is the return of your maidenhead all you wish of me? Are you even aware that you're crying?"Chrystanna was not aware of it. She knew she had choked up when she spoke of Vian and Parlan but hadn't realized tears fell from her eyes. Chrystanna used the sleeve of her dress - filthy from having lived outside and sleeping in a stable for the previous two nights – and wiped away the tears from her face.
"I don't need to be a wizard, to know you are in a great deal of pain.""My husband, Vian, and my son, Parlan, died in our home only two weeks ago while I was at the farmer's market. I seriously considered allowing myself to die in the days that followed. It was just so hard. I miss them so much." Chrystanna buried her face in her hands and now sobbed, uncontrollably, at the memories of her beloved husband and son.
She felt, more than saw, Solomon come to her. He lifted her from the chair and wrapped her in his arms and held her as she cried and screamed into his chest. She felt her feet leave the floor. She was now in his arms and they were moving. She couldn't stop crying long enough to look up to see where he was taking her. She just hid her face and cried. It seemed like only a moment later, he laid her down on soft bedding and he lay himself beside her, wrapped her up in his, surprisingly, strong arms and held her, patted her, rubbed her as she cried herself to sleep.
Chrystanna had managed to work out in the clearing because it was either that or die and she had already decided dying was not what Vian would want her to do. He would not want her to give up. He would want her to live. The work had kept her mind off of Vian and Parlan and had exhausted her so that when she finally did lay down, she fell asleep so quickly that she didn't have time to think of them and become upset. Now, here, in Solomon's tower, she felt warm and safe and the memories flooded back to her.