FF Story Winner: The Queen of War and Sorrow by Jonathan Ryan

I have been a member of the Fantasy Faction forum for getting on for five years now and one of the best things about the community has been the writing contest – it’s only 1500 words so come give it a goContest winners were posted on the website but that hasn’t happened for a while, so I’ve been asked to fill in. It’s an honour to do so, and here is another winner.

The theme for the competition when this story won was “School”, and the winning story is “The Queen of War and Sorrow”, by Jonathan Ryan (again!)

Timaeus led her through several corridors along the southeast wing until she was thoroughly lost.  At the tender age of fourteen, Lilith had yet to explore the vastness of the school of magical learning called the Arcanum.  The massive, sprawling complex housed not only young students such as herself, but older, accomplished wizards and witches pursuing various magical studies.  It was truly the greatest house of learning for those in the magical profession.

Her grandfather stopped outside a great wrought iron door carved with a mural of warriors locked in combat.  She recalled a text from history class detailing the final confrontation of King Arthur and his bastard son Mordred. 

She looked questioningly at Timaeus.

The Keeper placed a hand reverently on the door, “You are about to meet a dear friend of mine, Lilith.  He will teach you to control your emotions and hopefully, your magic.  Trust me, Little One, this will be difficult.  It will test you.  That is why this is both your punishment and your salvation against further outbursts like today.  Ok?”

Lilith was pretty sure she wasn’t OK, but she nodded, “Yes, Grandfather.”

They entered a chamber that Lilith could only describe as an arena.  Bleachers lined the walls to her left and right, while rows of weapons were stacked neatly at the far end of the arena.  The floor was layered in sand and gravel that scuffed her shoes as they walked towards its only occupant.  He was tall and greying like her grandfather, with a stern countenance, deep black eyes and a more impressive build.  Whereas Timaeus Darnell was a scholar, there was no mistaking this man for exactly what he was.

Dangerous.

As they approached, Lilith watched him slowly move through different forms and poses that fluidly flowed into one another, like a slow, purposeful dance.  Her grandfather whispered to wait while he went to speak with him.  They greeted each other warmly, exchanging the pleasant banter of comfortable old friends, before turning to hushed tones and whispered opinions. 

About me undoubtedly, Lilith thought gloomily, What the hell did Grandfather bring me here for?

Before she could muse any further on her current situation, her grandfather bade farewell to the man and began walking back to her but before she could inquire, he walked straight passed her, winked and whispered, “Have fun, Little One.”

Lilith watched in alarm as he disappeared through the wrought iron door and she was left alone with this man.  She turned slowly around to find him looking at her.  No, she corrected herself.  He wasn’t looking at her, that’s what normal people would do.  He was sizing her up, like a predator analysing it’s prey, looking for signs of strengths and possible weaknesses to exploit.

He shook his grey streaked head as he approached her, “Well your old pops sure was right, you haven’t an ounce of discipline and you sure as hell ain’t a fighter.  Not yet anyway.  Come on, let’s see how you do.”

Before Lilith could reply, his left hand shot towards her in a straight punch, aiming for her face.  If she had been a normal, pure blood human, he would likely have broken her nose.  But Lilith was not normal, and she most definitely was not pure-blooded human.  She moved her head to the left and spun away from his strike, putting several feet between them.

He smiled, grinned actually, like he expected her to react that way, “And there it is, that reaction speed.  The tainted blood of the fey coursing through you.  Even without training your reflexes are astounding.”

“It’s not polite to hit a girl without introducing yourself first you know.”  Lilith said as she kept her distance.  She could feel her anger rising, first he attacks her and then insults her?

His grin turned to laughter, “And you’re a smartass, just like your father.  Good, I might enjoy this after all.  My name is Magnus.”

That stopped Lilith short.  She was curious now, who was this Magnus?  “You knew my Dad?”

Magnus nodded but didn’t reply.  He circled her, lithe and ready to pounce but seeming utterly relaxed at the same time.  Lilith was amazed, it was like watching a tiger, all coiled power and grace, ready to erupt at a moment’s notice. 

He lunged from the right.  Lilith saw it coming and made to dodged it.  She failed to anticipate however, that it was a feint, and she felt his elbow connect solidly with the side of her head.  She landed heavily on the sandy surface, the grit and dirt entering her eyes and mouth as she gasped in shock and pain.

Magnus bent down to kneel beside her, “You can’t always rely on your natural abilities alone.  You need training, control and above all, discipline.  Especially someone of your…blood.”

Lilith felt it again, the heat rising within her, just like it did in the classroom when Rosalia Thorn insulted her dead mother, insulted Lilith’s silver hair and violet eyes.  Spat on the fey heritage she inherited from her mother, the only remaining link she had to her.  Lilith let the flow of the heat course through her and rode it to the surface, embracing the fury that encompassed her. 

Azure fire erupted, cascading through the arena in a wave of heat and magical energy.  It was euphoric and satisfying as she gave into her need, her anger and desire for retribution against those who wronged her and her family.  She rode the wave of rage and fury until the tide ebbed, lost its edge, spent as quickly as it was released.  The blue flames slowly burned away to embers and finally nothing, but the residual heat left over from the magic.

Lilith regained her senses as the anger dissipated and panic flooded through her.  Magnus! Had she killed him?  He had been right beside her, in the centre of the outburst.  She frantically looked around and was met with the smiling face of Magnus.

Somehow, the grizzled warrior looked pleased, “My my, well aren’t you just full of surprises.  Wondering how I’m not roasted like a well-done steak?”

Lilith nodded dumbly, her words escaping her for once.

“This arena has a bound field that cancels all harmful effects of magic.  You just treated me to the most spectacular light show.  Cheers,” Magnus grinned at her and stood up, gesturing for her to follow, “Come sit for a minute.  Let’s have a little chat before we try that again, eh?”

Lilith joined him on the bleachers, sitting a safe distance away, warily eying him for another attack.  Magnus must have noticed as he smiled and said, “Don’t worry no more sneak attacks.  A history lesson instead.  Come, sit beside me.”

“Have you ever heard of the Queen of War and Sorrow?” He asked as she joined him.

Lilith shook her head.  She never had, which was odd as she loved history, especially anything rooted in mythology, a trait she shared with her deceased parents, “No, who was she?”

Magnus smiled warmly at her, “Firstly, before I continue, I must apologise.  What I said before about your blood, being fey, that was just to get a rise from you.  I needed to see your reaction for my own eyes to best gauge how to proceed.”

Lilith nodded impatiently, she wanted to hear more about the queen, “Apology accepted.”

Magnus nodded in approval and grinned again, “Very well.  Eager to learn, aren’t you?  An admirable trait.  The Queen of War and Sorrow is a mythical figure even among the fey.  She was the first and only of the fey kings and queens to unite the courts into one unified fey nation.  Her name has been long forgotten now by history, but one truth remains above all else.  Can you guess what made her so different, so capable of bringing together the Courts of Winter and Summer?  When Titania and Mab failed repeatedly?”

Lilith sat for several moments, deep in thought as she delved in the recesses of her mind for an answer.  Eventually she gave up, “No, I can’t.  But I’m sure you’re gonna tell me?”

Magnus shook his head but was smiling as he did, “That lip of yours will get you in trouble, you know that right?  She was a halfling, like you are Lilith.  She had humanity, she had compassion and understanding.  Something her counterparts sorely lacked.  It was this that gave her the strength to unite them in their most dire hour.  But in the end, it was also her downfall.”

“Why?  What happened?”  Lilith was intrigued now, her thirst for history was piqued.

Magnus stood and crossed the sandy floor to the centre of the arena, spreading his arms in invitation with a mischievous smile on his face, “Dodge my attacks while keeping a rein on that temper and I’ll consider telling you, deal?”

Lilith smiled, the idea of the challenge and the reward at its completion compelling her to try.  She nodded, “Deal.”

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