Authors: Scott Marlowe
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
THE FIVE ELEMENTS
Copyright © 2010 - 2012 by Scott F. Marlowe
All rights reserved.
First Edition: September 2010
Book 1: The Five Elements
Book 2: The Nullification Engine (forthcoming)
The Hall of the Wood
The Five Elements is a tale of the World of Uhl.
Find out more about the World of Uhl at
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World of Uhl
: Scholar, alchemist, sorcerer's apprentice.
: Master sorcerer of Wildemoore Manor.
: A bully. Leader of the Jackals.
: Master sorcerer of Norwynne Keep.
: A dwarven raider. Second-in-command after Kelgin.
Ensel Rhe Alon
: An eslar mercenary in the employ of Norwynne's sorcerers.
: Savant, scholar, man of science.
: Erlek's apprentice.
: A healer.
: Dwarven clan leader of Fire Rock. Wielder of Soljilnor, the Flaming Cutter.
: A dwarven raider.
: Houndmaster, demon. He leads a pack of demonic hounds.
: Erlek's servant.
: A woman from Norwynne.
: Norwynne's master soapmaker.
: A boy from Norwynne.
: The youngest of the three master sorcerers of Norwynne Keep.
: Sorcerer's apprentice.
: Soapmaker's apprentice. Best friend to Aaron.
: An army sergeant.
: A cabin boy.
: A witch. Ally of Ensel Rhe.
: Lord of Norwynne Keep. Baron of Fallmere.
And they allowed Apollonius to ask questions; and he asked them of what they thought the cosmos was composed; but they replied:
"Are there then four?" he asked.
"Not four," said Iarchas, "but five."
"And how can there be a fifth," said Apollonius, "alongside of water and air and earth and fire?"
"There is the ether," replied the other, "which we must regard as the stuff of which gods are made; for just as all mortal creatures inhale the air, so do immortal and divine natures inhale the ether."
- The Life of Apollonius of Tyana, Philostratus, 220AD
ARON KNEW TWO JACKALS FOLLOWED him. It didn't really matter which ones since they were all bigger, stronger, and of a like mind when it came to tormenting him, but he supposed one of them was Elof and the other, Cliff. They'd both been there yesterday with Corrin when the three of them had finally needled Aaron to the point of retaliation. Most of the time, he took their abuse, knowing it was really just a matter of endurance. Let them get it out of their system and they'd leave him alone the rest of the day. But this time they'd picked and picked until he'd finally had enough. He didn't even remember taking the stopper off one of the vials he kept tucked into his lab vest. He wore the vest everywhere, whether he was in his master's laboratory or out and about delivering missives as he was now. One never knew when the opportunity for experimentation might present itself, his father had always been fond of saying. Though Aaron had not remembered unstoppering the vial, his choice of that particular one from the dozen or so he kept on his person was not without reason he realized the moment after he'd splashed the contents across all three of their faces. A simple reagent, the alchemical was used to detect and measure the reaction of other substances. But this particular solution also had the effect of inducing a maddening itch when it came into contact with one's skin. Getting away from them after that had been easy, but it had not been without its regrets, for Aaron knew a reckoning was coming. This, then, was it.
Aaron had never really been sure why they disliked him so much. The best explanation was either jealousy, because of his abrupt rise in station from miller's son to sorcerer's apprentice, or fear of the unknown, brought about by the experiments he and Master Elsanar performed outside the city walls. True, such experiments often involved dazzling arrays of light and bizarre noises caused by the transfer and consolidation of energy, but there was no real mystery to such trials. It was all a matter of simple physics, Nuclidean power convergence, and a myriad of alchemical reactions. He'd tried once to explain such things to Corrin, the leader of the Jackals, to show that despite his being a sorcerer's apprentice, he really wasn't that different from anyone else at the keep. If one considered getting stuffed into a garbage chute a mild response, then his explanation had been taken very well.
No explanation was going to get him out of his current predicament, though. For the time being, the pair behind him kept their distance. Like their gang's namesakes, they were flushing him out, leading him towards others who were no doubt waiting on the other side of Beming Bridge or somewhere just beyond amidst the bustle of the marketplace. Never mind that this was already Aaron's intended path and so they weren't leading him anywhere he hadn't already planned on going, but still he couldn't help but feel trapped. From a logical perspective, they'd picked a good place to ambush him. With the way behind blocked by the pair's presence and only the bridge ahead, he had to enter the marketplace. There being no other options open to him, Aaron went about crossing the bridge. At the other side, he hesitated only a moment before plunging himself into the crowd. Though his satchel was now empty of his master's letters, he kept one arm wrapped around it just in case some pickpocket took an unhealthy interest. Aaron let the natural movement of the crowd take him. He'd no idea where his other pursuers might be lurking, so he didn't think direction really mattered. Wondering, however, if a straight-line path through the square was too predictable, he turned ninety degrees and fought the tide for a few agonizing moments before breaking free and finding himself standing before a stall where wooden figurines were laid out for sale.
Aaron had little use for such novelties, but something in the workmanship caught his eye. Each of the pieces was of a different person or animal, and all were smooth and polished. Without thinking, he picked one up. The carving was of a soldier dressed in light armor. It was about as big as Aaron's hand and stood at ease with one wooden hand upon the pommel of a sheathed sword and the other holding a footman's shield. The wood was walnut and carved from a single block.
"That one there is the Protector," said the man behind the display. He spoke with a Vrannan accent and flashed Aaron a smile missing several front teeth. "He'll guard you day and night. You need only keep him close. He's yours for eight drams."
Aaron returned the figurine to where he'd found it.
"It's very beautiful workmanship, sir, but I don't need protecting." It was a lie, especially given his current circumstances, but it seemed the best way to express his disinterest in buying the trinket.
The man's grin widened. "I chop and carve the wood myself. Never really know what I'm going to carve until I get started on each block." He picked up one of the figurines. The man's hands were dry and calloused, with nicks and cuts long healed over. The carving he had selected was of an old woman, bent and gnarled. "It's Blackwood walnut. Ever hear tell of the Blackwoods?"
The Blackwood Forest was a place of fairy tales. Aaron didn't think it really existed. He told the merchant as much.
"Not true. I've been there myself. The wood is magic. I only take what's already fallen, otherwise I'd probably not be here talkin' to you. You think I jest when I say the soldier there will protect you? He will. He's enchanted to do just that."
Aaron nodded, not really believing him but not wanting to get into a debate about it, either. It wasn't that he didn't believe in magic. On the contrary, he was surrounded by it on an almost daily basis. He just doubted these figurines possessed any sort of enchantment. Aaron supposed his encorder, which measured energy, might reveal the truth, but such a display would be rude.
"What about that one?" Aaron gestured at the hunched figurine the man was still holding.
"Oh, this one?" He returned it to the table. "You don't want her. She's a witch. She'd cause you no end of trouble." His wink caused Aaron to smile. "As for the protecting, everyone needs protecting every once in a while."
Aaron's eyes returned to the soldier figurine. He picked it up again, eyeing it. On impulse, he made an offer. "I'll give you four drams for him."
They haggled briefly, settling on a price that split the difference. The man thanked Aaron for the sale and was just turning away to see to other customers when Aaron, fingering the smoothness of his new piece, asked, "What about the soldier? If everyone needs protecting, who protects him?"
The seller knew the answer to that straight off. "You do now, young sir."
Aaron nodded, and though he stared at the soldier for a moment longer, he finally opened his satchel and placed it inside.
As he turned back, intent on disappearing into the mass of moving bodies, rough hands grabbed him from behind. The merchant, whose attention was drawn elsewhere, noticed nothing. Aaron caught a brief glimpse of sneering faces before a hood was pulled over his head. He twisted and strained until a punch to the gut doubled him over and rendered him helpless. He was lifted, one arm wrapped about his torso and another around his legs, then carried away. If anyone noticed what was happening they made no move to interfere. Noise from the square fell away and, for a time, Aaron heard only the panting of his captors as their feet scurried across Norwynne's cobbled streets. Gulls screamed overhead while the crash of waves from the Barrens grew louder with each passing moment. Noise from the city faded and the wind, unhindered of a sudden by walls or dwellings, penetrated Aaron's clothing, sending a chill through him. He heard a boot splash in a puddle. Pant legs swished through tall grass. If his estimate of their rate of travel was accurate, they were in a field outside the walls. All at once, a burst of hollering broke out ahead. Aaron’s captors stopped only when they were thoroughly surrounded by the noise.