Authors: Meredith Mansfield
THE SHAMAN’S CURSE
Dual Magics Book 1
By Meredith Mansfield
Copyright 2014 Meredith
Vatar reined his horse back behind his friends and turned
his head slowly to scan around the endless circle of the plains that merged
with the sky at the far horizon. The earth was all golden brown now, the
grasses prematurely dried up by the lack of rain. Here and there, the green
smudges of trees dotted the savannah, marking the waterholes. The darker
blue-green line of the Great Forest marked the eastern horizon. Another line of
trees, much closer, marked the course of the river. Everything seemed normal,
but that spot between his shoulder blades still itched with a premonition of
undefined danger that grew stronger the closer they got to the river.
Ariad slowed down to match Vatar’s pace, allowing the other
two boys to go ahead. “Lions?”
Vatar shook his head. That was one danger he could dismiss
out of hand. His connection to the Spirit of the Lion told him the nearest
lions—in the shade at a distant waterhole—were sleeping off a full meal. “None
we need to worry about.”
“What then?” Ariad asked.
“I don’t know. Something . . .” Vatar caught himself before
he said too much. It was one of his mother’s oldest admonitions—almost as old
as “Don’t touch the fire!” From the very first time he’d tried to describe that
infrequent feeling of danger, she’d warned him not to mention it to anyone but
her and Pa. Even his little sister Kiara didn’t know about it.
Vatar was already different enough—dark-haired and
strongly-built among the tall, lanky, fair Dardani. Though she was Dardani now,
his mother had come originally from a far-off city on the sea coast. The
Dardani would accept his hair color and height, but not anything that even
hinted at forbidden magic. Other than a few old stories, Vatar had no idea why
his people had such deep-seated superstitious fear of magic, but he knew full
well that it was one of the few things they’d never forgive.
Vatar didn’t think the itch between his shoulder blades was
magic, any more than his ability to sense lions. That was his connection to his
clan’s totem spirit—just like Ariad could sense eagles. But Mother’s caution
was second nature by now. He forced one corner of his mouth up in a half-smile.
“Maybe I’ve just heard one too many of Pa’s stories about Themyri ambushes.”
Ariad barked a laugh. “Haven’t we all? To hear our fathers
tell it, the river is almost as dangerous as the Great Forest.” He shuddered a
little at the reference to the one place all plains-dwelling Dardani feared
most and made a surreptitious sign against magic and evil spirits. Being Eagle
Clan, Ariad’s hand curled in an imitation of an eagle’s talons.
Up ahead, Torkaz turned in his saddle. “Are you two coming
Ariad waved his hand and kicked his horse into a canter.
Vatar shrugged and followed.
Torkaz wiped sweat from his forehead. “It’s too hot out
here. Everything worth hunting is lying up in the shade somewhere.” He slipped
his bow back into the fringed sheath on his saddle and grinned. “Why not cut
our losses and cool off in the river?”
Ariad’s gaze flicked to Vatar. “We’re not supposed to—”
Predictably, Torkaz treated this simple statement as a
challenge, standing up in is stirrups to make himself taller. “You have a better
way to cool off?”
Ariad looked around the empty plains. “No.”
“Besides,” Torkaz went on, “the tribe won’t be staying here
much longer. The rains are bound to come soon. Then we’ll go back to the Zeda
waterhole, probably before midsummer. How often do the Dardani come all the way
to the river?” His eyes glowed with excitement. “And next time, even if it’s as
soon as next year, we’ll all have passed our manhood test and be too grown up
to go wade in the river. This may be our last chance.”
Daron shouted, “Race!” and took off at a gallop. Torkaz and
Vatar whooped and jeered at each other as they urged their horses to speed in
Daron’s wake. Ariad flailed his reins to speed his horse as he chased after the
other three boys.
It wasn’t long before Vatar stood beside his friends on the
bank looking down at the river. Below where he stood was a broad boulder-strewn
shelf. A few puddles of water lay scattered between the rocks, cut off from the
main current by the drought.
Torkaz had already taken hold of the exposed root of one of
the trees to swing himself down. Once he stood on the shelf, Torkaz’s head was
level with Vatar’s boots.
“Come on!” Torkaz said. “No point in just standing up
Daron and Ariad paused to scan the open country on the far
side of the river. That was Themyri territory and this anemic river wasn’t much
of a barrier against them. But the only thing moving on that side of the river
was a herd of wild horses. Vatar turned to look upriver and twitched his
shoulders against the prickle between his shoulder blades. Whatever was wrong
was in that direction, but he still couldn’t see, hear, or smell anything out
of the ordinary.
Daron gestured to the mountains in the distance, partly obscured
by dark, low-hanging clouds. “Look at those clouds. Why can’t that rain be
falling out on the plains, where it could do some good?”
Ariad looked down. “With all that rain upstream, you’d think
there’d be more water in the river, wouldn’t you?”
Below, Torkaz had already stripped off his boots and tunic
and was splashing in the cool water with his trousers rolled up to his knees.
Daron shrugged and grasped the root to swing down to the shelf. With a peal of
laughter, Ariad followed him.
Vatar paused, looking
from the distant mountains to the river below. A chill ran down his spine in
spite of the hot summer sun.
This is a very bad idea.
With his hand at
his side, Vatar made the sign of the lion, thumb and forefinger mimicking the
open mouth of a roaring lion. “Maybe this isn’t a good idea, after all. Let’s
Torkaz squinted up at him. “What are you scared of? It’s
just a little water. It’s not even all that deep.”
Stung by Torkaz’s taunt, Vatar took a step toward the edge.
Before he could scramble down, Ariad and Daron grabbed his ankles. They laughed
as they pulled him down, carried him over to the river, and tossed him in.
Vatar came up sputtering in the cool water. Torkaz laughed
at him. For just an instant he was tempted to pull Torkaz down into the water
and see how he liked it. Sometimes Torkaz could just be so . . . Torkaz.
Instead, Vatar retaliated by splashing water at the other three until they were
all soaked and cackling with laughter. The cool water felt delicious after the
sweaty heat of the plains.
A fish flashed silver between Ariad’s feet. For a while, the
boys turned their attention to following the fish and trying to catch one with
their hands. Trying to run after a particularly big fish, Daron tripped over a
rock and discovered still more fascinating creatures underneath it. The boys
left off chasing fish to turn over rocks. Vatar was so totally absorbed in
studying the strange creatures that lived on the river bed, examining each new
bug or fish with interest, that for a long time he paid no attention to his
nagging feeling of unease.
Vatar’s waterlogged boots slowed him down. The others were
quicker in chasing after the fascinating water creatures.
Well, there’s an
easy way to fix that.
Vatar climbed back onto the shore and sat down to
pull off his boots. He stripped off his cotton tunic for good measure and laid
them both out on a rock to dry in the sun. It wouldn’t take long in this heat.
Now that he was no longer captivated by the river and its
creatures, the vague feeling of danger grew again. As he turned to wade back
into the river, Vatar stopped and looked around. He still couldn’t see anything
even remotely threatening, but the feeling was too strong to ignore. “I think
we should leave now.”
“Tired already?” Torkaz answered. “Where’s your sense of
He certainly couldn’t tell Torkaz why he really wanted to
leave, but he had to try something. His stomach rumbled and he thought about
in his saddlebags. “I’m hungry. Why
don’t we go back up to the top of the bank and eat?”
Daron and Ariad turned at that and started splashing back
toward the beach.
“Yeah, I’m hungry, too,” Daron said.
Torkaz waded out farther. “Go if you want. I’m not keeping
you. But I’m staying until I’m done exploring.”
Vatar had had just about enough of Torkaz’s superior
attitude. “Fine, then.”
He turned to grab his wet tunic and his boots. And froze. A
sound like all the lions of the plains roaring at once filled the river canyon,
echoing off the banks. Impossible. His senses told him there were no lions
within miles. But there was no arguing with that roar. Vatar dropped his
clothes and sprinted for the bank. He grabbed the tree root and scrambled up
like a jackrabbit.
He turned at the top to help pull Ariad and then Daron up. Torkaz
splashed through the river after them. Vatar turned to look upriver. A wall of
water as high as the banks careened around the curve, carrying horse-sized
boulders and whole, uprooted trees along with it.
Vatar had to force himself to look away and back to Torkaz.
Torkaz tried to run faster, but the knee-deep water
prevented it. He tripped over one of the stones they’d overturned in their
explorations. Vatar looked back upriver. There was time. There had to be. He
took a deep breath and reached for the tree root to swing back down.
Daron caught his arm. “You can’t. You’ll be killed.”
“We can’t just leave Torkaz—”
“He’s up!” Ariad said.
Vatar and Daron turned. Torkaz was on his feet, blood
dripping from a cut on his forehead, and struggling toward the bank. Vatar
threw himself on the ground and leaned out to help his friend. Daron and Ariad
each grabbed one of Vatar’s legs to steady him.
Torkaz jumped for the tree root and missed. Vatar leaned
farther out to grab Torkaz’s arm. All three boys started to pull. Torkaz’s feet
scrabbled at the steep bank, trying to push himself higher. Between them,
Torkaz’s shoulders were just about level with the top of the bank when the
water hit. The rushing water pulled at Torkaz, but Vatar tightened his grip, refusing
to let go. Torkaz grabbed hold of the tree root with his free hand.
They were going to make it. “Pull!” Vatar screamed.
For a moment, Torkaz hung there. The water dragged him out
so that his body was horizontal to the ground. All of Vatar’s body felt
stretched to the breaking point as Daron and Ariad fought to haul them both in.
The current was too strong. The best Vatar could do was to hold on for dear
A rock propelled by the rushing wave of water struck Torkaz
in the head. The boy went limp and his grip on the tree root loosened. Now the
only thing keeping him from being swept down river with the flood was Vatar’s
hold. Vatar felt as if his arms were being pulled out of their sockets. Torkaz
acted as a weight, dragging Vatar farther out into the river. The rough stone
of the riverbank scraped his bare skin. His hands were clenched so tightly
around Torkaz’s arm he could feel the bone. Still, he would not let go.
A tree branch as big around as his thigh struck Vatar in the
side, driving the air out of his lungs. The impact numbed Vatar’s arm and hand.
Torkaz slipped out of Vatar’s grasp, tumbling downriver among the boulders and
trees. “No!” The cry sent a flash of agony through his chest.
At the release of the extra weight, Daron and Ariad fell
back, dragging Vatar with them. With his good arm braced against a tree trunk,
Vatar tried to get to his knees. He nearly passed out from the pain in his arm
and side. His breath came in shallow pants.
“Stay still, Vatar. You’ll only make it worse,” Ariad said,
coming to his side. Tears traced unheeded down his cheeks. He sniffed and
looked up at Daron. “He’s hurt bad.”
Daron quivered all over. “What do we do?” His voice was
“You’re a better rider than me,” Ariad said. “Ride back to
the village for help. And get them to start a search for Torkaz. I’ll do what I
Daron nodded once and drew in a breath that seemed to steady
him. He ran off to where they’d left the horses.