Navihm had been collecting branches about the length of his forearm for most of the day. Rose could see no rhyme or reason to it. Every so often he would dismount, choose a stick and lash it to the back of his saddle. This continued until he had collected around two dozen branches, most still with leaves attached. Perhaps they were for firewood, the Professor thought when he noticed the stack attached to Navihm’s packs.

The group set up camp for the night in the dying sunlight and gathered around the fire. One of the men were preparing a stew for their evening meal using some of the fresh meat they took with them. Rose was munching on a bread roll. They had to eat all their perishables in the first few days of travel. After that, they it would have to hunt for their food or break into their supply of salted meat and other longer lasting food. Rose eyed Navihm over the fire. He was engaged in stripping some branches of leaves and discarding what he broke off in the fire and depositing what remained in a growing pile of thin, straight sticks. When all the branches were stripped, he rifled through the pile, picking two or three up at random and adding them to the flames.

Rose had observed that the savage was odd before, his current actions reinforced that observation. Rose was further convinced of his strangeness when he attached a strip of red fabric to each stick. Navihm finally addressed the group about his odd behaviour.

“I'm going to set up a ward around the camp so we can be warned about any intruders,” he said, brandishing one of the makeshift flags he’d made. “For it to work it will need to be able to recognise each of you. Otherwise the ward will go off every time someone needs to collect firewood or goes for a walk. With your permission, I would like to get a quick imprint of your spirit.”

“As long as it doesn't require some sort of blood sacrifice for your weird voodoo magic to work, I’m in,” said Hue, throwing his arms wide as if to offer himself as sacrifice. Navihm smiled at him and placed this thumb on his forehead. Navihm closed his eyes briefly in concentration than rubbed that same thumb on one of the branches he held. He did the same to each of the guards until he came to the Professor.

“Would it be any trouble if I came along when you set up the wards?” he asked. “I have been curious to see how it works, the books I’ve read on the subject have been quite vague.”

“Of course, Professor,” said Navihm graciously. He repeated the same process with his thumb on the Professor and then moved onto Rose. Rose was slightly hesitant to let Navihm perform this foreign magic on her but it had done no harm to the rest of the group so she allowed it. Navihm’s hand was warm when he pressed it to her head and it felt to her as if a shadow had briefly passed over her.

The Professor had an endless amount of questions for Navihm as he trailed behind him to a spot past the tree line.

“Why do you need the sticks?” he asked.

“I need something to anchor the ward to, it will last much longer and take less concentration to maintain that way.” Navihm drove the first branch into the soft soil so it jutted up out of the ground. He made sure to place it behind a tree so anyone approaching the camp wouldn’t see the red flag until they had already passed the line of the ward. People around these parts would recognise the branches for what they were.

“Can you use anything for an anchor?” the Professor asked.

“Yes, but the results will vary.” Navihm drove another branch into the ground, a few steps to the left of the first. “If you put a ward on rocks, it will last about as long as if you didn't bother anchoring it at all. Living things work best. These branches still have a little life running through them. I’ll use these until they die completely in a week or so. That way I won't have to keep making a fresh ward at every camp, I can just wake up the one in these branches.”

A thought occurred to Professor Ward. “Wouldn't it be best to use a plant that is still alive.” Navihm chuckled.

“Yes it would. The best wards do. My home has a permanent ward set in the trees around it. We don't need one to last that long for our purposes now though, and it would be a bit inconvenient to cart whole trees to our next camp so I would need to cast a new ward every night anyway.”

“Are the flags there so you can find the sticks again?” It seemed to be the only logical explanation for advertising the fact that the camp was protected, even if Navihm was taking pains to hide the sticks behind trees or in bushes.

“Actually, I can sense my magic with very little effort after it’s cast. The flags are so we don't accidentally use these as firewood. Anyone who would recognise these as a ward, would recognise it with or without the flags.” The Professor continued to drill Navihm with questions as he completed his circle of the camp, driving in a branch every few metres. 

When they had arrived back at camp, the others were getting ready for bed.

“Professor, perhaps you should prepare for bed as well,” Navihm suggested gently, cutting off another question. “I need to concentrate for a minute or so while I cast the wards.”

“Of course, Navihm. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Professor.”

About the author


  • Australia


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