She flapped her arms as if they were wings on a giant bird, slowly but with great power. Feeling her feet rising off the ground, she used all her will to ascend, each flap much stronger on the downward stroke. The elation coursing through her veins, she forced her mind to focus on rising into the air, later there’d be time for celebration. Upwards she rose, each stroke filled with determination and fear. She couldn’t afford to be caught again; the penalty would be severe. Higher and higher she ascended, now able to see beyond the towering walls circling the estate. Her freedom only moments away.
Suddenly, something latched around her ankle, dragging her back down. Continuing to flap, she looked down at a chain which had wrapped itself around her leg, the mage holding the other end. “No!” she cried, flapping with all her might, kicking furiously.
Against her will, she continued downwards. The walls grew higher around her again as he reeled her in. Back down to earth, back to him, back into servitude. Fighting with all her might, the potion she’d drunk was not as powerful as his magic.
Her feet touched the stony ground. Her escape thwarted, she looked up into her master’s face and saw a deep scowl creasing his forehead. Aged at just over a hundred years but looking only thirty, she marvelled at how well the magi held their age. Dropping to her knees, she apologised, saying she just wanted to try the new potion.
Grabbing her by the arm, he pulled her to her feet saying, “Not good enough.” Without releasing his grip, he brought her inside and continued, “I have been lenient with you up until now, Ayadora. From here on, you will find things more difficult.”
He dragged her along the hallway and down the winding staircase. Upon reaching the bottom, she screwed up her nose as the smell of dank air hit her nostrils. She didn’t like it in here, it was cold and musty, and dark, lit by only a couple of lanterns. She knew she’d never get used to it here, regardless of how many times she’d been incarcerated. Approaching the first of three cells, the mage muttered the opening charm and the iron bars widened.
“Get in,” he ordered. She stepped through and turned to watch the bars close behind her. With another wave of his hand, the chain disappeared and he departed.
“Only a couple of days, at most,” she promised herself.
Ayadora looked around her cell, cut into the rock with iron bars along the front. No doors on any of the cells, the magi had removed all possibility of escape, especially for a natural.
Leaning back against the wall, she felt the cold penetrating the thin fabric of her dress. She contemplated her confinement, wishing if only she wasn’t a natural, she could open the bars and walk free. But then, she wouldn’t be here as a slave. Naturals were taken against their will from surrounding villages and sold at market to the highest bidder. They were made to perform domestic duties as well as being subjects for their experiments. Drinking potions often resulted in unpleasant effects. The thought of when Ayadora was trying to hide from the mage’s cat after being transformed into a 3-legged mouse made her shudder. Thankfully, potions wore off within hours, or a day at the longest. Ayadora had fetched a high price on the market, so her master worked her day and night.
Thoughts of her family flooded Ayadora’s mind. The last time she saw them had only been a couple of years ago but it seemed an eternity. She had said a casual goodbye to her mother and little brother before her routine trip into town. She was on her return journey when she’d been taken. A spell binding her, she was unable to move or cry out. Dumped into a wagon, she saw two others who were likewise bound. Concealed by magic, they were transported for a couple of days before reaching magi territory. Within the week she’d been sold to her master, a mage requiring a new servant after the last had perished, apparently due to an unfortunate accident.
Hearing footsteps approaching, Ayadora stepped up to the bars, hoping it was her master about to release her, but it was only his apprentice with a bowl of food. Vreq handed it to her through the bars and left.
She’d considered pleading with Vreq but knew it would be a waste of time, he was young and held her master in high regard thinking he could do no wrong. And it didn’t help that naturals were regarded by the magi as lesser beings, destined for nothing but servitude.
Feeling tiredness wash over her, she sat on the floor, ate the tasteless stew and closed her eyes.
Ayadora had no idea what time it was when she awoke. A dry piece of toast along with a cup of water had already been delivered. “At least Vreq didn’t burn it this time,” she mused. Eating slowly, she pondered her future and decided to occupy her mind with more pleasant thoughts.
The next few days came and went and her captivity was beginning to wear on Ayadora. She’d previously spent only a night or two at a time in this cold, dark place. At least there were no rats to worry about, the mage’s cat had made sure of that, but other creepy crawlies still lurked in the darkness.
Again, footsteps descended the stairs. She rose to her feet as the mage and Vreq approached the bars, the younger holding another bowl of food.
“Swear to me you will not try to escape again,” the mage said.
Ayadora hesitated. Wanting to be released from her cell, she lowered her eyes and replied, “I swear.”
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
Choosing her words carefully, she replied, “Master, locking me in here for the past week has given me time to think. I have tried to leave three times, and you have caught me each time. I now accept that I am not equal to you in any way.” She paused. “This is my home now, and I choose to remain here within your servitude.”
“Hmmm,” the mage replied. “Let’s see what a little veritas charm brings out, shall we?”
Ayadora panicked, backing away from the bars.
Forming a cloud of swirling blue magic with his hands, the mage chanted a spell. Ayadora withdrew further as it passed through the bars and towards her. Her back hit the wall as she felt it pass into her.
“Will you try to escape again?” the mage asked.
Her words were pulled from her, without censor. “Of course I will! I’ll do anything I can to get the hell out of here and back home.” She closed her eyes knowing she had just sealed her fate.
The mage said, “Fine. Then have it your way.” And he turned and left.
Ayadora spun on her heel and rested her forehead against the wall, her arms crossed tightly in front of herself. The damage now done, she would wear the consequences.
She heard Vreq place the bowl on the floor and leave. The longing for her family and the desire to see the outside world again filled her heart with despair. Ayadora knew the mage will do everything in his power now to prevent her from leaving.
Later that evening, she crawled over to the bars and reached through. Screwing up her nose at the cold stew, she ate it.
Feeling weary, she made herself as comfortable as possible on the stone floor and fell asleep. Dreams of her family, her last escape attempt, shopping in town, love, laughter and friends drifted through her mind.
The sound of the mage’s voice woke her. “Ayadora. Rise.”
Without hesitation, she picked herself up off the floor and stood before him.
“Do you choose to serve?” he asked.
“I do,” she replied honestly.
“And whom do you choose to serve?” he asked.
“You Sir, Mage Agalanthor Daras.” The words flowed from her easily.
“And what is your fate?”
Without a second thought, she replied, “I am a lesser being in this world. My fate is to serve you for as long as you wish it.”
“And your family? Do you desire to return to them?” he asked.
“No, Sir. They are also lesser beings. I have been given the honour and privilege to serve under you. I choose to remain here for the rest of my days.”
She watched him open the bars. Ordering her to step through, she followed him away from the cells and up the stairs.
Ayadora no longer had any desire but to serve. She followed him into his study, where he took his seat behind his desk, covered in papers and books. She noticed more books were piled up around the floor and was itching to put them away.
“You know your duties, you may begin in here,” he said with a wave encompassing the room.
“Yes, Sir,” she said, bowing slightly. She eagerly began tidying the room as he worked, returning everything to its rightful place, stacking papers, dusting furniture, and sweeping the floor. When he was satisfied, she was permitted to move on to her next task.
The next few days continued in this manner, catching up with the house chores kept her busy, and having to subject herself to potions the mage had concocted exhausted her.
That evening, as she was tidying the mage’s study, she knocked a small bottle of green liquid off his desk. She looked in horror as it hit the stone floor, shattering immediately.
“You clumsy idiot!” He yelled. “All that time, wasted! You stupid, stupid girl!”
“I’m sorry, Sir,” she cried, bending to pick up the shards.
“Clean it up, and next time you will be spending a month behind bars!” He grabbed a book from the shelf and ordered Vreq to assist him in gathering ingredients.
Ayadora cleaned up, telling herself she mustn’t be so clumsy. Afterwards, she was banished to her room, with the mage locking the door behind her.
Ayadora fell onto her bed, chastising herself. She lay there, curled up in a ball, wishing she could make things better until she finally fell asleep.
Dreams of her family returned that night. Little by little, her desire to rejoin them crept into her mind. She awoke suddenly, intensely aware of what he’d done and what she’d forgotten. The green liquid, she remembered, was one he’d been giving her daily, and due to her clumsiness, she’d missed the last dose. Rising, she tried her door but it was still locked. “He’s been keeping me under control,” she muttered. Then it dawned on her, “The stew! Ayadora, you idiot!”
Rationalising her mistake, she tried to plan her next escape. But her first move, getting out of her bedroom, would be a challenge. Her window was too high from which to climb down safely, and even if she could, it was impossible for her to get over the high wall surrounding the estate. The gates were always securely locked with her master holding the keys. There was no other way through or under the wall, so she would have to go over the top, and that meant the flying potion again. But that would have been well hidden by now.
Confined in her room for two days, Ayadora was relieved when Vreq stood in her doorway and ordered her to her master. She exited her room, hesitating only for Vreq to step aside. She descended the stairs, entered the study and approached her master.
“You know what this is?” he asked, indicating a vial of green liquid at the front of his desk.
A new batch, she surmised. “Yes, Sir,” she replied. “It’s what made me obey you.”
“Nearly. It is not just obedience Ayadora, but desire. Or more precisely, my desire,” he explained. “Desiderium is its name.”
She knew it made sense, she had not only wanted to obey but had lost all thought of family. The perfect slave. “Yes, Sir,” she said, not taking her eyes off the little green vial.
“Do you know what my desire is for you right now?” he asked quietly.
Ayadora began to tremble, fear choking her words. “No, Sir,” she whispered.
“Oh, come now, surely you could guess?” he taunted.
A tear rolled down her cheek, realising whatever thoughts she had of her former life would soon be gone. She tried to speak, her lips moved but no sound escaped them.
“What was that? I didn’t quite hear.” He rose from his chair and sat close to her on the corner of his desk.
Ayadora closed her eyes, tears streaming down her cheek. “You want me to drink it, Sir,” she whispered.
The mage spoke with a lilt in his voice. “I knew you were an intelligent girl!” he said, patting her on the shoulder.
She jumped at his touch and opening her eyes, saw him bring the vial closer. Wiping away her tears, she begged him, “Please, Sir. Let me stay as I am. Please don’t force me to drink that. I’ll lose myself. I swear I will do as you ask in return, but please, not this.”
“That’s precisely the point, Ayadora.” He continued, “You do obey me, except your longings for home and family drive you to foolish endeavours.” He removed the stopper and said, “Very well. If you choose not to drink it, then I will have to help you.” Stepping back, she knew she was powerless to stop him. “Or…” he smiled, “I will bind you. That will mean any attempt to leave these walls without my consent will cause your immediate death,” he said, punctuating his words by replacing the stopper. He put the vial back on his desk.
Ayadora felt the blood drain from her face. “No! Please! There must be some other way!” she pleaded. “Please, Sir, oh merciful mage, just give me one more chance, please.” She fell to her knees placing her forehead on his foot.
“Why do you plead so? The charm is not harmful to you in any way, except of course, should you disobey my directive,” he said. “It is much more practical than placing you in chains or you having to drink the potion every day, believe me. The only reason I haven’t done it sooner is because it can encourage suicide.”
She’d never considered that. “Is that what happened to your last slave?” she asked.
Pausing, he replied, “Yes.”
Ayadora sighed, considering her options but not liking any. To be bound would certainly put a stop to any further escape attempts, and to drink the elixir meant losing herself. An alternative sprung to mind. Looking up at him, she said, “Sir, I don’t want to be bound either physically or magically. Please, if you would permit me to visit my family, I shall willingly return to you.”
“Visit your family? I should think not!”
“Please Master,” she whispered. “I haven’t seen them for so long. I swear I’ll do anything you ask.”
He went to speak but stopped, deep in thought. After some consideration, he asked, “You would give your heart freely and openly to me? To serve without regret or resistance?”
Knowing she would have to hold up to her side of the bargain, she replied, “Yes, Sir.”
He began pacing the floor. She didn’t dare move. “A willing slave is priceless. One who is not bound or coerced in any way and who offers their whole heart has immense potential.” He looked at Vreq. “Just think of the charms, the potions we could create with a heart such as that?” Vreq nodded in agreement. That achievement would increase the mage’s status amongst his peers substantially.
Returning his gaze to Ayadora and gently lifting her to her feet, the mage continued, “And you, my dear, will be my source.”
She nodded uneasily, unsure of what that entailed.
He laughed, a warm, genuine laugh. A sound she hadn’t heard for ages. It made her smile.
“Very well. I will grant your request. You may leave here to visit your family.” She couldn’t believe she was finally getting out of here, at least for a while. But then his face darkened, “However,” he stood before her, “should you not return by this date from two weeks hence, you will be brought back here and bound within these walls forevermore, and you will forfeit the lives of all you hold dear.”
Ayadora swallowed hard. She figured there’d be a condition, but to risk the lives of those she loved? That complicated things. However, she felt up to her word and nodding in agreement, she watched him step back and conjure a curse. She held her breath as it entered her, feeling it course through her body then left, flying out the window towards her home.
He lightened his tone. “Since your house is a couple of day’s ride, I would suggest you take Sering from the stables to hasten your journey. I will show him the route you are to follow.”
“Sir, thank you,” Ayadora replied. “I promise you won’t be disappointed,” she said, heading towards the door.
“I had better not be, for your sake,” came the reply as she left the room.
Racing upstairs, she packed her bag and headed to the stables. As she approached, the magi completed the direction charm and turned to her.
“He is ready and the gate is open.” She mounted the horse.
“Remember the curse, Ayadora. You must be here for me to cancel it,” he warned.
She bowed her head and replied, “I will, and thank you.” Nudging Sering with her heels, he began walking towards the gate. Her freedom only seconds away. Just before passing through, she pushed aside her fears, looked back towards her master and smiled farewell.