I hope that you’ve been following along with Blood Magic this year, because it’s already been pretty exciting. I’m very pleased with how the revised editions of the first season episodes are coming together (revised versions of the first two episodes of season one should now be live here on the site), and the first two episodes of the second season have been pretty strong, as well. At least, I think so, which is mostly based on how the writing process went for them. Usually, that’s a decent guide.

When I first outlined this episode in the original Blood Magic outline, before I started publishing any of the series, it was mostly intended as a throw-away episode. I had already written the first scene of the pilot episode, where Borivat goes to the Isle of Blood seeking to lift a curse on Kiluron, and so I put this episode in to help tie season two to season one, and to tie up this particular plot thread, in case anyone was tracking it. However, as I sat down to begin actually writing Witch’s Heir, I realized that this episode also represented a perfect opportunity to provide insight into another aspect of the world, some interesting discussion on superstition and reputation, and most importantly to straighten out some continuity issues that have been bugging me more and more as I’ve been working on the first season revisions.

Largest amongst these continuity issues was the matter of witches and curses, which aside from that very first scene in the pilot are not really referenced again, and which most of the magic system descriptions seem to preclude. To be perfectly honest, this was because I wrote that first scene long before I had fully established how the magic system for this series actually works, and its only real purpose was to introduce the imagery and overarching darkness that is Blood Magic (yes, that was a human sacrifice involved in lifting the curse on Kiluron, in case you hadn’t gotten that from the text’s implications. I think that I may have gotten more questions about the identity of the man in the sack than about any other aspect of the series). However, in writing this episode, I realized that this actually works very well with the world I’ve created. It’s nice when that happens.

As you’ve probably realized by now, one of the main tensions running through this entire series is the tension of Blood Magic itself. This episode, aside from giving me a chance to show off some more of Merolate’s government and Kiluron learning to accept his role as Prime, turned out as well as it did because it plays directly into that tension. The history that Aiga mentions is true (more or less). Blood Magic has always been present in Lufilna, and it was indeed a man named Exerpies who created a religion around the idea of balance, a religion that eventually grew into something called the Blood Empire (creative naming, I know). That empire fell several hundred years ago, in-world time, but Blood Magic continues to be distrusted largely because of events during its dominion.

There’s more that I could discuss, especially about Aiga and her backstory and the choices I made while writing her, but that risks going into spoiler territory. So I will finish by saying that I am very pleased with how this episode turned out, and hoping to continue this streak of strong episodes with the next one. For now, I hope that you enjoy Witch’s Heir.

               It was not a dark and stormy night.  It was dark enough, as the sun had set and it was approaching midnight, but the sky was clear of any clouds and scattered only with a thick dusting of stars.  Guardsman Bult leaned on his spear and watched the empty plain, savoring the warm spring night.  It was a good night to be standing guard, the kind of night to remind him why he so often volunteered for the night shifts.  Even if Guardsman Trelish was not always the best of company.

               “Do you believe in witches?” Trelish asked, bending his head conspiratorially towards Bult.

               Bult sighed.  “No, I don’t believe in witches.  And you oughtn’t to, either.”  Trelish always had some new wild idea to share, whether it was witches, political conspiracies, or the latest cult.  He was trendy that way, and the other guards found him good for a laugh.  Bult preferred quiet.

               “They say that young Prime Kiluron was cursed by a witch, back when Prime Wezzix selected him as a child,” Trelish continued.  Encouragement or discouragement made little difference to his conversations.  “Of course, the Prime, the old Prime that is, Prime Wezzix, not young Prime Kiluron, had the woman executed, but that don’t always be enough to stop a curse.  Curses have a way of coming true no matter what you do.  They’re like prophecies, that way, they are.”

               “Superstitious nonsense,” Bult remarked.  “Must you bother me with your constant, inane blither-blathering?”

               “You wound me!” Trelish didn’t really sound offended.  Nor did he stop his inane blither-blathering.  “I’m just saying, it’s worth considering.  Our new Prime might still have a curse upon him, and you know who tends to suffer from such things?  People like us, that’s who.  Best be cautious, I say.  Witches are crafty, and the grave don’t have the hold on them that it ought to have on more ordinary mortals.”

               “Why in all the world would a curse on an individual affect us?” Bult asked, before remembering that he was better off not trying to make any sense of Trelish’s ramblings.

               Trelish smirked.  “That’s the ways curses work, yes it is,” he said.  “Just think, if there be nightmares abroad, how do you think they’d go about getting into the city to reach the young Prime?  They’d come a-nocking right at out gate, they would, that’s what I tell you.  That’s how the curses work, it is.”

               Bult shook his head and turned back to looking into the night.  “This is ridiculous.”

               An unfamiliar voice floated up from the gate below them, and both guardsmen froze, startled at this disruption to the night’s stillness.  “Hello?  Why does no one answer?  I’ve come a long way, and am so very tired…”

               “Did you hear that?” Trelish asked.  He looked pale.  “That’s just how a witch might come, sneaking up on the city like that in the dead of night, it is.”

               “Don’t be ridiculous.  If it weren’t for your incessant chatter, we would have noticed her coming up to the gate,” Bult snapped.  “Come on.  Let’s go see who it is.  We can at least offer her a place to rest in the guardhouse until morning comes.”  He began to make his way down towards the main gate, and Trelish followed.

               “I still don’t think this is such a good idea, this isn’t,” he grumbled.  “Could be witches out there.  And you know, don’t you know and remember the last time Guardsman Proid let some young woman into the city in the night, and she turned out to be a spy?  Guardcaptain Vere weren’t not none too happy about that, no he was not.”

               Stopping in the middle of the darkened stairway, Bult took a deep breath, and turned around.  “Please.  Be.  Quiet.”

               Finally, mercifully, Trelish was silent, at least temporarily.  Together, the two guardsmen continued down to the gatehouse, and opened the gate a crack to peer out into the night.  As they had heard from their watch post, a young woman wrapped in a dirty, forest green cloak waited there, with deep, dark circles under her vivid blue eyes, all set in skin so pale it looked like she had been raised in a cave and never seen the sun.  She stumbled as the gates were opened slightly, as she had been leaning against them, but she gathered herself to stand before the two guardsman, drooping only slightly.

               “Oh, finally,” she remarked, looking them over.  “I was beginning to worry that no one would ever hear me.  Makes me feel like a ghost, out here alone in the night.”

               “I know a lot about ghosts,” Trelish said eagerly.  “This isn’t really the kind of night for ghosts.  They prefer nights that are a little mistier and foggier, they do, that is how they prefer it.  Lets them drift about like a cloud, it does, and none be knowing that they’re there.”

               “Oh, that’s a relief,” the woman said.  “I guess I was afraid for nothing.”  She favored Trelish with a smile, and he blushed.

               Bult stepped forward, shooting an annoyed look at Trelish.  “What business do you have in Merolate, Ma’am?”  Only a man like Trelish could make it sound like Bult must be heartless and mean just because he was trying to do his job.

               “That’s what I’m here to find out!” the woman exclaimed.  She sounded as bright as a spring flower, a startling contrast and reversal from her previously cold, frightened, tired state.  Her cheeks seemed fuller now, too, less pale.  “I’m an apothecary, or at least I’m studying to be.  My mother was one before me, too, but she can’t travel so much these days, and so she sent me to the city to take care of our business here for her.  But it’s been just ages since I’ve been to Merolate, and I got sort of lost along the way, and only finally made it here.  Oh, I’ll be so glad for a soft bed and a proper meal!”

               Trelish nodded, shoving his way in front of Bult again.  “Of course, I understand exactly what you mean, I do.  I have a mother to, that I do, sure as you and I are standing here in this night.”

               “You’re fortunate to have made it here safely,” Bult said firmly, pushing Trelish to the side.  “There have been several bandit incidents in the woods nearby recently.  Did you see any signs of bandit activity during your travels?”

               “Bandits?” the woman repeated, putting a hand to her lips.  Something about the gesture and her expression felt off to Bult, but he could not identify why, and he quickly dismissed the notion.  “No, I certainly didn’t see any bandits.  Oh dear, I suddenly feel faint, just thinking of how close I may have come to such danger.”

               Trelish butted in again.  “Well, you needn’t worry yourself any further about that.  I don’t know why Bult has to go scaring you like that before he even has the decency to invite you right into the guardhouse, that I don’t.  But you’re certainly safe here, nothing to worry about, save perhaps for ghosts and witches – do you believe in ghosts and witches?  I most certainly do, and it’s a topic of some considerable debate around these times – and I’m sure that my friend here is just trying to do his duty as best as he sees it, that he is.”  Trelish put an arm around Bult’s shoulders, which Bult shrugged away, twice, with a deeper grimace each time.

               “We can’t let you into the city until morning,” Bult explained, interrupting before Trelish could output a further torrent of monologue.  “However, there’s always something to eat and a place to rest in the guardhouse, and we can let you stay there until dawn when the city opens back up.”

               The woman nodded.  “That’s quite alright Guardsman Bult, I understand completely,” she said.  “I certainly wouldn’t want to get either of you in any kind of trouble on my account.”  She laughed lightly.  “Oh, but it would be nice to sit down.”

               “Right this way then, Miss, if you please,” Trelish announced, rolling the gate open enough for the woman to slip through.  “And of course I think you should please, if you don’t mind my saying so, because surely there is no finer guardhouse to rest in in all of Merolate, that there is not.  Just follow me…ah, what did you say your name was, Miss?”

               Again, that light laugh.  It seemed more like a verbal affectation than a real expression of amusement.  “I didn’t, Guardsman Trelish.  But since you ask, my name is Aigalianiariapiagia, but you can just call me Aiga.”

               “Well then, Miss Aigaliar…Miss Aiga, may I be the first to welcome you to Merolate City, do let me be.”  Trelish left Bult at the wall to close the gate back up and return to the watch post.

               It wasn’t until much later that night that Trelish finally returned to his post, but Bult didn’t mind, mostly.  He enjoyed the peace and quiet of the night, but one thought kept intruding upon his contemplative solitude.  When Trelish finally joined him on the wall again, for once Bult was the first to speak.

               “Did you ever give your name to that strange young woman we met at the gate?” he asked.

               Trelish cocked his head, thinking.  “You know, now that you mention it, I’m not sure if I did.  I don’t remember diding so, that I do not, but I must have did, because she knew my name and used my name, did she not do?  So yes, I suppose I must have done.  Why do you ask?”

               Bult leaned against the wall, looking out over the plain, and sighed.  “She used me name, too, and I don’t recall giving it to her.  Probably just my mind playing tricks on me.”

               Trelish’s face lit up.  “Or maybe she’s a witch!  I bet that’s what it is, she’s a witch, or maybe an apprentice one, that I think she is.  Doubtless she went and plucked our names straight from our heads, like a splinter plucked out with those plier things, what do they call them, tweezers, that’s what they call them, that’s what it was like, her pulling our names right from out our heads.  Yes, I’m quite certain of it now, she must be a witch, that she must be…”

               With a sigh, Bult shook his head and ignored Trelish.  It had been foolish to ask in the first place, and now he would have to put up with more inane chatter and blither-blather about witches for the rest of their shift on watch.  Next time, he would just keep silent.

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