The Magician

by Lorena Christine

The weather was divine, right on time for the start of the week-long Festival, eagerly anticipated by all villagers in Myra, and especially by The Caravan. The Caravan was a large nomadic tribe composed of multiple traders and adventurers. Theogart was the leader of the itinerant clan, and his young daughter, Esmeralda, was a respected member who carried a great reputation in the Festival’s market.

The Caravan travelled as a long succession of horse-driven wagons that had seen better days and reeked of under-maintenance. Crammed and impatient, the multicoloured wagons hurried on from valley to valley to arrive as early as it could to the Festival in Myra, where they had the opportunity to trade with a large current of people. And this happened every year, for no other reason than Myrabeing the home of the Blessing of Flowers, and the Festival commemorated that special day in history. In every year’s Festival, thousands of villagers from far and wide converged to appreciate the festive market and the flower gardens as well as to pray at the Church.

Upon entering Myra, The Caravan’s travellers watched how the mosaic of people of all backgrounds gathered around the flowering land while on the other side, in the Church’s penumbra, a swarm of traders squeezed through the embryonic narrow market aisles, swaddled with awnings and tents. And the market was already driving itself deep and across the inner city of Myra, despite being the first day of the Festival week. The racket of the multitude took over every nook and cranny of the city of Myra.

The Caravan settled where they could; caravan upon caravan taking their place in Myra’s grounds. The clustering women of the tribe, being the designated merchants, were collecting all their trinkets and treasures to be traded in the market.

Esmeralda was one of the Caravan’s merchants and, unlike the other women, she wasn’t contemplating her appointed job with excitement. Esmeralda was supposed to join the collective effort, but couldn’t bring herself to it.

In the background, four men, who were the adventurers of the clan, were scampering in and out of the wagon with parts resting on their thewy biceps, helping the ladies out to set up their long marquee. As Esmeralda watched the marquee unfold, she was sure that a newfound comprehension was climbing inside of her. Everybody noticed her stalled position.

“Esmeralda, you are expected to give us a hand, you know?” questioned Filne, one of the men.

“I know… but… I’m tired of being a merchant.” Esmeralda huffed.

“Excuse me, what?” Filne approached with widening ears.

“I’ve been trading in this market for five years in a row now. I can’t keep doing this just because I am a woman. My soul is tired, exploited, and craves adventure.” Esmeralda held her hands up.

Filne frowned and clicked through his teeth at Esmeralda’s response. He gathered the other men around her to listen to her audacious words. Esmeralda decided it wasn’t going to intimidate her.

“I want to be an adventurer, like all of you.” Esmeralda continued.

Her father, Theogart, stepped forward and spoke first out of all the men.

“I’m sorry, but it is indisputable that you must stay with The Caravan in the market. This can’t be discussed, Esmeralda.” He said, unstirred.

“But I want it and I could be good at it, father. How can you know if I haven’t ever adventured with you fellows?” Esmeralda said, gesturing unrest.

“I already know because you are a woman, and you have to follow what the other women do, otherwise who is going to do the trading?” Replied Theogart.

“You have to stay, Esmeralda. No other woman is complaining here. Don’t even think of adventuring with us, or you will face the consequences.” Interjected one of the other bearded men of the Caravan.

Esmeralda was left alone with two closed fists and a fallen jawbone, amid a mental storm of angst. But she decided she wasn’t going to stay back.

The four men, including Theogart, set off for adventure, in search of riches to be sold in the market or kept as valuables, and, most importantly, a rare and powerful deck of magical cards. They galloped away with their horses on a foot track beyond the city leading out into the glimmering valleys.

Esmeralda was smart enough to find her own grey and white steed in the market, and ready with her dark cloak, hid away to follow the male adventurers furtively into the unknown, leaving the market’s bustle behind.

Esmeralda was a distance away from the Caravan’s men, meandering through fluffy groves and longer paths so she could remain unseen. She was doing a good job of staying behind them, as long as she could identify the Caravan’s adventurers as striding matchstick specks and not lose track of them.

The clip-clop was becoming deafening by the end of the day when the sky was turning into a befogged blanket of stars. However, Esmeralda was grateful to find that the adventuring group in front was approaching a crossroads linking with a hamlet rooted on protected timberland, probably where the cards lived.
Probably home to barbarians by the look of the housing.
Despite her fears, she could make out a discreet inn in the distance.

Suddenly, a zipping speedy sound shook her eardrums. The source wasn’t near, but it was audible enough and sneaked up on the adventurers. Then another. And another, and she soon realised that they were darting arrows coming from the trees’ depths.

Esmeralda’s father and the adventurers were officially in danger, and in response, they dismounted and took cover, attempting to eject their own arrows, with no luck in landing on target. It was too dark for them to see. Thankfully, Esmeralda, with her eagle eye and advantageous position from a distance, could distinguish where the archers were hiding, with the help of a little moonlight. There were two of them, each sat on the thick offshoots of opposing oaks.

It crossed Esmeralda’s mind that she was well in the realm of possibility of taking the attackers down. She had to intervene before anything worse could happen to her father and her people. The only problem was that if she was caught by them, she would be in trouble. This thought frightened her, yet she knew she had to take action. Her hope was that her cloak would keep her anonymous.

So she was quick to dismount and collect a pouch-full of rocks and pinecones from the soil, as many as she could find. And right away, Esmeralda and her horse moved forward at full speed, and, as she curved around from behind, she tried her hand at launching her rocks and pinecones at the enemy archers attacking her tribe. She wasn’t one to use weapons to hurt anyone, but this was the only way she had a fighting chance to save her father and his company from a fatal arrow. It took her a few tries paired with battle cries until, eventually, the archers were distracted and knocked off their branches. Plop!

In pain, the enemy archers were rolling around in the undergrowth. To gain some edge, Esmeralda tied them up against the oak, ensuring they were incapacitated to attack again until the adventurers came by. Esmeralda was about to escape unnoticed, but it was too late as soon as her father arrived at the scene.

“Esmeralda! Is that you?” He caught a glimpse of her facial profile in between the leafy shadows.

“Father!” She said when she had nothing to lose and ran towards her father with open arms. “It was me! I saved you!”

“W-why are you here? H-how did you do that?” He faltered.

“Intuition. I told you I am an adventurer!” Esmeralda smiled, searching for validation.

The father was out of words but too pleasantly impressed to be angry at Esmeralda. The other men felt the same way, too. She couldn’t believe that it took saving them for her to be trusted to accompany them further in their adventuring state. Esmeralda gained the adventurers’ respect, and this was nothing short of a success in Esmeralda’s eyes.

The adventurers all grouped together and decided to take the enemy archers as prisoners and promise their freedom if they helped the adventurers find their way to the much sought-for magical deck of cards.

The prisoners, under pressure, led them to a small lit-up hut at the edge of the hamlet where the magical artefact was kept hidden from irresponsible people. These cards were too powerful to be known by anyone, so they were stored away years and years ago, buried under the hut. While many people across the counties knew of its existence, only a handful of this particular hamlet’s villagers had knowledge of their location.

The prisoners served a great value in their quest. The deck was finally in the Caravan’s hands and the prisoners were untied and let free, without their bows and arrows, running back to the hamlet with their tails between their legs.

“Esmeralda, you may not know this, but these cards all hold a different and unique effect. They allow you to manipulate your surroundings with magic. Light, colour, air, movement, sound, texture, and matter; it can all be modified to one’s advantage. Now that we have the cards in our hands, we can perform in Circus shows and earn much more coin than we do selling trinkets in the Festival.” Theogart said, all pally.

That was his word of honour. And a few sunsets away, the Caravan’s plan became reality. Esmeralda didn’t face any harsh consequences and instead, with careful training, learned how to use some cards to conjure spectacles for the benefit of the Caravan’s show business.

The Caravan adventurers and Esmeralda travelled up and down the counties, participating in local circus shows and entertaining easily amused audiences, members of which had probably never stepped foot outside their town. Only when Esmeralda brought out her magic card show, was it evident that the circus entertainment bar was set too low. Esmeralda, in her famous crimson ringmaster attire, would throw cards and stage light and fire spectacles to awe so many faces. The Caravan were pioneers and were paving their path to glory.

One soiree, Esmeralda was programmed to perform at Whitecastle’s circus. In the middle of the show, Esmeralda shuffled the cards, albeit under flickering and dimming light magic, before she selected her next card to throw for the grand finale. The moment her selected card landed, she realised that what was supposed to be a colour manipulating effect card was actually something much, much more unexpected. Esmeralda had accidentally picked the wrong card.