Authors: Victoria Grefer
THE CRIMSON LEAGUE
Copyright © 2012 Victoria Grefer
All rights reserved.
For Lori Sue Bergeron Grefer, my wonderful mother, who taught me the true meaning of love and family. I love you and miss you so much! I strive to be like you each day. You were beautiful in so many ways, and I know you are always with me. Some of my earliest memories are of reading Amelia Bedelia books with you on the sofa in the living room: my love affair with literature began with you, and this book would never have been possible without you.
To Greg and Rachel, thanks for your comments and questions as my first readers. To all my friends and family, especially Dad, Loren, and Erin: thanks for your support in my writing endeavors! I love you all so much!
Thanks to everyone involved in my creative writing seminars at the University of Alabama, instructors and classmates alike, for you guidance, feedback, and support. Roll tide! Ted and Tim, thanks for two great classes. I learned so much!
Thanks to all my wonderful teachers at Dominican High School who first taught me how to write as well as to read. I am eternally indebted. Mrs. Janney, Ms. Baker, Mrs. Chabreck, and Mrs. Paulin, a toast of praise!
To Brenda, Mrs. Miranda, and Mrs. Carol: you are all second mothers to me, and I am incredibly blessed for all the wisdom you have shared with me through the years. Mrs. Carol, your excitement over my progress as a writer has meant so much every step of the way!
To Brandon, Greg, Jason, Katrina, Laura P. and Laura R., Olivia, Robyn, Samantha, Scott, and Tess: your friendship means so much! You are all inspirations to me in different ways, and I don’t know where I would be without each one of you. Thanks for your support. And Tess: thanks for your formatting help! You’re amazing!
To Megan, Nikki, and Rachel, I so appreciate your support of my writing endeavors even in the days of the ill-fated (and dreadful) “Pizza Book.” I appreciate your good-natured jokes, and even your dramatic interpretations involving walls and pillars in Rose Towers! Your encouragement has meant more than you know.
To Mrs. Tracey, you always supported my drive to write, even when I was in fourth and fifth grade writing horrible short stories. Thanks for your kind words and encouragement all this time. It means a lot, and has had more of an influence on me than I think you realize.
To Amanda, Angela, Jenn, Jessica, Katie, Kelley, Lindsay, and all my friends from high school: thanks for inspiring me always! I love you ladies.
The autumn wind’s whistle died with a choke as Kora Porteg slammed her brother’s window. The tattered curtains fell lifeless against the wall. Kora made no habit of attacking windows, not in the quaint little cottage she’d called home all her seventeen years, but she was alarmed, and bitterly disappointed, at the state of this particular one.
“For the last time, Zacry, you can’t leave your room open to the world.”
“Things aren’t that….”
that bad! You should know. You steal Mother’s paper enough.”
“I understand about half of the paper, they make everything so cryptic. And I haven’t snagged one in two weeks. She’s started torching them.”
Torching them was probably best, Kora thought as she watched Zacry climb, unrepentant, into bed. He spent most days sneaking away to find news of the resistance, though he managed to hide the pastime from most people, his mother among them. He went filling his head with heroics, and him only eleven…. His new hobby frightened Kora, who forced her demeanor and her voice into nonchalance.
“Father would want you to read. To read books.”
“Well, Father’s not here, is he?”
Kora’s normally pale complexion lightened two shades. She jumped at her brother’s statement, and a strand of chestnut curls fell from the bun at the back of her neck. She stared out at a robust harvest moon, which just allowed her to descry the line of the unpaved road to Hogarane, the nearest village. Then she drew the curtains closed.
“I’m sorry,” Zacry murmured to Kora’s back. “I shouldn’t have said….”
“Well, you, you’re right. But still, Zac!”
“Why don’t you tell me a story?”
Kora took a seat on the edge of the bed. “Will you pick up a book tomorrow?
“Yes.” The surrender was guilt-won, but Kora accepted it.
“What story, then?”
Their father had told the tale many times when they were younger. Kora began the same way he always had:
“Centuries before you were born, the God-blessed kingdom of Herezoth….”
“God-forsaken’s more like it.”
“The God-blessed kingdom of Herezoth,” Kora continued, “was home to many sorcerers. You could always tell a sorcerer because he was born with a special mark.”
“That’s right. People say the mark was a triangle because to do sorcery, you needed three things: power, will, and knowledge. You had to be born with the power to cast spells, and not everyone was. You had to tr
uly will the spell to be cast. Y
ou had to concentrate, to focus your mind on what you wanted. That applies to more than ancient magic, Zac.”
Zacry’s eye roll said Kora needn’t make her agenda more explicit; he’d promised to read a book, hadn’t he? And he went to school each day. Not that he had any other option beneath the new regime, but he worked diligently in lessons. His sister went on:
“Lastly, a sorcerer needed the right incantation. If he didn’t know that, he could want to cast the spell more than anything and possess the world’s strongest magic. It wouldn’t matter a jot. Some sorcerers specialized in writing spells, but that required an understanding of magic’s subtleties that only a few ever mastered.”
“What happened to the sorcerers?”
“At first they lived with the normal folk in peace. They kept to themselves. They had their own court, their own laws to govern magic. The Hall of Sorcery was high in the mountains, and people say only the magicked ever saw it. They say you needed magic to find the path up to the peak where the Hall’s tallest spire broke the clouds. The court’s members were called Councilors, and their most famous leader was Brenthor. He was a wise man, and just. People like us weren’t afraid to go to him, offering money for help or begging for his aid. To this day it’s said Brenthor honored every honest plea. That’s probably an exaggeration, but we know for a fact he used the money from those who paid him to build houses and grow food for the poor. He advised those sorcerers who wrote spells to put them down in books, which he stored in a library next to the Hall. The king himself asked Brenthor for advice, many times. It was Brenthor who led the king’s warriors when they put down the Sorcerers’ Revolt.”
Kora paused, waiting for Zacry to ask about the Revolt. The question came, and Kora pulled her brother’s blankets tight against him; he wiggled them loose as she said, “A sorcerer came before the magic court when Brenthor was off consulting with the king. This man’s name was Hansrelto, and he was cunning, proud, and cruel. He thought magic had dignity, and that Brenthor was wrong to serve the king, to sell incantations. A number of sorcerers thought like Hansrelto, and they rallied behind him, but it was Hansrelto by himself who showed up at the Hall. He knew Brenthor was gone, and that no one at the court could challenge him.
“Hansrelto wanted sorcerers to rule Herezoth. He asked the court to follow him in an attack on the king and Brenthor’s policies. Brenthor’s second-in-command, a young sorceress named Mayven, was in charge the day Hansrelto came. She debated him, she called his views maniacal, but because Hansrelto thought all magic users had rights, he cast no spell against her. He’d come to marshal the court, and he managed to take a third of its members with him when he left, blowing apart the doors and destroying the front-most pillars. Legend holds a corner of the building collapsed.
“Mayven understood how dangerous Hansrelto was. She wasted no time in uniting her sorcerers against him while Hansrelto terrorized the villages nearby, destroying homes, killing livestock, forcing the people to submit to his new order. Finally, Mayven’s army was put together. Brenthor took command when he returned with five thousand
the king had offered all
assistance he could give. The battle took place at the foot of the mountains, and was bloody and long, and most of the magicked died. The ordinary soldiers fared little better. Only eight hundred survived, because Hansrelto cast devastating spells that took out people by the dozens. Brenthor triumphed in the end, but Hansrelto escaped to a nearby cave. Brenthor cast an enchantment on the entrance, a spell that would instantly kill Hansrelto if he walked out.
“Hansrelto died in his prison, but he had already damaged relations between the magicked and the world, damaged them beyond repair. Hansrelto changed how people thought of sorcery. They became scared. They saw what magic could do in evil hands. Brenthor’s bravery meant nothing to them, so they forgot it. Mayven’s body wasn’t found, but no one heard from her again. Most think Hansrelto injured her and she left the battle to die. Perhaps that was best, because anyone who could cast spells was shunned after the revolt. Using magic of any kind was grounds for death. The few sorcerers that were left hid themselves. Magic arts were lost to time, or so it seemed.”
“Until Zalski,” said the boy.
“Until Zalski. He was the son of the king’s chief adviser. He bribed the royal guards, as many as he could, offering positions of power. Some he threatened in secret. However he did it, he had enough support to overthrow the royals. No one stood against him, not when he started casting spells. That was just two years ago.”
“Two years,” mused Zacry. “I was nine. It seems longer than two years.”
“Of course it seems longer. He’s taken three-fourths of what we’ve earned for the past fifty months. It’s his way of keeping us weak, so we can’t rise up. Even down here he’s managed to get Farmer Byjon on his side, and since Farmer Byjon controls everything….”
“But people did rise up,” said Zacry. “You’ve seen the wanted posters: the Crimson League. They stopped that caravan of quartz from reaching Zalski three months ago. They’ve killed as many soldiers as they’ve lost.”
Kora shifted her weight from one side to the other. “They have courage,” she admitted. “The Crimson League is brave, if nothing else. And they deserve better than the deaths that wait for them. But if you don’t think Zalski has fifty men to replace every one they take from him….”
Zacry stared stubbornly at his sister, as he did every time this story devolved into the same argument. “I believe in them.”
“Just don’t believe too loudly, for all our sakes. Now, that’s enough for tonight. It’s late. Sleep well, Zac.”
Kora kissed her brother and went out to what passed for a sitting room, its wooden walls and floor bare except for a portrait of her family. Not long ago comfortable chairs had filled the space, and shelves where her parents displayed books and heirlooms, or the occasional vase of flowers. All had been sold, even the rug, everything but a small table and the portrait, where Kora’s father looked down to make her heart wrench each time her eyes met his. She found her mother seated on a stool, weaving.
“I need you to go to town this week.”
That caught Kora’s attention. “Into Hogarane? Alone?” She hadn’t walked to town by her lonesome since Zalski’s coup.
“The roads are still safe by day, despite what befell your….”
“I know what happened, Mother.”
“I hate to send you, but there’s no way around it. I’ve got too much to do here to go myself. I’ve fallen behind somehow, and the more time I can weave, the more cloth I’ll have to sell. I almost have enough to go to market. I have to make i
t there by the end of the month. W
e owe taxes on the fifth.”
“What do you need?” Kora asked.
“Flour, but no more than twenty cups. It spoils much too fast. And eggs, as many as you can get with what’s left over from the coin tin.”
“I don’t understand, did something happen at the general store?”
“Their chickens died. Some kind of disease spread through the coop. And then, the wheat here won’t be harvested for a fortnight. The word came out this afternoon.”
“What’s this, Monday? I’ll go on Wednesday.”
“Be back well before dark. Hours before, I mean it.”
Both women glanced at the portrait, and Kora assured her mother, “I won’t dally.”
“I know you won’t. That’s why I’m letting you go.”
Kora nodded, and lowered her voice. “Did you pick up the
“In the flour bin.”
“The flour bin?”
“I didn’t want your brother finding it. Throw it in the hearth when you’re finished.”
was the monthly paper of the resistance, known for its stories about those suffering under Zalski’s regime: disappearances, deaths, quiet arrests made public through no other forum. This issue’s featured story was that of a teenager forced to flee his home village up north after breaking an uncle out of jail. The man had been arrested for failure to pay taxes; neither he nor his nephew had been captured.
The boy Kora read about was only four years older than her brother. To contemplate that froze her heart, for Zacry’s thirst for news was turning into an obsession with the damn Crimson League. He was already darting off to places he had no business being on his way home from the schoolhouse. Kora followed him once out of curiosity, wondering what had been making him late. He went to the local tavern, crouched beneath the rear window to listen to conversations between the men who stopped in to complain to one another before they rushed home to families who never seemed to have quite enough food for a decent dinner. Perhaps, Kora thought, if they drank less at the tavern they might find larger portions waiting. But they needed to come together, to commiserate, and no one wanted old Dane, the barkeep, to starve.
Another story was about the Crimson League’s latest escapades.
The administration has been silent on the events of 1 October, but witnesses describe an ambush on one of Zalski’s fuel transports, which contained both wood and coal. The shipment’s destination is still unclear, but wherever it was going, it never arrived. Five masked men outside of Yangerton, ignoring the presence of two families returning to the city, attacked two soldiers moving three large crates. No deaths were reported, though the masked men, who declared themselves members of the Crimson League when they shot an arrow with a crimson-dyed feather into the transport wagon, took the crates.
Each month Kora expected the
to shut down, to fail to appear in the district, which would likely be the only sign when the army found its writers or its editors. After reading the current issue, as the kitchen stove was unlit, Kora watched the newsletter blacken and curl in the flames of the sitting room fire.
“I’m worried about Zac,” she said. Her mother barely looked up from her weaving. “He thinks of nothing but resisting. He only talks about the Crimson League. You heard him, he went on about them over dinner last night.”
“Don’t be too severe. He’s young, but he remembers
better times. H
e’s old enough for that. I for one am glad he’s got a conscience.”
“He’ll get arrested. Maybe not until he’s my age, but mark my words….”