Authors: James J. Crofoot
Tags: #adventure, #ghosts, #magic, #necromancer, #dragon, #undead, #skeleton, #dark magic, #bandits
I’ll ask Xavier if he can help, okay?”
Ronald looked at him and smiled, a malicious spark in his eye.
Thomas knew that look, it meant trouble. Sure enough, Ronald pushed
him to the ground. “You’d better get that old man to help, or else
I might not be so nice next time.”
The rest of the boys laughed.
* * *
They laughed at me, Xavier,” Thomas said. “They pushed me
down and laughed at me.” He picked a piece of gravel from the
scrape on his elbow and winced. “They want you to fight the army
that’s on the way for them.”
Xavier watched his student being tender with the wounds and
started thinking of ways to punish the villagers for the outrage.
“People,” Xavier spat. “People are always wanting others to do
everything for them while they continue on with their selfish
lives. They should flee—go to the prince as instructed instead of
What will we do?” asked Thomas. “I can’t go home. Not right
now anyway.” He added the last words in a hurry.
Do you see, boy? Do you see how jealous and lazy people
Are you going to help them? It won’t sit well with them if
you say no. There is my mum and da, they’re not really that
Xavier grumbled and walked away.
That night, outside the tower, a loud din could be heard
approaching. Then came the pounding on the ancient oak and iron
Come out, mage!” Thomas recognized the speaker as Ronald’s
father, Jim. He also used force, and his size, as his favorite way
of dealing with most situations. “Come down here and protect us.
You owe us for letting you live here. Open up or we’ll break down
this door of yours and burn this tower!”
With anger burning in his eyes, Xavier opened the door. Thomas
thought he stood taller. “What is it you want from me? All I’ve
ever wanted was to be left alone. Now you come to my home and
threaten me. What have I ever done to any of you?”
Jim stepped back a little, his eyes wide, having not expected
Xavier’s bold glare. However, with the village men behind him, Jim
laughed. “Don’t think we don’t know about you digging up our dead,
dead that should be left buried, in peace. Don’t think we don’t
know about your dark ways practiced in this tower. You’ve put us
all in such danger for thirty years. Now we demand payment for all
those years of that peril.”
The mob quickly shouted their approval, waving clubs and
torches in the air. “We demand you help us! You must!”
Xavier glared harder at the man on his doorstep and again Jim
took a step back. “Be in the village square tomorrow at noon and I
will give the help I can.” With those words, Xavier slammed the
door in Jim’s fear-filled face.
Are you going to help them, then?” Thomas asked.
Ah, yes,” Xavier answered. “They will be able to defend
The boy watched Xavier pull several books from their places on
the shelves and then start upstairs. “Are you going to the top
floor?” he asked. “May I help?”
Xavier stopped and turned to look at Thomas with a blank
expression. “You are the very first boy I’ve ever taught. In thirty
years, there has been no other to show an interest in what I can
teach. But you are not ready yet.”
Thomas looked back at the fire, at the white-hot coals in its
bed, as he remembered the crowd that had come to the door. He had
heard his father’s voice in that throng of men. He could not help
but wonder what his father would do, now that his son knew so much
more than he did. Not a single word came from his da as to his
son's wellbeing, only angry shouts of his selfish wants. Perhaps
Xavier was right about people.
The boy stayed the night curled up in the threadbare chair in
front of the fire.
* * *
The next day, Xavier showed up with Thomas in tow.
In the middle of the village, gathered as instructed, stood
You must all get as close together as you can,” the
necromancer said, producing a scroll from his shoulder bag. “You’re
sure this is what you want? You will not go to Targon?”
The crowd moved restlessly, insisting again he should protect
them. Thomas even heard his mum, given courage by Xavier showing up
upon command, say, “It’s about time you did something for us.” Then
he heard Brandon’s mum complain, “It’s hot out here, can’t you
hurry up, mage?”
Is this going to help us keep our homes and crops, our
possessions?” Jim asked. “Are you going to protect us?”
Oh yes,” Xavier assured, looking the appointed mob leader in
the eye. “This is going to keep the village safe. No soldier of
Kross will want to enter here.”
They all pushed together until they could get no closer.
Thomas started to join them, but his teacher restrained him with a
hand on the shoulder and a stern look. Thomas looked at his mum and
da, then at Spencer and Brandon. They did not seem to want to
include him, as they avoided his gaze.
He listened as his teacher started to read from the scroll in
a language the boy could not understand. The villagers quickly grew
impatient, and one by one, began to itch their scalps.
Thomas watched as the villagers could do nothing but scratch.
He looked at his parents again. There they stood, now ripping the
hair from their heads and screaming. Thomas watched impassively as
his friends began to scrape the flesh from their bones. He
remembered how they laughed when Ronald pushed him to the
In minutes, it ended.
Skeletons now stood where people once stood. Those people who,
only last night, demanded on pain of death, that Xavier defend
them. Red flames now burned in the sockets where eyes once looked
out. The thought to pity them passed through his head, but they did
get what they asked for. Xavier had done what they demanded of him.
No soldier of Kross would wish to enter this village.
I command you to protect this village,” Xavier said. Thomas
looked up to see his teacher’s eyes resting on him. “Come, boy. I
think it’s time you started studying on that fourth
* * *
Days later, a score of Kross’s soldiers came to the tower.
They wore red leather armor and carried shields emblazoned with
stylized red griffins. Their swords were two feet long and curved.
A mounted lieutenant led them, but stopped and let the footmen
approach the black stone tower in the middle of the desolate
clearing. When the footmen got close, though, they screamed and
burst into a fine red mist.
Did you do that, Xavier?” asked Thomas, standing beside
Xavier on the tower roof.
Yes,” his teacher said as he watched the horseman looking up
at him. “I put in place a powerful ward while you slept last night.
Any one of them that comes closer than I want will end the same
The lieutenant cautiously approached to within yelling
distance. “Old man, is that your work in the village south of
Yes. It’s my work,” Xavier shouted in reply. “Just leave me
alone. That’s all I want.”
Thomas watched as the horseman looked around him. With his
horse neighing, prancing nervously, and spinning around, he had to
keep turning his head. Then the lieutenant stopped trying to keep
the horse in place as it tried to run. He pulled its head around
with the reins and galloped away.
Thomas looked up at his teacher in awe of the power the old
man controlled. He, one man, had turned back not only the men
below, but surely the whole of the army. “Will they return, do you
If they want to lose more men.” Xavier turned to his student.
“Come, boy, time to get back to your studies.”
Ten years passed and Thomas continued to learn. He came to
appreciate his teacher’s views on the living, how they always
seemed jealous and selfish, always despising those who were
different. Granted, Thomas’s dealings with people became limited
with his village gone, but the village two days’ away supplied them
with food and the people there reinforced his teacher’s way of
Then, one day in late summer, Xavier proved himself mortal.
Despite a lifetime of giving life to the dead, he could not
maintain his own. Now the student stood over the grave of his
one-time teacher and contemplated whether or not to give life back
to the man. However, although Thomas agreed with the man who taught
him many things, he could not agree the things brought back from
the grave had that spark of life, that spirit original in
He thought of the army which defeated the kingdom of his youth
and how that army bypassed the village he called home until the age
of thirteen. The same army that bypassed his and Xavier’s home when
shown the power his teacher called forth. The new king wrote often
before his teacher died. In his letters he would always request of
Xavier to raise an army of the creatures, like those still guarding
the village to the south.
But all Xavier wanted, when alive, was to be left alone.
Therefore, the letters went unanswered.
Thomas now held the latest letter in his hand, yet another
asking for an army. The reason he became a student in the first
place had been to see this city of Targon and now the letter gave
him a ticket to go.
did not want to be left alone, especially not in this crypt
of a tower.
The next morning, he packed Xavier’s shoulder bag and
* * *
Upon reaching the capital city, Thomas bought new clothes. A
new tan leather tunic and green hose, which did not reek of
unspeakable stains, now made up his wardrobe. A very hot bath,
costing a silver coin, washed away a good many other unpleasant
odors. A fact which the people of this place seemed to notice
greatly with hands to their noses and in their backing away from
him as he walked down the street.
Then he explored the city. He tasted many different foods with
a voracious appetite. The worst of which, tasted much better than
the mush that made up his diet for the last ten years. He also
studied the people of Targon, the way they talked to each other,
the way they ate and laughed, and discovered he really didn’t know
how to deal with the living at all. On the fourth day, he decided
he would pay the king a visit.
The soldiers at the gate of the castle wore the same red
leather armor, bore the same curved swords, and griffin-emblazoned,
round shields he remembered from ten years before.
My name is Thomas, I am a student of Xavier the Necromancer,”
he said, addressing the sergeant of the gate, using the words he
had practiced all the way from the tower, feeling sure they would
immediately take him to the king.
And that’s supposed to mean what?” The sergeant wore a sneer
and did not even stand up from his game of dice.
I have come to see the king,” Thomas
stated, more than a bit confused.
Why were these men not bowing?
Then he remembered
the latest letter and produced it from his shoulder
The sergeant wore the grin right up until he saw the king’s
seal on the parchment.
Who did you say you were?”
Thomas repeated his rehearsed speech.
Corporal, go get the captain,” ordered the sergeant after
another moment of thought.
Several minutes later, the corporal returned with a thin man
wearing the same uniform as the others, except this uniform bore
gold braids on the shoulders and gold thread on the cuffs. The men
snapped to attention. The sergeant saluted and handed the letter to
this new man, obviously the captain.
Who did you say you were?” asked the captain.
Again, now growing impatient with these mere soldiers, Thomas
repeated his introduction.
This letter is addressed to Xavier, not his student,” stated
My teacher is dead.” Thomas felt he should say more about the
man who had taught him so much, but, for some reason, that’s all
that came out.
The captain looked at the letter again and back at Thomas.
“Can you deliver what this letter asks?”
Yes,” Thomas assured him, his tone rising in irritation. “Now
take me to the king.”
Corporal.” The captain handed the letter to the corporal.
“Take this man to the chamberlain.”
* * *
The chamberlain sat behind his desk dressed in his bright red
robes of office. The pudgy man with pudgy fingers wore a very neat
and well-kept hairstyle. Thomas doubted a hard day’s work had ever
entered this man’s thirty or so years. The man sat there, reading
the papers stacked ever so neatly on the desk in front of him, and
paid absolutely no attention to Thomas.
After two minutes of the complete lack of even an
acknowledgement, the necromancer’s student became even more
irritated than when he first sat down. “I have come to serve your
king,” he stated, unable to hold his tongue an instant