NZ Forest Native Birds
The Unicorns of Lazaronia

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The Unicorns of Lazaronia
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Chapter 1
From the Voice of Judgement

 “Iggie ran away from me.”

  The words rang ominously in Esmé’s head as she climbed the winding stairs of the Tower of Kaleidoscopic Light, its huge golden key clutched tightly in her hand. She hadn’t needed to invoke the tower’s special magic for a long time, for her beloved land had enjoyed over three years of peace and prosperity since the execution of the evil sorceress Mirabell the Fair. But Esmé’s former tutor Ilsamere’s description of Iggie’s disappearance had filled her with alarm. And it had taken all Esmé’s powers of sorcery to get from the near-hysterical Ilsamere more than the repeated declaration “Iggie ran away from me.”      How could the evil wielded by Iggie’s parents live on after their deaths? she asked herself. It just wasn’t possiblefor the Voice of Judgement would never allow such people to pass through its Halls into Nidari, the Land Beyond the Grave, and therefore it was impossible for Ignarius and Mirabell to exist even as spirits.

      Esmé paused at the top of the stairs to regain her breath. She turned her face up to the eight stained-glass windows that roofed the circular tower and that told the story of how the Goddess Lazaria had brought her husband back to life. The kaleidoscopic light filling the chamber was somehow very soothing. And she never tired of its beauty.

      But she had a job to do. With fingers that shook in spite of herself, she put the key into the keyhole of the door leading to the castle battlements. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and concentrated. Within moments she knew she stood outside on top of the now revolving pillar around which the stairs wound. She opened her eyes and found herself looking down at the stained-glass windows, their beauty dimmed without light behind them. And the whole of Lazaronia seemed to be spread at her feet.

      But Esmé determinedly ignored the beauty of the land she loved so intensely. She raised her hands, fingers pointing. And from every finger the rainbow light poured, twisting with the power Esmé awoke in it. With fierce concentration she whispered the spell that would summon the Voice of Judgementa spell that had never been invoked without inconceivably terrible consequences. Esmé knew of more than one sorcerer who on using the spell had died in raving insanity.

      And within moments Esmé felt the full force of a refusal that could break even the strongest minda refusal that turned her power against her with a towering, almost unbelievable rage. The twisting rainbows from her fingertips bent like hairpins, aiming their might straight at her head. For long moments Esmé was compelled to put all her concentration into forcing them back. But it was no good: she had to drop her hands and command the light to go out. Even then it fought against obeying. And the pain in her head was something she hoped never to experience again.

      With her thinking ability all but gone, it was the emotion of angeranger that the Voice of Judgement would dare try to destroy the mind of one destined to rule Lazaroniathat saved her.

      “I am your future Queen!” she heard herself shoutand knew only later that she had not really spoken aloud. “How dare you turn my power against me!” Instantly the twisting rainbows straightened out and died. But Esmé knew the Voice of Judgement was no longer listening. Trembling all over with fury, she repeated the spell, shouting it over Emerald Forest so that it echoed and re-echoed from hill to hill.

      But the Voice of Judgement still refused the summonsthis time with silence. If Esmé hadn’t known it was nothing more than a voice she would have said it was sulking. Well, if it was going to be a battle of wills, she thought grimly, she would simply have to prove she had the greater patience.

      However, under the onslaught of an emotion never before used against it, the Voice of Judgement gave in instantly. And to Esmé’s ears it really did sound sulky: its slow, virtually expressionless tone was certainly ungracious. “What do you want? I have a great deal of work to do: you are keeping people waiting.”

      “I want to know if you have judged the sorceress Mirabell, known as the Fair.”

      “Who?” Esmé almost expected this to be followed by “Never heard of her”.

      “Mirabell the Fair, Duchess of Mirakklon and the Far Isles of Raldyss. She was executedbeheadedfor high treason just over three years ago.”

      The Voice of Judgement took refuge in pomposity. “This is a most unseemly request. I am not permitted to give out confidential information. And the very reason for my existence is what denies the living the right to communicate with me.”

      Esmé tried to contain her impatience. “I merely want to know if you judged hernot how you judged.”

      “H’m ... well ...”

      Probing with her mind, Esmé sensed that the Voice of Judgement was baffled and therefore playing for time.

      “You mean you can’t remember something as unusual as someone convicted of high treason?” she asked incredulously.

      “Well ... um ... of course ... er ... well, three years is a long time. However, I do ... seem to recall a woman .... But I would never have let her through if she had been guilty of the crime for which she had been executed. And I do not recall the name Mirabell of Mirakklon. You must remember I have judged probably a million people since ...”

      “Well, check you recordsyou do keep records?”

      “I am checking them.” The Voice of Judgement all but lost its lack of expression, sounding slightly panicky.

      Esmé waited while the Voice of Judgement checked records that were really nothing more than a memory bank with as little substance as the Voice of Judgement itself. The silence was punctuated only by the Voice of Judgement’s continual, almost human stream of “ums”, “ers” and a final surprised “Oh! ... Oh dear!” Then it made a sound as though clearing its throat.

      When it spoke again it sounded distinctly embarrassed even beneath its air of pomposity. “Since you are the future ruler of Lazaronia and the information is very important to the land, I feel obliged to go further than merely answering your question. Mirabell the Fair has not come for judgement yet. But around the time you mention I did judge a young woman who had been beheaded for high treason. She said her name was Dahrya Dynhydralon. I sensed something wrong in her claim in spite of detecting no lie but, since it appeared she was innocent of the crime for which she had been punished, I let her through. She must have been a very powerful sorceress to have deceived me so convincingly.”

      “She wasn’t a sorceress: her name was Dahrya Dynhydralon as she claimed and you judged her right. You’re immune to sorceryas you very well know. But we mere humans aren’t and we executed the wrong woman, believing her to be Mirabell of Mirakklon. And even now Mirabell is out there somewhere, having kidnapped her son so that she can bring him up to be as evil as herself."

© L A Barker Enterprises
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Did you enjoy this complete chapter? Incidentally, in spite of its being “Chapter 1”, it isn’t the beginning of the storythere’s actually a prologue. This novel took nearly three years to complete, incidentally. Even if you didn’t enjoy this extract I do like to hearing from you. If you have any comments or questions, please Email me.

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Further extract from The Unicorns of Lazaronia

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