Home > Witch King's Oath

Witch King's Oath
Author: AJ Glasser




The prince stood before the witch lashed to the stake and read out his sentence in a high, trembling voice.

“The land can only have one master, and that master is God. Good man, why have you turned your back on Him? Why would you defy His anointed, my father? Is it true what the witnesses say, that you conspire to commit murder with witchcraft? That you cursed this town to fall to ruin?”

All around them, torches blazed. It was late evening in the town. The witch burning should have happened early in the day with the sun high overhead, but the day slipped away. It took the better part of the morning to build the pyre, and another six hours to find a lord with the authority to pronounce the sentence.

That it was the Prince of Ammar himself called to read the witch’s sentence made the event worth watching. Men and women of the town who otherwise would’ve kept inside during the cold winter evening flooded the square now to catch a glimpse of royalty. They hardly spared a glance for the man tied to the stake. Those who knew him pretended not to, lest the church accuse them of witchcraft, too. Any man or woman in Ammar might be accused of it, if their words could curse as a witch’s could.

“I didn’t,” the man wept. The torchlight shone in the tracks of tears freezing to his cheeks in the wind. “The road is blocked with lords’ sleds... the inns are too full. All I wanted was a drink and a bed. I was angry—I said some words is all!”

The Prince of Ammar shifted from foot to foot. He looked to be barely out of boyhood—all gawky angles in a face with no beard and wide blue eyes like a doll’s. He stood a whole head shorter than the two royal guards behind him, dressed in matching red cloaks and bearing swords.

“Are you a mage?” the prince asked. His hand tightened on the glittering hilt of his own sword, the fingers of the hand opposite shaping a warding sign against evil. “Were you sent here by my father’s enemies, working black magic to lead your neighbors astray?”

“I never,” screamed the witch. “I talk to the wind. It don’t talk back. If it did, I would fly away, far away from here... But look! I am still here. I’m here, God help me...”

The witch’s pitiful prayer echoed in the square. All around them, the low-slung cottages pressed close, as if listening to what the Prince of Ammar would reply to the witch. The wind moaned between the beams of wood and set the torches guttering. They cast long shadows over the prince’s boyish face.

At length, with tears in his own eyes, the prince said to the witch: “I believe you. But I... I cannot spare you. My father’s witch law stands: let none go unburnt. Your sentence is pronounced, and you are to die.”

One of the priests from the church lifted a torch from its iron stand and brought it to the foot of the pyre. The smell of smoke unfurled in the night wind. The witch on the pyre smelled it, smelled the leather of his shoes and the wool of his pants catching fire. He choked out a sob, the wretched sound punctuated with gibbering. It might’ve been a prayer—or a spell.

Lightning exploded out of the sky, casting the world in stark white. The witch opened his eyes wide and broke off his prayer. He screamed aloud over a clap of thunder: “No! No! Kill me, God, not the prince, not the prince!”

A knife flashed in the dark. Its silver edge arced down from the arm of a royal guard right into the Prince of Ammar’s back. The witch screamed. The prince screamed. Then the flames of the pyre swept upward, sucked into the air like weeds ripped from the ground. All around the town, the wood wailed and cracked as the wind splintered it.

Of the few people who survived the calamity that day, no one could quite agree what had happened first. Was it the assassin’s knife, or the tornado that struck the town? Everyone agreed on one thing.

Someone had heard the witch’s prayer to spare the Prince of Ammar.





Prince Anryniel lay at the foot of a mountain slope with a knife in his back. He came around when a white-hot lance of pain shot through his left shoulder. He sat up, shaking off a rind of snow and splintered wood. Stunned, he looked around and realized the wind had flung him like a rock from a sling. He looked down at his arm, noticing how it seemed to throb when the wind touched it. From the elbow down, his skin was a tangle of burnt velvet and blackened flesh.

He’d fallen on the pyre—or it fell onto him when the wind ripped the burning timbers upwards. The witch’s cloud sucked everything into the sky to hurl miles across the ground. Debris dotted the snow all around him, splinters of lumber and shards of glass littered across the snowy slope.

A spell, it was a spell! Anryn thought. Never in his eighteen years had he seen witchcraft before. The priests all spoke of it as if it were a small and secret thing—whispers in the dark, the curl of perfumed smoke from incense over a brass lamp. A witch might say a few foul words and then sometime later their neighbor would fall down dead. Never, never had Anryn thought that it could be like this. A calamity that seemed to come from everywhere at once and touch all that beheld it.

He tried to reach for the knife with his good arm, but could not stretch far enough to do more than brush the hilt with his fingers. Anryn looked around to see if someone were nearby to help, but not even a plume of smoke could be seen in the low gray clouds that dragged over the valley. He must have been miles from Dorland, even further away from the safety of Amwarren University—or any town he knew that would offer him shelter.

Anryn had the vague impression someone was nearby, watching him. He did not want to find out who it might be. The witch’s curse had brought down the wind, but someone else had stabbed him.

I have to get away, a voice inside his mind urged. It repeated itself, rising above the memory of the wind, louder than the dull roar in his ears. Get up and move...

Anryn stumbled to his feet. He could see the slumped strip of a road beneath the fresh fallen snow, snaking up the mountainside into a thick tree line. He thought it might be the North Road that wound through the mountains around Dorland. This range of peaks separated his kingdom from the next—shielding Ammar from the magic of its neighbor, Nynomath. The mage kingdom loomed just beyond the frost-kissed crags thrust into the sky. No one came near this range now, not since Anryn’s father defeated Nynomath in battle and shut the border dozens of years before Anryn was born.

He started up the road. Snow crunched under his feet and the witch’s scream echoed in his head. Deep in the chill green veil of the tree line, he pressed himself to the bole of an old pine and tried to gather his wits. Anryn still had his sword. He clutched it in his good hand, steadying himself. He’d lost his cloak. If Anryn could not find shelter soon, he would freeze to death in the night.

A rustle of leaves startled him. Anryn looked around and thought he saw a shadow pass behind a tree a dozen yards away. He clutched his sword and fought to stop the rising panic that threatened to overwhelm him. Was it an assassin? Was it a witch?

It did not matter. He had to keep going, or he would die there in the woods. Anryn found the thin trail of the North Road winding up the mountain and started to climb. Surely there would be a village up here. Some small place that fished from the river or kept goats on the plains. His teeth chattered even as he tried to grit them together.

I’m going to die out here, he thought, despairing. Anryniel, scrawny son of the Lightning King, couldn’t even burn a witch at the stake properly...

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