"Why don't you fight this, Elishen?" Blinking away the hot tears that blurred her vision, Trilby glared up at her friend. "The sorcerer race controls us because they think they can. Especially the Wizards, who believe themselves to be the most powerful. Why must they treat us as if we were pawns in some game? As if our lives didn't mean anything and could be randomly shaped and shifted?" Her voice throbbed with rage she held within.
Elishen sighed and lowered his head. "But how can we fight them? You keep forgetting that we do not have magic. That is why they keep us as serfs. But in five years, when I'm twenty-one, I will be free." He lifted his face and stared into Trilby's eyes. "Once I begin my life's occupation—whatever that will be—I will find you and then wait for a year until you are free. Then— "
"Depending on what occupations the Wizards choose for us," Trilby snapped. She trembled and balled her hands into fists, fighting her anger. She wished to throw or hit something. "What if we are destined to work in different parts of the world? And five years…that's a long time."
"It will be difficult, I agree," Elishen said, his vivid blue eyes prying into Trilby's. "But I can wait. We don't have a choice in the matter. You need— "
"Well, I won't wait." Trilby's voice trembled with a rage she was struggling to suppress. "I don't care about the sorcerers who think that they are so much better than us simply because they possess at least one magical ability, no matter how minor it is. And I respect the Wizards even less."
Elishen backed away—it was then that Trilby realized she'd been shouting—and was staring at her as if she were made of fire.
"Perhaps Delyla can help," Trilby continued, softening her tone. "She might be able to influence her husband to keep you. It is not a guarantee but we must try everything."
"Delyla!" Elishen practically spat the name. "She's your mistress, not mine. Why should she care what happens to me? She hardly even knows me."
"Mistress!" Trilby shrieked, indignant. "Delyla is my friend. She'd help me if I asked her to."
Before Elishen could say anything else, she turned and dashed away, running toward the thicket where the trees grew in clumps. Rage trembled through her, causing her blood to tingle. Her throat burned with an urge to cry. Even though it was true, she despised being referred to as Delyla's serf. She still remembered how, over ten years ago, Delyla had selected her out of all the other children at the orphan home to be her personal serf. She had pointed her out to her husband Brand, an older, stern looking man who could have just as easily been her father, claiming that she wanted the girl with the long brown hair and big eyes.
It didn't matter what Elishen or anyone else thought; she and Delyla were more like good friends than serf and mistress. Delyla's husband, who possessed the high-level sorcerer skill of transformation, was frequently away, using his impressive talent to amass more riches. During these long lonely periods, Delyla had taught Trilby to read and write, privileges that were generally forbidden for serfs, and would often entertain Trilby by levitating objects with her mind, her one magical talent.
Trilby slowed her pace when she realized that Elishen was not following her. Here, in the thicket, the trees stood so close together that their branches tangled, forming a ceiling. Pricks of sunlight slipped through to dance in patterns upon the ground and weave sparks against the river. She settled upon a fairly large rock and stared at the dark, glittering waters.
Trilby breathed deeply and focused on the leaves whispering, the waters stirring further downriver as she allowed her temper to settle. Guilt tugged at her now that she was calm. Why did she allow herself to become so easily agitated? Elishen was right about Delyla. True she was highborn, a member of the sorcerer race, but she had no power over her husband. The only reason she had chosen Trilby was because he had wanted Delyla to have her own personal maid and allowed her to choose among orphaned, unmagical children…those who would eventually be handed over to farms and households to work until they became of age to go free.
Free…no, not really. Trilby felt her anger rising yet again. Freedom was relative. A serf's life occupation was still selected by whatever the Wizards—the supposedly all-knowing sorcerers—felt was appropriate. They even selected occupations and arranged marriages for the lesser sorcerers…such as Delyla.
Lesser but still of the sorcerer race. I should talk to her about this, Trilby thought as she rose and started toward the manner house. It was worth a try at least. And if Delyla couldn't do anything, then Trilby would have to come up with another plan.
Delyla was sitting on the floor with Ashren, her three-year-old son. "Focus on the bear," she whispered into his rich, dark curls. "Lift it with your mind, not your hands."
Trilby watched breathlessly as the child scrunched his eyes closed and reached toward the stuffed toy with his pudgy hands. His gift, like his mother's, was levitation: a minor magical talent. Delyla was pregnant with a second child, a slight swell beneath her robe. A tinge of wistfulness swept through Trilby. Brand will continue to desire more children until one of them shows a talent equal to his, or stronger. What he really wanted was a Wizard.
At least they will be sorcerer-born, Trilby thought as the stuffed bear drifted awkwardly into Ashren's arms. Although they will not be much freer than us serfs. No. The Wizards, who insist that sorcerers only wed sorcerers in order to keep their bloodline pure, tightly controlled their lives as well.
"You did it!" Delyla exclaimed, embracing her son. "Now you will have to show your father."
Trilby found herself bursting into applause while she blinked hot tears from her eyes. Delyla looked up at her and grinned.
"'Rilby!" Ashren dropped the bear and ran toward her. She swept him up into her arms and spun him around. "Did…you…see?" he gasped between elated squeals. "Bear came to me."
"Yes, I did," Trilby said as she set him down and gave him a kiss on his soft cheek. "I'm very proud of you." The child beamed.
"I'm sorry about Elishen," Delyla said softly to Trilby as Ashren toddled off to play with his toys. "Is that why you came to see me?"
Trilby nodded, forcing the threatening tears back.
Delyla squeezed her arm. "I wish there was something I could do but he's already gone."
"What?" Trilby drew back in horror. "How is that possible? I was just speaking to him not long before."
Delyla lowered her head. "The Wizard Nevalla has many high-level talents. More than most Wizards, in fact. One of these is whisking potential serfs to her in an eyeblink." Trilby shivered and sat down at the edge of Delyla's four-poster bed. Her legs felt suddenly weak.
"Trilby, I'm so sorry." Delyla settled beside her and placed an arm around her shoulders. "When Lady Nevalla offered a considerable price for your friend, Brand couldn't turn it down."
Trilby felt her anger returning. "There must be something we could do. There always is."
Delyla smiled. "You don't give up girl, do you? Not until there's a solution."
Trilby frowned and folded her arms. "There always is. If only people, especially the serfs, would realize that."
"This time there is, although it is no match for Nevalla's magic." She rose and opened an intricately carved box that stood at the foot of the bed. After rummaging around a bit, she pulled out a long ream of fabric that was so gauzy and delicately threaded that it could have been woven from cobweb strands. It held a faint incandescence like moonlight.
"What's that?" Trilby drew closer. "It looks like a cloak."
"That's what it is." Delyla handed it to her. She could barely feel the airy fabric against her hands. "My grandmother made several of these. That was her talent. When you don this, you will become like the wind: invisible and able to fly at a rapid pace, low to the ground. But its magic only works if it is given as a gift. Try it on."
Excitement tingled through Trilby as she threw the cloak over her shoulders. She felt suddenly lighter as if she had no more weight than a leaf. When she looked down, she didn't see any part of herself except for a pair of imprints on the carpet revealing where she had stood.
"Your head is still visible," Delyla said, pointing to a large, gold-framed mirror that hung on the far wall. "You need to cover it with the hood or you may frighten unwary villagers to death."
An eerie feeling passed through Trilby as she saw the image of her head hovering in midair. She laughed as she reached back and fumbled with the wispy hood, pulling it forward. "Is this better?" A glance in the mirror told her that it was even before Delyla answered.
"Yes. Now see how well you can fly."
She jumped into the air, testing this newfound skill. The sensation of floating filled her with a momentary thrill that she had only experienced in dreams. She encircled the room a few times. She wasn't able to fly very high, no more than two feet off the ground, and had to work her arms and legs as if she were swimming, but the sensation was just as thrilling.
That evening, Trilby filled a small, goatskin pack with her scant belongings and food and looked over a map to Nevalla's palace that Delyla had given her. She choked back tears as she thanked her friend and said goodbye to both her and Ashren. "'Rilby won't disappear forever," she said, kissing the child's tear-wet face. "I promise." Then, without looking back, she pulled on the cloak and leaped into the air.
For several nights, Trilby flew steadily in the direction of Nevalla's palace. Anyone who was out at that time merely perceived her as no more than the wind. When she grew tired, she rested and ate sparingly from her pack. During the days she slept on the ground, hidden by makeshift shelters she would create from leaves, twigs, and whatever else she could find.
I am grateful for this cloak and its magic, she kept thinking, but I still wish I could go faster.
On the eighth night of travel, when, according to the map, she was drawing close to Nevalla's estate, a terrible storm struck. Blue-white streaks of lightening flickered across the dark, cloud-bruised sky and the fierce wind knocked Trilby around, threatened to rip off her cloak. As she was struggling to land, she lost her balance and struck her head against something sharp. A restless darkness absorbed her.
Trilby came awake slowly. The back of her head ached and she felt nauseated. Something hard and cold was pressing gently against her throat. She was in a tiny room, surrounded by others. The stench in here was strong, mixed with the odor of dampness and human waste. The only light came from a low-burning torch that sputtered high on one wall, creating more shadow than fire glow.
Trilby looked around at her fellow prisoners who, like her, were either huddled against the walls or sleeping on the floor. They wore plain brown tunics. They are serfs, she thought. No different than me. But there was something else about them that captured her attention: each serf had a metallic collar attached to his or her neck.
A chill deeper than the wall at her back trembled through her as her hand strayed to her throat and encountered smooth, cool metal. I have one too. Why? What is the purpose of these collars?
She struggled not to let the sickness overwhelm her as she shivered and rested her head on her knees. What would happen to her now? How was she ever going to find Elishen? How did I get in here? She touched the tender lump on the right side of her head, beneath her wet, tangled hair and remembered her fall. She hadn't plunged very far since she'd been gliding closer to the ground shortly after the storm hit. All she recalled after that was blackness, then awakening here. Her cloak was missing, as were her other belongings, and her clothes were damp with a wetness that chilled her skin.
Was it night or day? There were no windows in this rancid chamber. She could hear the rain pounding against the roof, mingling with thunder; that alone filled Trilby with a slight yet queer comfort.
She slept restlessly, leaning against the cold wall with her knees pressed against her chest.
After what seemed an eternity, keys rattled in the lock of the single door and it was pushed aside. A tall, slender woman with long silver hair entered, holding a glass lantern before her. Her tresses shone like metal against the faint light.
"I see we have a newcomer," she said in a soft, sibilant voice, her dark eyes settling directly on Trilby.
"Who are you?" Trilby demanded. Her angry voice echoed eerily against the damp, stone walls. None of the other serfs turned or reacted: perhaps they were deaf as well as mute. "Is this how you treat a visitor? I— "
The collar at her throat seemed to tighten, choking off the rest of her words. A sharp pain jolted down her back, spread to her legs and arms. For a moment she thought that her bones were merely sore from spending the night sitting upright in cold, damp clothes.
"I will make it stop but only if you address me properly as 'Lady Nevalla' and speak more politely," said the woman in a frost-laced voice. "If you start to deviate from that, I will bring back the pain and intensify it. Is that understood?"
Trilby was only able to acknowledge her words with a half-nod, but a spark of familiarity touched her mind. Lady Nevalla? Wasn't that the sorceress who—
"Good." Lady Nevalla raised her hand and the pain instantly vanished. "You stay. The rest of you may leave to start your work. The roots for your consumption are waiting for you in the scullery."
As one, the serfs rose and filed through the open door. Their steps were slow and heavy, creating plodding sounds against the ground. What was wrong with them? Trilby silently screamed. Did Nevalla intend to make me like them? A lifeless zombie? I'd rather endure the pain!
"Those metal collars are my invention," Nevalla said, stroking her shining hair. Her shadow shivered against the floor and wall in the lantern's unsteady light. "To be a Wizard, one must have many magical talents. One of my talents is the ability to inflict sensations of pain or pleasure. If you behave accordingly, I might demonstrate how good the collar can make you feel.
"I assume you are a serf by the way you are dressed, but I could be wrong. My servants who found you noticed this wrapped around you." She pulled out the magical cloak. It was shredded and dull, like an old, dusty cobweb. "Did you make this with your magical powers or did you steal it from a sorcerer?"
A fleeting sensation of hope flitted through Trilby. If I lie and tell her I created it, would she let me go? Pin-prick tingles of pain shot through her.
"Remember, the collar around your neck senses your thoughts as well as actions. Should you try to deceive me, you will re-experience the pain that you felt earlier."
Defeated, Trilby sighed and hugged her knees to her chest. "No," she said weakly, tugging at her limp hair in frustration. "I'm not a sorceress. I was born a serf. But I didn't steal the cloak. It…it was a gift."
"Who would give a serf such a gift?" Trilby stiffened, afraid that she'd get Delyla in trouble. She sighed audibly when Nevalla continued with, "Well, it doesn't matter. It looks like you're mine now. You seem intelligent enough. That could be an asset. But you are also too feisty. That must be curbed. I will put you to work in the fields for now, but first you must eat. Come."
Trilby struggled to keep her face from breaking out into a smile. Not only was Nevalla going to feed her but Elishen was here…somewhere. This would give her a chance to find him. Then they could—
She fought back those thoughts as she felt the collar tightening. As she rose to her feet, she realized that her joints and back were sore from her uncomfortable night. That momentarily distracted her from thoughts of Elishen and any plans for escape. Food first. Her stomach was empty, her mind giddy with hunger. When had she last eaten?
She followed Nevalla down a torch-lined corridor and into a small, rounded room with mud-brown walls. Tiny oil lanterns burned in niches carved into these walls. The room was empty except for a black pot that sat upon a wooden table. A blank-eyed serf stood before this and, at Nevalla's gestured command, ladled something wet and sinewy into a crudely shaped clay bowl.
"Your breakfast," Nevalla said, grinning as the serf handed her this bowl.
Trilby reluctantly took it. Her eyes and nose burned from the harsh, bitter steam that curdled toward her face. Floating in a pale, greenish liquid was a morsel, as thick around as her wrist, which resembled a root.
Didn't she earlier hear Nevalla mention that the other serfs were fed roots? A tingle of horror jolted through her and the collar started to tighten at her hesitation.
"Go ahead," Nevalla said in her slippery tone. "I certainly can't put you to work on an empty stomach and this is all I have to offer."
Just as Trilby envisioned flinging the drug root into Nevalla's face, a fierce burning pulsated through her blood, her bones. The collar reacted too well!
Trembling, she plucked the dripping root from the bowl and took a small bite. All pain subsided: even her mouth grew numb. The morsel was strong yet tasteless. Her mind was filled with a queer bursting sensation and stars tingled before her vision. Was that the onset of the lethargy that had overtaken the other serfs? Her collar burned, indicating that she eat more.
Trilby took another bite. Then another. Stop! What are you doing? her mind screamed, but was answered by other thoughts. You can't. The collar will hurt you.
Those internal voices were so loud that Trilby looked around to see if others had entered the room. Vague, diaphanous images drifted before her eyes, vanishing whenever she tried to focus on them.
"It looks like you are ready," said Nevalla. "Come with me."
Trilby reluctantly followed Nevalla through a back door that led to a vast field of blinding yellow blossoms. She had to momentarily look away since the color made her eyes water. Several impassive serfs were picking those plants and placing them into baskets. Other groups retrieved the baskets and began separating the blossoms from the roots.
Trilby shivered. Those roots looked just like the one she had eaten.
Nevalla called over a serf that was dressed much better than the others, in a crimson tunic and neatly pressed breeches. He wasn't wearing a collar like the others.
Elation filled Trilby as she looked into his face. Elishen! She almost yelled his name, but bit her tongue hard so as not to let Nevalla know. Hopefully Elishen wouldn't reveal their relationship either. He didn't, but merely glanced at Trilby with blank blue eyes and returned his gaze to Nevalla as if awaiting her next order.
"Elishen, take this new serf to the fields and show her what to do." He nodded and grabbed Trilby's arm. "Remember," Nevalla said, looking at Trilby, "the collar can read your thoughts. Should you try to escape, you will be choked to death. Besides, I have more than one way to watch you." She threw the wind-cloak over her shoulders.
Trilby tensed. A sickening feeling knotted her stomach.
But that sensation didn't last. Nevalla didn't disappear. The ragged cloak clung to her body like the fragments of a dusty cobweb.
Trilby stared at her, surprised. Was its magic ruined in the storm? Perhaps. But then she remembered Delyla's words: "…it only works if it is given as a gift."
"I should have known that something tainted by a serf would never work on a Wizard," Nevalla snapped as she tore off the cloak, wadded it into a ball, and tossed it away. She then grinned, an expression that made her beautiful countenance twisted, ugly. "Don't worry. You won't be able to escape. If Elishen doesn't stop you, the collar will."
Elishen pulled Trilby toward the fields. A strong musty scent filled the air, making her light-headed.
"Elishen," she whispered once Nevalla was out of earshot. He turned and glared at her.
"Do not address me by my name," he hissed. "I am only known as 'Sir' or 'Overseer.'"
Tears sprang into Trilby's eyes. "Elishen, don't you remember— "The tightening of her collar choked her words.
Elishen laughed, a harsh sound that grated her ears with a deeper pain than the collar. "That's what happens when you try to speak your mind." He pulled her to a huge cluster of vibrant flowers upon narrow stalks.
"These are called liress blossoms and they are extremely important for both us and our mistress. You must pull them out by their roots," he demonstrated, "then separate the petals, putting them in one pile, the roots in another. Discard the stalks. Do you think you can get that right?" His voice was tight and curt.
Trilby nodded, blinking hard to hold her tears back. She swallowed a painful sob.
"Good. The petals get ground to powder and given to Lady Nevalla. The roots are for you."
"What does Nevalla do with the powder?" Trilby's curiosity momentarily overcame her grief.
"Sells it and uses some of it herself."
"Why? What does it do?" Trilby could feel her collar tightening, sending a ripple of burning pain down her neck and shoulders.
"You ask too many questions. If you aren't careful, you'll end up choking to death. Which is exactly what will happen if you taste the petals."
Once Elishen had left, Trilby allowed the tears to spill freely down her face. Their temporary warmth only offered a modicum of comfort. She had never felt so helpless.
Elishen no longer seemed to recognize her and every time her thoughts strayed, the collar tightened and threatened immense pain.
That night Trilby couldn't sleep. She missed the comfortable cot she had had in the serf quarters of Delyla's manor house. Even the prickly ground and warm daylight during her recent travels was better than this cramped, damp cell. The collar chilled her neck, making her even colder, like an icy hand clenched around her throat.
If it can't be removed, can I trick it? Maybe. I was able to do that this evening when I convinced it that I had eaten a whole root when I'd only taken a bite. Her empty stomach responded with an angry growl, but at least her mind was clear. Those thoughts were followed by a spasm of agony that sent her limbs flailing, kicking the serf sleeping next to her.
"Sorry," she whispered once the feeling had subsided. The other serf merely grunted and fell back to sleep.
"Forget what I thought," Trilby whispered to her collar, hoping that the words would overpower what was going on in her mind. "I love Nevalla and I plan to stay here forever, helping her and Elishen," a fresh, unexpected burst of tears released themselves, "run this manor."
An intense pleasure filled her, overwhelming her grief over Elishen as it washed through her entire body with ripples of warmth.
The next morning, when they were fed the roots, she mumbled under her breath, "I have eaten the entire root and am satiated." She threw the root away and, when no one was looking, retrieved the cloak that Nevalla had tossed aside. Whispering continuously to keep the collar convinced that she was doing what she should, she threw it on. The feeling of lightness revealed that the cloak still worked.
I should just fly away, she thought. The collar tightened, reminding her that she was thinking inappropriate thoughts. "I mean, I like it here. I love my work," she whispered in a soothing voice as she flew into the kitchen and retrieved bread and cheese from Nevalla's pantry. She removed the cloak, folded it up and slid it into her pocket before she rejoined the others.
"You're late," Elishen grumbled as he led her to a long table. "Here you will grind the petals into powder. Just follow your companions. Remember, if you so much as taste this, you— "
"I will be choked to death," she intoned in her dullest voice.
"That's right." Elishen left to supervise another group.
Trilby placed the petals into a stone mortar and, like her drugged companions, took up a pestle and began to grind. At first the petals smeared into buttery chunks but as she twisted the pestle over them, a fine powder began to form. The smell was so strong and filled her with a tingling euphoria that was similar to the feeling the collar had given her when she told it things that Nevalla would want to hear.
"I am hard at work. I only want to please my mistress," she whispered as she licked the powder off the tip of one finger.
A tingling sensation started at the tip of her tongue, spread through her mouth, down her throat to the rest of her body. For a moment she was frightened. What was happening? But she realized that she felt stronger than she had in days, perhaps even in her life.
The collar was tightening, threatening to crush her renewed energy. She swallowed more powder and tugged at the collar. It came off easily into her hands as if it were nothing more than a broken toy.
Trilby nearly shouted with exhilaration. I am no longer controlled by that stupid collar, she wanted to yell, but stopped herself. None of the other serfs had noticed: they were still bent over their work.
She placed the collar loosely around her neck, without fastening it, in case Elishen or any other overseer should see, and continued to work. It was difficult to keep her elation from showing. Now free of that confining collar, her mind worked quicker than her hands.
I am no longer powerless. And that powder gave me magic, at least temporarily. Magic to open locks. I have that and the cloak. She touched the bulging pocket where the wind-cloak lay. I could escape, but I can't do that without the others…especially not Elishen. A spurt of grief nearly overpowered her newfound happiness. She looked over at him. He was scolding another serf for not working fast enough. Could he be spared? Or has Nevalla damaged his mind beyond repair?
That night, after the other serfs were asleep, Trilby pulled on the cloak and slid through the door as if she held no more substance than air. She crept into the kitchen and ground up the breakfast roots into powder, replacing them with the petal-powder that Nevalla was going to use. She brought a bowlful of that, along with bundles of food, back to the cell. With her new talent, she was able to unlock the door and slip everything in.
At first the other serfs protested when she told them to eat the powder.
"No. We will die," they murmured in their toneless, root-drugged voices.
"I did it and look what it did for me." She removed the collar to demonstrate.
Gasps like a chill wind blowing through winter trees echoed through the tiny room. As each serf dipped his or her hand into the bowl and tasted the powder, Trilby helped with the removal of their collars. A dim melancholy pulled at her since Elishen was not there. He had his own special chamber within Nevalla's palace, along with the other overseers. She knew she would have to find a way to help him later.
"Just keep your collars on during the day so that Nevalla and the overseers won't suspect anything. And whatever you do, don't eat the roots. They only dull your minds."
"But we will starve without them," someone protested.
"No, you won't." Trilby pulled out the bundle of food: bread, meat, and fruits tumbled onto the ground. The serfs scrambled to pick those up. "These will keep you satiated. Hide the morsels in your pockets during the day for when you get hungry but, whatever you do, don't get caught."
Trilby did the same for the following nights. When she saw Nevalla, she noticed that the sorceress's skin was parchment-thin, stretched tight over sharp bones, and her brilliant silver hair had dulled to the weary white of an old woman's. Guilt at first pulled at Trilby; she almost felt sorry for the faded sorceress until she saw the rosy, vibrant faces of her fellow serfs. Some had escaped and others were plotting.
"You're the one responsible for this," Elishen said one night when he caught her in the kitchen. "What's going on here? Why hasn't the collar finished you off?"
Trilby grinned and removed it from her throat. "Because it no longer works on me. It's the powder, Elishen. You must take it. It will clear your mind."
"My mind isn't clouded. Do you think Lady Nevalla feeds me the drug-roots like a common serf? I am her apprentice. She is training me to run the manor and has promised me a large portion of what she earns by selling that powder."
Trilby gasped as if someone had stabbed her stomach and was twisting the knife, slowly, slowly. She stared up into Elishen's steel blue eyes, hoping to find a spark of warmth, an indication that he was merely jesting with her. His gaze was hard and cold.
"Elishen, no. That can't be what you want. The powder has given me a magical talent. It can— "
"That doesn't work on everybody," said Nevalla in a creaky voice as she limped into the room. "You must have had a drop of sorcerer blood in you for that to work. It enhances the talents of ordinary sorcerers, but it is a temporary magic. That's the beauty of it; they keep coming back for more. Your magic won't last long either, but I do have to admit you are a clever one to have done this to me. But you are not the first one. The roots have weakened my body, but not my mind. I will recover. I always do." She grinned, an expression that sliced through Trilby as if it were tangible.
"What do you mean?"
"Why do you think I choose young, strong apprentices? I certainly didn't select this one for his brains."
Fear shadowed Elishen's eyes as Nevalla placed her hands over his chest. Elishen's skin faded to a sickly gray as a healthy glow began to creep over Nevalla's body.
"No! Stop!" Trilby pulled them apart. Elishen collapsed into a heap, gasping for air. She was about to hurry to him when a slender hand grabbed her arm with a grasp that hurt.
"You'll do just as well, girl. Then when I've seeped the life out of you, I can steal his." Her hand clamped down on Trilby's chest. She could feel her strength draining from her, her eyelids growing heavy. Sleep, yes, her thoughts urge. Just go to sleep. Deep sleep. No more pain, no more worrying.
But deep inside a nagging voice tore at her. No! You didn't let the collar control you. You can't let Nevalla. She is nothing but a collar in human form.
Wizard form. I can't fight her.
You can! You have magic too.
Not Wizard level. And it probably faded.
There's the magic cloak.
Trilby's heavy hand moved to her pocket. With an effort that was painful, she pulled out the cloak and threw it over Nevalla's head. The sorcereress' head and shoulders disappeared. Trilby fell back onto the ground, weak and winded.
"Stop! I can't breathe." Nevalla's voice was weak. "This is a magic that I can't control. The one magic I can't use. I— "
Trilby watched through heavy eyes as Elishen dashed forward and pulled the rest of the cloak over Nevalla's body. Trilby's consciousness faded.
She was awakened either moments or hours later with someone shaking her. "Trilby, are you all right?" It was Elishen.
She opened her eyes and sat up. Her body still felt limp and heavy and her head hurt. "W-what happened?"
"Nevalla tried to steal your strength and vitality, but you smothered her with that cloak." He pointed to the crumpled heap of gray gauze that lay on the floor just inches away. "She disappeared. I looked around but I wasn't able to find her. What did you do? Who gave you that thing?"
"Delyla." Trilby smiled. She was already feeling better. "She gave it to me as a gift and said that only the receiver of such a gift would be the only one to use it. Strange. I didn't think it would do more than make me light and invisible like the wind. It must have turned Nevalla into air."
"Or sent her far away." Elishen helped her to stand. Tears shimmered in his eyes. "I-I'm afraid I've been selfish. I really wanted…I…"
"I know." Trilby touched his shoulder. "It will take time to rebuild our friendship. But we have other concerns."
"What concerns? Couldn't we keep running Nevalla's business? It would make us rich. Rich enough to buy our freedom."
"But we are free. We freed ourselves." The sun was rising, spilling its light into the kitchen and painting the liress blossoms with a golden-red fire that hurt the eyes.
Trilby turned her head. Through the open door of the kitchen, she could see some of the vast, opulent rooms of Nevalla's palace. "Besides, this place would work much better as a school. A school for both sorcerers and non-sorcerers."