In the thirty years since she deposed the old wizard and took up residence in his tower, Astrid had become quite adept at using Stafford, the fording staff, capable of controlling water. She had discovered she could use it to bring better rain to crops for the villagers, and for a time everything worked well for everyone.
But some villagers grumbled that Astrid would be just as bad as the old wizard, and she did have just as much power. They said no person should wield the fording staff at all - power should be shared, or at the very least rotated among others.
Astrid kept an ear out for such things and subtly influenced the rain to pour a little less generously on those who displeased her. But over time her patience grew thinner. Couldn't they see she had done them a favour? She destroyed the old wizard who had been oppressing them all this time! All she asked in return was their gratitude, and they were so stubborn that they couldn't even give her that.
She stopped rain entirely on those she now thought of as "rebels", causing their crops to fail. Then, once the ground was dusty and dry, she opened the heavens and poured out a torrent on them, flooding their houses and washing away what remained of their loose soil. She glared down from her tower, watching them run with their meagre possessions, trying to find higher ground.
But that was the last straw for even those villagers who had been supportive. They took up rakes, hoes and pitchforks to storm the tower and force Astrid to give up the staff and her control. Astrid practically laughed at their foolhardy gesture, and caused the moat to swell and crash at its banks as a warning. Try to cross, it said, and you'll be destroyed.
The rain poured down hard and lightning cracked overhead, illuminating the scene for brief moments at a time. The villagers stood on the other side of the moat, angry but stuck. Astrid stayed high and dry, watching from her tower, waiting for them to back down so she could dispel the storm.
An enormous crack of lightning showed that the villagers had been joined by three hooded figures in light-coloured robes, holding their hands over the moat. And even through the storm, Astrid could hear their voices, a low humming sound, punctuated by occasional rumbles or beats.
Then suddenly the water in the moat turned still as glass. It wasn't foaming or rising at all, not a splash or a ripple crossed its surface. It wasn't even flowing! Astrid swept her staff down in a low line towards the moat, and she felt her power, directed by the staff, flowing down through the water, but at that still point, it was a bump, as if her power could not enter there.
The three hooded figures stalked across the moat easily, still chanting their power song. Astrid flew down the stairs inside the tower and it suddenly struck her that this must be how it had looked to the old wizard so long ago. She burst from the door and stood before the figures who threw off their hoods in unison. Two she did not know, but one was her old mistress, the teacher from whom she had stolen the staff in the first place. She hesitated...
...and her mistress, with a quick flick of her bony, aged wrist, called Stafford to her. It leapt out of Astrid's hands and jumped to her mistress. Astrid grasped at air in its wake, but fell to her knees in the rain-softened earth as she failed to bring the staff back to her.
Astrid's mistress stood with Stafford in her right hand and a serious expression on her face. Astrid was cowed - she had been scolded by that stare often during her training, and she had no power here any more. The rain was already clearing. Astrid expected to be executed, but her mistress merely pointed north. The instruction needed no words. Astrid picked herself up and, as quickly but with as much dignity as she could muster, hurried away, as far as she could, from the villagers who would surely have taken their revenge on her. She had been shown mercy, and she would not let it be in vain.
Mokalus of Borg
PS - Sequel to last week's story, Stafford.
PPS - I haven't decided next week's suburb yet. You'll know when I do.