The Crimson Mage

The Life and Times of Orenda The Reign Ender

By M.J. Brigaddon

Chapter 9

Orenda had read in one of the many books she had studied that in other places, like the earth continent around the capital, during the winter there would be snow. It was difficult to imagine, for someone who had always lived in a place where it was always hot and often dry, but Orenda believed the books, because it did make perfect sense.

She was not overly fond of the solstice, because it had always meant very little to her. At the workhouse, they would be given the day off the assembly line, and sometimes people donated gifts to the children, normally in the form of baked goods. She was told that all of their names were offered up to wealthy patrons, and that those chosen would receive gifts, but she had never been chosen, and had never thought much on the subject.

But things were different now. Now she was helping Susan by warming the oven with her hand, which was much more efficient and baked much more evenly than the fire she normally used, and the apartment smelled of cookies. Susan had taught her to bake, using spices like ginger and cinnamon, alongside flour, milk, eggs and the like, how to roll out the dough and cut it into shapes, and now Orenda had gotten so good at controlling her powers that she was able to shape the oven to her whims, and as soon as Susan told her to stop, they removed the tray from the oven, and Orenda looked at the cookies she had sometimes see other children get around the holiday.

“When I am queen,” Orenda told her, “I shall bake cookies quite frequently, and give them to children at workhouses.”

“If I was queen,” Susan told her, shaking the pan, “They wouldn’t be no workhouses.”

Orenda thought that was a better way to do things.

Charles was humming when he came in from the library, looked to the fireplace, and seemed shocked.

“Rendy,” he said, “You ain’t hung up your stocking.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Orenda said.

“Younguns need to hang stockings from the fireplace,” Susan told her, “So that Niccoli will know to leave them their treats.”

“Niccoli isn’t real,” Orenda told him, “Though I appreciate what you’re trying to do, I couldn’t expect any gifts. I have nothing to give in return.”

“What?” Charles asked, “Niccoli ain’t real? Have you lost your mind? Of course Niccoli is real.”

“If Niccoli were real,” Orenda argued, “I should have known it before. He would have come to the workhouse.”

“Did you hang stockings?” Charles asked her.

“I don’t believe in nonsense,” Orenda told him seriously, “I would rather not pretend it.”

“You’re being difficult,” He told her.

“Leave her alone,” Susan told him, “Let her enjoy her cookie.”

“Thank you,” Orenda said, and to Charles asked, “Did I get a letter?”

“I don’t know,” He answered, and she believed him, because she asked every day, and if he had the information he would give it to her. “Ellie’ll know. Happy solstice, Rendy.”

“Thank you,” She said, “Happy solstice. I wish I had gifts to give everyone.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m hanging my stocking.” He took one of the cookies and stomped off to his room, “I’d sure advise you to do the same.”

Orenda rolled her eyes, bit into her cookie, and headed into the library. It was closed for the day and likely would not open tomorrow for the holiday, but she wandered up and down the halls, through all the rows of bookshelves, and could not find Ellie. She returned, puzzled, to the apartment, and picked up a second cookie.

“Susie!” She called, “Charlie!”

“Yes?” Charles answered, coming back into the room, true to his word, with a sock and a nail.

“Where’s Ellie?” Orenda asked.

“She had to go into town to meet somebody,” Charles responded, “It ain’t a long walk; she’ll be back soon.”

“Who?” Orenda asked.

“Now, I’m sure I don’t know,” he shrugged, but Orenda thought he was lying. “Maybe she knows Niccoli.”

Orenda made a disgusted sound and went to her room to look through the pictures of her book. She hadn’t been in there long before Susan stuck her head in and said, “Rendy, maybe you should hang a stocking. It would mean so much to him.”

“I would hate to receive a gift,” Orenda said, “I have nothing to give. I know he’s gotten me something.”

“Let him give it,” Susan said, “Sometimes grown folks like to see younguns happy, Rendy. You’ll understand one day, when you got some of your own.”

“I don’t think I will have children,” Orenda said, “From what I’ve been reading, elves can only have children if they have someone to father them from their own element. I’ve never met another fire elf, and I shouldn’t like to have children with someone just because he’s a fire elf. My dating pool is very small.”

“Maybe you’ll find one,” Susan told her, “Apparently they just wander the street, looking to seek their fortune.”

Orenda rolled her eyes. She was feeling contrary because she hadn’t heard anything from Johnny since he left and because she didn’t like it when Ellie went to town alone. She had been nervous about it since she had seen the soldiers. When one is hiding something, there is a constant, underlying fear that always exists, and must be constantly dealt with. It never goes away. But if it would make Charles happy, she would hang a stocking. She picked one up, and followed Susan back into the living room with it.

She was surprised to see Ellie there because she hadn’t heard her come in.

“Orenda!” She exclaimed, “I have wonderful news!”

She held out a package.

“Happy solstice,” Orenda said. “I do hate to take anything else. You’ve already given me so much.”

“This isn’t from me,” Ellie explained, “It’s from someone else. Please open it, Rendy, I don’t know what’s inside it and I’m dying to find out!”

“Open it now?” Orenda asked, “But we aren’t supposed to open gifts until tomorrow.”

“Please, Rendy!” She begged, “The suspense is killing me!”

Orenda took it slowly. The box was small, about the size of her hand, and much heavier than she had expected. She sat down at the table and slowly pulled apart the red ribbon, which was silky and beautiful, then stuck it in her pocket. The box came apart in two pieces- and inside were two things. One was more obvious and striking than the other.

A gold medallion on a gold chain sat upon a folded up piece of paper. Orenda picked it up and saw that it was rusted in some places, or- perhaps it wasn’t rust, but it was some copper colored substance that refused to flake off. The medallion itself held something familiar, and something that she was completely unfamiliar with- it bore an embossing of a closed fist surrounded by fire. But around the edges were red jewels, and for the first time, Orenda drew the fire crystal from her pocket in front of people.

She held it to the medallion and compared it to the jewels set around the edges, but she didn’t need to- she had felt it the second she picked it up. They were fire crystals. The entire thing flickered and pulsed with power like a burning flame. She watched them glow as she held it, and stuck the crystal back into her pocket.

“By Thesis!” Ellie said, “It’s a mage focus!”

“I thought…” Orenda said slowly, turning the medallion in her hand, “Those were staves or wands.”

“Usually they are,” Ellie said, looking as if she wanted to take it.

Orenda stared at the back of the medallion. It was smooth, unlike the front, except for the tiniest engraving, so small she could barely read it, near the bottom: GF. She had no idea what that meant, but she had not yet looked at the paper that had been in the box. She draped the medallion around her neck and unfolded the paper.


Darling, I have no idea how you wound up in that workhouse. It is NOT where I sent you. So much has happened since I last saw you that I don’t know where to begin. I promised you that I would return when it was safe, and I swear to you that I will. It simply isn’t safe yet. Ellie will take good care of you. Please, Orenda, darling, stay alive. Stay safe. I love you. I have always loved you. I will love you until my dying breath. You must understand why we can’t be together, not right now, not with the Emerald Knight still pursuing me. It’s too dangerous for you here. I wish I could come to see you myself, but the damn guards are right on my tail and when they find out that it’s me they’re after, the Emerald Knight will be right behind them. I can’t drag you into this. I love you. When all this is over, we’ll be together again, just like he would have wanted. I love you so much, Orenda. You’re probably beautiful and intelligent. Ellie tells me that you’re already a great mage, that you didn’t tell her about the fire crystal. You’re smart, you’re resourceful, and you’ve got a bright future. Please, Orenda, please stay alive until I can come for you. You deserve so much better than the life you have. You’re just like him. You’re a prodigy, destined for greatness. I’m going to put some money back to get you into school; I just have to find a way to launder it. Those damn earth elves ask too many questions.

I love you more than you will ever know,


Beside the name, someone had drawn a peculiar picture. It looked like a face, but the shape was all wrong- a mask perhaps? Underneath were crossed a sword and something Orenda had never seen and could not even begin to identify. She didn’t know what to make of it, and so asked the most obvious question she could think of.

“Who is Gareth?”

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