Midnight Pleasures - By Amanda Ashley

They were afraid of him, but then, as far back as he could remember, people had been afraid of him. Even his mother had looked upon him with a certain measure of fear. He had learned to walk when he was but six months old, could converse with his elders by the time he was two, could turn water into ale at three.

As a child, he had not understood the amazement of his elders. He had thought all males were as gifted as he. He had been well and truly surprised to discover that those he came in contact with could not read his mind as he read theirs. His playmates, though few, stood in awe of his ability to create fire and summon thunder at his will.

He had cherished his unique powers, not knowing that, as time passed, those who knew him would come to fear him, while others who were hungry for power would go to any and all lengths to learn the secret of his awesome powers, his eternal youth. Feared and held in suspicion by those who knew him, pursued by those who would steal his power, his very life, he had taken refuge inside his father's keep.

Now, three hundred years later, all those he had known in his youth were gone, and he alone remained, shut up in a prison of his own making at the top of a high mountain.
Part One CHAPTER 1
A distant land before recorded time

It was midnight on the Eve of First Harvest and he stood alone on a rocky pinnacle of his high mountain, watching the villagers far below as they danced around a fire blazing in the middle of the square.

No mere mortal could have discerned aught but the flames, but the wizard of Darkfest Keep could clearly see the face and form of each man, woman, and child, hear their songs of joy, their shouts of carefree laughter. He saw Adair, the cooper, flirting with a woman who was not his wife, saw young Muggins slip quietly into the shadows with the blacksmith's daughter. Old Henrew was telling ribald stories to a handful of young men, while Alys the midwife sat apart from the others telling a young maid's fortune.

Such foolishness, the wizard mused, singing and dancing during the dark of the moon. He could have told them that all the singing in the world would not protect their crops from weevils or drought, or ensure a bountiful harvest. Dancing barefoot in the dirt would not make their women fertile, but who was he to vanquish their hopes and dreams, foolish though they might be?

And when the crops failed and the clouds withheld their moisture, the villagers would take their courage in hand and climb the narrow rocky mountain path to his door. Cowering with fear, careful not to meet his gaze, they would plead for his help. They would bring him golden ears of corn and flasks of spiced wine, a lamb without blemish, the meager contents of the town's treasury. They would grant him homage and beg for his mercy. And if it suited his mood, he would accept their offerings and grant their boon, and they would hurry away, never meeting his eyes, careful to keep him from seeing that they made the sign against evil behind his back.

Their fear amused him. He possessed many strange and wondrous powers, but, awesome as his talents might be, even he could not perform all the mystical feats of which they believed him capable.

The sound of lute and tambourine floated toward him, borne on the wings of a gentle east wind. And then he heard a voice, her voice, as light as morning dew, as clear as crystal ice. A lovely voice that threaded through the darkness and twined around his soul like a fine silken web.

Channa Leigh's voice.

It tugged at him, pulling him nearer the edge of the precipice on which he stood, tantalizing him, calling to something deep within his soul as it did each time he heard it. He saw her clearly, sitting on the edge of the well in the center of the village square. Her father, Dugald of Brynn, stood near her side, proud and protective, but Darkfest had eyes only for the fair Channa Leigh. She wore a white apron over a simple blue dress. Her hair, as bright as the sun on a summer day, fell in rippling waves down her back and over her shoulders, glistening in the firelight