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We send Lars to rest—I don’t think he slept at all last night—and I decide to find Jes and wander around town a bit. Jes is looking at the sky, as usual, but joins me anyway.
“One of the Sorcerers, Blight, started packing, so he may be leaving soon. But Rout is back to digging, this time where the warehouse was.”
I start to ask about the third Sorcerer, but don’t, since I see Alan walking toward us with a determined look on his face.
“You knew it wasn’t demon ashes. You knew he was innocent.” He sounds outraged.
I’m mildly amused. “Now everyone knows they weren’t demon ashes. And he certainly wasn’t’ innocent; fraud at the very least. Definitely a degree of stupidity that should be criminal.
“The demon ashes are in three boxes at the bottom of the sea,” I tell him truthfully, hoping he will believe me and share the information. We have had way more than enough demons this year. One every two or three years is normal. I try to look at the bright side, maybe we’ve used up so many Sorcerers there won’t be any more demons for years.
Lars’ departure is formal, streets lined with citizens glad to honor the guards who fight demons so they don’t have to. Father and Mother, in full royal regalia, say brief goodbys standing on the keep’s front steps. Mynar and I ride with them down the hill to the main city gate. Our horses have barely moved before mother’s ladies hurry her back to the warmth of her fire. Everyone had tried to talk her out of going into the cold, but mother’s selective deafness allowed her not to hear us.
It is an open secret that father orchestrated this visit to preclude mother making the trip herself in spring. People are busy debating if it will work or not. There are no rumors suggesting any other motives for Lars’ visit. No one comments about the shortness of his visit because they are sure they know. Come before winter sets in to avoid an early spring trip for mother; hurry home before the first major storm makes travel perilous. The whole realm would wrap mother in a soft blanket and sit in a circle protecting her if she would let them, so our public story makes sense. The future Wielders are secure, even though only two families will know it, for now.
All we need to do now is get rid of the last two Sorcerers, and worry about who sent the assassins. As Mynar and I ride back to the keep, I wonder why I’m not counting Alan as a problem—nuisance certainly, but not problem. I don’t have an answer.
Father joins us at breakfast the next morning—unusual for him. Father tends to work late into the night and sleep late the next morning, leaving presiding over the first meal of the day to Mynar and me, and now Jes.
“Your mother will be spending the day in bed, she shouldn’t have gone out into the cold and wind.”
Mynar and I look at each other and say nothing. Mother will do what she decides must be done. I still expect her to ride to Kaskl in the spring.
“Leum has decided to accept my training.” Jes changes the subject and father lets him. “With the two others, it’s a good start. Adava’s training master has agreed to allow us access to the training rooms they use. With a little misdirection it will seem I am training them in the tribes’ fighting techniques.”
“Yet another secret,” I mutter to myself.
“Secrets are the definition of Shaman,” Jes tells me, apparently thinking this is a good thing.
I decide to go visit Thunder, and Jes comes with me. But I don’t get away fast enough; father tells me to come to the council meeting early. I refuse to worry. I feed thunder apples, scratch his ears, and ignore the stable manager’s frown. Jes looks at the clear skies in disappointment, and decides to go see if the Sorcerer is still digging.
The guards watching him keep having to discourage young boys from burying things for him to find. Since they are in the 12-13 year old range, the outcome of the ‘chicken ashes’ trial doesn’t deter them.
I go to the vault to get the Sword and find Mynar waiting for me.
“I have a plan, and our parents are not going to like it.”
As he explains, I decide he is right, they won’t. But I do.
“No!” Father’s voice is so loud his Sergeant pokes his head into the council chamber door unsummoned. He is surprised to see the room still only contains the three of us. He quickly withdraws at father’s glare.
“It makes perfectly good sense,” I tell father. “If they think I am dead, they will stop trying to kill me.” He just shifts his glare from the door to me. That isn’t the part of the plan he is objecting to. He doesn’t like the second act—me fighting an invading army. There must be an invading army waiting somewhere, that’s the only reason assassinating me makes sense. War has been declared, we just don’t know by whom.
The door opens again; this time it’s Jes. “You are frightening the guards,” he tells us as if it is only mildly interesting.
“And my children are frightening me,” father turns to look out one of the arrow slits turned window and ignores all three of us. We don’t have to explain, Jes was the first person Mynar talked to as he formulated his plan.
“ I won’t be fighting alone, we do have an army.”
Father remains looking out the window, his back to us.
“But they aren’t likely to attack in the winter, are they?” Jes brings up a valid point.
“It wouldn’t be impossible to attack during the winter, but very unlikely.” Father still isn’t looking at us, but at least he’s talking. But still not agreeing. “We can’t let the realm believe you are dead, there would be panic.”
“And that’s another problem. We have got to wean the people from their dependence on the Weapon—it isn’t healthy. Instead of thinking of the Weapon as our only defense, they need to see the Army as our defense, backed up by the Weapon.” Maybe this isn’t as crucial as it was before I learned to set new bloodlines, but it is still necessary, and I am determined to make it happen. Men who are willing to charge down dark alleys chasing demons deserve more respect than just being considered a secondary resource.
“We won’t send the message until the first heavy snow, when travel is less. Adava can stay in the castle without a lot a comment during the winter. I think we have a chance of convincing them that she has been killed. If she had been, we would probably try to hide it, while searching madly for a new Wielder.” When Mynar has a logical plan, he sometimes forgets the emotional component. Father simply does not want to even think about his daughter being dead.
I go to the window and put my hand on father’s arm. He still won’t look at me. “This is the safest for me. If they are determined to kill me, they will send other assassins; true assassins without sorcerous magic to betray them,. And sending three assassins the first time argues for strong determination.”
We convince him. He’s not happy, but he’s convinced. Now all we have to do is convince Kymr to send a fake message to his ‘master’. Jes goes to talk to him, as a guard hands me a message—blacksmith Dryn is waiting to see me.
“What has Alan done now?” I know he has done something, or Dryn wouldn’t be asking to talk to me.
“He wants me to train him as a blacksmith. He promised that he wouldn’t do any magic in my smith, he just wants to learn how to make things. At first, I said ‘no’, but then I thought maybe I should. I can at least keep an eye on him.”
“And you are willing to do this?”
“He offered gold.”
Well that made more sense. He wanted the gold, and if I approved, he would be protected if Alan did something stupid. Protected from the law—not necessary from Sorcerous explosions and disasters.
“How long does it take to train a blacksmith?”
He shrugs. “It usually takes years, but we start apprentices young and they are easily distracted. Every pretty girl, or almost pretty girl, walking by can make them forget everything you have just shown them; they have no focus. This Alan has focus to spare.”
And arrogance I think. I refuse to add gorgeousness to the list. “If you wish to undertake this task, I have no objections,” I tell him. “But it is not a duty that I would ask of you.”
“He is offering gold,” Dryn repeats.
“There will be guards watching him; tell them anything you think I need to know—or come back yourself if you think it is urgent.”
Dryn walks off looking pleased with himself, and I send a guard to find non-Sorcerer Alan for a discussion about Sorcery inside the city, and the penalties of such—penalties that I am in the process of making up, since only summoning demons is actually illegal. I spend my time as I wait for his arrival writing down the non-existent laws I am going to threaten him with, so I can be sure to remember them.
When Alan arrives, his hood is wet with heavy snow; the flurries are turning into a real storm. I smile because it means we won’t have to wait to implement our plan if Kymr agrees, but Alan thinks that I am smiling at him, and smiles back. (‘No’, I tell myself. ‘I would never smile at a Sorcerer.’) (“Not Sorcerer,” the Sword nags.)
“What are you?” I demand.
I glare at him.
“I was born in Isal, but I don’t claim them, or any other land. I am a wanderer.” He tries again.
“You’re not a Sorcerer.”
“Of course I am.”
“No, you aren’t.”
He just shakes his head, I have confused a whatever; that was fun. “I want your assurance that you are going to keep the promise you made Dryn. I don’t want to hear that his smith has been blown apart, set on fire or visited by a demon.”
“I promised you that I would not summon a demon in Misthold without your permission. I do not break my word.” He has gone from confused to affronted. “Nor will I break my word to Dryn. I need to know how to forge things.”
“Why?” I ask. “Why not carve things, or weave things, to put magic in. Or why not just pick up a rock?”
I can see him trying to decide if I am serious. Good luck on that, I don’t know if I’m serious. “Because the only thing I know of that holds magic is forged,” he answers as if it should be obvious. Damn, it is obvious, he’s talking about my Sword. I glare at him again. And I change my mind.
“There are several deserted villages on the plains outside Misthold,” I tell him. “One of them probably has a forge you can use when you are ready to commit suicide.” I don’t know why I have decided to help him, instead of threatening him. I stare down at my list of fictional laws, irritated with myself and even more irritated with him. “And you should give me a list of people whom you would like to be notified of your death.”
“There is no one,” he tells me. “Not for a very long time.”
I stand up and walk out, before I throw something at the stupid man who is determined to get himself killed. Not that it matters to me.