It’s still six days before the full moon, and I have very little to do. There are discreet troop movements, men filtering into the city to augment the guard, but there isn’t time to summon regiments from any but the closest citadels. Scouts have gone out. We won’t be surprised—unless the pirates don’t come.
Jes spends a lot of his time with Kymr, recording each minuscule detail he is able to learn about the ‘master’ and his stronghold in the swamps of Caeel. Most of it seems useless, but Jes keeps patiently at it. Kymr seems to be trying to help, still angry at the attempt to kill him, but doesn’t really know much other than he was sent to kill various people in Caeel over a five year period. All he seemed to care about was being warm and fed. The attack on me was the first time he had ever left Caeel; he doesn’t know about other assassins.
Mynar is still hiding in his library, except when mother summons him. She always has one of her young guests accompanying her, and they always pay silent attention to Mynar, a situation which is driving Mynar to nervous fits. I still haven’t told him about the latest set of revelations from the Sword because I don’t know if it would provide a welcome distraction or drive him completely over the edge. I teetered there myself for a couple of days, and I’m more or less used to cryptic comments from a length of forged iron.
The guards are quietly getting the castle and the city ready for an attack while pretending they aren’t. So far, it is working. Sergeants, being sergeants, don’t like to see their men sitting idle, and most of the city has not noticed the number of training exercises has increased. Everything that can hold water has been filled from the river and stockpiled on the top of the city walls. The water will probably freeze, despite being regularly stirred by the guards on the walls. But doing it gives them a break from looking out over the white fields outside the city.
Even my ladies are involved. They made me a quilted, padded skirt and jacket that would have kept me toasty warm in a blizzard, but unfortunate also immobilized me well past the point where fighting effectively would be possible. They are now working on a scaled down version, warmer than most of my clothes but not dangerously restrictive. I’ll need to try it on shortly.
Lord Taver believes the pirates will attack the gates, thinking to take us by surprise by attacking in the winter, so the guards at the gates are tripled, but not obviously so. The additional forces have moved into empty houses near the gates, and keep their weapons hidden in case of spies. I keep hidden too, for the same reason, not going outside the inner walls of the castle. Father and mother don’t leave the keep—mother never does when there is deep snow, and father is finding cold still a trial to his leg, even though his injury is well healed. He complains bitterly and loudly about it so effectively there are no rumors in the city. Or at least no rumors we don’t want.
We are all focused on the expected pirate attack, when Rout finds what he is digging for.
“Wielder!” The cry is loud, urgent, but only I hear it. I run to the vaults, never doubting my Sword is calling me. The air is sharp with the feeling of imminent thunder despite the light dusting of snow still falling. My guards following behind are calling questions that I am ignoring, because I have no answers. I am frightened without knowing why. I reach the vault and draw my Sword, feeling it settle into my hand, both of us bathed in a light glow.
“Power,” it whispers. I barely remember to close the vault before I take off running again, my guards still following, to my favorite tallest tower where we can see most of the town and down to the river. In the gathering dusk, I see green fire in the town, among the warehouses, and men running toward it. I cannot leave the castle, I know I cannot, and it tears me apart. Dire things are happening and I am not there to fight them.
“Find out what is happening,” I order my sergeant. “See if I am needed.” Even as a guard runs off, the fire diminishes and other lights flail the sky. I can see the guard we sent running out the east gate; Jes joins him. No one else seems to have noticed anything, only me, and those who saw me running for the vault. And, of course, my Sword.
I think the fire is where Rout is digging, shadows around the lights feel like the bulk of warehouses. He had bribed the street cleaners to haul the snow from the lot he was excavating, and we had allowed it, believing his digging would keep him out of trouble. If I’m right, there would be city guards there, watching. Maybe dying… I rage inside, but I hold to our plan and stay hidden. If there are spies, this alone will convince them I am dead.
We watch the lights go out and the fire dim to nothing but darkness, and then we slowly go back down to find father. He and Lord Ekal are in one of the more comfortable public room, and I have barely finished describing what we had seen when my guard returns, without Jes.
“Two of the Sorcerers killed each other,” he begins his report with what he probably considers the good news.
“Which two,” I interrupted.
“Blight and Rout.”
I nod for him to go on.
“Lord Jes is bringing witnesses, but wanted to post guards at the Sorcerer’s rooms. He sent me ahead to tell you only the Sorcerers are dead, and the fire is out. The wounded have been taken to Sister Mays.”
Father thanks him, and one of the other guards hands him a goblet of wine. Both father and I understand that it would be poor reward to send him to dry off instead of hearing what news Jes brings. So we let him drink wine and steam slightly in front of one of the two fires keeping the room warm.
We sit and stare at each other, while Mynar and Lord Taver are fetched and mother’s guards are warned to be alert, as if they aren’t always. I repeat my story for Mynar and Taver—leaving out, as before, that my Sword had cried the alarm. Nobody has thought to ask me about it yet. The room is crowded, my guards standing silently around the walls, unwilling to leave unless ordered. I don’t know if father is letting them stay out of compassion for their curiosity, or if he is keeping them here to stop the spread of rumor. I decide it must be compassion, there is no hope of slowing rumor with green fire and sorcerous lights in the city.
Jes finally arrives, accompanied by five city guards and Alan. Alan? All of them except Jes look slightly singed. Two of the guards are carrying a bundle dangling from a spear shaft. At their Captain’s order, they lower it to the floor, carefully not touching it. Jes cuts the rope and unwraps the canvas to display a small, muddy chest.
“What,” I ask. Everyone else thinks I am talking to the guards, but my Sword knows I’m talking to it.
“No stench, no power,” it answers. I take that as ‘I don’t know what it is’.
“Rout dug this up,” the Captain also answers. “Blight showed up shortly after and tried to take it from him. They fought. We didn’t try to stop them.” The Captain makes this sound like an admission instead of the good common sense that it is. Trying to stop two dueling Sorcerers wouldn’t have stopped the duel, it would only have killed guards.
“That was the right decision,” father assures him, having heard the same uncertainty I did in the Captain’s voice.
Looking relieved, he continues, “Rout was better with weapons, and was winning, until Blight used some sort of spell. Rout countered with another spell, and lost control of it. Both of the Sorcerers died as it went wild. We couldn’t put out the flames, water just turned into steam and the flames kept spreading until Alan arrived and did something, and the flames became ordinary fire. We were well prepared to fight ordinary fire, and soon had it extinguished.”
“There was no demon?” Father asks. When Sorcerers are involved, he always expects demons sooner or later.
“No.” Alan answers him, obviously considering himself the expert on the subject. “Just power and attack spells. And residual of the failed spell which I was able to dissipate.”
We all look at the chest as if it is going to suddenly grow fangs and start eating people—except Alan, who is looking at it as if it is a gaily wrapped gift.
“Alan also realized that Blight might have been watching the excavation from his nice warm inn,” Jes continues the explanation. “And we found evidence of a scrying spell in his rooms.”
“He was using mirrors. Which is just dumb. If the spell breaks, you end of with pieces of broken glass flying all over the place. Water works almost as well, and if you are careful about the vessel you use—I prefer paper-mache with a little water proofing—there is only slight danger if the spell fails. Just boiling water flying about sometimes. And on rare occasions steam.” Alan thinks he is being logical—just a little boiling water. The man is crazy.
“We are appreciative of your help in putting out the fire,” father begins. “But how did you know to come?” There was a faint tone of suspicion in father’s voice, and to those of us who know him well, a strong tinge of ‘I don’t like it that you knew more about what is happening in my city than I did’.
“I felt the breaking of the spell, and thought I should see if dissipation was needed; few Sorcerers bother to learn it because it’s so tricky, but it’s very useful and when it fails it only gives you a raging migraine. But that rarely happens to me anymore.
“ I would be glad to help open the chest for you, also.” Of course he would, he would probably be willing to pay even more than he is paying Dryn for the privilege of opening it.
“I suppose we can’t just bury it again,” father debates.
“But..But..” Alan is shocked and can just stutter. Mynar looks as if he is thinking about arguing too, after all, the chest is big enough to have a book or two inside, but everyone else looks as if they would be glad to run and get shovels.