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Snow melts, turning city streets into rivers, roads into mud, and dispositions sour. Father and Mother debate for days about arresting Orsin, hoping the mysterious letter from Afred will provide evidence of his guilt. Neither are willing to take the gamble.
I start for the stable, intending to talk to Thunder, thinking this more useful than any of the circular arguments being carried on inside. I see four guards from the main gate walking two men toward the formal entrance to the Keep, a footman scurrying ahead. I don’t recognize the younger of the two, but I know Ankr, disgraced ex-Guild Master for the goldsmiths. Surprise at seeing him dare to return from exile without being summoned moves me toward the great hall instead of continuing to the stables. I’ll bring Thunder two apples, and he will forgive me.
Ankr is already kneeling before father by the time I get there. “I am greedy my King, and I may be as stupid as my son believes, but I am not a traitor.”
Father shifts from angry to interested. “Follow me,” he commands, heading toward one of the smaller audience chambers, “And find Taver.”
Father doesn’t want the guards to stay, but they won’t leave until Taver gets here, despite me standing beside father with the sword on my back. I decide I am too curious to be irritated. When Taver arrives and the guards are shut out in the hall, father finally stops pacing and sits down.
“What is so important you think I will forgive you coming back to Misthold?”
Ankr pulls out a letter. He doesn’t try to hand it to father, just puts in on the table beside him. I look at it as I slide it to father and recognize Orsin’s seal. Father stares at the letter for a long time, Taver and I reading over his shoulders. It is vague, but still damming when taken with the other letter.
“It’s suspicious,” Ankr’s son speaks for the first time.
Father looks up and remembers they know nothing of the Outlander letter. “Very,” he agrees, then calls “Guard”, startling everyone. Of course the guard comes in with drawn sword. “Please tell the staff that our guests have ridden hard and need food and drink.” The guard leaves, and I wonder if he is unhappy or relieved there was no need for the sword.
“You are greedy, Ankr, but you are also not a traitor. Sit down,” father waves them toward a bench before the fire. “You were right to bring this to me.” There is relief on both of their faces; they must have been less than confident about their course of action.
The staff arrives and starts trying to feed everyone. Father and Taver wave them off, and mutter to each other. No one seems to be hungry, but Ankr and his son and I all accept wine. I ask and find out the son is named Lews. Father and Taver reach agreement and join us.
“Can your father stay out of sight at your house?”
“Yes, easily.” Lews sounds pleased.
Father turns to Ankr. “Stay in Misthold, but quietly. No visits, no visitors. Don’t try to keep your presence a secret, but don’t talk about this either.” Ankr nods as if he understands, but I’m sure he doesn’t. “You will never again hold office in the goldsmiths’ guild, but I will lift all other restrictions from you.” Ankr just nods again. He has not spoken since he announced he wasn’t a traitor. He is inching back from total disgrace, and I think he is afraid to say anything for fear of losing the ground he has gained.
Father and Taver think that Taver is going to arrest Orsin. I make them think again. I am Wielder; they are stuck with me.
Father and Taver thought that Taver was going to arrest Orsin. I make them think again. I am Wielder; they are stuck with me.
Taver argues, father argues, and I yell. “Orsin is Lord of the city, send only Taver and Orsin’s men will defend him. But if the Wielder and the Sword are there, his men are more likely to tie him up and gift him to me.”
As much as they don’t like it, they know I am right. But this doesn’t stop their overprotective grumbling. It is that time of year, winter ending, but spring not yet arrived. Weather nice enough to make huddling by fires less attractive, but not nice enough to be out and about and doing.
Only mother is content, Aliac is well enough to sit by the fire with her, mother writing stacks of letters to be sent out by courier when the roads are dried enough. Aliac mostly just sips weak mulled wine and stares at the flames.
Even Jes is endlessly pacing the halls and stairs.
“There is still plenty of snow to look at,” I point out as his pacing interrupts my brooding.
“Snow is only interesting when it is falling,” he answers over his shoulder as he walks by.
“Here,” Alan interrupts my brooding with a handful of papers. He has been in a strange mood, half-frustrated and half-elated. We had finally let him talk to our ex-wolfman, and his memories of how the wolf words were ‘tattooed’ on him by the swamp magician apparently gave Alan some idea about how to stuff a spell into his forged disk. He was delighted at the plan, and frustrated that he has to wait to try it.
I decide to let him interrupt since I don’t really know what I am brooding about. Father and Taver have conceded defeat, however ungraciously. It can’t possibly have anything to do with the improving roads making it possible for a hard-headed non-sorcerer to leave, and go looking for more ways to kill himself.
“What?” I look at the lists he has handed me.
“You told me to give you a list of my spells.”
“Oh, yes.” I start reading. There are four lists: Always Works, Mostly Works, Sometimes Works, and Mostly Never Works.
“Power required for the spell isn’t a factor. Growth is one of the most complex, but it always works.”
I just look my question at him.
“Growth encourages plants to grow. I could turn a sapling into a small tree in one season, if I wanted to spend every other day encouraging it.”
“Scrying takes minimal power, but fails on the average every tenth attempt. Not that it’s one out of ten. I may succeed fifteen times in a row, and then fail the next three times.”
“So you’ve been thinking about this?” I am surprised, he hadn’t seemed interested when I suggested a logical approach.
“Of course,” he agreed.
I glare at him as I understand; he was uninterested simply because he didn’t think non-sorcerous me could help.
“Fatigue isn’t a factor either,” he continues obvious to my building annoyance.
I would really like to slap him and flounce away, but a warrior princess with a sword strapped to her back doesn’t flounce—she cuts off heads, and that did seem a little extreme. Before I can decide on something comfortably between the two, Lord Taver interrupts.
“We have plans to make, Wielder.” He is still signaling his disagreement with excessive formality.
I walk off as Alan opens his mouth to ask a question. I am smirking as I walk away, but he can only see my back. Leaving him with unanswered questions is a more than suitable torture.
Taver’s first plan had been to take a small army after Orsin. His new plan is to take a battalion and me. He is in a much better mood after I make no objections to his plans. I know the difference between a warrior and a general, and I know which I am. I even agree, to his surprise, to ride a gelding.
After our meeting I decide to go to the vault and haul Mynar out. He spends hours staring at the flint disk. I don’t know what he hopes to accomplish. He isn’t there, so I try his library and find both Mynar and Lej with their heads in books—multiple books for each.
“Princess Adava,” Lej acknowledges my existence, and Mynar, as usual, doesn’t until he finishes reading one more page.
“We have a theory,” he announces when he finally looks up. “All of the lore tales and cautionary tales are really history.”
I just look at him a couple of seconds trying to decide if he really means this, or if my serious little brother has developed a sense of humor.
“So where are the great warriors who can run up walls and the powerful sorcerers who can blast mountains?”
“Precisely.” Lej seems to think he has answered my question.
“That’s what we are trying to find out,” Mynar answers me as if we are talking about something real, and I finally realize they believe what they are saying. “We are certain it was neither an event, nor a gradual dying out. Rather it had to be an abrupt dying out, probably over years, not decades.”
They both look pleased with themselves. I can feel a headache coming on, but not as big of a headache as father is going to have. I know my brother, I know Alan, and Lej is looking to be another of the type. If they decide an event crippled magic, they will start looking for a way to bring it back. They won’t be able to help themselves; all of them are addicted to answers.