We eat breakfast early, Mother and Father joining us this morning, the staff protectively building a little three sided room around as with screens trying to shield Mother from the worst of the drafts. When you live in a castle drafts are just the way of life in the winter.
We make no attempt at keeping our journey secrets—or, at least, the fact that I am going on a journey. Our destination is only known to Lord Taver and our family. Taver has even packed stores for a two month’s journey, more than twice the time the trip should take, which is very clever and something I would never have thought of.
Alan avoids breakfast. I think he is afraid of being told, at the last minute, that he can’t come. Lej is busily talking to the priests who are to accompany us, and from his lack of interest Mynar clearly knows the topic. I will worry about that later, when I have time.
I go to inspect the battalion before we leave, providing the required pageantry our people expect, I notice at least ten women, a higher percentage than likely given the scarcity of women warriors. Clearly Taver has shuffled personnel.
The warriors are all brightly awake and bursting with pride at being selected for a mission with the Wielder. Father stands in the Keep’s main doorway, one of Mother’s Ladies beside her delegating for Mother. For once mother has listened, and allowed herself to be left by the fire inside. We had won that argument by pointing out how much the battalion would worry about her being out in the cold.
Mynar joins me as I pace through the ranks, putting on his rarely assumed Heir Apparent persona. With the sun just above the castle walls it makes a fine spectacle. Inspection complete, pageant delivered, my guard lead their mounts to the front; all of them are going. The only surprise is Alan, and that is truly a surprise to everyone except Family and Taver.
I enjoy that, even if I have to keep my grin inside. I walk over to where he is standing by his horse, one of our horses, actually; his mount is a mare, pretty but not up to this trip.
“There is likely to be some dissention when we arrive at Blythe.” Alan smiles slightly at this understatement. “So you should wear an emblem marking you as one of ours.” He looks surprised, but then nods. So I tie a ribbon around his arm, the Wielders emblem start black against the white, the only color my personal red briar rose twinging around the black shield and sword. Alan looks pleased and I quit hiding my smile.
I can hear our audience gasping in surprise. Our adventure is off to a fine start.
We make a grand possession to and out the main city gate, half the battalion, then half my guards, then Taver, me, Alan, and all four of the priests. Last, the rest of my guard, the pack horses and their tenders, then the rest of the battalion. The scouts ride randomly to each side, but they will be ranging far ahead and to the sides once we are on the road. Their horses are dainty beside the great war mounts, bred for speed, not strength.
People come out of their houses in droves, splashing in puddles, getting muddy, and thoroughly enjoying themselves starting rumors about where I am going and why. Undoubtedly a whole subset will have Alan as a main character. Webb will tell me all about them, when we return. Taver stares straight ahead, ignoring the crowds, but I smile and wave to them, trying to convey the lie that my journey is not serious, not something for them to worry about. They respond by cheering and calling my name. It doesn’t take much to delight people who have spent the last months trying to keep warm.
The sun is bright in the sky, not the pale disk we have in winter, during the times the snow clouds part enough for us to see the sun.
We start down the road to cheering, but it isn’t long before the mud slows our progress to a plod and we are all mud spattered. The tallest tower of the Keep is still in sight, when I decide I am very bored. And we have, even riding war steeds with iron stamina, at least ten more days of travel. If we are lucky.
I think about starting an argument with Alan about him not being a sorcerer, but decide there are too many listening ears for that amusement. While everyone, except probably Taver, would pretend not to listen, it would only be pretense. I look back and wonder if Jes or Mynar are in the top of the tower watching us recede from sight.
“You were wrong,” Alan apparently decides to start the argument himself.
“Oh?” Well, why not, it isn’t as if our arguing about his profession is a secret.
“Rocks or material won’t do as good as metal at holding spells. Rocks can be broken, material torn. And that would release the power of the spell in an uncontrolled manner.”
“Removing the wolf words didn’t hurt the assassin.”
“Ritually removing is not the same as breaking.” He pauses to look around, and then shakes his head at the soggy vista. “That is why there were so many words, it would take damaging them all to impact the spell.”
I think about that for a minute. Before I come to any useful conclusion, Taver decides to quit pretending deafness.
“So if you put a spell in, say a piece of pottery, and then we threw the pottery at an enemy…”
Alan looks surprised. “I hadn’t thought about that.” He stares off into the distance for a while. “When we get home, I’ll experiment. But it would probably be dangerous to carry them, and to store them.”
I ignore the continuing discussion about the possible uses vs the dangers of exploding magical devices. I am too busy basking in the memory of the words when we get home. Home.