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I hurry across the inner bailey of the castle, intent only on running away. I have spent the entire morning having my hair braided, the results rejected, and then braided differently, only to finally have mother decide I had been right, and it looks best in one long braid hanging down my back. Once it had been decided how I would wear my hair for the wedding, mother had been persuaded to rest, and I had escaped. I am heading toward Webb’s stable as fast as I can go without actually running, intent on hiding in his loft until the wedding, or at least until just before the evening meal, when I see Alan limping toward the guard’s barracks. I shift course toward him, and then shift again when I see Hunk leading Alan’s horse toward the stable.
“What happened?” Hunk jumps at the sound of my voice. Everyone else has long since gotten used to how quietly I move, but Hunk hasn’t been around long enough yet to know I am likely to show up anywhere, especially the stables.
“Mage Alan has been working on a levitation spell.” Hunk doesn’t say anymore, apparently believing he has told me everything. Maybe he has.
“And how high was he when it failed?”
“Fifteen feet, or so.” Hunk looks worried, as if he expects me to yell at him. Oh.
“I realize you can’t protect Alan from himself, that’s my job.” I’ve guessed right; Hunk looks relieved.
I send a guard to borrow one of the canes father used when his leg was broken, and head toward the guard quarters myself, expecting to find one of the priests tending to Alan. I’m right.
Alan looks at me with a ‘I don’t want to hear it’ look on his face. Since he expects me to fuss, I don’t. Never be predictable.
Instead, I talk to the priest. “How bad is it?”
“Not broken, but there may be a cracked bone. He should be careful for a while.” The priest has no problem talking to me about Alan’s injury, which pleases me greatly. I like people realizing Alan is mine.
“The next time you jump off a building, I want to be ready.”
“I don’t plan on jumping off any more towers,” I tell him, omitting the fact that I hadn’t really planned on jumping off the first one.
My Sergeant hands me the cane I asked for, and a pair of soft slippers that I hadn’t. “It will probably swell.”
Alan turns out to be a much better patient than father. We get him comfortable at a table in Mynar’s library, with his grimoires and a foot stool, and within minutes he is perfectly content researching yet another way to hurt himself.
Mynar is solicitous, and I’m betting he is only waiting for me to leave the room before he asks if Alan can levitate him.
“Next time,” I tell both of them, “Why don’t you try levitating over something soft. I’m sure Daver can help with pillows or something.” The only answer I get is two grins. I vaguely wonder where Lej is, but I don’t worry. Pretty sure I can trust him not to get into trouble.
I debate staying here, watching the two of them be absorbed in their books, or continuing with my plan to hide out at Webb’s. I take too long, and am summoned to father instead.
“Who is hurt and how bad?” I guess father must have heard about my borrowing the cane.
“Alan may have cracked a bone in his foot.” I don’t volunteer how, since it involves magic. Father doesn’t ask, probably because he assumes it involves magic.
“The reports we have been getting from Alan are useful. I suppose,” he continues rather wistfully, “you have to be a Mage or a Sorcerer to scry. But it would be really nice to have reports from more areas or to send messages back.”
“Pretty sure you have to be Mage or Sorcerer.” I mentally tuck away a plan to remind him of this conversation if Rage actually does survive, and arrives to join his wife and son.
“What do you want to give Alan as your bridesgift? What would a Mage want.”
I’m really impressed, father has said ‘mage’ twice now without pausing because he wanted to say Sorcerer. “I have already given him his gift, the three grimoires.” Between Taver and the priests, they would have been burned, if not for me. “And you gave him the forge. The village doesn’t count, that was more useful to us than to him.” Although father probably thinks it just gave me something to do with the mercenaries who followed me home, and not a potential extension of the spy ring he almost certainly doesn’t know about. (Oh, yeah, another secret…Claire, bloodlines, talking sword, Murr and spy network. I definitely need a chart of who knows what.)
But it is nice to have a normal conversation with father. Even though Celeste’s vision is only a reprieve, it has lightened the world. We can go back into denial, ignoring that someday we will be without mother.
Alan surprises everyone by doing as the healer-priest orders, content to sit at one of Mynar’s library tables planning his next experiment, while Mynar pretends that if he looks at the various rubbings long enough and hard enough he will start to understand them.
I have finally found out what Jes and Lej are doing, because one of father’s knights asks me. I don’t know, so I go to find out. They have taken over a small corner of the inner bailey, a section of earth between two small buildings backing up to the curtain wall. There had once been three small storehouses, but one had burned down and never been rebuild because there was really no need for it. The ground is covered in sparse grass, already winter brown. In the middle of it, they have built a small fire. Jes sits on one side of it and Lej on the other, ignoring the rest of the world.
Both scoot over a little when I arrive, leaving a place for me to sit that puts us all equidistant around the modest fire. “What are you doing?”
“Jes is teaching me clan lore,” Lej explains. He likes explaining as much as Mynar does, but he waits for his audience to express interest first, unlike Mynar who assumes everyone must be interested in whatever his current topic is.
“You want to be a Shaman?”
“Lore is for everyone,” Jes explains, “Shaman are the teachers of lore. And this is the proper method: sky above, earth below and fire in between.”
“Did you know, the lore-stories are prefaced with a description of the sky at the time. I’m almost certain I can correlate their prefaces with the astrological/historical studies of the Great Sagas made by the Certies Monasteries, allowing us to draw a combined timeline of the events in the Warrior-Sage’s sagas and the events in clan lore.”
Lej looks so pleased, I try to look impressed, even though I am more impressed at him being able to say all of that without pausing for breath than I am impressed by his ‘maybe’ timeline. But not going to say that out loud.
I nod, and smile, and listen and try to decide how long before I can leave without insulting them—well Jes; don’t think Lej will miss me unless Jes stops talking. A second summons from father makes my calculations moot. He has asked just for me, so I leave Jes and Lej to whatever they are doing. Later, I will decide if I want to understand badly enough to ask Mynar and listen to what will undoubtedly be more detail than I want.
“Is that useful,” I whisper as I cross the yard ahead of my guards.
The Sword surprises me by answering, “You never know if research is going to be useful, until after you do it.” But it doesn’t surprise me by telling me something helpful.
Father is dressed formally, and Lord Taver—fully armed—is just as formal. I have the Sword on my back, so that counts as formal for me. They are both patiently waiting for a Verkal courier (a real one this time, with evidence of many miles hard ridden) to be provided with food and drink.
“The Lords of Verkal have sent an urgent message,” father tells me, as if it isn’t clearly obvious, while we wait for the staff to leave.
The courier drinks a cup of wine, but ignores the food for the moment. “There are dire visions, repeated visions that show all lands in darkness.” His voice trembles, and I wonder if he has seen the visions himself. “Darkness is coming, and we are unable to put name to it. So we are sending warnings to all nations. Gather your armies, hide your food, prepare.”
He is exhausted but also terrified. I refill his cup, and he stops for a moment to take another drink. “The visions are detailed, but incomprehensible.” He is continuing in a normal tone of voice, not his ‘delivering royal message’ pretentious tone. “And they keep happening. Repeat vision are so rare. Your great plague was the last time.”
Father stares at him for a moment, probably wanting to comfort him, as I do, but we can’t without risking Celeste. “I hear the words of your rulers,” father assures him, “And I take them seriously. Our armies are already on alert, for this is the season the Outlanders like most to attack, and we also have had some troubles from a wizard living in the swamps of Caeel. But Lord Taver will speak to his officers, and we will heed your warning.”
The courier relaxes once he realizes he will not have to persuade father to believe him. Any warning sent by Verkal will be taken seriously simply based on its unlikeliness; they are more likely to use their visions to their advantage than to provide warnings.
“I will give you transcriptions of all we have learned of the swamp-wizard, just in case he is the source of the darkness,” father promises. I make a mental note to censor the transcription before the final copy is made, just to make sure there is no mention of bleeding cats to death to make ink. I’m still on the side of the cats. “You have accomplished your task; rest and eat while I have the information gathered.”
“We don’t know if you are there.” The courier is talking to me now. “We have never had a vision about the Sword.”
“I will be there,” I promise him, feeling like a fraud since I know there will be no ‘there’ to worry about. But he is so tired, I offer him what comfort I can in a lie, since I can’t tell the truth.