This time I raid the kitchen for a practical reason; I slept so late breakfast is long over. I nibble this and that before taking a plate of leftovers and heading toward the top of the wall looking for somewhere with a good view so I can enjoy the outside for the few remaining days before winter. Just nineteen days until our wedding, so almost certainly only snow flurries before, but it is likely to turn cold. I don’t really care if there is a blizzard, there are enough priests in the castle, even the worst blizzard will not be able to keep us from getting married. As I eat my first pastry, I think about talking to Alan about keeping an eye on the weather when he is working at his forge, then I come to my senses and make a mental note to send a messenger to Hunk and tell him to make sure Alan doesn’t get snowbound.
As I’m munching on a piece of bacon, I see father come out of the Keep, walking the courier to his waiting horse. Father had decided not to delegate the goodbyes this time because he wants the Oligarchs to be sure he appreciates their warnings. Pure politics, as usual.
“Politics are worse than secrets, and secrets are bad enough.” I mutter to myself, but of course my Sword hears.
“Your family only keeps secrets to protect others.”
I have to think about this for a moment before I decide he is right. Even our last secret is to protect father as much as Mynar. Father’s mood for the last few months has been foul. The fiasco with the disk would have almost certainly resulted in an argument with the potential of escalating until unforgivable things were said by both sides. I am sure I’m not the only one who is relieved by father’s improving mood. People are probably glad I’ve stopped being so jumpy too. Mostly they are attributing it all to worry about mother’s health. I stare off in the distance toward the river and smile, happy with the world. Between our wedding and the dearth of assassins, mother is doing so much better we are all able to ignore how fragile she really is.
I see one of my ladies coming up the stairs, and think about running; I don’t want tedious wedding details to ruin my good mood. But I remember how happy mother has been, actually enjoying all of the tedious stuff, so I wait to see what the current emergency is—because everything has been an emergency since the date of our wedding was moved forward.
“What is wrong, Anjae?”
“Men.” For a moment I think that is all she is going to say. “In confidence, your highness?”
“Of course.” Now I am interested, there might really be something wrong.
“One of the female guards talked to me after her Sergeant ordered her not to talk to you.”
OK, now I’m worried.
“Dena has been flirting with Mage Alan, well, trying to flirt. He hasn’t noticed yet. And the stupid men in the guard think it is funny, and are betting how long it will take him to notice. And they don’t think you need to know.”
I just roll my eyes; there isn’t any better answer.
Her mission accomplished, Anjae moves on to wedding stuff. Everyone is still upset that Alan has invited no one. He claims he has no family. Considering how he was treated, that’s true. And he did finally admit to me that both of the Sorcerers he was apprenticed to are dead. He won’t tell me how, so I know it had to be either demon or failed spell.
I resist my first impulse to go find Alan and tease him about Dena. Instead, I try to regain my good mood. Not hard, as I visualize Dena’s frustration at not being noticed, and I’m rewarded by Alan coming to find me.
“Mynar is brilliant.”
“Oh?” Not the first words I was expecting.
“We measured Murr’s trunks, looking for secret cubbies, and all of the measurements agreed, but Mynar decided to take the trunks apart, and he found something. The bottom and sides of the trunks are thick, but we thought that was just for strength since he did so much traveling. But he had made them thick enough so he could hollow them out. With a false top overlaid, you couldn’t find them by measuring.”
“More papers,” Alan agreed, “And something else…” Alan doesn’t tell me what, he just takes my hand and heads down the stairs. “This is going to be good,” I think as I follow him.
“Have you really not noticed Dena?” I speak softly so my guards can’t hear.
“I made a conscious decision not to notice Dena,” he whispers back. “And the guards are all going to lose their bets, because no one guessed ‘never’.”
“They should be betting on what stupid thing she will do because she can’t stand not being noticed.”
“In that case, I will be counting on you to protect me.”
I’m not sure if Alan is joking or not. Should I do something? Nah. Other than making sure Anjae’s friend keeps me updated for the amusement value.
I am impressed by one of Mynar’s finds, a thin sheet of metal inscribed with three intersecting circles and arcane symbols.
Mynar, Lej, and Emrinalda are excited, talking over each other, and practically dancing around the room. Alan looks on tolerantly, and hands me a hand drawn copy with the symbols translated. I would be more impressed with his calm tolerance if I didn’t remember him hugging three grimoires and daring me to try and take them.
It is moderately interesting. Thanks to Mynar, I know scholars theorize there are three types of power, and the drawing shows skills associated with each power, but…” Wait. Didn’t you tell me the Warrior-Sages probably didn’t know about Enchanters? Because this has Enchanters at the intersection of physical and mental.”
“Oh, this wasn’t created by the Warrior-Sages, malleable bronze wasn’t developed until after their era. This was created later, building on their research. Murr wasn’t the first to find their secret School. All of the hidden papers were compiled by a sect of hermit-monks shortly before the founding of Misthold.”
“Hermit-monks?” I ask. No one answers, they are too busy jumping to conclusions. “Hermit-monk?” I ask again louder. Of course, Mynar can’t resist a chance to lecture.
“During the building of the Castle, when Misthold was just a collection of wooden huts, an order of monks decided to reject the world, and wandered into the mountains. They stumbled onto the Warrior-Sage’s abandoned School, and took it over. As payment to the dead they preserved, and tried to extend, the Warrior-Sages research into the nature of magic. They added Enchanters to the list of skills, and, they collected anecdotal evidence that Sorcerer’s weren’t able to actually summon demons until after magic started to decline.”
“So it isn’t just that magic is less reliable, there are also more bad things happening.”
Mynar nods happily. He’s lucky I understand he is happy about a significant piece of new data, and not about ‘bad things happening’. But none of this gets him any closer to ‘fixing’ magic. I really concentrate and manage not to roll my eyes—again. I just smile, as if I really understand why ancients writings are important.