Jalice’s bed was too empty. With her husband gone she always found it hard to sleep, but it was even more difficult with the fate of her eldest son preying on her thoughts. Micharus was in the bed next to her, she hadn’t let him out of her sight in the past few days, but still she worried. If he was of magical blood, he would not be able to stay with her and his brother and sister. By law, he would forsake his noble name and any claim to Miteus’ titles and lands. She also knew that, if he did manage to escape Artellathwaine with his life, his noble birth would earn him a place in the Towers of Otzia and the Orders of Wizardry, as her uncle and cousin had. What little she knew of the world of wizards was enough to discomfort her. Wizards commanded great respect and reverence throughout the other realms, but theirs was a life dedicated to learning. Her uncle and cousin had both returned from Otzia changed men, and part of her did not want that fate for her son. Her fatigued mind raced to grave possibilities and worse, placing all notion of sleep further beyond her grasp. She had been like this for days, and she feared her wits would leave her if she did not find her dreams. Even the nightmares were preferable to this.
There was nothing for it. She looked to her son, sleeping deeply by her side. He should be safe enough, she thought. She rose and slipped a gown over her night clothes. She slipped through the dark and emerged in her husband’s solar. She lit a candle and carried it down through the castle. She passed the night guards, who bowed their heads to her and let her pass. Two offered to escort her, but she politely declined, assuring them she was safe enough within the thick rothstone walls.
She found Maestrum in his healing chambers, bent over his desk and reading a great tome that was crumbling with age. Around him were strewn scrolls and books, each looking far older than even he was. He had not noticed here enter, so she stood silently as the candle upon his desk and the one in her hand cast a great double shadow behind her. After a few moments he looked up from his book.
“My Lady, I did not see you enter.” He said.
“Yet you were not startled to see me?” She asked, remarking on his complete lack of surprise at her sudden appearance.
“I had suspected you would seek me out, I did expect you a night or two sooner.”
“I am a man who puts first faith in observation, my Lady. It has been plain to me that you have had more than a few restless nights of late.”
“And you did not mention it?”
“It would have made your worries seem unimportant, when a mother’s worries should never be ignored. If you had required some remedy for your sleep I trusted you would ask for one. Better, I reasoned, to try and put your worries to rest.”
The apothecary gestured to the texts that surrounded him. Jalice at first felt reassurance, but a sense of concern broke over her like a wave.
“Who told you?” She asked.
“I was not told, my Lady, rest assured your secret is safe, at least from less keen minds. I, as any learned man, merely pieced together observations and found truth hidden between them. You bring your son to me with an ailment you dare not describe, and henceforth keep the child at your side. I have served the Wetherhalls and cared for the people of this castle for over fifty years, it is not the first time I have dealt with a mageblood child.”
“Then you believe he is mageblood?” She asked, her voice becoming heavy with sorrow.
“I believe it is a strong possibility, but as to certainty I cannot say. It is true that the blood of magic can find root in common blood, indeed that is where all mageblood can be traced to despite what the Wizard’s Order or Enchanted Sisterhood would have you believe. The Jaunts of Gania see more than their fair share of mages, and it seems the Wetherhall line is not without magic either.”
There was a cough from across the room, followed by a groan. Maestrum grasped his half-staff and heaved himself onto his feet. He shuffled over to one of the heavily laden shelves and wrapped his fingers around the neck of a slender bottle of jet black glass. He made his way as quickly as he could deeper into the Healing Chambers. Jalice followed until they came to the source of the groaning, a woman lying on a table beneath a grey wool blanket. At least Jalice thought it was a woman. Her body had wasted away to the point where she was simply bones wrapped in white cracked skin. She was hairless, her eyes small and red, her lips dark grey and her fingers almost completely black. The groan must have been all she could manage, she looked as though she was trying to scream. Maestrum removed the stopper from the bottle and gently poured the dark blue liquid into her mouth.
“Drink, my dear.” He whispered. “Drink and sleep.”
“Who is she?” Jalice asked.
“One of the sea wives, I believe.” Maestrum said. “She came to me with her child at the last moon, Widow’s Finger, the disease claimed the infant and has been consuming her ever since.”
Jalice put her hand over her mouth.
“It does not spread easily, do not fear. It is found in the bite of widowcats, across the great sea. A rare affliction, but beyond my power to heal. All I can do for her is to keep her on the night wine, to numb her pain and ease her sleep.”
“Would it not be a mercy to end her suffering?”
“I do not invite Death, my Lady. I vow to help and heal, not kill.”
“Have you told anyone of your suspicions, will you?”
“Seven.” Maestrum replied as he turned and shuffled back towards his books. “Seven mothers have come to me in the dead of night, not including yourself. Seven children born with mageblood in all my years within these walls. I remember each and every one of them, and of those I have seen six safely leave this realm.”
“You admit to defying my husband’s law?”
“No more than you have, my Lady. There is only one thing I need know of magic: a life-mage could have saved that mother and her child. If the ship that bore them here had sailed to any other city on the sea, chance would be they would have lived. Sailing here condemned them to die, and no doubt the father blames himself for it. Is our Lord Miteus right in upholding that law, is her blood on his hands? Only the Gods can say. I shall take your son’s secret to my grave and be glad of it. I would have the boy on the first ship headed north, away from here and to the hands of the wizards, they will no doubt know best what to do for him. If you bring the boy here I can put him in trusted hands that shall see him safe to your family in Gania.”
“Thank you for the offer, Maestrum, I will need to consider.”
She turned to leave, but Maestrum cleared his throat and held out a small vial of yellow liquid.
“Two drops of this should grant you a restful sleep.” He said as he placed it in her palm. She bid him goodnight and returned to her chambers. Ulysses was perched on the windowsill, a roll of parchment in his beak. His yellow eyes swivelled and locked onto hers, and the bird grasped the parchment with its talon and squawked.
Harold chased the shadow-clad maiden through the mists of eternity. He had been running for what felt like hours, but she always seemed to be very nearly out of view ahead of him. He had stumbled through the charred and rotting shell of Castle Artella. He had looked upon a shrouded king in an obsidian crown sat atop a throne carved from a dead and blackened tree. He had stood in the centre of the great Wizards’ city and watched as its stones tore apart and unleashed unnatural fire. He saw the four towers of Wizardy, impossibly tall and seemingly invincible, tear open and fall all the way to the base of the mountain below. Amidst it all he heard the screams, felt the panic, smelt the smoke and tasted the death. Always the fog preceded the visions, and always they collapsed back into the mist. Past, present and future all existed here, that much he knew, with only the shroud of fog to part them. The Farseer’s lantern served to guide him, but it seemed only to lead him to despair. Perhaps that was all the future held, all it ever could hold. She had saved the worst for last.
The light of her lantern became the setting sun. The fog parted once again and Harold found himself standing in the Red Court. To his left the city of Artella sat bathed in the shadow of the harbour walls. To his right stood a crowd of assembled lords, knights and guards, in the centre stood Lord Miteus himself, dressed in his ceremonial armour but wearing a black cloak, his hands clasped around Silver Wind. In front of him he saw Jak Long, his face concealed behind the black hood. In his hand he held Midnight’s Kiss, and knelt over the block at his feet was Lady Jalice.
She looked straight at Harold, a sense of sadness and defeat in her eyes. He couldn’t understand. This couldn’t be the future.
He felt tears in his eyes. He glimpsed the Lord of the Realm nod his head and turn away.
“No… no please…” Harold said, but nobody seemed to listen. Nobody could hear. He saw the executioner swing the blade behind him, then it was arcing over his head. It came down like a clap of thunder, cleaving flesh and bone in an instant. The Lady’s head rolled forwards and her body fell limp to one side. From each the fog poured, coating the floor and rising around his legs. He collapsed to his knees and looked through the layer of grey that obscured where she lay. He tried to find the words but there were none. As the tide of mist consumed him he looked up and saw the shadowed goddess standing over him. He reached out to her, but the shadows and fog became smoke and reality rushed to fill the void around him. The Seer sat across from him, a smile on his face.
“The Gift is chosen.” The Seer announced.
“I have it, then? I have the sight?”
“The Sight and more. You are the Greatseer, you have the Inner Eye.” The seer tossed a gold coin at Harold. He caught it and looked at the all-seeing eye embossed upon it.
“You have chosen the path of the Greatseer.” The Seer continued. “You oaths of blood, word and deed are washed away. You are in Her service.”
“What happens now? Will what I have seen come to pass?”
“The Inner Eye can glimpse past, present and future. Whether your visions have already passed or are yet to be, I cannot say.”
“Must I stay here, or can I leave?”
“Your path leads away from here. You must seek out the Greatseer, only he can show you the way. Go West, you must, seek a ship to take you across the Great Sea to the Sand Kingdoms, there the Greatseer awaits you.”
“I can’t. I have to return to Artella, I have to stop it.”
“Some futures cannot be prevented, Brother Harold.”
“I have to try.”
“You know the path before you. Go from this place, the Farseer shall light your way.”
Harold rose and fled the room. The Seer scooped another batch of dark blue leaves up and dropped them over the fire. They crackled as they burned, sending the blue-black smoke into the air. The Seer breathed deeply and closed his eyes.
Sir Allian found the wizard exactly where he expected to. The courtyard was still at the base of an ocean of shadow as the sun was only just rising. Crystal lanterns provided an unnatural ambient illumination as two burly guards stood on each doorway. Wise Christen was sat on a rolled and bound carpet with a satchel around his shoulder and a large book in hands. He turned a page and didn’t look up as Justin approached.
“I thought you would have donned your dragonsteel plate.” The wizard remarked. “It is still kept in the armoury for you, I believe.”
“We are taking a great enough risk going to Artella at all, I did not think it wise to bring my father’s arms, lest I should be the last to wear them.”
“The risk shall be less than you fear, we will pass unnoticed without too much trouble, I suspect.”
“We will have to cross through the realm, we may be discovered before we even reach the city.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem.” Christen remarked as he placed his hand on the carpet.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
The wizard slipped the large book into the considerably smaller satchel and got to his feet.
“Twelve summers past I had to fortune to take a ship across the Anlos Sea to the west, to the Desert Lands. On my travels I befriended and rendered my services to Hirahk Donelle of the city of Gresca. It was in his presence that I learned of Lord Hambur’s problems with the Screech. The autumn storms had sealed the Anlos sea to ships, so the Hirahk made me a gift of this so that I may be seen quickly back to Gania before my elder brother was lost to madness.”
He loosened the ropes binding the carpet and nudged the roll with his foot. The roll unfurled almost with a snap, sending a cloud of dust into the air. Justin had to cover his eyes with his hand as the dust blew into him. Silently the carpet streaked into the air. By the time he had wafted the dust away it had cleared the limits of the castle and was almost too small to see above them.
“Remarkable, isn’t it?” Wise Christen asked.
“What is it?” Justin replied. “I haven’t seen anything like it.”
“Few have. The Hirahk called it a Phaatos, worth it’s weight in scalesilver ten times over. It takes a fast ship near a whole season to traverse the Anlos sea, the Phaatos bore me across its entire span in three days.”
Christen placed his fingers in his mouth and let out a shrill whistle. The speck of darkness swimming in the beams of the morning sun dove towards them. Growing larger, it whistled through the air. When it seemed to be making to fly straight into them Justin dove to the side. He looked up to see the carpet flattened out, drifting serenely down until it settled a few inches above the ground. To call the rectangle of carpet ornate would have been a gross understatement. The thread alone was beautiful to behold, and the flowing patterns of red and purple seemed to expose more detail the closer you looked. Every inch seemed to reflect a light that wasn’t even there.
“It is magical?” Justin asked as he clambered back to his feet.
“Oh yes. The Sorcerers across the sea have made a true artwork of enchantment. In Asamor we enchant such simple things, swords and shields, scythes and stones. Across the sea they weave magic into the very fabric. This Phaatos alone holds secrets of magic our wizarding orders may be lucky enough to discover in a thousand years. Come on.”
The wizard sat near the front of the Phaatos. Justin was unsure, but there was a command in the wizard’s voice that moved him to obey. As he stepped onto the carpet it felt as if it was laid on the stone floor rather than hovering above it, but as he sat down it suddenly felt as if it had been laid on soft ground. It was remarkably comfortable, although he never wanted to admit it.
The wizard whispered something that he couldn’t hear and they began to rise. The sensation was most strange, Justin realised. He could feel no sense of movement at all, it was as if they were remaining still and the world was falling away. The castle was below them, then it was behind them. They climbed high above the rolling hills of Ganiathwaine at a steep angle, but he felt no force pulling him back.
They levelled off and headed south. Justin was amazed at the view around them. Ahead lay the coastline and the gulf, to the right he saw the island kingdom of Sau, the city of Sauda glinting in the rays of the rising sun. To their left the kingdom of Asamor rolled on all the way to the horizon, where the sun crept over dragging with it the light of the new day. Justin looked over the side and saw the coastline slide beneath them as the sun had begun to climb higher into the sky. They had to have been travelling at some speed, yet he felt no wind travelling past them. He looked to the east once more and saw the kingdom bathed in the warm light of day. He swore he could see something else in the air in the distance. It seemed too large and travelling too strangely to be a bird. It could have been a dragon, but he could not tell at this distance.
“We must be moving at some speed.” Justin remarked.
“The Phaatos can outpace a fast horse, but it does not tire. It will be past noon by the time we arrive.” Christen replied. “In the meantime, tell me of Lord Miteus. Does he treat my dear niece well?”
Justin considered his answer for a few moments. “Lord Miteus is a just and honourable man in almost every way, he loves his wife and cherishes his children, as any father does. Since I have served as the Lady’s protector I have come to know the man, and there is little I would fault him.”
“It is good to see that the years have not dulled your honesty, Sir Allian.”
“I have always known better than to try to lie to you, wise one.”
“In that at least I can say I taught you well. I have heard darker tidings of his hatred of magic of late. Two elves slain, and a witch’s cottage burned to the ground beyond the borders of his realm.”
“How do you know of these things?”
“Words are swifter than horses, especially amongst magical folk. The fate of the elves has no doubt reached all four corners of the kingdom by now. It most certainly has reached the King’s ear. The witch’s hovel was fresh in your mind, but I’d wager it too is being spoken by many lips this day.”
“The elves had practised magic within the realm, they had transgressed the law. Their guilt was certain, but I cannot speak truly if I were to say their punishment was just.”
“And the witch?”
“Of her guilt I cannot say there was any certainty. I do not believe Lord Miteus had the right of it, she challenged his ruling.”
“And he ignored the challenge?” The wizard asked. He did not wait for Justin to vocalise an answer. “The Sisterhood will not take kindly to that, should the word reach them. It would be a cruel thing to add the anger of the magic sisters to Lord Wetherhall’s troubles.”
“He has other troubles?”
“Almost certainly. Every Noble Lord of the kingdom is making their way to Court at Nysilla.”
The news made Justin feel uneasy. The Noble Lords each had a seat at Court, but most of the time they were represented in the capital by their appointed seats. Only when matters of importance, those that could have a profound effect on the Kingdom, came about did appointed seats request the presence of their lords. Such matters were, as oft as not, matters of war. Justin placed a hand on the hilt of his sword, finding reassurance in the fact it was still there.
“Do you know why they have been summoned?” He asked.
“My Lord brother did confide in me the purpose of his summons, as he sought my counsel. However I swore I would not speak of it.” The wizard answered.
“Then do not speak of it. It is not of my concern.”
“You know your place well, Sir knight.”
“My place is at my Lord’s command, between Lady Jalice and those who would do her harm.”
“Yet you left her side to seek me.”
“Her son requires a kind of protection I cannot provide.”
“That may well be the case. She was right to summon me, and you were right to carry her message.”
“I only hope you can help him.”
“I will do my best, have no fear. Tell me, if you would, of your years since we last spoke. I am anxious to hear about by niece and her children.”
Justin did as he was bid, recalling the details of his life in the realm without magic. As Lady Jalice’s sworn protector, he had to admit he missed his duties as a knight of the realm of Ganiathwaine. Riding with the realmsguard, chasing down bandits and thieves, defending the smallfolk. It was a lot to give up for a life of guarding a single woman, even one as fair as his Lady, but he would make the same choice ten times over. Jalice often insisted on riding around the realm with their sons so that they could come to know their people, so his duties were not entirely without breaks from the mundane life of the castle. He also had the fortune to compete in the spring tournaments and the harvest festivals that were held every year. He found it hard to believe that only eight years had passed, in his memory it felt like a lifetime.
Madame Zoyelle opened her eyes. She lay atop a bed of flattened corn, the sky an ocean above her, filled with drifting clouds. Her white dragon, Turnip, was resting with his head on her chest, two bloodied arrows held between his jaws. She felt for the wounds they had made. Gone. The gift of the white dragon, the immortals held the power of life and death. Even a small dragon like Turnip held within him the breath that could heal any wound and even restore life. She could never have hoped for a better familiar. The day she returned from the everliving forest with him was the day she became a full witch, and she never forgot the words of her Elder.
Dragons choose their masters, and only those who are worthy.
She rolled over and rubbed the sleep from her eyes. Turnip stirred and woke, climbed off her and spreading his wings. The dragon half yawned, half roared as he shook the slumber from his bones. The witch sat up and looked around. Her hat was missing, her robes were torn and bloodied and her hair was a mess. She felt as if she had not eaten for days, and as if she had been sleeping for equally as long. She could also feel the magic within her, rest had restored her powers as it always did. She saw her broom a few feet away, its end stuck deep in the ground. Her landing had obviously not been an elegant one, but she could not remember it. All she could remember were the knights, the swords, the arrows.
She had fled the fight. Her magic had failed her, but she escaped with her life. The Noble Lord had judged and sentenced her. He had ignored her challenge, and she had fought him. She had killed his men, she knew that. She had used her magic against a noble, and if the wrong account of her actions reached the Sisterhood or worse the Orders of Wizardry she could be named as a Dark Mage, a traitor to the crown.
Madame Zoyelle was in trouble, and there was only one person she could trust to go to.
“Come on, Turnip.” She called to the little dragon. He chirped in reply and lifted himself into the air, swooping in a large circle around her. She reached for her broomstick and it leapt out of the ground into her hand. She swung her leg over it and kicked the ground. The world fell away and she soared into the sky followed closely by Turnip. As the land shrank below her she found her bearings. She had not strayed too far from her intended course, but she had fallen far short of her destination. She looked out to the west, over the gulf and to the island of Sau. The air was clear except for a few birds, the same could be said in every other direction. She turned north and leant forwards, bringing the tip of her broomstick down. Her climb slowed and the ground began to slide below her, imperceptibly at first, but gradually increasing in speed. The wind began to race through her robes and hair, and the morning sun glistened off Turnip’s white scales as he followed in her wake.
The city of Morjia lay behind her, sliding towards the horizon. The huddled mass of temples looked like twenty cities trying to sprout in the same place when viewed from above, and the Great Temple of Morji sat on the landscape like a lonely mountain in the midst of the rolling plains. Ahead of her the standing stones that marked the border between the realms was strung across the land like a necklace of black beads. They rose and fell across the low hills that marked the start of the land’s rise towards the mountains up ahead. They stood like an unbreakable wall of stone, raised by the gods, or so some believed. They were the northern border of the Kingdom of Asamor, and a natural barrier between the realms of men and the great unconquered land beyond. Looking at the rocky horizon, she could not help but notice Otzia, the Wizards’ City, built in the side of a mountain and dominated by the four Towers, each home to one of the Orders of Wizardry. Narrow and impossibly tall, from this distance they looked like strands of hair reaching up, dwarfing the mountains around them and challenging even the clouds for rule of the sky. Reason would demand that the slightest wind or ground tremor ought topple those four hairs, but they had stood for over a thousand years in defiance of the elements. The great temples inspired awe from the fact that the hands of men could create such monumental structures. The Towers inspired awe from the fact that the minds of men could create such structures that ought not exist at all.
Madame Zoyelle felt a familiar and seething disgust within herself at the sight of them as she passed into the realm of Otziathwaine. The fields in the foothills were richly laden with crops ready for harvest. Even this early in the year it was not unusual to see, the realm of Otziathwaine could pull in three full harvests a year, four if the weather was in their favour. A powerful gust of wind rushed amid the fields, carrying a troupe of aeromancers aloft as they swooped and swerved in defiance of the ground. A master and his novices, no doubt, but from here the wizard and his wizardlings were little more than pale blue dots being tossed through the air.
Ahead of her the lush and fertile land gave way to barren dust and rock, a tract of dead land surrounding a great chasm in the ground. It looked like a great crack, as if a god’s hammer had struck the earth. The Scar, it was called, two-score falloes long and deeper than the ocean in places. She swept her course to the left, the best to avoid it. Before long she saw her destination ahead of her, Gallow’s Reach. To Otzia’s west and nestled in the shadow of the mountains, the reach jutted out of the ground before sloping back to the base of the mountain. Approaching from the air always reminded her of the stories. If one could imagine the ridge as a sharp edge, yet to be dulled by wind, rain and time, it almost looked as if the land itself had been tilted upwards to form it. That was indeed what happened, raised my Motash the Earthshaker as a testament to his love for some lady, the name of whom Zoyelle could not remember, back in the days of the Old Kingdom. If the stories were to be believed, of course, but those same stories also claimed that the Scar behind her was the result of their fateful wedding night.
Gallowfell castle perched on the edge of the ridge, once the seat of the Lords of Gallow’s Reach, now a haunted ruin. One of the southern towers seemed closer to collapse than she remembered. Along the ridge, almost clinging to the edge, was a witch’s cottage. It had always seemed the best place for a witch to live, with the sobering cliff dropping away to the south, frequently assaulted by storms. Her Elder had always said it was thematic. As she approached she saw the absence of smoke rising from the chimney. She grunted in disapproval and turned her course to a village partway down the reach. Little more than a few houses, a forge, a chapel and an Inn sat around a small circular pond, Gallowsbane wasn’t much to look at, but she knew her Elder would be there somewhere. She lined up her approach with a dirt track leading between fields of goats towards the village. She pulled back on her broomstick, losing altitude and speed. The ground rose up to meet her as she wobbled back and forth trying to control the descent. When she saw the road coming up to fast she shrieked and pulled up on the stick. Her descent slowed and her feet skidded across the dirt, dragging her sideways. She pushed down on the stick, her feet caught more traction and pulled her over forwards. She rolled inelegantly before coming to a halt.
She really hated landings.