The town of Gallowsbane was unusually quiet. Madame Zoyelle stood at the edge of the central pond and looked over the stagnant water to the bronze statue of the first Gallowsbane. The centuries had worn away most of the features, she could barely make out his sword held before him. The sword that had earned his name and started the short-lived legacy of the Gallowsbane line. His name like his face had been lost to the past, but the stories of his deeds endured. She had heard them all a hundred times during the years she spent learning the craft. She turned and began to walk slowly towards the inn.
The Laughing Archer was one of those run-down village inns that seemed to be held up only by their own character. As much the centre of the village as the chapel, she remembered it was always where a person could go to find a warm hearth and a neighbourly smile. It seemed almost vacant now, half the crystal lamps that lit the entrance were broken, one door hung oddly off its hinge. There was a quiet conversation drifting out from within, which died to silence when she walked in through the door.
The interior was cluttered with tables and stools. While a few were actual pieces of furniture, many were cobbled together from old barrels and planks of wood. Coupled with the oddly curved bar that ran the length of the back wall it made the inn seem much smaller inside. Two of the tables were occupied with farmers and their field hands. Sixteen weary eyes turned to her, but hers were drawn only to the man stood behind the bar.
He wasn’t the most handsome man, and admittedly he’d looked more striking in his youth, but his thick black hair and piercing blue eyes were unmistakable. She was pleased to note the look he gave her as he set a grubby glass down on the bar. She liked being remembered.
“Agnis.” He said. The single word seemed to encapsulate the tension between them.
“That’s not my name any more, Derek.” She said calmly, with a hint of affection.
“Another one of your lady friends, Keep?” One of the men shouted from the corner of the room. He turned to look at her, and immediately regretted his words. The broomstick, robes and floppy hat were all he needed to know who and what they were dealing with.
“You’d best come and sit.” Derek suggested. She agreed and took one of the safer-looking bar stools.
“You want a drink?” He asked.
“Sure,” She replied. “What have you got?”
He gestured to the two barrels that sat at the back of the large and vacant bar.
“Water and cider from the Harrock’s farm, last of it though, not a good batch.”
He turned and began to decant a glass of clear water for her. “So what name you go by these days?”
“Zoyelle.” She replied.
“Very… mystical…” He said. He didn’t like it, she could tell.
“How’ve you been?” She asked.
“Couple o’ years back, left the old place to me. For however much longer it lasts.”
“I thought you were going to visit the Towers?”
“Didn’t work out in the end.”
“There’s still time.”
“We’d best be off, Derek.” Another man butted in. “Got to prep the tools for harvest tomorrow.”
“Keep well, Jaq.” Derek replied.
“And you.” The man said as he and his friends bustled out of the door. The second group left almost immediately after them, leaving the two in silence.
“Quiet night.” She remarked.
She leaned forwards across the bar. “Come on, Derek, after all these years you only have two words to say?”
“Better than you deserve.”
Her tone became ice. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Out with it, Derek!”
“No point trying that hag’s tone with me, Agnis, Stonetamer does it better than you ever could.”
“Do you know where she is?” She asked.
“Who, Granny Stonetamer? Maybe I do.”
Her voice broke the long silence with a mild frustration.
“Aren’t you going to tell me, then? I need to see her.”
“Don’t see why I should.”
“Seriously, you’re being this childish? Maybe I was right to leave.”
“Maybe you were. Maybe you shouldn’t have come back.”
He placed the glass of water on the bar and waved his hand over it. The glass slid down the bar and came to a halt in front of her.
“You’ve improved.” She said with a hint of a smile. “I remember when you could barely rustle leaves.” She picked up the glass and sipped the cool water.
Derek said nothing as he moved down the bar and opened a door to the back room. Zoyelle looked at him over her glass and focused her mind. The door ripped free from his hand and slammed shut. She muttered a sealing charm under her breath and affixed it to the door in her mind. His subsequent attempts to open it failed. The enchantment was a simple one, but she trusted he did not have the magic to undo it. After several embarrassing minutes he turned around to her, a dormant fury breaking through his calm expression.
“By the Gods, Agnis, why do you have to always be so damn stubborn?!”
“Look, I don’t have time for whatever this is, I just need to know where Granny Hark is.”
He looked at her sternly.
“It’s important, Derek, I think I’m in trouble.” She lifted the enchantment on the door and opened it slightly. It had the desired effect, as he left through the door he said back to her.
“She’s in the temple, with the rest of them.”
The Gods’ Road was a less treacherous path than the one they had trod to get to Morjia. They had made good time, and the horses were still going strong. Lord Miteus watched as his steed carried him over the brow of a low hill. Ahead of him the road fell away to the town of Stand in the distance. The sun was low in the sky, but they should be there by dark he thought to himself. The party had, thankfully, avoided the trouble of bandits or highwaymen, and they would be at Nysilla by tomorrow’s end.
Stand was a small town, built on the place where, a thousand years before, the great Morrowhin and Oscarion had brought together their army and dealt the first blow against the Mage Nobles. It was on those empty fields that the Mage War began, and it consumed the entire kingdom as common and magic blood fought for the right to rule. Miteus’ own ancestors had strode into the war against magic, the entire realm of Artellathwaine had paid more than its share of blood. When the new kingdom rose from the ashes the site of Oscarion and Morrowhin’s first call to arms was commemorated with twin statues. The First King and First Wizard stood side by side, watching out over the kingdom they had built. Behind them had stood the castle home of the Heschart family, but its stones had been pulled down and hauled across the fields to build the town and farmhouses. Two temples, an inn and a smith formed the centre of town. The stars had already revealed themselves when the party arrived. Miteus stood and looked upon the edifice of mismatched stone, illuminated by two crystal lamps. A weathered sign swung in the light wind.
The Wizard’s Staff
“I had hoped for more than a common inn.” Sir Denton remarked.
“We will set up a camp outside the town. See that the men are nourished.” Miteus replied.
“Nonsense, my lord!” Yonjon cried. “The Staff is the finest establishment in the heart country. You wouldn’t deny your men hot meals and soft beds after so long on the road?”
“A soft bed means little when you are looking over your shoulder for a knife.”
“My Lord, this is the bosom of the kingdom. The people here are good and honest folk. I know the innkeeper myself, upon my honour he is as trustworthy as any man.”
“Your honour means little.”
Yonjon opened his mouth to respond but Wise Hanlou cut him off.
“My Lord, if I could offer my counsel.” Miteus cast an icy glare at the wizard, who continued regardless. “The King’s Protection is a powerful shield, and as a Wizard of the Order of the Veil I am bound by oath to extend my talents to your aid. You will find very few who dare move against a wizard.”
Miteus considered for a moment.
“The road has been long my Lord.” Sir Denton spoke up. “The men are weary.”
“We shall stay here tonight.” Miteus relented. “But we shall not need any of your sorcery.”
He spat the last word in Hanlou’s direction. The wizard seemed offended but did not speak up.
“Then it is settled!” Yonjon announced as he marched with Sir Denton to the wooden door.
The Staff’s innards were a mess of wooden beams woven through a thin haze of smoke. A welcoming fire crackled in an old stone hearth whilst broad-shouldered farmers drank and bantered about the day’s work as they sat upon mismatched stools around heavily repaired tables. In a darker corner two cleanly dressed merchants sat flanked by their hired swords, strong looking men in basic iron armour. An older man sat at the gnarled wooden bar smoking a pipe amid occasional coughs. The arrival of such a large party drew attention. Miteus felt two dozen eyes watching him as he emerged from the doorway in fine steel armour, sworn knights at his side. The chatter he had heard died in an instant. He cast his eye across their faces and saw common folk, they had likely never seen a noble. The locals backed away as Hanlou and Jaqulin entered, but curiosity vanquished caution as more knights and armed men followed. The landlord shuffled his large and heavy frame through a narrow doorway behind the bar and rubbed beads of sweat from his brow with a brown cloth before continuing to wipe a wooden tankard. Beady eyes set below a heavy brow singled out Yonjon and the man shouted.
“Oi, get gone from here!”
Yonjon looked taken aback. “Renni, is that all you have to say to an old friend?”
“It’s all I have to say to a snivelling gutter-pig who ain’t paid his tab.”
“Oh Renni, you know me better than that! I have brought more than enough to settle my debt.” He turned to face Miteus. “May I present Lord Whetherhall of Artellathwaine and his entourage.”
Renni looked at the man before him and dropped to his knees and almost hit his face on the bar.
“M’lord, welcome to the Staff, sir.”
The other patrons bowed their heads.
“You may rise.” Miteus replied. “My men and I require food and rooms. This man claims you can provide.”
“Of course, Sire. Although we don’t have many rooms, not enough to fit you all.”
“We will make do with what you have. How much?”
“Oh no, m’Lord, I wouldn’t dream of… well the way of it…”
“Nonsense.” Miteus said as he nodded to Sir Denton. The knight reached under his armour, pulled out a copper coin and placed it on the bar. The embossed rose lit up the landlord’s eyes.
“I trust that will cover your costs?”
“And some, m’Lord.” Renni replied as he picked up the coin and felt it in his hand. He called for his wife to see them to their rooms and his children to fetch food and see to the horses. As he poured and distributed tankards of cold ale Miteus and his men found seats and company. Yonjon grabbed his son and sat with the merchants, Hanlou took a tankard of fresh water and sat with the farmers and Jaqulin sat at the bar and drained her drink in a single gulp. Miteus felt himself relax a little as he took a seat next to her.
“My Lord.” She said as she nodded to the barman who began to refill her drink.
“You appear to have attracted some attention.” Miteus remarked as he indicated the mercenaries.
“I noticed.” She replied.
“I would not worry too much. They are unlikely to interrupt a Lord who they think is courting.”
“And are you courting, my Lord?”
Miteus glanced over her. Although the armour hid most of her shapely features, a closer examination did betray the woman hiding beneath. He filled his mind with thoughts of Jalice.
“Then you are protecting me.”
“I suppose so.”
Jaqulin took the tankard from the barman and emptied it again. Miteus let out a laugh.
“You drink as well as any man I know!”
“And what makes you think I need your protection, my Lord?” She asked. He became suddenly aware of the weapons she still wore.
“Your name, Khanan, I have heard it before.”
“My father.” She said flatly. “He was Lazrir Khanan.”
She nodded. “You knew him?”
“I knew of him. An ice dragon attacked the realm in my father’s day, he slew the beast and my father proclaimed him a hero of the realm. That and the stories, of course.”
“I forget that he had such an affect on people.”
“What was he like?”
“He died when I was young.”
“I am sorry.”
“Not as sorry as he was.”
A shout from behind them broke the conversation. Jaqulin grabbed another tankard and turned on her stool. Miteus did likewise as the farmers called out to Hanlou.
“Come on, Wise One, give us a story!” One of the older men shouted.
“Oh aye.” Another agreed. “One about magic and monsters!”
The Wizard smiled and took a sip of his water. He raised a hand and the whole inn went quiet. Miteus noticed that even the fire died down a little. The Wizard spoke to a room of desperate ears.
“Have you ever heard the tale of the first Aeromancer?”
Wise Christen and Sir Allian were lead to the gardens at the heart of castle Artella. A circle of grass and collection of trees and shrubs, it was a green haven surrounded by the protective embrace of the castle walls. The open space afforded Christen’s mind some freedom from the constraint of rothstone. He could sense the minds of guards posted around the perimeter, unguarded against his abilities. He had found Artella, with no trust of magic, had few who had any kind of mental training. He was a wolf among sheep. His body hobbled along the stone path towards the centre as his mind swept across the gardens like a hawk, swooping across the guards’ minds and flooding them with feelings of safety and security. They succumbed to the pacification all too easily, he returned his attentions to the task at hand safe in the knowledge that they would remember nothing.
He picked out four minds at the heart of the trees, one put up resistance to his powers. Jalice’s defences had waned, but that was to be expected. The other minds were young and pure, children’s minds. He spied the tomb of the Unknown Mage, the gnarled block of granite that had rested in place since before the Mage War itself. The three children played around it, a girl and two boys, under the watchful gaze of their mother. The girl dashed towards Justin as they approached.
“Sir Allian!” She cried, a smile on her face. Justin knelt down and scooped her up in an embrace.
“My Lady!” He said as he put her gently back on the ground. “My how you have grown since last I saw you!”
“Don’t be silly!” She laughed. “You’ve only been gone a few days!”
Christen approached Jalice and allowed the illusion over his face fall away. The eldest of the boys had jumped up and sat on the tomb in the midst of their arrival. His eyes went wide.
“Magic!” He gasped.
“Uncle.” Jalice said as her eyes settled on his. “Thank you for coming to my aid, but you need not have risked your life by coming here.”
“Nonsense!” He replied. “I am bound by my oaths as a Wizard, and it has been far too long since we last spoke.”
“I trust Justin told you everything?”
“As much as I need to know. The boy, where is he?”
She stepped back and towards the boy on the tomb. “Micharus, I told you to get down from there!”
He mumbled an apology and clambered down to the ground as Christen approached. The Wizard knelt and spoke.
“Greetings, Micharus. You do not remember me, I am your uncle.”
Christen’s brow furrowed. “Could you do something for me?”
“I want you to imagine a door in your mind.”
Christen observed the boy’s conscious mind and watched as the doorway formed, an archway of stone and a door of old oak carved in the shape of a dragon’s head. He mirrored the door in his own mind and forged it into a memory. He performed the bindings and built the bridge between their minds.
“Now open the door, Micharus.” He said. The child’s eyes dropped closed as he dropped into a dream. Christen closed his eyes and stepped through the door.
Christen emerged through the door wearing the deep purple robes and pointed hat of the Order of the Psyche. Micharus stood in a long hallway and watched as the wizard approached him. The patterned tile floor was lit by sunlight from narrow windows entrenched in thick stone walls. They were inside the castle, Christen deduced. The room had the weight and solidity of a memory, the intricacies of the ambient sounds and smells suggested a recent one.
“Are you a wizard?” The young boy asked.
“I am, yes.”
“Can you do magic?”
“I’m using magic right now.” Christen said as he tapped his forehead. “You can use magic as well, can’t you?”
A flash of fear struck Micharus’ eyes, they darted around as he checked for others.
“Don’t worry.” Christen said. “You can speak. There’s nobody here but you and I.”
“Father said that magic is evil.” Micharus replied. “I didn’t want him to get mad.”
“So you kept silent?”
“I didn’t want to worry mother.”
“Mothers worry, young Micharus. It’s just what they do.”
“Are you evil?”
Christen chuckled. “I am a Wizard. Wizards are not evil.”
“How do you know you’re not evil?”
“Wizards take solemn oaths to protect and serve the realm. Is it evil to protect those you care about?”
“I guess not.”
Christen nodded. “So will you tell me about your magic?”
“I think it’s magic. Is it magic when you can do things other people can’t do?”
“Well that depends. How about you show me what you can do?”
“But I am showing you.”
The ceiling creaked and stone dust fell around them. Christen heard movement above, something large and breathing heavily. He dashed to the window and looked down, the courtyard was half shrouded in the shadow of the far wall. A horse and caravan moved towards an unguarded gate, the driver was a man he knew. The guards were in disarray, some rushing around, others stood and stared. A few were pointing in his direction. Had they seen him?
It was just a dream, a memory. The guards below were little more than impressions. He turned back to Micharus.
“What day is this?”
The boy thought for a moment. “Andi, I think.”
“That’s three days from now.” Christen turned and grasped the boy by his shoulders. “Is this what you can do, Micharus? Can you journey in time?”
“I don’t do it on purpose. It just happens!” Micharus said as tears welled up in his eyes. “Please don’t tell mother! She’ll be upset!”
Christen hugged the boy close and calmed him. “You have done nothing wrong, child. Magic is a wondrous gift, you should be proud of what you are.”
“I just want it to go away.”
“Micharus Whetherhall, you are a mage. You cannot shy away from it, you must embrace it. The journey that lies ahead of you will be long and hard, but I have no doubt that you will one day become a Wizard like me.”
“But I’m not supposed to be the Wizard.” Micharus complained. “I’m supposed to be the Lord!”
“That is not your path, I am afraid.” Christen took the boy’s hand into his own. “Come, I think it is time you stopped hiding.”
Micharus was reluctant, but Christen managed to coerce him to move. They stepped through the doorway together and returned to the waking world.
“Sir Allian.” Christen called the moment his eyes opened. “Take the boy.”
He turned to Jalice. “See that the other children are seen safely back to their chambers. Is there a Morjian chapel here?”
“Yes, in the southern wing.” She replied.
“We must go there at once, it is the safest place for your son now.”
“Tell me, uncle.” She pleaded. “Is he?”
“There can be no doubt, we must get him to the chapel and discuss the matter further. Come!”
Sir Allian had lifted Micharus’ still sleeping body into his arms. They set off at a pace for the southern wing of the castle.
The Morjian chapel was little more than a small room with the requisite silver-lined altar and a handful of pews. Nestled deep within the castle walls, there was no source of natural light. Although seldom used, the chapel was always lit by torches in carved wall sconces, the flickering firelight made shadows dance over the carvings of Morji and Siyaea’s wedding that sprawled across the ceiling. The calm of the chapel was shattered as the doors were thrown open. Christen entered followed by Jalice and the knight. Christen cast his eye over the confining space, the thick stone walls that cut his mind off from the world. It wasn’t much, but it would serve their purpose.
“Close and bar the doors.” He instructed. Sir Allian placed Micharus on one of the wooden pews and closed the heavy doors. He pulled on a length of silver chain and lowered a heavy bar across them.
“Good.” Christen continued. “We should be able to speak freely here.” He turned to Jalice.
“The boy is mageblood. I have seen in his mind memories of a day that has not yet been. He carries the power of the Nexus within him.”
“What do we do?” Jalice asked.
“He cannot inherit.” Sir Allian replied. “The King’s law forbids it.”
“That is true. As of this moment Vigard is the heir of house Whetherhall.” Christen said. “As for Micharus, the walls of the castle should have inhibited his magic, yet he has already travelled in time. He needs to be taught to control his power, and he must be seen safely from here.”
“How do we manage that?” Allian asked. “He is the Lord’s first-born son, we can’t just take him.”
“The Orders of Wizardry are the guardians of magic, I will commune with them and see that they send a Wizard of the Order of the Nexus to see to his training. I cannot do that here, I need to get outside the castle walls. I need to wait for cover of darkness.”
“What do we do until then?” She asked.
“We wait here. If needed, you must claim the Rite of Haven, so long as you remain within the chapel walls they will be unable to touch you. Arrange for food and water to be brought here. With your blessing I would like to place a psychic seal within the boy’s mind, to block his magic from his conscious control. It should prevent him from using his power to slip our grasp and leave the safety of the chapel.”
Jalice nodded and Christen moved towards her sleeping son. He reached inside Micharus’ mind and began the process of finding and sealing away his control of magic. He opted for a basic binding, the boy would be able to break it on his own in a few days if he was not around to unseal it himself. He also took some time to impart Chitolli’s Thousand Tongues enchantment, the boy would surely need it beyond the castle walls. He knew the sun had begun to sink in the sky, it would be hours before nightfall and he would need to rest and regain his magic for the task ahead of him. The Rite of Haven would protect them all, the Gods’ law was above even the king’s, but he knew even then there were no guarantees.