Copyright© 1996, Jim MacLaughlin
From The Journal of the Mage, Marthullis...
A loud verbal explosion emanating from the Duke's study caused those loitering in the outer hallway to start violently. Only my preoccupation with my own problems kept me from jumping as well.
Since my concern was a very knotty problem indeed, I had been paying only enough attention to my whereabouts to avoid running into people. The sudden start, and uneasy sidling toward the nearest exit of the half dozen, or so, idlers in the hall brought me to the present. The old Duke's reputation for a short and violent temper was clearly in the minds of those present.
The old Duke's recent death, and the accession of a new one were obviously too recent for the state of mind of the people of the castle. An advantage for me, perhaps, since my arrival here had coincided with the new Duke Roblar's and I had no old habits to unlearn.
I slowed as I approached the closed door of the study, wondering if this new development would be helpful in my quest. Unsettled emotions in the minds that a Mage deals with can provide fertile fields to cultivate. As I paused, through the door, only slightly muffled, came an opportunity,
"Go fetch that damned Mage!"
The voice was clearly that of Duke Roblar, one I had heard for the first time only three months previously, when the Duke had interviewed me for the position of Court Mage. The position had become vacant only days before the death of old Duke Willange, which had elevated Roblar to his present eminence.
For men of violence and strife, the deaths of the old Duke and his Mage, Symellon, were reportedly quite peaceful. Both expiring, I had been told, of that common ailment, old age.
When Duke Roblar had approached the Collegeium Magicka with the intent of hiring a new Mage, the College had appointed an advisor to assist him.
To my great fortune, the appointed advisor was my tutor, Tybarth. My old mentor had taught me much more than the established syllabus.
From the day he had met a shy little boy, anxious and afraid in his new situation, he had couched me in my studies with the diligence of a doting father. His efforts helped me stand near the top of the newest crop of Mages.
He did me another great service; in arranging Duke Roblar's interviews, he had given me the very first slot, and I suspect, dropped a few laudatory remarks in the duke's ear. In whatever fashion, after a scant half-hour meeting, I was offered the position, at the princely sum of 70 gold crowns a year. A veritable fortune to me, after years of struggling on the student's basic allowance of six crowns annually.
This was not the only evidence of Duke Roblar's tendency to precipitous action. In an age when nobles arriving before the King to make their oath of fealty, spent several months visiting the capital city; Roblar, with typical energy, rode out through the city gates a bare week after entering them.
This was Duke Roblar, law and custom demanded that he present himself as liegeman to the King upon his accession. The letter of the law was content with a ten minute audience before the King, so was Roblar.
The law satisfied, the Duke had plans that he intended to carry out at the earliest opportunity. Duke Roblar's obsession with the performance of his duties and obligations were in sharp contrast to the actions of his predecessor. Old Duke Willange was widely known to do only what suited him, at whatever time it pleased him to do it. Roblar's adherence to the contract imposed by law was at the bottom of my unsettled mind.
My honorarium was due to be paid in installments after each quarter of service. in about three weeks, I could expect to receive my first payment of 17 and a half crowns. What had seemed immense riches, just a few days ago, were now inadequate. I needed an advance, worse I had to have an advance on the later installments as well.
A merchant's trade fair had been set up on the village common for the day. Having no pressing duties, and a bright sunny afternoon to waste; I had pouched my wealth, all 2 crowns, 15 pence, and wandered over to be amused. One of the merchants dealt in herbs, and various contrivances of interest to Mages. Symellon's herbs and laboratory apparatus had been gathering dust in his rooms when I arrived to take up my duties. I had, moreover, brought with me everything I had managed to garner in my eleven years at the College.
I had not expected to find much of interest, nor anything I urgently required. However, the merchant obviously recognized my craft, possibly from my dress; and greeted me politely. Trading pleasantries, he somehow managed to whisk me into his tent; a bit of previously unencountered magic worthy of a great Mage.
Having obtained privacy, this worthy merchant then produced a rather shabby, battered, though enticeingly thick book; bound in what might have been fine leather at one time. A book which was otherwise quite unremarkable except for its obvious age.
Allowing me only a too-brief glimpse of the contents, he announced that he would make a great sacrifice, and for me and my hitherto unremarked charismatic looks, and would part with the treasure for a mere 50 crowns. Mere! Well... mere.
My fleeting glimpse had convinced me that the creator was none other than Balawain. Nowadays, few people, even Mages, recognize the name. However, my research at the College into the origins of a number of spells of antiquity still in common use had convinced me that several had been created by that same Balawain.
More, I was certain that those of his spells that had come into common use were the lesser of his works. This tome had to be his laboratory notes.
Maintaining a careful facade of disinterest, which retrospect has convinced me was transparent to this master trader; I announced that I would consider his insignificant offer and left him.
Consider! Ha! Consider violent robbery, ransom, anything, everything. My avarice was instant and total. I had to possess that book.
That dolt could have only the vaguest notion of its true value. It was written, of course, in the arcanum, the magic language. Ne'ertheless, he was quite reasonably demanding a sum that was, all at the same time, princely, extortionate, and dirt cheap.
After wandering in a ruminative fog for a few minutes, I realized that my only, if slim, hope was to beg an advance from a duke who was widely reputed to be miserly in his dealings with his own family. Stories about his penny-pinching abounded amid the court who had been more used to Willange's free-spending ways.
Whatever, he was my only chance. I immediately set off for the castle at the most precipitous pace I imagined my dignity would allow.
The sharp tones ordering my instant appearance: "Go fetch that damn Mage" rang through the door as I raised my fist to knock. The phrase was perhaps, injurious to my self-esteem; but they were, without doubt, a golden opportunity; one any Mage would have to rise to.
Changing my mind in mid-movement, I pushed the door open wide, and stalked majestically within.
"Your Grace requires my assistance?"
A bit pompous, perhaps, but my brief and imperious glance around the room convinced me that they were appropriate. My sudden and timely appearance caused several astonished looks, judging from the popping eyes, the gaping jaws. It would work! The Mage arriving at just the right time; it was obviously magic. Good. Let them think it was magic.
After a brief moment, I picked the most comfortable chair from those available and sat. Duke Roblar recovered first.
"I require your arts." He paused,"what can you do to help?"
I tried a pensive nod; hoping to indicate knowledge I did not, could not have."If your Grace could relate what has happened, I would have a better understanding of the situation. Then, we could discuss how I could help."
The Duke nodded, "In my new estate, I require a suitable wife. This morning, I wrote a letter to Helise to propose marriage, and had Amsill deliver it."
Turning to Amsill, he motioned for his squire to continue.
The squire, whom I had previously judged to be a serious and unintelligent oaf, the typical apprentice warrior went on, "I received my orders, and the letter of proposal, I rode immediately to the count's manor. I was admitted to his presence, and read him the letter. He seemed in great spirits, and having heard the letter began to laugh. He then commanded me to present his Grace's offer to Lady Helise. A page led me to the solarium, where I again read the letter, this time to the lady."
Amsill paused for a breath; his style of reporting caused a suspension in regular breathing; and began a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind.
"When I finished, she stared at me for a moment. Then she abruptly stood up, screaming great, and unladylike oaths. She threw a vase of flowers at me. I felt it best to retire, and rode back here."
I reflected, tried to hang a look of sober judgement on my faced, and asked, "While we may assume the Lady's response is negative; is it your impression that the Count might feel favourably inclined to the proposal?"
"I believe so, sir..." started Amsill, he considered briefly.
"Yes, he said the duke was according his house some honour. The Lady, on the other hand..."
As he trailed off, I let my suspicion grow unchecked. "May I see the letter?"
Amsill silently questioned the Duke, and receiving an assenting nod, handed me a page of heavy parchment with broken seals.
A short moment of study produced results confirming my suspicions.
.... There is more of this story ...