The color of magic was what started it all.
I was only a boy of three, so I did not know that it was the year 381 Regus Cani, the 381st year in the reign of King Canilus the Eternal. Not that I knew that either, nor did I know that it was the year that would come to be known as 'The Red Death'. I did not know that half the world was ablaze and the half that wasn't was quickly dying.
As a boy of three I watched with my parents as the wizard Belmont of Archille razed the slums of Mardain with wizard's fire. That the plague was the reason, I was too young at the time to know. I did understand that I couldn't go home again, and that my bed and my toys and everythng else I knew were being burned. I cried a little, but the flames were so pretty, I stopped and laughed with joy.
That evening, once the fires had begun to die down, those who had fled Mardain were examined by members of the Healer's House to make sure that no trace of the plague was leaving Mardain with us. I only knew that I was made to miss my supper again and then let an old woman examine me. By this time I was once again missing my bed and my 'klop', a sagging bag of scrap wool with a face painted on it that had been my bedtime companion. I said so out loud to the old woman, perhaps in hopes that she would give it back to me.
"Klop," I cried. The old woman raised an eye my mother's direction.
"A favorite toy, burned in the fires," she explained.
"sorry boy, all gone in the flames," she said to me, pointing back at the slums. The flames of the burning city were barely more than a smolder at this point, but the wizard's fire still worked back and forth across it. With the sun going down and the fires turning to ash, the wizard's fire stood out in my eyes, flickering with its signature ripples of purple and dark, dark red.
"Pretty," I said. Dad laughed and mom patted my arm, but the woman leaned in.
"What's pretty, boy?"
"The colors," I answered.
"What colors do you see?" she asked, then to my mom — Does he know his colors?"
"Oh very well, yes!" mom answered proudly. "He's a smart boy!"
I smiled at that, knowing it was good to be a smart boy.
"What colors do you see boy?" the old woman asked again.
"Purple an' red."
The old woman looked past me at my parents then, sitting up straight. "Has he been tested?"
"No your grace," mom answered. "The likes of us weren't allowed through the gates to the upper city."
"There should be yearly patrols that offer testing," she told them.
"We been here five years yer grace," dad spoke from behind mom. "We ain't never seen a patrol of any sort."
Dad was from Cadwallan, and they spoke funny there, I'd heard mom say. Apparently the woman thought so as well, as she frowned at his words.
"How old is he?"
"Three your grace," mom answered.
"He's big for his age and he needs to be tested. Here," she handed dad something. Several somethings, as he scrambled to keep them from slipping out of his hands. "Take these tokens to the green and white striped tent that lies on the road beyond that hill." she pointed a direction and mom and dad both looked in that direction for a moment. "They'll give you a meal and this," She handed dad something she'd scribbled on a piece of parchment. "This will tell the people in charge there that the boy is to be tested."
So we went, with those things we'd been given; those things which were the only things we took away from Mardain except our lives, and we went to the green and white tent. We ate a lamb and carrot stew that was the best food I remembered ever having, though I cannot say today that I remember any meal I'd ever eaten before it. Dad gave the note to a man in a long green robe, who looked at it, and then at me, and then at my dad again.
"Very well. Come with me boy," The man in the robe said, reaching for my hand. I pulled back behind my dad's leg. Dad reached back and grabbed me by the back of my tunic and pulled me back around in front of him.
"Its okay Pac, you go with this man and let him have a look at you."
"Pacasin," Dad answered with my full name. "Named for my wife's uncle."
"All right then, come along Pac," The man said, motioning for me to take his hand. I took it then, looking up at my dad for reassurance. He was nodding and smiling at me as we took our first few steps away. My steps were apparently too small for the man in the robe, as he reached down suddenly and swept me up in his arms, and began to walk away with me suspended from one big arm like a sack of potatoes.
I cried as I lost sight of mom and dad, but the man's grip did not ease. We walked for a while until we came to another tent, this one green and purple.
I wasn't ever to see either of them again.
Warmuth Bridge was three deep in soldiers when we arrived. The fields on the Montcross side of the river were littered with tents and horse pickets, and alongside the river I could see multiple rows of mangonels and catapults, each with piles of stone, shot and chains.
The road to the inner keep cleared miraculously as we rode up it. Odd how the emerald green leathers of a wizard cause that to happen, isn't it? The inner keep itself was surrounded by a wide plaza. The expanse of open paving would make life difficult for invaders trying to storm this final redoubt.
"Wards?" my master asked me, nodding towards the keeps walls. His words drew my eyes up and I could see the light of the wards now with my wizard sight. From our current position I could see three of the inner keep's five walls, and the tower where each wall met shone with the light of magical wards swirling deep within their stones. Now that I was seeing the light, I could feel its power spread throughout the walls. Strong walls and strong magic made a strong keep; this my lessons had taught me, and here was living proof. I nodded, acknowledging my master's instruction.
I regarded the wards, letting my wizard's senses take more of my sight than I might normally allow while moving on horseback. The designs within the stones of the nearest tower flared to life and I saw the sharp, angular figures that superimposed themselves over them. The figures themselves were familiar — a ward is a ward after all, and the core of this work was the most basic, sturdiest, most durable and enduring of wards. I saw a particular ward, and an accompanying rune meant to strengthen it and thought I knew who was known for their pairing. I looked for the dragon sigil that would finish it and found it coiling near the base.
"Aragoth of Elkwood." I answered, trying to sound surer than I was. I could think of no one who would better suit what I saw, but Ethric was fond of springing the unknown on me when I least expected it. I let the rest of my senses touch the wards as I answered, getting a feel for the magic of them. I'd had a chance to feel a few of Aragoth's workings before, and this 'tasted' like those things of his I already knew. Cleaner though, less convoluted, purer.
"Probably from before the Cicasian turmoil." I added.
"Good," was my reward, but quickly dampened. "Pull yourself in a little Pac. Don't give Tynis a reason to be any more agitated than he is."
I reigned my wizard senses back within myself and watched the tower stones return to their earlier subdued glow.
"Once we enter the inner keep, leave the talking to me," Ethric spoke softly as we approached the gate. We'd been over these things several times already, but here was his last chance to strengthen my chances of avoiding embarrassment, or worse, so he said again the things I already knew. "If you are asked a direct question, you may answer, but you will look to me for confirmation first, understand?"
"Tynis will try and quarter you with the troops or the servants, but do not protest it, leave that to me. He knows as well as I do that you are neither bodyguard or servant, but he will try to score some points in the eternal stupid game the royals play. I will not have you used for such trivial pursuits, do you hear?"
I nodded. I nodded a lot during those times when Ethric found his tongue. He was normally a man of few words, and would seldom use two words when one would do, but he often found his tongue when it came to moments of instruction for me.
"If Tynis tries to get you onto the sands with one of his soldiers, accept. You're a match for anyone in his guard and it would serve us well that he learns that. If he matches you with Stannis though, take care. That man is deadly and if Tynis says kill he will not hesitate. You cannot defeat Stannis without using magic, so don't try. All you need do is survive long enough to make his intention clear and then I will step in."
I nodded again, accompanied by a grimace this time. I had spent a good deal of time studying the disciplines of war while under Ethric's tutelage. I knew the sword and dagger well, and was a fair hand with a bow and crossbow. Still, I was no seasoned soldier, and while I was more than tall enough, I didn't have the bulk most warriors did. I also had no real experience on the field of battle. At fifteen, most warriors my age would have seen some true conflict. Gaen was a world at war, and had been for all my years, it seemed.
"and if none of these things come to pass?" Ethric asked, interrupting my train of thought.
"Then we go gladly to our rooms, eat heartily, sleep soundly and wonder at how serious the situation must be," I parroted back what I'd already been told.
"Halt!" the cry came from a guard at the gate, even as we were drawing to a stop in front of him. "Who goes there?"
.... There is more of this story ...