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?"
"Ethric of the Vale," my master answered, adding. "and apprentice."
The guard's eyes flickered down for a moment, and I assumed they had a simple truth stone there and he had just checked Ethric's answer with it. The stones were no real barrier to a wizard. Even I knew enough to lie my way past one undetected, but they served their purpose well in scrying for the honest intent of common men.
"Yes my lord, we've been expecting your arrival. Let me summon you an escort."
Ethric nodded his agreement and then in almost the same motion nodded again towards the gate itself as the guard turned to make his summons. "Tell me about the gate. What do your senses see?"
I opened my wizard's sense a little once again and regarded the posts and lintel that formed it. A section of ornately carved marble seemed inset into the plainer stone of the lintel and matching carved marble insets decorated the posts on each side. I let my senses pour into it and saw the clever way in which the truth of it was disguised.
"The entire gate is made of Caprician marble. The carvings are very fine runework and the entire thing has been charged with quite a bit of magic. The plain stone are facings only, meant to give the door a plainer, less secure appearance."
"Good. What else?"
I studied the entry again, letting my senses linger a little more than I had previously. Something about the runework did leave me wondering, but I wasn't sure what it might be.
"There's something about the runework, but I'm not sure what. Parts of it seem fuzzier, less distinct than the rest. Perhaps there's some rare earth mixed into the stone of the facing?"
"You're almost right, but not quite. There is rare earth involved but it has been painted onto the back of the facing, and is intended to disguise the true nature of the runes themselves by overlaying false runic elements over the actual ones. How might you detect this and see the actual work for what it is?"
I thought about that. As I did the gatekeeper returned with two men on foot and a stable boy. "Lord Ethric, this is Davus, Captain of the guard and his second, Thomalt. They shall escort you to the king," We dismounted and followed the horses as the stable hand led them through the gate and into the keep itself. Captain Davus asked about our journey and the weather, and Ethric answered brusquely, as is his style. I continued to think on what he had asked me when it occurred to me I did know the answer.
"I would have to prepare myself to work on them," I said to his shoulder as we walked.
"The runes at the gate. If I prepared to work on the runes themselves, to strengthen or modify them, I would be able to see them deeply enough to tell the real from the false."
"Very good, and what would be the disadvantage in that?"
"Well, the preparations would be fairly extensive, to work on something so powerful. Wards would have to be laid, and purification rites completed. It would be best to have your tools laid out before you within easy reach. It would require a good deal of time and care."
"So someone being harried toward the gate by forces at the rear?"
"Would not have time to look that closely. The gate is not just a defense, its a trap!" I said it aloud as I realized it.
"Very good," Ethric nodded. I seldom got a 'very' from him unless it was accompanied by something negative, so I had to struggle to keep from looking pleased. The guardsmen with us gave each other looks, but most of that was probably in regard to the strangeness of wizards, not so much about what had just been said.
With Captain Davus at our side, we swept past three sets of guards as we made our way up three floors and along a pair of busy hallways. We proceeded without opposition until we stood before a closed door guarded by two somber and beefy soldiers. A desk sat beside the door and a large man with pale skin and a graying, tangled mustache sat at the desk.
"Ethric of the Vale, and apprentice," the captain spoke. The large man gave a token glance at the papers on his desk before nodding to the guards at the door. They pulled the door open and again in the captain's wake, we entered. Two men stood at the far end, one in royal red and white and the other in wizard's green.
"your highness," Ethric bowed his head more than the several inches he gave most royalty. I followed suit, but actually bent my head low.
"Ah Ethric!" The king came forward and clasped my master's hand. I could only see the back of his head but knew he had to be frowning at the contact. He did not like to be touched. "Here we are again, mustering at the border, eh? Just like old times."
"Indeed," Ethric answered.
"He's still the insufferable windbag, eh Jager?"
"Indeed, your majesty," the wizard behind him answered. "and still trailing nameless apprentices, I see."
"You managed to get my last one killed, Jager, and while he was saving your life. You should be a little more appreciative of my apprentices."
"His act was unselfish, I grant you that, Ethric, but he was an insensitive, unimaginative pretender to power, and you knew it when you left him on that wall with me."
"I left him with you in hopes that you would keep him safe. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that the reverse was true."
"Come Ethric, you remember what it was like on that wall. It was sheer power that kept me from the same fate. Any man with me then would have suffered the same fate."
"Possibly," Ethric muttered. The king, whose face I could see, raised an eyebrow in my master's direction. "Probably," He said with a snort. "I never doubted the way of it, but you never seem to give my apprentices the credit they deserve, and so you pull me into this same argument every time."
"And that man received the same honor that all the fallen did, no more, no less.
"True enough, my lord," Ethric agreed. "And as you say, here we are again, and once again more men will die before these walls so that we may honor them."
"Magic loves threes and fours, as all know," Jager answered. "and here we are twelve years after the Red Death and a foreign king desires King Tynis' silver once again. Three fours gone is the Red Death and four three's building is this war, for this shall not be just another border skirmish."
"No, I see it too, and so I have come again to defend my King and my home," Ethric actually bowed to the king this time, the first time I'd ever seen him give anyone so much of their due. I followed suit, knowing that any respect my master felt he owed, I would owe double.
"So, come have some wine and tell us of the Vale. Are things well there?"
"The Vale prospers, and the people there have grown beyond the losses the plague left us all with. The houses and fields are full of children who do not remember the Death, and do not have the pain hidden in the back of their eyes."
"Good, that is happening across Montcross as well, and across all of Gaen, if what we hear of it is true."
The king himself poured our wine, and I was about to grab my master's cup before him, but he stayed my hand.
"There are few hands I trust completely, Pac, but this is one of them. Even Jager's. Do not fear these men would poison me. Trick me, perhaps. Play games with me, bind me deeper into their debt for sure, but never would they threaten my safety."
I nodded and moved my hand to reach for my own cup instead.
"Your safety though I cannot guarantee. You should check your own cup with care." At that the three of them burst into laughter, far louder and longer than the joke deserved, I thought. Still, I did turn to my own cup and let my sight wash over it. The warm fire of the wine's blessing flowed smoothly around it, but I sensed something else. Just the slightest hint of something. I probed a little closer and recognized it for what it was.
"Nethris," I said aloud without thinking, something my master accuses me of doing far too often. He looked at me, sharply.
"Just a trace," I added. "Not even as much as you would use in a babe's sleeping draught." Ethric turned his gaze on the cup as well for a moment.
"So, you did plan on sending my apprentice to the sands tonight then, and thought a little nethris would give your bets a little boost?"
King Tynis managed to look a little embarrassed, but Jager only grinned with some ferocity. "A test is all, to see if you are training your apprentice well."
"Oh he is well trained," Ethric laughed. "Clear the cup, apprentice." he told me.
I stared into the cup again and raised a little magic, catching the minute motes of nethris in the cup and sending them away. Once I was certain that the wine was pure, I was about to take a drink when I sensed Ethric's interest and held out the cup to him. He took a sip and smiled. "Ahh ... Sembolian, and a good year. Trust the king's table to serve a good vintage."
Ethric handed me his cup, and with the exchange complete I took my first drink. It was good wine, and slightly chilled as a good white should be.
"Now," Ethric began as they settled into their chairs, "please tell me you weren't going to try to send my apprentice to the sands with Stannis."
"No, no, no!" King Tynis protested. His protests were such as to indicate that he had indeed been considering that very thing. "Actually I was planning to offer Captain Davus here the chance to show your apprentice the finer points of swordplay."
By the captain's expression, this plan was new to him, but the man was confident in his own skill and agreed immediately to the suggestion.
"That will be fine, but captain, you will agree to keep my apprentice's blood inside his skin, won't you?"
"Remember, for all his height, the lad is only fifteen, and he has not spent his youth squiring after louts in armor as I'm sure you did when you were his age."
"Of course..." Captain Davus agreed, but Jager cut him off.
"Oh come on Ethric, you try too hard to undersell the lad and it makes me suspicious. I might suspect you were trying to slip one in on us, but I've seen the lad's had your usual training as far as the magic goes, and can tell he has the Sight as strong as any."
"And you've always been known as a decent weapons master. We know you'll have given him plenty of time on the sands with sword in hand." King Tynis added.
It was considered uncivilized to force the match on me then and there, afgter having ridden all day, so I was free for the evening. Between lunch and dinner I studied the text Ethric had me bring along: 'Runes of the Danorran River Kings'. The River Kings had been fond of water magic, for obvious reasons, and their rune casting showed a knack for using water's properties creatively. Being able to manipulate the basic forces of the universe did not mean that one was good at it. Ethric was a firm believer in practice and study. It was not enough to have talent, he said. Magic was meant to be wielded with style. Knowledge and training could forge any talent into something greater than it was.
Dinner was in the great hall, and with the king in residence, the hall was full. Ethric and Jager sat with the king, as did a few of the royals and generals. I sat at a table directly in front of them, with Captain Davus, Lieutenant Thomalt and a smattering of mountain rangers and the head of the Royal Engineers, Major Langdom.
The major was a rough-spoken fellow with a salty tongue. He kept the others well entertained, but my ears and senses were trained towards my master behind me, and the king. The conversation was much more formal and thus much less interesting than the private one I'd been witness to earlier.
The dinner was suckling pig and potato and corn pudding. I wished later that I'd paid a little more attention to it, as once it was in me, it occurred to me it was far finer a meal than any I'd ever eaten.
Between dinner and bed I did my nightly exercises, study and meditation. It was the routine born of a life of habit and reinforcement. Ethric firmly believed that exercise aided in the digestion and was one of the keys to good general health. Who was I to argue with a wizard who had seen several hundred summers? The study and meditation were also a part of his mandated routine, but these were due to my status as apprentice more than they were to his overall philosophy.
Sleep seems to come easily when it follows meditation. I dreamt of Ciene, Coln the Tanner's daughter, and what she looked like surrounded by sunlight and splashing in the waters of Kenarin, the river that flowed past Ethric's tower.
Warmuth Bridge sits astride the river it is named for, with the city spilling out on both the Montcross and Ormand sides. The delicate balance of power required to keep the two kingdoms coexisting there peacefully had recently ended for the second time in the last ten years, with the Ormandian decision to once again claim the city 'and environs' for itself. Just how much of the silver bearing mountains to the east of the city would be included in 'the environs' depended on how well Montcross' defensed her territory.
The city was not named for a bridge, but rather was the bridge, a series of them, really. As the city had grown, new bridges kept getting built beside the old until the closely-built bridges were eventually connected and built over. Now the city itself bridged the river and the river flowed beneath it for a quarter mile.
At the moment, the cities gates has been shuttered on the Ormand side and Montcross controlled the city within the walls. The sprawl outside the gates on the western side of the city were quickly filling with Ormandian foot and horse units. Siege machinery could be seen being built on the low hills behind them. The hills were too low and too far away to offer the high ground as advantage for the army, or for their machinery, but it did offer a good view of the entire river valley and the city sitting in the middle of it.
The Montcross side of the river was where we found our ring of sand the next morning, in the middle of the tents and troops that made up the king's army. We had an audience, but not a large one. King Tynis of course, along with Jager and my master Ethric. A half dozen other men were there as well, but none I recognized except for Major Langdom and Lieutenant Thomalt.
The match lasted a little more than fifteen minutes, and half that was either me looking for an advantage while Captain Davus retreated, or him seeking the same while I moved back. To be honest, there was far more of the latter than there was the former. Still, while the captain displayed a strength I couldn't match, I was just the slightest bit quicker. Not quick enough to even things up, of course, or to make up for his vastly greater experience, but quick enough to prevent him from making quick work of me.
There were very few times during that fifteen minutes when we were close enough to each other to consider punching or grappling. We both carried a dagger in our left hands rather than a shield. A shield would be the choice of our opponents from the Ormandian lowlands, but in mountainous Montcross, the pickerel, as it is called, the cavalryman's dagger, was preferred.
With the daggers in play neither of us was in a hurry to close on our opponent, so we danced and feinted and flicked our sharp steel tongues across the sand. King Tynis and those others gathered made frequent comments, directed both to me and to my master, but I was not aware of it at the time. Later during my meditations I replayed the comments my subconscious mind had heard. It was amusing to hear Major Langdom's salty tongue teasing the king.
"The lad looks like he may manage to survive the sound of the captain's sword swooshing past, eh your majesty?"
"Captain Davus has him now, I think," the king crowed a little later. In truth, he had not been far from wrong. He spoke those words just after one of the few times the captain and I had drawn close. He had managed to reverse the sweep of his dagger and catch me with the pommel just along the side my jaw. The blow had sent me reeling and down into the sand, but I'd kept rolling in the direction of my fall and came back up with my sword between us, spitting blood.
"Good recovery," the king laughed. "Probably not sure which Captain Davus to point his sword at, right about now though." I'd only seen one Captain Davus, but that one had been pretty blurry at the edges, to be sure. I spat again, more in anger in having been caught by his trick than to clear the blood that was still filling my mouth.
Once my eyes were clear and my breath back down out of my throat I went on the offensive, fueled by my anger. Only my training kept me from losing my head and doing something foolish, but I did get the captain retreating seriously for a while before the ferocity of my attack finally flagged. From that point on it was back to the seriously cold and calculated back and forth that we had begun with, and this time neither of us seemed willing to advance a ploy of any kind.
My later replay of my subconscious memories showed me what I missed at the time — Ethric, having noticed the two of us settling in for the long haul and giving the king a look. The king responded with a nod and a call.
"Enough! I call this demonstration finished. Warriors, step back and bow to your opponents."
Captain Davus and I did as the king commanded, our eyes not leaving each other for a long heartbeat after the bow was complete. Finally the captain sheathed his sword and gave me a grin, and at that, I followed suit. With that the captain stepped forward and held out his hand, which I took.
"Not bad for a wizard. How's your jaw?" I hadn't had time to consider it until then, but I raised a hand up to touch it and grunted at the pain. I let my magic senses rise a bit and looked within.
"Damn, I think you managed to crack a tooth!" I swore. "But I think my jaw is still in one piece."
"Do you need the Royal Surgeon?"
"No, I'm wizard enough already to tend this myself, thanks, but I'll want to spend some time in my chambers if I want to enjoy any meals in the coming day."
The king and my master had approached us during the exchange, and Ethric put his hand on my shoulder then and told me I was excused from my duties to tend to the healing.
"You did your master proud, young man," King Tynis added. "He has taught you well."
I bowed in acknowledgment of his compliment, holding it a little longer than I might have before the events of the day. When I raised my head, my eyes went to him, though I wanted to turn them to my master.
"Your master has excused you, so go! Get yourself healed and rested. You need to be at his side tonight when we discuss the coming conflict and what part you will play in it."
I seldom had so open ended an excuse from my duties as this, so I luxuriated in it a little, at least as much as a man with a cracked tooth can. Back in my chambers I found a bath laid out, with towels and linen bandages to bind any wounds. Fortunately, other than cleaning the dried blood from me, I had no need of them. The bath water was cooler than I'd have liked, but it was simple matter to release a little magic into it and raise it back to a more invigorating temperature.
While I soaked, I brought my magic out more fully than I had in days, and sank into myself with it, tracing the course of the damage. In addition to the broken tooth I had several ugly cuts to the gums and a nasty gash inside the cheek. In my mind's eye I wrote the magic in the air around me, forming it and putting the proper timber and tone into the fabric of it. Sound that wasn't sound rang around me and color that wasn't born of light flared and sunk into the side of my face. I sank into a light trance and let the magic work, and while it worked, I reviewed some of my recent lessons and readings, in particular several treatises on those of magical blood, and their relationships to each other.
There are born in the world, three kinds of people, the philosophers tell us. The Right-born, the Might-born and the common-born. Wizards are the Might-born and the Royals are the Right-born. Everyone else on Gaen are the common-born. This doesn't include the unliving and the inhuman and unhuman who are born upon her.
That there are those born with Might — the ability to sense and wield the forces we call magic — is indisputable, for Wizards exist and walk the land. I am becoming one and know better than most that this is the truth of it.
Many are foolish enough to consider the Right-born status of the Royals to be a conceit, a facade, a glamour intended to give kings and queens something upon which to hang their pride and give their descendants some legitimacy when they too claim the right to rule.
What the wise believe, and what the Might-born know without doubt or reservation, is that the Right-born too wield the magic of Gaen. To them does not fall the ability to see and shape it, but rather, theirs is the blood-borne right to call upon it and have it answer in measure beyond that which any Wizard could raise. Magic called by Royal right cannot be shaped or predicted, except in the most limited ways, but neither can it be blocked or warded or altered, except by the will of another Royal's call.
How those conflicting calls are resolved is something the philosophers have long argued over. The same philosophers who argue whether a king is mighty because the magic responds with great strength for them, or whether the magic responds with great strength for them because they are mighty. The entire field of knowledge is englobed in an infinity of circular arguments.
It has been proved by history that lesser kings can become great kings, and great kings can fall into a lesser state, and the same histories show that their magic has waxed and waned along with them. To be royal means to be tied to the magic irrevocably, but to not control it. One can only call, and hope it answers.
Wizards and Kings; titled and important men for sure, not just in the power they wield or in whose name they rule, but Wizards and Kings are bound and binding others. Not just in their titles of wizard and king, but as men to whom others are bound, and these men tend to hold each other close. Every king needs a wizard who can shape the force intelligently, and a good wizard, caught in the rising tide of the magic as it responds to a King's summons, that Wizard can rise above himself and become something greater.
A King in the fullness of his power is glorious. A Wizard in the fullness of his is fierce and terrible. In the coming days, I knew I would have to leave 'fierce and terrible' to my master. I could hope at least to manage to muster a decent level of 'fierce', but in the end, I would settle for my master's calling me competent.
While Wizard's could and often did work well together, for Royals to do so required very special circumstances. Firstly, a Royal rarely was able to work in concert with other Royals who were not of their blood. A Royal, working within the first degree of blood, his sons and daughters or his wife, who was first degree once the proper ceremonies and rituals had been observed, and even more so when she had born children by her King. A Royal working with his family found his ability to call upon the magic enhanced, and the truer, more loyal and loving those first blood members were, the purer and stronger was the magic called.
Woe unto the Royal whose house was divided though, for their lay potential ruin.
By the time lunch came, I was healed enough to enjoy it, though I stuck with the soup and some very tender baked carp. Healed tissue can still be tender, and my freshly healed gums in particular were still complaining.
Once I was up and around and had the grumbling in my belly abated, I tended to our horses. Onegal, my master's mount, was doing fine, seeming to prosper in the wartime atmosphere that surrounded him. This was to be expected of a warhorse born and bred. Canto, my own mount was a little more on edge, not being so used to the smell of so many men and horses. He had been well cared for, but needed to be ridden to get his nerves settled, so I got him saddled and together we swept close by the river south of the city for a few miles before cutting up into the hills and riding back north along the higher ground.
The open plain and river below us, and the rough hills and steep, silver rich mountains above us were probably the source of the city's name, a corruption of 'War Mouth'. This had been a land in dispute long before either of the current kings had come to rule them. The fertile lands to the west and the rich ore to the east met here at the river, lifeblood of the plains and highway to the south for all the miners and timber men.
There had always been a flow of food from the breadbasket of the southwest into the mountains of the northeast and ore and timber from the northeast down into the lowland kingdoms of the south and west. This commerce was the balm that soothed the wounds of war over and over again over the centuries. Once the King's clashes were complete, the common people picked up their lives and went back on living. It was this strength and resilience, this ability to endure that made the philosophers speak of the Common-born as equals along side the Might-born and the Right-born in their philosophies. Those philosophies, both spoken and unspoken put the common people of Gaen as an equal third leg in its power structure.
Sergeant Polta shouted to the line to drop, and well we did, as a wave of something hot and sputtering passed over us.
"Alright then mates, on yer feet!" He yelled, and I joined my comrades in arms in rising. I had joined them only thirty minutes earlier, my master having sent me down from the battlements on the inner keep where I had watched, and participated as much as I was able, in defending against the first waves of magical attacks. I had stood behind my master and to his right while he had stood to the left of King Tynis and the Wizard Jager had stood to the king's right.
Royal magic had battled royal magic, and it had been something of a draw, which favored King Tynis in the end, as he sought only to hold the city. Now that the surge had died down from those attacks, it was down to more conventional warfare, augmented of course by the Wizard's, their magic in turn augmented by the presence of their King between them. Such warfare drew much from the King's strength, but it was his place, and his burden, and he took to it gladly and with stern resolve. I had seen a little of that glory the philosophers speak of in him, and the men around him in awe, before I left my place behind him to join the soldiery before the gates.
"When the gates open, we'll rush the field!" the sergeant hollered up and down the line. "The Ormand line will be mixed foot and horse. If the wizard's have had a good day, there'll be little to worry about from their archers, but keep your ears open!"
The men around me shouted out a response and I found myself joining them. As soon as the shout had left our lungs, during the brief moment after when the air was still, the gates flew open and just like that, we were rushing forward. Our rush carried us beyond the gate and the wall and into a strange empty openness that lasted only long enough for it to register on our senses, and then we were in danger of being bowled over by a charge of mounted horsemen. A horse with a dirty red coat almost shouldered me down before I could react, but I ducked away from it and its rider in time to see the next horse coming, his rider with sword at the ready. There was no doubt in my mind that I was his target. I raised my sword to meet his and he swung to meet it. He might have had his horse knock me down, but chose to meet my challenge, and that undid him. My dagger came across my body and raked the horse's shoulder as it went past, cutting deep and causing the horse to falter.
I checked to make sure there wasn't yet another rider coming down the line at me before turning and running back towards the stumbling horse. Its rider was still in the saddle but looked in danger of going down. I didn't give him time to recover or complete his fall, instead I drove my blade into his kidney from the back. I di dn't wait to watch him die, but kept running to help the man to my left in the line who had his horseman engaged but who was already suffering from the advantage the rider had over him. I came up on the rider's right and leapt, driving my dagger into the meat of his thigh, pinning him to the horse for a moment. He had reacted to my leap, but not in time. I parried his cut as I finished my roll over his horse's back. The man I'd rushed to defend wasted no time in taking advantage of the distraction and drove his own sword into the man's belly. Ripping it open cruelly as the horse and rider's own momentum carried them through the blow.