The Dragons Of Arbor
Chapter 9: Lessons and Legends
Copyright© 2007 by Sea-Life
Master Jo met us the next night at our new camp site. He had soft words for all of us, but as we took care of the horses and gathered firewood, he walked with Alianna, and the two of them spoke quietly to each other. I saw Alianna nodding her head several times, and there were obvious signs of tears having been shed, but she wore a brave smile when they returned, and she gave him a parting hug as she went to help Trunk get their furs arranged.
"How are the horses?" Master Jo asked.
"They're fine now." I answered.
"Good, there is always a danger that the horse will have suffered more than its master when the dust of the battle settles."
"In this case, I think Grinder was upset to have been left out of the battle." I answered. "Spark and Sheer as well."
With our evening meal cooked and in front of us, we all sat and talked together. Master Jo was back to his trick of fading in and out now. There was no longer any pretense of normality there.
"Can you tell us what is happening, from your perspective?" River asked.
"No, it is not something I should speak of, but it is not as mysterious as you are making it. It is something that has always happened, and is now happening again. That is all you need to know, for now."
"We are facing an enemy we know now." Trunk said. "Someone who we know is clever and capable. The attacks will escalate, both in their strength and in their cunning."
"Yes, those who oppose you have found their champion, and he cannot be taken lightly." Master Jo said.
He swirled to a standing position, fading out of the sitting position and fading into the standing one.
"List for me those forces you see working for or against you, and even those you know but whose position is unknown to you."
"The Shar, the Dragons, The Ur and the rogue wizards." I said.
"The Spirits and the Wizard's Guild." River added.
"Those among men with Talent." Trunk said. Master Jo seized on that remark.
"What reasons do you have for saying that?"
"Well, if those groups who oppose us do so for fear of loosing the Magic, then those men with Talent borne of Magic will be among them."
"I believe that what you say is true." Master Jo said. "Is their fear founded or false?"
"Do you mean will the Magic disappear?" I asked. He just nodded.
"If my understanding of the underlying forces is correct, then no, the forces behind the Magic that exists on Arbor has always existed, and the Magic in those people and creatures will not fade away. If anything, it might mean that new wizard's will not rise up, and new Ur will not come to be, and the same with the Brude and any of the other magical creatures and people of Arbor."
"You should ask an expert, perhaps?" Master Jo said, before fading away, ending his visit with us.
I stood, regarding the spot where the Master had stood a moment ago. I stood silently, and for some time.
"C'mon Sid. You now what he meant. You know who the only possible expert could be." Trunk said.
"He'll see me in these damned robes and with Dragon's Eye." I said.
"I'm still grappling with the whole wizard concept, and a lot of other Arborian wonders." Alianna said. "But you are a Child of Light, as is he. You know how to remove any doubt, and he knows how to ease you fears."
Of course it was true. My cheeks burned a little, thinking of the unreasoned nature of my resistance.
<Dad?> I sent across the miles, and no distance at all.
<Sid? What's up son?> Came his thought in reply.
<I need your advice, wizardly advice at least. Fatherly advice might be helpful as well.>
<Of course.> Came the reply.
A rustling in the air marked dad's arrival a second later.
I was second in line for a hug, behind River. After my hug, dad stepped back and gave me an obvious going over.
"Nice look." He said. "Quite the staff too."
"How did you wind up choosing to do this?"
"I didn't, it just sort of happened."
"Is it named?" He said, nodding to my staff.
"Yes, it is." I answered, not even having realized it until that moment, but I had been calling it by name. "Dragon's Eye"
"Dad, come sit by the fire and have a cup of wine with us while we talk." River called. Her calling him Dad sent a chill down my spine and a warm flush of pleasure through the rest of me.
We returned to our places by the fire and I grabbed my cup from where I'd set it.
"Dad, we are being met with more and more resistance along the course of this journey. It has been mostly individual attackers before this, but the last couple of times it has been much more of an organized effort."
"Fear is mounting that your quest will result in the end of Magic." He stated.
"Yes, that's it exactly." Trunk said. "Until now we have faced only Ur and rogue wizards, but yesterday's attack was led by someone we knew at the Academy, and was almost certainly organized and planned by another classmate. One whose skills at warfare will be difficult to match."
"The Wizard's Guild will remain neutral." Dad said. "We have researched the situation, and believe that even the worst case would mean that the wizard's of today would loose nothing. Tomorrow's apprentices would likely no longer appear, but today's Wizards would be untouched."
"Well, that's a relief, but its what I expected." I said.
"Don't be surprised though to find a few guild wizard's who decide to break ranks. Not everyone was convinced by our efforts, and I certainly know how a local guild can overreact to situations."
"Master Jo is going through something completely unrelated, but just as significant in my mind. We have some hints, but that's all."
"Your mother was home when he returned the horse he had borrowed. They spoke together for almost three hours, and she refuses to talk about what they discussed. All she'll say is it was a Wind of Arbor thing, and none of my business."
"That doesn't sound like Mom!" I said.
"Exactly, so I suspect some of that is just to tweak me a little, but there has to be some truth to it, because she hasn't said another word about it."
"Well, I hate to say it, but there's more to our situation than we've revealed to this point as well. We are not just working for the Shar here. There are other considerations. Other players, other forces involved, and if the Dragons return, and that's a big if, The results will not necessarily be logical or even obvious. Some of what we've learned leads us to believe that contrary to the legends of men, the Magic did exist on Arbor before the Dragons came."
"If it existed before they came, it will exist after they are gone, and it will exit if they return." Dad said. "I follow your thinking there."
"I've paid attention to your discussions regarding the source of Arbor's Magic, believe it or not, and it makes perfect sense to me, and it implies that if there is anything to the legend of the Dragons and the Magic, it is more likely that they either made some change that enabled the Magic as we know it today, or their presence forced it."
"So you are thinking that even if the dragons returned, they wouldn't remove whatever they put in place, if it was a conscious act, or if it wasn't a conscious act that it wouldn't force another state change?"
"Yes, even if they were to return it wouldn't mean that."
"But you don't think they'll return, which presumes some volition in the matter on their parts." Dad guessed. Close, but not quite there.
"Whether they will return or not remains to be determined. But for now that's all I'm willing to say."
"Well in the meantime, you have a dilemma, don't you?" Dad glanced at Trunk and Alianna.
"Yes we do."
"We need to do two things. Get Trunk and Alianna out of harm's way, and protect River's parents." I answered. River sat up straight at that. She hadn't been thinking militarily, and the thought that they might try to reach us through her parents hadn't occurred to her.
"Hey!" Trunk interrupted. "Since when am I a liability?"
"You're a liability for two reasons, Trunk." I said. "You still tend to think of Alaianna above all else for one, and the level of power that's being thrown at us is beyond your ability to deal with. The archers yesterday would have overwhelmed you, even with your improvements in using the gifts."
Trunk stared into the fire for a while, angry at having to accept the reality of the situation.
"Okay, but can we catch the birds and the eggs in the same net?"
"What?" Alianna asked, not familiar with this Arborism.
"That's one of the Arborian versions of the old Earth expression, two birds with one stone." I answered.
"Oh, of course."
"What do you have in mind Trunk?"
"Well, short of moving the Dambros to the Valley of the Wind, the only other answer is to provide them with some protection. Alianna and I may be liabilities while we're with you, but between the two of us we're probably more than a match for whatever they might send in that direction."
"That's not a bad idea, Trunk." Dad said. "Would you object to my adding something to it?"
"Well, if it s a brigade of troops or something, yeah, I might. What did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking about loaning you one of the Yaru for the duration."
Trunk had been to the Valley. He had met the Yaru. Like everyone who does, he had been impressed.
"Spirits, yes! That would work out very well."
"My parents have a couple of dogs." River said. "Will they get along with the Yaru?"
"Sure." I said. "The Yaru just don't smell like competition. Its not quite the giddy reaction that horses have, but they tend to be perfectly fine with them."
"I'll make sure they get a good mental introduction." Alianna said. "They'll be boon companions in no time."
"Works for me." Trunk said.
"Don't go overboard with that." Dad said. "The Yaru tend to find dogs annoying eventually if they get too attached."
"Will you two want to come back to the tower tonight to get ready, or shall we go there now?" Dad asked.
"A night at the tower would be great, but not if it means leaving the Dambros unguarded for another night." Trunk said.
"We'll stop at the tower on the way, but get you to the Dambro cottage before it gets too late."
So in a swirl of activity — Dad's usual storm of action and decision — Trunk and Alianna were gone with barely a hug or handshake to send them on their way. River and I were alone in the falling night.
I set a few wards, the concepts and methods that I had long observed and understood, but ignored until now, were a little more welcome into the arsenal. I also made sure I left myself tapped into the ground beneath me. It was my most reliable early warning system now.
Morning found us in the middle of Westhal's eastern hills. Sid didn't want to take any more chances or waste any more time, so we ate in the saddle, and spent our time in a light mental link with our senses full out. We didn't talk, or even think at each other, so intent were we on making sure we didn't miss the least hint of trouble.
By midday meal, we had reigned in our paranoia by quite a bit, and had eased off on the bit of overkill we had been practicing. While we ate, we talked about what we should do next.
"Someone is aware of our planned travel route, or they are able to track us somehow." Sid opened with.
"More likely the first one, I think."
"Fox Aligos is a real problem, and not just because we've been friends. Given time, he will find a way to overcome our advantages."
"Then we shouldn't give him the time." I said automatically.
"Exactly." Sid replied, as if he had hoped this would be my reaction.
"Attack the attacker?" I asked.
"Yes, but it won't be easy. Fox won't be in the obvious place, he won't do the obvious thing. The minute he thinks we're after him he'll move to some completely different course of action. Something he's already prepared. He's also already taken some precautions to keep us from finding him, of that I'm certain."
"He's that good?"
"No, that's just what we were trained to do. Because he's that good, he'll add a wrinkle somewhere that you or I won't be able to anticipate. That's why we have to do it now rather than later. Elm didn't come back. He knows that we had to recognize Elm, and that we wold make the connection through Elm to him."
"Does he know of our Transformations?" I asked.
"He didn't know about mine, but those who he has sent against us haven't all died. Someone has to have been able to relay what we've done."
"It all depends on how long he's been a part of this, and what he knew going in and what he's been able to discover since."
"So how do we find him before he finds us?" Sid asked.
"Some group of men, not Ur or Brude, and not the Wizard's Guild, had to have been able to either hire him or convince him of the rightness of their cause. That group had to have both money and a stake in Magic."
"Hmmm. Do you remember the Wizard who Dad captured in the first of the Fish plants we raided?"
"Yes. The fat, bald fellow in the disgusting red leathers?"
"That's the one. Phasehand called him a Jessian Runecaster. I didn't know what that meant at the time, and we were all a bit too busy for questions, but I did remember to ask Dad when we were all done later. Even he didn't know, and had to ask Skydrift Rambol."
"So you think it might be these Jessians?"
"Yes. Well, not the Jessians in general, but the Runecasters. They're the only large group of uncontrolled Wizard's on Arbor. They're isolated, out on the Sand Isles, and they are usually self-regulating, so the Wizard's Guild mostly ignores them until one gets caught like the fellow Dad nabbed."
"They could be behind this, but there's no way to be sure?"
"No." Sid said with a sigh. "A good theory, but unprovable at the moment."
We were each lost in our own thoughts for a while, sitting in silence at the fire.
"Whatever Fox knows about us, he doesn't know about my non-Arborian talents." Sid said suddenly. "That might mean he wouldn't be worried about telling his family where he was going to be. They won't spill the beans of course, but I have ways of getting the information that I'm normally reluctant to use."
So it became the plan, as we had worried that Foxfoot Aligos would use my family to get at us, that we would use his family to get at him.
"He will have considered this kind of counterstrike." Sid said as we rode. There was a small town a half days ride downriver from where we had taken midday meal, and our plan was to be seen there. It was important that we be seen continuing on our path.
"So his family will be well guarded." I answered.
"They probably were well guarded to begin with. To have been at the Academy, Fox would have to have been at least a minor royal somewhere, or from a very wealthy and important family. They will be even better guarded now."
"But they will be guarded against mundane attacks, and even the kind of Magic we've displayed so far, but not the kind of attack we will be planning?"
"We mustn't think of it as an attack. We're gathering intelligence." Sid said. "If everything goes well, they'll never even know we were there."
It was another warm and sunny spring day in the eastern hills. The road was well traveled, and we met and passed a long series of wagons and foot traffic once we passed a junction with a westward running trade route. We were on edge of course, not sure what wrinkle our opponents might already have planned for us.
All the travelers we encountered met us with suspicion of course, but this was to be expected. We were a man in Wizard's robes and a woman in leathers with knives, staff and bow and arrows arrayed about her. We were prepared for war and appeared so. We met everyone with a warm greeting and a friendly smile though, and our talk was always innocuous and nonthreatening. 'can you recommend a good inn?', 'any dangers on the road ahead?'. The things travelers meeting along the trail always said to one another.
The town was called Scudara. It was a bustling little bundle of homes and businesses intent on providing services to those traveling the trade road, as well as the many smaller communities in the region. It had the advantages of water and power, as it sat at the base of one of the larger waterfalls I'd ever seen outside of the Shadar valley. There were six mills in Scudara, and they all drew power from the falling water. The drop in elevation and the tortuous course of the river that fed the falls made it suddenly logical to have the town here, rather than where the trade roads joined. The road joined where the open spaces met. The people gathered where the resources were.
The inn was called the Falling Pine, named so apparently after a local legend which told of a pine tree, somehow cast into the stream above the falls, by fate or some other mysterious hand, which came flying off the falls, lancing down the twenty feet to the pool below in a perfect arc, impaling a swimmer clean through, killing him instantly.
We took a room, paying extra for one with a little privacy, and made our way there as soon as we were done with the evening meal. We held hands as we walked, wanting to leave a certain impression as to our hasty exit, and why we might not be answering our door for a while.
In the room, Sid slid out of his leathers, and motioned me to do the same.
"We're going to need to be as invisible as we can make ourselves for several legs of this operation. Using any of the ways available to us on Arbor means Magic, and means tripping any detectors and wards set to guard against it."
"But you have something else in mind?" I asked. "Something not Arborian?"
"Exactly." Sid said. "Remember my telling you about Grandpa Dave and Alianna's grandparents, and how they formed what they called the Legion of Light?"
"Yes, of course. Didn't they wear special uniforms that made them invisible?"
"Very close to it, under the right conditions. The benefit to us is that the power behind them will be completely undetectable to anything designed to detect Arborian Magic."
"Okay, how do we get them?"
"If I had a little more time being a Wizard, and thinking like my Dad and Grandparents when it comes to the Light, I'd just be able to reach into my Wizard's robe, and what I wanted would be there."
"But?" I said. "I distinctly heard a but in there."
"But I'll have to settle for making a trip to the facet where the Legion and the Guardians operate from. Its not much to look at, but you'll like it. Its called Obsidian. You might even get to meet the legendary Constantine Fylakas."
"Have you been there, then?" I asked.
"No, never." I said, and I have no idea how to get there, so I'll have to ask for help."
"I could. He would know, but not this time. I think I should ask Grandpa Dave. He's the original Legionnaire, after all."
"Okay." I said.
"There's another thing." Sid said.
"You have already begun to show some signs of sensitivity to the Light." Sid said. "Making jumps between facets is one of the surest ways to boost someone through that second curtain, into full access to the Light. You could come away from this changed in a way that will have a lot of ramifications. Lifelong ramifications."
"Sid." I said, stepping into his arms. "My love. I am not the kind of woman to remain behind. You knew that even before you met me that day at the Kilber manor in Seacroft. I will follow you wherever our lives take us, and I will accept whatever changes that come with it."
"Okay. Good. I thought you would react this way."
"But I do have a question." I said.
"Okay, what is it?"
"Why, if we must jump to one or more facets to get this Legion Armor, why do you have me standing here in my under garments?"
"Well, first of all, I think you look very nice in what you are wearing." Sid said, once he managed to stop laughing. "Second of all, if we're going to go to Grandpa and Grandma McKesson's house on Meadow, we probably shouldn't show up in our leathers, and I certainly don't want to be seen there in that wizard's robe."
"So, my wizard, what have you conjured up for us?" I teased.
"Your favorite, and something I could get, since it was sitting in our room back at the Tower. Jeans and a sweater."
As he said it, two folded bundles popped into existence on the bed. Sid had even managed my favorite sweat shirt.
The undergarments we had worn with these clothes were nowhere to be seen. Sid saw me looking.
"Sorry my love, but we will have to go commando until we get our Legion Armor." Sid said.
"Go what?" I asked.
"What?" Sid asked back. Great, now we were both confused.
"You said we would have to go something until we got the armor, but I'm not familiar with the phrase." I said.
"Oh! Go commando. Well, I'm not exactly sure what it means either, to be honest. It's just a phrase my dad uses. I guess I picked up on it without even realizing it. I know a commando is some sort of specialized military type, from back on Earth, so maybe they were known for not wearing undergarments, but why that would be, I have no clue."
"Okay. You don't often let those sort of things slip through. It caught me by surprise."
"Heh, well me too. I don't have too many of them to let slip through, really. I've never focused much on the world outside of Arbor, except when we would take trips when I was young. I guess that getting my mind thinking onto being off Arbor has my mouth following suit."
We both had our minds on it now, and we were dressed in the Earth clothes in no time. There was a little teasing and groping involved, oh well!
"What about your staff?" I asked.
"I don't want to leave it here, but I don't want to take it off the facet either." Suddenly, the staff, which he had picked up at my question, was gone. "I've put it on my bed back in the Tower of the Wind. That should be about as safe as can be."
With that, and with my hand in his, we were suddenly somewhere else, and it was dark. Very dark.
"Bear Crap!" Sid whispered. A split second later we were back in our room in the Falling Pine. "I forgot about the time difference! Its the middle of the night there."
"How big a difference?" I asked. Sid closed his eyes for a while, trying to remember, or calculating, perhaps.
"So, we've got what, nine hours until morning meal here, so that's three hours till morning meal there?"
"Sounds right. It'll be called breakfast there."
"Yup. Comes from 'breaking your fast', another Earth expression, an old one though, as far as I know its just been breakfast for hundreds of years. AT least in the part of Earth my family is from. There are lots of different languages on Earth."
"So we've got three hours to kill before we can show up for breakfast?" I asked, steering the conversation back in the direction I wanted.
"Well, I wonder what we might find to do to pass the time?" I asked sweetly.
My sweet Sid is not only smart, he's ambitious. He saw where I was wishing he would go, and not only was he willing, he didn't think twice about how long three hours would be, in those terms.