DargonZine 3, Issue 11

Opus Interruptus

Melrin 4, 1014 - Melrin 5, 1014


Relaxed at last, Marcellon walked barefoot beside a woman along the shore in Dargon. The sand was warm and the water cool, and the sea air soothed the High Mage’s mind, overwrought with conferences with the King, War Councils, nursing the ill and wounded flocking from Pyridain, and all manner of interruptions which dissolved his visions as if they were powdered sugar in a child’s drink.

 

Marcellon turned to the woman beside him and smiled. She had started appearing to him about a year ago, when the High Mage had first met Luthias Connall and his twin. Perhaps that explained why she looked as if she could have been related; her coloring was the same, and so was the shape of her eyes. She also bore some resemblance to Lady Sable: they were of a height, and while they were not cut from the same cloth, neither could either outshine the other’s own kind of beauty.

 

She soothed Marcellon’s heart. She always seemed to know what troubled him, and although the woman seldom spoke of the High Mage’s anxieties, she calmed them by her presence, for Marcellon had the most certain feeling that this woman had everything under control.

 

He had never seen her on the shore of Dargon before. Once, he saw her in a meadow, on a moonlit night, with a tall, blond man who reminded Marcellon of Richard. Another time, she sat with a man quite like Clifton. Once, the High Mage envisioned her on an archery field, shooting arrows. Marcellon pictured her many times in a moving, red room, small and uncomfortable.

 

Thus, he called her the Wanderer.

 

“Who will be hurt in the war?” Marcellon asked her suddenly.

 

“The King will be wounded in the last battle,” the Wanderer began calmly without looking at him.

 

The High Mage smiled. Of course she would know; the Wanderer always seemed to know things, even things that managed to evade Marcellon’s crystal. That question had nagged the magician all day, but interrupted constantly, Marcellon could find no answers. He should have known the Wanderer would tell him.

 

She continued, “Ittosai Michiya, too, will be wounded.” The Wanderer halted and looked up at her companion. “Clifton will receive a severe wound soon, and you must do something, or he will die.”

 

Clifton? Marcellon’s heart froze. His daughter’s husband would die? “What should I do?”

 

“That answer will come to you soon enough,” the Wanderer entoned calmly. “I do not need to tell you everything.”

 

“What of Luthias Connall?”

 

That made the Wanderer smile. “Has he not suffered yet enough?”

 

“That is not an answer,” Marcellon chided guardedly.

 

“Do not worry about Luthias. Be concerned instead about Lauren and Clifton. Clifton’s wound is certain; his death is not. And if Lauren goes to the battle–”

 

A bang–thunder?–sounded, and Marcellon jolted awake to stare furiously at the door. Cephas Stevene, could he not even *sleep* without interruption?

 

“What?” Marcellon screamed violently, and the knocking stopped. Damn it, hadn’t he given the servants strict orders to let him sleep? For God’s sake, he’d been up all night at the War Council–so many stupid, mundane things that Haralan and Sir Edward and the various military and noble personel could have handled by themselves, but no, the King wanted Marcellon’s wisdom or visions or moral support. God knew, but Marcellon was certain that he instructed his servants that he was absolutely not to be disturbed until at least noon.

 

*They* had been doing it to him all week–they, the indescribable, ever-present *they*–the King, Sir Edward, the sick ones, the desperate, the dying, everyone and anyone–and never was it worse than it was now. *They* had stolen the Wanderer’s warning from him. His only daughter was in danger if she went to the battle…or maybe Clifton could only be saved if she went to the battle. Marcellon didn’t know, thanks to *them.*

 

“Well,” Marcellon seethed, rolling out of the couch and seizing the door handle, “which one of *you* is it this time?”

 

He threw open the door and was surprised to see Luthias Connall there. The High Mage relented a little. Luthias had been at the previous evening’s War Council–and had distinguished himself with his knowledge of strategy and tactics–and if Luthias was willing to disturb Marcellon this early in the morning after being up all night at War Council, there was a good reason.

 

Marcellon looked the young man over. Luthias Connall was a tall, handsome, strong man with the gait and bearing of a warrior- -usually. Today, he held his shoulders straight with great effort, but Marcellon felt defeat oozing from young Sir Luthias, as if he fighting a battle he knew he could not win. The Count was tired, haggard, haunted, anxious–just as he had been during Duke Dargon’s trial months ago. Hell, Marcellon thought, staring, he hadn’t even been this bad after Mon-Taerleor and his cohorts in Beinison had finished with him.

 

“Sit before you collapse,” Marcellon ordered with the brisk authority of a healer. “What is it, Luthias, son?”

 

“I need a sleeping potion,” the Knight stated with his usual directness.

 

Marcellon practically shrieked, “You fool! And you woke me for that? Stole the chance to save my daughter and her husband for that?” The High Mage subdued his frustration, however. If Luthias had come to him, something truly needed fixing beyond the power of a sleeping potion. “Why not have you wife make you one?”

 

The Count of Connall scowled through his beard. “Oh, she’ll make one for me, all right, but not for her.” His eyes pleading, Luthias faced the magician. “If she doesn’t get some sleep, it’ll kill us both.”

 

Marcellon sat on the edge of his barely rumpled bed. “What’s wrong that she’s not sleeping? Is it the babes? I thought you had a wet nurse.”

 

“We do. It’s not the girls, Marcellon. It’s me.”

 

Marcellon fought to hide a smile. “Most men would enjoy a woman who couldn’t get enough, manling.”

 

Worried as he was, young Luthias still–still!–rose for the teasing. “You–!” he began, but he finished with a pillow tossed expertly at Marcellon’s head. The High Mage murmered a word, and the feather missle dropped inches from his face. Luthias was sputtering. “You–you know better–I mean Sable isn’t–I mean she is–damn you, magician.”

 

The last was uttered in half-hearty exasperation, so Marcellon didn’t take it seriously. Oh, young Luthias Connall had reason enough to hate users of magic after what the Beinisonian butchers had done to him, but the Knight reserved no ire or prejudice for Marcellon or his daughter Lauren. These two he trusted.

 

“And don’t call me manling,” Luthias finished.

 

Marcellon chuckled at the displeasure in the Count’s brown eyes. The High Mage held no fear of Luthias in his heart, just as the Count harbored no awe of him. “Come, Luthias,” Marcellon encouraged gently, “what’s wrong with Myrande that she isn’t sleeping?”

 

The Knight’s expression questioned the mage’s tone. “You’re not angry with me any more?”

 

Marcellon waved the question away with his hand, much as he had dismissed the pillow. He could search the crystal later for a warning for Lauren and salvation for Clifton. “I know as well as you that your Lady Sable won’t take a sleeping potion without being tricked. What is it, Luthias, son?”

 

“She’s worried about me,” the Count explained. “She’s afraid I’ll die in the war.”

 

Marcellon considered this. “That isn’t an unreasonable fear. How soon do you ride out with the cavalry, General?”

 

“The King promised me I wouldn’t ride until after the Melrin Ball. I can’t believe he’s still celebrating at a time like this.”

 

Marcellon understood it, however. The celebrations gave the message that all was normal, all would be right again. Without those assurances, the populace would fall apart. “He has his reasons, but I’m certain he won’t make you attend.”

 

“Oh, I’m going,” Luthias countered, half-laughing.

 

Marcellon frowned mightily. Damn Haralan! One of these days he was going to push Luthias Connall too far. First, Clifton’s trial, then Beinison, now, Haralan was going to force Luthias to attend the same ball at which his brother had been murdered a year ago.

 

Luthias laughed outright. “Of my own accord, Marcellon, believe it or not. I promised Sable when I left for Beinison that I’d be back to dance with her at the Melrin Ball. I keep my promises. Besides,” the Count concluded, his eyes merry, “if I stayed home, Roisart would taunt me from his tomb, ‘Just another excuse not to go dancing, eh, twin?’”

 

Well, something was getting better, the High Mage noted with satisfaction. Marcellon had never heard Luthias joke about his dead brother.

 

“Anyway, you’d better give me the potion. Between her nightmares and mine, no one in the house is getting any sleep.”

 

“Your nightmares?” Marcellon sometimes dreamed them too, houses or miles away; those dreams of torture, longing, flight, cold, fear, and murder were incredibly powerful. Marcellon never dared ask if they were real. He didn’t want to know. “The same ones?”

 

“Mostly.”

 

“What are the new ones?”

 

Luthias considered. “I’m tied to a horse. The ocean’s in front of me, filled with a thousand ships–ours and theirs. There’s a battle–I move with it, but I can’t get to the ships. I can see Clifton’s ship. It’s hit by something, and I see Clifton fall, and the sea turns to blood.”

 

“Blood,” Marcellon whispered. Clifton would be wounded and bleed to death. Oh, granted Luthias Connall was no mage, and his talent for magic was recessive, but the Knight’s dreams occasionally took a prophetic turn. Roisart had been more powerful; if only he had lived, Marcellon groaned to himself. He could have used the help.

 

Then he saw in his mind a young man of medium height with jet- black hair and hazel eyes. His face was Luthias’, but the expression it wore was closer to Roisart’s face.

 

*Roisart-Talador,* Marcellon thought, and Luthias was before him once more. The High Mage blinked the image away.

 

“Marcellon?”

 

“Clifton is going to be wounded and bleed to death,” the wizard explained, rising, for there was no time to lose. He glanced out his window and raised both eyebrows. It was past noon, at least two hours. He might be able to do it today, on an off chance, if he had help. “If I can make him a ring–”

 

Luthias shook his head. “What good is a ring going to do him?”

 

“I can enchant it so that he will never loose enough blood to die.” At the Count’s look of disbelief, the magician laughed. “I am not High Mage because I lack power. Still,” Marcellon mused, “I cannot do it alone. Send your wife to me. Part of the process includes making potions, and she has experience in that area.”

 

“What about the sleeping potion?”

 

Marcellon’s mind raced. “We have only until sunset to complete this,” he told the Knight. “The process must all be completed between dawn and sunset.”

 

“Why not wait till tomorrow? You’ll have more time.”

 

Tomorrow? But who knew when the battle would be? That was one thing that frequently enfuriated the mage. He often knew what would happen, but seldom knew when. Besides, a feeling of urgency was pushing him. “I must do it today. I need your wife, Luthias.”

 

“What about the sleeping potion?” Luthias asked again.

 

“I’ll give something to her before I bring her home,” the mage promised, distracted. “I must make that ring. I cannot allow my daughter’s husband to die!”

 

He moved to his cabinet and pulled a lever. A concealed door opened; Marcellon did not make access to his laboratory easy. From the cabinet he took a few of the move mundane of his needs: oil, sulphur, and acacia.

 

“I wonder,” Luthias said behind him, startling the mage out of his preparations, “if having a sword like that would be unKnightly.”

 

Marcellon turned slowly. “I don’t think so,” the mage answered, uncertain why Luthias had asked. “I learned this spell from watching the Old Enchanter in my crystal. He enchanted a King’s scabbard with this spell, and the King was a Knight and a great leader of Knights. Why?” Marcellon finally confronted him, remembering the Wanderer’s words. “Do you want your sword enchanted? You don’t need it. I don’t need to worry about you, Luthias.”

 

“Oh, I’m willing to put my faith in my training,” Luthias confessed, a little of his normal confidence seeping into his smile. “But if I had a sword that would keep me from bleeding to death–or better yet the sword hilt, for any blade can break–I bet Sable would feel much better.”

 

Marcellon smiled as he realized the logic behind the suggestion. “Send your wife, my friend,” he invited. “Have her bring the sword you will use in battle.”

 

***

 

The Countess of Connall entered, and Marcellon ached to see her. She was a beauty, normally, but the worry had worn her out. Quelling sudden fury that both Luthias and Myrande were being forced into old age without having reached their twenty-second year, the High Mage smiled. “Welcome. Come in.”

 

Uncertainly, Myrande stepped forward and offered a swathed burden. “Luthias said we would need this, but I have no idea for what. What’s this all about, Marcellon?”

 

Marcellon unwrapped the shroud and smiled at the sword within it. “Luthias intends to use this sword in battle?”

 

The Countess grinned. “Why not? It has excellent balance, and Carrerra steel is the best in the world. Beinison does know how to make its swords.”

 

The High Mage raised his eyebrow. “And when did you become a weapons’ expert, Lady Sable?”

 

In response, the Countess gave him an arch look. King Haralan had been right when he said that Myrande would have made an excellent Queen. “Being a Knight’s daughter–and another Knight’s wife–I’ve manage to glean a few facts.” She paused and relaxed her imperial expression. “Even if this weren’t the best sword that Luthias owns, he would still use it. It isn’t every man who wins the respect and tribute of an enemy, let alone a Knight of the Star.”

 

“It was quite a battle,” Marcellon agreed. “Luthias fought excellently.”

 

“I figured Sir Edward knighted him for a reason.”

 

Marcellon rolled his eyes in mock-agony. “You’re developing my own sense of humor. Come,” he commanded, offering her hand. “We have much work to do.”

 

A knock on the door halted the mage mid-step. “Good God, who is it this time?” Marcellon forced between clenched teeth. Myrande, trained from birth as seneschal and hostess, turned back and opened the door. King Haralan stood behind it, attempting to blink away his bewilderment. “Your majesty,” Marcellon greeted him icily, but he supposed he must speak to the man. Haralan was, after all, the King.

 

“Good day, Countess,” the King spoke finally, taking Myrande’s hand to his cheek. He looked over her head at the High Mage, who gave him a cold, furious stare. “Your sevants did tell me not to interrupt you, Marcellon, but there is something I must know. Can we not speak privately?”

 

Without taking his glare off the King’s eyes, Marcellon said, “Lady Sable, will you go into my garden and pick seven large valley lilies? We will need them.”

 

“As you wish,” she answered, ducking out the room’s sudden chill.

 

“With all due respect, your majesty, speak quickly,” Marcellon ordered, turning away. “I have much work to do. There are reasons I asked to not be interrupted.”

 

“I am sorry,” Haralan apologized mildly, and Marcellon felt himself relenting. Still, he was furious. He was sick of the interruptions. “I only need one question answered, and I will leave. I quite understand the need to work uninterrupted.”

 

Suddenly Marcellon saw a collage of images of Haralan, trying to see his sons or catch a nap, trying to write proclamations or pray for guidance. He was interrupted each time. He hadn’t seen his two young sons in a week. He hadn’t slept for as long. The High Mage sighed heavily. Kings’ burdens were heavy, too. “What is it, your majesty?”

 

“Is my brother still alive and well?”

 

Marcellon looked up quickly and saw the pain in the King’s eyes. “Of course. If anything had happened to him, I would have told you.” Haralan’s blue eyes calmed like the sea after a storm. The High Mage smiled at the King’s relief. “The worst he’s suffered since he left us is a few broken bones.”

 

Haralan managed a weak smile. “That puts him ahead of you and I, my friend. Thank you.”

 

As he turned to go, Marcellon said softly, “He misses you, too, Haralan.”

 

The King turned sorrowfully, nodded once, then asked, “When is the last time you saw him?”

 

The High Mage smiled. “A few days ago.” Marcellon called up the memory, then searched for the vision. Ah, there was the younger prince, in his usual place, with his two friends.

 

“You see him now?”

 

Marcellon nodded. “He is well and quite merry. He is singing.”

 

“That’s like him,” the King acknowledged. He turned to go, then paused. “If a King may ask…”

 

The mage rolled his eyes. “What now, your majesty?”

 

“What is of such importance that you instruct your servants to deter even the King?”

 

Marcellon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Haralan’s occasionally pompous attitude always annoyed him. Still, the High Mage answered, “Preserving the life of your fleet admiral.”

 

“Is he in danger?” Haralan’s eyes were wide and worried. Maracellon could feel the cold terror that gripped the King’s heart. Good and skilled–not to mention loyal–officers were difficult to come by these days.

 

“Be easy, sire,” Marcellon assured him softly, coming close enough to touch the King’s shoulder. “I believe the Duke of Dargon to be in great danger, yes, but as long as I can have an uninterrupted day’s work, I may be able to prevent his death.” And Lauren’s too, Marcellon added. What about that battle?

 

“Be assured I will do my part to get you that uninterrupted day,” the King promised, reassured. “Work well, Marcellon, and thank you.”

 

Myrande opened the door the instant the King touched the opposite one, but she didn’t enter until Haralan had left. “Don’t worry. I didn’t hear anything but the last bit. I don’t know, and I don’t want to.” Marcellon smiled tiredly and took the lilies from her hand. “War isn’t my talent.”

 

“No, but making potions is,” Marcellon agreed, examining the lilies closely. Yes, they would do well. “That is why I asked you here.”

 

“What potions? What are we doing?”

 

Marcellon led her into his laboratory, put the valley lilies on the table, and began pulling ingredients from shelves. “We are enchanting a ring for Clifton and your husband’s sword hilt so that they will never lose enough blood to die as long as they wear them- -or wield or touch them.”

 

Without turning, Marcellon could feel the Countess’ relief like a long-pined-for breeze. She took a step closer to the table and started scanning the bottles and boxes which Marcellon had selected. “Hematite, coral, beth root, acacia, garlic, thyme, fox tail, amaranth…We’re making a clotting salve and an anti- hemoragging potion?”

 

“Triple batches, and that is only the first, longest, and most tedious step,” Marcellon instructed her, fetching the mortar and pestle and two glass cauldrons. “After that is done, I must magick them so that they will be permanent. I must cast other spells to make them both work together and yet others to have their effects work by touch and not absorption or digestion.”

 

Myrande started shredding the valley lilies. Marcellon was glad he did not have to lesson her on how to make the potions he sought. “How do we get the sword and the ring to do these things, Marcellon?”

 

“That is the most difficult part,” Marcellon sighed, grinding hematite in the mortar. “The final spell, and the one that is the most exhausting and exacting–and therefore the one that I’ll most likely have to cast many times to make it work–transfers the powers of the potions to the sword and the ring.” In another mortar, Marcellon began crushing red coral. “And we have only until dusk.”

 

“If we can’t make it work today, we’ll try again tomorrow,” Myrande promised, sprinkling the valley lily strings into a glass cauldron and adding the oil.

 

“I’d rather finish today,” Marcellon grumbled. “I do not know when Clifton will be wounded, but I know that if he doesn’t have this ring, he will die.”

 

Myrande shuddered and reached for the cloves. “In that case,” she agreed, grinding them in the mortar, slowly, “we had better get to work.”

 

***

 

Marcellon raised his hands over the clotting salve and began to chant softly. The words were old, soothing, like a long- known prayer. The mage felt heat in his fingers and knew that his hands had started to glow. Between two fingers, he crushed a diamond.

 

There was a flash, and Marcellon opened his eyes. “Done.”

 

Myrande looked from the High Mage to the caudron of salve, then back. “How do you do that? Can you teach me? If I could make potions that would never spoil–”

 

Marcellon chuckled gently at her eagerness. “You may indeed have a talent for it, Lady Sable. According to Rish Vogel, we have a common ancestor ten or twelve generations back. However, we don’t have the time now for it. Perhaps after the war.”

 

Myrande studied both cauldrons carefully. “How do you know that the spells worked?”

 

Marcellon blinked at the question. He had never thought about it before. “I…just know. I can feel it.” The mage wished he had time to show her how to feel such things, but Marcellon felt rushed still. “Come, we have much to do. Move the hemoraging potion toward me.”

 

Showing greater strength than her size suggested, Myrande lifted the glass pot–with effort, the mage noted–and, grimacing, she set it beside him. The High Mage stretched his hand over the salve and then over the potion. “Bring me a piece of coral and another of hematite, each as big as your thumbnail. When I hold my hands open, put one in each.” The Countess of Connall scurried toward the counter.

 

Beginning in a whisper and increasing toward a shout, Marcellon chanted again, the ancient words in the ancient tongue, praying for both mixtures to work together. He turned his hands over and felt Myrande place the stones on his palms. The wizard held them out, offered them to God on High, raised his voice–

 

And gasped as if struck. Marcellon dropped to his knees and covered his ears at the force of the fear. There was fury, too, from another source, just as criplling.

 

The power left him, and he could feel Myrande’s arms around him. “What is it? Are you well?”

 

The High Mage took deep breaths. “Something is very wrong,” he gasped. “Call for dinner. We may as well eat now. Sir Edward is coming.”

 

***

 

Although Sir Edward Sothos, Knight Commander of the Royal Baranurian Armies, hid his emotions almost professionally, Marcellon could sense the fright–he might have named it panic had it been in any other man–clanging like tuneless bell. “What happened?” Marcellon demanded as he motioned Sir Edward to a chair.

 

The Knight Commander sat heavily after greeting the Countess formally but tiredly. “Your excellency–” he adressed her.

 

Marcellon dismissed his fear of her overhearing with a jerk of the hand. “You know as well as I that Lady Myrande can be trusted,” he snapped. “What is it? Say it, Edward.”

 

The Galician Knight took a deep breath. “The King has gone mad–or Sir Luthias has. I’m not sure.”

 

Cold, steel bands snapped around Marcellon’s heart like a trap. That was all they needed! “What happened?” the High Mage demanded again. If Edward didn’t spit it out, and quickly, Marcellon decided to read his mind. This avoiding the question–

 

“The King,” Sir Edward revealed finally, but slowly, “said something to me about…” The Knight Commander paused to search for words. “About bringing back his brother to be Captain General of the Archers.”

 

Marcellon’s jaw dropped. He stood and clapped his hand to his forehead. He should have known when Haralan had asked, he berated himself silently. “Steward!” the High Mage bellowed. The cowed servant stuck his head timidly through the door. “Summon the King and the Count of Connall to my presence *immediately!*”

 

As the servant whisked himself from the house, the magician turned to his friend. “Don’t worry, Edward. The King isn’t mad. What exactly did he say?”

 

Sir Edward frowned mightily. “I don’t remember exactly, but I thought it sounded like a wish, especially as both King Haralan’s brothers are dead.”

 

Marcellon nodded grimly. “As is well known,” he concurred, but the falsehood tickled his heart unpleasantly. His hasty, mental accusation of Haralan also bothered the High Mage; he knew Haralan better than to think the King foolish enough to try to bring his brother home.

 

Next to the Knight Commander, the Countess of Connall frowned. The High Mage raised an eyebrow. “What is it, Myrande?”

 

She sighed. “I can’t believe he–the young prince–is dead.”

 

“Believe it,” Marcellon confirmed with a nod, though he smiled internally at Myrande’s calling a man more than ten years her senior “the young prince.” Where the hell was Haralan? “Who did he tell this, Edward? It is imperative.”

 

Sir Edward took a moment to remember. “Myself, Sir Luthias, Ittosai Michiya and Ito, Sarah Verde, and Coury.”

 

Marcellon breathed his relief. Those few could be trusted to keep quiet. “Good. Luthias will need no such instruction, but the others must be made to hold their tongues. And as soon as he and the King arrive, I hope there will be no need for him to speak of it any more at all.”

 

“I have already spoken to Captain Verde and to Coury. Answer me this, old man: if Haralan’s brother is dead, why is Sir Luthias upset?”

 

“I’d like an answer to that myself,” Marcellon interrupted, glaring at the unopened door. Where was Luthias? Where was the King?

 

“Luthias doesn’t think Prince Richard is dead,” Myrande supplied easily. She stared out the window at the near-setting sun. After a moment, she turned back to the High Mage and the Knight Commander. “When my father came to Uncle Fionn with the news that Prince Richard had been declared dead, we were all appalled. Luthias finally asked my father how he had died. Then Uncle Fionn laughed and told us that Prince Richard probably was still alive, and that he was only declared dead so that King Haralan could take the throne.”

 

Marcellon fought cringing. That was too near the truth. Well, leave it to Fionn Connall not to miss a trick. And damn Myrande for her excellent memory. She couldn’t have been more than eight or nine at the time of Richard’s “death.”

 

“I see,” the Knight Commander said slowly. Then his eyes widened, and this time Marcellon saw the fear plainly. “Nehru’s blood, no wonder Luthias exploded! If Haralan could bring his brother back–”

 

The High Mage raised his hand, and Sir Edward ceased. “I’m sure Sir Luthias merely misunderstood him.”

 

“What did my husband do to the King?” Myrande asked quietly, her voice testy. Marcellon smiled at her willingness to defend Luthias even if he had done treason. Marcellon’s own wife had been like that.

 

Sir Edward patted her hand. “Nothing of great insult or injury, my lady. He merely roared, ‘Why don’t you just *give* the country to Beinison?’ and marched off with his castellan.”

 

Marcellon pictured the entire situation without benefit of his powers: Haralan’s announcement, Luthias’ explosion and departure, Edward’s cautioning the ladies to keep this quiet, and his quick journey to the High Mage’s house. “Well, that’s like our Sir Luthias.”

 

“And he’s right,” Sir Edward concluded. “Or he would be, if Prince Richard were still alive. As I understand the inheritance laws of this country, the chosen child becomes heir. If Haralan’s brother were alive, then Haralan’s right to rule would be uncertain.”

 

“True,” Marcellon agreed. “But we needn’t worry.” The High Mage took a deep breath. “I may never get that ring done,” he muttered. He faced the Knight Commander again. “I’ll clear the matter, Edward. Don’t worry, but keep quiet.”

 

“Thank you,” a relieved Sir Edward exhaled as he rose with dignity. “Good afternoon.” He moved toward the door, then turned. “Lady Countess, you have an excellent memory.” The Knight Commander’s scar danced as he smiled. “Do you perhaps remember when we first met?”

 

The Countess of Connall gave him a smug grin. “It was the Melrin six years ago. You had come to judge the tournament and to visit my father.”

 

Sir Edward bowed, and Marcellon saw the Knight Commander’s pleasure in his face. “I don’t recall who won that tournament.”

 

“My father did,” Myrande reminded him, tilting her chin proudly.

 

“He was a good Knight,” Sir Edward declared. There was no higher praise from the Knight Commander, as Marcellon knew well. Edward’s smile wrinkled near his eyes. “I do remember, however, that that particular tourney was Luthias’ first. I turned to Sir Lucan–” Myrande warmed at the mention of her father. “–and said, ‘I do not want to meet your squire when he reaches twenty-one.’ It is still not a pleasant thought.” Sir Edward paused and squinted. “As I recall, Luthias took third place in that tournament.”

 

“That’s because there were no bloody Bichanese!” Myrande rose as if she had been shot from a bow. Luthias, obviously in pain, stumbled through the door, supported on one side by his chief aide, Ittosai Michiya, and on the other by Michya’s older brother, Ito. All three wore armor, but Luthias’ breastplate hung in three pieces. Derrio, nervous and anxious, followed behind.

 

Myrande rushed to help. “Lay him down,” she instructed quickly. “No, on the floor,” she corrected as Michiya and Ito moved toward the couch.

 

“Your excellency, do you think you should attend him?” Sir Edward protested, horrified.

 

The Countess laughed. “This isn’t the first time I’ve put him back together.”

 

Marcellon entered the fray. “What have you done to yourself this time, manling?” He clucked mildly when the Count gave him an acidic stare. Luthias would not still be in a temper if he were seriously hurt.

 

“Broken rib, I think,” the young Count groaned as the Bichanese gently rested him on the floor. Myrande dropped to the floor at his side. “I was sparring with Ito.”

 

“And I thought you were saving yourself for Beinison,” Marcellon quipped, moving to the Count’s left and kneeling on the floor beside him. He reached out his hand and probed Luthias’ chest gently.

 

“They’ve had their chance already,” Myrande snapped, looking coldly at the wizard.

 

“My armor exploded,” Luthias told them, glancing from his wife on one side to Marcellon on the other. “And Ito hit me again. It’s on Sable’s side, Marcellon.”

 

“I did not see it until after I struck the blow,” Ito apologized, his Baranurian still somewhat halting.

 

“It’s no wonder,” Luthias agreed, groaning as his wife found the injured bone. “Stevene, you Bichanese move like lightning.”

 

Myrande snatched a knife from her belt and sliced Luthias’ undershirt open. Ugly purple-brown bruises decorated the Knight’s strong chest. The High Mage quickly whispered a spell, and Luthias’ armor fell off. Marcellon tossed the plates to the Knight Commander, who shook his head grimly as he inspected it.

 

“I’m glad you’re on our side, sir,” Edward told Ito quite sincerely. The Knight Commander touched the crushed plate in wonder. “I would not like to be your enemy.” The samurai bowed, and Sir Edward looked at his officer. “I doubt it can be repaired, Sir Luthias.”

 

“That’s all right. It was pretty old.” The Count tried to take a deep breath but found he couldn’t. “Stevene, what I wouldn’t give for Bichanese armor. You can move like the wind in that stuff.”

 

“And it does not…explode, as you say,” Ito added.

 

“So you will have your birthday present early,” Michiya dropped casually. “It will be ready in two days’ time, anyway.”

 

Despite the pain, Luthias grinned at the prospect of new armor. Marcellon chuckled at the boyish expression then laid his hand on the broken ribs and whispered a spell. Luthias sat up almost immediately. “I like you, Marcellon. Last time a broke a rib, I couldn’t fight for two months.”

 

“You broke more than one this time,” Marcellon informed him, “but I certainly couldn’t keep you off the battlefield for two months in times like these.” The Royal Physician and High Mage ignored the Countess’ glare and continued his prescription. “Two days, Luthias. No fighting.” The young Count nodded, and his lady wife helped him to his feet. “You may, however, be fitted for your birthday gift and dance at the Melrin Ball.”

 

Luthias grinned and turned to Ito. “Rematch, next week.”

 

The Bichanese turned to his brother, who translated the first word. Ito bowed. “Very well.”

 

“What were you doing fighting with the Bichanese, anyway?” Myrande wondered as her husband put an arm around her.

 

Marcellon smiled at them, wistfully remembering such times with his wife. He quickly supressed the ache.

 

“I have a lot to learn from them, Sable,” Luthias explained easily. “Besides, I needed some way to work that frustration off.” The young Count scowled. “God, King Haralan’s crazy. How can he even think of bringing Prince Richard back?”

 

“Luthias, wouldn’t you bring back Roisart if you could?” Marcellon asked gently, and the Count looked away, his expression amguished. Marcellon hated to bring up a painful subject–it had been a year, less a day, that Roisart had been murdered–but he knew no better way to make the young Knight understand his King. “That’s all the King meant.”

 

“Why is it that you do not want this Prince to return?” Ittosai Michiya, confused, asked Luthias. “Is he an evil man?”

 

“No, he’s great,” Luthias told him, grinning. Marcellon had a quick vision of young Richard playing with Luthias and Roisart, and smiled too. “He used to teach me strategy by playing toy soldiers with me.” Funny, that’s how I taught Richard, Marcellon remembered. “He used to climb trees with us and everything. But,” the Count darkly concluded, “he was supposed to be King.”

 

“He didn’t want to be King any more than you wanted to be Baron,” Marcellon admonished Luthias sternly.

 

“Yet King Arneth chose him as heir over King Haralan,” Luthias reminded the Mage.

 

“Why?” Ittosai Michiya asked. “Is not Haralan a good King?”

 

“Certainly, and a better one than Richard would have been, but Richard was his father’s favorite,” Marcellon said, pacing. Where *was* Haralan? God, if he didn’t get here and allow Marcellon to dismiss these people, he’d never get that ring done!

 

“You are saying that there would be problems if this prince returns?” Ito said, his face stern with concentration.

 

“There will be no problems. The Prince is dead,” Sir Edward stated.

 

“You wished to see me, Marcellon?” the King asked mildly as he walked blythely into the nest of the Wasp King. The High Mage took a step forward, but Luthias, holding Myrande with one arm, beat him. “I’m glad to see you, Sir Luthias. I wished to speak with you.”

 

“I bet,” Luthias spat angrily. Sir Edward sent his Knight a stern look, which Marcellon knew the Count ignored deliberately. “How soon are you starting the civil war, your majesty?”

 

The King looked from his Cavalry General to the High Mage. “Is he well?”

 

“I believe Sir Luthias has misunderstood a remark your majesty made about bringing back your brother Richard,” Marcellon told him slowly, his blue-green eyes steadily holding the King’s.

 

Suddenly white-lipped, King Haralan inspected Sir Luthias’ furious face. “I merely wished I could bring him back. I would think you would understand me, Sir Luthias, as you have lost a brother, too.”

 

Luthias’ anger evaporated into shock and confusion. “You mean he’s really dead?” he gasped.

 

Haralan glanced at Marcellon, who returned the gaze steadily and nodded. Shifting his eyes back to Sir Luthias, the King laughed hollowly, and Marcellon saw the King’s jaw shake. “Marcellon swore it. Are you calling him a liar?”

 

“No, of course not,” Luthias reassured him quickly. “But sire, I thought–”

 

“Yes,” Marcellon interrupted, then he caught the King’s eye. “Baron Fionn Connall thought perhaps our declaring Richard dead was a political ploy to put you on the throne.”

 

Haralan groaned and put his head in his hands. Marcellon felt his despair–and the fear, too. If Fionn Connall had seen, how many others had? “Luthias, I can no more bring my brother back than you can bring back yours!” the King cried. He seized his tall Knight’s shoulders. “Can’t you believe that?”

 

Luthias lowered his eyes. Marcellon sensed the young man’s shame. “Forgive me, your majesty.”

 

“Sir Luthias,” Haralan said slowly, breathing deeply, “if somehow I could bring my brother back and I was planning on doing it, I hope you would explode and prevent me. I realize what would happen if…” The King looked toward Marcellon. “We all know what would happen.”

 

“I certainly hope that you would not be so rude about it,” Sir Edward scolded his Knight harshly. “Courtesy is the virtue of a Knight, Sir Luthias.”

 

“And advising the King is the duty of a Knight,” King Haralan added softly. “Don’t be so hard on him, Sir Edward. I understand the anger he feels.” The King watched Sir Luthias sorrowfully. “I, too, have lost much of my family and would not sit still for someone increasing the danger. Besides, Sir Luthias has realized his mistake and apologized, and I accept that.” With effort, the King smiled. “Come, Edward, and you, too, Sir Luthias. We have much to do.” Haralan scanned the room. “And no one is to speak of this.”

 

“Understood, your majesty,” Ittosai Michiya said, then he quickly translated for his brother, who nodded. Derrio covered his mouth.

 

“I’ll see you later, Sable.” Luthias kissed his wife on the mouth. “How are the sword and ring coming?” the younger Knight asked.

 

“The ring!” Marcellon breathed. “Shoo!” he commanded, waving his hands nervously at the King, the Knight Commander, the Count of Connall, his squire, and the two, dignified samurais. “I have much to do. And Haralan, issue a proclamation if you have to, but I can’t deal with any more interruptions, unless you want you Fleet Admiral dead!”

 

The King smiled and turned toward the door. “Good day, Countess.” Haralan motioned to her husband. “Attend me, General.”

 

“As you wish, your majesty,” Luthias agreed soberly.

 

Marcellon heard them no more, and he didn’t notice when his assistant fairly shoved the Knight Commander out of the room and slammed and bolted to door. There wasn’t time to waste. The sun would be setting in an hour.

 

Such an hour. Marcellon had to cast the spell binding the two mixtures thrice before it took. Then he boiled the mixed potion and salve over a heavy fire, too hot for this day, but necessary. Plunging his hands into the scalding compound, the High Mage cried the spell in a loud, pained voice. The enchantment sealed over the mixture immediately, God be praised, for Marcellon couldn’t cast that spell more than once a day. The damage to his hands couldn’t heal more quickly.

 

The High Mage cast a quick look out the window. A half hour to sunset, perhaps, and the most difficult spell left to do. Myrande stood patiently, awaiting his orders like a dutiful seneschal. “Bring the burning yellow sand and oil,” Marcellon requested as gently as he could. He hands burned, and he whispered a spell to speed the healing.

 

Myrande retrieved the two substances from a nearby worktable. Marcellon nodded toward the combined potions. When the Countess placed the two beakers near the cauldron, Marcellon reached out and dipped a hand in each. Almost absently, he sprinkled the sulphur and the oil over the potion.

 

“How does it work?” Myrande asked, watching with avid, unconcealed curiousity.

 

The High Mage chuckled despite his scalded hands. “It would take years of training for you to be able to understand, Lady Sable.”

 

Myrande considered his words, then inquired, “How do we make it work, then?”

 

“Lay Luthias’ sword and the silver ring on the table,” Marcellon commanded. While she did so, he explained, “When the mixture cools, we will dip the sword hilt and the ring in it, then set them afire. When I say the spell, the fire and the potions will be absorbed, and we will be done.” Marcellon grimaced at the difficulty of this seemingly simple process and added, “If it takes.”

 

“Why wouldn’t it?”

 

“It’s a very difficult spell, Lady Myrande,” the wizard tried to enlighten her. “Spells are…fixed, and if one syllable is off, one bit of rhythm a fraction late, the spell won’t work. Like…” Marcellon’s mind searched for something she could easily understand. “Like leaving a potion to boil overlong, or underlong.”

 

Myrande nodded thoughtfully and looked out the window. “Not much time,” she commented. Turning back to Marcellon, the Countess wondered, “If necessary, could we finish tomorrow?”

 

“We’ll have to begin at the beginning again,” Marcellon told her, finishing the delicate mixing. “Give me the ring and the sword.”

 

Myrande handed both objects to him and watched the High Mage with blatant curiosity. Carefully, for his hands still burned most wretchedly, Marcellon dipped the silver ring and the sword hilt into the mixture of the clotting salve, the hemoragging potion, the sulphur, and the oil. After one last glance to make certain that the objects were well covered, Marcellon uttered a single word. Both ring and hilt erupted in flames.

 

“So far, we do well,” sighed the mage. He raised his arms and closed his eyes. When he began murmering, Marcellon felt his body shiver, as it should. He felt power flow down his arms, and the hot, white light burned his hands. Marcellon felt the great release when the light left his fingers like harnessed lightning and struck the ring and the sword.

 

Marcellon opened his eyes and watched them burn. If all went well, the fire at any moment would be sucked into the silver.

 

The ring and sword hilt burned.

 

“Damn,” Marcellon whispered. He scrutinized the worktable. “I said the spell rightly…” When his eyes fell on the cauldron, the High Mage reached out and touched the side. Too warm. He hadn’t let the mixture cool enough. Then Marcellon laughed at himself. In his anxiety, he hadn’t let the mixture cool at all.

 

The magician turned to his assistant and smiled ruefully. “I suppose patience is not one of my virtues today,” he sighed. Marcellon marched toward the window and yanked the curtain back. Twenty minutes, perhaps, until the sun set for the day.

 

“How much does it need cool?” Lady Myrande wondered, placing her hand cautiously on the side of the cauldron. “We haven’t much time.”

 

“We’ll wait a few minutes, then try again,” the High Mage decided as he wearily fell into a chair. “I have no wish to repeat this on the morrow, Lady Sable. Although,” Marcellon continued, his eyes dancing, “I doubt we could have more…ah…interesting problems than we had today.”

 

Myrande chuckled. “Don’t tempt fate.” She handed him a goblet of wine. “What if we don’t get it done?”

 

“We’ll do it again tomorrow,” Marcellon promised her. She sounded so worried, as if Luthias would be killed before her eyes if he didn’t have the sword by this evening. The High Mage could hardly blame her. Roisart had been murdered in a peaceful ballroom, a year from tomorrow.

 

Still, Marcellon didn’t want to wait until tomorrow any more than the Countess did. Clifton’s life was in danger; he, too, could die at any time. And Lauren–

 

The High Mage grimaced as he thought of his daughter. Marcellon, now that he knew of its existence, felt the danger surrounding Lauren like a stench-filled fog. Lauren, if she goes to battle…what if she goes to battle?

 

“I’m glad to know Prince Richard is still alive,” Myrande began calmly.

 

Marcellon started out of his thoughts and stared at the Countess, who was gazing at the setting sun. After a moment’s consideration, the High Mage answered, “After all that, you think him still alive?”

 

The Countess turned slowly and smiled regally. “Why not? He is. He must be.”

 

Marcellon stared at her sharply and quickly reached for Myrande’s thoughts. ‘If Prince Richard were dead, you would have said so,’ Marcellon caught.

 

“I did say so,” Marcellon protested, although he knew she was right.

 

“Sir *Edward* said so,” Myrande corrected him smoothly, “but you didn’t, and neither did the King. Besides, there’s no other explanation for your anger and the King’s fear.”

 

She read people too well, that one, Marcellon concluded. The winter in court had taught her much; Myrande had learned how to read eyes and faces and tones when words could not be trusted–too often the case at court. Still, the High Mage realized acknowledging her assessment was too dangerous.

 

“Myrande,” the High Mage sighed heavily, for he hated to lie, “Prince Richard is dead. He has been dead nearly fourteen years. I swore it on the Word of God. Would I be forsworn?”

 

She doubted then; Marcellon felt it. Myrande knew well that Marcellon never lied–almost never, the Mage reminded himself.

 

But she only doubted–and only for a moment. Myrande still believed Richard lived. By not pronouncing him dead at the very first, the High Mage realized that he had convinced stubborn Sable that Richard still lived. Oh, Myrande would say nothing more–in her thoughts, Marcellon gleaned the Myrande’s realization of the futility of fighting the High Mage–but still she believed. Damn her, she was as stubborn as Lauren when Lauren magically knew something.

 

Lauren–What would happen to Lauren?

 

The mage sprung from the chair impatiently. As soon as this was done, he would search his crystal, day and night if necessary, and send a warning to his daughter when he sent her husband the ring. But the ring must be finished. As for Lady Sable, let her believe what she wishes, so long as she remains silent. There was no time to worry about it now. Marcellon knew without looking that barely a quarter hour of sunlight remained.

 

“Come,” Marcellon half-invited, half-ordered his assistant, “Bring the ring and the sword to me, Myrande.”

 

Marcellon took them from her and dipped them carefully. He immersed the objects in the carefully concocted mixture a second time to be sure of their coating. Once again, he placed them on the worktable and set them on fire with a word. Marcellon lifted his hands in spell and prayer and closed his eyes.

 

Marcellon’s body quaked gently as the power of the earth and the air flowed through his body and gathered at his hands into hot, white lighting, pure and powerful. The power began to elongate, lightning waiting to strike–

 

Lightning in a dark forest, covered with clouds–great wind and fire–blood on the ground–Lauren stood within in, calling out words of horror and magic.

 

And the lightning coursed through Lauren, fell on her from a stormy sky and fled from her in many directions to sear as many trees. Lauren screamed with the pain of a banshee, but she didn’t release or banish the lightning as Marcellon had taught her. Seven trees were sinking into the earth that spawned them, and more were burning.

 

The lightning grew brighter, and Lauren glowed with its power. One more levin-strike, and it split a great oak in half. Lauren screamed–Marcellon heard himself scream her name–and his daughter collapsed on a high cliff amidst the cries of children.

 

“Is Lauren all right?” Lady Myrande was asking anxiously. Marcellon sensed her arms around him, but the Countess seemed so far away. The High Mage tried to open his eyes, but the room swung dizzily. “Marcellon? Are you all right?”

 

“Lauren,” the High Mage murmered, clutching his head miserably. “Oh, my baby.”

 

“Marcellon, the spell,” Myrande reminded him. The mage was beginning to feel cold stone beneath him. “It didn’t work.”

 

“Lauren,” Marcellon groaned. She had to stay out of the battles. He had to warn her. Without opening his eyes to the swaying room, the High Mage climbed to a standing position. “Lauren,” he croaked. “I have to warn Lauren.”

 

“Marcellon, the spell!” Myrande insisted. “There’s no time!”

 

“I can’t let her die,” Marcellon mumbled, stumbling blindly in no coherent direction. The mage suddenly felt someone supporting him. “Myrande, my daughter….the lightning…”

 

“We’ll warn her,” she promised. “I tell you, we’ll warn her. But Clifton and Luthias–Marcellon, cast the spell!”

 

That’s right–Clifton and Luthias–but Lauren–and Marcellon feared to call the lightning again, lest it kill his daughter. Lauren! Lauren!

 

“The sun is setting!” he heard Lady Sable scream. “Marcellon! The spell! Clifton will die! You told me Clifton will die!”

 

Clifton–yes–Clifton, too, must be saved, for Lauren, for the King. But the lightning–

 

No, Marcellon knew his spell did not–would not–hurt his own daughter. Not his spell, no. But I must warn her! the High Mage thought, but even as he did so, he raised his arms and created the spark that set the sword and ring afire. I must dip them, he thought dazedly, but they burned as if newly immersed in the potions. Slowly, breathlessly, the High Mage murmered the words that set the magic in motion, that called power from the earth and from the air, and the lightning gathered at his hands.

 

Marcellon knew when the lightning struck, and as the fire was pulled into the sword hilt and the ring, the High Mage collapsed.

 

***

 

Marcellon did not raise his head from the table when Luthias entered the sitting room well after dark. Marcellon knew it was Luthias; he had had plenty of time to aquaint himself with the rhythm and sound of Luthias’ walk on the ships bound to and from Magnus and in the long winter months in Pyridain. Marcellon even knew when the young Knight bent to kiss his wife, fast asleep as a kitten on Marcellon’s plush couch. The High Mage sighed; he had often bestowed such a caress on his own, sleeping wife when the King’s business kept him late.

 

Ah, Eliza, my sweet Eliza…

 

Marcellon heard the young Count pause before a side table, and the High Mage would have smiled if he had the energy. “You may take it. It is finished.” With effort, Marcellon opened his eyes to see the Knight, satisfied, slip the sword into its scabbard. “It will serve you well.”

 

“Clifton’s ring?”

 

“It is on his hand as we speak.” That spell, the one that transported the little ring and the warning, finally exhausted Marcellon so that even lifting his head from the table where he wrote his daughter was nigh impossible. “I could not wait for a messenger. I saw Lauren’s death.”

 

“Lauren’s?” Luthias questioned. “Maybe you should make her a ring.”

 

“It would not help. She will not die of wounds. I have warned her to stay away from battle…”

 

“Marcellon.”

 

And the High Mage knew the time had come. He had known that for some time the questions that plagued Luthias Connall, and Marcellon had known that sooner or later, the young Knight would confront him. Without waiting for the question to be asked, Marcellon answered it. “I did foresee your father’s death. I knew he would be thrown from a horse, and I did warn him, Luthias. To his credit, your father believed me. Still, there was no way…the drug Manus used on Dragonfire worked through the poor horse’s food. There was no way to detect its administration until it struck, and when it was over, well…”

 

“And my brother? You were at the ball, Marcellon. Didn’t you–”

 

“My visions are imperfect, son. Some are plain, others like dreams…and they only function if there is no change. I never foresaw your brother’s death.” Marcellon grasped a breath with tired lungs. “I saw yours.”

 

“Mine?” The Count sounded surprised. “But I didn’t die.”

 

“I tell you, I see things that will happen if nothing changes,” Marcellon repeated. “I saw, as if in a dream, your brother invested as Duke of Dargon, and he asked me what he should do now. But something happened–he saw the assassins, I guess–and he died, not you.”

 

“Why didn’t you save him?” Luthias demanded, his voice grieved. “Marcellon–”

 

“I could not have saved him,” Marcellon admitted heavily. “I have great skill in medicine and magic–but not even I can bring back the dead. The poison they used on Roisart was immediate, like ardonatus. Roisart was dead before he fell to the floor at your feet. He was dead when you reached him, Luthias. I was farther away. There was nothing I could have done.”

 

“Nothing,” Luthias whispered. After a long silence, the Knight said, “It is past midnight, and it’s a year he’s been dead.” Marcellon heard the young man shift toward him. “Do you ever stop missing the dead, Marcellon?”

 

“No.” Tired grief flooded Marcellon’s consciousness. “It has been six years since my wife died, and there are still nights I wake, expecting her beside me and grieving to remember her gone.” Marcellon wearily turned his head and looked at the Count of Connall. “Do you not miss Sir Lucan still and your uncle Clifton?” The Knight nodded glumly. “And your brother and father…thank God your wife lives still, Luthias, son.”

 

“She won’t be hurt in the war, will she?”

 

The thought startled Marcellon; he had never even considered it. “I don’t know. Now take your wife home, and drink a sleeping potion that you both might sleep uninterrupted. And if I can do the same, I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

 

Marcellon listened as the Count of Connall took two steps toward his wife; again, the young man paused. “I hate to ask, Marcellon, but what about me?”

The High Mage managed a coughing chuckle. “Sir Luthias, they have sent assassins for you. They have imprisoned you. They have tortured you and drugged you. They sent a Knight of the Star against you- -a high-ranking one at that–and you defeated him. I don’t think Beinison possesses anything that can kill you. You seem to be under the protection of God Himself.”

 

“Well, I’m grateful,” the young Knight admitted, chuckling also. In a more serious tone, Luthias continued, “And I am grateful for what you have given me, Marcellon. You saved my life once, and now you’re preserving–”

 

Before the words were finished, the mage’s eyes slid closed, and he snored softly. Smiling, the Knight silently lifted the mage and carried him to his bed in the next room. “Rest well, Marcellon.” Then Luthias took his sleeping wife, who cuddled to him as if she were one of their newly born daughters, home.

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