Note: I use the symbol * for Mind-Speech, for Mind-Speech between those who are part of the Link, I will start it and end it with **.
They were in the library, as they had been a few weeks before, the adults in armchairs, the others were all on the floor. Symin said, "Well we got rid of the teams of enemy Mages." and his small face looked grim, then lit up with good humor, "and we got Darren and Dearna married. Now I think there's one more thing we have to do before we turn our attention to the other worlds."
"And what might that be, O favored relative?" Karliv said and Symin's grin widened.
"We simply can't allow any large Diamond Obsidian stones to remain on our world." Symin told him with determination, "Some I have no qualms about destroying out of hand, but others. . . Well, some of them are used as Ward stones and for Concealment and Compulsion, for legitimate reasons. Those we'll have to replace and the only thing that will do that is large pure worked gemstones. How do we get them? Gem stones of a suitable size aren't easily available."
Rendar got up and went over to the bookshelf. He tipped several of what appeared to be books, but obviously were not when a small opening appeared. He reached into it and pulled out a ruby the size of a hen's egg. Turning he threw it to Symin who caught it easily. Ren asked, "Does it have any particular feel to it?" as he sat down again.
Symin looked at it speculatively, examining it with his mind. Finally, he said, "Yes, it does. It's harder to detect than Diamond Obsidian, which actually set up an unpleasant feeling in my mind; perhaps because they come from another universe. The ruby is much easier on the mind. The feeling it gives off is actually pleasant. Where do we look for them?" he finished on inquiring note.
Karliv said with a grin on his face, "Where Great Mages generally look for gemstones; in the ocean. Over thousands of years, many ships have gone down; most of them close to the coast. A lot of them were traders and quite often gemstones of the size and purity the ruby have, were part of the cargo."
Symin mused, "I wonder if we can transfer the Ward stones power from a Diamond Obsidian stone directly to a gemstone, or if we'll have to power it differently." He stood up and after returning the ruby to Rendar he looked at the books on the wall, with his hands on his hips. Symin asked him, "All right Ren, where are they?"
Rendar said, with assumed perplexity. "Where are what, my little friend?'
Symin said firmly, "Your books on shipwrecks and don't tell that Madron is landlocked. Most of your library is on politics. Don't tell me that the wrong ship going down or the right ship reaching port doesn't on occasion have a tremendous influence on politics." Rendar chuckled and standing up he went over to the books taking out a thick book with a red binding.
"Quite astute, Symin." Rendar admitted. "At times shipwrecks can indeed have an incredible impact on the political life of a nation, though normally it's more likely just to affect a city's fortunes. But at times if that city is the chief city of a Kingdom the balance of power can shift to another city in the same Kingdom and the direction in which the country goes shifts dramatically."
The man told him, "This book is only twenty years old so it's pretty well up to date. The most dramatic shift of power mentioned in the book happened about fifty years ago. The citizens of Polemn in Tatrin, which at the time was the richest city in their Kingdom, had risked everything sending three ships with what were considered incredibly rich cargoes to Jalar, Land of Spires. They gambled and seemingly, they won. Only one ship was required to bring the resultant cargo home. A ship called the Sedgewick. Less than three hundred miles away from its homeport they lost when the ship went down. The cargo was the least of what was on the ship; it carried one of the largest treasures in modern times."
Rendar sighed with regret as he said, "The sea guards what it has gained very well and not even a Great Mage could locate the ship. The power that Polemn had held for centuries went to Kurcon. I've been to both cities. Despite the disaster, Polemn is still a great city and always will be." He said with obvious regret in his voice. "Despite what it gained the only thing Kurcon is good for is a dumping ground for chamberpots!!" Ren snapped with disgust and the three boys giggled.
Symin turned to the section on Polemn and read through it quickly. When he was finished, he put the book back and went to sit down again on the floor leaning back against the armchair. He turned and smiled when Karliv ruffled his hair. He speculated, "Well from my lessons Polemn is about one hundred miles south of the Camron-Tatrin border. The castle of the Count of Wymark is about forty miles north of Sothra. The shipwreck occurred about two to three hundred miles from Polemn. That's well within our range, at about four to five hundred miles from Wymark. It's probably going to be a long search anyway, the extra two hundred odd miles isn't going to make that much of a difference to us and Terry can see his little brothers again."
Terrion's eyes and face lit up at that. Symin continued, "Let's go see if we're welcome, Terry?" He closed his eyes and evoked his Astral form as did Terrion. After they took each other's hand to stay in contact, Symin reached out with his mind to find the distinctive thought pattern that was Kalli Senson. Finding it he said to Terrion, **Here we go.** and they were suddenly there hovering about ten feet above Kalli's head where she was standing on the battlements of her son's castle looking down at the people besieging it.
Terry said with amusement on his face, **She looks exasperated rather than angry.**
**You only have look at the people attacking the castle to know why.** Symin said dryly. **They're peasants and a couple of mercenaries. She's more worried about hurting them, than she is about what they can do to the castle.**
Letting go of each other's hands they landed on either side of Kalli, beginning to take on solid form. Symin said with amusement in his voice, when they had become visible enough to see, "Don't worry, Kalli, we're here to rescue you from your dire predicament. Terry and Symin to the rescue." and he had a broad grin on his face as did Terrion.
She looked at the boys whose bodies were just solidifying completely. seeing the grins on their faces she realized they knew what she was actually worried about. Kalli told them, "I don't know why you're here, or even how you got here. The third cousin of Wymark persuaded them Forsen doesn't have any right to the title and they came to persuade me to give the castle to them, but I don't want to hurt those idiots. At the same time, I've got to do something. If I don't then I could be judged unfit as Regent, but more importantly if the King's men hear about it, they'll have no concern about hurting them. He's made his feelings perfectly clear about rebels. His men will go through them with swords and lances and the ones left alive will end up being hung."
Symin said with a sigh of regret, "I know how hard the King can be. He came down on the Ascalons when one of my uncles plotted to kill him. He did so much harder than he really needed to, but he's always been worried about the last Great Clan still being in existence. He thought to finally break its power. In fact, Prince Tamen told me, they were glad to have an excuse to lift the Edict of Exile imposed on us. It was actually hurting the Kingdom rather than helping it. The King is a fair man but he can be a hard man as well and he has no sympathy with rebels."
He explained, "We're here in Astral form. Terry and I and three others are Linked and much more powerful than any other Mages in our history, that's why we appear so solid. I can help you out of your predicament. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to take the Wymark cousin and turn him over to you. As the Regent you're responsible for High Justice so you'll have to try him." Symin said a frown on his small face.
Kalli snorted and said emphatically, "Him I'm not worried about. It won't take me long to hang him. It's the others I was concerned with."
Symin nodded face relaxing and he rose into the air, heading for the rebel camp. Somebody saw him coming and several archers began shooting at him. Symin was impressed with their aim. Several of them actually hit him, though they simply bounced off of his unusually solid Astral form.
Seeing the arrows bounce off, the frightened men, women and children began to bunch up. Symin headed for one man who was much better dressed than any of the others. He was looking up the boy, with his mouth gaping open. Symin stopped about ten feet above the head of that man who was obviously the cousin of Wymark; the clothes would have told him that even if he hadn't looked like his cousin.
Symin put his hands on his hips looking at the people and somehow seeing a small boy in a typical small boy pose, despite what they had seen most of their fear left them. Symin asked fiercely, "What in the Gods names do you think you're doing here?!!"
One of the men said, "They's two kids in the castle they's bastards!! Never been acknowledged!!" he said belligerently. "If we just let bastards take all, e'en though they ain't been acknowledged, they can take anything!!"
"You're idiots!! You should have asked a Priest to find out what the law was in this case before you attacked the castle!!" Symin said scathingly and some of the people looked ashamed, but not the belligerent one.
"What does the law matter?! They's still bastards!!" he said.
Symin shook his head telling them forcefully, "You're thinking about inheritance law!! That applies to you as well as to the nobility! In this case, inheritance law doesn't even come into this!! The King in stripping the Count of Wymark's titles from him actually reclaimed them into the Royal Estates! If he had wished he could have given the title to anyone, if he had wanted to or abolished it completely. Even though Wymark had a legitimate son in Terrion Wymark his oldest son, the King didn't have to give the title to him though he had the best claim. When he was adopted by the Duke of Farlei in Madron, however Terrion actually gave up any claim to the title and to Camron citizenship."
Symin continued, with equal force in his treble voice, "The King decided to give the title to Wymark's next oldest son, Forsen, despite the fact that he was a bastard!! The King actually legitimized both boys by doing so!! They are no longer bastards in the eyes of the law. Normally a dispute such as this is considered a local matte!!" The boy shook his head, "Not in this case. The authorities consider it a Royal matter and if the King hears about this, it would be considered an armed rebellion directly against the King!! I'd get your legs moving and head for your homes as fast as you can!!!" he said with added emphasis.
The belligerent man, now much less belligerent with obvious fear on his face, said, "He knows us." he pointed at Wymark's cousin, "Maybe not each person, but the villages we come from."
Symin shrugged his shoulders, telling them, "I've got to turn him over to the Regent. However, I doubt he'll live very long, before the Regent sentences him to hang." He motioned with his hand and Wymark began to rise in the air, as did Symin, forty feet high they stopped and headed for the castle wall. As frantic eyes watched suddenly, Wymark fell towards the ground, turning over in the air and landing headfirst. The people watching knew that he wouldn't be getting up ever again. A little more secure they headed for their homes.
Symin settled into a sitting position on the battlements and said to Kalli, "Oops, he slipped. Sorry about that, but you were going to hang him anyway and this way it reassures your people that they won't get hung." and the large gray eyes that looked at Kalli were very, very cold. Kalli nodded and put her hand over her mouth coughing to cover her laughter.
Symin turned to look at the people still remaining though they were almost ready to leave. He sighed, saying with a bit of regret, "I'm afraid I've given you a possible problem."
Kalli sobering said, "Yes. I know. Rebels once always-potential rebels. But I'd rather that than killing two hundred and fifty men woman and children, I'm not as ruthless as the King."
Symin sighed and then said, "Getting to a more pleasant subject, Terry and I came to invite us to stay for a while. Only the village that serves the castle knows you really well. I think that if the others get to know you better, perhaps we can defuse some of the problem that I caused. Your kids are genuinely nice children and if you visit each of the villages involved with us acting as a protector, they'll get to know the boys and you much better. It's harder to rebel against nice people if you know them." Symin told her. "We're in no rush, if you want to spend two or three days in each village, we're simply looking for a treasure ship. It's at the bottom of the ocean and it'll probably take a lot of searching to find it."
Symin said to her soberly, "You can't visit every village. You have what five Baronys as well as the estates that belong to Forsen as the Count." Kalli nodded. "That means about twenty to thirty villages. The villagers were from four separate villages in two Baronys. You might want to look at those Baronys. The people were angry and you're a remote figure to them, so they're probably angry with their Barons for some reason."
Symin and Terrion had returned to their bodies in Divandia, then the three boys and Pictou had Transported to Wymark Castle. Tess headed for the wild lands to do a little tasty tree hunting. The two Wymark children, seven year old Forsen Wymark the young Count and six year old Kanen Wymark were, like all children enchanted with Pictou. At the same time, suddenly they had three older boys, one who was their big brother and two who very quickly seemed like they were.
Since they didn't have a wagon with them, Pictou had stayed in the Wymark castle, being too lazy to come along, though he could be there in a fraction of a second if they needed him. They had been spending the last week visiting various Baronys, two of them so far and this was the third, Chadress, where some of the rebels had come from. The two Wymark boys had long since been put to bed and the older boys and Kalli were meeting in her bedroom.
Symin asked, "You noticed that the fare was pretty plain, Kalli?" and she nodded.
She said, "I've been here before when I was unofficially managing the County and he set a much better table at that time."
Symin said seriously, "He's being squeezed. By a High Merchant in Sothra. It's not even for a debt that he incurred but one that his brother did, when he was Baron after their father died. You know that we've been looking for the wreck of the Sedgewick out of Polemn?" He made a face, since it wasn't going well. "Hail's brother was involved in the same type of situation. He invested in a venture, one that the High Merchant in question recommended."
Symin shook his head, with regret, telling her, "The ship like the Sedgewick was on its way home and it went down in a storm. The High Merchant lost a great deal of money in the wreck, but he could afford to lose it, the then Baron Chadress couldn't. He defaulted on his taxes to the Crown one year and he couldn't afford to do it two years in a row. He borrowed the money to pay the two years taxes plus the fine imposed by the Crown, plus the money he needed to run the Barony."
He explained, "With five years of good crops he was well on the way of paying off the debt. When he was thrown by a horse and killed Hail suddenly inherited. They had two years of good crops and the debt was still coming down nicely, but the last two years they've had bad crops. Hail was forced to ask for an extension which the High Merchant refused."
Symin had a look of disgust on his face for the High Merchant's greed, as he continued, "Now under Camron law, a commoner can't purchase lands from the nobility which belongs to estates originally given by a King. A noble can only sell those lands to another noble. Baron Kosla, who of course is the other Barony where rebels came from, is squeezing Hail from the other side. Hail wants to sell him an unworked but fertile area on his border. Kosla on the other hand insists on land on which one of Chadress's villages stands. In order to avoid that, since he doesn't trust Kosla and doesn't want to put some of his peasants in possible danger, Hail has been squeezing the peasants, so that he can meet the debt without having to sell any land."
Symin told Kalli sincerely, "In the long run it will be much better for them if he can do it that way. But they're not aware of the trouble Hail is in. Like many nobles he regards his peasants almost like his children and despite the concern he feels for them, he won't confide in people that he feels responsible for." Symin grinned slyly, "Now I on the other hand, having lived primarily with peasants for the last year, know that they're not very bright..urk." as Maxim grabbed him and they rolled off of the bed together.
Kalli looked down tolerantly at the two wrestling boys and Terry was obviously amused. She had discovered in the last week that Symin was far from being the solemn boy he had seemed when she had met him several months earlier. If he had used his full strength, Maxim would have woefully overmatched. Symin had learned how to gauge his strength very precisely and in these wrestling matches, he only used what a normal eleven year old would use. Maxim soon had him pinned on the floor and was tickling him. Symin was very ticklish and was soon laughing hysterically.
Maxim stopped tickling him and raising up a bit he turned Symin over and gave him half a dozen swats on the seat of his short trousers before letting him up. Symin sat back down on the bed, "Now as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by a peasant." he said haughtily then giggled. He took a deep breath and asked, "Seriously how is your treasury?"
Kalli said immediately, knowing to the quarter-bit how much the treasury contained. "In very good shape. Despite everything else he was Wymark wasn't a spendthrift and at the end when the King stripped him of the title the only money he had was a fairly small sum."
Symin said, simply and earnestly, "Then take over the debt. At the moment, it's at one thousand golds and Hail's been paying two hundred golds a year. With the bad crops right now, he can probably pay one hundred golds a year without any trouble aside from the tithe that he must pay you each year. When they have better crop years, he can pay more. He can ease up on the peasants, they don't have to know why. Just that suddenly after you visited Hail's no longer squeezing them. However that still leaves resentment again Hail."
Kalli interrupted, "I'm just curious. Why are you using his first name? I know you are aware of Kosla's first name but you simply called him Kosla."
Symin said thoughtfully, "I like Hail. He's an honorable man trying to do the best for his people, under very tough conditions. I think he's too much like most of the nobility, even the best of them. It isn't that he considers peasants as inferior; he just can't see them as adults in their own right. As long as you think of your people as children, you can never be a true ruler. I assure you that King Hamar and his sons don't consider peasants as children, nor does Prince Carlinn of Madron or his father."
He said sincerely, "Despite your feelings about Forsen being illegitimate, I think you will find as he grows up that he'll be a true leader. He'll never consider those he rules over as children, but as people just like him. In this case his illegitimacy is an advantage."
Kalli nodded thoughtfully. She had never considered it, but now that Symin had pointed it out, it was logical. She could think of several occasions where armies had turned what seemed to be a disadvantage into an advantage, If she raised Forsen right, his very birth could become an advantage. She turned her eyes back on Symin and said, "You were about to say something when I interrupted you."
Symin nodded and said, "Yes, if you leave the resentment to Hail in place then it might cause trouble in the future and that's why we're visiting these Barons and villages. To prevent future trouble. In a couple of months after they've had time to fully appreciate the relief from extra taxes, you should send in some people, maybe peddlers, since a lot of peddlers start their journeys from Sothra. If they could casually mention the reason that Hail was squeezing them, you can alleviate a lot of the tensions long term that could result."
Symin told her, "Peddlers hear what's going on. Some of them have already heard that the High Merchant wouldn't extend the loan period, possibly they even know why, while we can only speculate. Both of these southern Baronys have had a couple of years of crop failures while the three northern ones haven't."
Symin raised his hands in a questioning gesture, as he asked, "So where did Baron Kosla get the money to purchase land from Hail? While he doesn't have a loan to pay off, you would think he would need the money to pay his own taxes and to operate the Barony. Why didn't the High Merchant extend the loan period? Well possibly, he's being squeezed as well, but possibly, he was bribed. By Kosla?"
He shook his head, saying, "A very real possibility. If he picks off a village from Hail that means that Chadress gets weaker, even after paying off the loan. It makes Chadress more vulnerable. Is Kosla squeezing his peasants even harder than Hail, for a much less noble reason? Greediness and a chance to double his Baronys' size."
Symin sighed pausing in his analysis of the problem they faced for a moment. Finally, after a few minutes he said, "The nobility has too much power. The Royal Family is aware of it but how do you remedy it. Give the King more power. That doesn't seem to work either. It took centuries to get to this point. There is a balance between the Monarchy and the nobility. The ones who are affected the most, the peasants have absolutely no say about what happens to them. All they can do is rely on the goodness of their overlords. Fortunately, most of the nobility in Camron are fairly responsible. Pig-headed arrogant, but responsible.".
Symin gave a grin of amusement before continuing, "Hamar is in his early sixties and if his ancestors are any indication he'll probably rule for another fifteen or twenty years. Both Crown Prince Vaughn and Prince Tamen have been wielding power since they were in their teens. Tamen as head of the King's Messengers is responsible for internal security. The army and the Justice System answers to him and Vaughn as head of the Navy broke the power the pirates had held for over a hundred years off of our coast and he's in charge of the Coastal fortifications. Prince Vaughn's two oldest sons have proved themselves and they looked good doing so. The Dukes are all good ones and their heirs, all who have had an opportunity to wield power of their own, look good as well. So in the highest level of the nobility we've got a situation that looks stable for the next fifty or sixty years."
Symin paused for a moment to get his breath, before continuing, "At the County level we're also in good shape. Aside from Wymark who's dead, only two or three of the Counts or Countesses were or are problems and they've been effectively reined in by their families and you've become Regent here."
Symin said emphatically, "The problem is at the Barony level!! The Baron's can pretty well tax the peasants any way they please!! As long as they pay the Royal taxes and the County tithe, the Counts tend to leave them alone unless they get a lot of complaints about them. Since the authorities consider it a County matter the Monarchy won't interfere. Sometimes getting that information to a Count can be difficult for an oppressed peasant."
"What do you suggest, Symin?" Kalli asked amazed at the depth of the analysis Symin had been making of his country.
Symin smiled, but it was smile of a shark about to take a bite out of its supper. "It's simple. The best Counts set up their own intelligence systems to watch the Barons. Spies who report back to the Count, giving their analysis of the situation in a Barony at any given time. I know that can lead to abuses as well, but mostly, it seems to work. The Barons know they're there and it becomes harder to gouge the peasants. Many Barons think that the tithe given to a Count is set by the Crown and therefore almost unchangeable and it is. However, it clearly states in one of our older laws, which was never rescinded that a Count may demand additional tithes from a Baron. Therefore, if you find a Baron gouging the peasants you can gouge the Baron even harder. Once he finds out that it isn't profitable he'll usually abandon his scheme."
Kalli and Hail Chadress were watching a dozen children being instructed in a rudimentary version of soccer that Symin, Maxim and Terrion had picked up while on Earth. There were a lot of laughs and giggles as the children learned rules that were unfamiliar to them.
Kalli said, "Hail, I know about your problem with the High Merchant from Sothra. Also the fact that of necessity you're squeezing your peasants to avoid having to sell any land to Baron Kosla."
Baron Hail Chadress turned to her, astonishment on his face. He blurted out, "How did you find that out? Have you got spies working for you?"
Kalli laughed, saying, "No. But in a couple of months I will have." Nodding toward the children. "Symin suggested it. He says the best Counts have them and I respect his opinion. He and the other two boys are Mages and they were easily able to find out what was going on. Symin also wonders where Kosla is getting the money from to buy land from you. Symin thinks that Baron Kosla is gouging his peasants and we'll head there after we've visited a couple of villages on your estate and find out."
Kalli said emphatically, "However I have no intention of letting one Baron take advantage of another!! That isn't a wise idea! The three northern Barony's are about three times the size of yours and Kosla's. In addition, one of the northern Baron's is somewhat richer than the rest because of the mines that he has, but that was just the luck of the draw. They're required to provide knights and men-at-arms when I need them; you and Kosla and your men-at-arms are required to serve when I need you."
Kalli paused for a second before saying gravely, "I will take over your debt from the High Merchant and you'll be able to reduce the taxes on your peasants. As an honorable man, you will pay what you can spare. This year if you can only afford seventy-five or a hundred golds, pay that. If you have good harvests over the next few years and can afford to pay more then pay what you figure you can."
Kalli looked him straight in the eye and Hail Chadress looked back searchingly. The Barons had been somewhat wary when the crown appointed her as Regent, wondering how an ex-mercenary and the mistress of the Count would perform. Hail gave a full formal noble's bow to his superior with feelings of deep respect. He felt they were in good hands and that boded well for how the young Count would be raised.
Symin pulled up between Kalli and Terrion, as they headed for Baron Kosla's castle. "Can you feel it Terry?Ē he asked,
Terrion nodded, saying, "Yes and no Lesser Mage could put it up, it's far too powerful for that. That means it was very expensive."
Kalli said with exasperation, "I gather something is wrong, but it would be nice if someone would tell me what it is instead of being so cryptic."
They smiled at her and Terry said, "Symin knows more about the cost, but I know it's expensive." smiling teasingly and Kalli looked at him with annoyance as well.
Symin finally took pity on her saying, "Kosla has his castle Warded. Normally a Baron would have his castle Warded by a Lesser Mage, at a cost of say one hundred to one hundred and fifty golds. The Ward that Baron Kosla has is much too powerful for a Lesser Mage to have created it. It's not only Warding his castle it's obscuring the surrounding area for several miles. If we weren't inside it we wouldn't notice that part of the Ward. That means a Great Mage put it up and you can multiply the cost of the Ward by ten. That doesn't include the cost of the gemstone. It's not a Diamond Obsidian stone. Most people don't know how powerful they are and therefore they're not really very expensive. A gemstone of the purity and size to sustain a Ward of such power costs five hundred or a thousand golds or more. Of course it's quite possible that it was an heirloom, being saved for a rainy day." using an expression he had heard Daniel Vincent use while they had been on Earth.
Symin explained, "Barons seldom need anything more powerful than a Ward that a Lesser Mage can provide and most of them don't even have those. Even Lesser Mages seldom become bandits. They can make much more money on their own working for a Count for instance, like the Mage you have. He can get away with doing almost no work if he's lazy. He's there in case you need him and you're paying him for his presence and that's about it. In fact your Mage is a very energetic one and he's always at work, strengthening the castle's structure against physical and magical attack for instance."
Symin frowned, shaking his head vigorously telling her, "There's no need for a Ward of the type of power that Baron Kosla has. As far as I know the only Wards of comparable power in Camron would be the Palace Ward in Camara and some of the coastal and border fortresses. Those are just Wards and aren't hiding anything as well. The only reason I can think of for Baron Kosla to have a Ward of such power is to stop a Great Mage from spying on him. Now why would he care?" Symin turned and looked at the ocean only a couple of miles away a thoughtful look on his small face; though he couldn't see it he could smell it.
Kalli looked as well and guessed what he was thinking. "Smuggling perhaps?" she guessed.
Symin shook his head, telling her thoughtfully, "Perhaps, but something even more sinister maybe. Sothra is only twenty miles away and there are several nice anchorages on Kosla's portion of the coast. Pirates perhaps. Prince Vaughn broke the back of the Brethren of the Coast, when he captured sixteen pirate ships in a three-week period four years ago. However, he didn't get all of the Brethren ships. They sail at their peril now but they're still active snapping up the odd ship here and there."
"Another oddity," Symin said speculatively, "Kosla as I said has several nice anchorages. Why are there no fishing villages? In his great-grandfather's day there were several."
Kalli looked at Symin wondering how he knew that. Terrion watching her grinned. He told her, "Maxim told me that Symin reads everything. I've seen the library at the Ascalon Castle and I've seen the Royal Library in Camara. The Ascalon Library is at least half the size of the Royal Library, which means it's one of the largest private libraries in Camron. Symin has read almost everything in it. He never forgets anything he reads and his mind is very organized. There are people who have massive amounts of knowledge, but when they need one small fact, they can't remember it. The same information is instantly available to Symin."
Symin had been ignoring them, thinking. Finally he nodded and then yelled, "Maxim!!" and it was a very different Symin from any Kalli had seen before. Though both Terrion and Maxim had.
Maxim broke off his conversation with the two children and pushed ahead to where the leaders were. He said, "Yes, Symin?" fully alert.
"Maxim you guard Forsen and Kanen! The castle has a Ward and I don't like it! I don't like it at all! As soon as we pass through the Ward, we'll put up our shields!" Symin ordered rapping out quick instructions, with an automatic assumption of authority that Kalli had never seen before, except in part in her Uncle Turc Senson.
Maxim simply nodded and said obediently, "Yes, Symin!" and he dropped back.
"Terrion, you do the same for the guards and I'll shield Kalli and I!" Symin ordered.
Terrion asked quietly, "You think there's going to be an ambush, Symin?"
Symin nodded vigorously, snapping out, "I do. Kosla has been working for something. He has to be aware that Kalli has been visiting the Barons with her two sons. If they disappeared normally what happens in cases where there are no other eligible heirs and the third cousin of Wymark was the last, then quite often the new Count will be chosen from one of the Barons."
"That's crazy, Symin!" Kalli protested with astonishment, "There's no way that he could cover up our deaths!"
Symin looked at her with large gray eyes and they were chilly, frost in his voice as he told her, "What makes you think he's sane, Kalli? Terry drop back!!" The younger boy obeyed, stopping to talk to the sergeant, who bunched his men up.
Kalli no longer questioning Symin's idea simply asked, "When do you think it will take place?"
Symin told her, "Inside the castle. Here put me in front of you and hold me so that I don't fall off. I'll have a look." Obediently she reached over and lifted Symin's small body onto her horse putting him in front of her. He closed his eyes and she felt him to go limp.
Symin in Astral form, arrowed ahead of them stopping at the Ward and with his hand on the God-dagger, he moved through it. Inside the castle, he immediately found that his hunch was right. There were twenty-five men with crossbows ready to ambush them once they passed through the gates of the castle. The way Kosla had positioned them, he would want them all within the courtyard of the castle before they sprung the ambush. Symin invoked his ability to read auras. None of the people he could see had any significant magic talent, except for the one well dressed man who he assumed was the Baron, but even he was only a high Magic User.
A Great or Lesser Mage would have been visible if one was there. The Ward was probably placed around the castle decades ago.
Passing back through the Ward he let himself snap back into his body and Kalli felt him straighten. Symin pulled his horse closer and climbed back onto it. He said grimly, "They're there all right. Twenty-five men with crossbows and as I figured the courtyard is the killing ground. They'll want us all there, so nobody can get away." **Did you get that, Maxim and Terry?**
They both answered forcefully, **Yes, Symin!!**
Pictou back in Wymark Castle, **Symin do you need me?!!** he asked anxiously. Tess far to the north asked the same thing.
Symin told them, **We shouldn't. There's no evidence of a Mage, either Lesser or Great, so all we have to deal with are crossbow bolts. Whoever created the Ward was careless. It touches the ground about thirty yards before we reach the gate, so we can put our shields up early **
Baron Kosla was chuckling nastily. They were all in the courtyard, bunched up nicely. He put the whistle in his mouth. Blowing it loudly, twenty-five crossbow bolts, sped toward the people in the courtyard AND BOUNCED. His jaw dropped in shock. His guards reloaded and fired a second time and the same thing happened to the bolts.
Suddenly Kosla was lifted into the air and not so gently landed in front of Kalli Senson, Regent of Count Senson. There was a fierce look on her face, the rage in her eyes boded ill for the trembling Baron. She said in a cold voice, "Perhaps I could forgive you for trying to kill me, Baron. However, not for trying to kill my children. I have the right of High Justice in this County Baron Kosla and you're not going to see another sunset."
Kalli looked around the courtyard and raised her voice bellowing out like the sergeant she had once been, "If you drop your crossbows and come out now, I will simply assume you were following your lawful liege's orders."
Crossbows began to hit the ground and men began to come out of their hiding places. Then suddenly a crossbow bolt flashed across the courtyard. This one didn't bounce; it just stopped ten feet from Kalli Senson. Then slowly, oh so slowly it turned over until it was pointed back the way it had come then it simply disappeared. A man on the wall screamed at the bolt took him in the chest and he fell to the courtyard, dead before he reached it.
The remaining men hurriedly threw down their crossbows and their other arms. Symin said once they were all in the courtyard and standing together in a bunch. "That's it, twenty-four, plus the dead one. There's a woman and two children in the Great Hall and various servants all over the castle proper but no other armed men."
Kalli ordered forcefully, "Sergeant, five men to guard the crossbow men, until we decide what to do with them!! Five men to make sure that the servants don't cause any problems!!" and once the sergeant had directed the ten men to their tasks he had two men left.
Symin said conversationally, "There was a nice tree about two hundred yards from the castle. It only had one thing missing. A hanging ornament."
Kalli caught on at once and she gave a savage grin of agreement. "You heard Symin, the tree needs an ornament and the Baron needs hanging!!"
The sergeant gave a grin and going to the Baron, he pulled his arms behind him fastening them. Shoving the man into the arms of his two men he went into the stables in search of a rope.
The Baron screamed, "You wouldn't dare!!! Where are your witnesses?!!!"
Symin gave a graceful bow from his saddle and told him, "Symin Ascalon, at your service Baron. I think that Prince Tamen will believe my testimony and then there's Terrion Farlei formerly Terrion Wymark. As the adopted son of the Duke Royal of Madron, I think that his testimony will count as well. Your sister," With a wave of his hand indicating the woman who had just appeared in the door of the Great Hall. Symin told the man coldly, "For some reason she doesn't like you very much Baron. Could it be because of the beatings you've been giving her and her children since they came here three months ago? Then there are the thirteen soldiers we brought along as guards, my friend Maxim, your twenty-four men who tried to kill us."
Symin said with finality, fierce delight in his voice, "As the overlord of guards caught in an act of treason and trying to kill your overlord is considered just that, by our law a formal trial is not necessary. As the Regent for her son, Kalli Senson has the right to pronounce sentence on the spot as she quite legally did. Goodbye Baron."
Inside the Great Hall, thirty minutes later after lowering the Ward, Symin asked the woman, "Are you the oldest of his siblings?" She nodded. "Well then since the Baron died without issue, I'm pleased to address you as Baroness." Symin said simply and sincerely.
She looked astonished, looking at Kalli who nodded. Kalli told her come "I know that you've lived in a northern province since you married when you were sixteen so you might not be aware of the inheritance laws in this province. Symin's right. Even though you have younger brothers, this is one of only two provinces where women have equal right of inheritance, so you're the new Baroness. If you were still married, I don't know what would have happened. Symin?"
Symin explained to them, "If her husband, a knight, was still alive then she would have inherited. If she had been married to a Baron or higher, with her children eligible to inherit that title the next oldest sibling would have gotten the title."
Kalli looked at Symin still amazed at the knowledge he displayed. "You had to have read all of the law books to know things like that. Why did you go to that much trouble?"
Symin grinned his small face lighting up, "Actually I was reading the story, 'The Merry Widow'. You've read it?" and both women nodded. "Well at the end the woman Avan, was widowed, with three children, about to be evicted from her house by her landlord. Yet for some reason she was ecstatically happy and I wanted to know why. I began to read the Royal laws to try to find a reason, why she should be happy when she had apparently just lost everything."
He gave a giggle, before continuing, "I couldn't seem to find the answer but I kept plugging along. Finally, I read the law of inheritance for this and the other province that gives women equal inheritance rights. I remembered that the Barony she was from was just outside of Sothra. Apparently, her brother a Baron who she disliked intensely had just died. He had no children and though he had two other siblings they were younger than the widow and that's when it clicked. She was merry because she had just inherited a Barony."
Kalli and the new Baroness looked at each other and began laughing. Both of them had read the story and both had wondered the same thing as Symin had. Why when she had seemed to lose everything was she happy?
Symin continued after their laughter ceased, "A lot of people think she simply went mad, however the author was born in Sothra and it was never intended to be distributed continent wide. Almost any adult in this province old enough to read the story would have known why she was merry, but once it left this province, it became a puzzle. The only way to solve that puzzle was to read the Royal Laws of Camron. Probably few people have ever been stubborn enough or wanted to know so much that they'd read through the law books. They're pretty boring."
Maxim began laughing, managing to get out, "No one but Symin would go to that much trouble, just to satisfy his curiosity."
Symin smiled blandly and suddenly Maxim disappeared. About sixty seconds later, he reappeared, soaking wet. He said, "That wasn't very nice Symin, but it was an interesting experience. I've never swum in the ocean before, that's why I didn't come right back."
Symin and Terry giggled. Suddenly Symin had a large towel in his hand and he threw it to Maxim. He stripped off his shirt and short trousers and dried himself. Once dry he threw the towel and his wet clothing into the air; they disappeared. Suddenly he had a new pair of short trousers and a shirt in his hands. He winked at the new Baroness's young son and daughter who were gaping with amazement, as he got dressed.
Symin's face became serious then, "Now your Barony isn't as large as the northern ones, but I can't see the former Baron only having twenty-five guards. Do you know where the rest of them are, Baroness?"
The new Baroness, Ashen Iturr shook her head and told him, "They left last night and it happens about once every two or three weeks but my brother would never say where they went."
Symin turned to Maxim and Terrion. He said, "Let's have a look at the coast. I'll take the Barony coast itself, Maxim you go north and Terry you go south." They sat down and suddenly they went limp. It took time because they were searching carefully but after a few minutes, one by one they straightened in their chairs.
Terrion spoke first, "There's a mule train about halfway between here and Sothra. They're moving along the coast on a small trail well off of the main road. There are twenty-five men leading the mules and guarding them. I followed the trail and it leads right to a warehouse just outside the walls of Sothra. The last part of the trail near Sothra seems like it was deliberately hidden and not in the recent past either. There are trees along both sides of the trail and they're about sixty to seventy years old."
Maxim said with a shake of his head, "I didn't find anything particularly interesting to the north of the Barony."
Symin said grimly, "Well I found the other end of your trail Terry and it leads to an anchorage and a village, which shouldn't be there. Like the trail near Sothra, there are trees planted to hide that end of the trail and the village itself. There are six ships anchored in the harbor, though it's big enough for triple that number. Five of them are manned; the sixth which looks like a small coaster is pulled up to a pier and it looks like it just finished unloading. There are new bloodstains on the deck, so I think it was taken by one of the ships, which indicates that they're pirates."
Symin told them a frown on his small face, "The anchorage is very unusual. A ship can't just sail into it. The cliffs' surround it and it takes a jog to the right once you get inside the opening in the cliff. I imagine that the ships that are there had to be towed in and the harbor can't be seen from the ocean. All that's visible is what looks like a notch in the cliff. You would actually need to row into it to find that there's a harbor there. However there's enough room that a war galley could row right into it if they're careful."
Those at the Great Table looked at the guards guarded by Kalli's men. Kalli asked, "Why did you fire on us, sergeant?" directed at one grizzled veteran.
The man ducked his head a little in shame, his voice echoing the shame, "We're sorry, Your Ladyship, but the Baron had us swear a Blood Oath to him. With that we had no choice but to obey him."
Symin small face had an outraged look on it and he closed his eyes and in about thirty seconds, a bottle appeared on the Great Table and the guardsí eyes widened.
Symin picked up the bottle and said in a chill voice, "He's telling the truth Kalli. They had absolutely no choice in the matter. In this bottle is a little blood from each of them, mixed with that of the Baron. From his aura, I could tell the Baron was a Magic User and this in effect is a Magic Artefact, created by a Mage, probably a Lesser Mage. It's unlikely to be the Great Mage who created the Ward since that's been up for not decades."
Symin said gravely, "They literally couldn't disobey the Baron's orders. It's a very old type of magic and in the Royal Laws it just says, Blood Oath. Itís an illegal oath, considered to be the equivalent of slavery. The law was enacted one hundred and fifty years ago after slavery was abolished in Camron and there are very harsh punishments attached to it." He smiled an ugly smile, "Not that the Baron has to worry about it anymore."
Symin opened the bottle. Turning it upside down, the blood began to flow just disappearing in mid-air. Even the blood that had dried on the sides of bottle flowed as if it were still liquid. Symin looked at the men telling them, "I poured the blood out and Transported it into the ocean. While the death of the Baron would have reduced it's power you still would have been oathed to the Baroness as a family member. By sending it into the ocean it will become so diluted in a few seconds that its affect will vanish permanently." The men watched the disappearance of the blood with awe and then relief.
The bottle and its top disappeared as well and Symin continued, "The oath has been rendered ineffective but just to reassure you I sent it into the ocean as well." The guards nodded gratefully. Symin looked at the sergeant, "Show me what the Mage looked like sergeant. As well as a Lesser Mage, he had to be a Tuner as well to create the Blood Artefact. When I have the time, I intend to find him. When I do I'll make sure he never produces another Blood Artefact!!" and his large gray eyes were very cold.
The sergeant shivered at their coldness but he took a savage delight in the prospect of the Mage being punished for his deeds. He visualized the man, though with some difficulty since he wasn't accustomed to doing so. After about thirty seconds, Symin said his voice much warmer, "Thank you, sergeant, I'll know him now. I assume that the men bringing the pirate's cargo into Sothra and the servants were also included in the Blood Oath?" and the sergeant nodded, not questioning the fact that they knew about the pirates.
Symin told him, "Pick one of your men, sergeant and send him after your people going to Sothra, once you know that they'll be on their way back. Tell them that we know about the Blood Oath, Therefore anything that any of you have done under the Baron's orders are considered the responsibility of the Baron and that died with him." Symin's voice became softer but at the same time harder, "That only includes things done at the Baron's order sergeant. Any crime committed of your own free will is the responsibility of the one who committed it." and the man nodded with understanding.
Symin turned to Kalli, telling her, "The castle must supply the pirates with food and probably ale and hard liquor as well. I would think that sometime today or at the latest tomorrow the pirate's are going to become aware of the fact that we hung the Baron." He shrugged his small shoulders.
Kalli smiled impressed with how he had dealt with the situation so far. She asked, "How do you propose to deal with them, Symin? I assume you have a plan?"
Symin said seriously, "The three of us are Great Mages, Kalli. Five hundred men, five thousand men, it wouldn't matter unless they had Great Mages of their own. Still I can't let five hundred men attack the Barony. Nor can I let five pirate ships escape. I intend to sink their ships. Most seaman can't swim which I think is ridiculous, but it's true."
Symin said flatly, unemotionally, "Most of them will drown!! They stop being a danger to other ships, or to the Barony or in fact to anyone!!" Kalli looked at Terrion and Maxim and could tell they were apprehensive.
Symin knew how they were feeling and said calmly, a hard look on his small face, "I'll do that myself. Despite the fact that I'm an Empath, I'm as ruthless in situations like this as King Hamar or King Vendar of Madron would be. Terry and Maxim will kill when it's essential, but it affects them too badly to make them kill when it isn't necessary."
Kalli could see that both boys were relieved. Personally as an ex-mercenary and Regent for her son, her viewpoint was much closer to Symin's and she approved wholeheartedly of what he intended to do.
Symin's Astral form appeared in the hold of the first pirate ship. He looked around in the darkness that he didn't notice since he Perceived and did not see. He looked at the bottom of the ship and there was a little water, but very little, indicating the ship probably hadn't sailed for a while. He aimed a Mind-Blast at the bottom of the ship releasing a massive blow. Suddenly there was a hole two feet in diameter in the bottom of the ship.
Symin looked at it with satisfaction. It was unlikely they would be able to plug that since aside from the hole itself it had sprung several of the planks in the bottom. The two problems would quickly sink the ship. He moved up through the deck destroying the ship's boats. Remorselessly he moved from ship to ship repeating his actions again and again.
Not all pirates served voluntarily and once the bout of destruction was over Symin joined Terrion and Maxim in picking out the ones they thought deserved to live. That meant all of the ships boys and about fifty or so crewmembers. A few for a wonder could actually swim, but depending on what Symin read in their minds, some were allowed to make it to shore. The others he shoved implacably under the surface of the water to drown like the rats they were.
Kalli looked down at what was left of the pirates and the families from the village. She explained to them, "Those of you who were pirates have been spared because your minds told the Mages that you deserved to live. As the Regent of this County, I deal out High Justice and I pardon you. Most of you, even the boys are sailors and wish to return to sea. I will be staying here in the Barony for the moment to help the Baroness reorganize the Barony, since she loses a lot of revenue that the former Baron got from the pirates. For the time being you will stay here, we may have need of some of you. Once we are sure we will no longer need you, you will be transported to Sothra."
She turned to the piratesí families, though there weren't a lot of them. From their condition and the fact that they were ecstatically happy over the pirates demise, she knew they had been treated abysmally. She told them, "There are several good abandoned anchorages for fishing villages. Well now we why know. The Baron abandoned them. We will reestablish those villages. Since none of the villagers from the Barony are fishermen most of them will have to be recruited from Sothra and some of the fishing villages south of the city. I will offer five golds to any bachelor who will marry and take a family. Since their minds can be checked by the boys, I'll know that you will be well treated, if you wish to accept a marriage."
Kalli looked around at the water falling from the sky, telling them, "Since it is the rainy season and you need some shelter, I'll allow you to return to the village for the moment until everything can be arranged. We'll provide you with food from here, as is the custom. There is a coaster still intact in the harbor. For those of you who were pirates I really wouldn't decide to sail out in her and join other pirates if you know where they are. Five ships are at the bottom of the harbor, you don't want to make it six."
Symin suddenly sat up straight and said, "Found it. I think!" and he frowned and Kalli who was working at the Great Table with the new Baroness Kosla, Ashen Iturr, looked up. She saw with amusement that he was annoyed for some reason.
Maxim and Terrion also were sitting up straight and had opened their eyes looking at Symin who was obviously exasperated. He explained why, "I found two ships within half a mile of each other. At least one still looks somewhat like a ship and the other looks like nothing but a mound but it contains a huge cache of gold. I want to know what that one is. I'll be right back." He slumped in the comfortable chair and then about sixty seconds later he straightened up again, then suddenly there was an object in his hand, encrusted with debris.
Slowly the debris disappeared as Symin carefully scrubbed it off with mini Mind-Blasts. When it was free of the debris, it was obviously a gold coin but it was double the size of the coins normally called golds. He looked at the coin with awe and said in a hushed voice, "We found the treasure ship of Mandel Bloodyhand lost in the second year of his realm. The value of that ship has been estimated to be worth at least a half a million of our golds to as much as two million of them."
Kalli asked with curiosity, "What do you intend to do, Symin?"
Symin smiled, telling her, "The law of salvage, which applies to both wrecks on the bottom of the sea and ones that are wrecked on shore. That is, except for ships that were lured to their doom by wreckers. It basically says, 'You find it you own it,' except for a ten percent tax that has to be paid to the Crown."
Symin held the coin up, so they could all see it. He explained, "However, I see no reason why any one person needs that much money. While it doesn't seem like very much time has passed, As closely Linked as we are we've had time to talk it over and we're all basically agreed, that aside from ten thousand golds each we'll give it to the Crown. Well actually Crowns since Terrion is now a citizen of Madron and can claim one-fifth of the treasure, we'll have to give one-fifth of the total to his country."
He said, with awe in his voice, "It'll be the most important thing that has ever happened to our two countries and that's a very satisfying idea."
Kalli looked at the small boy. Intrigued in the past by how astute and knowledgeable he had been she wanted to know what his reasons were. She asked, "Why, Symin?"
Symin eagerly began explaining, "If the upper limit is true and from the size of the mound I would say it may well be. Well that means the Camron Crown suddenly will have an additional one point six million golds and Madron four hundred thousand in their treasuries. That means that both Crowns are no longer dependant on the nobility for their revenues, since that equals many years of taxes. It shifts the balance of power in favor of the Royal families of the two countries. If used wisely and both families have shown wisdom in their rule, that means that they can start giving the common people more power, maybe a Council which can represent them."
Simon explained that, "Over the next fifty to a hundred years the monarchies can redefine the power structure and from the talks I've had with Prince Tamen, he sees the proper balance of power as evenly divided between the monarchy, the nobility and the people. That seems to be the opinion of the Camron Royal Family. From the discussions I've had with Ren, it's pretty well how the Madron Royal Family sees it as well."
Symin sighed putting the gold coin down. He said ruefully, "That means I have to go a visiting and since it's the Royal Family I'll have to wear my formal clothing." He held out his hands and suddenly a small chest was in them.
Kalli shook her head saying with amazement, "No matter how often I see you do something like that I still find it astonishing."
Symin looked at her soberly and she could see sadness lurking in his large gray eyes. He said, "Believe me; most Mages who can Transport don't have the excess power to use it this casually. Only the power that the Link gives us allows us to be so wasteful. But in a sense we need to use it as much as we can, because the more we use the ability the greater the power becomes." He grinned widely, "Thatís why I didnít hesitate to Transport Maxim into the ocean as a joke. When we start on the task that the Gods set us, we'll need all the power that we can get. Perhaps in the end, we won't be able to get enough and we'll fail. That is to come, so we'll worry about the present and let the future take care of itself."
Standing up Symin grinned, as he put the chest on the Great Table, saying, "If you think Forsen hates wearing clothes now, wait until he sees what high formal wear looks like." He opened the chest and took out a pair of light red short trousers, with the Ascalon crest embroidered in silver on the right leg above the hem. The seams all sewn with silver thread and in the belt loops, there was a darker red leather belt with elaborate silver cross-stitching and a belt pouch bleached to a pure white leather.
Next, Symin took out a white short-sleeved pullover shirt with the Ascalon crest embroidered on the right breast. It was somewhat more elaborate than the crest on his short trousers, with the crossed sword blades done in silver and the hilts in gold thread. The four daggers the same as the swords all on a blue background, the border of the crest done in light red. Next was a buttonless, sleeveless vest, with a small silver crest on the right breast like his short trousers. Last he pulled out a pair of sandals the same color red as the belt with the same type of cross-stitching.
Symin touched the crest on the breast of the shirt and cleared his throat his voice a little rough from emotion. "Actually, if he feels like me he'll be proud to put on formal wear. It reminds us of what we are and the tradition we have behind us and tells us what we have ahead of us. Of course, what it represents is an ideal and few families live up to it. However, if we do the best we can and always try to live up to the noble part of our title we can always be proud of what we are."
Symin looked at the Baroness and asked, "Ashen, would you please have the servants bring the tub into the Great Hall and have them heat some water. I should take a bath before I change clothes."
Ashen nodded and looked at the small naked boy who was sitting on a stool behind the table. Son of one of the men-at-arms he and two others were acting as pages. In their class they weren't old enough to wear clothing and wouldn't for another year or two. Ashen told him, "Killin, would you please ask Morvey to fetch a tub and some hot water and some soap and towels as well." Putting her finger on the chin. She thought for a moment and then said, "Tell Morvey to keep the water on the boil, I think since we have to heat water anyway I'm going to put my two into the tub after Symin is finished. Kalli? The same for your two?" and Kalli nodded, grinning with amusement.
She said, her voice bubbling with laughter, "They won't appreciate it I'm sure, but they both need it. I think as the mother of his brothers I can volunteer Terry for a bath as well and I think we'll include Maxim." Kalli said.
looked with disgust at Symin, "Now see what you started!!"
and Symin giggled.
Maxim and Terrion as the oldest had gone immediately after Symin and Terry was still in the tub with the other four sitting naked on the floor playing a game of cards, while waiting their turn. Killin had been trudging back and forth to the kitchen with buckets of water with a couple of the larger servants and every time he came into the Great Hall, he looked warily at the Baroness.
She saw him looking at her and Ashen nodded, "I think we'll include you as well, Killin and find the other two who are acting as pages, they'll get dipped as well."
He gave a sigh and said, "Yes, My Lady."
Ashen said with a grin on her face, "You've done very well Killin, really this isn't a punishment; you'll know when I punish you because your bottom will sting from my belt." and he nodded wordlessly. At least he thought to himself the other two would have to take baths as well. He had a pretty good idea that this would be at least a weekly and perhaps a twice-weekly event.
Oh well, Killin thought philosophically. He and his friends had volunteered and they were getting paid, no other nine year olds who worked on the Barony would actually be making money, since they all worked with their families. The only other boys who were in fact employed directly by the Baroness was the cook's boy and two stableboys, they were all eleven and they only made one copper a week while Killin and the others were making two.
Symin said his good-byes and disappeared. He knew of a secluded spot directly across from the Palace where people probably wouldn't notice him when he appeared and they didn't. He walked across the street and presented himself to the gate guards.
"I'm Symin Ascalon and I'd like to see Prince Tamen, please," the boy said. The man nodded, looking at the clothing he could tell the boy was a noble. While he didn't know all the crests in Camron, he did know the Ascalon crest because he had had his attention specifically drawn to it. He opened the guest book, fully expecting to find Symin's name there, what he didn't expect that it was written in gold ink.
The guard stared at the name. He had never greeted a guest listed in gold ink before. They were the ones that the Royal Family considered the most important people and had instant access. Of those, he had only noticed two, King Vendar of Madron, who was unlikely to ever appear in Camara and Prince Carlinn who might. In other words, the Royal Family considered Symin Ascalon's visits as important as the King and Crown Prince of Madron.
Symin cleared his throat reminding the guard that he was there and he looked at the boy. He saw that Symin;s eyes crinkled with amusement and he was relieved. His woolgathering could have earned him a permanent assignment on the night shift or back to the City Guard.
He said hurriedly, "I'm sorry about that, Sir." and pulled on a chain causing a hammer to strike a crystal and make it chime to announce an important visitor to the Prince's office. "It should only be about five minutes before a page shows up, Sir." and Symin nodded.
His face broke into a smile when he saw the page heading toward him. Symin waved his hand the page returned it. When he reached Symin, they embraced each other warmly.
Symin said curiously, "Genda, I thought you were going home?"
did, but the Prince offered to take me as his page," Genda told
him, fingers twisting in the hem of his short trousers, "we haven't
been members of the upper nobility for very long. My grandfather was
the first Baron Theron. Father decided that it was a lucky chance that
good came out of what could have ended up being very bad." Genda
grinned, "He's superstitious and he'd never dream of going against
the fates. Come on the Prince will want to see you. He was wondering
who was so important. Normally they just send a messenger."
Genda showed him into the Prince's office and the man smiled in greeting. "Welcome, Symin. I wondered who the important visitor was. I hope you haven't brought us another problem."
Symin said with a serious look on his face, "Well it's a problem but at the same time it's an opportunity. But before we get to that, I have a message from County Wymark's Regent, Kalli Senson, for your brother or his department."
"What, you haven't been running into pirates have you Symin?" asked the Prince humorously.
Symin giggled, saying with amusement, "Well actually Sir, yes I have."
"What did you do about them?" Tamen asked with interest and a bit of trepidation.
Symin's eyes went cold and he said in a hard voice, "I sank them, five in total. There were only eighty-eight survivors. Thirty-eight ships boys and those who had been taken from captured ships and forced to serve. There's a warehouse in Sothra as well which you may want to deal with. I don't know who owns it. We've been watching it and nobody has come near it." He grinned, a nasty grin, "They probably heard we hung Baron Kosla and stayed well away from it."
Prince Tamen rubbed his temples and smiled at Symin. He said, "I like you Symin, I really do. If anyone deserves the title noble you do, but you also tend to cause a lot of trouble."
Symin giggled, nodding at the report,. He told him, "If you read the report that will tell you about everything that happened and you can get all of your headaches at once."
"Probably a good idea, though Vaughn is in the Palace at the moment." Prince Tamen remarked, opening the sealed missive and read through it, nodding in approval on several occasions. When he was finished he looked at Symin, telling him, "I approve of your Kalli Senson. She's a sensible woman. My father would say a little soft, though we tend to disagree sometimes on how people should be treated. But then he saw his grandfather put down two rebellions in less than ten years and our perspectives are somewhat different. Now you say that this is just something you were delivering for the Regent, so you have something else you want to discuss?" asked the Prince.
"Yes Sir, I do. In fact since Prince Vaughn is here I'd like to talk to the two of you and the King." Symin said seriously, his face grave but with a twinkle in his large gray eyes.
The Prince picked up a bell and rang it and Genda opened the door and asked, "Yes, Sir?"
Prince Tamen told him, "Genda, please tell my father and my brother that Symin Ascalon is here and he'd like to see all three of us. Ask them if they'd join us in my quarters. Since my wife and children are visiting her mother, I think that'll be the best arrangement. Arrange for the cook to send in some pastries and drinks. Wine for my brother, father and I and for Symin?" he lifted his eyebrow in a question.
The boy said with a grin, "Cider, please Sir. I know that most noble boys my age would be well used to wine, but my grandparent's decided that it wasn't good for children. Except on special occasions the children in my family, fourteen and under stick to cider."
"Cider then please Genda." the Prince ordered.
"Yes Sir." Genda grinned, saying, "It's not as if you're taking Symin for a long journey."
The Prince laughed as he and Symin followed Genda out of the door, then out of the office. By simply crossing the hall, they were in his quarters, which were comfortably rather than lavishly furnished. The outer sitting room had plenty of comfortable armchairs and he motioned Symin to sit in one and he took a second.
They didn't have to wait long for the King and the Crown Prince to arrive, followed soon by a couple of trays, Genda with one and another page with a second. The three men each picked out a cake and Tamen poured a glass of wine for the three adults and a glass of cider for Symin. Symin took a cake as well and started to draw his legs up under him when he remembered where he was. Hamar with his eyes twinkling gave a wave of his hand and said, "Go ahead young Symin Ascalon, make yourself comfortable. That's why Tamen decided to meet here rather than in a more formal setting."
Gratefully Symin pulled his legs under him until he was sitting cross-legged. The cake he had chosen turned out to be an apple cake that he had never tasted before and it went well with the cider. Tamen handed his father the report, and the King read it intently, passing it to Vaughn when he was finished.
After finishing the cake, Symin began, "To tell you what is important you need a little background. Five of us are now bonded, in what we call the Link. Three humans and Prince Tamen has met all three and I think King Hamar and Prince Vaughn have met two of us."
Raising one of his small hands Symin ticked off one by one, the members of the Link, "There is me and Terrion Farlei and my friend Maxim Ascalon. Two of us are intelligent beings and aren't even from our world. We're Linked together and we are the most powerful Mages our world has ever had. The Gods have set us a task. Only a bit of it concerns our world the rest concerns other worlds. We've taken care of the dangerous portion of the task on our world, but I set us a task before we left. To remove any Diamond Obsidian stones of a size to be dangerous in the wrong hands. We searched and found one hundred and three and most of them weren't being used. We destroyed them; however twenty-six are being used. Twelve of those we have no compunction in simply destroying."
Simon paused for a second before continuing his tale, "However the other fourteen are a different story. Most of them are Ward stones. In many of the cases they are protecting important places like your Ward stone does your Palace. They cannot simply be removed; they must be replaced, so that they will provide the same protection that they now do. Therefore we must replace the Diamond Obsidian stones, with large gemstones of high quality, preferably worked, since that tends to enhance the power they can handle."
Symin grinned, saying, "That's what you need to know to understand why we were searching the ocean floor for a sunken ship. Since we needed to locate a wreck I decided with the others' agreement to look for a particular ship, called the Sedgewick, which was out of Polemn. It was on its return voyage and was only about two or three hundred miles from home when it sank. That in effect wiped out much of the wealth of the most important families in Polemn. The pride of place went to Kurcon, which has caused us nothing but trouble since then. In the last fifty years we've had more wars and border skirmishes instigated by the people of Kurcon than we had in five hundred years when Polemn was the chief city of Tatrin."
Symin shrugged, his small shoulders, saying, "As I said we needed a wreck and the return of the treasure to Polemn would very likely catapult them back into the position of chief city of Tatrin. If that happened then border skirmishes may be lessened." He paused and the King and Crown Prince looked at Symin in astonishment and Tamen hid a grin behind his hand.
Tamen had tried to tell his brother and father how intelligent and at the same time how selfless Symin was but they found it hard to believe. They were more used to the normal run of nobles most of whom didn't live up to the second meaning of the word; a nobility of spirit. Symin could have simply looked for gemstones, yet he had the political astuteness and the nobility to realise how much the return of the treasure could mean to both Polemn and to Camron.
He winked at Symin and the boy grinned before continuing. "Well we found the Sedgewick, but we found much more. We found Mandel Bloodyhand's treasure ship. Why it was so far south I don't know, it probably ran into a storm which blew it south and then sank it." Symin carried on softly, "We agreed that no single individual needs that much money. Since there are five of us, we simply intend to take a total of fifty thousand golds. The rest is yours with an appropriate portion going to Madron, though we'll keep any gemstones that might happen to turn up." Symin grinned. "However since we'll also be bringing the Sedgewick treasure up as well we insist on no tax on whatever is there."
Symin looked at the three stunned men curious to see how they'd react. There was obviously a great deal of intelligence looking out of those not quite child's eyes. Tamen more familiar with Symin recovered first. He said, matter-of-factly, "You know of course what that will do?"
Symin nodded, telling them with deep satisfaction, "Yes. It gives you the balance of power. At least for a few years, if there is as much gold as I think there is, you don't need the taxes that the nobles provide. Their... Well it's not really a council because it's not official. But their representatives could stop you from making any changes to the structure of government, simply by telling you that if you do such and such a thing, or make such and such a law all of the nobles they represent would withhold their taxes."
Symin turned his large gray eyes on the King. He said, "Despite your worry about the Ascalon Great Clan, from talking to Prince Tamen, I know that the structure you'd like your government to have is quite a bit like the early days of the Ascalon Great Clan. We are simply very adaptable. The government structure changed from one of Great Clans to a Kingdom with a feudal system when your ancestor founded Camron, we went with it and adapted. The other three Great Clans couldn't do so and no longer exist. The Lesser Clans were much closer to the Ascalon's and many of them managed to survive."
Symin said forcefully, "The Ascalon Great Clan actually consisted of three separate parts, similar of course to Camron!! The Clan Leader, a King so to speak!! Sub Chiefs! The nobles! Then there were the Clan members, the common people! At times the Clan Leader if he was determined to follow a course of action and the Sub Chiefs blocked him, he could bypass them and appeal directly to the Clan members! They could override their Sub Chiefs, allowing the Clan Leader to do things his way! At the moment you can't do that, you can't appeal directly to the people individually or to their representatives, because they have none!"
Looking inward Symin said softly, "We rave about Mandel Bloodyhand because he established a Kingdom that lasted for almost a thousand years. Technically, I guess he did, but his Kingdom was solely a feudal one and it never changed. During the last three hundred years, there was never a time when there wasn't a war within its borders. Sometimes only a portion but at other times it included most of the Kingdom. Perhaps a feudal kingdom can last far longer than that but perhaps there's a period of time when it must change if it wants to survive."
Symin looked up at the three men. He told them, thoughtfully, "The next fifty or sixty years look very good for Camron. It'll be a very stable society, but Mandel Bloodyhand's Kingdom began to come apart after a long period of stability."
He put his hand out palm up, "We change or," and he turned his hand over, "perhaps we perish and we certainly won't last three hundred years. Tatrin would attack first and then Madron would have to do the same, because they couldn't let an aggressive rival such as Tatrin, take so much of Camron that they would be next. I simply can't see a stalemate, though it is a possibility. It's more likely, that one of the two would fall. I won't speculate any further than that except to say that a continent wide war would be a very likely event. How that would end I don't know, but wars don't do good things to people and the worse the war the worse the people end up." He put his hands down and rested them on his bare thighs.
King Hamar laughed, a deep booming sound, startling Symin. He sat up straight and stared at the King. Hamar waved his hand, saying, "Tam, either he's been reading those papers you had the people at the University prepare, or you should have hired Symin instead."
Tamen looked at his father. He said dryly, "I agree with you on the last father in a sense. In a few short sentences, Symin summarized what the historians at the University have been telling us after a couple of years of study. You know they're right or we wouldn't have been considering such drastic steps. However, aside from being intelligent, he has an advantage that the historians didn't. Symin's a noble and he has a noble's perspective, yet he's lived with peasants for the last year. So he knows how they will feel!! He has an instinctive knowledge of how to rule! He'd make a good ruler at any level, from Baron to King. He has compassion yet at the same time he has the ruthlessness that a ruler sometimes needs."
Symin went red with embarrassment, yet at the same time it felt good. He respected and liked Tamen. To receive a compliment from a man like him was truly, despite his embarrassment, a blissful experience.
Symin cleared his throat but there was still a soaring feeling inside of him and he had to pause until he regained his composure. Finally, he was able to continue. He told them, "It's still at the bottom of the ocean at the moment. We'll be staying at the Kosla Barony for a while. Kalli is working with the new Baroness and will be doing so for the next month or so, to reorganize the Barony revenue sources. The Barony has been getting some of it at least through the Brethren of the Coast. The pirate village is probably sixty or seventy years old, which means that not only was the previous Baron involved but his father and his grandfather."
Symin shook his head, telling them, "Kalli didn't tell me but I would think that she will eventually come to the conclusion that the Barony needs a period of exemption from taxes and tithes, which will of course affect the County taxes. I would think four or five years would probably be sufficient to reestablish a fishing industry on the Barony coast." Symin shook his head in disgust, his blond hair flying, saying with loathing, "There's probably no way to prove it but I would imagine that the former Count at least had to know and probably his father as well!!"
Symin said scathingly, "I went over Kosla's books with Kalli and Ashen, going back a hundred years. They were making more money from the fishing villages than they ever did from the pirates. Idiots who think that you gain something when you become dishonest!!" and the three men looked amused. "From the books Kalli and I found that the Barony was making about twenty-five percent of its revenues from the pirates!! If they'd ever bothered to look at their own books they would have found that the Barony's revenues dropped ten percent across the board, after they began hosting the pirates on their shore! They lost the fishing villages and then they had to supply the pirates!! What they got from the pirates never made up the difference!!"
Symin gave a snort of derision, saying with disgust, "Oh the hard money, the money they had to spend was much higher; they spent it and in the process they were depleting their actual resources!! The bite that Prince Vaughn took out of the Brethren four years ago was obviously hurting the Barony as well! Yet Kosla ignored that fact; he was squeezing his peasants to make up the difference!! He actually thought that he could make a move on Baron Chadress by forcing him to sell him one of his villages! Idiot!!! If he'd actually succeeded, his road to bankruptcy would have started this year!! Kosla would have found that after buying the village that he was essentially broke! He would have had to borrow to pay his taxes for this year and for the tithe that he had to pay the County. Another few years and the Barony would have been so deeply in debt that it would have been beyond saving."
King Hamar asked seriously, "What do you suggest, Symin. Obviously, from what we mentioned you realized that we were going to make some changes. How do you think we should start?'
Symin organized his thoughts, before telling them, "The first thing you need to do is reorganize the nobility! Right now, each level is almost separate! The Barons have duties to their Counts, the Counts have duties to their Dukes and the Dukes have duties to the Crown! As long as you consider each level as separate, you can't move forward! There are five Dukes! You must focus their activities!! Right now, they are only required to sit on their estates and do a bare minimum of work! However, all of them do much more than that!! They are in effect each the Governor of two provinces! You must establish in law that in fact that's exactly what they are, Governors!!"
Symin waved his small hand towards the east, saying, "You need to establish a Dukedom for the two northeast provinces!! As you found when you imposed the Edict of Exile on the Ascalons, our moral authority is far greater than it appears!" Giving a little grin. "The Duke must be an Ascalon!!! No other family can even hope to assume the role of Duke and expect to have the cooperation of the people and minor nobility!!"
Symin shook his head saying, "I don't think grandfather would want the position as Governor! However I think my Uncle Randon his heir, would enjoy it!! So create Grandfather as the Duke and make Randon the Governor! That would establish that you have the say in who the Governor is going to be!! I think my grandfather and Randon would both agree! That will give the Royal Family the moral authority so if in the future a Duke and his heirs are incompetents; you can decide that a Governor-Regent is necessary to represent the Duke, because you establish a precedent now!!"
Tamen said with amusement in his voice, "So instead of imposing a system of government which gives commoners immediate power, we impose it from the top down. I'm sure doing it that way would force the Duke's to rely on representatives of both the nobles and of the common people. Probably within two or three years, they'll ask us to recognize them as formal Councils. That's a good start."
Hamar and Vaughn laughed and the King said, "So instead of forcing them to make reforms by law, we force them to make changes from sheer necessity. Of course the fact that we no longer require their taxes to govern means that we can make laws we think are needed and the Governors will be required to implement them."
King Hamar sat back with a thoughtful look on his face. After a few minutes, he told Symin, "I'll give Kalli Senson carte blanche to deal with County Wymark, Symin! If she feels she needs several years of fifty or twenty-five percent exemption, tell her she has it. I'll send her a Royal Decree dealing with the subject by Courier."
"As for a place to store Mandel's treasure. I've seen treasure, raised, from the bottom of the sea before and it's usually encrusted with a covering that has to be removed. How long will it take us to remove that covering?" asked Hamar.
Symin smiled and suddenly he was holding a coin, as pristine as if it had just come from the mint. He told them, "While the Sedgewick's cargo may be like that since we simply don't know the ratio of gold, silver and copper, Mandel's came directly from the mines and the mint in Sothra and are all gold, both coins and gold bars. We simply Transport the gold and leave the encrustation behind."
Symin waved his hand again, but this time towards the southeast and Divandia, Madron's capital. He said, "Duke Rendar has been listening in through Terrion. He tells me that he'll tell his cousin and uncle and arrange for a place to store the gold we'll be sending them. We're going to need transport from Sothra to Polemn. While the Crown isn't giving the treasure back to them, if it arrives on a Naval galley, they will be impressed by that fact. They'll realize that it's officially sanctioned by the Royal Family and they will tend to look with favor on Camron."
Hamar nodded with agreement, "I'll arrange for my Far-Speaker to contact Sothra and have a galley waiting for you. You don't need any guards?"
Symin stood up and bowed a slow formal noble's bow, telling them, "If you don't have any questions, Your Majesty, I'll go now. When you decide where you want to put the gold, have Sinya contact me. As for guards, I don't think they'll be necessary. If there is anyone on this world who has the power to take it away from us, it wouldn't matter if we had an army." Grinning cheerfully and very dangerously, Symin disappeared. It was a bit of theatricality since he only Transported himself to the entrance. He walked out and across the street to the secluded spot where he had first appeared before Transporting back to the Barony.
Hamar turned to Tamen, shaking his head telling him, "I apologize, Tam. I know you told us about him, but he's astonishing. Symin told us about how the Clan Ascalon governed. Then he showed us that if we made his grandfather the Duke, while he didn't state it implicitly, he told us that any Ascalon would be very likely to establish Councils of nobles and commoners very quickly."
Tamen nodded, saying with a grin, "Yes father. He's still a child. I know that and sometimes he even acts like one." His grin widening, "But at other times it's very hard to realize that the person you're talking to is only eleven years old. I have a suggestion. The Ascalon Barony has existed as long as Camron has. If we can get an agreement from Armand Ascalon, when he becomes Duke we should transfer the title to Symin and enlarge his estates in the north to the size of a Barony. I think that aside from the small amount that he wants from the treasure if we give him another fifty thousand golds he'll be able to establish a viable Barony in the north and that'll tighten our grip there. It's always been weak, because people are reluctant to go there. That would also fix firmly in Fenla's mind that the Brown Forest Elves live in our country not theirs."
Both Hamar and Vaughn nodded in agreement.
In the end, the Mandel treasure had exceeded even Symin's estimate and had ended up being worth close to three million golds. The Sedgewick's treasure had been much harder to calculate. Almost all of the coins had come from Jalar, Land of Spires and there were almost no coppers. The rest of the treasure was composed of gold and silver objects. The coins were worth about two hundred thousand golds almost twenty-five percent more than they had been worth fifty years before and the rest which in weight was worth about another fifty thousand golds. The artistic value might double or even triple its value. Smaller gemstones probably increased the worth by thirty to fifty thousand golds.
They had gotten the large gemstones that they had been looking for. They had found almost thirty stones of a suitable size. Ironically, they found nineteen of them in Mandel's treasure ship.
The three boys watched the men beginning to transfer the treasure to the war galley. Then Symin said determinedly, "I made a promise to the guards at the Kosla Barony to deal with the Lesser Mage who performed Blood Magic on them! I think we have time to take care of that! I took one of the necklaces from the treasure and put a Compulsion on it!"
Terrion asked, with interest, "How do you expect to find him?"
Symin grinned, saying, "Well if we find the worst tavern in Sothra, I imagine they'll be able to tell us where he is."
Maxim looked up at the sky as if asking the Gods for help, before looking at Symin. He said, "You attract trouble like flies to honey. Why do you need to go looking for it?" and then answered his own question, "I know, a promise is a promise." and he grinned ruffling the smaller boy's hair.
Symin looked at the soldier assigned as their guard. He said to him, "Now, don't take this personally, Adar, but as a citizen of Sothra, I'm sure you know where all the nasty drinking places are. We want to find the worst one."
Adar, who was in his mid-thirties and as Symin suggested was certainly no stranger to the drinking establishments in his city. He was about to say something then remembered what his captain had told him when he had assigned him the task of guarding the boys. "Take them wherever they want to go. If you think it's dangerous don't worry, the King's Far-Speaker said they probably wouldn't hurt anyone...much."
Knowing his captain, Adar figured if he thought the boys could take care of themselves, they undoubtedly could, so obediently he turned and led the way. They didn't have to go far since the dock area was the worst in Sothra, once you got away from the docks themselves.
Finally, after about ten minutes he pointed out what was obviously a tavern, though it had no name sign. He said, sourly, "It's called the Black Star. It's got the worst reputation anywhere on the coast." saying the last part almost with pride.
The three boys went into the tavern with no trepidation, but Adar following them made up for their apparent casualness, putting his hand on his belt knife. The boys went up to the bar, the bartender looking at them with astonishment, "What the hell do youse want?"
"Information." Symin told him.
The bartender, also the owner said, "We don't give out no information here."
Symin took an empty mug, which was sitting on the bar and he moved it away from the three others with it. Suddenly it exploded, the shield he had established keeping the explosion from doing any damage to anything except for the mug. Suddenly everyone in the place was looking at the bar.
Symin said helpfully, "I can do the same thing to the barrels of wine and ale downstairs. That'll cost you money."
The owner put a fierce look on his face, trying to look like he wasn't intimidated, but the look he took at where the mug had been belied his expression and he shook his head.
Symin sighed, suddenly there was a tremendous explosion in the basement and the owner suddenly looked sick, as his customers began heading for the door. Symin smiled, telling him, "I chose a small barrel that time. The next one will be one of the six large ale barrels. That explosion will be heard way down in the City Guard headquarters."
The owner threw up his hands and said, "Who do you want?" and Symin put the image of the Lesser Mage that they were looking for into his mind. The owner looked appalled, "He's a Lesser Mage and he's mean, he'll take me to pieces a little at a time."
Symin said and his voice was so cold it sent a shiver up the owner's back. "Oh I don't think so, by the time I get finished with him, if he commits a crime of any kind, he might be able to get off of the floor. After an hour or so. Unfortunately, that means that even trying to hurt you will be a crime and the backlash could very well kill him. Now I'll start counting; at five and then ten, etc. one of your barrels will blow up." Symin began counting slowly, "One, two, three..."
The owner hurriedly looked at where the mug had exploded and said hastily, "Bluent Farnum, he has a house two blocks east. Anybody can direct you."
Symin nodded gravely saying, "A very wise decision." his large gray eyes twinkling. He turned to leave, the other two boys and Adar following him.
A few minutes later after stopping a slum kid, they found the house and knocked on the door. A sour-faced young woman in her mid to late twenties opened the door. Despite her sour look, she was a perceptive woman. The fact that two of the boys had very expensive belt knives and were crested told her that they were members of the nobility and therefore important despite their ages.
She gave a half-bow and asked, "How may I help you young sirs."
"We'd like to see Bluent Farnum, please," and Symin said it with a very dark look on his face. His Sense of Perception showed him that the woman had been beaten since she still had raw weals on her back.
Symin took a gold coin out of his belt pouch and handed it to her and she said, "Please follow me," she said respectfully, "my husband isn't busy at the moment." After they entered, she closed the door. Leading them upstairs, she held a door open as the boys and Adar entered. She suddenly found herself grabbed by the wrist by Symin and astonished by his strength she followed them into the room.
An arrogant looking man in his mid-thirties was sitting at a desk. When he looked up unlike his wife, he wasn't impressed with the expensive knives and crests of two of the boys. "What do you want?" he asked contemptuously.
Symin told him in cold voice, "I promised the people at the Kosla Barony that I'd take care of the Mage who created a Blood Oath Artefact."
The man looked at his wife with rage on his face, "You stupid bitch, why did you bring them up here." Gathering a Mind-Blast and hurtled it at her cowering form and it was stopped by a shield.
Maxim looked at the man with as much contempt as he had displayed towards them. "Stupid bastard. Playing around with magic without even bothering to look at our aura's first."
Shaken by the ease with which they had stopped his Mind-Blast, Farnum evoked Mage-Sight. He went white with fear while Maxim watched with a look of satisfaction on his face. Symin took out the necklace, which he had Tuned for Compulsion, concentrated on it, made a modification to it Attuning it to the Mage. The man watched the boy with apprehension, but when he tried to rise, he was unable to move. Symin slipped the necklace over the man's head.
He stepped back from the man and with a grim look on his small face told the man, "I'd make sure that you never take that necklace off for any reason. Its Attuned to you and taking it off could possibly kill you. It will certainly cause you intense pain until you get it back on. Aside from that, you should be very happy; I've just made you an honest man. Knowingly commit any crime and it'll hurt. The more serious the crime the worse the pain will be. Also if you ever hurt your wife again like you tried to do with that Mind-Blast, or the beating that you administered to her, you'll feel it five times as bad as she will." Symin said ironically, "Enjoy my little present." Turning he headed toward the door winking at the man's astonished wife as he passed her, heading for the stairs followed by his companions.
Symin stopped at the base of the stairs, an amused look on his face. He said, "He doesn't listen very well, or maybe he didn't believe me." as a scream of anguish came from upstairs. It continued for about fifteen seconds and then suddenly stopped. Symin chuckled, then voiced his opinion, "I think he's learned his lesson about taking it off. I don't think he'll do that again!" and there was humor in his voice and both Maxim and Terrion felt the same way, thinking he fully deserved Symin's little gift. Adar simply looked thoughtfully at the three boys.
The wagons came up from the wharf, escorted by fifty armed sailor-soldiers. It stopped in front of the Merchant's Guildhall. Symin dressed in his formal garb jumped down and ran up the stairs saying to the door guard, "I'd like to see your Guildmaster. Is he inside or do you have to send for him?"
The guard was quite familiar with Camron's system of nobility and was well aware that only the nobility wore red. The crest on Symin's right shoulder and the fancy jeweled dagger confirmed his impression that despite his age this was an important visitor.
He said respectfully, "He's inside, sir. Jaeram please fetch him," he said to the small naked boy who was standing waiting to deliver messages eyes wide at the display in front of him. When the boy didn't pay any attention he gave him a light swat on the back of the head to get his attention and surprised the boy looked up at him, "Jaeram, fetch the Guildmaster and tell him that we have an important guest."
The boy nodded his head saying, "Yes, sir," well aware that if it had been any of the other guards the swat would have been hard enough to give him a headache for a couple of days. Jaeram darted inside the building, returning a few minutes later followed by a small fussy looking man.
Symin's shrewd mind however saw the steel behind the apparent fussiness and he nodded to the man respectfully, telling him, "My name is Symin Ascalon and I've got an important cargo for you." He led the man down the stairs to the back of one of the wagons. Symin took a small box placed there simply to demonstrate what was in the rest of the boxes.
Opening it, he held it so the Guildmaster could see it. The man's blue eyes went wide with astonishment. There were Land of Spires gold coins, filling the box half full, a golden goblet and a gold necklace lying on top of them.
The Guildmaster reached into the box reverently. "This can't be from the Sedgewick can it?" he asked overwhelmed.
Symin nodded, telling him, "It is." The Guildmaster looked up and then at the number of wagons in the square.
"How much of it did you bring up and why bring it here, we know the basic law of salvage? If you find it you own it." the man asked, deflating a little.
Symin told him solemnly, "We brought all of it up and aside from eleven gemstones and a necklace everything is here. We're giving it back to Polemn. To those who lost it in the first place. Those of us who found it, only wanted the gemstones; however, we are also loyal citizens of our countries. Giving it back to Polemn, could put you back into the position of chief city of Tatrin. If that happens, border skirmishes should decline and that is important to Camron. In fact the Crown allowed us a tax exemption, so not even the normal ten percent tax has been removed."
The Guildmaster's startled eyes went wide, in astonishment, "Why?!! You could have been wealthy beyond your wildest dreams!!"
Symin grinned with amusement, "My dreams about wealth aren't particularly wild. Why would my friends and I need all that money? For food?" Suddenly Symin was holding two apples one in each hand that he had Transported from his grandfather's orchards. He handed one of them to the Guildmaster and bit into the other. The man looked at in wonder for a few seconds before he bit into his. They ate the apples companionably and then when Symin was finished, he said, "While most crops are owned by someone, there are many foods that grow wild, such as mushrooms and nuts and wild rice. Fish are free, if you can catch them. I could Transport them here just as I did with the apples. The same for wild game."
Symin shrugged philosophically, "We need money for some things such as the clothes that I'm wearing. However as rich and costly as they are compared to a normal child's clothing they still cost less than one gold to produce so we don't need enormous amounts just to live. Why would we need something like seventy thousand golds or more each for the five of us? No it works much better coming here. If in the next fifty years we lessen the chances of border skirmishes by fifty percent or more, how many lives does that save? How much money is a life worth, Guildmaster?" Symin asked rhetorically.
The Guildmaster looked at Symin shrewdly and he realized that the boy was completely serious. Money to him was less important than a life. Symin grinned and said, "As a merchant I'm aware that you can't afford to be so charitable, but," He put his left hand on the tattooed crest, "this is only a small part of what I am. I'm a Mage as well and money isn't as important to us as it is to most people."
The Guildmaster smiled, nodding, turning to Jaeram who had followed them ready to perform any duty that was required of him. He instructed the boy, "Jaeram go ring the Guildhall bell. Do you know what the signal is for a ship coming in?"
"Yes sir! Two three and two!!" the boy answered brightly.
"Very good!! Go!!!" and the boy turned and ran toward the Guildhall and a few seconds later the bell began to ring. As the wagons were unloaded and the cargo carried into the Guildhall, merchants began to gather, wondering what was going on. As far as they knew, no ship was due in.
One of the merchants yelled to the Guildmaster, "Guildmaster Savron, what's going on?"
Savron mounted the steps and at the top, he turned and faced the crowd of merchants, hands on hips, a satisfied look on his face. He addressed the crowd, "This doesn't concern all of you, but anyone whose family had a share in the treasure on the Sedgewick; well that's what is being unloaded. Symin Ascalon and his friends and the Crown of Camron are giving it back to us. That's why I had the bell rung," he said quietly, "in a sense the Sedgewick has finally come home."
At about mid-day, the three boys snapped into view as they Transported to a Temple of the Mother-Goddess in southern Tatrin. Symin and Terrion were wearing their formal clothing, Terrion's similar to Symin's except they were in green. Light green short trousers with the Farlei crest embroidered in gold on the right leg. The seams unlike Symin's stitched with gold thread rather than silver, indicating that he was heir to a noble title. The green belt had elaborate gold cross-stitching with the belt pouch also bleached to a pure white leather. The sandals had the same motif as the belt, being green, with gold cross-stitching.
Terrion also had on a light short-sleeved pullover shirt, which almost looked white but was actually a very light shade of green, the Farlei crest on the breast. Somewhat incongruously, the crest was three stalks of wheat, on a green background, surrounded by a gold border. That was the Royal Crest, acknowledging that the founders of modern Madron were of humble birth, the humblest in fact since they had both been slaves. The addition of the crossed swords behind the stalks of wheat was a variation, used by the Farlei family. The sleeveless buttonless vest was also green with the crest in gold on the right breast.
Maxim's garb was much simpler. He was wearing a light brown pair of short trousers, a cream-colored pullover shirt and a darker brown sleeveless vest, with regular sandals. Normally, he went barefoot. Symin's large gray eyes narrowed, when there was no sign of alarm coming from the Temple. He said, "We weren't trying to hide our Transportation so the Ward certainly should be sensitive enough to pick it up. Obviously they aren't using the Diamond Obsidian stone to it's fullest potential."
Picking up the beater, Symin rang the gong at the front door of the living quarters, to announce their presence. After a couple of minutes, a man in his early forties appeared at the door. From the way he was panting, it was obvious he had been rushing. Seeing the garb Symin and Terrion were wearing, he looked around expecting to see a carriage or at least some horses and guards.
When he didn't see them, he was somewhat puzzled but he said in an obvious Camron accent. "I apologize, young Sirs; normally we have an Acolyte watching the door." He smiled, "It's somewhat of a punishment assignment, since you are the first visitors we have had in over a month. The local people normally go through the Temple itself. Even if they wish to consult with one of the Priests or Priestesses in private they aren't considered visitors, simply members of our congregation."
Out of respect for his calling, both Symin and Terrion gave him the slow formal nobles bow while Maxim gave him the half bow of commoners. Symin said, "I'm Symin Ascalon of Camron and this is Terrion Farlei of Madron and my friend Maxim Ascalon. We would like to see the Chief Priestess."
The man grimaced and then said, "I'm Kethan young sir. She's not in a good mood at the moment." He sighed, "But then again she never is. It's an unhappy Temple I'm afraid young Sirs. Please follow me; I'll take you to her. I'm afraid that she's eating lunch with the rest of the community not that she would want to see you in private anyway. She likes to show off in front of the rest of the Priests and Priestesses."
Symin said with some amusement, "You're not worried that we'll tell her about your criticism?"
The priest said astringently, "Certainly not, young Master Ascalon!! I criticize her to her face daily! I've sent complaints to Tatrin's Chief Temple but they've ignored them up to now." He shrugged and grinned, "But then again I'm not sure that they've ever arrived. I have no indication of it! She's a distant cousin of the King of Tatrin and her family is influential, so I wouldn't be surprised if lower ranking Priests are intercepting the messages. For the good of the Temple and of course, their belt pouches. I understand her family pays well. We have a Ward so that we don't need Mages and without her express permission, I can't leave the Temple without leaving the order. Things haven't gotten quite that bad, at least not yet." Kethan finished cynically.
Symin reached out with his mind and within a few seconds, he was in contact with his Great-Grandmother. *Hello, Symin dear, since it's the middle of the day and not the usual time you contact me just for conversation, I assume there's something more serious that you want to talk to me about? How may I help you?* asked Avoe.
Symin told her, *We're in southern Tatrin at one of your Temples. There are indications that the Chief Priestess may be abusing her power, counting on her relation to the Royal Family to protect her.* Symin said. *This Temple is Warded with the last of the Diamond Obsidian stones that we plan to replace. If you would come into my mind and simply watch. Perhaps the Priest who is taking us to the Chief Priestess is simply exaggerating but he doesn't seem the type. Our conversation should be interesting.*
When they entered the dining hall, the Chief Priestess was berating a young Acolyte in a shrill voice. However, she didn't really seem to know what the Acolyte had done, or even if he had done anything since her tirade went in half a dozen different directions. One second bemoaning the fact that the world was coming to ruin, the next bewailing the fact that the youth of today didn't know what was good for them.
The Priest with the boy kept trying to get some words out of his mouth and she kept telling him to shut up. The Priest with the boys, Kethan shook his head in disgust moving in front of the Chief Priestess, bringing her tirade down on himself. However he simply stared at her and she began to run down, having long since given up on trying to get him to obey her.
"Chief Priestess Tarla." the man, said reasonably, "The boy simply wishes to visit his family. He received a message that his grandmother is dying. He would like to say goodbye before that happens."
Tarla's lips tightened, "Denied. The little brat always seems to be asking for something just because his father is a Baron. It's just like you Kethan to defend the nobility."
Kethan said politely, "I assure you that I show no favoritism to the nobility Tarla. After all, if I did, then I would have to respect you and your family in spite of the way you continue to act. The boy has been here for six months and this is the first time he has asked for anything. Your policy of denying the Acolytes permission to go home is somewhat disturbing, especially in light of the fact that you visit your home every six weeks."
The argument continued and showed no sign of abating, as the Chief Priestess ranted and Kethan used reason. Symin grinned, the more reasonable that Kethan was the madder Tarla got. Symin said to the other two boys, **It doesn't look like we're going to get to talk to her anytime soon. I think I'll find the Ward stone and see if I can disable it. That'll allow us to Transport you here Great-Grandmother and I really would like to see that confrontation, it should be a really interesting event.**
Symin sat down on the floor, leaning back against Maxim's legs so he wouldn't fall over and evoked his Astral form. The jangle he had been feeling in his mind since they had entered the building drew him quickly to the Ward stone. The Diamond Obsidian stone really wasn't that big considering many Symin had seen in the past. Nevertheless, in the wrong hands, it was still more dangerous than any gemstone could ever be. Symin pulled out his dagger piercing the stone to render it useless. The dagger drank greedily of the power in the stone, but it was not even partially filled before the power was gone. He let go and snapped back into his body.
Symin said, *Great-Grandmother would you like to handle this in person?*
Avoe returned dryly, *I'd be delighted Symin. Obviously, people have been lying about her. She's been a Priestess for thirty years so they've been doing it for a long time. I think I need to shake up the Tatrin branch of the Church.*
Symin stood up and grinned at his two friends, large gray eyes dancing with humor. "Let's Transport her behind the Chief Priestess and we'll see how long it takes for Tarla to know she's there."
The other two boys stifled their laughter at the very thought. They reached out with their minds and suddenly Avoe, Chief Priestess of the Mother-Goddess Temple on Lythea was standing behind the Chief Priestess of the small Temple. Kethan wasn't surprised. A high Magic User he had felt the sudden spike of extraordinary power, which had come and gone quickly as the boys Transported the woman. The other Priests and Priestesses, Novices and Acolytes were staring at her with shock, but Tarla wasn't perceptive enough to notice, she just kept ranting and raving.
Kethan grinned and he began to move Tarla turning with him. Once he was far enough so that Tarla could see Avoe, he bowed to her and Tarla abruptly snapped her mouth closed. In the complete silence, it was clearly audible.
Avoe said with seeming mildness, "I am somewhat annoyed at you, Tarla."
Symin said, with amusement, "In other words she's really, really pissed off."
Avoe inclined her head, "As Symin said I'm really, really pissed off at you and certainly parts of the Temple structure in Tatrin. I don't really know which parts yet, but I intend to find out. Your removal as Chief Priestess here is the first step; in fact, you're no longer a Priestess at all. You will return with me to Temple City and for the next two years as a penance, you will become a servant of the Temple. After that your vows can be annulled if you wish or you can start all over again as an Acolyte."
There was dread on Tarla's face as she knew not even her powerful relatives could help her now. Avoe turned to Kethan. She asked, "How much damage has she done here Kethan?"
He said judiciously, "Not as much as you might be thinking. I take full responsibility for my actions, but as senior Priest I countermanded almost all of her orders and the others knowing how unstable she was, obeyed me."
Avoe nodded in understanding, "Normally in such a case you would be punished, but in this case I think you were completely justified so you will be rewarded. I make you the Chief Priest of this Temple starting now. Keep it quiet, I don't want anyone to know the Examiner's are coming until they actually arrive." She smiled like a shark. "I want to take a bite out of those who've betrayed the Temple before they have time to know what's happened to them."
Avoe looked at the three boys and nodded with approval, "Thank you for bringing this to my attention." Her eyes narrowed as Terrion and Maxim smiled and bowed to her, but Symin's face was grave. She asked, "Do you wish to speak to me before you Transport us back to Temple City, Symin?"
Great-Grandmother." He looked at the other boys and then said,
"In private please." He said in apology to Terry and Maxim,
"This concerns the Link but it mainly concerns me. You will know
what it is in time." and they simply nodded.
They were in the greeting room in the rooms of the former Chief Priestess where there were a couple of comfortable armchairs. Symin said with some uneasiness, "The Gods set us a task Great-Grandmother. We have almost completed the first part of that assignment. The only thing left to do is replace the Diamond Obsidian Ward stone here in the Temple with a normal gem stone."
She nodded,, noting the sadness in his large gray eyes.
Symin said unhappily, "Once we do that then our task is not on our world but in other universes. It's very dangerous and it's quite possible all of us could die. A former God has been stripped of much of his power by his people for causing a war in their universe." He moved uneasily. "Unfortunately he is still an immortal and still has more power than any mortal or group of mortals could possibly match. We must set a trap for him using Diamond Obsidian stones."
Symin's voice trembled for a moment then became steadier as he said, "There is a problem and none of the others in the Link are aware of it at the moment. I have a solution, but using it means that whether we fail or if we succeed I won't be coming back."
"I'm afraid Great-Grandmother." Symin said almost in a whisper as tears began to trickle down his cheeks. He threw himself into her arms and began to cry much harder, feeling comforted by those loving arms around him.
After about five minutes his tears began to subside and he pushed himself to his feet, his tears slowed to a trickle. She looked into his eyes searchingly and though there was still sadness in the depths, there was a new resolution as well and an acceptance. Her heart began to ache, as she knew that she would probably never see him again.
Symin went over to the corner where there was a washstand and pouring water from a pitcher into the basin, he took a washcloth and washed his face. When he came back and sat down his face was serene. He said calmly, "I didn't intend to say goodbye to anyone. It will bring pain to friends and relatives before it's necessary."
Symin told her, "I don't think Maxim plans to say goodbye either. It seems to be a trait, which comes from our common heritage as Ascalons. I've read accounts in the Ascalon library about ancestors who knew in advance they had something dangerous to do. They very seldom said goodbye. I always thought it was a wise decision because you can never prepare yourself for a relative's death. They simply have time to worry needlessly. Perhaps I'm wrong but that's the way I feel."
Symin smiled wryly, "I'm sorry, but if this incident hadn't happened; if it hadn't been so important to the Temple of the Mother-Goddess I would have just let you see it and deal with it from Temple City. I felt it was a significant event that you should deal with in person. Otherwise, I wouldn't have told you. Duke Rendar who is part of the Link through Terry will know what happens and he could tell you about it."
"When you go on these periodic adventures of yours is this the way it happens?" Avoe asked trying to hide her emotions.
Symin shrugged, "Usually." he hesitated, "People consider me much more mature than other children of my age." he said uncomfortably, "although that's not completely accurate. I simply look at things differently from the other children I know. I actually see two viewpoints. I see it as the child I actually am, yet at the same time I can see it the way an adult would, at least to a certain extent. That doesn't usually happen with other children."
Symin explained, "Terry and Maxim look at what we're going to be doing from a child's perspective. That doesn't mean that they don't appreciate the danger we're going into, or the fact that we might die. Their resolve is just as firm as any adult's would be. Most children tend not to look at things beyond tomorrow or perhaps next week. I think that's the main difference between them and me. I look at how what I do will affect things long term, in months and years."
Symin paused for a moment before saying, "When I had to take that terrible ride to Temple City, my child's viewpoint was that it was to save my Great-Grandmother. My other viewpoint was how it would affect the future of our world. I could see that the religious and social consequences would have been serious perhaps catastrophic if the city had been destroyed. The leadership of several Temples and especially the Temple of the Mother-Goddess would have died. The various groups in other parts of the continent might have fragmented with no central leadership. There was a very real possibility that religious wars could have broken out and destroyed the society of the whole continent."
Avoe suddenly looked disconcerted at his gentle backhand slap at the policies she and the other leaders had decided upon at the time by not evacuating the city. Symin giggled showing the child side of him and then after he controlled himself, he said, "If you're wondering if risking my life was for nothing, it wasn't. If you had evacuated the city, then the leadership of course wouldn't have been there. If the Obsidian Stone had exploded then the buildings of the central Temples would have been gone as well as all the records. It would have taken enormous amounts of money to rebuild something built up over a thousand plus years. It could still have caused fragmentation of the religions."
Symin explained, "In a sense the buildings are as important to a society as the leadership. If you're a nomadic people then all you need are tribal leaders. As soon as people start settling down in large groups what does the tribe do. It builds a home for the leader, which is larger and better appointed than the homes of his people are. He needs a place where he can have space to greet visitors, sit in judgment when necessary. The tribe would want it in a place, which is large enough to at least accommodate the more important members of the tribe. Over time the large houses become castles and then palaces."
"We have a need for a visible leadership. Even those who rebel against a system are often comfortable with it. They simply donít feel the leadership is doing a good job and they can do it better."
Symin shrugged and grinned, "Oh well, thatís human nature and it seems to apply to all of the races of humanity on our world whether a Halfling, a human an Elf or a giant."