The two men looked up when there was a knock on the open door. It had to be a child, with the door open an adult would simply have walked in. It was not considered polite for a child to do the same unless it was the house of a relative or a close friend. Tone walked to the door and grinned down at the little boy standing in the door.
“Yes, Dimi?” The boy grinned back, showing he was missing two of his top teeth.
He said cheerfully, “Da said, messages from the capital for you and your father.” and he handed the two parchment sheets folded and sealed.
Tone took the messages and reaching into his belt pouch he flipped a copper to the boy, who grinned again and nodded his thanks. Turning he walked to the table and handed his father the one addressed to him and broke the seal.
To Tone, Son of Darrow,
You are one of 24 people, 12 men and twelve women chosen by the Guardian Stone to replace the Council members whose rank and ninety percent of their property has been stripped from them.
Only Harden of the hereditary Council members has retained his position, but for the past misdeeds of his family he too has been fined fifty percent of his estate.
I have suspended the requirement that only one priest may be on the Council. Santaro, Priest of Dwen will retain the position of Finance and Carrow, Priest of Salnow has been given the position of War.
Of the 24 that have been chosen, all have the ability to become Council members and only 8 will be chosen. However, I must consider the aspect of personality. Not all of the 24 will be able to work with each other, so the eight that can get along best with each other, the present Council members and me will be chosen.
Please make your way to the capital as quickly as possible, we are under war footing.
Sardi, King of the Devant Islands
Tone looked up at his father. “I have been chosen as a possible Councilor, Father what did you receive?”
Darrow grunted, then said, “I've been summoned to the capital to take charge of the training of the men for the war galleys, since I am the only one, on the Islands, experienced in actual large scale galley battles.” He grinned at his son, “Carrow added a postscript. He told me not to ignore Sardi as I have done with the Council, in the past. He says Sardi has no hesitation about killing, or punishing those who oppose him.”
“What do you think, father?” Tone asked.
Darrow said significantly, “Carrow doesn't give warnings lightly. We do as we're told this time, or we'll regret it.”
Sardi and Tor moved through the room separately, though it would be Dee who would be making the choices of who would become Council members. He had already eliminated five. Three of them so obviously disliked children that it would have been impossible to work with them. Two of them were so arrogant that after ten minutes nobody else would go near them.
As they were winnowed out they were separated and simply directed into the next room. They were provided with enough money to pay their expenses in getting to the capital and getting back to their homes.
Dee was looking at the remaining people with some amusement. He had intended to choose four men and four women. All five who had been eliminated, so far, had been men, so there were only seven men left. If they weren't compatible he wouldn't try to force it. If all eight turned out to be women, so be it.
However he had already chosen two though they didn't know it yet, Tone, son of Darrow and Deila, ironically daughter of Harden, at least he was pretty sure of them. It depended on how well they got along with the present Council members. The three other Council members entered and Dee simply sat and watched them conversing with each other. He eliminated three more in that way, they were simply overbearing and in a discussion would ignore other people's opinions. Two were women and one was a man and once Dee spoke to a servant, they too disappeared into the next room.
He motioned to Harden, to join him. Harden had spent several minutes in conversation with one young woman. Dee motioned for Harden to sit beside him on the bench. He asked, “Is she as empty headed as she seems, or is that just a front?” Harden looked at the little boy. He had become more and more impressed with him over the last few days.
He told him, “It's a front Dee. I knew her father and he was one of the most intelligent men I ever knew and he hid his intelligence in a similar fashion.”
“All right I have three choices so far.” Dee said, “Cyndia, Tone and your daughter Deila. I hope you don't mind working with women, because there's ten women left and only five men.”
Harden grinned, saying with amusement, “I've got a wife, five grown daughters and a mother living under the same roof. If I couldn't work with women I'd have headed for the mainland a long time ago.”
Dee smothered a giggle, then said, “Well nobody was told to leave their arms at home and sensibly all but two brought them. Now let's see how they deal with an unexpected emergency. Tor is in position.”
He had hung a spell earlier and he said very low, “ATTACK,” to invoke it and the intent and a small gesture. Suddenly the door burst open and they were under assault. Dee got a sudden glimpse of why one of them hadn't bothered with weapons. He reacted faster than any of the others, grabbing hold of Tor and throwing him back away from the attackers. Dee winced as Tor landed on his backside and there was sudden pain on his brother's face. However by the time Tor had landed and received a sore bottom, three of the attackers were down and the man had a sword in both hands.
If it hadn't been such a big room and they hadn't been so far from the door, the first man could have held the door all by himself. As it was he delayed the attackers long enough for the others to get organized. Tone and Deila were suddenly with him and there was suddenly a second row of five behind them, Tor was jerked to his feet by the collar of his tunic and shoved further away from the attackers. Harden and Dee looked on as two of the men and two of the women just stood there looking stupid.
The attackers began to advance and then Dee clapped his hands and they all disappeared. He watched the prospective Council members. Two men and one woman had looks of disgust on their faces as they looked at Dee. He looked carefully at the others and none of them appeared dismayed by the display of magic, once they recovered from what they thought was an attack.
Dee pointed at the three. He said, “You can't deal with magic, so you can leave and you four.” Staring at the four who had just stood there looking stupid. “Obviously, you're followers not leaders, so you can leave as well.”
He looked at the eleven who were left. He said, “I have chosen Tone, Deila and Cyndia as members of the Council. The rest of you are all suited to sit on the Council. The Council is going to be predominately made up of women obviously. I would suggest that the eight of you who are left simply have a draw. The method the previous Council members used when they wanted to hold a secret vote was to use white and black balls. Put five white into a box and three black and the ones who get the white will be on the Council. The others will serve as alternates. Three of the men who I didn't choose didn't like children and would not have been able to get along with me. Once I've aged a little they won't have any problems.”
Dee stated, “Terms for membership on the Council. For the moment it will be for the present war time emergency only. I will re-examine it after that emergency is over and then no term will be for more than two years. However, I or my successors may give you as many terms as we choose. It simply won't be a life title.”
Dee grinned and asked, “How are you doing little brother? I noticed you landed a little hard there.”
Tor said philosophically, “I did volunteer. I've got a sore bum and my neck is a little sore, but it's not too bad.”
Dee stood up and bowed to the new Councilors and the alternates. “I thank you for your fast reaction times. If that had been a real attack, both Toron and I would have well served by those remaining here. Perhaps this test wasn't necessary, but it served two purposes. It told me who hated magic and therefore would probably be unable to work with me. I am a Mage first and foremost, then a King, which is not a position I wanted but one I had to take.
He sighed, then said, “I do not know if all of you are aware of why I became King. The Guardian Stone can only be awakened by a Mage. Once awake then any heir to the Royal family, keeps it awake and allows the King to work magic. By putting the Scepter and the Coronet in the hands of the Chief Temple of Salnow, the Council thought they made it impossible for the Royal Family ever to be reestablished. According to a flaw written in the newer versions of the `Sacred Text of Salnow', they thought that no one could ever access it because the Text said that no one but the clergy could enter the Chief Temple. In point of fact our Master, Tomos had a copy of the Sacred Text, though he could only read a bit of it, so he was unaware of what it was. The book that he had was much older than the book that the Priests have been using and it says no man or woman rather than no one.”
Dee explained, “Children aren't barred from entering the Chief Temple. Tor and I used a map spell, to see if we could find a Journeyman Mage on the Islands, who was young enough to enter the Temple." He shook his head, saying, "We could not find one. I was forced to take the crown because the Orb is awake and the only possible chance to stop an invasion is the Guardian Stone. I found it and with the Guardian Stone, I was able to create the galleys and raise the barrier to protect the Islands. Unfortunately, to learn how to use the galleys will take time. If they attacked now, they could destroy our fledgling fleet and overwhelm any defense we could manage on land.”
Dee speculated, “If they give us two months, then we might survive, if they give us four months, then it's stalemate.” Dee paused, then said, “I don't know why they haven't attacked. They've had eighteen years. I would have attacked within the first year long before the Islands would even have known about the reawakening of the Orb.”
The young pageboy standing beside Dee, raised his hand and Dee nodded and said, “Yes, Zend? You have an idea.” Zend was Harden's eight year old grandson and was one of the first half a dozen pages brought into the Palace. He was standing beside Dee's chair holding a tray on which there was something covered with a cloth.
Zend was blushing and was trembling and a couple of tears began to fall. Dee reached out and gently brushed a tear away. He said, reassuringly, “No tears, Zend. I'll take ideas from anyone, I might even take one from Tell.” Many of those in the room knew the man and there was a murmur of laughter at his expense. Tell, who was one of the two guards on the door, straightened indignantly.
Zend relaxed a bit, but his voice was still trembling a little as he said, “What if the New Empire leadership got caught by surprise and they've been delaying because they don't really want a war.”
Dee smiled at the younger boy, whose face glowed with happiness. He nodded and said approvingly, “Very good, Zend. Santaro please put on a list that Zend is to get two golds as a bonus for his idea. Let this be known throughout the Palace. If you have a idea, tell someone about it. It may be something someone has already thought of, or it may be a lousy idea, in that case no reward will be given. If it's a good idea and nobody has thought of it then you will get a reward, ranging from one silver to ten golds.” Zend stood a little straighter.
Dee continued. “The New Empire is a regimented nation, however it's not regimented in a military sense. Aside from border skirmishes, they've only fought one war in the last one thousand years. Their rulers are not soldiers, they're administrators. Suddenly what they regarded as simply an unimportant ritual produced a Chosen One. The Chosen One can't be a very forceful person, or they would have been made to attack.”
Dee said vigorously, “That won't last forever!! Eventually the military will get tired at the delays and stage a coup. If successful then they will begin to plan on war. As I said if they delay four months then it'll be stalemate. However, they can afford a stalemate, we can't. If a military government takes over or if the present government gets the proper incentive, then they can easily out-build us. The Islands simply don't have the timber to build any further war galleys. The New Empire could outnumber us four to one if they chose to build that many galleys.”
He pointed upward, saying, “Unlike the Orb, the Guardian Stone doesn't really sleep, so what I did in a sense was reactivate it, not awaken it. During the dormant period the Guardian Stone was continually gathering power. Power which I was able to use to create the galleys. That initial reservoir of power is gone and with the barrier up, the Guardian Stone is using most of its energy to sustain it. So major spells won't be possible as long as the Orb is also awake.”
“In four months, if nothing changes, we'll bring the war to them.” Dee said calmly. He reached over and removed the cloth from the tray that Zend was holding. He took a small clay jar off the tray and put it in front of him. He nodded to the boy, saying, “Thank you, Zend. Will you please fetch the box now?”
Dee looked at the others, who were staring at the clay jar. Carrow asked, “Dragon's Breath?”
Dee nodded, saying, “Yes, but it is much more useful than normal Dragon's Breath.”
He picked up the jar and holding it above the floor he dropped it and several of the Council flinched expecting it to shatter and fire to appear. But not those who had known Dee longer. They knew he wouldn't endanger people needlessly.
The jar hit the floor and then fell on its side and began rolling. Dee let it stop before using his inborn talent to raise it from the floor and then it flicked into his hand, slapping his palm. He said solemnly, “It's protected by magic. You could crush it and nothing would happen. Put it into an arbalest spearhead designed to take Dragon's Breath jars and when the spearhead hits something, the velocity imparted by the arbalest, will crush the jar in a different manner. That will allow the two powders to mix and burst into flame, setting fire to the Dragon's Breath.”
Carrow said thoughtfully. “That means that it can be used on board a ship.”
Dee nodded, telling them, “Yes and if necessary will be. As I said if it becomes a stalemate I would advise you to attack and I can only advise you because if we're still in the same situation in four months times Tor and I will be dead. In three months time we will see if we can't destroy the Orb.” Dee said matter-of-factly.
He took the box that Zend held out to him and he opened it. He took out a red ball, about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. He said, “There are six of these balls in the box, including this one and what this does is choose another heir. It's limited to the Islands and we took much greater care on this than we did on the spell to choose the Councilors, if necessary we could always have chosen more. They are numbered from one to six and the first four will only choose adults. For the last two we didn't set the same strictures on them as the others and they may or may not choose children. About a quarter of each ball is made up of material from the Guardian Stone and the rest comes from some rather nice rubies the former Council had in the Treasure Room. The amount of the Guardian Stone in these balls is enough to keep it awake when it bonds to an heir. I have to tell you that just because you might get a ball doesn't mean that you automatically become the next heir. You are simply potential heirs so that the Guardian Stone will always remain awake. Once someone becomes King or Queen when they have children, the children become heirs and take precedence over the holders of these balls.”
Dee released the ball and it traveled about ten feet and dropped in front of Deila. In wonder, she picked it up and realizing that there was a chain of the same color attached to the ball she put it over her head. Dee reached in for the second ball and holding it up he released it. It traveled an even shorter distance, to drop in front of Tone. He looked at in amazement and put it around his neck.
Taking out the third ball Dee released it and it simply disappeared. He smiled and said, “Obviously the third isn't in this room.”
The fourth and fifth also disappeared. Dee released the last ball and it hovered in front of Harden. Then darted back to Dee, then back to Harden. Dee looked at it thoughtfully and then asked Harden, “How old are you, Harden?”
“I'll be sixty in three days.” Harden said, watching the ball travel back and forth between Dee and him.
Dee said with a grin, “That's the problem, we put a stricture on them so they wouldn't chose anyone over sixty. No offense intended, but sixty is old for our society, though not particularly old in your social strata. Normally most of them would be chosen from a lower strata. You are so close to sixty that the ball can't make a decision. However you are under sixty and in your strata you can expect to live another twenty to twenty-five years. If you wish to become an heir I will direct it to chose you.”
Harden said forcefully, “I do not intend to spend my remaining years possibly ruling our society, if by some horrible accident of fate, the rest of you die!”
Dee giggled, then tried to make his face solemn as he grasped the ball again and closed his eyes for a moment and concentrated. When he opened his eyes again, he released the ball and it moved about eighteen inches and hovered in front of Zend's eyes. Dee said gently, “Put the box down on the table, Zend.” When the little boy did so and held out his hands the ball dropped into them. He stared at it, eyes wide in wonder. Dee took it from him and put it around his neck.
“Harden, it appears that your family might have ended up being the Royal Family, if things had gone another way.” Dee said. He grinned, “Not a fate I'd wish on anyone. Those who were outside this room will know what they've gotten, because the ball will tell them what its purpose is. Remember these balls confer no extra privileges. Don't expect to get anything for getting one and you won't be treated any differently. In Zend's case if he ends up earning a whipping, as many boys do, he'll receive it. The only thing it gives you, if it becomes necessary, is a duty to your people. One of the criteria that Tor and I set was the willingness to accept that duty, however you feel about the position.”
Deila said softly, “Those who have been near you since you arrived know that being a King is not a position that you would have chosen. Unlike many who actively seek such a position, you look on it as a duty and despite your age the position fits comfortably on your small shoulders.”
Dee nodded, saying, “Thank you. Now down to business. We have a possible war to plan and several contingencies to prepare for.”
The Council looked at the beautiful little sloop. She was only about a quarter the size of the war galleys and slender. Made only for speed, she had no means of defense except for the bows the rowers and sailors would carry. Like the galleys that Dee spelled into being she had one sail. Dee spoke quietly, knowing that Tor could hear even though the sloop was two hundred yards out into the harbor, “Okay, Tor. Now.”
It took about ten seconds and then the sloop just disappeared. Dee said conversationally. “The balls that Tor and I have, are fully made up material from the Guardian Stone. With one we can make the sloop disappear as you see.” He waved his arm and the galley was suddenly visible again. “The sloop also has a ball placed in its bow. With both balls, it will allow us to travel in the territory that the Orb covers without being affected. Just in case something happens and she suddenly becomes visible, she's fast enough to run away from any of the galleys on either side.”
He explained, “Once we land, the ball set into the bow will keep it invisible, as long as it doesn't move. We'll need about a dozen guards to protect Tor and I when we go ashore. Those who go ashore with us probably won't be coming back whether we succeed or are discovered and fail. Only if there is no way to get near the Orb will there be any possibility of getting away and I don't foresee anything like that happening. It would require a Mage to stop us and the Orb will not work with Mages of any kind whether wizards, or sorcerers. It blocks their power. It creates its own magic users. However, they don't have the training of an ordinary Mage. Tor and I will only be able to use our magic because we'll carrying the balls from the Guardian Stone. It's very likely that the sloop won't be able to get back either so all volunteers must know this will probably be a one way trip.”
Dee waved at the little ship, saying, “We'll require rowers and sailors to man her and a few days to get used to her ways. Tennen has finished his story about us, up to the moment.” Dee grinned, “He's found a more than competent Bard to finish it, depending on what happens. He started with us and he wants to go all the way. Despite the fact that he's a Bard, he's as good with weapons as any Islander according to Carrow. He'll be landing with us and so will Carrow and Dent. Dent is probably the best warrior we have, Carrow's not that far behind and we should have a Priest with us. No other Council members will be allowed to volunteer, nor will any of the heirs.”
They were ready to go and they had just finished most of their good-byes. Deila had been reserved for last, since she was the primary heir. Dee reached out and touched the red ball around Deila neck. He told her, “When we die this will tell you. It'll begin to glow and it'll get hot so you'll know even in your sleep.
They boarded the Swift and they were pushed off from the wharf. Once far enough off the oars came out and they began to row out of the harbor to join the two war galleys that would escort them part of the way.
Tennen asked as they looked back at those they were leaving behind. In the past three months they had become good friends. “Are you afraid, Dee?”
The boy turned to look up at the man, his green eyes serious. He said soberly, “Of course. But in this case, it's more a fear of failure than of dying, because we know that Dwen will welcome us. There aren't many people who know that a Goddess is waiting for them when they die. But still we would prefer to live for a while longer and we would rather not take those here to their deaths with us.”
“This is a fine time to ask but how do you intend to destroy the Orb?” Carrow asked as the Swift was joined by the war galleys.
Dee explained, “We'll use our Wards to get close enough and then we'll use an inverted Ward, that Tor and I have been practicing with, the side away from Vale will be weaker. Then we throw one of the Guardian Stone balls so it contacts the Orb. Even such a small ball will cause the Orb to explode. We're hoping the weak side of the Ward will direct most of the explosion away from Vale. But we don't know if that's possible, the explosion may be so terrible, that it may destroy Vale. However, whatever happens, our Wards simply won't be able to survive.”
He said somberly, “We're glad that Vale is primarily an administrative center, but still there are between one hundred and one hundred and fifty thousand people in Vale. If necessary to end the cycle of warfare that the Orb causes, we'll have no hesitation in destroying it. If we have to kill that many people neither Tor or I would want to survive it anyway."
The war galleys were left behind, a hundred miles out from Dalwin Island. They saw the occasional war galley, but they were so far away it was impossible to tell whether they were Devant Islands or New Empire galleys. They approached Vale at night, the pieces of Guardian Stone let them find a small bay nearby, just large enough to contain the Swift. They didn't anchor, enough oars were kept manned to keep them in position. They waited until it was light and lowered a longboat, it would take them to shore and return.
Dee looked at Deman, telling him, “You'll know if we succeed in destroying the Orb because of the explosion. If we're unable to direct it away from Vale you could capsize, so keep a good lookout and rowers at the oars. If we don't succeed you'll know that as well because nothing will happen. Wait until night and then go. As soon as you start to move, you'll be visible so all you can is hope that you're not seen or don't get boxed in, because all you have is your speed.”
Dee climbed down the ladder and dropped the last couple of feet into Tennen's arms. The sailor's, who had been holding the rowboat by the ladder, pushed them off and then headed for shore, less than fifty yards away. On landing several of the sailors jumped into the shallow water and pushed the boat far enough up so that the landing party didn't have to get wet. It was going to be dangerous enough, to add wet footprints would have made it even more dangerous. Dee had used the ball from the Guardian Stone to put a spell on the long boat. They were hopeful that the thirty seconds or so that they would be visible to the Orb wouldn't be picked up by anyone.
The sailors in the boat pushed off and one of them used a length of wood to brush out as much as possible the obvious mark that the boat had made and then they rowed for the ship. The shore party made its way up to the road on the crest of the slope leading down to the water. Vale itself was actually made up of two parts, the port city, which was quite small, consisting of about twenty-five thousand people and five miles inland the main part of the city, with a population somewhat over one hundred thousand people, the exact number wasn't known. Five miles beyond that was the area where the Orb was located.
They would be going cross country so that they would avoid both parts of Vale, the ball from the Guardian Stone would lead them directly to the Orb. There were no farms here, the Orb's presence affected the crops even here ten or twelve miles from the actual site of the Orb. The first farms didn't begin until almost forty miles inland. People didn't seem to be affected as badly as the vegetation but there was a much higher rate of fatal illnesses in Vale than in any other place in the world.
They had to move carefully even though they were passing mainly through forested areas, filled with sickly looking trees. However, they didn't know whether there would be any patrols out or not. Apparently there were none, or at least they saw none. Several hours later they were looking down from the crest of the crater in which the Orb was located. They could see it from where they were and it was pulsing in malevolent purples and blacks.
Dee and Tor could also feel the balls from the Guardian Stone pulsing. Dee said, “It knows we're here and yet it can't find us.”
Tennen asked, “Then why haven't we seen any guards, or even the Chosen One.”
Dee said gravely, “It isn't alive, though it perhaps comes close to it. It can't call for help. I imagine the Chosen One is in bed somewhere in Vale, being cared for like a baby, because he's no longer capable of movement. That's what happened to the last one. He was a forceful man and for the first fifteen years he acted as his nature dictated and he forced the New Empire to attack. Then he spent the last forty years of his life, with even less awareness than a newborn baby.”
“The Orb doesn't treat its Chosen Ones very well.” said Carrow, agreeing with Dee. “It creates those who mimic sorcerers but it can't communicate with them. When they were first created the Orb could communicate with them through the Chosen One, now the Chosen One is helpless and in a sense so is the Orb, in that it can't call on human help.”
“Shouldn't this crater be much bigger?” asked Tennen. “I once saw a crater in the western lands and it was made by a much smaller object and yet it was much bigger.”
Dee told him, “I've read about it and it seems that several miles high, there was a tremendous explosion and that separated the Guardian Stone and some other material of a similar nature from the Orb. It also seems to have affected the velocity, because neither the Guardian Stone or the Orb hit the ground as hard as they should have. But we must be moving. There doesn't seem to be any guards but where we are we can be seen from a tremendous distance.”
down on the pathway and the others followed him. the Orb pulsing even
harder. When they reached a fairly level area. Then Dee and Toron, separated,
so that they would have some space between them and each said the same
'Stone on cord,
Set your Ward
Protective Ward do not fuss
But move with us'
And pointing with their fingers, they made a full circle and they felt the snap in their heads, which told him the Wards had been invoked properly.
Dee said, “Stay close, the Wards will protect you, but step outside of them as we get closer to the Orb and death will be certain.”
Suddenly there was a loud bang behind them and they all whirled around and Dee and Tor saw their older selves. This time they were actually here, their bodies solid and they were carrying their familiars. The older Dee, said, “You were going to leave us out of all the fun, little Mages.”
Dee said honestly, “You offered to help us get Tomos free, we never discussed a situation such as this. We can't ask you to give up your lives for a world that's not your own.”
The older Dee nodded, saying gravely, “We respect your feelings, little one, but at the same time, we know the consequences of what you intend to do far better than you. We asked Dwen and she said that destroying the Orb where it is would destroy Vale. We know that you would do it even so, but we can do it so that Vale is not in danger. My inborn ability has had over two hundred years to mature and with my brother's help and that of our familiars, we can lift it many miles into the sky before we use the Eyes of Dwen to destroy it.”
Dee nodded reluctantly, saying, “I would not let you do it under other circumstances, but to save those lives in Vale I will let you take our place. Will we ever see you again, it is a different world, are the underworlds different as well?”
The older Dee nodded and told him, “We asked our Dwen about that and she says while the underworlds are different it is possible to move between them, much more easily than between the upper worlds so yes we will see you again little ones. Once the Orb is gone the Guardian Stone will automatically extend itself and you will be able to control it, so that you will be able to free Tomos and the other Adepts.” the older Dee said. “It has been a joy knowing the two of you. You have shown us what we could have been, if we had done things a bit differently, though we do not regret what we did. Goodbye.” and he bowed solemnly to Dee and then to Tor.
The older Tor said, “As Dee said we do not regret what we did, but we know from your actions that we could have been much more and it pleases us immensely. Goodbye, little Mages.” and he also bowed to the boys in turn.
The boys moved apart so that the older Dee and Tor's Ward could pass between them. The closer the Wards got to it the faster the Orb flashed, until the Wards was actually touching it. Then slowly the two men and their familiars and the Orb began to rise into the air, slowly at first and then faster and faster and within a minute it was so high that it was out of sight. How high they went the two boys never knew because Tor lost it at about a mile and it was still moving higher.
When it finally exploded it was so high that it momentarily obscured the brightness of the sun. Dee and Tor felt sorrow yet at the same time gladness that they hadn't had to destroy Vale to accomplish their mission.
captain was about to order the ship to get under way when he was jerked
upright, by Dee's voice. “Deman, we are still alive, we destroyed
the Orb in a way that we had not foreseen. The Guardian Stone's reach
has now expanded and I can control it from here directly. I've put a
barrier around the sloop, so that you can't be harmed. I want you to
pull into the main harbor, while we find the kidnapped Adepts, especially
our Master, Tomos. The Adepts may already be out and with their power
they may have transported themselves to wherever they originally came
from, but we have to check.”
“Okay, the sloop got my message and now I'll use the spell that we
used to track Master Tomos. Tor did the original spell but I just have
to substitute his name.” He said:
'Put Tor and I on the trail,
Of Master Tomos without fail.'
And making a general gesture as Tor had done when he said the original spell. Dee said feeling a tug, “That way.” he pointed. “And Carrow, you hold onto Tor. He'll be watching ahead of us to make sure we don't get ambushed, so he needs guidance.”
out of the crater in a couple of minutes and ended up on the road. Dee
thought about that for a few minutes, but then shrugged. Tor would be
looking in front of them. He said a spell to indicate whether there
would be anyone coming up behind them. He said:
'Let sounds remind
Anyone coming up from behind.”
And he stuck his thumb over his shoulder, grinning at the shudder Tennen gave. He said, with amusement, “It just has to rhyme and have the right intention to work. Atrocious poetry will work just as well as the best and that's what most of us do best. Atrocious poetry. With Mages it fits right in.”
In about half an hour they were coming up to the outskirts of Vale. There were no walls, not even in the last war one thousand years ago, the last time the New Empire was defeated, had anyone actually been able to land. The Orb stopped them. However there was a building that was fortified just as the buildings started. Dee looked at the place where bars had been in front of all the windows until very recently and he said, “Tor, have a look in this building. There were a lot of bars in the windows and they're no longer there. Is this where the Mages were being held.”
Tor looked and said with excitement, “Not only being held, they're still there, they seem to be trying to raise Master Tomos from his trance.”
Dee shook his head, saying, “Well, that's not going to work, not even several Adepts working together can awaken him without the right spell. How many Mages are there beside Tomos, Tor and how do we get in?”
Tor said, with a grin, “Six and that's simple, knock on the door. If we don't sound too much like soldiers demanding entrance they'll probably come and see.”
“Where are they?” asked Dee.
Tor told him, “In the cellar in what used to be cells, there are still iron bits attached to the floors and ceilings, but the bars are gone.”
his head, then said, “This should do.” and he said a spell:
'Like a timid bird
Let our quiet knock be heard.'
And he knocked on the door and then they waited. After a few minutes the door was opened cautiously. Seeing two boys and one bard and eleven men who could only be Devant Islanders, he opened the door. On the breast of his robe which had seen better days was the black circle of an Adept Mage and a cross within it which on some worlds though not this one, would look like the letter X. He looked at the sigil of Mages which were on the boys breasts. Tor's was still identical to Tomos' though Dee's had changed quite a bit, but the beginning was still recognizable as the start of Tomos personal sigil.
Realizing that these boys had to be the Apprentices Tomos had taken a few months before he was captured, he beckoned them in. Once inside, Dee said, “There's no use any of you trying to wake Tomos, he told us the jewel around his neck would require a God's power to breach it. We have the unlocking spell.”
“Come on then, but I don't think the others will want all of you down there.” he said, his eyes a little wild. Not unexpected, thought Dee, Adepts, unless they were very stable like Tomos, tended to be a little crazy, usually in a harmless way, but not all the time. He nodded, saying, “Carrow you and the others stay here and watch, Tennen will come with us.”
Carrow just nodded. He was just as aware that Adepts couldn't be counted on to be completely stable and they were safer where they were.
The two boys and Tennen went downstairs with the Adept. When the reached the other Adepts one of them looked at the boys. He was unmistakably the boss and fortunately his eyes showed his complete stability. He realized at once who the boys must be. He said, “These must be Tomos Apprentices?” Then taking a closer look at their sigils, “No, not Apprentices any longer but still his students. I assume you have the key to release Tomos.”
Dee nodded, then grinned, saying, “You know he won't want you to know the unlocking spell. Certainly none of you would want the key to your last escape route revealed. So I must cast a spell so you don't learn it.”
The man looked at him, assessing him and then he nodded, saying, “Very well, but we all have spells hung and if you aren't what you seem and start a spell that can cause us danger, be aware that you won't live to finish it.”
unconcerned with the threat, the beginning of the spell would reveal
its harmlessness. He said:
'Let no one hear
This spell I use with cheer.'
And he covered one of his ears.
and Tor wanted to be in on this, so they both put their hands on the
stone and chanted at the same time the spell which Tomos had put into
their minds coming into their consciousness:
'Unlock the spell
That this stone is preserving well.'
And they moved their hands as if turning a lock and the trance was broken instantly and there was sudden awareness in Tomos' eyes. He looked around him, taking in the other Adepts and Tennen and his two Apprentices kneeling beside him. No, looking at them he realized the same thing the other Adept had, no longer Apprentices, they were both Journeymen, though still his students. He gathered them into a hug and they held on tightly for about thirty seconds before they allowed him to let them go.
Tomos asked, “How long has it been?”
Dee said honestly, “We're not exactly sure. The first few weeks were sort of mashed together, but probably about five or six months.”
“And where are we?” he asked.
Dee told him, “On the outskirts of Vale and before you ask, the Orb is gone. It's been destroyed. We'll tell you about that later. We should really be leaving. The New Empire is going to remember that you're all here and they might try something stupid like sending soldiers against us if we don't show ourselves.”
Dee turned around just as one of the Adepts disappeared. He said over his shoulder, with a grin, “However by the time we reach the docks we may not have any of the Adepts left. They'll simply transport themselves home. Dikon is at Dalwin Port, so if you intend to return home, Master Tomos you might want to wait until we get as far as there, before you do so. Also,” Dee's voice bubbled with humor, “most of what you own is there as well, we cleaned house if you remember.”
Dee led the way up the stairs and by the time he reached the ground floor there were only three Adepts left, including Tomos.
There was no opposition as they simply walked through Vale and along the road to the port. Many people were devastated by the destruction of the Orb. However many others felt quiet joy that it was no longer there, a malignancy that had plagued the New Empire for thousands of years was gone. They saw few people, you would have thought it was a tiny village rather than a large city.
As Dee had thought by the time they reached the dock only Tomos of the Adepts was left, the others had all disappeared, transporting to their homes.
The port section of the city was just as deserted as the rest of the city had been. They commandeered a boat and headed for the sloop. Dee was still at the base of the ladder when he heard the cheers beginning. Untying the rope he moved the boat back toward the beach with his inborn ability, rather than the dock where they had gotten it. That way it wouldn't float out to sea and someone who might need it to live would live somewhat longer.
Nodding with satisfaction, he climbed up the ladder and the cheering redoubled as he appeared. Dee grinned and waved at them, giving a bow in acknowledgement. Then he turned back toward the land, standing with his hand on the railing. He closed his eyes and after a few seconds they could see that he was beginning to be surrounded by a red haze and Tomos stared with astonishment. He had known that Dee had changed more than Tor but now he realized why as the power continued to build and Dee grew brighter and brighter.
Dee opened his eyes and intoned a spell:
'This land that is ill
Let it be land to till
Return it to health
So it may return wealth.'
And Dee moved his hand in a gesture indicating the land and the red haze began to move toward it. As it touched the first vegetation the blight that the Orb had invested in all vegetation for about forty miles around the city, began to disappear. The power of the Guardian Stone burned the malignancy out and then repaired the earth. As it passed over the land, the forests and grasslands they had moved through earlier in the morning began to recover. The trees were still stunted, but they were no longer sickly. The grass became a more normal green and the soil was cleansed.
Dee breathed deeply with satisfaction, the Orb was gone and almost all sign of it was also gone. He felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked up at Tomos. The Wizard said, “I've never taught a King and a Prince before. Do you still consider yourselves my students?”
Dee smiled, green eyes wide in happiness, his heart singing with joy. He said, “Oh yes, we still have much to learn. The power that I used was that of the Guardian Stone. The more we learn the better Tor and I can defend our people.”
“I'm going to have to learn your new language, what exactly was the spell?” asked Tomos.
Dee thinking back realized that he had used the language of the Devant Islanders automatically. The language he was using with Tomos now, though his original language was now his second tongue. He nodded acceptance, Tor and he were now Devant Islanders and that's how they thought of themselves.
Dee translated the spell for Tomos, then said, “Once they realize that the land is cleansed then the people will start farming it and in a generation, the fact that the Orb was there will begin to be forgotten. In a hundred years, the Orb will be a legend. In a way however that makes them more dangerous, not less. Those Mage talents that the presence of the Orb suppressed will begin to show now. Those incipient Mages will be taught, or they will learn on their own, so in a generation there will be Mages all over the New Empire and some of them will be Adepts. They could very well come up with a way to negate power given by artifacts such as the Stone. That's what we did against the Orb. However, for now we can enjoy a time of peace and will worry about danger when it comes.”
Dee took Tomos by the hand and led him over to where Tennen was strumming lightly on his lute. He introduced the two. He said with pleasure, “Tennen, this is our Master Tomos. It seems that he intends to continue to teach us, which is what we want, since he is more like the father than the one we actually had. But he needs to know what occurred. You know everything that has happen and you are the best one to tell him about our journey.”
Tennen got up and grasped the arm of the Adept and they looked at each other closely and both liked what they saw. Tennen gestured to the deck, saying, “Pull up a bench, Master Tomos and listen to the story of the Little Mages, who went from peasants to Kings in less than a year.”
Tomos sank easily to a sitting position on the deck and began to listen, as the tale began. Behind him he heard Dee order, “Deman, let's go home.” and the pounding of the drum used to set the stroke of the oars gave a backdrop of sound, to the story of the little Mages .
Dee had introduced Tomos to the Council the previous night at a dinner and now the Council was in its first session under a normal setting, rather than a war footing. He told them, “Master Tomos has agreed to continue instructing Tor and I in magic.” He looked at them his face solemn, “You realize that with our magical potential that we could live a very long time. I have already asked Tomos to look into a way to ritually sever ties between a King and the Guardian Stone. If he is successful, I have drafted a law that will limit the King's term of rulership, to a period of fifty years, after they reach the age of majority at sixteen or at whatever age they start to rule. They must abdicate at age seventy, however long they have ruled. At the same time it will allow a King to abdicate at a younger age, if he feels he can no longer rule effectively.”
Dee looked over at his brother, saying, “Tor we have one final bit of business before we continue with the Council meeting. We must return the Eyes.” He took the necklace from around his neck and put it on the table and Tor joined him and placed his necklace on top of the first.
Dee was about to say a spell to return the Eyes of Dwen when Zend touched him on the shoulder and pointed to the corner. The familiar figure of Dwen appeared slowly becoming more visible. She smiled at the boys and at the rest of the Council, plus Tomos and Tennen who were also present. She said with obvious happiness, “It has been a pleasure watching you develop, Sardi and Toron. You are still little boys but if you died today, you have already left an impressive legacy. When you are ready to hand on your position Dee, I think you will be an example as to how a King should rule.”
She raised her hands and the chains of the Eyes were suddenly in her hand. There were two and then suddenly there were four. Dwen explained, “Two of the Eyes I shall return to my Temple on this world and two shall replace the ones on the other world where your older selves came from. I would show them to you but in a sense, they haven't died yet, in their world and I cannot reach into another world without permission. They have the Eyes but they will not have the power to use them for many years. When they contacted you it was their power that activated the Eyes not yours. Right at the moment they are still your age and settling back into the cottage in the Dark Forest with their Tomos to continue their magical education.”
Dwen told them, “Eventually they will lead the Adepts in a successful effort to destroy the Orb. That is confusing because it has happened and at the same time will not happen for over a century.”
Dee asked, “May we ask some questions?”
She answered with humor in her voice, “When have you ever bothered to ask? This must be a first Dee. Yes, you may ask about anything that has already happened.”
“The Chosen One I assume died when the Orb was destroyed?” said Dee.
She nodded, saying, “Yes, Dee, both he and the sorcerers the orb created through him died at the moment the Orb was destroyed.”
Tor asked, “Why did it seem like they were ready to start a war by kidnapping the Adepts and capturing the galleys?”
Dwen nodded at the page, saying, “Zend was right.” The little boy blushed, though he smiled with bliss, he had just been named personally by one of their Gods. “The rulers of the New Empire were stunned when the Orb picked a Chosen One. They did not want war. Fortunately, as Dee surmised, the Chosen One was neither forceful, nor very bright. They managed to stall him until three years ago when the Chosen One succumbed to the Orb's pressure. As Carrow mentioned, the Orb didn't treat it's Chosen Ones very well.”
She explained, that, “The galleys being captured was simply an act of piracy, perpetrated by a few men. The kidnapping of the Adepts was the act of one of the sorcerers. He was actually a Master Class Mage. A real sorcerer. How he was picked, I don't know. The Chosen One has never made a mistake of this kind before. But he wasn't very bright and the Mage managed to fool him and the Orb. The Mage knew that eventually the Chosen One would succumb to the Orb's pressure. He thought he had a way to communicate with the Orb directly through the now helpless Chosen One, that's why the Adepts were kept alive. He thought he could use the Orb to transfer their knowledge and power to him.”
Dwen paused, telling them soberly, “In fact he was right, he could actually have done so. Then with the power of the Adepts, he could have controlled the Orb. The barrier the Guardian Stone provides would not have been able to contain the power of the Orb and the sorcerer at the same time and it would have failed and the Islands would have been wide open to attack. He left it just too long. He had been working on the actual spell for three years and he knew he was close, so a few months ago he had the Adepts kidnapped. The spell was almost finished. In another week he would have succeeded. You and your other selves destroyed the Orb just in time Dee. The destruction of the Orb killed him as well as the other sorcerers that the Orb made.”
“I'm sorry that I have to tell you how close you came to destruction.” she said looking at the stricken faces around the room. “But it as well that you should know. Artifacts of power can almost always be overcome by the cleverness of man, so don't rely on the Guardian Stone too greatly, or someday, like those in the New Empire you may be surprised and perhaps destroyed.”
She smiled, though it was a sad smile, when she realized that no further questions were forthcoming. She said, “Goodbye my little Mages, but don't be surprised if I show up occasionally. You do such interesting things.” and she faded out until she was gone.
It took a while for those in the Council Chamber to recover, but they were warriors, who had always lived on the knife-edge. Not even the closeness of a prevented disaster could keep their spirits down for long. Within a half-hour they had recovered and they got down to the business of the first Council to be held after the war scare.
Dee addressed the Council, saying, "My day will go as follows. Getting up at six AM, breakfast then two hours of magic lessons. Two hours of playtime, which will include learning how to use weapons and defending myself. The King, me in other words, insists on staying a child for a little while longer. Lunch and then two hours of other lessons. From three to suppertime, I will meet with the Council. If necessary, the sessions will continue after supper. If an emergency comes up then we sit as long as it takes.”
Dee waved at Tor, saying, “Toron's day. He will have the same type of morning, but in the afternoons, until he is twelve he will be simply be allowed to be a child for a while longer. Toron and I did a map spell last night and located all of the Mages and potential Mages on the Islands. There are more than a hundred and fifty, however only fifty-two at the moment are old enough to begin training. I have sent a message to the Mage academies in the western lands and asked them to send us four Master Class Mages. Once they arrive then messages will be sent to those people who have children who have Mage potential. They will send them here, where they will be schooled, they will spend two months of schooling and then return home for a month. There are no places in the Islands that can't be reached by a three day sail and a short journey on foot. This is something in which the parents have no say. The children will come.”
Dee explained, “They will be paid a sum to be determined by Finance. If they are children that the parents need to help them survive, then the parents will also be provided with a sum to replace the child with another worker. The pages and the Mage students will be employees of the court. The Masters of the Mage children and the Palace's pagemaster will of course have charge of discipline, however they may not use corporal punishment as they please. If a child receives more than a dozen strokes from a cane in a week, then the reason why must be explained in writing to me.”
He swept his hand around the room, saying, “All Councilors now sitting will retain those positions for two years. If you have businesses, you have the mornings to look after them. If you don't come from Dalwin Port, you will be paid enough to hire a manager to look after your business, as well as the normal pay which will be determined by Finance. In this you have no choice, not for the first term unless there is illness in the family or other problems which prevent you from serving. After the two years you may accept further terms or you may decline them. In the future those who are asked may decline, but if they accept they must serve the full two years.”
He explained, “One day once a week I will be holding an audience, where anyone from the richest man in the Islands to the lowliest servant may come and ask my help. If someone has servants and they try to stop them from coming to see me they will be fined. Depending on the reason for the refusal it could end up being a very serious fine. If they can't come to Dalwin Port they can go to a Magistrate and dictate a message. The Magistrate's will send those messages to me, unchanged except they may add comments.”
Dee smiled with amusement at the Councilor's and others in the room. He told them, “I'm a King but unlike most I chose that position, it did not choose me and I have definite ideas in how a King should behave. By the time my reign is over the position shall be a position of duty, never of privilege, though I don't intend to create a position where no fun is possible.”
Dee looked down the Council Chamber, his Queen, Letten with him and Tor by his side. Harden, long a stalwart friend had died less than a year ago and Dee still mourned his friend's death.
He had an announcement and he didn't think it would be a pleasant surprise to the Council members. He had been a good King and he was popular. He addressed them, saying, “I have a very special message for this Council and for the Islands. Tomos, Tor and I have finally come up with a way to ritually sever our ties to the Guardian Stone. We have also come up with a method to chose a new King that doesn't require magic to awaken the Guardian Stone. It may be an unpopular decision, but the three of us do not believe that a Mage should also be a King.”
Looking at the Council members he could see that they didn't agree. But he had been letting hints out for the last few months that the three Adepts were getting close to a solution and what he felt about Mages and rulership. They were not surprised and they had learned in the ten years that he had been King that once Dee made up his mind it was almost impossible to change it.
“Once Tor and I sever our bond with the Guardian Stone it will never
again accept a Mage. Tiel, open the curtain.” and the ten year
old page pulled the cord to reveal a plaque that had been placed in
'Guardian Stone we sever our tie
And pass it on
To another it shall fly
A rulers cloak they shall don.'
Dee said firmly, “This is written in the form of a spell, but it is a ritual and it can be invoked by any King or Queen when they wish to abdicate.”
He told them, “All of the heirs originally chosen by the balls are here, but there are no guarantees that it will choose one of you. They were intended to make sure that never again could it be possible for a Royal Family to die out without leaving heirs. We have found a way to keep the Guardian Stone awake and it will stay awake from now on. Tor we have one last duty to our country as royalty.”
The two stood up and no longer did they look like twins. Twenty year old Tor was almost four inches taller and thirty pounds heavier than his brother and despite his age he had a rich luxurious beard and mustache.
They grasped hands and spoke the ritual together. When they were finished there was actually a bright red light which appeared above their head and moved from them to one of the holders of the red balls. Zend who was the youngest member of the Council and the new King of the Devant Islands.
Dee spoke up. “King Zend, may I pledge my loyalty to you and the Kingdom of Devant Islands. As both Tor and I have completed our training and now are Adepts in our own right, we will, with your permission, take over the academy for magic users from the kingdom. This has until this time been run by the Master Class Mages from the western lands, they wish to return home permanently. This way the Islands will always have qualified Mages to assist in the defense of the realm.”
Both Dee and Toron knelt in front of their new king.
The council members nodded and King Zend said, “Sir Sardi, will you on your honor pledge loyalty to the King and the sovereign country, defend it’s independence and just rule?”
Dee nodded, saying, “Yes, Your Majesty, I will.”
King Zend said, “Sir Toron, will you on your honor pledge loyalty to the King and the sovereign country, defend it’s independence and just rule?”
Tor answered in identical words to Dee, “Yes, Your Majesty, I will.”
Zend told them, “Then rise, Lord Sardi and Lord Toron, Defenders of the Realm and Keepers of The Guardian Stone, we hereby bestow upon you the royal charter of running the Devant Islands Academy of Magic and Defense. You may leave.”
As Dee and Tor left, first the King, then the Council members and then all others present rose and bowed or curtsied.