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  • Rebekah Olson

Chapter 22

Jerryck went back to the fortress just long enough to tell Nita he was going home. The moment his approach was spotted from the palace walls, word must’ve gotten to Terrance, because he was outside waiting. Some people kept trying to get his attention, Priad Lalven, the steward, a smattering of others whose names slipped from Jerryck’s mind. Far less than the usual number of people pestering him for his time. Heston stood off to the side, saying nothing, watching everyone. “You came back.” Terrance brushed everyone else aside and accompanied Jerryck in. “Where’s Nita? Why didn’t she come with you? Is something wrong? She’s not hurt, is she?” “I wouldn’t have left her if she was,” Jerryck said. “You should know that.” “I do,” Terrance said with a sigh. “I’m sorry. Just tell me she’s fine. Please.” “She’s fine,” Jerryck assured him. This happened every time she left the palace to stay elsewhere. Terrance fretted and stewed. He checked security. He second-guessed his decision to let her go. He demanded constant updates on weather and road conditions in her vicinity. He’d never done that with anyone until he lost everyone else in his immediate family. Then he obsessed to the point of dragging everyone around him to the brink of insanity. Some people, like the priad and the steward, fed him distractions. Others, like Jerryck, only had assurances to give him. Most people just gave the king as wide a berth as they could afford—something Heston encouraged. “The conditions still aren’t good out there,” Terrance said to Jerryck, waving off some papers that the steward was trying to push at him. “They’re under control enough for her guards to handle things,” Heston said. “I shouldn’t have let her go.” Terrance stopped in the middle of the corridor. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “She’s fine,” Jerryck repeated. He stopped walking because Terrance did. “She’s having fun, from what I could tell. Right now, she’s sitting down to dinner, talking everyone’s ear into oblivion, most likely. I just don’t do so well with all the socializing stuff. I wanted to see my family.” Terrance took his hand away from his face. “Right. Yes. Your family. Of course.” Lalven turned him away from the corridor and drew him off, talking the entire time. “And there are plenty of other things we need for you to worry about until she returns…” Nita returned late the next afternoon, putting her father at ease. Then most of the rest of the household staff grew agitated. They kept coming to Jerryck for a number of things that didn’t usually approach him for. Some who preferred magicians over medics had minor, almost superficial injuries they wanted him to heal. Or they wanted calming spells. One of them asked for a cure for nightmares. If Jerryck could do that, he’d use it on his niece. For over a week, they dribbled in and out of his tower. From potions, to charms, to direct magic, on to advice and research. He started sending people away, refusing them service. He gave excuses for it, until a man brought a pail full of hot coals and asked Jerryck to use magic to make them stay hot in a bedpan through the night. “No,” Jerryck said, without even getting up from the table where he had books open to read from. Leanne had stopped puttering about the room and tidying things up the moment the man had come in. The evening’s music in the bailey floated in through the open windows. “B-but it’s for the Sh-Shontese lord,” the man spluttered. “No!” Jerryck insisted. The last time he had tried to magically heat coals for a bedpan, he’d ended up setting the bed and the entire room on fire. “What does he need warming coals for this time of year anyway? It’s summer!” “Only the beginning.” The man leaned down to set the bucket on the floor. Jerryck stood, shaking his finger at the bucket. “Don’t set that there! Go get rid of it. No one needs hot coals in their bed in summer.” The man straightened back up, still holding the bucket. “Lord Andreno says he’s used to the warmer southern climate. He complains he’s cold at night.” “Then he should wear warmer bed clothes and put on an extra blanket,” Jerryck said. “I’m not heating coals for a bed.” When he finally convinced the man to leave, his wife said, “Andreno is not very nice.” Jerryck sat back down at his books, returning to the notes he been jotting down when the man had interrupted. Leanne left off her cleaning, and sat across the worktable from him. “He’s got the manners of a troll. And he’s loony as leshy. He should turn his clothes inside out and start doing everything exactly opposite. Then he’d be closer to acting like a rational, human being.” Jerryck paused his pen on his notes. The ink soaked out, making a spot. He lifted it from the paper and looked at his normally mild-mannered wife. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk that way about someone before.” “I have too.” She looked away, her cheeks reddening. “There was that one medic didn’t want to take my advice during a birthing.” “He was soundly scolded,” Jerryck said. “He apologized. And you still didn’t compare him to something completely insane. And the manners of a troll?” “It’s true.” She hitched her shoulders uncomfortably. “If he pays attention to the servants at all, it’s because he’s treating them like dung. He smacks people around just because he’s feeling irritable. And he talks to imaginary people when he thinks no one is around to hear him.” Jerryck finished out his note before it left his head entirely. “That’s just a rumor.” “One I believe,” Leanne said. “I’ve talked to the people who caught him doing it. This isn’t something I heard through gossip. Are you listening to me?” “You didn’t hear it through gossip,” he repeated. He flipped through a few pages in one of the books and noted and a cross reference. “Andreno’s crazy. He mistreats servants.” Someone else knocked on the door. Jerryck clenched his pen to keep from throwing it and yelling at whoever it was to just go away. Leanne answered it for him. A page stood on the landing. He craned his neck, looking inside the work room without stepping in. “Lord Magician,” the page said. “Lord Andreno requests you come to his chambers and give him a demonstration of the test you performed to determine the water purity.” “I’ll be there shortly.” Jerryck dropped the pen into the ink well. “Go make sure there some water available for me to use in the demonstration.” The page ran off. Jerryck put placeholders in his open books. He went to the counter where he kept his teapot and took out the sugar bowl. He quickly sprinkled some on a sheet of parchment, cast the correct magic on the granules, and folded it up. Leanne caught him at the door. “Don’t let him be mean to you.” “Don’t worry,” Jerryck said. He left the tower and went directly to Andreno’s guest chambers. A Shontese guard stood at the door, but didn’t bar it. Jerryck entered the parlor of the suite. There, another Shontese guard stood, this one blocking the curtained doorway into the sleeping chamber. A young man dressed as a noble sat on one of the chairs nibbling on some sort of sticky pastry. “He’s not in.” The lad’s face was covered with pimples and acne pockmarks. Jerryck knew any number of spells that would clear that up. Or at least ease it back. Medics had all kinds of creams and lotions that would work as well. Either the young man didn’t care, or his parents weren’t wealthy enough to pay for it. Jerryck blinked, refocusing. He addressed the guard, “Lord Andreno requested a demonstration from me. “ “He’s not yet returned from supper with the king, the princess, and the chamberlain,” the guard said. He remained in front of the doorway. The young nobleman turned his pastry to keep something creamy from falling out the center. “I told you. He must take a long time to eat.” The remainder of the pastry disappeared into the young man’s mouth. He licked his fingers while he munched. Then he wiped his hand on his pants and swallowed. He looked up at Jerryck. “I’m kind of bored waiting here. I don’t suppose maybe you could give me the advice I was going to ask Lord Andreno?” “Advice?” What kind of advice could Jerryck give that would be in common with anything Andreno would advise. “Yes,” the lad said with a smile. He adjusted the cushions he was squishing in the chair behind him, and stretched out his legs. “You’re a lord too. You’re on the core staff. You must know the king pretty well. I’m trying to figure out something for the princess’ Processions.” This didn’t make any sense. Nita wasn’t old enough for Processions yet. That couldn’t even start until she turned fifteen at the end of the summer. And very few nobles began them right away. Usually, they waited a few years, sometimes until age twenty. “I know you were born common—” the young man studied the fingers he licked as if searching for any sweetness he had missed— “but surely you must know how the Processions work.” “Of course I do!” The lad dropped his hand and rested it on his knee. He propped one foot on the low table in the middle of the seats, using his foot to move aside a bowl of fruit to do so.“Every month an eligible noble comes to the home of an heir who is looking for a spouse and stays for a week. If someone suitable is found, they come every month in courtship. Then if the courtship works—” “I said I know how the Processions work.” Jerryck glared at him. “Oh.” The lad blinked stupidly. “I figure if they start right away and continue on into the winter, I’ll get a chance. I’d really like to prepare. If I can get to the courtship stage, I’m sure Terrance will choose me to marry his daughter and become his replacement. I’ve studied a lot. And I have a lot of good ideas for the country. I’d make a good king. You have any advice for how best to impress Terrance?” Angry magic flared. Jerryck took a deep breath, struggling for control. The air around him stirred, billowing his shirt and ruffling his hair. The lad’s eyes widened and his jaw dropped. He jumped to his feet, over the back of the chair, and backed himself flat against the wall behind him. The door opened. Andreno and Chamberlain Malk entered, trailed by Andreno’s various guards, both Shontese and Brendish palace elite. Malk took in the room with one glance and demanded, “What is going on in here?” Jerryck’s finger shook as he pointed at the young noble. “He has designs to try and take the throne!” “I do not!” The lad’s voice rose an octave. “When you say it like that, you make it sound like what I asked is a bad thing!” “Remove him,” Malk said to one of the elite guards. “Take him to Chancellor Herron.” “No! Wait!” The lad unsuccessfully tried to shake off the elite that grabbed him and dragged him out of the room. “Jerryck, calm down…” Malk held up both hands to him. “What exactly did he say?” “He wanted to know how to best impress Terrance so he could marry Nita and be the next King,” Jerryck said. Malk put his hands on Jerryck’s shoulders, reassuring him. “That’s not as concerning as you’re making it sound. A lot of young nobleman are thinking along those lines these days. Herron is dealing with them. He’ll take care of this one too. Nothing will come of it.” The swirling air died down and the gathered magic ebbed away. The palace elite eyed him warily. The Shontese guards had backed up. The one at the curtained doorway had disappeared entirely. Andreno sauntered over to the chair and plopped into it. He flicked a hand at the door to the corridor. “Who was that, anyway?” “The nephew of one of our district premieres,” Malk said. “He has delusions of grandeur, as do most young nobles, high or minor. Enough of that. Jerryck, why are you here?” “I sent for him,” Andreno said, leaning back and draping one leg over the arm of the chair. “I expected it to take longer for him to arrive. Whenever I send for Masorno, our court magician back at home, it always takes him a long time to respond.” “Jerryck is very prompt,” Malk said. “What do you need him for?” “I want a demonstration of how he tested the water,” Andreno said. Malk interlaced his fingers and pursed his lips. “I thought you were satisfied the water is fine.” “I don’t see any signs anywhere that even happened,” Andreno said. Jerryck frowned. Had Andreno missed all the garbage and wreckage and the barricades when he’d gone to the city? Malk folded his hands in front of himself. “I assure you, it happened.” “I’m not doubting you.” Andreno flashed his dazzling smile. “I’m just curious about it. I heard the magician found it, figured it out. So I was hoping he would show me what he did.” “Jerryck?” Malk turned to him. “Would it be too much trouble?” “No.” Jerryck looked around for a water pitcher, a little tired now from his near accident. “I sent a page ahead to make sure there was a cup of water in here.” “You—” Andreno pointed vaguely in the direction of one of the guards— “fetch some water. And be quick about it.” A couple of the Shontese guards scurried like servants. Within a few heartbeats, they handed over a cup of water. Jerryck sat it next to the bowl of fruit on the low table. He got out the sugar he brought, and dropped in a pinch. Andreno peered at the glow it made. “How can you tell by this if the water is good or bad?” “From the coloring.” Jerryck pulled the parchment back over the extra sugar he hadn’t used. He kept his fingers busy with that, acting slow and meticulous, hiding that his hands were shaky. “When the water was bad, there were other colors that shouldn’t have been there. This is what it should look like.” “You just looked at the colors to figure out what was wrong?” Andreno asked. “Basically.” Jerryck stopped fooling around with the parchment and stuffed it in his pocket. Andreno narrowed his eyes. “So what exactly was wrong?” “I’ve already told you,” Malk said. “It was a dead animal in a stagnant pool in a tributary river.” “That’s what the public was told. Commoners are stupid enough to believe anything.” Andreno paused, tilting his head to Malk, giving him a droll look. Then he looked more seriously at Jerryck. “What was the real problem? This test told you what that was?” “Uh…” Jerryck fumbled, toying with the folded parchment in his pocket. “Well…” “What if it was something those Chemwanee did to that tributary river?” Andreno leaned forward. “They’ve been treacherous before. They’ve got those nasty shamans, and the drugs they use. What if it was them? This test would show it?” “Only if I knew what the colors were telling me,” Jerryck said. Andreno set up a little straighter. “It’s not automatic?” “Nothing in magic is automatic,” Jerryck said. “A lot of things would turn up as the same color in a test of the sort.” “Interesting.” Andreno stared back down at the cup. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in making more of this testing material?” “What for?” Jerryck asked. “It’s not something you can store up or trade in bulk. The magic is weak. It’ll wear off after a while. You can already see the glow it made his fading.” “Pity.” Andreno picked up the cup and swirled it around. He ran a finger through the glow as if it was something he could touch or feel. He set the cup down, still keeping his eyes on it. “I have a friend who would be very interested in what you did. He’s fascinated with this sort of thing. He was going to come with me, but he was called away after we got on the road.” “Really?” The only magician Jerryck knew of in the Shontese palace was Masorno. He wouldn’t have any interest in this technique at all. Jerryck could think of several magicians who might be interested, but he hadn’t heard of any of them working with, or befriending Andreno. The door opened and Heston walked in, trailed by two of his elites. He looked around the now crowded room and shouted, “Everyone out!”

 

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