“Where are my manners,” Andreno said. “We got to talking instead of the usual formalities! Welcome, both of you, to the Shontese palace. It’s not nearly as fancy as yours, but it’s home for us.” “I’m sure we’ll be perfectly comfortable,” Nita said. “Please, allow me to escort you to your chambers” Andreno offered his arm. She placed her hand on it, and he led them all inside. He took them to a lavish room overlooking manicured lawns. He stayed long enough for Nita to look around and say it met her approval. She went about settling in, and a servant showed Jerryck to his own guest room up the corridor from hers. Although not quite as posh as Nita’s, it’s furnishing and décor were still richer than what he lived with at home. Surely not every visiting magician got to stay in a room like this. Was it because he came with Nita? Or was this the preparation Masorno had insisted on? Garret followed Jerryck. He eyed the servant standing silent in the corner and said, “Leave.” “I’m waiting for his orders,” the servant whispered, giving Jerryck a nervous glance. “Please go inform Masorno of my arrival,” Jerryck said. That would get it over with. And it would get rid of the servant before Garret terrorized him. The servant gave him a short bow, and ran from the room. Jerryck said to Garret, “You’re not supposed to make Shontese servants talk. They think a good servant is a silent servant.” “I haven’t heard that,” Garret said. “I guess it’s not really all that well known in Brend,” Jerryck said. “If my mentor hadn’t come from southern Shontarra, I probably wouldn’t know it either.” He used the canopied bed to unpack, taking things out and setting them on the thick, feather mattress. Garrett poked about the room. He looked at the walls behind the brightly colored tapestries. He opened the beveled glass window, stuck his head out, and looked in every direction. Then he pulled his head in, closed the window, and examined the latch. “Pretty convenient that Andreno was there to make sure we were let in.” Jerryck broke the quiet. It was strange, having a guard in the room when there wasn’t a noble to be protected. “A little too convenient.” Garret opened the decoratively carved closet and ran his hand around the inside walls. Jerryck watched Garret pull each bureau drawer out by their silver knobs and examine them underneath and on the sides. “What are you doing?” “My job.” Garret checked inside the bureau itself. “Do you think someone’s going to jump out and attack us or something?” “Like Keniv attacked you?” Garret grinned. He slid the drawers back in place. “Not in here. Not now that I know there’s no one in here with us, no secret doors that an attacker can sneak in through, no hidden levers or catches, the window can only be opened from inside, and an intruder would have a hard climb getting to it from the outside anyway.” “You’re being paranoid.” “A little paranoia has kept a lot of people alive.” Garret’s grin widened. “More people should be paranoid. It’s a healthy state of mind!” “Not really,” Jerryck said. “Yes it is!” Garret insisted. “It’s necessary in case there really are people out there trying to get you. Besides, if people stopped being paranoid, I’d be out of a job.” Jerryck shook his head. He took the last item from his travel pack and placed it on the bed with the others. “Is that why you think it’s too convenient that Andreno let us in?” “No, I was serious about that.” Garret’s grin slipped. He helped Jerryck put clothes into the bureau and the closet. “You think he’s up to no good?” “I’m paid to believe people are up to no good,” Garret said. Someone knocked on the door. Garret answered, then turned to Jerryck and announced, “Court Magician Masorno to see you.” Garret opened the door wider and stepped aside. Masorno stood in the corridor. His stomach paunch had grown. So had his double chin. He gave Jerryck a dirty look. “You have a bodyguard now? When have you ever had a bodyguard?” “Not my choice,” Jerryck said. “I can’t get away from him.” “I see.” Masorno stepped into the room. “I assume you accompanied the princess so you could apologize to me. But does it have to be with one of the very men you used to throw my out last time I paid you the courtesy of a visit?” Jerryck glanced at Garret before picking up some of his toiletries to put in a drawer under the washbasin. “He was one of them?” “Don’t you remember?” Masorno said. “There were three of them. One was smart mouthed, extremely rude, and disrespectful. He kept asking inappropriate questions that were none of his business. He stayed with you while the other two escorted me out of the palace. One was very stern. This one, he laughed at me. I was very embarrassed.” “Did you laugh?” Jerryck asked Garret. “Maybe.” Garret shrugged. “I’ve been accused of laughing at everything.” “He laughed,” Masorno said. “And the other used cuss words and crude language. Very disrespectful. Very inappropriate.” “Who was with you?” Jerryck asked Garret. “Deek,” Garret said. “He cusses at most people.” Masorno didn’t even look at Garret when he said, “The man who remained with you is with the princess now. I expect an apology from him as well. I understand the other two followed your instructions, so I’ll be gracious enough to forgive them. But that other man, he had no right to ask me anything, especially not with the attitude he used.” “That was Tajor,” Jerryck said. He picked up some of his books. Since there was no shelf for them, he stacked them on a little table by the bed. “He speaks to everyone that way. He doesn’t care who you are. He says whatever it takes to annoy you.” “He’s respectful to no one?” Masorno’s face went a little slack with incredulity. “How does he maintain status as a guard in the palace?” “He’s respectful to Terrance and Nita, usually.” Jerryck picked up the pouch with his writing supplies. Again, there wasn’t really a good place for them. He nudged his stack of books to one side to make room. Masorno crossed his arms. “You do know we have servants here to put all that away for you?” Jerryck frowned. He was going to have to focus more on Masorno before the man got offended and threw a fit. Instead of picking up the next few items, he turned to face his host. Masorno let his arms drop. He straightened his shoulders. “So about the apology I’m due…” “I doubt you’ll get one from him without more insults.” “I meant the one from you.” “Right. Of course.” Jerryck nodded. No audience. Perhaps the room really was the preparations Masorno had made. It was rather unlike him. When he wanted to humble a person, he tended to give them fewer amenities, not more. “I’m waiting,” Masorno said. Jerryck clenched his jaw. Masorno would take an apology as an invitation to return to Coraline Palace. Then he would fall back into his pattern of repeatedly coming to pester Jerryck about finishing his apprenticeship. There was nothing else for it. He had to speak with Shontese magicians to further his search. To do that, he had to make amends and open up that assumed invitation. “Well?” Masorno prodded. Jerryck squeezed out the first couple of words. “I apologize.” Masorno held out his hand, waggling fingers in a gesture that beckoned for more. After those first two words, the others flowed more easily for Jerryck. “I’m sorry I told you never to bother coming back, and for all the insults I threw at you.” “Apology accepted,” Masorno said. He sauntered over to one of the two overstuffed chairs by the marble fireplace, and plopped down atop the pillows adorning it. “Now, about your unfinished apprenticeship.” “Please,” Jerryck said. “Don’t goad me into saying something else I’ll have to apologize for.” “It’s important that you get that pedigree,” Masorno said. “Think of what Old Heldavio would say if he knew his last apprentice neglected finishing things properly after all the years of training he gave you.” “He complained about the Gathering more than anyone else I’ve ever met in my life,” Jerryck said. “And I didn’t come here to get a lecture on this from you.” “Of course not.” Masorno leaned back and crossed his ankles. “You came to apologize and make amends to our friendship.” “I’m looking for someone,” Jerryck said. Masorno sat forward, eyes narrowed, hands gripping the arms of the chair. “Who?” “I don’t know exactly.” Jerryck shook his head. “Someone new who can use magic. Someone I haven’t met at all.” “And you came here?” Masorno stabbed the arm of the chair several times with his pointer finger. “Why? What have you learned?” “Nothing,” Jerryck said. “I just haven’t found anyone in Brend that’s caught my interest, so when the princess wanted to come here, I thought I’d accompany and consult with you, see if there was anyone you knew of.” “Are the rumors true then?” Masorno let his hunched shoulders relax. His grip on the chair loosened. “Are you really looking for an apprentice?” “Something like that.” “Hmm,” Masorno grunted. Jerryck braced himself for a lecture on why he shouldn’t look for an apprentice when he had no license. Instead, Masorno leaned back and pointed at the other chair. “What?” Jerryck asked. “Sit down.” Masorno laughed. “I shouldn’t have to invite you to take a seat in your own room. It’s getting awkward to hold a conversation with you standing over there.” Jerryck sidled over and slipped into the other chair. Masorno said, “I tell you what I’ll do. I’ll send for some potentials to come in and meet you. I know of a few who are young enough to give you time to finish up your official study and take the oaths at the next convention before they come of age.” “When will they come?” Jerryck asked. “Does anyone know when the palace will be unlocked again?” Masorno sniffed and tilted up his nose. “They’ll come when I call. I can summon people through the gate. The guards won’t bar someone who has an official letter of welcome.” “They barred us,” Jerryck said. “Are you serious?” Masorno dropped his jaw. He closed it again and clucked his tongue in disgust. “This sounds like something Andreno would meddle with. I suppose he’s the one who came out and made sure you were let in?” “Yes.” “Well!” Masorno slapped the arm of his chair. “I’ll have this fixed!” “I don’t want to cause any trouble.” “You didn’t. Andreno does that quite well on his own.” “When he was in Brend, he mentioned a friend interested in magic.” Masorno snorted. “I wouldn’t pay any heed to any friend Andreno claims to have. Did you know that he was treated for insanity several times before his parents died? They even took him to Coraline Palace once. Not even Old Heldavio could help him.” “I don’t remember that,” Jerryck said. “That was right before he went to fetch you for his last apprentice,” Masorno said. “Andreno was only five then. About a month after he returned here, his parents were murdered in their bed, suffocated in their sleep.” “Who killed them?” “No one knows. I helped with the investigation. There was no trace of the murderer, so some speculated that magic had been employed. I found no trace of any magical activities. Andreno wept for months, and kept talking to them.” A ghoulish image popped into Jerryck’s head. “Even though they were dead?” “Not to their bodies.” Masorno chuckled. “You make the strangest faces sometimes. No, they were cremated and their ashes buried with all the pomp of high nobility. The servants swear that Andreno sees ghosts, and that’s what he talks to. That was the insanity his parents were trying to find a cure for.” “I’ve never heard of that form of insanity,” Jerryck said. “Neither had Heldavio,” Masorno said. The Shontese servant slipped back into the room with two folded pieces of paper in his hand. Masorno saw him, then said to Jerryck, “I should go. I need to make some arrangements for you.” He stood up and strode from the room, leaving the door wide open behind him. The servant reached to close it, just as Masorno started shouting at someone, “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t be here!” Jerryck shook his head and thanked the servant for closing off the rest of Masorno’s words. The man held out the pieces of paper for him. One was a note to let him know the princess had gone out for a tour of the palace and the grounds. The other was an invitation from Prince Sanbralio to join him for the evening meal. Jerryck grimaced. That would be a formal affair. He would have to dress his uncomfortable best, and use the stiff, unnatural manners the nobility insisted on.