• Rebekah Olson

Chapter 34

Jerryck rolled out of bed, stretching to loosen up sleep stiffened muscles. He put his feet on the thick rug that covered the wood floor by the bed. Late morning light angled through the window. Clean clothes were set on top of the bureau for him. The fact that Leanne had put them there without waking him… or had she? He seemed to remember her humming, puttering around the room, telling him it was morning. Or had that been a dream? Either way, it was more than he remembered about how he got to his bed the night before. He donned the clothes and went up to his workroom. The tools that Tajor had broken were still lying on the counter. He frowned at them, then chucked them in a box in the storage space behind the curtain in the back. Everything else was in order, so he headed down intending to double check everything around the palace, to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, and to finish up the last few tasks remaining for him. He stopped when voices floated up the stairs before he saw the people attached to them. Who was coming in his tower? And why hadn’t the chimes in the workroom let him know someone had entered? “What did you say?” the first person asked—the man’s voice was vaguely familiar. “I said he’s asleep.” The second voice was Kendra’s. “If you tell me who you are and what you need, I’ll let him know when he wakes up.” “How will you know when he wakes up? You’re no page. You wear the apron of a scullery maid.” “I’m his sister.” “Oh. I apologize. I didn’t realize. I should have. You look so much like him.” “I do not.” Kendra’s tone had a bite to it. “Just tell me who you are and what you want. And keep your voice down. If you wake him, I’ll pour ashes on your next meal.” A choking sound didn’t quite mask a nervous giggle. That wasn’t Kendra. The man said, “You must be Lady Leanne.” “Y-you know m-me?” Leanne’s voice was hesitant and filled with nerves. “Very few magicians marry,” the man said. “So when they do, word gets around. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” “Leave her alone.” Kendra’s tone changed to dangerous, the tone that made every worker in the kitchen hop at her command. Jerryck quickly descended, rounding the curve of the stairs to where he could see. The man was Gintario, the messenger for the Gathering of Seats. He spoke publicly at every convention. If he traveled, it meant the old magicians filling the Seats had come to a decision on something. Gintario delivered their edict to whomever it affected. As a result, people didn’t always welcome him very kindly. Kendra’s face darkened with anger at the sight of Jerryck. He said to her, “I was already awake.” Her face relaxed, her anger fading. Then Gintario said to him, “The women in your life are as lovely as rumored.” Leanne blushed, and it wasn’t her comfortable, pretty blush. Bright red splotches blossomed on her cheeks, and her head shrunk down into her shoulder as she hunched up, shying back. Kendra saw it, put her hands on her hips, and bared her teeth. “Not now, Kendra,” Jerryck cut her off before she could say something he might pay the price for. “What do you need, Gintario?” Gintario flashed a white smile, stark against his dark, olive skin. “I need a word with you.” Jerryck forced a smile. “Of course.” He led the way up to the workroom, taking a deep breath upon entering. The drying herbs up in the rafters had somehow lost some of their pungence. The air had gone stale. He should have opened the window. He glanced around at the various tools he hadn’t finished putting away, the powders he hadn’t finished grinding, he should have picked up more. Nothing for it now. He brushed a hand across the surface of the worktable, remembered his manners, and offered his guest a stool to sit, and asked if he would like a cup of tea. “Yes please,” Gintario said. While Jerryck went through the preparations, Gintario watched him with his fingers loosely laced together, resting on the worktable. He said, “You’re looking a little drawn.” “I had a busy night—” Jerryck added a portion of tea to a magically heated cup of water— “and a long workweek.” “That does have a tendency to wear a man down,” Gintario said. “You don’t hide nervousness well.” “Does anyone?” Jerryck set the cup in front of Gintario. He’d forgotten a cup for himself. He turned back to the teapot. “Some better than others,” Gintario said. “Most not as well as they think.” “So what society changing decision has the Gathering made?” Jerryck put the teapot back up on the shelf instead of pouring a second cup. “Who all does it affect?” “For now, mostly just you,” Gintario said. “If there’s ever another magician in your unique circumstances, it will affect them as well. There’s a rumor going around that you’re looking for an apprentice. Some people are highly perturbed over that, since you’ve never taken the oaths. We’ve received a number of various complaints. One of them was a personal visit, who swore you were trying to steal his nephew to corrupt him.” “I did no such thing.” Jerryck turned to face his guest. “And why would he assume I would corrupt anyone. I follow the safety rules. I would teach an apprentice to do the same. I don’t see why this is such a problem.” “The Gathering would probably let that go if it was the only issue.” Gintario leaned back slightly on his stool and crossed his arms. “They also received a report that you’re working closely with the military, something about a nighttime exercise you assisted. That’s not acceptable.” “That’s not forbidden. And the Gathering knows it.” “Not if you’ve taken the oaths. Jerryck, you hold a prestigious, highly visible position. You’re a public figure. An example. I honestly don’t know why they’ve let this go as long as they have. And at long last, they’ve decided that every magician hired into a permanent position must have credentials. Even if they were hired almost ten years ago.” “They’re going to tell the King of Brend who he can or can’t hire?” “I doubt he’d listen. He’s unreasonable when it comes to dealing with the Gathering. However, we can forbid any magician from acknowledging you, or selling to you, or trading with you, or doing any other business transactions whether of goods or information. They’re angry enough at this point, they could even issue an order to pull every magician from this country. I doubt your king would find that satisfactory.” They stared at each other for a few moments. Gintario broke the quiet. “I also don’t know why you’re so resistant. There isn’t a chance you’ll fail the tests. And if you’re obeying all their guidelines, then taking the oaths won’t even affect your day to day actions.” One of the oaths was that he would burn any woman he found who could do magic. That included his niece, even if he wasn’t sure yet what kind of magic she had the potential for. Another oath was that he would never deviate from their safety protocols. It wasn’t likely that the accidents he had would be included. “I can’t take the oaths,” Jerryck said. “Not until you complete those last two weeks of your apprenticeship and pass the tests.” Gintario gave Jerryck a sympathetic look. “It’s not meant to be demeaning. It’s just a formality at this point. I’ll stay here for the next couple weeks, and we’ll say it’s done. Then at the next convention, or sooner if you like, you can follow through and get your license. We can do it privately, or make it as complex an affair as you like. Whatever you prefer. We’ll absolutely cater to your whims on this.” “What changed?” Jerryck leaned on the worktable with both hands. “After all these years. They’ve gotten lots of complaints about me, some of them as personal visits. I don’t believe these recent ones made that much difference. And don’t tell me it was a search for an apprentice. There are lots of tricking pranksters who take on apprentices, and the Gathering doesn’t bother with them!” “There’s also the matter of a certain disrespectful letter you sent them,” Gintario said. “Something about you blaming them for a death they weren’t responsible for. They were not amused.” “If I hadn’t had to answer their letter, I’d have been available, and my brother-in-law may have survived.” “If you’d had your license, you wouldn’t have gotten a letter that you needed to respond to. You’d have been available. You blamed them for something that’s your fault. Which brings it to their attention that your neglect is killing people.” Jerryck stood straight. “I didn’t kill anyone.” “That’s not how they see it.” “And it took all this time for them to take action?” Jerryck crossed his arms. “They didn’t respond. I thought they had let it go.” Gintario shrugged. “You know how they are. If you displease them, they’ll sometimes take months, even years before they retaliate. It gives them time to study your weaknesses. I’m here to give you a chance. If you don’t want this to hurt more than necessary, I’d suggest you comply.” “When are you going to inform Terrance?” Jerryck asked. “Is there a need? Cooperate. Nothing will change except that you’ll be legal. ” Gintario stood and headed for the door. “I’ll stay out of your way over the next couple of weeks. If you like, you never even have to lay eyes on me.” He left. Jerryck leaned on the worktable again, gripping the thick edges, resisting the urge to pick up the untouched tea and chuck it down the stairs at Gintario’s head. His eyes roved across the pits, scratches, and scars on the table’s surface. Some of those were his fault, put there through his impatience and carelessness. He drew in a deep breath, and took a few moments to calm himself. Tajor was right. He was going to have to change how he dealt with the Gathering. But change it how, exactly? He pushed away from the table and descended the stairs. He had no idea where to find Tajor. But pages always knew where to find everyone. The first one he found told him, “Elite Tajor is in the throne room. If you want him right away, you should talk to General Heston. He doesn’t like us giving summons to guards in the throne room while court is in session.” He went to Heston’s office. The aide admitted him immediately. Heston didn’t even look up from the mound of papers he worked on at his desk. “I have very little time to go over reports and keep records in order. Whatever you need, please keep it short.” “I just need Tajor,” Jerryck said. “Really?” Heston stopped writing and looked up at him. “Something wrong?” “I thought I was supposed to be able to call for him whenever I wanted,” Jerryck said. “Why would you think something is wrong?” “Because we didn’t think you’d ever call on him. Did your visitor threaten you?” “How did you know I had a visitor?” Jerryck asked. Heston raised one eyebrow. Jerryck sighed. “I just need to talk to Tajor.” Heston set down his pen and went to the door. He opened it a crack and spoke to his aide. “Tell Cade he gets his wish. He can go on duty in the throne room if he sends us Tajor.” “Cade’ll be suspicious you’re going to make him pay for it later,” the aide said. “Good,” Heston replied. He shut the door and returned to his desk. He asked Jerryck, “You mind waiting quietly?” “I don’t mind.” Jerryck took one of the two chairs set by the wall. Unlike other offices where visitor chairs were right in front of the desk, these were the only extra seats in the room. The surface was hard and tipped slightly forward. Jerryck squirmed uncomfortably. He might be better off standing. Heston scratched away with his pen, seemingly oblivious to his guest. Every time he finished one paper, he snapped it onto a stack to his right, and snagged a replacement from a stack to his left. Once they had all been shuffled to the right, he picked up the stack, tapped the edges smartly against his desk to align them, and took them over to the wall lined with his filing system. When Tajor entered, he didn’t salute or stand at attention. Heston didn’t scold him for it. He simply pointed at Jerryck. Tajor smirked a little. “Have you come to exercise your right to bother me whenever you please?” Jerryck abandoned the chair. “You said I should rethink how I deal with the Gathering. Did you just mean it in general? Or did you have something specific in mind?” Tajor’s smirk widened. “Ever hear about something called passive aggression?” “I’ve heard of it,” Jerryck said with a nod. “I don’t how to apply it. And if it’s something that will cause them to aggressively pursue me, I want a different option.” Heston closed the drawer to his filing and leaned his back against it. “What did your visitor say to you?” “He essentially said the Gathering will make it impossible for me to do my job properly, unless I comply with their demands to take their oaths and get a license.” “And what did Terrance have to say about that?” Tajor asked. “I’ll tell Terrance as soon as he’s out of court.” “I’ll tell him,” Heston said. “After I have a chat with your visitor. I’ll send someone when the king ready to speak to you about it.” Jerryck headed for the door, dismissing the matter. Then paused. He turned back to Heston, “What are you going to say to Gintario?” Heston was already digging out another stack of papers from a different file drawer. “I’m going to ask him exactly what he said to you.” “I already told you that.” “You told me generalities.” Heston snapped the file shut. “I want specifics. And if they don’t match your generalities, he’s in trouble. More than he already is.” “He hasn’t done anything wrong. Exactly.” “He came to Coraline Palace as a representative from the Gathering, a foreign political body that Terrance frowns on.” Heston slapped the papers down on his desk. “He must know that, or why else would he avoid giving his message to the king.” “One of the specifics was that the Gathering doesn’t like being blamed for things they claim they didn’t do wrong,” Jerryck said. “They avoid Terrance because he still blames them for the trouble we had with some of the islands in the Archipelago about the time he hired me.” “With good reason. Exactly how much do you remember of the incident that set that off?” “I remember that a couple of core staff members were killed. And that’s the incident that also deposed the Premiere of Plurrin. And I had an accident protecting the king.” “So, not much of the details. Just the generalities.” Heston sat at his desk and picked up his pen. “Please excuse me. I can only do this work while most of my men are at morning sparring practice or on duty in court. I have very little time left. I’ll send someone for you later.”