“Sakila left yesterday?” Terrence interlaced his fingers in front of himself, and leaned his back hips on his desk. “Why didn’t you let me know?” “I’m sorry,” Jerryck said. “I wasn’t thinking. She learned from scrying that there was an emergency at her home. She needed to go heal one of her tribe members. So I opened a portal for her. After that, I was so drained I just wanted to sleep.” “That’s a relief.” Terrence released his breath and let his shoulders drop. “Malk was concerned that you had created another foreign relations mess. I’ll let him know that you strengthened ties instead. Now, while you are here, tell me how you’re progressing on the warning systems for the villages.” “I’ve figured out which method to use,” Jerryck said. “There were several different options. I studied up on each one—what it would take, how long it would last—and I narrowed it down to two. I could place a group of small wards around the perimeter of a village, similar to the system I use here in the palace. That way if one fails, the others pick up the slack. But in a village, they would be more level with each instead of at different heights, like here the palace. So that might leave a gap in the center where they override each other.” “As far as we know, these raiders won’t open a portal right in the center of town.” Terrance rubbed his stubbly beard. “Still, it’s best not to leave them that option.” “Which is why I chose to make one large ward to place in the center of the village,” Jerryck said. “It wouldn’t have the redundancy of multiple wards, so I would have to use more care in the making. It will also require less maintenance later.” “Do that then.” Terrance turned and plucked a paper from the corner of his cluttered desk. “I got another raid report this morning. The sooner we implement this, the better.” Jerryck left the king’s office and went back to his workroom. He crossed through it, passed the curtain to the closet in the back. He stepped around his nephew’s sleeping cot, and dug through some of the boxes stacked against the wall. He brought out a handful of charms and laid them on his worktable. He reviewed the magic in his books one more time, making certain he had the process correct. Then he picked up the first charm and carefully examined it. Even though it wasn’t likely there were any spells or residual magic currently on it, he followed protocols and searched anyway. Once he knew beyond any doubt that it was clear, he primed the charm, orienting the material it was made of to better receive the type of magic he would place upon it. Not all magicians went through this time-consuming tedium. The ones who didn’t were the ones who made inferior products that required more maintenance over a shorter period of time. The sun dropped low enough to cast long shadows in the workroom. He lit a lamp, and layered a foundation on to the charm. When he finished, he could trigger it with a nudge of magic to clang with the deep tones of a large bell. Now it just needed specificity, exactly what event or magic would cause the trigger. His stomach growled. He had missed supper again. His wife and sister would scold him. Better to face it sooner rather than later. He went to see if there was anything left to eat. When he passed the bedroom, he stopped. He backed up a step and looked in. Leanne was already asleep. It had to be later than he thought. He stepped over to the window to get a better sense of the time. Most of the lamps in the palace were still lit. A lot of it usually darkened before people even finished the evening dancing. Leaving Leanne to sleep, he went down to the kitchens. Music played in the common dining hall. People thumped out dance steps in perfect rhythm. What time was it really? “There you are.” Kendra snagged him by the sleeve and dragged him the rest of the way into the kitchens. “I was about to dump the food I save for you in the scrapheap. You really need to take better care of yourself, stop skipping meals like this.” He accepted the cold plate she shoved at him and asked, “What time is it?” “After supper.” She narrowed her eyes at him and pointed out to the dancing. “Do you not see people doing the same thing they do every night after supper? Or do you think they just decided to change it around and dance before they ate instead?” “Leanne’s asleep,” Jerryck said. “I thought it was later than this.” “She was tired.” Kendra turned to narrow her eyes at a couple of dishwashers who had slackened their pace. “More tired than usual. I told her to go to bed.” Jerryck quickly ate and went to join her. She didn’t even stir as he crawled in. When morning came, she slept much later than usual. He had to wake her, and then help her out with her usual mundane morning routine. She dragged herself through it while complaining that she couldn’t keep her eyes open. Worried, Jerryck reached out and touched her aura. It moved sluggishly, like it was low on energy, as if her body was expending it on some sort of strenuous activity. But she’d been sleeping for hours. What could she possibly have been spending energy on? Healing maybe? Was she fighting a cold? He checked for that. Her lungs were clear. Her throat was clear. Her nose was clear. No coughing. No wheezing. No sniffling. She wasn’t plugged up in the slightest, let alone ill. Maybe it wasn’t anything so sinister as illness. Maybe she had just worked too hard the day before. That was a simple, yet plausible explanation. Since she was fine, he put it out of his mind and went to work. The moment he picked up the ward, someone came to the tower asking for a healing spell. Before he finished with them, another waited. It seemed half the palace had contracted the sniffles and low-grade fevers overnight. Before lunch, he went to Head Medic Kellos for help. “Can I send patients your way?” he asked. Kellos didn’t even look up at him, too busy measuring out dosages of medicines. “We’re already swamped.” “Terrence gave me a specific task,” Jerryck said. “I’m already behind because I kept the shamaness entertained.” Kellos frowned. “You did spend a lot of time with her.” “She’s curious about magicians,” Jerryck said. “As curious as you are about shamanism?” Kellos spared him a doleful glance before stopping up the bottle he’d been pouring from. “The last time she was here, you blew up your workroom. You could’ve killed yourself!” “She’s gone now,” Jerryck said. “And I didn’t blow anything up.” “I still don’t understand why she stayed so long.” Kellos snagged another bottle and started measuring from it. “Unless she planned ahead of time to use a magician to travel back. Besides you, I don’t know of any magician who would be amenable to helping her out with that.” “She’d made arrangements with another Shaman for magic travel,” Jerryck said. “Oh.” Kellos stopped pouring. “But the other Shaman was busy. So I ended up helping her after all.” “You’re not so good at that part.” Jerryck bridled a bit. “I can open portals just fine.” “You have trouble with the scrying ahead of it,” Kellos said. He used a glass stick to mix what he’d measured together. “She did the scrying,” Jerryck said. “I just observed, saw what she saw.” Kellos stopped stirring, before he could possibly be finished. He held the stick poised above the solution. “You observed what someone else scryed? Is that even possible?” “I guess so, since I did it.” Jerryck shrugged. “I still don’t think I could do the actual scrying very well. Not on my own. Observing someone else was a lot safer than the way I normally do it. Anyway, back to my original question. Can I send patients your way? I really do need some time on this project.” Kellos stared at him for a moment. He still held the stick above what he needed to finish stirring. Then he swallowed, caught his breath, and said, “Sure.” Jerryck went back up to his tower. People kept coming to him. For the most part, he could now send them away. Still, every interruption set him back. When Zev came up a couple of hours after lunch, Jerryck gave him a book and said, “Go out on the landing to read. And don’t let anyone in unless they’re dying. I have to work on this project.” “I want to help with that instead,” Zev whined. “Keep people from bothering me and you are helping.” Zev stuck out his lower lip in a pout. “Not that way. I want to help make the magic.” “Magic isn’t all just spells and incantations. You should know that by now. There’s a lot of preparatory work ahead of time. With some things you have to layer spell after spell just right, and you need uninterrupted time. So go make sure I get some.” Zev mumbled complaints all the way out. As soon as he was gone, Jerryck went back to work. He kept at it until supper time, when Leanne came bursting in. He fumbled the last bit of the spell. He would have to start that part all over. He tossed the charm down on the table and gripped the edges, keeping hold of his temper. She flitted around the room, picking things up, setting them back down, idly moving knickknacks around, putting away the books he’d gotten out. She was so cheery, his irritation evaporated. He picked up the charm, examining, pinpointing exactly where he would have to pick up the magic, only half listening to her chattering away about all the babies she got to see and hold as part of her midwife job. She stopped right in front of him and asked, “So what you think?” “About what?” he asked. “About babies.” He set the charm down flat and leaned over it while he answered his wife. “I think they’re great.” She leaned forward, too close to the charm for him to work properly. “You want one?” “Someday.” He moved the charm away from her. She straightened up. Her face darkened with anger for some reason. “Someday?” “I like family,” he said. “We definitely should have more someday. I’m kind of busy right now, though. And babies are a lot of work.” She stepped back, shouting, “Haven’t you heard one word I said?” “You were talking about your job and how much you enjoy it,” he said. She backed closer to the door, her lips tightening into a thin line. He straightened up from the charm, giving her his full attention. “Weren’t you?” She ran out, jerking the door open so hard it bounced off the wall and slammed shut again behind her. Jerryck winced, scrunching his face. What had he missed this time? Just how badly had he messed up? Kendra would know what was going on. He went down to the kitchens. Leanne must’ve gone straight to his sister, because she started yelling at him for upsetting his wife before he got one word out. He had to go out and sit down to supper with her children to get her to leave off. When most people had finished eating, the tables were stacked against the walls and the benches were pushed up against them, leaving only a few eating spaces for stragglers. Musicians broke out their instruments. People thumped out the rhythms, whirling and clapping in time. Gossip ran amok. A few people made their way outside into the chilly night air. The majority stayed indoors with the warmth. Jerryck found Leanne sitting on one of the benches, rather than dancing. He approached her. She turned and looked away, stiff and rigid as a stone. He sat next to her anyway. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You don’t even know what your sorry for,” she snapped. “No,” he admitted. “And I’m sorry for that too.” Her back relaxed into its natural curve. She turned and let him draw her close. Apologizing for nothing had worked once again. Why did it work? Who cared? It did!