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  • Writer's pictureRebekah Olson

Chapter 46

As soon as the sun rose, children ran shrieking outside to play in the snow before they had even eaten breakfast. At midday, the feasting started. No servers dished out this meal. The cooks set out the food. Everyone grabbed a plate and served themselves. They all sat down together to eat and exchange stories of the events of the past year. Once every belly was full, people got up one by one to announce marriage engagements. The moment they had finished, Jerryck jumped up before anyone else could. He started off the pregnancy announcements. Then he raced up to the banquet hall where the nobility held their celebrations. They were just finishing up marriage engagements, so he got to lead off the pregnancy announcements there too. Throughout the afternoon, families and close friends exchanged gifts. Jerryck gave Leanne the charm that Tajor had ruined. He’d put it on a silver chain so she could wear it as a necklace. The celebrations topped off with displays of sight and sound, artistic and beautiful, displayed by many. Poets read their works. Painters highlighted their most recent pieces. Orchestras and choirs gave performances, and everyone danced, the nobles in the ballroom, everyone else in the common dining hall. Jerryck enjoyed them all. Then he lay awake again that night, his sleeping wife in his arms. By this time next year, they would be parents celebrating their child’s first Winter Festival. After the celebrations, Leanne calmed. Her happy moods lasted longer, and her irritable ones came less frequently. Jerryck walked like he was levitating. Nothing brought him down. Not even when he was summoned to a general staff meeting a few days later. “Most of you know by now that raids have occurred within our borders,” Terrance addressed the room. He pointed to maps tacked to the wall for the occasion. “You can see the locations of the incidents marked here. They all occur within about two or three weeks of each other. The attackers are all described exactly the same, and use identical methods of operation.” Jerryck let his mind drift. How long before they could learn the gender of the child? It really was just a matter of curiosity. It made no difference to him. Boy or girl, it would still be his. Tajor poked Jerryck in the ribs, leaned over, and whispered, “You keep that vapid smile on your face and people are going to think you’ve lost your wits entirely. Can you at least try and look like you’re paying attention?” Jerryck frowned at him. Why wouldn’t Tajor consistently use the same seat in all these various staff meetings? And why, of all times, had he chosen to sit by Jerryck while he was daydreaming? Although, he probably shouldn’t. He should be paying more attention. Terrance was speaking about the steps already taken. “That will be easier done when the training for the villagers takes root,” Terrance said. One of the men in the room stood. Terrance shook his head, making the man retake his seat. “Stop trying to argue this or protest training them. The decision is made and already implemented. Heston, any updates?” “We’ve stepped up patrols all along here.” Heston drew his finger in a line on the map along the border with the Chemwanitz Mountains. “Patrols will only do so much. We don’t hope to catch anyone with them.” Lines were good. Lines did useful things, like hang mobiles to entertain babies. Jerryck stared up at the ceiling. What kind of mobile would be best? Leanne and Kendra both swore the babies could see bright colors better than dull ones. Perhaps shiny and flashy might work even better than bright colors. And what if the mobile played music? He could use magic to make it glow and play music. Tajor poked him again. Someone standing on the floor said, “So the training of the villagers is to make up for the inefficiency of the patrols? Isn’t there some other preventative we can take?” Jerryck knew how to make small objects float for short periods. If he did that, he wouldn’t have to string a line from the ceiling. Of course, he would have to stand right there, keeping the objects floating the entire time. No, it was probably better to string the line. “Jerryck!” Terrance called. “Huh?” Jerryck snapped his attention back. “I’m sorry. I was distracted.” “I asked how many wards you’ve completed,” Terrance said. “And how soon they can go out to the villages.” “Only twelve.” Jerryck flushed with embarrassment. “And I’m having trouble putting a trigger on them that a layman can use. A magician will have to plant and activate them individually if you want them to go out right away. I know one from Kershet that would be willing to take the job. While he’s doing that, I can work on making more.” Heston hadn’t moved from beside the map. “We could get them out faster if you send him out with those twelve, and then you go in the other direction to more villages.” Jerryck refrained from rolling his eyes. “If I send what I have with another magician, I wouldn’t have any to place at other villages.” “You have to make them here at the palace?” Tajor asked. Jerryck glared at him. Of course he could make them other places. That wasn’t the point. He’d done more traveling in the past several months that he wanted to do in the next several years. And winter was not the best time to take a trip. Most importantly, now was the worst time to leave his family with his wife newly pregnant. “Wouldn’t it be safer to have one magician out there with these wards?” Terrance asked. Tajor raised an eyebrow. “Safer for the villagers? Or safer for the magician?” Terrance pinched the bridge of his nose. “If multiple people go in different directions, doesn’t that increase the risk of the wards getting stolen?” Tajor shrugged. “Who would want them? And would it really matter? Can’t Jerryck just make more?” Terrance lowered his hand from his face and asked Jerryck, “Is there anyone else who can make them?” “There are several other magicians who could figure it out as well as I did,” Jerryck said. “Can they make them immediately?” Tajor asked. “While traveling to where they need to be placed? Or would it take them as much time to figure it out as it took you?” Terrance scowled at Tajor. “Why are you pressing so hard for him to leave?” “Honestly, I’m trying to figure out how you’re going to decide which choice to make.” Tajor interlaced his fingers together on the table and cocked his head. “Both choices have drawbacks. I fully understand his need to stay here. But at the cost of how many lives? Do you suppose your villagers will mind the delay in the addition to their safety?” The question hung. Everyone looked to Terrance. Jerryck shrank down in his chair. His high spirits crashed even before Terrance said, “Jerryck, I need you to go and do this as soon as possible.” Jerryck walked out of the meeting without being excused. He grabbed the nearest page and snapped at him to fetch Leanne. Then he climbed up to his bedroom. He snagged his travel bag and shoved in the first things that came to his hand. Leanne came sooner than expected. “I got your message. What’s so urgent that you had to talk right now?” She looked inside the bag. “Are you going somewhere?” He nodded, jamming a couple more things in. She took one of them back out. “My festival shoes? Am I going with you?” He shook his head. She took the bag from him and dug through it. “Then why were you putting some of my things in here? Were you even paying attention to what you packed?” He dropped down to sit on the bed. “No.” “Then how are you supposed to know you have what you need?” She upended the bag, dumping everything out beside him. “I kind of don’t care right now.” “You kind of will care later,” she said as she sorted through the hodgepodge. “You have no extra socks, and these shirts are summer weight. You’d freeze out there.” “Or I’d have to turn around and come right back,” he mumbled. “Where are you going?” She took some of his heavier clothes out of the wardrobe. “And why?” “Those wards I made,” he said. “I can’t get a trigger to work on them. I have to go out and place them one by one. And I have to make more while I’m on the road so there’ll be enough of them.” “I see.” She folded the clothes into the bottom of the bag. “Then you’ll definitely need extra socks.” Jerryck gave her a hurt look. “You’re perfectly fine with me leaving you like this?” “Of course not!” She opened the drawer in the bureau where he kept his extra leggings. “I’ll have to manage. Kendra will help. It’s not like you’d leave me if you had a choice.” “If it was summer, I could take you with me,” he said. He scrubbed his face with his hands. Then he waved them around. “If you didn’t hate traveling. And meeting new people. But you do. And it’s not summer. And I can’t take you. I won’t even take Zev. I’ll have to arrange for someone else to give up his lessons. And I have no way of making sure that you’re all safe, and healthy, and happy. And if something happens while I’m not here to help, if you get sick, or hurt, or—” “Calm down.” She took hold of one of his hands. “I’m fine. We’re all fine.” “Kendra’s husband used to say that a lot, even when he wasn’t fine. And look what happened.” She let go of his hand and continued with the packing. “Tell you what… Every village you go to, send me a letter. If I need you, I’ll send a letter to your next destination.” “I’ll still be far enough away that I couldn’t get to you immediately.” “Open a portal, like you did for the shamaness,” she said. “You keep that corner of the first floor of the tower cleared for it. Could you use that?” A calmness settled over Jerryck with that suggestion. “Yes. As a matter of fact, I could.”

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