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  • Rebekah Olson

Chapter 49

Garret stood where he could see both the raider and the landing. If anyone entered the tower, he’d see them. If the raider stirred, he’d see him. Jerryck was too tired to tell him that the raider wouldn’t move as long as the sleep magic held. And if someone entered the tower, they’d hear it because the door squeaked. He leaned his head against the wall and let his eyes close. Home. Soon he would see his family. Sleep in his own bed. Eat in familiar surroundings. Use his own tools. He nearly slipped over into sleep when the door squeaked open. He rubbed his face against grogginess and opened his eyes. Heston, Tajor, Cade, and two other elite guards came in. Heston scowled at the raider. “You didn’t put him in restraints?” “He’s restrained by magic,” Jerryck mumbled. “I see,” Heston said. “Tajor, carry him down to the dungeon.” “You sure you want that?” Tajor’s gray eyes glittered with bemusement. “That won’t create too much of a hassle just to make a point to someone who won’t pick up on it?” Heston glared at him. Then he snapped his fingers at the other elite guards. They picked up the man and carried him out. Heston grabbed Jerryck’s arm and hoisted him to his feet. “You’re coming.” “I hate the dungeon.” Jerryck pried uselessly at Heston’s vice grip pulling him out into the corridors. “I don’t want to see what you’re going to do to that man.” “You restrained him,” Heston growled, dragging him along. “You’re helping.” By the time Heston bullied Jerryck down to the dungeon, to the part without the magic dampening spell, and into a large room where the guards had taken the prisoner, they’d stripped the sleeping man naked and strapped him down to a table. The bare flesh revealed a few scars, most of them odd, like the small circular one on his abdomen. Tajor went through the man’s clothing, fingering some of the objects he took out of the pockets. “This man is definitely not from the mountains,” Cade told Heston. “Look at these things. Chemwanee don’t use these kinds of undergarments. During the winter, they usually line their clothes with down, or hair, or something else that insulates. I’ve never seen undergarments like these. And we can’t even identify some of these other things. They’re completely unfamiliar to all of us.” “Not all of us,” Tajor said. “This isn’t a Chemwanitz practice, either.” Kent lifted the man’s right shoulder, revealing a small symbol tattooed on the shoulder blade. It had perpendicular, black lines crossing each other, bending at right angles on the ends to form a square with open corners. Jerryck leaned in for a good look. Magic-users south of the Ahnjwat Sea often tattooed themselves to aid their spells. This man had fair skin, not the dark, blackish brown of the Southerners. And this symbol wasn’t anything Jerryck had ever seen or studied. “Tajor said it’s an ancient sun symbol,” Kent told him. “What’s your impression of their offensive and defensive styles?” Tajor asked as he examined a small, cylindrical object with a rounded end that dangled on a jewelry chain like some kind of charm. It couldn’t be a charm though. There was no magic on it in the slightest, and Tajor wasn’t acting like he just came in contact with any kind of spell. “They weren’t very good with blades,” Cade said. “More bluff than skill.” “They acted more accustomed to being shot at with projectiles,” Kent added. “Did any of them say anything?” Tajor set the cylinder down and leaned over to examine the circular scar on the man’s abdomen. “When Jerryck attacked them—” Cade said— “they started shouting ‘tsow barer.’ Then one of them called ‘rook zoog’ and ’shnell’ several times, and then they disengaged and retreated.” Tajor clenched his jaw and stood straight without taking his eyes off the prisoner. Heston said, “Tell me what you’re thinking.” Tajor stared at the prisoner’s face. “I’m thinking I’d like to ask our guest a few very pointed questions.” “How are you going to do that if he speaks a language no one understands?” Jerryck asked. “Who told you I don’t understand that language?” Tajor smirked. For once, it brought no mirth to his eyes. They remained gray and flat, void of amusement. “What were the words Cade told you?” Jerryck asked. “Zauberer means magician.” Tajor pronounced the word very much like the raiders had. “The other two words were a call for a quick retreat. Did you do something that scared them?” “Where did you learn an ancient language I’ve never heard before?” Jerryck demanded. With his trips to the conventions, he’d heard a lot of languages, probably more than anyone else in the entire palace. “Who said it’s an ancient language?” “Didn’t you say the tattoo is an ancient sun symbol?” “That doesn’t mean the language is ancient,” Tajor said. “And with this particular combination—this language with that symbol, and the items he carried—it’s a problem.” Heston’s scowl deepened. “How big a problem?” “I need to talk to him to ascertain the level of threat.” Tajor sighed. “Hopefully, what I suspect is wrong.” “Jerryck.” Heston pointed to the prisoner. “Can you rouse him just enough that he’s only partially awake?” Jerryck nodded. Perhaps it was good that he’d come after all. If it helped them learn what they needed without torturing the prisoner. Eager to get this over with and leave, he focused on the sleep magic. Tajor held up a hand, stopping him. “Not until we tell you we’re ready.” “Blind him,” Heston said. Kent jumped over with a cloth that he tied around the prisoner’s eyes. Jerryck asked, “Why?” “If this man has military training, we have slim chances of getting any easy information out of him,” Tajor said. “Putting him in a semi-conscious state will make it easier for us. Being groggy will put his guard down. I’ll catch him further off guard by talking to him in his language. Blinding him will further his disorientation, adding to our chances. Even still, we’ll probably only get a few good questions before he starts resisting.” “You think he’ll start struggling to wake up more,” Jerryck concluded. Tajor nodded. “When I do this—” he made a cutoff gesture with a flat hand slicing vertically through the air— “immediately put him back to sleep.” Heston added, “And the entire time, you maintain silence.” Jerryck nodded. He waited for Tajor to tell him to start. Then he focused on the magic. It almost would have been easier if they had been in the part of the dungeon that had the dampening spell. He could just open it up to that. As it was, he shouldered all of the work. He lightened the strength, slowly powering it down. Easing it back. Little by little. Increment by increment. The man groaned slightly. Jerryck stopped adjusting and held the magic at that level. The man stirred, drawing in deeper breaths, twitching his fingers and toes. Tajor started talking using a gentle voice, soft, right next to the man’s ear. Slurring through sleep numbed lips, the man responded. The language was harsher and more guttural coming from him, spoken at the back of his mouth and tongue. When Tajor spoke the same language it was fluid and almost musical. As predicted, after only a minute or so of slow exchange, the prisoner struggled against the magic. Jerryck tightened his hold. They talked a bit more. The man frowned. His aura hit the magic so hard, Jerryck staggered with the jolt. He put a hand on the wall behind him and broke out in a sweat. He tightened his hold agai, and braced himself for another hit. The man’s muscles flexed, his arms and legs pulling at the leather straps binding him to the table. His speech patterns grew harsher. His heart sped up, coursing his blood, waking the man further despite the magic. Tajor gave the cutoff gesture. Jerryck surged power back into the magic, reinstating it to full strength. It overwhelmed the man, sinking him back down into unconsciousness. His muscles went slack. His breathing deepened and evened out. His heart rate slowed back down to a normal pace. Jerryck sagged against the wall in relief. “Did you get what we need?” Heston asked. “I got enough to know that I need to speak with the king,” Tajor half answered. “We’ll need to speak with the rest of the core staff after that.” Heston glowered. “Tell me now.” “Privately,” Tajor replied, tipping his head deferentially. # Jerryck went searching for his wife. With the palace nearing lunchtime, there was so much bustling activity, he couldn’t find her in the quarter hour left before court ended. He left a message for her and dragged his feet to the small council chamber. He sat down, leaned his head back, and let drowsiness flow over him. The aroma of cooked food filled the room. Dishes clanked. Heston said, “Keep him awake.” Someone tapped Jerryck’s shoulder. He slit his eyes open to the kitchen server standing next to him. The man asked, “Would you like some hot tea?” That started it. No one would leave him alone after that. Servers kept peppering him with questions about his preferences while they laid out lunch and the core staff gathered. The steward shooed the servers out when Terrance entered. Nita and Tajor followed him in. Terrance said, “Apologies for my delay. I took the time to clear my schedule for however long we need to take in here.” He looked around the room, at everyone nodding acknowledgment, and paused when he saw Jerryck. His brow wrinkled with concern. “Are you all right?” “Tired,” Jerryck said. “Have you seen your family yet?” Jerryck shook his head. “They don’t know I’m back. And I couldn’t find them before lunch started. I left a message for my wife.” “Perhaps you should go rest,” Terrance said. “I’ll have her sent to you and catch you up later on everything in this meeting.” Tempting. Jerryck couldn’t decide what he wanted more, his bed or his wife. A combination of the both would be bliss. But then who would verify that the portal had been opened by the very person they were looking for? And if he gave in to his weariness, how much rest would he get if he spent the time fretting that Terrance wasn’t getting the service he had hired Jerryck for? And beyond that, what kind of example would that be to his sister’s kids? What kind of father would that make him when his own child was born? “I’ll manage,” Jerryck said. He picked up his fork, digging into the plate someone had put in front of him. Eating would help. “Heston informed you all of the reason for this meeting,” Terrance said, taking his seat for once. Heads nodded around the table. He stated it anyway. “You all know about the raids. We captured one of them alive, and questioned him. Jerryck, what you don’t know is that Shontarra has the same problem.” “The same group?” Jerryck paused, his fork halfway between his plate and his mouth. “From what we can tell.” Heston leaned back, not touching his own fork. “They’re described the same. They’re dressed the same. They have about the same number of people. And they operate the same. If it’s a different group, they’re answering to the same authority.” “How often are these raids occurring?” Jerryck asked. “Once or twice every fortnight,” Heston said. “This can’t be right.” Jerryck shook his head and dropped his fork back onto his plate. “How is one person recovering his energy enough to do it that often?” “What if they’re a whole group of magicians?” The steward spoke with his mouth full of food, and shoveled more in. “The prisoner referred to only one magician working with this group,” Tajor said. “And considering where this group is from, the fact that they’re using magic at all is incongruent. They shouldn’t be making any portals. So it stands to reason, they’re using unorthodox methods of energy recovery as well.” “You figured out where they came from?” Chamberlain Malk swirled his wine in his goblet with agitation. Next to him, Chancellor Herron leaned forward. “They come from a country far removed from here,” Tajor said. “It’s one where science is so prevalent that most people don’t believe magic exists. However, this country is under the rule of a dictator who’s fascinated with it, and wants to believe it’s real.” Jerryck rolled his eyes and picked up his fork again. “It is real. Belief or desire have nothing to do with it. Can’t they see the evidence of magic and know it from that?” “They’re blind to the evidence,” Tajor said. “Their scientists have made excuses to explain it away. So because of the society, their leader has hidden away his belief to all but a select few. Apparently, one of that select few has found his way here. He opened a portal and brought some soldiers with him.” Heston crossed his arms. “What would they come here for?” “Resources perhaps,” Tajor said. “This nation is typically short on resources when they go through this time period.” Before anyone could question Tajor’s odd statement, Terrance said, “What would they have to gain by stirring up trouble between the Chemwanitz and her neighbors?” “If they’re after raw materials, the mountains have them.” Heston rose and slowly paced along the wall. “If they’re a small group here, they may not have enough influence to gain what they’re after. If they cause enough trouble that fighting breaks out, we may weaken ourselves against each other, making it easier for them.” “So our sister nation could be playing right into their hands,” Terrance said. Heston gave one curt nod. “Precisely.” “What else have I missed?” Jerryck asked. “Prince Andreno is bulking up his army,” Terrance said. “I sent him a letter of inquiry to make certain he has no plans to march troops across our border. He invited me to assist him in an invasion into the Chemwanitz in retaliation for the raided villages.” Jerryck’s jaw dropped with shock. “He doesn’t honestly think that will work, does he? Even the Gathering of Seats couldn’t subdue the mountains when they warred with the shamans.” “That was a couple hundred years ago,” Terrance said with a grimace. “Andreno doesn’t listen to anyone saying anything he doesn’t like to hear. I don’t imagine any history tutor he ever had would have received different treatment.” “The Chemwanee didn’t raid any villages!” Jerryck shook his fork for emphasis. “I told him that,” Terrance said. “He demanded proof.” “Which means he didn’t fully investigate the attacks,” Heston concluded. He continued pacing. “We have proof now,” Nita said, rearranging the bits of food left on her plate. “We caught one of the raiders, and he’s obviously not a Chemwanee. Invite Andreno to come and see, listen to the man’s language.” “He won’t come.” Heston stopped pacing and faced her. “He’s preoccupied with his coming military campaign.” Nita slapped her fork down. “Then send the prisoner to him.” She pointed a finger back and forth between Heston and her father. “If we let him make this mistake, and he finds out later that we had proof the entire time, he could turn that army on us out of spite.” Heston cocked his head at Terrance. “She’s right.” “Is there any more information you think we could get out of this man?” Terrance asked. “Not without torture,” Heston replied. “That’s not a good idea,” Chamberlain Malk said. He pushed his goblet away. “Not if you want to make contact with these people and have good credence with them. If we treat one of their men well, even after what he did, that’s all the more respect we can demand from them.” Terrance stroked the stubble of beard on his chin, his eyes unfocused. “And if I send him to Andreno, what are the chances we lose him?” “High,” Heston said. “If we lose him to Andreno,” Malk said, “whatever happens to him after that is on Shontarra. Not us.” “How many men should take him?” Terrance asked. “A large enough group to keep him secure, and make the journey safe,” Heston resumed his pacing. “A small enough group to travel fast. They have to get to Andreno before his campaign starts.” “Jerryck—” Terrance didn’t look at him, his eyes still unfocused— “I don’t suppose you could open a portal for some of the distance and shorten the trip?” Jerryck shuddered. “Not after fighting last night and opening a portal this morning. I’m exhausted. I know a few magicians in the city who could.” Heston glared at Jerryck. “We’re not employing any civilians for something this sensitive.” “Besides,” Terrance said, focusing his eyes on Jerryck. “None are available. You must be so tired you’re not thinking quite straight. You know very well that when winter hits, there’s a rash of people paying for that kind of travel. Kershet’s magicians able to do it are depleted by now. They always are every year.” Jerryck sighed. Perhaps he was even more tired than he thought. He did know that. And he was embarrassed that Terrance had needed to remind him. “What if the prisoner stayed half asleep during the trip?” Tajor asked. “We wouldn’t have to worry about him causing any trouble that way.” “For the entire trip?” Heston stopped pacing again and rubbed his chin. “Perhaps the medics might have something that would do that.” “Not really,” Jerryck said, the food he’d eaten growing heavier and heavier in his stomach. “Not for that long. Not if you want him healthy at the end of the trip. And that’s only if you can convince one of them to come along to give continual dosages.” “Aside from that,” Tajor said. “It would mean making more people aware of the situation.” Jerryck could do it. He pushed his plate away and sank down into his chair. He didn’t want to leave again. He’d just gotten back. And he hadn’t even seen Leanne yet. He scrubbed his face with his palms. He hadn’t finished setting the wards in the villages. One way or another, staying wasn’t an option. So really, it came down to a choice between which direction he thought had the chance of saving more lives. A few villages? Or preventing a possible war between two nations? He said, “The magician we sent to the southern villages to set the wards. He’ll have to figure out how to make them.” “He already has,” Heston said. “Why?” “He’s going to have to finish my route.” Jerryck’s mouth dried out, making the next few words even harder than they already were. “I’ll help take the raider to Andreno.”

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