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  • Rebekah Olson

Spell Caster Chapter 17

During the next few days, nobles and rich merchants came to the palace in anticipation of the Shontese delegation. Jerryck probably wouldn’t have noticed if they didn’t keep sending him little requests they could ask from anyone, not a magician. And if he didn’t have to eat supper in the banquet hall like he did at the end of every week. The day of the expected arrival most of the guests claimed spots outside the grand entrance hours beforehand. Jerryck watched from his bedroom window, all of them jockeying for positions. He complained to Leanne. “I don’t even know why they’re all here. It’s not like we’ve never received Shontese delegations before.” “We’ve never received one headed up by the grandnephew of their prince before.” Leanne straightened out his clothes and smoothed them down. He’d had to dress formally. Terrance expected his entire core staff to come out and greet the Shontese Lord. Chancellor Herron and Chamberlain Malk were already out there, mingling and chatting and smiling, probably having a wonderful time. Jerryck had no intention of exposing himself to that crowd any earlier than he had to. Leanne still fussed over him for some reason. “You look so nice when you’re all dressed up like this.” He looked down at himself. His pants were pleated. The double-breasted shirt had piping along the seams. It was long sleeved, and made of thick material to make it stiff. On a warm day in early summer, with a lot of people dressed like him, that crowd was going to be stinky. Why did it matter so much what they looked like? The high vantage of his tower let them see over the wall. The caravan bringing the Shontese delegation approached. Later in the summer, that many horses, men, and wagons would raise a cloud of dust, even though the road was paved with quarried stone. When they got to about a half-mile out, the guards on the wall rang the bell, signaling the approach. Jerryck let out an exasperated breath. He forced his legs to carry him down all the stairs. Too bad he didn’t have a way to turn himself invisible. Or at least go somewhat unnoticed. He stepped out of the shelter of the palace, into the crowd. “Lord Magician!” The mother of the young Premiere of Plurrin strode toward him, parting the sea of people with sweeping arms as she moved. “Just the person I’ve been looking for!” “Lady Emmalyn.” Jerryck put on what was supposed to be a smile. Hopefully it didn’t look too much like a grimace. “You’re a long way from home.” Plurrin was one of the smaller districts in Brend, located at the coast on the southern border of the nation. Despite its size, it was also one of the more important districts. Its location on the coast gave it access to good harbors, fishing, and trade. Technically, sixteen-year-old Wendirrop was the premiere, but everyone knew his mother was really the person in charge. “The journey was simply wretched.” Emmalyn fanned herself with one of her long sleeves. “You’ve traveled enough. You know how it can be. But when I heard that Prince Sanbralio’s grandnephew was coming, I knew I simply had to visit. After all, he is negotiating trade.” “And tariffs,” Jerryck said. He looked at the faces all around them. Surely there had to be someone he knew nearby that he could use as an excuse to get away. “And everyone knows how important Plurrin is for trade between our two sister nations!” She flung her arms out wide, nearly swiping someone’s head. Then she folded her hands in front of herself. “But that’s not what I needed to talk to you about. I need advice.” “You?” Jerryck nearly choked, trying to keep from laughing. “Advice?” “My son has decided it’s high time Plurrin had its own district magician. So I’m gathering recommendations for the position. So far, everyone has suggested magician Bennett. I’m not sure he’d want to give up his position as Oceanside’s city magician. I thought you would be up to give me an honest opinion, since you have nothing to gain or lose, you having no credentials or anything.” “What do my lack of credentials have to do with giving advice?” She sort of gave half a shrug. “Well, you know…” “No, not really,” Jerryck said. He caught sight of Priad Lalven passing through the crowd. He appeared to be arguing with the man walking beside him. Jerryck seized the opportunity. “I’ll ask Lalven.” Emmalyn’s upper lip curled. “He said if my son wants a district magician, he should ask himself.” “I’ll ask anyway.” Jerryck sidled away from her, hurrying to catch Lalven. The man with him had a scarred and pitted face with a scowl to match. It gave him a rough appearance despite his finery. A couple of gold rings adorned thick and gnarled fingers that kept closing into fists. The velvet of his tunic didn’t hide the build of muscle in his arms and chest. The way his eyebrows drew together gave him a glower that matched the angry tone in his voice as he talk to Lalven. “Now is perfect! The thief isn’t with him to thwart me. If you’d just—” “No, Keniv.” Lallvin held up one hand. “You have my answer. This isn’t the time nor the place for that sort of thing.” The man pulled up short when he saw Jerryck. “Who are you?” “Mind your manners,” Lalven said. Then his face cleared and he said to Jerryck, “Please, excuse my cousin. He’s being irritable.” “Cousin?” Jerryck looked the man up and down. There was no family resemblance to Lalven in the slightest. Some of Lalven’s frown leaked back. “Distant cousin… Very distant cousin. What can I do for you?” “I just need an escape from the dowager.” Jerryck pointed to Emmalyn, who had already found a new victim to talk at. “Who wouldn’t?” Lalven gave the woman a look of scorn he normally reserved only for the princess. “She didn’t ask you how to get Terrance’s romantic attention again, did she?” “No.” “Or how to circumvent the rules of Processions and somehow get Nita to let Wendirrop court her?” “No.” “Too bad.” Lalven clucked his tongue. “Either of those would’ve been the perfect excuse to ask her to leave.” “She just wanted to know about hiring a magician.” “Ah, that tired story. Yes. She’s been asking everyone for months now. Typical woman. Ask everyone. Do nothing.” Jerryck held up his hands and backed away. “Please don’t start on that.” The necessity of socializing was bad enough. Listening to another prejudicial rant about the evils of women from Lalven would make this occasion truly torturous. Lalven and Keniv continued on through the crowd. Jerryck ducked around a few sweating people until he was out of Emmalyn’s site. Then he bumped into Thessallim, a fellow magician, with the Magician Letz standing right behind him. “Careful there.” Thessallim smiled at him. “Better to watch where you’re going or you’re liable to bump into someone unpleasant. Lucky for you, it’s just me.” “Lucky,” Letz said with a snort. “He probably finds you unpleasant.” “Nonsense!” Thessallim laughed. “You don’t, do you, Jerryck?” “Jerryck thinks most magicians are unpleasant,” Letz said. “Which might be why he’s looking for someone new in the trade.” “How did you know I’m looking for someone new?” Jerryck hadn’t sent a letter to either of these men yet. “We were both with Ressell when he got your letter.” Thessallim laughed again. “Lucky us.” Letz snarled at him. “Would you stop going on with all the garbage about luck?” Thessallim’s smile didn’t waver. “Not as long as people keep paying me so well for it. Call it something else if you don’t like the word luck. You could call it providence instead of luck. Since prayers are what actually does it.” Jerryck turned to walk away. This conversation was about as desirable as listening to one of Lalven’s stupid rants. Letz put a hand on Jerryck’s shoulder. “Wait, please. I need to talk to you.” “Me too!” Thessallim said. “Ressell said he’d ask around Kershet for you,” Letz said. “But you may want to reconsider the idea of taking on an apprentice.” “I’m not sure I’ll have much of a choice,” Jerryck said. “The Gathering of Seats isn’t going to like this.” Letz leaned close, speaking with low tones. “How many times have I warned you to steer clear of them, not to draw attention to yourself?” “It won’t matter if he finishes out that apprenticeship and gets his credentials,” Thessallim said, louder, drawing attention from those around. He lifted an arm to Jerryck’s shoulder, exposing a large, damp patch in the armpit of his shirt. “Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll stay here for the next couple of weeks. We’ll say it’s done, and you can go take your tests!” “Get away from me!” Jerryck threw off Thessallim’s arm and the reek from under it. “How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not finishing my apprenticeship under you!” “And you shouldn’t,” Letz said. “The two of you utilize completely different forms of magic. The very idea is ridiculous. Now, if you were to consider someone like Masorno, he’s much more qualified for you.” “Stop!” Jerryck backed away with his hands up in front of him. “Just stop. I threw Masorno out last time he was here.” Thessallim snickered. “We heard all about it. Every magician in the entire city heard when he came through ranting to anyone who would listen.” “I’m not taking on anyone I know as a mentor,” Jerryck said. Letz frowned. “You’ve said that for how many years now?” “About ten,” Thessallim said. “It still has to happen. Something will change eventually. The Seats won’t stand for this to continue forever.” Another bell rang. The first of the Shontese delegation entered the gates onto the grounds of the palace. The two visiting magicians turned along with everyone else to watch. Jerryck slipped away. He was supposed to go to the steps outside the grand entrance anyway. As distasteful as it was to put himself on display, it made him inaccessible to certain individuals, even if only temporarily. He got there the same time as the chancellor, the chamberlain, and the priad. The household steward and the General both came outside with Terrance and Nita. By the time they all took their positions, the Shontese carriage had come to a stop. The wagons were still rolling in. Jerryck didn’t bother trying to count the red and gray clad escort soldiers. There were a couple of other carriages that were already disgorging their occupants. The one that stopped in front of the steps was the one with the gold trim in the carved filigree. 'Stupid nobles', Jerryck thought. They always traveled showing off so much wealth, and then had the audacity to complain when thugs tried to rob them on the roads. Shontese servants placed a step stool under the carriage door before they opened it. They offered a hand to the man stepping out. He didn’t accept the assistance. He didn’t even acknowledge them at all. He looked up the steps to Terrance and Nita, putting on a smile of utter delight, an expression most nobles refused to use just after traveling. He looked better than most nobles at the end of a journey too. Instead of frumpy, tired, and rumpled, his clothes were perfect. Made of silk draped over leather, they weren’t even wrinkled. What had he done? Stopped down the road to refresh, just to make a good appearance? He looked to be in his early twenties, if even that. Young people had been known to do such silly things in the past when they wanted to make a strong first impression, as if no one would pick up on the evidence and see right through it. The people from the other carriages didn’t look nearly so good. Neither did the soldiers or any of the servants. “Lord Andreno,” Terrance’s herald announced for everyone gathered. “Grandnephew to Prince Sanbralio of Shontarra, second in line to the Shontese throne.” With that, Andreno climbed the steps, his smile never wavering, white teeth stark against his dark, olive skin. His eyes never strayed from the King or princess to notice anyone else around him. Following the protocols for nobility greeting royalty, he stopped just a few steps below them. He folded his hands in front of himself and bowed his head down while keeping his body straight. “Your Majesty, your Royal Highness.” “Welcome to Brend,” Terrance said, finalizing the short ritual. After that, someone may as well have opened a floodgate on the crowd. They all began talking at once, raising a cacophony of noise Jerryck couldn’t make heads or tails of. It was like when he first initiated any kind of distance listening spell before he refined it down to a specific target. Terrance led Andreno inside. Jerryck trailed them, partly because he was expected to accompany for at least a few minutes, and partly to get away from the crowd. He didn’t really listen much as Terrance made pleasant small talk to his guest and explained that Nita would fill the active role of hostess. Heston leaned over and whispered to Jerryck, “Nita is taking Andreno on tour of the countryside tomorrow. After that, she’s taking him into Kershet. You should go.” Jerryck whispered back. “I should?” “Andreno will like bragging about how many nobles accompany him.” “Then why should I go?” Heston paused. The side of his mouth twitched. Then he continued, “And you still need to resupply, don’t you?” “Shouldn’t I go when the nobles aren’t there?” “If you go with them, it won’t be questioned,” Heston said. “But…” “You’re one of them. Remember?” “No, I’m… Oh. Right.” “And I know you sent a letter to the city magician. You can follow up. Find out if he knows anything. I’ll make sure a couple of my men stay with you.” “I can take care of myself.” Jerryck stopped at the entrance to the corridor where he would turn away from the group. Heston stopped with him, closely watching everyone with the king still ambling forward. “And gather all the information they’re trained to collect?” Jerryck didn’t really have a good answer to that question. They both knew he lacked social skills. Heston slowly nodded, then moved forward again. “You’ll have guards.”

 

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