Spell Caster Chapter 5
Testing the water was more of a chore than anticipated. Obtaining it was easy. The testing process was easy. But the household steward wanted the results. Getting through the chaos and mess of people outside his office to hand him the test took far longer than suited Jerryck. And that was when people didn’t try to waylay him to ask for information, opinions, favors, or make requests. So when he received a summons from the king, he nearly leaped at the opportunity to escape. He quickly made his way to the White Room, so called for the lack of color in the decor. That was where the king formally greeted important guests, even if the visit was an unscheduled surprise. Jerryck wasn’t usually summoned for it, unless the guest was a practitioner of some sort of magic, or had one with them. Terrance, Heston, and Lalven were already there, in the middle of a discussion. Lalven had his nose tilted up. “I still say you ought to throw them into dungeon cells. They’re just here to survey their handiwork.” “I want to talk to them.” Terrance dressed in dark velvets, a stark contrast to his surroundings. White furnishings. White plaster on the walls. Rugs bleached to match. The only colors were the light fixtures, the scene outside the large windows, and the people. “They’ll lie,” Lalven said with a sneer. He glanced over at Jerryck’s entrance. Then his eyes shifted back to the door as Princess Nita entered. “I apologize for the delay,” she said to her father. “I was in the middle of dealing with a minor situation.” “It’s taken care of?” the king responded. “Yes,” she said. “Jerryck, I’m glad you’re here. Zev and Darren will bring you water to test from now on until it clears. Don’t be nice to them.” “Where they fighting again?” Jerryck frowned. Zev had been finding every excuse possible to punch people over the past month. “It’s taken care of.” Nita folded her hands primly in front of herself. “This is their punishment.” “Coming up to my tower is punishment?” “No,” she said, then smiled. “Well, it kind of is for Darren, since his parents are some of those silly people who don’t trust magicians. They’ll likely make him sorry for it. The real punishment is when they try to hand over the water test. Everything’s a mess in the household offices right now. Too much chaos. So if they want to cause trouble, they need to help smooth some of it out.” “Very good.” Terrance nodded approval. Then he turned to the general and said, “Heston, if you please.” “I got reports from upstream,” Heston told everyone. “We traced the poison to a tributary that comes from the Chemwanitz Mountains.” “This quick?” Jerryck was surprised. “It’s only been a few days.” “People drinking from the tributary have more severe symptoms,” Heston said. “Open burns and blisters on their skin. The farther east you go, past other smaller tributaries, it gets worse. Word was already headed our way before we started looking.” Nita paled at the description of increased severity. “Have we sent them aid yet?” “A caravan is already being put together to leave,” Lalven said, turning his sneer on her. “As if that’s any of your concern. Your duties are to play hostess.” Nita sneered right back at him. “I know my duties better than you.” “Stop, both of you.” Terrance used the same tired tone that parents did sometimes when their children bickered. “Maybe you should relieve her of this particular hostess duty,” Lalven said. “Even I wouldn’t want her to have to entertain some Chemwanee shaman and a couple of hunters.” “Shamaness,” Terrance said. “And her two sons. Heston, would you mind fetching them please.” Nita watched Heston leave and asked, “Not a page?” “He asked to escort them in,” Terrance said. “It shows more intimidation in case they really are here for nefarious reasons.” “This shamaness,” Jerryck said. “She’s the reason you summoned me?” “My suggestion.” Lalven’s sneer finally relaxed, letting his small jowls sag back into place. “I know the shamans use magic differently than you magicians. But you can tell us if she’s trying to pull any shenanigans of a magical nature.” “I’m not supposed to associate with any practitioner of shamanism,” Jerryck said. “The Gathering of Seats hates them.” “Your first duty is to your king, not the Gathering.” Lalven’s face flushed. “Your insight and advice could be valuable here. Besides, this saves you the trouble of having to allow that woman up in your tower out of protocol if you just meet her here and have done with the formalities.” Heston returned so quickly, they had to have been waiting in the next room. With him came Chamberlain Malk, a gold haired woman, and two fair featured men. The latter three wore the leathers and furs that enhanced most people’s impression that the Chemwanee were all barbarians. At least their weapons were absent. Normally they carried bows, knives, and spears the way some people wore necklaces, rings, and bracelets. “Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness,” Malk said, keeping the introductions to the king and his daughter formal. “I present to you her ladyship, the Shamaness Sakila of the Chempagquin, translated as the tribe of the jagged finger peak, with her two sons, the hunters Arlos and Shagiro. “Welcome to Brend,” Terrance said to them. He sat on one of the couches, turning the situation casual. Everyone except the guests also took a seat, Nita right beside him. Then he skipped most of the regular pleasantries. “Now then, what brings you to my palace?” “We came to bring bad news.” Sakila did not speak with the accent most Chemwanee did. She gestured to the older looking of two sons, and continued. “Arlos was leading a hunt when they found two strangers walking our land. They did not make any trouble. The hunters followed them in secret to make sure they were just passing through. They stopped and poured water into a small river from a jar they never drank from.” Lalven snorted with derision. “That sounds rather ridiculous.” “Arlos thought it strange and ridiculous too,” Sakila said. “He and his hunters took the two strangers and brought them to our tribe. I used magic to try to see what they had carried in the jar. I only found water. I asked them why they poured water into the river. They did not answer. I thought perhaps they did not understand. So I asked them in two other languages. Still, they did not answer.” Jerryck leaned forward. If he could get his hands on that jar, he could run all kinds of tests. Sakila continued on. “The hunt chief became angry. He had the jar refilled, and ordered the men be made to drink from it. They grew afraid, and asked him not to do that. So they understood my question. I asked again why. They still did not answer. They just cried and begged.” Jerryck sat back again. Terrance frowned. Nita stiffened beside him. Everyone knew that a Chemwanee never made idle threats. “What happened when they drank?” Terrance asked. “They burned.” Sakila held out a hand to her sons. The younger took a leather bag from the pouch on his belt, and gave it to her. She presented it to Terrance. “We bring you their ashes to do with as you please.” “They were actually on fire?” Jerryck burst out as Malk accepted the leather sack for Terrance. “Yes,” Sakila said. “They burned. Then I saw there was bad elemental magic. I have not figured out why I could not see the aura of the element magic before that, while it was still in the water.” “Do you still have the jar they used?” Jerryck asked. “I am sorry, no,” Sakila said. “When the men burned, there was much chaos. The jar fell and broke.” Jerryck struggled not to show his disappointment. He sat back, swallowing, gripping the arms of the chair. Lalven leaned forward, eyes narrowed at him. He pursed his lips. Did he want something of Jerryck? Perhaps something should be said. Jerryck had no idea what. Lalven cleared his throat and glared at the shamaness. “Perhaps, if you had nothing to hide, or if more care was taken in concern for us here in Brend downstream—” “Have you ever seen someone burning?” Jerryck clenched his teeth. “Even an animal? It’s not something you can calmly stand by and watch. It’s terrifying. I somehow doubt they broke the jar out of maliciousness or lack of concern for us.” Lalven sat back. The shamaness stared open mouthed. Jerryck avoided her eyes, avoided looking at anyone in the room. He didn’t like reminding people how he had discovered he had magical capabilities. Terrance glanced at him, then crossed one ankle over his knee, stretching out his arm across the couch, drawing all attention back to him. “The Chempagquin tribe…” he said. “Isn’t that near the district of Tarn?” “Yes,” Sakila said. “I know your family ties there. I bring you a letter from your Premiere Grinnald. He told me to deliver my entire message to you first. But if you want it, I will give you his letter now.” “Is his water affected by this?” Terrance asked. Sakila shook her head. “This river is north of him.” “Is he aware of what happened?” “Yes.” Terrance held out his hand. “The letter, please.” Without hesitation, she pulled a letter from her own belt pouch that bore the seal of the premiere of Tarn. She didn’t ask if she could finish her message. She didn’t try to add any caveats like most nobles would. She simply handed it over without a word. She waited politely while he read it. She didn’t interrupt or distract. She stood still as a stone, asked nothing, did nothing, until Terrance handed the parchment to the princess, who had been trying to read over his arm. “We do not have enough gifts to pay you for letting this happen,” she said. “We in the Chemwanitz Mountains do not keep what you here in Brend think of as wealth. So we offer you our people and our land.” Terrance smiled at her. “You owe me nothing.” Sakila’s eyebrows drew together in confusion. “We brought you bad news…” “You brought me good news.” “How can this be good?” “We discovered the problem with the water a couple of days ago,” Terrance said. “We’ve been trying to figure this out. The information you bring helps. It’s good. Thank you. In fact, by your customs, I should be offering you gifts in gratitude.” “I’ll make certain they have appropriate gifts,” Chamberlain Malk said. Sakila wore astonishment so openly, even Jerryck would have been hard put to miss it. Her elder son said something in their language. She blinked like someone coming out of a stupor, and gave him a short response. “Would you like one of your sons to take the gifts back to your people with my thanks for the good news?” Terrance asked. “I will extend an invitation for you and your other son to stay in my home as my guests. That way, you can bring back word to your people as soon as the water clears, if that will ease their minds.” Sakila stood gaping for a few moments longer before slowly saying, “Your brother was right about you.” Terrance raised an eyebrow. “Brother?” “Premiere Grinnald.” “Oh.” A flash of sadness passed through Terrance’s eyes, then was gone as quickly as it appeared. “He was my wife’s brother.” “Yes, your brother,” Sakila said. “He insisted you would treat us like family and make everything right. I feared to believe him. He is your family, so I have no doubt you treat him as such. You had never met us.” “Not even Nita?” Terrance looked at his daughter. “She goes to visit at least once a year. More if she can manage it.” “I have always stayed away to let Grinnald enjoy his time with his niece without extra guests,” Sakila said. Her face softened, the astonishment all but gone. “Now that we meet, she looks much like I remember of her mother.” The sadness flashed again in Terrance’s eyes, even as Nita’s lit up with delight. She said, “You met my mother?” “Long ago,” Sakila said. She looked at Terrance and added, “You need give us no gifts. You treat us as family, we will treat you the same. And I will send Arlos. Shagiro and I will accept your invitation to stay as guests.” “Promise me one thing,” Terrance said, holding up one finger. “If you need or want anything during your stay, you’ll ask.” “May I have time with your magician?” “Of course,” Terrance said. Jerryck caught his breath and clenched his teeth to hold in his excitement. He wasn’t supposed to speak to magic practitioners other than Gathering-sanctioned magicians. Even speaking with the summoners of the southern continent was hardly tolerated, despite the treaty that had been signed during Jerryck’s youth. So he should say no. He should tell Terrance he couldn’t do it. He should find some excuse to back out. He should. But the prospect of asking questions and learning new magic was just too tempting. Priad Lalven clenched his teeth too. He evidenced his irritation by using formalities, “Your Majesty, you’re going to just let her run around sightseeing in the palace with someone like Jerryck?” Terrance didn’t look at him. “Is there a problem?” Lalven leaned in and whispered, just loud enough for Jerryck to hear. “We’re still dealing with the mess he made with the Shontese court magician. He’s too inobservant. She could be seeking weaknesses in our defenses, and he’d never know the difference.” Terrance uncrossed his ankle and put his foot on the floor. “Go help prepare lodgings for our two guests, and see that their accommodations are appropriate for foreign nobles.” “Malk is much better at choosing the servants to oversee such details,” Lalven replied, glancing over at the Chamberlain. Terrance turned his head just enough to look Lalven square in the eye. “I didn’t tell you to pick servants to do the job. And don’t worry. Malk will still help you make sure everything is up to the standards I require.” “Absolutely.” Malk stood, beaming from ear to ear. “Lady Shamaness, do either of your sons speak Brendish? Or should I provide an interpreter for them?” “I speak little Brendish,” the older son spoke up. “Shagiro is learning.” Sakila touched her younger son’s arm. “No interpreter please. It will make learning slower for him.” “As you wish,” Malk said as he headed for the door. “If you’ll please follow Lalven and I, we’ll get everything prepared for you.” Sakila hesitated. “May I go with the magician now instead?” “Of course you may.” Terrance answered before Jerryck could say a thing.