• Rebekah Olson

Spell Caster Chapter 8

Someone shook Jerryck by the shoulders. “Wake up! Wake up!” “Huh?” He pried his eyelids open to slits. Zev, his fourteen year old nephew, stood over him. “Why are you in bed?” Zev stopped shaking without letting go. “Is that why you didn’t come to supper? Mama’s mad at you for that. So’s Aunt Leanne.” “Tired,” Jerryck mumbled. “How can he be tired? It’s only sunset. Darren and me need the sugar stuff and we couldn’t find it.” “Darren? He’s not supposed to come up to the tower. His parents don’t like magicians.” Zev let go and looked at him as if he were daft. “We have to do the water test.” “Water test,” Jerryck repeated. Some of the sleepy cobwebs in his head parted just enough. “Oh! The water test. Sunset!” “Duh.” Zev stepped back, rolling his eyes. “That’s what I said. And we can’t find the sugar you use for it.” “Were you in my workroom without me?” Jerryck sat up in his bed. He looked around his room, where he had crashed after sending the shamaness on her way. “Where’s Darren?” “He’s looking at some pictures in one of your books.” Jerryck jumped up. “Zev!” He took the stairs two at a time up a flight to his workroom. He stepped inside and nearly tripped over the mess he’d left. Darren looked up from where he sat innocently thumbing through the pages of Jerryck’s magical fauna compendium. Then he grinned, and the innocent look vanished. “Did one of these swirly cloud things come in here?” Darren pointed to an illustration of an air elemental. “It says they leave behind destruction and a terrible mess.” “If one of those came in here—” Jerryck picked his way across the room— “there probably wouldn’t be any room left to contain this mess.” “What did you do?” Zev barreled his way to the remains of the shelves, stepping on whatever debris got his way. “Doesn’t matter,” Jerryck said. He reached Darren and retrieved his book. “It was over here.” Zev shoved broken things aside with his hands. “Some of those pieces are sharp.” Jerryck set his book on the unfazed surface of his worktable. “You’re going to cut yourself.” “What happened to your jars?” Zev kept rummaging through the shambles. “I can only find bits and pieces of them. Oh, look. This one didn’t break.” Jerryck lunged. “Give me that!” He tripped over something, fell to his knees, stretched out his arm the rest of the distance, and snatched the jar. “Stop touching things you don’t know anything about.” Zev pouted. “I’m just trying to help.” “I know.” Jerryck sighed, and closely examined the jar. The runes still held. Nothing had even cracked. The creature within was still bound. He tucked the jar safely under his arm. “Not everything in here is safe. You’re going to hurt yourself. Both of you, out. Now.” “What about the test?” Darren picked up a cup of water between his feet. “We’ll go to the kitchens and get supplies to make more sugar to test with,” Jerryck said as he shooed them both out. “Give me a moment.” The boys started insulting each other and headed down the stairs. Jerryck would probably have to break up another fight between them before they got to the bottom. He set the jar on his worktable beside his compendium, and scolded himself for overreacting. Of course the runes had held. They always held. Zev and Darren were already scuffling on the next landing down. The cup went flying, spilling water and clattering around their feet. The boys grappled for a better grip, trying to shove each other down to the floor. “Stop!” Jerryck grabbed them both by the collar. “You’re on stairs. This has got to be the worst place for you to do this.” “But…” Both boys spluttered. “But…” “You want to fall and break your necks?” Jerryck marched them down. “Is this the real reason you got in trouble with Nita? Why you have to bring the water for testing? You were fighting, weren’t you.” “No!” Zev shifted his shoulders, wriggling under Jerryck’s hold. “Nita’s just bossy,” Darren said. He marched sullenly, much more submissive. Jerryck let him go. “She’s the princess. She’s supposed to be bossy.” Jerryck shook his nephew to get him to stop trying to get free. “Why have you been acting like this? You’ve gotten into more fights this past month than you ever have in your entire life.” “He says he’s standing up for his sister.” Darren rolled his eyes and snorted. “Which one?” Jerryck asked. “Chandra!” Zev grabbed Jerryck’s arm, trying to pull it away. “Everyone’s flirting with her.” “She’s flirting with them!” Jerryck shook him again. “Not the other way. Your mama’s trying to get her to stop. You’re making things more difficult for her.” Zev stopped resisting. Tears welled up in his eyes, though none of them fell. “I’m supposed to defend her. I’m the man of the family now. It’s my job.” Jerryck put his hands on his nephew’s shoulders and looked him square in the eye. “No, you’re not. I am. It’s my job. Stop trying to do it for me.” “You don’t even notice half the things that go on around you!” Zev shouted. “And that’s where your mama and Aunt Leanne make up the difference,” Jerryck said. “Let them. Quit giving us all more problems than we’re already dealing with.” Neither of the boys said anything more the entire rest of the way to the kitchens. Most everyone had gone outside in the bailey for the evening’s dancing and socializing. Jerryck sent his nephew to hunt up some sugar. “Keep complaining.” Kendra’s harsh scolding came from one of the adjoining washrooms. Jerryck slipped in there. His sister stood with her hands on her hips, intimidating one of the scullery maids who was elbow deep in a washbasin. “I told you they weren’t clean yet. You want to make more people sick by putting unwashed plates in with the clean, you’ll wash every single one. We’ve got too many sick people right now as it is.” “The water will just make the plates carry the sick,” the scullery maids said. “No it won’t,” Jerryck said. “Not according to my tests. It has to reach a certain temperature for activation. And once everything’s dry, so is the taint. So it’s really no problem. Unless it’s a living body ingesting it. That would give it so much moisture to interact with, adding in the temperature factor that’s required for activation—” “Jerryck,” Kendra interrupted. “We don’t need a full explanation. Thank you. How about instead, you explain your absence at supper.” “Hi, Mama.” Zev came in with a sack of sugar on his shoulder, Darren right behind him. She pointed at the sack. “What do you think you’re doing with that?” “Jerryck needs it for his test,” Zev said. “We can’t find what he had because he blew up his workroom again.” “What?” Kendra stiffened. So did the scullery maid before she paled, turned her face away, and scrubbed furiously at the dishes. “I did not,” Jerryck said, giving Zev a dirty look. The scullery maid dropped one of the plates. The anti-shatter magic on it pinged. Good thing the head chef had talked Jerryck into putting the spell on all the dishes, not just the finest sets. Kendra hustled them all out of the room, away from the scullery maid. Zev thumped the sack down on one of the counters. “Oh, and I found out why he missed supper. He was taking a nap.” Kendra tensed even more, scrutinizing Jerryck. “You were sleeping?” “I’m fine,” Jerryck said. “Just my workroom isn’t.” “He told me he was tired.” Zev bobbed his head while he talked. “So the next time I’m too tired to clean up a mess and just need to sleep—” “Don’t even try it,” Kendra interrupted, shaking a finger at him. Then she whipped that finger around to point behind herself and shouted, “Get back to work.” The scullery maid had sneaked over to the door and stood listening. She scurried back in. Jerryck shook his head. He never had figured out how his sister knew what was going on when her back was turned. The scullery maid hadn’t even made any noise. “Your mama’s a little scary sometimes,” Darren whispered to Zev. Jerryck snickered. “Be glad you didn’t grow up with her.” “Jerryck!” Kendra scowled at him. “Do whatever it is you do for these two, and get them out of my kitchens.” Jerryck separated out a small portion of sugar from the sack and magicked it. He let the boys drop a pinch in some water. He declared it still tainted. Then Kendra shooed them out while he folded the rest of what he’d made into a parchment to keep. Kendra whirled on him, keeping her volume just low enough the scullery maid in the other room wouldn’t hear. “You had another accident.” “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. “You don’t have a choice.” He tucked the sugar into a pocket. “I’m fine.” “What were you doing?” “Nothing.” “Don’t give me that!” She crossed her arms, narrowed her eyes, and hunched forward. “You were playing around again. Weren’t you. You know you can’t do that. What were you thinking? How many times can you do this before you really hurt yourself?” “Apparently at least one more time.” “This isn’t funny!” With that yell, she glanced at the door to the other room. She took a moment, and composed herself. Then asked, “Did you dream?” “No,” he said. That’s what had her so worried. The first accident he’d ever had, the one that had unlocked his abilities as a child, he’d fallen into a dream-like state that trapped him. She’d had to get help from a more experienced magician to pull him out of it. For a week, he slipped and slid around near the edge of a void, more real in that dream state than anything else he’d ever known in waking life. He’d been near it several times since. Never so close. Never again in such danger of going over the edge. And the place still left him shaky with fear if he thought about it too much. “Please be more careful.” Kendra closed up the sack of sugar, her hands trembling. He nodded and left the kitchens, thinking he should avoid the shamaness. That created a dilemma. It was his duty to tend to the needs and questions of visiting magic practitioners. He couldn’t just shut Sakila out and avoid her entirely. Not unless he left the palace. For that, he needed a reason while they were in a time of difficulty. # He headed for Terrance’s private rooms. The king usually liked spending a little time with his daughter in the evenings. They would likely be in there with a smattering of people waiting for his attention out in the parlor. The guards posted outside the double doors to the parlor let him right through. He didn’t even have to say a thing to them. Inside, he stopped and raised his eyebrows. No one sat gossiping or sipping wine on the sofa or chairs. No one preened in the floor-to-ceiling mirror dominating the far wall. No one stared at the blue and white drapes around it, complaining that the king favored the late queen’s home district of Tarn with that color scheme. The room was empty, except for General Heston. He stood near the doorway to the bedchamber, which was closed off by a crimson curtain with gold filigrees stitched all through it. “What do you need?” Heston demanded. “I, uh, I need to speak with Terrance.” “Why?” Heston stepped sideways, in front of the curtain. “Isn’t that between him and me?” “He’s worked himself to exhaustion today,” Heston said. “Give him some time to take a rest.” Jerryck cocked his ear at the voices on the other side of the curtain. The privacy magic was in good shape. He couldn’t make out a single word they said. “Is Nita in there with him?” “Don’t try using her as an excuse to go in,” Heston said. “I’ve already sent away five people, gave them jobs to do just to get rid of them for using that excuse.” “I’m not using her as an excuse.” Jerryck moved aside some of the cushions on a chair to sit. He focused on the muffled voices and the charm he kept attached to the wall above the curtained doorway. He had to strain just to figure out which voice belonged to who. He wouldn’t need to do any maintenance here for at least another month. “Whatever you need to talk to him about,” Heston said, “can it wait?” “Wait for what?” Jerryck asked. “Do you really think I’m going to interrupt his time with his daughter?” “I suppose not.” Heston moved from the doorway and sat on the edge a sofa opposite Jerryck. “Not you. Others would.” Curious, Jerryck said, “If I did insist on talking to him now, would you stop me?” Heston narrowed his eyes. “No one’s supposed to block members of the core staff from getting to the king.” “Oh, right,” Jerryck said. “I knew that.” “Sure you do,” Heston said. “That’s why you never use it to your advantage?” “Am I supposed to?” “No.” Heston turned his head to watch the double doors that led out to the corridor. Over the next half an hour, a couple of people made it in past the guards. Both times, Heston found out what they wanted, then redirected them back out. Eventually, the curtain to the main chamber whisked aside. Terrance and Nita entered the parlor. Jerryck and Heston both stood respectfully. Terrance looked back and forth between them. “Just the two of you? I expected a slew of people wanting something or another from me.” “Not tonight,” Heston said. “They had other things they needed to do,” Jerryck added. “Is that so?” Terrance leveled his gaze at Heston, who gave Jerryck an impatient glance. “If someone needs something truly important from me, they should be allowed through. “Except for Jerryck,” Heston said, “they all told me what they needed before they found other tasks to occupy their time. I’ll give you a list when you’re ready.” “What do you need?” Terrance asked Jerryck. “I need to go to Kershet,” Jerryck said. Heston shook his head. “Not a good idea. The city’s chaotic right now.” “I have to stay away from the shamaness,” Jerryck said. “Why?” Terrance asked. “Did she do something inappropriate?” “No.” Jerryck sighed. “I did.” Heston frowned. “Did you blow up your workroom again?” “Sort of?” Jerryck said. Heston, Terrance, and Nita all knew about his occasional accidents, just like his wife and sister. Unlike his wife and sister, these three didn’t get so worried over it. Nita snickered. “Again.” “How many workers do you need in there this time?” Terrance covered his mouth with a hand, but his eyes crinkled up. Evidence of a smile. “I need to do some initial cleaning first,” Jerryck said. “That’s not what I asked.” Terrance lowered his hand. The corners of his mouth were still slightly upturned. “What kind of damage do you need repaired? What workers are necessary? Or should I just send someone up for assessment?” “That might be best,” Heston said. “The last time Jerryck tried to assess was disastrous.” “I need to replenish my stock,” Jerryck said. “Most of my jars broke, and all my powders are mixed together.” Terrance sobered. “So you really do need to go to Kershet. You’re not just trying to get away from Sakila.” “Don’t you use a lot of the same materials the medics keep in the infirmary?” Heston asked. “Some,” Jerryck said. “But they’re kind of hard pressed right now. I doubt they’re going to want to share. Especially with me.” Terrance pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. He put his other hand on his hip and let out a long sigh. “Heston, arrange an escort of some of your finest elite for him.” “I can take care of myself,” Jerryck said. He’d gone to Kershet lots of times without escort. Heston crossed his arms. “This isn’t a good idea. I’m the finest. And I’m leaving tonight to go upstream, not toward the city.” “I know you trust your men to do this.” Terrance took his hand away from his face. “Or are you just looking for an excuse to go to Kershet yourself to check on certain people?” “If he waits until I can go with him,” Heston said. “I can help him get a search started.” “I don’t need to search for my supplies,” Jerryck said. “I know where to buy them.” “Search for whoever made what poisoned the river.” Heston only moved his eyes to look at Jerryck. The rest of his body remained perfectly still. “I thought you were doing that search,” Jerryck said. Heston clenched his jaw, released it, then said, “I’ll set up an escort for tomorrow morning.”