A story told by the magicians in Hurot:
In Zehilhn there lived a boy whose name was Bauren. He was an orphan who had approached the masters in that town to study magic, and one of them, impressed by his boldness, had asked him what he would do if he became a magician. “I do not know,” said Bauren, “but if I had magic, my parents and sisters would not have died when the savages raided our home and stole our sheep.”
So one of the masters took him as an apprentice to study the history of the art and the techniques used to create the artifacts. Bauren was clever, learning these things quickly, and although he was courteous to the other apprentices he did not make friends easily. He always had the appearance of thinking about something else, even when arguing (as he often was) with the masters about the proper duties of a magician. In those days many magicians believed that it had been pride that banished us from our home, that we were driven to these islands by our arrogant belief in our ability to summon and command demons, and it was a heavy burden we carried. Bauren was not one to submit to such a burden, and he decried the cowardice of the archon’s aldermen. “If I was an alderman,” he would say, and then go on to explain his ideas. But for all that he was kind and hard-working, rising quickly to the point where he could take the examination to become a journeyman.
Now a rich merchant’s widow came to Zehilhn with her daughter Celhrid, who was admired by all the young men of the town but paid attention to none. Bauren had shut himself up with his teacher to prepare for the examination, so for a time he did not even know of Celhrid’s being in Zehilhn. But one day he went for a walk along the shore to rest his mind, and when he came across the young woman, washing her feet and picking up stones, he was struck dumb by her beauty, which surpassed (so he thought at the time) the most intricate diagram in his studies. Words came from his mouth unbidden, and he was surprised to hear her respond in kind. So Bauren and Celhrid were in love with one another, though they hid it from her mother, fearing that in her grand hopes for an advantageous marriage she would take Celhrid away from Zehilhn, separating the two forever. Bauren’s studies languished as he became more and more fascinated with Celhrid, and she, fascinated in her turn, did nothing to keep him on the proper path.
Bauren’s master, who was no fool, could not help but notice that the boy was even more distracted than usual, and with an iris he learned of Bauren’s dalliance. He shook his head and left his house, and found the young people kissing in a hidden cave in the northern sheepfolds. Whatever he had been about to say to them, it was forestalled by the savages, who swept down from the surrounding hills with ravening dogs. “Now attend, apprentice,” said the master, and producing a silver rod he bent the minds of the savages and drove them away so that no one was harmed. Bauren saw and understood, and telling Celhrid that he would have to return to his studies for a time so he could pass his examination, departed with his master.
Celhrid waited patiently, keeping silent about Bauren until the time when he would be proclaimed a journeyman. But her mother at last found a match that pleased her, with a cousin of the archon, who was young, handsome, and not at all to the taste of Celhrid herself. Out of necessity, therefore, she found Bauren and together they went to her mother to announce their intention to wed. The worst storm on the eastern sea could not be more violent than her response, and she forbade Bauren and Celhrid to meet again. Now Bauren angrily swore that when he became a master he would make Celhrid his wife by fair or foul magic, so that Celhrid’s mother, horrified, took her away to Faron, which was then nothing more than a border outpost, but an outpost where Celhrid’s prospective husband was stationed as the archon’s representative.
Bauren took the journeyman examination, and he passed with a perfect score. The final lessons began, training his mind to take control of the Ideas of this world, but long before they were complete, he left Zehilhn for Faron, to find Celhrid. He carried with him a hooked blade imbued with a powerful Idea, for Bauren had little need for the final lessons, so far had he surpassed his teachers. He already understood the Ideas and the Forms, and was ready to break the mind of Celhrid’s mother, to drive his rival out into the rain to perish, so strong was his fury!
As he drew near the walls of Faron, Celhrid emerged and threw herself at his feet, begging him not to harm anyone. “We can flee together to another island, no matter what my mother says. Or we can go farther into the wild lands and live alone there. But magic was not given to us to violate the laws Heaven made to govern men and women. Do not let your anger overpower you, beloved, but consider the future and align your magic with the path of moderation.” Bauren was persuaded by her soft words and tearful eyes, and so they went south and founded Hurot, where Bauren started a school of magic following his new precepts: magic should be used for the good of all, never for revenge or petty quarrels. All glory be to Heaven.
Once she had been taken back within the walls of the town and fortified with several cups of tea, Halinjae was less despondent, but still she insisted that the islands were doomed, that Talat would be torn apart by war between the Ghadari and the Latoirn, that the School of Shadows would spread their influence further out, like a spider throwing its web. The Native listened to all this without argument, and when she seemed to have finished, he said “That is all very well, but are you going to do nothing?”
“What does a renegade like you care for your people?”
“I hate Mauzil just as much as you do.”
“No you don’t. You don’t hate him. You don’t like his teachings, but you don’t care one way or the other for the man and his followers. You look at them with distant cynicism, like you do everything else. But I should not stay in Hurot any longer. I was warned that I should leave lest I be imprisoned again.”
“Where will you be going?”
Her eyes met his, and for the first time that day she smiled. “I am going to Sotlaci.”
“Do you speak the language?”
“Of course I do. And I have friends there that will be of great help to me.”
The Native nodded, then drained his own cup of tea and stood. “My grasp of the Sotlaci language is rather minimal, but I expect I will be able to pick up what I have forgotten.”
“You are coming?”
“It is a personal flaw of mine that once I begin something, I must see it through to the end. I came to Adrall because I wanted to see…well, you don’t need to hear all this. All that you need to know is that, yes, I am coming with you.”
Halinjae rose also and extended her hand. “Then we will go to Sotlaci and retrieve the Di…retrieve our friends.”
He grasped the offered hand. “Let’s get started, shall we?”
It had been a very long time since the Native had last traveled from island to island. He had spent most of his youth in Garahelhsu, coming to Talat only so that he could be with Ladefi, an endeavor which had worked out about as well as everyone had warned him. But that was long ago, and now he was going to Sotlaci for the sake of, well, for the sake of ideal principles on the one hand, but he had never cared much for those. He was abstractly opposed to war between the Ghadari among whom he had been born and the Latoirn with whom he had chosen to live, but he had never done much about it before and, as he had told Halinjae, once set on a path he was not easily turned from it. He knew perfectly well, too, that there were already fierce battles between Ghadari and Latoirn, and that Halinjae was sheltered enough to put vast importance on the words peace and war, which meant so much to the Ghadari but almost nothing to the Latoirn. It was all a mess, and he could not see how it was going to end happily for the Latoirn, who had so little when the Ghadari had so much.
These were the sort of things he thought as he sat in the depths of the ship, his hands folded on his lap. He knew, of course, the true reason that he was going along with Halinjae and her schemes: Ladefi, but he did not like dwelling on her or the pull she had over him. Better to meditate on the future of the peoples of the islands, and so distract himself.
Halinjae was somewhere else in the ship, and although a part of the Native knew that he should be concerned about what, if anything, she was plotting, he let the matter go. There was little mischief she could involve herself in, here in these close quarters, and she was not the sort of woman who could be so furtive without giving herself away.
What are you doing? he asked himself sternly. Here you are among your people again, and here all you are doing is sulking. Ladefi would be pleased…
He opened his eyes and left the room, intent now on finding some of his own brethren to talk with. He succeeded better than he hoped, for he found that a number of barrels had been set out in the hall, the setting for several lively games of tas och, where dice made all the difference between victory and loss. A boisterous smile and a friendly word were all that the Native needed to be invited to join the game and conversation.
His new companions were merchants on their way from island to island, and rowers who were resting from their exertions. Although at first the Native found it difficult to keep up with the rapid pace of the conversation and its references to hundreds of names he did not know, but he was quick-witted enough that the difficulty was soon forgotten. It was with sincere pleasure that the Native gave his name as Kalaetnel.
Time drained away in the joy of the game, as numbers were called and dice clattered on the wood of the barrels, as old songs were sung and their ancestors who had first sailed to the islands were praised. Ghadari ancestors, and the Native for the first time in many years did feel truly native, at home with these men, his brothers.
“Ah, but do any of you remember the toys that would come out of Naraiv once, with the ringing bells and the dancers?” The rower’s eyes glinted with the memory as he spoke.
“I do,” said the Native, and he smiled. “My father visited Naraiv every year, and he returned with such toys for me and my brothers and sisters.”
“Ah, then you will be pleased to hear that one of the Naraiv magicians will be making them again! So my brother told me when I visited him last month.”
“A thing to marvel at.”
“The years of Ghadari stagnancy are coming to an end, you know,” said the third man seated at their barrel, a merchant with a remarkably long and greasy moustache. “The archon, Heaven bless him, has seen the sun at last, and certainly our magicians will be let loose to truly build cities like those in the old land, and drive the last of the savages into the west.”
“Perhaps,” said the Native, and the merchant laughed.
“Perhaps, no, certainly! Do you not believe me? Pay attention to my words and mark them in your ledger. It will not be long now before we have made ourselves more than the equal of our fathers in the old lands. Do you not see how the majesty of this ship is greater than the pitiful things that brought us here a hundred years ago?”
The Native made his roll, the knucklebones bouncing on the wooden surface beneath until they came to a stop, one showing zero marks and one showing two. He nudged his token along the path the dice had dictated, then leaned back against the wall. A sudden lurch on the ship’s part sent him reeling, and the barrel slid towards him, but the tokens remained fixed where they were.
“Ahh…you have beaten me,” said the rower sadly. “I will not be able to catch up now.” He scooped up his pieces and scattered them in the center of the board, and with an enormous sigh rested his chin in his hands.
“I have it on good authority,” the merchant said, “that the ridiculous bargain between us and the savages has been broken, that the Order of the Red Star has fallen flat on its face, that their pet savage has killed the archon’s daughter and run off, that blood is already drenching the fields in Vibaldelh.”
The Native raised his eyebrows, but he had learned over the years how to feign innocence. He merely said, “I pay little attention to the rumors I hear.”
“Rumors? Were we talking about rumors?”
“Your turn to roll the dice,” said the Native, and the merchant huffed and did so, silent for a moment.
It was a bad roll, a very bad roll. The merchant’s mustache fluttered over a derisive breath. “You are not cheating, are you? You do not have something hidden, do you?”
“Should I take that as an accusation?” the Native asked, and the merchant glanced away, unable to meet his cool gaze.
“A joke, a joke, nothing more. I did not mean to offend.”
Without saying anything in reply, the Native went on with the game. His luck continued unabated, and it was not long before his token made the complete circuit of the board, and he allowed himself a pleased laugh. “First around the sky. Either of you ready for another game?”
“Stab me and feed my heart to the sharks before I let you fleece me like that again,” said the rower, handing the Native a gold coin.
The merchant said something that the Native couldn’t quite catch, even if he had wanted to, and surprised him by clapping his hands together and remarking, “Now that was a match that the sun itself would envy. But I fear that I do not carry my own money, but that of my master, so I cannot gamble as much as I would wish. Here is what you have won, and here…”
“Kalaetnel!” It was Halinjae’s voice that startled the Native as it echoed dully in the passage. “Why are you wasting your time in frivolity?”
The merchant chuckled. “And here is the mistress of your money, I presume?”
The Native, of course, didn’t disabuse him of the notion. He merely turned and said mildly, “I thought I might as well. Gambling improves upon sitting doing nothing, I have always believed.”
She glowered at him until he stood up and followed her out, amusement dominating his emotions. She was used to ordering people around, the Native suspected, and she would find it difficult to have to deal with a man like himself, who resisted the commands of archon or chieftain. The Native was perfectly happy to let another take the lead, but he could not resist occasionally twisting the nose of that leader, and so he said now, “You should be glad that I won, or I may have had to dip my hand into your purse to repay my losses.”
“I have very little,” she said in clipped tones. “Your Doldeni helped themselves to my property, and what remained I have used in securing our passage. Whatever debts you acquire are your own business.”
“You know, among the Latoirn a good chieftain is one who is generous to his followers.”
“Every day I thank Heaven that I was not born a Latoirn.” The back of her head was to him, so he could not tell if she was joking or not. She stopped suddenly to let him enter the cabin first, which he did, his arms crossed calmly behind his back. He could almost feel her eyes on him – no doubt they would be fierce and hard enough to cut him in two. It would be a disappointment to see anything else when he turned, so he didn’t, but remained looking at the light on the far wall.
“Is this some puritan instinct of yours arising suddenly, or do you have some reason for insisting that I remain here?” he asked.
“We are going to die,” she said.
Taken aback, the Native rubbed his chin for some time before saying, “We’re going to die? A gloomy prophecy.”
“Speak honestly for once, Kalaetnel. Do you believe that we can, the two of us, confront the School of Shadows? And it must be the two of us, alone and unaided. My uncle may be archon, but his office is as weak as it has ever been, and enemies surround him with deadly wands.”
“Have you talked to him since all this began?”
She shook her head. “There are ways for our enemies to detect the Sympathies and eavesdrop. We cannot risk it.”
The Native had not known this, and he was taken aback. There were methods of blocking Sympathies, of course, that had been mastered in the earliest days of Ghadari magic, and methods of detecting where magic was being used, but to identify the two ends of a Sympathy and to…somehow…listen in on the conversation, that was something new. Either new or simply kept secret. He wondered what else was possible that he had thought impossible. Flight perhaps?
Dismissing such absurdities from his mind, he simply asked, “I have heard wild tales of those kinds of powers, but I am surprised that you give them credence.”
“Fool!” Halinjae cried, and the Native, unperturbed, waited for her to regain her composure. But he was beginning to regret pushing her quite so far, for the sake of his own amusement. “Do you take me for an ignorant chatterer? Do you think I know nothing of magic?”
“Forgive me,” he said. “This language, it brings out the glib babbler in me. We are to die, you say, and there is a very good chance that you are right. But I am very fond of the Adrall people, and I will not leave any of them in the claws of Mauzil’s madmen while Heaven gives me breath. My heart died thirteen years ago. I do not fear what lies ahead.”
“I do,” Halinjae said, and turned to face him.
He was silent for a moment, then said, “I was a Raven once. Would you like me to bless you?”
“You were a priest?”
“I never rose very far in the hierarchy, but I do not think Heaven cares much about that.”
“I…yes,” she said. “Please do.”
“Let me see now if I remember. This would work better if I had oil, or if I knew any magic.” He cleared his throat. “Heaven lifts the sun from the underworld; the sun guide your feet. Heaven holds the sun up in the sky; the sun strengthen your back. Heaven draws the light from the sun; the sun illumine your heart. Heaven brings the sun to the ground; the sun gladden your face.” As he spoke he moved his hands in broad circles in the air, moving up from her feet to the top of her head.
Her hands trembled. “I have not heard that blessing before.”
“Many old blessings are kept in our memories, some of which have not been commonly used for generations. That is one that especially captivated me.”
“It is my pleasure. As for me, I need no blessing. I have gotten along very well these past years with neither blessing nor sacrifice.”
“You are impossible,” Halinjae said. “But you are positive that the Doldeni will not help us? Their aegis would be of immense value.”
“The Doldeni are cowards, hiding their vast power among their tents. They will not try themselves against the dread School of Shadows.”
Halinjae had withdrawn a tiny translucent marble from her purse and was rolling it in the palm of her hand. Then she tossed it into the air and with a flash and a loud cracking sound it disappeared. The Native jumped despite himself, and she covered her mouth in a poor attempt to hide her smile.
“A cracker,” he said. “You expect to go against the foulest of magicians armed with crackers. I think the School of Shadows have grown past the age where such things astonished them.”
“The only difference between a cracker and a destroying fire is the will and talent of the crafter,” said Halinjae. “As a matter of theory, there is no limit to what we can do.”
“As a matter of custom, though…”
And now she did smile fully. “You would complain about a violation of custom?”
“There was a time when I believed that to use magic for violent ends was blasphemy against Heaven. And then there was a time when I believed that to use magic for any end was blasphemy against Heaven. And now I believe nothing. You can tear up the earth and send the ocean to swallow the land, and it will not matter to me.”
“That is what I thought,” said Halinjae, and released the cracker. There was another pop, and an acrid odor stung the Native’s nostrils. “Soon we will be in Nalsala, where there lives a man who will be able to advise us. An old friend of my uncle’s. You may have heard of his family – the Melin.”
The Native stared, then laughed. “One of that brood? Well, at the very least this will be interesting. And please, no more crackers. You are young, and your nerves are not weakened by years of toil, but I need peace and quiet before I go off to die. And since I cannot gamble, and I have already eaten, I will sleep. Maybe when I wake, the past month will have faded into a dream. Maybe, but I fear not.” He sat back down in his chair and closed his eyes, and when after a few moments he opened them again, all was dark.
As he took his first steps onto the stable earth of the island, the Native was reciting certain Sotlaci prayers, or trying to, at least. One of the decisions of his wasted youth had been to study the liturgy of the Soltaci, in hopes of greater unity between north and south, and although he had given it up in the end, he had acquired a rough knowledge of the Sotlaci language – a knowledge that for the past sixteen years he had made hardly any use of. Still, he was pleased to find that it had not entirely deserted him.
“Where does this Melin of yours live?” he asked in Sotlaci.
Halinjae did not look back towards him, but she sounded amused. “Your accent makes you sound like a pompous fool.”
“Well, I do not mind that so much. Better to sound a fool than be one…but where were we going?”
“Tunsis Melin lives in solitude in a house not far from the edge of town. We will be there in time for midday meal,” said Halinjae in perfect lilting Sotlaci.
“And after we have drawn up our plans, to Morlizumal?” The Native shaded his eyes and squinted at the rocky spires that rose out of the distant shoreline in the east – the Tyrant’s Teeth, which guarded miles of the coast, and whose name was known even in the farthest corner of Vibadelh. He remained there long enough for Halinjae to notice the object of his attention.
“They tell a strange legend about those rocks,” she said.
“Something about lovers and tragic leaps, I suppose. The Latoirn have a thousand such stories, and all you need to do is replace one barbarous name by another.”
“No…I know what you are talking about, and this is not one of those. It is not a legend about lovers, but about warring magicians. There were two of them, Garin and Magarin, and their feud had begun back in the old country many years before, when they had been hardly more than children. As they learned their art they continued to quarrel, and even on the ship that brought them to Sotlaci their captain had to keep them apart lest a war of magic break the vessel and drown them all.
“They came in the end to this place, once Barsa the Black had pacified the native tribes, and each magician built a house for himself on the coast, one here and one on the far side of the Tyrant’s Teeth – but those Teeth had not yet been crafted. This is how they came to be.
“It was Garin who looked out at the rising sun one day and said to himself, ‘I will build something to make my name remembered for a thousand years, here in this new land.’ And he set to work, crafting marvelous tools that could carve into the rock of the cliffs and dig out blocks for his monument. When he rested from that toil, he saw on the horizon that strong magic was being used, and he knew that it was his rival Magarin.
“On the eve of a storm he came to Magarin’s home and demanded to know what Magarin was doing. And Magarin looked at him said, ‘Do you blame me for what you yourself have done, except that my skill surpasses yours a hundredfold?’
“Garin grew wroth, and with a flourish of his rod he made the ground shake beneath them. But Magarin only laughed and chided him, telling him to go back and play with his toys. ‘For I,’ he added, ‘have a great Work to accomplish.’
“Muttering and stewing in bitterness Garin returned to his own dwelling, holding up a shield of air against the raging storm. And when he was back he found that a bolt of lightning had shattered his monument and cast its fragments into the sea. He stood distraught, tears pouring down his face, and raising his eyes to the thundering clouds gave an agonized cry. Then the clouds answered, and told him that it was Magarin who had committed this desecration. Whether they spoke truly or not, Garin believed them and swore vengeance against Magarin. He took up his greatest weapon, a sword that had been fashioned by the Night King Raekcha himself, and went to face Magarin.
“Few or no words passed between the two before their battle began, the most terrible duel of magic that had ever been seen in the islands. Although Heaven’s storm was gone, thunder and lightning still filled the air, and foot after foot of the solid ground crumbled away and was swallowed by the raging waves. The farmers fled in terror, telling one another that the old days of legend had returned, that soon the land would be blighted and they would be caught up in the wars of the demigods.
“And when a calm descended on the land, the farmers returned, trembling, and found that the magicians had utterly vanished, and were not to be found no matter where they looked. The only signs of the battle were the fragments of stone that now stood off the coast as an eternal reminder of the perils of magic misused.”
“But these magicians,” the Native said, “they were not tyrants. These are not called the Magicians’ Teeth.”
“Well, there are several legends,” said Halinjae.
“You are worried, aren’t you, that you are doing the wrong thing?” When Halinjae was silent, the Native continued. “You are not. This act is as bold and brave as any in the history of the Ghadari, and it is favored by Heaven, I have no doubt. You are striving to fulfill the oath you took as one of the Dini and, if a man with no principles may say so, I admire you for it.”
“Thank you, Kalaetnel,” she said – he thought sincerely – and only quickened her stride. “Now hurry; Tunsis is not expecting us and we should give him enough time to prepare a fine dinner. It will be one of our last.”
Based on Halinjae’s description the Native had rather underestimated the distance to the mansion of this Tunsis Melin. It was a mansion indeed, clearly the dwelling of a rich man with many fields under his protection, or at any rate the protection of his family. A series of earthen terraces led up to the building itself, each terrace with a different arrangement of flowers growing along the edges of the stone path that connected them. An aged man in a broad hat was bending over one of these arrangements, doing something or other with a pot in his hands. Seeing them he looked up, his face brown and leathery. “Morning,” he said, or at least the Native presumed that was what he was saying. His pronunciation was nearly incomprehensible.
“A good morning to you,” said Halinjae. “We are here to speak with your master.”
The gardener tugged at his hat. “Certainly, good lady. He is on the other side, dealing with the zavlála.” Whatever those were.
“Thank you,” Halinjae said, and descended back down the terraces, with the Native trailing behind her.
As they walked around the garden towards the back of the house, the Native caught a glimpse through a window of two women in dark robes carrying bowls. He asked Halinjae, “Didn’t you say that he lived alone?”
“He does not live in absolute solitude. He has servants, of course.”
“But he has no family, and rarely speaks with the men and women of the town.”
“Ah, a recluse, a man after my own pattern. I shall enjoy speaking with him. Would that be him, engaged in battle with those weeds?”
“Tunsis!” Halinjae called, and the man in question fell backwards.
“Halinjae!” he replied, gathering himself together. “What in the name of Heaven are you doing down here? What has happened? Treason? A savage uprising? Plague?”
“It is a long story.”
“Yes. You would not be here if there were not some long and terrible story behind it all.” He sighed and glanced down at the flowerbed. “Well, you had better come inside and explain. Your silent smirking companion too, whatever it is that he finds so humorous. I was getting peckish anyway. Please, I implore you, join me for some tea. I am sure you remember that from your childhood, Halinjae.”
“Fondly,” she said, and the Native was bemused to see the smile that appeared briefly on her face. “You still have those cheese pies?”
“Day and night I cry out for more cheese pies and berry jam, and my call does not go unanswered,” said Tunsis, and beckoned with a dirt-encrusted hand for them to follow him along a shrub-lined path up to the house and a door that led inside. As he washed his hands in a bowl he continued, “You have just come off the ship, haven’t you? Help yourself to the perfume in the vials over there, if you want.”
The Native laughed. “Courteously put.” Among the Latoirn of Adrall it would not have been impolite to remark simply that they stank.
A tall elderly servant served them with cups of tea, which the Native found to be pleasantly spiced, though his tongue had long grown unaccustomed to discerning the subtlest flavors of Ghadari food and drink. So as he savored the tea he looked around him at the sitting room where Tunsis had taken them. It was a pleasant little room, he decided, comfortable without being over-luxurious, and elegantly decorated with nautical charts and little model ships. Obviously this Tunsis was one who took pride in the exploits of his forefathers, yet the Native knew there was little love lost between the family of the archons and the Melin family. How then had this friendship between him and Halinjae come about?
“…and Kalaetnel thought that when I said you lived here alone, you were utterly alone,” Halinjae was saying, and Tunsis laughed.
“Why, a man could go mad living entirely by himself!” he said.
The Native offered him a grim smile. “Men have.”
“But you promised me a story, Halinjae,” said Tunsis, looking to her. “What has broken the honor of the Order of the Red Star? What has sent the Dini off into the farthest reaches of the islands?”
“What manner of magic do you have in your house?” Halinjae asked.
“The usual trinkets. If you are worried about eavesdroppers…hmm, I can promise you that I have taken measures to assure my complete privacy.”
“Good.” Halinjae leaned her elbows on the table and began to explain. The Native listened keenly, although most of what she said were things he knew already. She left out a great deal of what had occurred with the Doldeni and the Latoirn in Adrall, focusing on the rivalries for power among the Ghadari. As she went on, telling about the School of Shadows, Tunsis began to frown, and his hands beat rhythmically on the table. Quite suddenly he stood up and left the room, returning a few minutes later with a tray of thick yellow-brown pastries that smelled enticingly of sweet milk. The Native helped himself to one and found that half-melted cheese filled its interior. But he kept a careful eye on Tunsis and his halting movements.
When Halinjae had finished her account, Tunsis nodded once, slowly. Then he closed his eyes. “I have been expecting news of this sort for a very long time. Some of my neighbors, I think, regard the School of Shadows as harmless dabblers in magic, keeping to themselves in that hideous castle they have built, but I know better.” He went to a cabinet against one of the walls and threw it open, and with a wave of his hand the empty interior split in two and revealed a set of silver disks mounted on a spire of the same metal. Taking this up with care, he brought it and set it before Halinjae and the Native, so that they could see the patterns etched into its surface and the miniature figures that were set upon it.
It reminded the Native strongly of a tas och board, and he said so.
“There are similarities,” Tunsis said. “Tas och has been used for divination, in the past. But this is something less innocent and more useful. It is a model, the best I have been able to do, of the world the School of Shadows plan to make for us all. Their designs are not secret at all, if you bother to look in the right places.”
Peering more closely at the model, the Native was still unable to make any sense of it. There were five layers – were those the five islands, Vibadelh, Curin, Talat, Garahelhsu, and Sotlaci? If so, what was the significance of their order, and of the tiny dragons that wound up and down the spire between some but not others?
“But what, I wonder, would they want with your Latoirn friends?” Tunsis asked. “The Latoirn may be savages and bloodthirsty hunters of men, but they are not known for their powers of magic. Perhaps as the elements in some spell?” He touched the topmost layer of the silver device and it rotated silently. “I know a great deal about the School of Shadows, but there is still so much that they keep to themselves, passed down from master magician to master magician. If they intend to refashion the islands, they need both a powerful Idea and a powerful Form. The Form they have, but if I could even begin to conceive the necessary Idea I would not be an idle gardener here. The mind is meant to rule its Ideas, but some Ideas are too powerful to be commanded.”
“Do you think it is possible for us to deliver the Latoirn from Morlizumal?” Halinjae asked.
“By Heaven above, no. Certainly not. I would warn you against it with all my strength, but I know you better than to think I can stop you if you have made up your mind. And you will want to avenge your father. I understand that very well. But what do you say?” he asked of the Native. Though his face turned as he looked at him, his eyes and thoughts were clearly elsewhere.
There were many answers the Native could give to that question, but the one he chose was a lie. “Nothing is more important to me than my friends.”
“Most noble of you,” said Tunsis, then his face cleared. “Morlizumal is something of a realm unto itself: its inhabitants bring in no food and no water, and it is rare for them ever to go out.” He tapped a series of cubes that lay clustered around the spire on the bottom level of the model. “In that realm they are as powerful as any magician king of old – it is theirs from foundation to summit, and Heaven only knows what traps are laid all around. Heaven only knows where they keep their prisoners. You have only one choice. There is only one place where they are weak. Have you ever heard of the Silver Dominion?”
The Native certainly hadn’t, but Halinjae half-nodded. “That was one of the Latoirn kingdoms a few generations ago, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s right, though I am not sure kingdom is the right word. A coalition of tribes would be better, I think. The center of this alliance was the fabled lake that sits among the mountains in the west, and there was much intercourse between the Silver Dominion and the Ghadari. It is long gone now, naturally, overtaken by treachery on both sides.” He paused for a second; took a bite of a tart that lay by his hand. “Now tell me, have you ever heard of the aegis of the Doldeni?”
“Heard of it, yes,” Halinjae said, smiling. “Who has not? But what does it have to do with the Silver Dominion?” The Native was listening very closely now.
“It is, perhaps, nothing more than an idle speculation,” said Tunsis. “But when the Doldeni began to withdraw from us, there were no magicians among them, nor have I heard of any magicians who have gone over since. And yet almost immediately they had their aegis to protect them. Perhaps it was not the Doldeni who made the aegis, but the aegis that made the Doldeni.
“It was said by the men who were alive at the time that the Silver Dominion achieved something very special, a unique combination of our magic and their own lore. Of course, what they achieved for the most part was inferior to the purer creations of Ghadari magic, but they dared to do things that no guildsman of the magicians would dream of doing. That is what I have heard, and I do not know more than that. Still, I wonder if among those forbidden works was an artifact that would quell all magic, and if it found its way north to Talat. That is what I wonder.”
“An imaginative account,” said the Native, interrupting Halinjae as she opened her mouth, “but one with little solid ground for the feet.”
“You were close to their leader, I think,” Halinjae said in a flash. “What do you know about the aegis?”
He smiled, and inclined his brow. “I know that it was discovered amid the ruin of a Ghadari town in southern Talat. Where it was before that no one knows. Nevertheless, I can give you solid ground if you like, Halinjae. When Ebrinn, Lrento’, and I were brought by the Doldeni to behold the aegis, the two Latoirn were made to touch its surface, which normally is not a pleasant experience for anyone. And yet they suffered no harm, none at all. What would you say to that, Tunsis Melin?”
Tunsis’s eyes had widened. “That the aegis recognizes its old masters the Latoirn.” For a minute he sat in thought, then came to some decision and nodded. “Would you like a map to the Silver Dominion?”
“He is not much like old Barsa the Black, I noticed,” said the Native. “That fearsome blood has run thin, has it?”
“A man is much like his son, a woman much like her daughter,” replied Halinjae. After enjoying Tunsis’s hospitality until the next morning, they had set forth from Nalsala, following the map on an old sheet of leather that supposedly marked the best trail to the meeting place of the Silver Dominion. It was past noon, but their stomachs were still full from the rich breakfast Tunsis had given them. “But as the sun moves on, more and more light shines in the gap between a family’s founder and its heirs. Regardless, Tunsis may be the mildest of all who live in Sotlaci, but did you see his excitement when we brought our problem before him? I have always thought that if given the proper opportunity he would gladly become the greatest strategist that the Ghadari have ever seen. Now his cousin Argis on the other hand…”
The Native paused and shaded his eyes against the glare, holding up a finger to help line up the shadow behind him with the mountains ahead. Halinjae broke off in the middle of her speech and watched attentively – she was far too used to the magical iris to be able to do the slightest bit of navigation on her own. She and all the Ghadari who could afford such things. It had taken the Native himself months under the tutelage of the Doldeni to master the reading of sun and stars and land.
There was something odd nearby, something that set the Native’s nerves on edge. He glanced from the hills that rose in the north to the broad southern plain, but did not see or hear anything to explain his unease. Most likely it was just a trick of his mind, hesitant to go on into confrontation with the School of Shadows, aegis or no aegis. Settling on this conclusion, he nodded to Halinjae. “We have not wandered far off our course. We should quicken our pace – but you do not need me to tell you that time is precious.”
Barely an hour had passed after this, by the Native’s rough judgment, and they had passed from the open land southwest of Nalsala to a more rugged landscape. They came across a small flock of sheep grazing over a slope which they had to descend, and watching the sheep two young boys who sat chewing on sticks and jumped up when they saw Halinjae and the Native. “Who’re you?” one asked at the same time the other said, “Are you scouts, looking for the savages? Because we saw one two days ago, swear to Heaven!”
“We shouted and threw stones until he ran off,” the first said.
“Papa says they’re getting worse and worse, and soon we won’t be able to go as far with the sheep. I’d watch out if I were you.”
Another hour’s walk and they were within sight of a wood nestled in a hill’s shadow and bounded by a stream. The Native thought back to the image of the map he kept in his mind and was satisfied that they continued in the right direction. As he helped Halinjae climb down a nearly vertical incline of a few yards, he heard a sudden hissing from behind him and glanced down at his feet, expecting to see a snake. An arrow was projecting from the dirt near his right ankle.
“You no move!” someone called in a badly accented form of the Sotlaci tongue. The Native found it somewhat difficult to follow these instructions, positioned as he was with Halinjae’s arm in one hand and a projecting root in the other. He craned his neck but saw no sign of whoever was speaking. “You come down quick!”
So once they were on the level earth again, a man clad in only a loincloth and colorful strings hung on his shoulders emerged from whatever fold of rock and shrub had concealed him. Slinging his bow behind his back, he gave Halinjae and the Native long scrutiny, then whistled. After several tense minutes more of his kind began to appear, all armed. “We came to find the Latoirn of Sotlaci,” said the Native quietly to Halinjae. “It would seem that we have succeeded.”
A few of the Latoirn stepped behind Halinjae and the Native and grabbed their arms, holding them tight while hands passed all over their bodies searching for weapons, presumably. Halinjae flushed red under this treatment, and her bag of crackers was taken away. The Native wasn’t quite sure how much of a blast her latest efforts would produce, and he hoped that none of the Latoirn would take it into their heads to experiment.
They were taken to stand in the presence of an aged man, all drawn up within his gangly limbs. He looked at them with fixed, somber eyes framed by an untidy mane of hair, but said nothing. When the silence had grown loud enough to crush the hills, the old man gave a single nod, and Halinjae and the Native once again had their arms seized behind them and were pulled away. They were made to sit near the center of the band’s gathering for its evening meal, gnawing with little appetite at mushrooms and a kind of dark blue night-carrot, smaller than those with which the Ghadari were familiar. Although one child did reach with wonder for Halinkae’s golden hair, most of the eyes that were upon them were not friendly, and some of the men walking by pounded their feet on the ground aggressively.
The Native did not rest at all well that night. The crowning discomfort was that when he finally did drop off to sleep it was near morning, and he was awakened from a pleasant dream not long afterward. There was a great commotion and hubbub in the camp, and rubbing his eyes he sat up and looked around. When he finally understood what was going on, he twisted and shook Halinjae’s shoulders to wake her, laughing. “Well, Halinjae, we have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.”
“Mmm? What do you mean?”
The Native pointed, and her eyes widened. Ebrinn and Lrento’ were standing amidst the other Latoirn, Ebrinn engaged in rapid conversation, Lrento’ looking on quietly. And in Ebrinn’s hands was a spear that glowed with white light. “They have found it,” he said, and stood and called out in the tongue of Adrall. Immediately Ebrinn broke off whatever he was saying and went over to them.
“Aghalidu is still a prisoner,” he said solemnly.
“But you intend to free him,” the Native replied, looking to the spear. “Is that what I hope it to be?”
“It will destroy your magic, if that is what you mean,” said Ebrinn.
“Good,” said the Native. Halinjae was looking at the spear in a sidelong way, and did not approach it too closely. “I suppose it was you who had your friends here fetch us.”
“No,” said Ebrinn. “Lrento’ and I have been wandering in the west. We were only brought here just now. Our movements are being orchestrated by another.”
“Do not tell me you are beginning to believe in Heaven.”
“Not in Heaven,” Ebrinn said, “but in the vision of an old man. We will stay among the Urotneal for a little time and learn what counsel he has to offer, and then we will return to the land of your brethren. I trust there will be little debate. We do not have time to spare.”
“There will be no debate,” said Halinjae. “I don’t know about this old man, but for the sake of the islands, and for both our peoples, we must take whatever help we can get.”
“Good. I am told that he is expecting us.”
“No breakfast?” asked the Native. Ebrinn only looked at him in exasperation.
The old man was waiting in the same place, warming himself at a small fire which smelled oddly astringent. He sighed deeply upon seeing them, then brushed his hands together and said in his own language, “Eal, tran. Raig irr wámib janók.”
“Beanr janókib kol, poraráig irr a’?” asked Ebrinn.
Again the old man sighed. “Dali’íb mérni’. Twónul dror élbin mi índwor tarr, nik dwodwól om tarr, ea’, ea’, a’.” His eyes fell over each of them in turn as he said these last words.
The Native was only able to catch fragments of meaning from all this, and he interrupted, asking Ebrinn to translate. “He speaks of mysteries,” said Ebrinn. “I do not know if you are fit to hear them.”
“We do not fear your curses,” said Halinjae.
“Our path is before us, he says, and it leads to the…I am not quite sure if this is the proper meaning, but to the salvation of the islands. Yet it leads also into shadow.”
The Native waited, but that seemed to be all. “If a religious mystery, that is the vaguest and least enlightening that I have heard, and I have heard many.”
“The seeker after wisdom would do well not to cease listening after four sentences,” said Ebrinn, little irritation showing in his voice.
All this time the old man had been watching, and now he took a singed branch from the fire and began to draw with it on the ground. He traced in charcoal a rough square and then raised his voice and spoke. “Nei dwodwól mépenor twokítr eab irr na,” he said, adding a detail to the square’s border. “Nei gárrlerr wámib deréntwor.”
“Lrénto’? Ar?” asked Ebrinn.
“Mod keijérrean janr twotwón mi éá’am mib raráigi’or,” the old man said. He closed his eyes. “Mod míam miámib dáior. Mod mi mib dáior, mod nei.”
“Twónuld, gaptwúlr mi tarr!” Ebrinn cried, but the old man only smiled faintly and began to murmur to himself.
Through all of Ebrinn’s rigid Latoirn self-control, anger was beginning to break, and so the Native stepped close to him and touched his shoulder. “What did he say?” he asked.
“He said nothing,” was the reply. “He promises help and does not give it. He babbles of what cannot be changed and says we are not our own masters. He is an old senile fool. Let us leave at once to do what needs to be done, for Aghalidu’s sake and Lrento’’s.”
“Ebrinn,” said Lrento’. “What did he say about me?”
“He said nothing!” Ebrinn turned and began to walk away, holding the light of the spear firmly in his hand. Lrento’ followed, and after a moment, so did the others.