Read Darkening Skies (The Hadrumal Crisis) Online

Authors: McKenna Juliet E.

Tags: #Fantasy

Darkening Skies (The Hadrumal Crisis) (6 page)

She knew what else he would go on to say. That taking an interest in mainland realms’ affairs was not in any sense forbidden. Indeed, with Hadrumal’s guidance, strife that might lead to warfare could be soothed away. So Hadrumal’s Council had a duty to keep abreast of developments and to cultivate a measure of influence with the ruling powers. Barely a fifth of the wizards were born in Hadrumal after all.

True, but Jilseth, of Hadrumal blood since her twice-great-grandsire had set foot on these shores, found that precious few of the mainland-born spared much thought for the family or friends who had so hastily shipped them off to this safely distant isle when hitherto unsuspected magebirth manifested on the cusp of adulthood.

But Kalion’s thoughts were elsewhere. He shook his head, jowls wobbling. ‘Besides, their precious dead baron will be shown for a fool as well as a knave. He was no great judge of men if he couldn’t see that Minelas would betray him as readily as the swine betrayed his oaths to Hadrumal.’

‘Perhaps.’ Planir set his cordial glass down, his grey eyes flinty. ‘Well, what’s done is done. Let’s look to the future.

‘If Corrain is indeed confirmed as Baron Halferan,’ he said more briskly, ‘the captain will have to bear all the burdens of that rank. Halferan’s tenantry and yeomen will all be looking to him for guidance as the barony rebuilds. They cannot delay if those who lost their homes and livelihoods to the corsairs are to have food and shelter for the winter. At best, he has the two halves of autumn before the harsh weather arrives. All the while, his enemies will be wishing him ill. Baron Karpis and Lord Licanin in particular will be ready to pounce on the first sign of any failing.’

The Archmage swept a lean-fingered hand over the scrying bowl and the emerald magelight in the water brightened. ‘With every eye turned to Corrain, that leaves us free and unobserved to keep a weather eye on Caladhria’s real saviour.’

Jilseth knew that Planir meant this Mandarkin wizard whom Corrain of Halferan had somehow persuaded to come south and drive out those cursed corsairs.

The Archmage’s tone was so chilling that Jilseth wouldn’t have been surprised to see vapour rising from the water, like the mist from a pond in winter.

‘Can you—’ Kalion swallowed an obscenity as the water seethed and the magelight vanished.

At least Jilseth could be sure it wasn’t her unruly magic disrupting the spell.

Planir drummed his fingers on the table. That, or some unguarded resonance from his frustrated wizardry, stirred the stubbornly unreflective water.

‘Have you made any progress at all in finding a way through these veiling spells?’ he demanded of the Hearth Master.

‘Not as yet.’ Kalion flushed unbecomingly. ‘But I have been refining a new nexus working with Ely, Canfor and Galen.’

‘Galen is cautiously optimistic,’ Ely insisted.

The Archmage glanced at her with a thin smile. ‘I would rather hear that you are optimistic, since scrying is a water magic. You should have as much confidence in your abilities as you do in Galen’s.’

Ely couldn’t meet the Archmage’s eyes. She looked at Jilseth instead. ‘Has your nexus been considering this challenge?’

Jilseth wished she could say yes. That she was weaving her elemental affinity with the earth into Merenel’s fire-born wizardry, to be further enhanced by Nolyen’s talent for water magic and Tornauld’s grasp on the elusive air.

A single mage could add the other elements’ magics to their own affinity with sufficient study and application. A nexus of four wizards could double and redouble each other’s power to summon up quintessential magic. Such wizardry was far stronger and more durable than anything a solitary mage could achieve.

Or so the Element Masters and Mistresses of Hadrumal had always thought. Now the whole city was speculating how this unknown northern mage could sustain such impenetrable magic all on his own.

‘We are considering it.’ That much was no lie. If she couldn’t join them in a nexus, her friends insisted that Jilseth share her gleanings from years of reading in Hadrumal’s libraries, in case something could possibly hint at some answer. Nolyen in particular was obsessing over the puzzle, like every water mage from Flood Mistress Troanna down.

‘We have no insights to offer.’ That was, alas, also the truth.

‘Have you learned anything from the Soluran Orders?’ Kalion asked the Archmage without much hope.

Planir’s lip curled. ‘All the Elders whom I have sought to contact refuse to acknowledge my spells.’

There was so much that the mundane populace didn’t understand about magic, Jilseth thought inconsequentially. A wizard’s ability to bespeak another across a thousand leagues was truly marvellous. It was also only useful if the bespoken mage deigned to reply.

‘Have you explained to the Solurans that we never invited this Mandarkin wizard to our waters?’ Kalion demanded. ‘That it was this Caladhrian ruffian Corrain who chose to travel beyond the reach of Hadrumal’s edicts to find a wizard prepared to sink the corsair ships? That it was only when the wizards of Solura rebuffed him that he allied with a Mandarkin mage?’

‘You think I should throw some blame their way?’ Planir raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘When looking for co-operation?’

‘Why won’t the Solurans share what they know of Mandarkin magic?’ Ely looked from Archmage to Hearth Master. ‘They have been at each other’s throats for generations.’

Planir shrugged. ‘Silence is their prerogative. Happily there are others we can ask, who know something of those northern mountains and the magics used there.’

Kalion narrowed his eyes with sudden suspicion. ‘Suthyfer?’

‘Artifice?’ Ely couldn’t hide her disbelief.

Jilseth suddenly guessed who the Archmage meant. ‘Aritane has aetheric magic to use against the Mandarkin?’

She should have remembered that Planir liked to consider challenges from unexpected angles and the Mountain woman had been born and raised in one of the scattered settlements in the valleys among the peaks separating the Kingdom of Solura and the Mandarkin realm. Aritane had also been one of the
sheltya,
the teachers, law-makers and judges governing the Mountain race’s miners and trappers. Until some folly that even Ely’s curiosity couldn’t discover had seen her banished from those uplands, forced to accept Hadrumal’s shelter.

‘You think that mumbled enchantments can prevail,’ Kalion scoffed, ‘where the united magecraft of Hadrumal cannot?’

Loath as she was to agree with the Hearth Master, Jilseth found that equally hard to believe. For all that the mainland scholars who studied Artifice claimed that its adepts could influence and even invade another person’s thoughts, those whom Jilseth had encountered could do little more than listen through a distant person’s ears or see through their eyes.

The marvels once wrought with Artifice were as long lost as the Old Tormalin Empire. Indeed, didn’t those same scholars say that the Old Empire had fallen because Artifice had failed them? That and the arrogant folly of the emperor known to history as Nemith the Reckless.

‘Perhaps, perhaps not.’ Planir shrugged again. ‘But Aritane knows far more of Mandarkin wizardry than we do, though she herself followed the uplands’ aetheric tradition of magic. She has shared what she’s seen of Mandarkin magecraft with Usara and Shivvalan.’

Kalion grunted. ‘Have your pet malcontents some revelation to share?’

Jilseth knew that the Hearth Master disapproved of the Suthyfer settlement. If he were Archmage, he would never have allowed those mages who chafed at Hadrumal’s customs and traditions to set up their own haven of wizardry in the distant eastern ocean.

Kalion warmed to his theme. ‘How can an adept of Artifice contribute anything to an understanding of Elemental wizardry? They have no more hope of mastering the antipathy between the two magics than we have.’

Jilseth knew that some mages felt personally insulted because no mageborn could grasp the most trivial aetheric enchantment. Kalion merely saw it as proof that Artifice was beneath his notice. Very few wizards like Usara and Shivvalan were fascinated by the challenge of understanding why.

Kalion waved all this irrelevance aside. ‘What do you intend on doing about this Mandarkin mage?’

‘Until he does something that requires me to act, nothing.’ The Archmage looked expectantly at Kalion. ‘So I need to see what he’s doing, Hearth Master, and as soon as possible. Don’t let me detain you from further refining your new nexus.’

‘As you wish, Archmage,’ Kalion said testily as he rose to his feet. ‘Good day, and to you, Jilseth,’ he added as an afterthought.

‘Good day, Hearth Master.’ Jilseth echoed Planir’s farewells. ‘Ely.’

As the door swung closed behind them, Planir gestured to the vacated upholstered chair. ‘Why don’t you have a more comfortable seat?’

Jilseth stayed where she was, struck by an unnerving possibility. ‘Archmage,’ she said hesitantly. ‘If my magic has truly deserted me, do you think that I could learn something of Artifice?’

She had never visited Suthyfer but Merenel had spoken highly of the stone mage Usara and the Tormalin magewoman was not easily impressed.

Jilseth would gladly flee to those remote islands in the eastern ocean, certainly before she returned to the placid village on Hadrumal’s southern shore where her parents farmed their small-holding, proud that their mageborn daughter had left them to hone her talents in the wizard city just as her mother’s brother and her father’s sister had done.

‘Your magic has not deserted you,’ Planir assured her.

Jilseth stared at the hearth rug. She didn’t want to see pity in his eyes, or worse, false kindness.

‘Look at the fire,’ he chided her.

‘Archmage?’ She was surprised into looking up at him.

He pointed at the hearth and she saw that the coals had been utterly consumed.

‘That was your magic stirring,’ Planir observed. ‘Somewhat erratically, I must say, but Ely was being particularly provoking. Wild magic is not unusual in such circumstances so I tamed it. I didn’t think you’d relish the Hearth Master’s advice, however well-meant,’ he added drily.

‘Archmage—’ Jilseth couldn’t doubt Planir but she still couldn’t feel any wizardry within her.

‘Your magic has not deserted you,’ he repeated, unexpectedly stern, ‘but recovering it will be neither easy nor swift. If you can master this upheaval, you may well find yourself a far more powerful mage than you ever were before. Otherwise,’ he said with brutal frankness, ‘you will find your affinity as much of a burden as the rawest apprentice for years to come. You may even have to leave this city, for your own safety and that of others.’

Now Jilseth was wholly lost for words. She could only stare wide-eyed at the Archmage. He looked steadily back at her.

‘Do your utmost to hone your affinity afresh,’ he advised her. ‘I don’t think that we need look for omens and portents as the Aldabreshi do, to know that Hadrumal will need wizards of your insight and ability to curb this Mandarkin mage’s ambitions, when he finally decides what to do with this island he has claimed for his own.’

 

C
HAPTER
F
OUR

 

Black Turtle Isle

In the domain of Nahik Jarir

 

 

W
AS IT THE
turn of the season from Aft-Summer to For-Autumn? Hosh looked at his tally marks scratched in this sheltered angle where the black stone steps ran up to the broad terrace that served as the deserted building’s foundation.

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