Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXIV

The story so far: On the run from the law, Tollon worries that a magician might also be hunting him. Now read on . . .

Zilla is pessimistic. “I often dismiss Sarton. But that’s because he’s been uninterested in what goes on in Gehulia. In a fight, I’d lose. So if this Vorana has displaced him, I won’t be able to protect you, Tollon.”

We’re in Zilla’s office, in what passes for a respectable street in Gehulia. Here, Zilla is herself, a middle-aged woman, and not the withered crone she plays out on the streets. There are only two other people who see Zilla as she really is: her lover and her clerical assistant.

“That’s if she finds out I’m here,” I point out. “And you’d sense any magical work in the neighborhood, wouldn’t you?”

Zilla gets up and goes to the window behind her desk. Looking out at the street, she says, “I would, and I have. It started two days ago. Someone’s testing the limits of my power. Whoever it is, they’re pushing a lot harder each day.” She turns and looks at me. “This isn’t just about you, I’m sure, not with the sort of power I’ve felt. Someone’s planning a magical attack on Gehulia, a major one, probably within the next pair of days.” She frowns. “And I tell you, Tollon: they are going to win.”

Grim news. “What are you going to do?”

She sits back down in her chair and shrugs. “Stay. Fight. Quite possibly die. I don’t have much choice. I’d be too vulnerable if I tried to run.” She offers me a sad chuckle. “You’ve come to me for help. Now the only help I can give you is advice. You’re young, you’re capable, but you haven’t yet had the time to build up your own power enough to slug it out with an experienced magician.  And, as you’ve found out yourself, gods are capricious. They are not to be relied upon.

“So leave Gehulia. Flee this city. Go find an ally you can depend upon. I can give you a name: Chypa the Stranger. If you can find her, you can depend on her.”

I ask the natural questions. “Where do I find her? And why can I trust her?”

One tribe of wanderers are religious pilgrims

Zilla shakes her head. “Where you can find her, I don’t know. She wanders all over the world.  But if you go looking for her, you will find her. As for trusting her, I’ll let you be the judge. She’s my aunt and Sarton’s third wife. And she’s definitely no friend of Vorana’s.”

With Zilla’s words ringing in my eras, I go back to my lodgings, a room in a sprawling boarding house on the east edge of Gehulia. I pack up what I need: clothes, money, a single grimoire I borrowed from Zilla, and the remaining dragons’ teeth. I’m all set to leave when there’s a knock at the door. Sword in hand, I open the door.

Inacha stands there, dressed in nondescript riding clothes. Without preamble, she says, “I have two horses ready. Zilla says you’ll need help finding Chypa the Stranger. And I am an information broker.”

It looks like I won’t be traveling alone.

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXIII

The story so far: Hunted for his role in helping the Earl and Lady Haulloran to escape, Tollon has taken refuge in the crime-ridden neighborhood of Gehulia, where he finds himself with some unlikely jobs. Now read on . . .

I’m waiting for Inacha to finish buttoning up her blouse. She’s the forty-third woman who’s unbuttoned her blouse for me today. And, no, I’m not sleeping with all of them. Or any of them. Particularly not Inacha.

Gehulia is not quite the anarchic neighborhood it appears to be. And the reason is the magician Zilla. She runs it, keeping the legitimate and criminal businesses carefully in balance, effectively punishing those who try to upset that balance.

I find this out because as part of the deal I’ve struck with Zilla to hide out in Gehulia, I’m working as one of her lieutenants. So I get to see her operations from the top to the bottom.

Take the job I’m just wrapping up. The fastest way to spread the deadly passion fever, as you might expect from the name, is through prostitution. So I’m doing the rounds of all the businesses that use them, checking that the prostitutes aren’t developing the red patches on their backs that are the first sign of the disease. Zilla sticks me with this duty fairly frequently, because a lot of the women are attracted to me and I have to keep declining their attentions. This is Zilla’s idea of humor, making me do this.

So I always end these inspection trips at the Broken Claw. Gehulia has poor, spirit-broken whores. It has high-class girls with fancy clothes and empty souls. And it has Inacha. She’s the reason I end my rounds here.

Inacha came to the city, like many a young woman, with hopes and dreams. And like many, she soon found that most jobs that require no skills also have little pay. So she turned to prostitution.

At which she was a complete failure. This is difficult to accomplish in Gehulia. Inacha is too naturally pretty to work at the low end, and is too talkative and awkward in bed to take a place at the high end. She has some very funny stories of her failures.

So Inacha reinvented herself. She took her looks and her charm, her wit and her intelligence, and she became a gentleman’s escort and information broker. The Broken Claw is her base in Gehulia. And, strictly as a matter of pride, she’s still carried on Zilla’s books as a prostitute. Which is why I have to check her.

Beheading enemies has long been a prerogative of monarchs.

With that over, we exit the back room we were using and take a seat in one of the tavern’s booths. Inacha waits until the waitress has delivered our drinks, and we’ve both taken a sip, before she gets down to business: court news and gossip. “Another execution outside the palace today. Baron Stivest.”

The king has been liquidating Earl Haulloran’s supporters with uncharacteristic speed. That’s the twelfth to the chopping block since Haulloran fled fifteen days ago. “What about the queen?” I ask.

Inacha barks out a laugh. “Still no sign of Her Spiffy Superiorness. I know someone with direct access to her. She’s alternating between being loudly mad and quietly seeking a way to escape from the king. Which is one reason he’s executing Haulloran’s allies so readily. No one wants to risk the chopping block for the sake of a monarch who’s not even in her right mind half the time.”

I’m about to ask another question, when Inacha leans forward and rests her hand on my arm. Those big gray eyes of hers look right into mine as she speaks in an undertone. “Not so well known is that the king’s seeing another woman. Not the lady-in-waiting who bore his child. No, this is some stranger named Vorana.”

Not a name I want to hear in any context. I ask Inacha if she’s got a physical description, which she does, and it matches exactly.

“You know this woman?” Inacha naturally asks.

“Not as well as Sarton,” I tell her. “She’s an ex-wife of his. They are not on friendly terms.”

“Magician?”

“Definitely.”

Inacha gives a worried shake of her head. “Then it is probably significant that Sarton hasn’t been visible since she showed up.”

I sit back in my seat, thoroughly depressed. “Significant” doesn’t quite capture the catastrophic implications. Vorana has probably displaced Sarton as Court Magician, in fact if not in name. She’s probably made the king into her puppet.

And the last, most depressing thought? Lady Gwella might not have been lying to me. She may not have been the one who put a spell on the queen. It might well have been Vorana. How, I don’t know. It may well be that Vorana has outplayed us all. To what end?

Seeing my sad and thoughtful look, Inacha smiles and says to me, “You need a place to rest your head tonight, you can always spend the night with me.”

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXII

The story so far: By helping the Earl and Lady Haulloran escape the royal will, Tollon has become a fugitive. One of the well-known ways to trap a fugitive is to round up his associates. Now read on . . .

It takes three palace guards to restrain and tie up Evana in the middle of the street. Her father is sprawled in his shop door, with a black eye and blood running from his mouth, under the watchful eye of another guard. They’ve put up a good fight. It probably helped that the guards didn’t expect old men and short, teenaged girls to put up much of a fight.

We’re watching this from a window across the street and up two houses from the shop. It’s a great view. My companion is switching his glance from the scene down below and to me. He asks, “This does not bother you?”

In a flat voice, I say, “I recognize the guards. I’ll remember who they are. Our job is to help your associates, not to harm them.”

The watchmaker’s secret society is a political conspiracy

My companion is Eschehedion Charmaxan Sput, “Sput” for short. He’s a resident of Gehulia and a member of the secret society the watchmaker belongs to. Zilla vouched for me, so he’s working with me on this. He is not entirely happy with what I’m saying, but he nods and returns to gazing out the window.

The guards leave. The watchmaker slowly sits up in his door, tears streaming down his face.

I turn to Sput. “Get down there and tell him what to do, as I explained.”

Sput worries. “You’re sure this will work?”

“It can’t make him any worse off, can it?” I reply.

Sput chews his moustache, nods, and heads out of the room to go down and talk to the watchmaker.

I figured once they knew I’d been with the Haullorans, they’d come for Evana. I wasn’t going to make Evana, or her father, a prisoner or a criminal on the run on my account. So I had Zilla get me in touch with Sput. He’s going down there to tell the watchmaker to get himself cleaned up, prepare a basket of clothes and food for his daughter, prepare another basket of goods to bribe the captain of the guards, and take them both to the palace. There, he will explain to the captain of the guards that he’s sorry he interfered when they arrested his daughter, but that she’s a young thing, and he wants to make sure she is comfortable. And could they pass his name along to Sarton, who is an old friend?

I’m trusting that Sarton doesn’t know what to make of my situation, but is privately withholding judgment. He’ll want to interrogate Evana, and her father when he shows up. When he finds out they haven’t seen me, he’ll avoid looking into their secret society background. They’ll be let go sooner than later. But I suspect someone will be posted to watch them. Telling Sput that is another reason he’s willing to trust me.

Sput rejoins me after a while. He’s smiling. He sits down and shakes his head at me. “I had more trouble convincing him to apologize to the palace guard than to shut up about you. I’m pretty sure he thinks I’ve been talking to you.”

“That’s okay,” I reply. “He’s never liked my relationship with his daughter. If it comes out, he won’t have to hide his anger at me. It’ll actually make him seem a more convincing innocent.” And if Sarton figures out what I’ve done, he’ll know I’m trying to signal him that I’m all right, well, as all right as being a wanted criminal can be. “Just so long as he hasn’t seen me today, he can’t be arrested for being a co-conspirator.”

Sput grins, and then sighs. “He’s a tough old bird, and the daughter’s quite the fighter, too. Pity we’re going to have to cut him out of the society for this. Can’t have the guard on our tails.”

I even have an answer to that, I’ve been thinking so hard. “You sure there isn’t a place in your organization for someone who has been identified as a suspicious person, but not arrested for anything?”

“What do you mean?” Sput’s genuinely curious.

“Don’t tell me there aren’t times you’d like to send a message to the palace.”

Sput rubs his stubbly chin. “Got a point there. I’ll talk to people.” He stands up. “And now I’d better go, and you’d best not follow immediately.” He laughs and shakes his head. “Strange sort of business.” And then he leaves.

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LXI

The story so far: Lady Gwella is Tollon’s enemy. Lady Gwella is carrying Tollon’s child. Lady Gwella has a death sentence on her head. All of which puts Tollon in the difficult situation of helping her escape. (And if you’re unfamiliar with ANY of this, this link will take you to the full back story.) Now read on . . .

Even nobility, it seems, values the back door exit. Earl Haulloran informs me the tunnel leading out of his suite from a secret door was built by his great-grandfather for just such an occasion as this. It even has a chest of clothes in it, with a filled purse, for any earl or lady unlucky enough to be routed out of their beds. We pause while those two change into something more suitable for outdoors. Then we push on to the end. The earl smiles as we reach a door, push it open, and find ourselves down by the riverbank.

I look around. “Luckily the morning fog hasn’t burnt off.”

The Earl snickers. “Oh, my grandfather was more intelligent than that, Tollon. We’re below the top of the bank. We can’t be seen from the palace no matter what the weather.” His smile drops as he looks back up at the bank. “Still, no reason to assume they won’t figure out what’s happened sooner or later. We need to go upstream and catch a boat across the river as quickly as possible. Friends will help us to horses.”

As we walk upstream, I say to the earl, “I should leave you at the boat.”

Lady Gwella gives me a suspicious look. “You’re in this with us, Tollon. No backing out now.”

I shake my head. “I’m in it to see you to safety. Once you get across the river, you’ll be contacting your friends. The less I know about them, the less I can inform on you, if it comes to that.”

“If you come with us, that won’t be a worry,” Lady Gwella insists.

The earl gives me a thoughtful look before he speaks. And then he addresses his wife first. “Ah, but he might be worried how safe he’ll be in our hands. He might wonder if he will become, ah, expendable. I can’t blame him for that.” He turns back to me as we walk. “You have a way to hide? Perhaps your lethal little slave-friend?”

He means Mia. Oh, I wish. I shake my head. “She’s long gone. But I have allies in the city who will hide me. And from them I can learn what’s going on in the palace. Is there any way I can safely communicate with you once you’re back in Haulloran?”

The earl thinks. Before he can answer, Lady Gwella pulls a ring off one of her fingers and offers it to me. “You know how to do this?” she asks.

I nod and take the ring. Lady Gwella explains to her husband, “He can reach me with magic, but I can keep him from finding me. It’s safe.”

City riverfront are busy places

We continue wordlessly until we reach the Upper Wharf. The earl engages a boat. While he does so, Lady Gwella addresses me in an undertone. “I know there’s something you’re hiding, Tollon. What it is I can’t imagine. But play me false and I’ll be sure you’ll not survive the experience.”

I reply in a similar tone. “I’ve no intention of playing you false. And in truth, Lady Gwella, I can assure you without a doubt that you cannot imagine my reason why.”

Lady Gwella doesn’t take that well. But her husband calls. We go over to the boat, act as if this is a normal parting in from of the boatmen, and they are gone.

I get off the wharf and take the road back into the city. I don’t have the connections of the earl. Hiding in the countryside would not work for me. No, it’s back to disappear in the city, where the throngs of people will hide me.

I see some of the palace guard coming down the road toward me, and duck into a beer garden. The guards don’t even notice me. They just march on by. It appears the king has figured out that the earl has fled, and is trying to cut off any escape. He’s too late.

As soon as they’re gone, I get back on the road. Somehow, whether from the Haulloran’s porter at the palace, or the boatmen at the wharf, they’re going to figure out that I was with the earl and lady. Which means there’s a watchmaker I need to go see.

(To be continued . . .)

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And a pause . . .

After another thirty days and thirty chapters of Magician’s Apprentice, and reaching the end of part six, it’s time for me to take a two-day break. Tollon, his friends, enemies, and who-knows-what will return for chapter LXI on Saturday.

My thanks to all my readers for taking the time to stop by here, day after day.

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LX

The story so far: Tollon has found out that his beloved and dead sister Jallia is being reincarnated as the child his enemy Lady Gwella is carrying, which also happens to be his child, too. Yes, you read that right. Now read on . . .

I’m banging on a door in the palace to be let in. Where is the damn porter? He finally opens up, carrying a pike. I push him aside and go running down the corridor, yelling Lady Gwella’s name.

Yeah, Lady Gwella’s. This is the Haulloran suite.

Why here, and not the royal suite? Because the first priority has to be protecting the reincarnation of my sister Jallia, which Lady Gwella is carrying. I’m not sure where the king is and what he’s decided. I can’t take the chance that I’ll reach him too late, or be unable to convince him not to order the execution of the Earl and Lady Haulloran.

Trust the earl to have some hunting trophies in his great hall.

As with most noble suites, the main reception hall is at the far end of the entry corridor. I pull open the doors and dash in, shouting Lady Gwella’s name as loudly as I can.

Just my luck. There is no one here. Where could the lady be? Where is her husband? Have they already been taken? I can feel the panic rising. I need to go find them, which means I need to force some answers out of the porter. Looks like I’ll need to do some magic.

I turn around. I’m immediately brought up short by both the earl and lady stepping into the reception hall from the corridor. A corner of my mind registers that they are both still in their night clothes: a shift and a robe. But the earl is carrying his sword. I don’t think he sleeps with it. Maybe he does. He takes a step forward, raising his sword, threatening to attack me.

I’m debating how to stop the earl with magic when his lady intervenes. She grabs him by his other arm and holds him back. “Wait, Ronnard. This is Sarton’s boy, Tollon. I was just talking to him yesterday. Let’s hear what he has to say.”

The earl doesn’t look entirely convinced. But he’s still in love with his lady, so he stops and lowers his sword.

Seconds are ticking by. I have to be brief. “You two have to leave the palace, now. The king is going to order your death or imprisonment. Go back to Haulloran.” I get this out in one breath.

Neither one of them actually looks all that startled. I guess their own sources of information have warned them that something is in the air. Still, the earl is not convinced. “Why should we trust you?”

Before I can answer, Lady Gwella speaks up. Unlike her husband, she is convinced. She raises her voice to make sure her husband pays attention. “Because Tollon has every reason not to warn us. He has no reason to love either of us.” She turns to give me a thoughtful look. “So I’m wondering just what reason he has for doing so.”

No one ever accused Lady Gwella of being stupid. Me, on the other hand? I should have expected this question. I do not want to tell her the real reason. She almost certainly will use the knowledge to my disadvantage. So I lie, with the most convenient lie I have to hand. “I don’t want to be swept up in a purge of the earl’s family.” It was true, once, months ago.

Now their roles reverse. The earl nods. He thinks I’m making sense. But not Lady Gwella. Judging by her look, she suspects that I’m lying.

But she doesn’t get time to probe further. Just at that moment, there is a loud rapping at the other end of the hall. Someone else wants entry to this suite, and they don’t sound like they are going to accept a refusal. And then there is shouting. “Open up in the name of the king!”

“I hope there’s a back way out of this place,” I say.

Her husband says, “My apologies for doubting you, sir. And now if you will excuse us, we must be going.” He starts to turn.

Lady Gwella restrains him. To me, she says, “If they find you here, Tollon, you’ll be charged with treason. So, no matter why you came here, you’re going to have to throw in your lot with us. Come. We’ve a way out.” There is a crashing at the main door. “And not much time to use it.”

I have no choice. I follow them as they head through a side door. And just like that, I become a traitor and a wanted criminal.

(To be continued . . .)

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Magician’s Apprentice Chapter LIX

The story so far: Tollon is out for Lady Gwella’s blood, though to his surprise not as much as Sarton is. And then Tollon runs into a capricious god. Now read on . . .

A girl with dark yellow skin and dark brown hair, that is Mrokitar, just as she appeared back at the otherworldly school. Except her eyes and face look alive, more human. There’s not much I can do to safeguard myself from a god at such short notice, so I bow and hail her by several of her titles. She indicates I should sit. So I go sit in the chair behind Sarton’s desk and wait for her to explain just what Evana has asked her to do to me.

She contemplates me with a smile for several minutes before saying, “Now that I understand you better, it’s so amusing to see how your facial expressions and posture indicate your state of mind. My thanks.”

I have no idea where this is going. “You’re welcome. I did what?”

“Gave me insight into humans. I even thought of coming here in your eidolon. I’ve been using it elsewhere.” She sighs. “But I thought that would confuse you. You humans are so easily confused.”

I nod to that. Still no idea what she’s up to. Guess I’m one of those confused humans.

Mrokitar sighs. “It doesn’t last, though. Gods are gods, and humans are humans. After a while, I’ll gradually cease to empathize with you humans, and you’ll become curiosities, instead of beings I understand. Take this one, the woman whose shape I’ve taken. I knew her three hundred years ago. Her influence only lasted thirty years. So I imagine yours will, too.”

“You could find another human to temporarily absorb every thirty years,” I point out.

“But why would I?” she replies. And then, after a long pause, she goes on. “Still, I feel I owe you something for this experience. So I have done what you humans call a good deed.”

This has nothing to do with Evana. It’s all Mrokitar’s own idea. I’m not sure whether to be relieved or even more worried.

“You loved your sister, Jallia. Her body had to die so that Ovedisca could be driven from the realities where he is not allowed. But her soul did not have to die. So I transplanted it.”

Iphigenia was sacrificed to appease a god. But in some versions, she is also saved by the god.

Mrokitar has my interest. She has my interest. “Go on,” I urge her.

“It is easiest to implant a soul in a new person. So I went and found one. And just to make it most appropriate, I implanted it in a new person related to you.” Mrokitar has a big smile on her face.

New person. What would a god mean by that? “One of my siblings is having a child?”

Mrokitar shakes her head. She’s still smiling. “No. But you’re close.”

“My step-mother is carrying a child?” I would think her too old now, but I could be wrong.

“Getting colder, Tollon.”

Who is more closely related to me than my siblings? And would be having a child? I start mentally searching through my family tree. And another part of my mind wonders where Sarton is. We still need to settle what to do about Lady Gwella . . .

Oh, no! OH, NO!!

I try to think how to put the devastation in my soul in polite terms to Mrokitar. Trying desperately to keep my voice steady (and failing), I ask, “My child by Lady Gwella?”

Mrokitar claps her hands. “Yes!”

And then I catch at a straw. “But that’s impossible. That child was engendered while Jallia was still alive.”

Mrokitar laughs. “The child was also engendered on a different world from the one Jallia died on. So what? Am I not a god?”

Well, you got me there, Mrokitar. And I have another dreadful thought. “That child is going to be a girl, isn’t it?”

Mrokitar says, “Why, yes. Does it matter?”

Maybe not to you, but to me, it definitely does. And probably to Jallia as well. I have to sum this up out loud. “My daughter is going to have my sister’s soul?”

“Exactly!”

I have no idea what this will actually mean. That Jallia will live on in some form, that I’m happy about, at least. That she’s Lady Gwella’s daughter, that is going to be nothing but trouble. And of course this changes what has to be done about Lady Gwella. I can’t have her tortured or executed. I need to talk to Sarton.

“You wouldn’t happen to know where Sarton is, would you?” I ask Mrokitar.

She cocks her head. “He’s currently meeting with the king of this kingdom.”

And trying to convince the king to execute Lady Gwella. I have to get to them before Sarton succeeds. “Mrokitar, I need . . .” and I stop.

Mrokitar is gone. I don’t know where Sarton and the king are, apart from being in the palace. But if I don’t find them soon, my sister Jallia dies again. And I don’t think another god will be coming along to fix the problem.

(To be continued . . .)

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