The story so far: Tollon, apprentice to the Court Magician, is running errands for his master while trying to avoid the intrigues of court, the hazards of being a slight but attractive man, and still getting in time with his beloved, Paviara. (You can read the previous chapters here.) Now read on . . .
Get Sarton phoenix feathers. Dragons at least are indigenous, even if they’ve been driven back into the mountains. Phoenix feathers come from some very distant land where the bird lives, and dies, and lives, and, well, you get the idea. Some of the stories are not true. There is more than one phoenix, and they reproduce sexually, which is to say couples go up in a ball of flame together. I’m told it’s quite spectacular. Supposedly our method of executing witches with a fire was modeled on it. That, at least, I’ve seen. Amazing what kerosene can do.
Fortunately, the phoenix has been domesticated, or so I hear. There’s usually a supply of feathers, admittedly never very large, in the Great Market. And I remembered to get Sarton to write a requisition slip for the funds I’ll need. So first stop is the Royal Treasury.
In their usual stingy fashion, the Royal Treasury doesn’t hand over the money until they’ve asked me about fifteen times who I am and what it’s for. (Tollon of Velgard, and none of your business, unless you want Sarton to turn you into a toad.)
And then I’m off to the Great Market, which is wedged between town and the river. It’s a huge, open-air market. Goods come right off the docks along the river. Farmers come in from the country and set up their booths. Various swindlers set up their booths to fleece the unwary. And wandering through the market, bards play their instruments and sing epic songs of old. Some of them even sound more melodious than cats.
A trip to the Great Market always means a good meal to me. And armed as I am with fresh silver from the Royal Treasury, I soon conclude my business, getting seven good phoenix feathers at a decent price. Decent price means I can splurge a bit on lunch.
I’d noticed a young woman, well, really just a girl, watching me while I bought the feathers. She was shorter even than me, and looked as if she’d barely begun the transition into womanhood. Nice tightly curled green hair on tan skin, though. That’s not a combination that usually looks good, but on her, young as she was, it was pretty.
Now as I am thinking about where to go for a good meal, she accosts me. “Kind sir, I know a place that serves meals fit for such a gentleman such as yourself. I could even serve you myself.”
Immediately I am sorry I have to deal with her at all. A child sold into slavery, clearly, selling her services and her body, and at that young age. I try to be polite as I try to shake her off. “Thanks, but I have pressing business elsewhere.”
“My Lord of Tyznar Heights,” she says to me. That surprises me. I turn to take another good look at her. I look into her eyes, and I realize to my horror that there are another pair of eyes behind hers. I’m being bespelled, and by someone quite powerful. And there is not a thing I can do to stop it.
Sarton may be old and forgetful, of changeable humor, and not always the best master, but he’s not stupid. He told me once, “Being a magician is difficult. It’s not just learning the means. One must master the self. Never let yourself blind you to what is happening to you.”
This is one of those times I have to put those words to use. All I see is eyes. I don’t know what’s happening to my body. Nothing good, I suspect. So I concentrate on trying to see what those eyes are. What color are they? Gray. Male or female? The make-up says female. Skin tone? Pale-gray. The rest of the face? I can see it if I strain. I don’t know it. But I can describe it. I’ll know this one when I see her. Whether I can do anything about it, well, that’s another story.
I try feeling what’s happening to my body. I can’t properly feel it, but I know it’s there. It’s moving, I presume walking.
Something in my brain shifts, and I realize just whose face I’m seeing. It’s Lady Vorana, Sarton’s second wife. He’s had five of them. Two, he tells me, are dead. One is traveling and may not return in my lifetime. And I should avoid the other two if I ever meet them. One of those two is Vorana.
I recall his precise words. “Vorana is a selfish voluptuary. She gives nothing away for free. She will use you as she sees fit. Your best bet, if you run into her, is to say little, make a deal with her as quickly as possible, and then get away from her.” It’s good advice. Unfortunately, I am not in any position to follow it.
(To be continued . . .)