The Outstretched Shadow

The Obsidian Trilogy: Book One

The Obsidian Mountain Trilogy (Volume 1 of 3)

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Tor Books

Chapter One
In the City of Golden Bells
THE GARDEN MARKET positively thronged with people, clustered around the wagons just in from the countryside. What a fuss over strawberries—you’d think they were made of solid ruby.
Perhaps—to some—they were. Certainly the number of superior kitchen servants that filled the streets of the Garden Market, their household livery enveloped in spotless aprons, pristine market baskets slung over their arms, suggested that the gourmets of the City treasured them as much as if they were, indeed, precious gems.
Kellen Tavadon supposed it was all a matter of taste. The strawberries were said to be particularly good this year, and there must have been a hundred people waiting impatiently for the three ox-carts in from the country to unload the second picking of the day, great crates full of the tender fruit, layered in fresh straw to keep from bruising the delicate flesh. The air was full of the scent of them, a perfume that made even Kellen’s mouth water.
“Out of the way, young layabout!”
A rude shove in Kellen’s back sent him staggering across the cobbles into the arms of a marketplace stall-holder, who caught him with a garlic-redolent oath just in time to keep him from landing face first in the cart full of the man’s neatly heaped-up vegetables. Behind Kellen, the burly armsman dressed in purple-and-maroon livery and bearing nothing more lethal than an ornamental halberd dripping purple-and-maroon ribbons shoved another man whose only crime was in being a little too tardy at clearing the path. This victim, a shabby farmer, went stumbling in the opposite direction, and looked far more cowed than Kellen had. A third, a boy picked up by the collar and tossed aside, saved himself from taking down another stall’s awning by going into the stone wall behind it instead.
All this rudeness was for no greater purpose than so the armsman’s master need not be jostled by the proximity of mere common working-folk who had been occupying the space that their superior wished to cross.
Kellen felt his lip curling in an angry sneer as he mumbled a hurried apology to the fellow who’d caught him. Damn the idiot that has to make a display of himself here! He picked a fine time to come parading through, whoever he is! The Garden Market couldn’t be more crowded if you stood on a barrel and yelled, “Free beer!”
Then again—maybe that was the point. Some people couldn’t see an opportunity to flaunt their importance without grabbing it and wringing every last bit of juice out of it.
Father, for instance
Kellen turned just in time to see that the Terribly Important Person in question this time was High Mage Corellius, resplendent in his velvet robes and the distinctive hat that marked him as a High Mage and thus a creature of wealth, rank, and power. Quite a hat it was, and Corellius held his scrawny neck very upright and stiff supporting it—a construction with a square brim as wide as his arm was long that curled up on the right and the left. It had three gold cords that knotted around the crown and trailed down his back, cords ending in bright golden tassels as long as Kellen’s hand. Corellius’s colors were purple and maroon, and they suited him vilely. Not only did the shades clash, they made him look as if he had a permanent case of yellow jaundice, which condition was not at all improved by the wattles of his throat and the mottled jowls hanging down from his narrow vulpine jaw. His beady little eyes fastened on Kellen just long enough for Kellen to be certain the smirk on the thin lips was meant for him, then moved on, recognizing Kellen and dismissing him as a thing of no importance.
Kellen flushed involuntarily. Which I am, of course. Father’s position and glory hardly reflect on his so-disappointing son. And if I were as properly ambitious as I’m supposed to be, I wouldn’t be wandering about in the market in the first place. I’d be at my studies.
The official ranks of Magecraft progressed from the Student at the very beginning of the discipline, through Apprentice, to Journeyman, to Mage, to High Mage. Kellen, as a student, was beneath Corellius’s notice under the usual circumstances. But Kellen was no ordinary Student. Not with the Arch-Mage Lycaelon—head of the High Council, and therefore Lord of all the Mages in the City—as his father.
Kellen glowered at the High Mage’s back. There was no doubt in his mind Corellius had recognized him, even dressed as he was. How could he not, considering who Kellen’s father was?
“That’d be a High Mage, then?” asked the stall-holder, conversationally. “Don’t suppose ye know which one?”
Kellen shrugged, not at all inclined to identify himself as someone who would know High Mages on sight. He’d worn his oldest clothes into the City for just this reason.
“Maroon and purple, that’s all I know,” he replied untruthfully. “Don’t know why a High Mage would be barging through the Garden Market, though.”
“Wondered that myself.” The stall-holder shrugged, then lost interest in Corellius and Kellen, as a housewife squeezed out of the press, positioned herself under the man’s red-striped awning, and began to pick over the carrots.
Kellen moved on, taking a path at right angles to Corellius’s progress. He didn’t want to encounter the High Mage again, but he also didn’t want to fight his way through the wake of disturbance Corellius had left behind him. The Garden Market, with its permanent awnings that were fastened into the stone of the warehouse buildings behind them and unfurled every morning, was full every day, but other markets were open only once every Sennday, once a moonturn, or once a season. The Brewers’ and Vintners’ Market was open today, though, over in Barrel Street, for instance. The brewers were in with Spring Beer today, which, along with the new crop of strawberries, probably accounted for the heavy traffic here in the Market Quarter.
Probably accounts for Corellius, too. Kellen knew the High Mage’s tastes, thanks to overheard conversations among Lycaelon and his friends. Corellius might pretend to favor wine, a much more sophisticated beverage than beer, but his pretense was as bogus as—as his apparent height! Just as he wore platform soles to his shoes, neatly hidden under the skirt of his robe, to hide his true stature, his carefully cultivated reputation as a gourmet concealed coarser preferences. His drink of choice was the same beer his carpenter father had consumed, and the stronger, the better. He might have a reputation for keeping an elegant cellar among his peers and inferiors, but his superiors knew his every secret “vice.”
They had to: only a convocation of High Mages could invest a Mage into their exalted ranks, and it behooved them to know everything about a potential candidate. Little did Corellius know that a frog would fly before he was invested with the rank he so coveted. The High Mages would have understood and accepted a man who clung to his culinary roots openly—but a Mage who dissembled and created a false image of himself might find it easy to move on to more dangerous falsehoods. So Lycaelon said—loudly, and often.
So Kellen steered clear of the Brewers’ and Vintners’ Market. Corellius would be in there for bells, tasting, comparing, pretending he was buying for the table of his servants, while brewers fell over themselves trying to impress him and gain his patronage. And as long as the Mage dallied in the market, no one else would be served, which would make for a backlog of a great many impatient and disgruntled would-be customers.
But they would just have to wait. This was the Mage-City of Armethalieh and only another Mage, senior in age or higher in rank, could displace Corellius from his position of importance. Mages had built it, Mages ruled it, and Mages were the only people of any real consequence in it, though it had nobility and rich men in plenty.
It didn’t matter if Armethalieh traded with the entire world and held rich merchants within her walls, or that she could boast nobles whose bloodlines went back centuries, some with more wealth than any ten merchants combined. When it came to power and the wielding of it—well—Mages were the only men who had it, and they guarded their privileges jealously.
Not that they didn’t earn those privileges. Magick infused and informed this City, often called “Armethalieh of the Singing Towers” for all of the bell spires piercing the sky. Magick ensured that the weather was so controlled that—for instance—rain only fell between midnight and dawn, so that the inhabitants need not be inconvenienced. Magick kept the harbor clear and unsilted, guided ships past the dangerous Sea-Hag’s Teeth at the mouth of it, and cleansed the ships that entered it of vermin. There was magick to reinforce any construction, so that (in the wealthiest parts, at least) the City looked like a fantastic confection, a sugar-cake fit for a high festival. The City stretched toward the sun with stonework as delicate as lace and hard as diamonds, be-towered and be-domed, gilded and silvered, jeweled with mosaics, frosted with fretwork. Things were less fanciful in less exalted quarters, but still ornamented with gargoyle downspouts and carved and glazed friezes of ceramic tiles. Magick reinforced these, too, and nearly every block boasted its own bell tower, with still more magick ensuring that all of the songs of the towers harmonized, rather than clashed, with each other.
Magick set the scales in the marketplace and ensured their honesty. Magick at the Mint guaranteed that the square coins of the City, the Golden Suns of Armethalieh, were the truest in the world, and the most trusted. Magick kept the City’s water supply sweet and uncontaminated, her markets filled with fresh wholesome food at every season, her buildings unthreatened by fire. There were entire cadres of Mages on the City payroll, dedicated to magick for the public good. If they were well paid and well respected, they had earned both the pay and the respect. Even Kellen, no friend of Mages, had to admit to that. Life in the City was sweet and easy.
As for the private sector, where the real wealth was to be made, there were far more opportunities for a Mage to enrich himself. There was virtually no aspect of life that could not be enhanced by magick. Domestic magick, for instance. If you had the money, you could hire a Mage to thief-proof your house or shop, to keep vermin out of it, to keep disease from your family, and to heal their injuries. If you had the money, you could even hire a Mage to create a winter-box where you could put perishables to keep them from spoiling. And there were even greater magicks to be had—magicks that melded brick-and-mortar into a whole more solid than stone and harder than adamant. Magicks that kept a ship’s sails full of favoring wind no matter what the real conditions were. Money bought magick, and magick made money, and no matter how lowly born a Mage was—and the Magegift could appear in any family, regardless of degree of birth (Corellius, for example)—he could count on becoming rich before he was middle-aged. He might become very rich. He might aspire to far more than mere wealth, if he was powerful enough: a seat on the High Council, and a voice in ruling the City itself.
Most important of all of the folk of the City were the Mages, and the most important of all the Mages were those High Mages who formed the elite ruling body of the City, the High Council. They were considered to be the wisest of the wise; they were certainly the most powerful of the powerful. If there was a decision to be made about anything inside the walls of the City, it was the High Council that made it.
And that was what stuck in Kellen’s throat and made him wild with pent-up frustration.
If there is a way to fetter a person’s life a little further, it is the High Council that puts the pen to the parchment, Kellen thought sourly as he made his way past the Tailors’ Mart and the stalls of those who sold fabric and trimmings. His goal was the little by-water of booksellers, but he would have to make his way through most of the markets to get there, since Corellius was blocking the short route.
Kellen was seventeen, and had been a Student for three years now, and although that was probably the acme of ambition for most young men in this City, he would rather have forgone the “honor” entirely. It would have been a great deal easier, all things considered, if he had never been born among the Gifted. On the whole, he would much rather have been completely and utterly ordinary. His father would have been disgusted.
And I could have gotten out of this place. I could have gone to be a sailor…It would have gotten him as far as the Out Islands, at least. And from there, who knew?
Mages weren’t always born to Mage fathers, and certainly not only to Mages, but in Kellen’s case, if he hadn’t been among the Gifted, Lycaelon would probably have had apoplexy—or gone looking for his wife’s extramarital interest. Or both. The blood in Kellen’s veins contained—as he was reminded only too often—the distillation of a hundred Arch-Mages past, half of whom had held the seat of a Lord of the High Council at some point during their lifetimes.
That was difficult enough to live up to, but he was also the son of the Arch-Mage Lycaelon Tavadon, ruler of the City and the current Arch-Mage of the High Council.
That made his life so unbearably stultifying that Kellen would gladly have traded places with an apprentice pig-keeper, if there were such a thing to be found within the walls of Armethalieh.
Wherever Kellen went in his father’s world, there were critical eyes on him, weighing his lightest deed, his least word. Only here, in the “common” quarters of the artisans, the shopkeepers, and the folk for whom magick was a rare and expensive commodity, here where no one knew who he was, did Kellen feel as if he could be himself.
And yet, even here, the heavy hand of Arch-Magisterial regulation intruded.
For these were the markets of Armethalieh, and Armethalieh was the greatest city in the world, after all. This should have been a place where wonders and novelties abounded. The harbor welcomed ships from every place, race, and culture, and caravans arrived at the Delfier Gate daily laden with goods from every conceivable place. There should be a hundred, a thousand new things in the market whenever it opened. And yet—
And yet the High Council intruded, even here.
They, and not the merchants, determined what could be sold in the marketplace. And only products that had been approved by the High Council could make an appearance here. Inspectors roamed the streets, casting their critical eyes over the stalls and stores, and anything that looked new or different was challenged.
In fact, there was one such Inspector in his black-and-yellow doublet and parti-colored hose just ahead of Kellen now. The Inspector was turning to look at the contents of a ribbon-seller’s stall with a frown.
“What’s this?” he growled, poking with his striped baton of office at something Kellen couldn’t see.
The stall-holder didn’t even bother to answer or argue; he just slapped his permit down atop the offending object. Evidently, this Inspector was a fellow well known to the merchant.
“Council’s allowed it, Greeley, so take your baton off my property afore you spoil it,” the man growled back. From his look of offended belligerence, Kellen guessed that the merchant had been targeted by this particular Inspector in the past.
The Inspector removed his baton, but also picked up the permit and examined it minutely—and managed to block all traffic down this narrow street as he did so. Kellen wasn’t the only one to wait impatiently while the surly, mustachioed official took his time in assuring himself that the permit was entirely in order. Granted, some merchants had tried—and probably would continue to try—to use an old permit for a new offering, bypassing the inspection process, but that didn’t mean the old goat had call to block the street!
“It’s in order,” Greeley grunted at last, and finally moved away from the stall so that people could get by again.
“Interfering bastard,” the merchant muttered just as Kellen went past. “Even if it wasn’t, what difference would a new pattern of woven ribbons make, for the Eternal Light’s sake?”
Kellen glanced down curiously to see the disputed objects that had so raised the Inspector’s ire. The merchant was smoothing out his wares, and Kellen could easily see why the Inspector’s interest had been aroused. The ribbons in question were of the usual pastel colors that custom decreed for female garb, but the patterns woven into them were angular, geometric, and intricate, like the mosaics made from square ceramic tiles by the Shanthin farmers of the north. There wasn’t a hint of the flowers and leaves usually woven into such ribbons, and although he wasn’t exactly the most expert in matters of lady’s dresses, Kellen didn’t think he’d ever seen ribbons like this before. Well! Something new!
And the merchant was right—what difference could this make to anyone?
Despite the Council’s eternal restrictions, the Market Quarter was still a lush, rich place to wander through, from the heady scents of the Spice Market to the feast for the eyes of the fabrics in the Clothworkers’ and Trimmers’ Market.
But though there was a great deal of abundance, and it was all wonderfully extravagant (at least, in the markets that Kellen’s class frequented), creating an impression of wealth and plenty, it was all the same as it ever had been, or ever would be, except in the minutest of details. It was the same way throughout the entire City—throughout Kellen’s entire life—tiny meaningless changes that made no difference. A pattern here, a dance step there, a scarf added or subtracted from one’s attire—someone who had lived in Armethalieh five hundred years ago could come back and be perfectly at home and comfortable now.
And if the High Council continued to govern as it had, someone who would live here five hundred years hence could return and find nothing of note changed.
Is that any way to live?
Somehow, that chance encounter with the Inspector had given form to Kellen’s vague discontent. That was what was wrong with this place! That was why he felt as if he was being smothered all the time, why he was so restless and yearned to be anywhere but here!
Abruptly, Kellen changed his mind. He was not going to the Booksellers’ Market. Instead, he would go to the Low Market. Maybe among the discards of generations past he might find something he hadn’t seen a thousand times. He hadn’t ever been to the Low Market, where (it was said) all the discards of the City eventually ended up. It was in a quarter inhabited by the poorest workers, the street-sweepers, the scullery-help, the collectors of rubbish, the sewer-tenders—people who had a vested interest in allowing those merchants of detritus to camp on their doorsteps twice a sennight.
Yes, he would go there and hope to find something different. And even if he didn’t, well, at least being in the Low Market would be something akin to novelty, with the added fillip of knowing that if Lycaelon found out about where his son had gone, he would be utterly horrified.
* * *
THERE were no “stalls” as such in the Low Market, and no awnings sheltering goods and merchants, only a series of spaces laid out in chalk on the cobbles of Bending Square. The “square” itself was a lopsided space surrounded by apartment buildings of four and five stories, centered by a public pump. Within each space each would-be merchant was free to display what he or she had for sale in whatever manner he or she chose. No Inspectors ever bothered to come here, and in fact, it wasn’t even “officially” a market.
Some of the sellers laid out a pitiful assortment of trash directly on the stones; some had dirty, tattered blankets upon which to display their findings; some presided over a series of wooden boxes through which the customers rummaged. The most prosperous had actual tables, usually with more boxes piled beneath. Kellen stopped before one of these, inspecting the seller’s wares curiously.
He fingered an odd piece of sculpture made of brass with just enough silver in the crevices to tell him it had once been plated. The table was heaped with odd metal bric-a-brac, doorknobs, hinges and latches, old keys, tiny dented dishes meant for salt, pewter spoons.
“That there’s a knife-rest, sor,” said the ugliest cheerful man—or the cheerfullest ugly man—Kellen had ever seen. He picked up the object that Kellen had been examining with puzzlement, a sort of two-headed horse no longer than his finger. “Gentry used to have ’em at dinner, so’s not to soil the cloth when they put their knives down.” He set the object in the middle of a minuscule clear spot, and demonstrated, setting a knife with the blade on the horse’s back and the handle on the table.
Well—something I never heard of! Kellen thought, pleased.
“Fell out of fashion, oh, in my great-great-granddam’s time,” the man continued, looking at the object with fondness, and Kellen conceived an irrational desire for the thing. It was absurd, a foolish bit of useless paraphernalia to clutter up an already cluttered dinner table, and he wanted it.
“How much?” he asked, and the haggling began.
Irrational desire or not, Kellen wasn’t going to be taken for a gull, if only for the reason that if he paid the asking price, every creature in the market with something to sell would be on him in a heartbeat, determined not to let him go until every coin in his pocket was spent.
It was only when the knife-rest was his that Kellen gave it a good look, and discovered it wasn’t a two-headed horse at all—but a two-headed unicorn, the horns worn down by much handling to mere nubs. For some reason, the discovery made him feel immensely cheered, and he tucked it in his pocket, determined to have it re-silvered and start using it at dinner.
And his father wouldn’t be able to say a word. There were no edicts against reviving an old fashion, after all, even a foolish one, only against starting something new. The little sculpture rested heavily, but comfortably, in the bottom of his pocket; it felt like a luck-piece.
Maybe I won’t use it. Maybe I’ll just have it plated and keep it as a charm against boredom.
At the farther end of the square, Kellen spotted a bookseller—one of the prosperous individuals who had tables and boxes of books beneath. The errand that had originally sent Kellen to the Booksellers’ Market had been to find a cheap edition of one of the Student Histories—Volume Four, Of Armethalieh and Weather, to be precise. Lycaelon’s personal library had one, of course—how could it not?—but Kellen wanted one of his own that he could mark up with his own notes in the margins. This was a practice that infuriated his tutor, Anigrel, and frustrated his father, but as long as he did it in his own books, rather than in the pristine volumes in Lycaelon’s library, there was nothing either of them could really say about it. He was, after all, studying.
I might as well see if there’s one here. It’ll be cheaper, and besides, if it’s full of someone else’s notes from lectures, I might not need to take any of my own.
Besides, it might be amusing to read what some other Student had thought of the Histories.
He didn’t go straight to the bookstall, however, for that would be advertising his interest. Instead, he worked his way down the aisle between the chalk lines, examining a bit of broken clockwork here, a set of mismatched napkins there. It had the same sort of ghoulish fascination as watching the funeral of a stranger, this pawing over the wreckage, the flotsam and jetsam of other people’s lives. Who had torn the sleeves out of this sheepskin jacket, and why? How had the hand got bitten off this carved wooden doll? What on earth use was a miniature funeral carriage? If it was a play-toy, it was certainly a ghoulish one. If those rusty stains on this shirt were blood—then was that slash a knife wound?
People came and went from the apartment buildings surrounding the vendors; tired and dirty and coming home from their work, or clean and ready for it. One thing living here did guarantee—that you had a job, a roof over your head, and enough money to feed you. If the roof was a single room and you crammed yourself, your spouse, and half a dozen children into it, well, that was your business and your problem. At least the building was going to be kept in good repair by your City taxes, your spouse and your children could find work to bring in enough to feed all the mouths in the family, and just perhaps one of your kids would turn out to be Gifted and become a Mage—and support the whole family.
Eventually he got to his goal, and feigning complete disinterest, began digging through the books. The bookseller himself looked genuinely disinterested in the possibility of a sale; from his expression, Kellen guessed that he was suffering either from a headache or a hangover, and would really rather have been in bed.
Luck was with him, or perhaps his new little mascot had brought it—Kellen found not only the Volume Four he was looking for—in a satisfyingly battered and annotated condition—but Volumes Five, Six, and Seven, completing the set. They had stiff, pasteboard bindings of the cheapest sort, with the edges of the covers bent and going soft with use and abuse. They looked as if they’d been used for everything but study, which made them all the more valuable in Kellen’s eyes, for the worse they looked, the less objection Anigrel could have to his marking them up further. And the more Lycaelon would wince when he saw his son with them.
I can hear him now—“We’re one of the First Families of the City, not some clan of rubbish-collectors! If you must have your own copies to scribble in, for the One’s sake, why couldn’t you at least have bought a proper set in proper leather bindings!” And I’ll just look at him and say, “Are the words inside any different?” And of course he’ll throw up his hands and look disgusted.
Baiting his father was one of Kellen’s few pleasures, although it had to be done carefully. Pushed too far, Lycaelon could restrict him to the house and grounds, allowing him to leave only to go to his lessons. And an Arch-Mage found enforcing his will a trivial matter—and one unpleasant for his victim.
He was about to get the bookseller’s attention, when a faint hint of gilding caught his eye. It was at the bottom of a pile he’d dismissed as holding nothing but old ledgers. There were three books there, in dark bindings, and yes, a bit of gilding. Rather out-of-keeping with the rest of these shabby wares.
Huh. I wonder what that is
Whatever it was, the very slender volumes bound in some fine-grained, dark leather, with just a touch of gilt on the spine, seemed worth the effort of investigating. At the worst, they’d turn out to be some silly girl’s private journals of decades past, and he might find some amusement in the gossip of a previous generation.
If he’d been in a regular bookseller’s stall, Kellen might not have bothered. But…
It might be something interesting. And it’s bound to be cheap.
If it wasn’t a set of journals, the books might even do as a present for his father if the books were in halfway decent shape. An obsessive bibliophile, Lycaelon was always looking for things for his library. Literally anything would do so long as it wasn’t a book he already had, and his Naming Day Anniversary would be in two moonturns.
It would be a bit better than the usual pair of gloves I’ve gotten him for the past three years.
It took Kellen some work to get down to the three volumes on the bottom of the pile, but when he did, he found himself turning them over in his hands with some puzzlement. There was nothing on the spine of each but a single image—a sun, a crescent moon, and a star. Nothing on the cover, not even a bit of tooling, and the covers themselves were in pristine condition—
Odd. Definitely out of keeping with the rest of the wares here.
He opened the front covers to the title pages.
Handwritten, not printed, title pages…
The Book of Sun. That was the first, and the other two were The Book of Moon and The Book of Stars. Journals after all? He leafed through the pages, trying to puzzle out the tiny writing. The contents were handwritten as well, and so far from being journal entries, seemingly dealt with magick.
They shouldn’t be here at all! Kellen thought with a sudden surge of glee. They looked like workbooks of some sort, but books on magick were very closely kept, with Students returning their workbooks to their tutors as they outgrew them, and no book on magick that wasn’t a part of a Mage’s personal library was supposed to leave the grounds of the Mage College at all.
Perhaps some Student had made his own copies for his own use, and they’d gotten lost, to end up here?
But they weren’t any of the recognized Student books, or anything like them, as far as Kellen could tell. The handwriting was neat but so small that the letters danced in front of his eyes, and the way that the letters were formed was unfamiliar to him, slightly slanted with curved finials. But it seemed to him that he recognized those three titles from somewhere.
Father be hanged. I want these. Without bothering to look through them any further, he put them on the top of his pile and caught the stall-holder’s eye. The poor fellow, sweating furiously, heaved himself up out of his chair, and got a little more lively when Kellen made only a token gesture at bargaining. Profit, evidently, was the sovereign remedy for what ailed him.
He got out a bit of old, scraped paper and even began writing up a bill of sale with the merest stub of a graphite-rod, noting down titles and prices in a surprisingly neat hand.
“Ah, got younger sibs at home, do you?” the man asked when he got to the last three special volumes.
“No—” Kellen said, startled by the non sequitur. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, children’s stories—” The man gestured at Kellen’s three prizes. “I just thought—” Then he shrugged, wrote down three titles and prices, and handed the receipt to Kellen, who looked down at it in confusion.
There were his Student’s Histories, Volumes Four, Five, Six, and Seven—but what was this? Tales of the Weald, Fables of Farm and Field, and Hearth-side Stories?
There was nothing like that, nothing like that at all, inside the covers of those three books.
He thought quickly. Perhaps he had better go along with this…
“Cousins,” he said briefly, with a grimace, as if he was plagued with a horde of small relatives who needed to be amused.
“Ah,” the man said, his curiosity turning to satisfaction, and stuffed the purchases in the carry-bag that Kellen handed to him without a second look.
There was something very odd about those books…and Kellen wanted to get home now, before his father returned from the Council House to plague him, and give them a very close examination. An examination that could be made without any danger of interference. Armethalieh held many magical oddities, but where had he ever heard of a book that could disguise itself? How was a very interesting question—but more pressing than that was—
* * *
THE house of Lycaelon Tavadon was not set apart from the street by a wall. It didn’t need to be. The two great stone mastiffs on either side of the walkway to the front door were not mere ornaments, but guardians. Anyone not invited, or not belonging to the household, would be…discouraged from entering. And as one long-ago thief had discovered, a knife has very little effect on a stone dog. Lycaelon’s guardians were very, very good.
The front garden, a geometric arrangement of walkway, sculptural shrubbery, and guardians, was not particularly large. The back garden was larger, but no more inviting. The former served to isolate the house from the common thoroughfare and as an ornament against the white stone walls of the mansion. The latter—well, Kellen would have thought that a back garden should be a private place to relax; a spot insulated and surrounded by greenery, to enjoy a bit of sun away from the prying eyes and the noise of the City. Lycaelon’s back garden, home to tall, dark, somber cypresses planted along the wall, kept it too shaded for that, and far too cold except in the heat of summer when the sun was overhead. No grass grew there; only careful, somber evergreen plantings in raised beds, separated by gravel, and more statuary, though at least the statuary in the back garden wasn’t animated. There was nothing to sit on, in any event, except the edges of the beds or the gravel. There was a single waterspike of a fountain that stabbed up at the sky. Not even birds could find anything to like in this place—though it was possible that, to spare his statues, Lycaelon had worked a little spell to chase the birds away.
Kellen carried his burden up the walkway between the stone mastiffs. As he passed them, there was, as ever, the faintest suggestion of movement; the barest tilt of neck in his direction, the tiniest twitching of stone noses as the household guardians tested him, the hint of the glitter of life in those deeply carved and polished granite eyes.
As always, the back of his neck crawled when he passed them. But he refused to go around by the back entrance just because the damned things intimidated him. He hated the sight of them, though—they were too like the worst aspects of their master, hard and cold, unchangeable and unyielding.
The ebony door, inlaid with silver runes, swung open at his touch, and closed behind him without any effort on his part. More magick, of course; you could hardly do without ostentatious use of magick at every possible opportunity in the home of a High Mage. And when that High Mage was the head of the Council, well, it was actually more surprising that Lycaelon had human servants at all.
He could have done without them, had he chosen to—but it would have meant a great deal of work on his part. Nothing came for free, after all; magick servants in the form of simulacra or homunculi were difficult to create and required an endless supply of magick to keep them working. The alternative, literally making dust vanish, food appear, clothes to clean themselves, was even more time and effort-consuming. Lycaelon would dispense with servers if he had an important gathering of his fellow Mages here, animating a single simulacra that he kept on view, serving double-duty the rest of the time as a chaste statue of a shepherd-boy, but with no one here to impress but his son, human servants were cheaper, easily replaced if they gave offense, and took very little thought on his part—only orders.
On their part—well, the servants knew who they had to please. Lycaelon was generous with his money, but not with forgiveness if anything went wrong. Kellen, however, mattered not at all—except as Lycaelon ordered.
As soon as Kellen set foot in the entryway—black and white marble floor, the pattern being square-in-square rather than checks, white walls, a few tasteful black plinths with tasteful black urns standing against the walls at aesthetic intervals—one of the servants materialized, dressed in the household livery of black and white. An oh-so-refined and elegant livery; hose with one black leg and one white, black half-boots, black, long-sleeved tunic coming to the knee, crisp, white shirt beneath it. The careful, rigid correctness of the man’s expression relaxed a trifle when he saw who it was.
“Good afternoon, Kellen,” the servant said. He did not offer to take Kellen’s book-bag from him. There was nothing about Kellen to command fear or respect from the servants, and no real consequences if they didn’t offer him deference. Politeness, yes, they would be polite to him. If they were cheeky, it was possible that Lycaelon would come to hear about it, and then they’d find themselves on the street without references. But they regarded him, Kellen suspected, as a damned nuisance, and did their best to encourage him to stay out of their way as much as possible.
Politely, of course.
The servant turned and vanished before Kellen could return his greeting. Kellen shrugged, and followed in the man’s footsteps, into the vast and echoing reception room at the end of the entryway. Here the decor was varied a trifle from the stark black and white of the entryway by the addition of two shades of blue. The ceiling was dark blue, with little Magestars glittering above, mimicking the movement of the stars in the night sky. And the three long, low couches and the discreet scattering of chairs were upholstered in satin a slightly paler shade of the same color. All the tables, ornaments, and other accoutrements (including a fireplace big enough to stand or lie down in) were white or black—alabaster and ebony. Even the famous simulacrum, standing on (what else?) another black marble plinth, looked like the finest white alabaster.
There wasn’t anything alive in this room; sometimes the rare female visitor would look about, smile knowingly, and say something about the place needing a “woman’s touch.” Such ladies were never invited back a second time. It was quite true, though, that Kellen couldn’t remember flowers ever being in the vases, and the air in here never seemed to warm, no matter how the fire in the fireplace roared.
There were no apparent doors, no openings into this room, other than the one by which he had just entered. Not even windows; the light came from glowing panels set high on the walls, which was how anyone who could afford Magelights would generally illuminate a windowless room.
The servant was nowhere to be seen, which was no great surprise; having ascertained that the master was not the one who had just entered the front door, he considered his duty discharged. Kellen took a few echoing steps into the reception chamber, then turned right and went straight toward a panel of white marble set in the wall between two blue-and-ebony chairs. At a touch, it dissolved before him and he stepped through and onto a fine, handsome staircase.
The panel was keyed to him and other members of the immediate household, of course; a stranger would still be facing a blank slab of marble. He was now in his own portion of the house; House Tavadon was a vast mausoleum, and there were probably sections he had never been in and never would have access to until Lycaelon died and the magic doors all opened. He had never been in his father’s wing, for instance, and wasn’t even quite sure where it was. He could come and go as he liked within his own rooms—bedroom, separate small library and study, magical workroom, bathroom—and within the set of public rooms comprising the main library, dining chamber, reception room, his father’s “public” study—and he could make free use of the guest quarters, which were in this wing below his rooms, reached by a separate entrance from the reception chamber below. Kellen also knew from experimentation that he could also get into the servants’ quarters and the kitchen, cellars, and storerooms, but he was usually ushered summarily back to the “proper” parts of the Tavadon manse if he was found in any of those areas.
And the Chapel, oh, the Light forfend I should forget the Chapel! The Chapel had a wing all to itself, and differed from the rest of the house in that it was not done in black and white, but in honey alabaster and gold, as befitted the Eternal Light. Such a tasteful Chapel that it was, so pure and refined in style, with the Everburning Flame on a simple altar, and all the niches for the ancestral ashes set into the walls so that no one could ever forget just how many generations of important men had borne the familial name…
Oh, no, never.
Kellen hardly knew for certain how deeply his father believed in the Eternal Light—but he certainly believed in the name of Tavadon.
He climbed the stairs to the third floor, where his own rooms were. Here things were no longer in stark black and white—in his own suite, he had a certain say in the way things were decorated. The walls were still white, the floors black and white marble again, but there were colorful tapestries on the walls, and fruit in a dish on a plinth beside the top of the stairs, perfuming the air with the scent of apples. He took an apple as he passed it, and got as far as the door to his room, when another servant materialized behind him.
“You’ll be having a bath, Kellen?” said the man—Kellen didn’t know his name; he wasn’t encouraged to learn the servants’ names. All women except Cook were “my girl” and all men were “my man.” Lycaelon didn’t approve of familiarity with the servants.
Kellen had never even known the names of the succession of nursemaids he’d had as a small child; they had only been “Nursie,” an endless series of interchangeable middle-aged women with gentle hands and soft voices, the last of which had left when he turned five. Then he’d been on his own in his rooms, his nights filled with loneliness, his days turned over to a succession of tutors who had schooled him according to his father’s expectations until he had started attending the Mage College at fourteen.
Servants tended only to impinge on him when they had orders concerning Kellen. Like the bath.
Kellen would have been perfectly happy to do without that bath, but it had not been phrased as a question. This was one of his father’s rules, and there was to be no argument about it—when one went out into the streets, among the common folk, one had a bath immediately on return. Lycaelon’s abode must not be soiled with the common dust of Armethalieh; the air must be as pure as a breeze passing over an alpine glacier, with no hint of the City outside brought within the walls.
“Of course,” he replied with resignation, and left the book-bag just inside the door to his room. At least the fellow wouldn’t touch it if he wasn’t specifically ordered to-the servants served Lycaelon out of fear and awe rather than loyalty, and seldom did things voluntarily. Lycaelon’s standards were exacting enough to make plenty of work, with no need to look for more of it, Kellen supposed.
The bathroom was something he had never figured out how to decorate; as a result, it was entirely white, entirely marble, and as chill and uninviting as being in the center of a cube of snow. The square marble tub sunk into the floor was already full. The water was, as he had expected, cold. It was always cold. Even in the dead of winter, it was cold. He scarcely remembered what a hot bath felt like—he hadn’t had one since the last incarnation of “Nursie” had gone, never to return, no matter how much he wept at night for her.
Kellen knew he never got hot water for his bath on purpose, and it wasn’t only because the servants were disinclined to stir themselves on his behalf. His father felt that this was an incentive to Kellen’s mastering his lessons so that he could heat his own bathwater with magick—as Lycaelon probably did. And Kellen was just stubborn enough that even if he had mastered magick enough to heat the water, he might not have done it, just out of spite.
Well, at least after a long walk followed by the three-story climb, a cold bath wasn’t as much of an ordeal as usual. But it certainly didn’t make one inclined to linger…
* * *
RECLOTHED—in the fresh and considerably more ornate garments the servant had left for him—Kellen was still shivering when he closed the door of his room and unpacked his book-bag. His father wouldn’t be home for bells, Kellen knew from long experience. Lycaelon’s long bells at the Mage Court kept him away from home most of the time. He usually left after a leisurely breakfast, but often didn’t return until well into Night Bells.
And now that the tub had been drained, Kellen wouldn’t see a servant in his suite unless he called for one. He was more or less used to being alone most of the time when he wasn’t studying, but now and again, it felt eerily as if everyone in the world had forgotten his existence. Sometimes Kellen fantasized that he himself was like a mouse wandering through a giant machine, which would run just the same whether he was there or not. It seemed to him that nothing he ever did made any real mark on the place—that House Tavadon existed for empty display and heartless show, and was less a home than an extension of one of Arme-thalieh’s great public buildings, or Temples of the Light.
Or just a bigger version of Lycaelon’s simulacrum-servant.
Although other rooms in this suite had only been opened up for him as he grew older and needed them, this room had been his for as long as he could remember. It had begun as his nursery, with his Nursie sleeping in the same room, or the one adjoining. His cradle had been here, and the box-bed that prevented his falling out as a toddler. The tapestries on the wall covered whitewashed plaster that had been laid over the painted animals of his childhood. The floor was wood, not marble, and brown, not black. The wardrobe, the bed, the chests and bookcases, all were the same pieces he’d had since he was a boy, all were fine pieces, but plain—expensive, but an honest golden brown, not black, not white, and just a little battered by hard use at the hands of an active child. Thick, brightly patterned rugs were on the floor, multicolored cushions were piled in a corner, and there was a single window that looked out on the street. He could see out, but due to the same magic that hid the passages from the reception room into the other parts of the house, no one could see in. His fireplace was of reasonable size, and when it was not in use, it held scented candles that he had selected for himself in the Perfumers’ Market. This was the only room in the house that he ever felt warm in.
He never felt entirely undisturbed here, not since the day that he’d found one of the servants clearly rummaging through his wardrobe, but at least he could relax to a certain extent here. Lycaelon might send servants in here to spy, but he never troubled to come himself.
For a moment Kellen paused in his unpacking. He’d forgotten about the servants, and the way they periodically went through his belongings and reported the results to his father. How was he going to hide those books—
Then he laughed. Stupid! They’re going to hide themselves, of course. These books clearly didn’t show their true nature to just anyone. Probably only a Mage would see them for what they were—and there were only three Mages that ever entered this part of the house, and of the three, two, Lycaelon and Anigrel, never entered this room.
So he put his new acquisitions in with the old, battered storybooks from his nursery days. If they’d disguised themselves as children’s stories before, they probably would again. No one would ever notice that there were three more books on that shelf than there had been before.
What he wanted to do was to open the books then and there and try to read them—but there were rules in the house of Arch-Mage Lycaelon, and one of those rules was that of routine and schedule.
He heard the sound of Noontide Bells begin to ring—the high clear note of the crystal bell of the Temple of the Light struck first, followed by the bells of the other towers in the City, and last of all the great bronze bell atop the Council House added its deep note to the chorus.
A blind man could tell time—and even the season of the year—in Armethalieh, for the intricate pattern of her bells told the hour of the day, the season, and more.
The only towers that rang all the bells were the Temple of the Light and the Council House. You could actually tell which bell of the day it was by the sound of the ring: at Midnight Bells, only those two rang together, making a beautiful and eerie sound. At Evensong, Noontide, and Morning Bells (a few bells later than actual dawn, fortunately for light sleepers), all the towers in the City rang out. And at every bell and season, the pattern changed: it was one of the duties of the Mage Council to set the towers by magic.
From Evensong until Midnight Bells, fewer and fewer towers would ring each bell, until the Temple and the Council House rang alone. Then, slowly, a few privileged towers would add their voices to each bell through the rest of the night—first the Mage College, then the Great Library, then the Merchants’ Guild—until all the towers throughout the City rang out Morning Bells, as they would ring each bell throughout the day, until Evensong, when once again, they began to fall silent.
By the sound of the bells—the pattern of the ring would have told him it was the Noontide Bells, even if he hadn’t been able to see the sun—and by the emptiness of his stomach, Kellen knew it was time for dinner. Even though the Arch-Mage himself might not be home for it, dinner would be served. And if Kellen wanted anything to eat before supper, he’d better be there when the plates went on the table.
Just as he left his room, the soft gong that announced that very fact sounded through the corridors.
Down the stairs and out into the reception chamber he went, and from there to another blank panel that let him into the main part of the house. When Lycaelon entertained, this panel was left open, and the suite of enormous “public” rooms beyond it, a music room, the library, the dining room, and a garden room were all lit and furnished with anything that a guest could conceivably want. Now they were all left in shadowy half-darkness, with curtains drawn, except for the dining room at the very end of the corridor.
The same color scheme of black, white, and blue held here. The enormous ebony table, stretching the length of the room, could easily seat thirty or forty guests; there were two place settings laid as usual. One at the very head of the table was meant for Lycaelon—he appeared only rarely, but woe betide the servants if they weren’t prepared for that eventuality!—the other, roughly halfway down the table, for Kellen. A series of covered dishes waited on the sideboard; a single liveried servant stood there, waiting to serve them.
In silence, Kellen took his seat, and the meal began.
One by one the dishes were presented to Kellen, and he either shook his head or nodded acceptance. Hot food stayed hot, and cold nicely chilled, thanks to more small magicks on the depressions in which the dishes rested. Kellen’s bath might be cold, but his father didn’t have to share that particular discomfort, whereas he did share Kellen’s meals. Lycaelon spared no effort or expense when it came to the pleasures of the table.
Kellen ate with a good appetite, and was not particularly surprised to find that the meal ended with a dish of strawberries, beaten cream, and white cake. He helped himself, thinking wryly that if he’d looked closely at the mob in the Garden Market this morning he might well have seen his father’s black-and-white livery on one of the servants there.
The entire meal took place in total silence, except for the faint clink of cutlery and the sounds of plates being picked up and set down. Kellen was used to it; even when his father was here, there was no conversation during a meal. Lycaelon did not believe in conversation at mealtime. He had to put up with it when he entertained, but when he and Kellen were alone, silence prevailed. And certainly in Lycaelon’s absence, Lycaelon’s servants would not presume to begin any conversation with his son.
When he was finished, Kellen pushed his chair away from the table and left the footman to clear up. The library—I should go look through the books in the library, he thought. I’ll bet that’s where I found those references to my books. If I go check now, I should have plenty of time to look in the likeliest places long before Father gets home.
Books that hid their nature…
Lycaelon apparently had never even noticed that Kellen used his library on a regular basis. I think I’d like to keep things that way, too, he thought as he walked in through the library door and headed straight for the curtains, to pull them wide and let pale sunshine stream in through the windows. In fact, he had been reading the books on magick for a very long time now—and he was at least familiar with a great deal more than his father or Anigrel suspected, even if he couldn’t yet manage to put his knowledge into practice.
And I know things that neither of them want anyone under the rank of High Mage to know about, he thought, pulling one of the ladders over to the bookcase that housed some very esoteric volumes on the top shelves—volumes that, had Lycaelon or anyone else known he was poking around in the place, would surely have been removed or locked up. There were a lot of things on those shelves that were not meant for a Student’s eyes.
It didn’t take long at all for Kellen to find what he was looking for, because the more he thought about his finds, the more convinced he became that they were books that were hiding their nature for a very good reason.
Sure enough, he found the reference precisely where he’d begun to suspect it was, in the Ars Perfidorum, the Book of Forbidden Acts.
Kellen wasn’t even supposed to be aware that the Ars Perfidorum existed, much less have leafed through it. For that matter, he didn’t even think his tutor was supposed to know about it; knowledge of this particular book was, if he recalled correctly, restricted to members of the Council and specific senior Mages. And the reason Kellen knew that was because Lycaelon had once allowed one of his fellow Council members to use the library, and the fellow had carelessly left the Ars Perfidorum and two other similarly restricted books out in the music room where he had been reading them. The resulting explosion when Lycaelon found them there had been memorable.
Lycaelon had not been aware that Kellen was anywhere about, and the entertainment value of hearing his father swear and curse the stupidity of another adult—a High Mage at that!—had been so great that Kellen took his chances on being caught in order to eavesdrop. He made very sure to get back to his own rooms as soon as the coast was clear—but after that he’d been afire to find those books and see them for himself.
He vividly recalled his disappointment at finding them to be deadly dull. It had seemed to him that a book with such an exciting title should have been full of horrors—bloodcurdling examples of Forbidden Acts, in excruciating detail, so that Mages down the centuries would know exactly how to recognize a Forbidden Act when they saw it. In fact, Ars Perfidorum was a mealymouthed prude of a book, more intent on outlining the punishments to be meted out for each perfidious deed than describing the deeds themselves. It was—it was a clerkly sort of book, and sent him off into a near-doze when he tried to read it.
Maybe I thought that book was dull then, he thought, swiftly leafing through the text, but that was before anybody shoved the History of the City in Seven Volumes under my nose—hah!
There they were—just as he remembered. His three books—titles and all.
He leafed back a page.
The Foule and Invidious Practices of Wilde Magick.” Now what in the name of the Light is that supposed to mean? Kellen wondered, frowning.
The chapter in question didn’t exactly answer any of his questions, although Ye Boke of Sunne, Ye Boke of Moone, and Ye Boke of Starres were named as the “prime texts of the heinous practitioners of those who seek anarchy and chaos.” In fact, except for that single item of hard fact, the chapter was singularly unhelpful. It railed at great length against the “Wilde Mages,” suggested any number of unpleasant means to deal with them, and attributed all manner of evils to them (always prefacing the accusation with the words “it is said”) but it didn’t say anything about what this “Wilde Magick” was, or why it should be so bad.
In fact, the worst accusations that the author seemed to be able to come up with were that it was unpredictable, that it could not be controlled, and that some of the so-called lesser races such as Centaurs and fauns were known to practice it. “And well we knowe that these creatures are closer to the Beaste in nature than to Noble Manne—”
Huh. “And in particular, Wilde Magick is the greatest seducer of Womyn, who are weak in Mind and Spirit and inclined to Corruption.” Now what did that mean? That women could and did use it—or that it could be used to seduce women?
Hmm…Now there was a possibility that had all manner of pleasant ramifications…
Well, at least he knew now what the books were, and why they were passing themselves off as children’s tales. He put the Ars Perfidorum back in its proper place, taking care that it fit exactly into the place where he’d pulled it down from, then moved the ladder back to where he’d found it. It looked as if the only place he was going to find any answers about the books was within their covers.
He grinned to himself. And what good luck that he had the entire rest of the day free! I got just what I wished for, Kellen thought with glee, something new—something new—at last!
* * *
NIGHT had fallen over the City while Kellen puzzled his way through the Books’ peculiar crabbed handwriting in the safety of his room, although it was never really dark here. Lamps, magickal and otherwise, kept the darkness at bay all night long, in every season. Lamps illuminated the streets and decorated the gardens; lamps even lit alleyways to discourage the presence of thieves. Not that anyone would be foolish enough to attempt to rob the household of a Mage of any sort. Not twice, anyway.
He’d skimmed through all three of the Books once quickly, finding little that made sense to him. The Book of Sun was composed partly of philosophy, partly of spells, but the spells were not of a kind that he recognized, and Kellen was doubtful that they could actually work. They seemed to verge on wondertale superstition. Burn this leaf. Say those rhymes. He could imagine nothing further from the abstruse disciplines of the High Magick.
But at least The Book of Sun did contain things Kellen recognized as magick. The Book of Moon didn’t even seem to contain any actual spells, just hints at spells—as far as he could tell from a quick skim, it was something halfway between an etiquette book and a philosophy text—and The Book of Stars made no sense to him at all. He had the odd feeling, though, that there was something there, if he could only figure it out.
The house was utterly silent, with all of the household in bed, from which comfort no one would stir until they had to. That Lycaelon was a stern master was no secret; he did not approve of his servants “prowling,” as he put it, during the bells of proper sleep. This included Kellen, of course, and after having been caught by Lycaelon once or twice, he kept to his own part of the mansion when restlessness kept him awake.
Tonight was one of those nights.
He had his shutters open on the small balcony that overlooked the gardens, and across the gardens he could see the lights of the other homes of the Mage elite. Soft globes of pastel colors lit their gardens—you could tell where one garden took over from the next by the color of the lamps. Only a few lights were burning in the homes themselves, and those were probably night-lights, not an indication that anyone was wakeful or working. In the distance he could see the Council House, facing the Delfier Gate that opened onto the forest road.
The Council House stood symbolic guard over the gate and access into the City. Or was it more than merely symbolic?
There were a few farming villages in that direction—the City claimed extensive lands outside itself. Certainly soldiers were sent out there, and tax collectors, the latter to feed the City’s prosperity, and the former—perhaps to ensure the City’s prosperity?
But Kellen had never been there, and emigration between village and City was strongly discouraged, or so he’d been told, though never why.
He could understand why the Council wouldn’t want too many people trying to move into the City; conditions were crowded enough without adding more people. But why keep citizens from leaving if they wanted to?
It was a puzzle for which he had no answer. Unless it was simply that City-dwellers had few, if any, skills that would be of use in a rural or agrarian society. Perhaps the idea was merely to save them from inevitable failure…
Still, shouldn’t people be allowed to learn this for themselves?
If would-be City-folk-turned-rustics came trailing back with their tails between their legs after failing some bucolic experiment to the ridicule of their former neighbors, surely that would be more effective than any reprimand from the Council.
The Council House itself was ablaze with light, for Mages worked there all night, every night, weaving spells for the good of the City. It was the only place in the City that never slept. Of course, all those lights so nearby meant that the stars were hard to see from the gardens of those living nearby.
Someday Kellen would spend his nights there too, if his father’s plans for his future went according to Lycaelon’s oft-expressed wishes.
A night owl by nature, that hadn’t seemed so bad in the past, for he would be well out of Lycaelon’s purview most of the time once he went to night duties—but for some reason now, the thought seemed stifling. As stifling as the High Magick itself had seemed of late, for it required a finicking obsession with detail that, applied to anything else, would be considered unhealthy. Kellen had come to realize of late that High Magick was boring, that—once certain tools of memory and power manipulation were mastered—it was entirely composed of written spells that were descriptions of the change in reality that the Mage would like to produce. Very exact descriptions, very minute descriptions, down to the smallest detail, written in a kind of mystical shorthand and forced into the face of reality-as-it-was by magickal power.
Frankly, if the simple spells were enough to induce yawns, the advanced spells that he’d managed to glimpse looked to Kellen a very great deal like abstruse mathematical problems expressed in words and symbols of the sort that drove schoolboys mad—“If A leaves his house on the corner of Bodhran Street and approaches Taman Square at the same time B—”
Learning how to read, write, and thoroughly comprehend this sigil-language and apply it to the world in the form of memorized spells was what the Mage-in-training first learned. Only then was he allowed to do anything with his knowledge.
It was bloodless and terribly boring, when it came right down to it. There was so much preparation and memorization and detail required to do even the simplest thing that by the time you actually accomplished what you’d set out to do, you were probably so bored with the process that the accomplishment came as an anticlimax. And in any case, the tiny things Kellen was allowed to do now—and so far, all he’d managed to do successfully was light a candle once or twice—were so simple and so insignificant that he hardly knew why anyone had ever bothered to write down the spells for them.
He looked out at the City, looked at what little he could see beyond the City walls from his third-floor balcony, and it gradually came over him that not only was he not happy, but for most of his life, save only a few stolen moments, he had never been happy. Other people were happy—why wasn’t he? Why wasn’t any Mage, really?
He knew they weren’t.
His father wasn’t, and his father was Arch-Mage, the highest and most powerful rank any Mage could attain. But Lycaelon was perpetually dissatisfied. When was the last time he’d ever seen his father enjoy anything? Other than finding an excuse to browbeat his son, that is…
And none of Lycaelon’s colleagues seemed any more content with their lives, even though they had wealth and power and the envy of everyone in the City who wasn’t them. When was the last time he’d seen any of the Mages take pleasure in anything, other than humiliating one another?
Being a Mage doesn’t make you happy, Kellen realized with something very much like fear.
He’d never thought about it before.
He hated the lessons, was bored by the memorization, and didn’t like his fellow Mage Students very much. But he’d always, well, sort of assumed that he’d get through all of it somehow, become a Mage, and things would get better.
What if they didn’t?
Suddenly, staring out at the brightly-lit Council House, Kellen confronted his own life, and the prospects for the future, and he didn’t like what he saw. And the more he pondered it, the less he liked it, and he began to come to some uncomfortable conclusions.
One of which was that his studies were going to drive him mad before too long, all this obsession with pointless detail. He brooded on the view without seeing it, wondering why anyone would choose to be a Mage when a Mage had so little room in his life for life. If he did as Lycaelon wanted, Kellen would only trade the stultifying life of a Student-Apprentice for the tedious life of an Apprentice, and then for an even more restrictive and obsessive life of a Journeyman, and then what? Spend his entire life like his father, with a fantastic home he never saw, a garden he never went into, possessions he never used, and colleagues—not friends—he couldn’t stand? Was he to live a life so measured, so controlled, that all the juice was sucked out of it?
He shuddered, appalled by the prospect of becoming like one of them—with a dry little mummified excuse for a soul, spending his days contriving ways to control other people’s lives for them, his evenings spent building baroque and convoluted spells, or equally baroque and convoluted schemes for the downfall of his political rivals. Where was the joy, the life, the pleasure in that?
There had to be some other alternative…
His mind turned naturally to the Books of the Wild Magic, which seemed, from the little he’d managed to understand so far, to be all that the High Magick was not.
And if they were—if they were, in fact, the very opposite of High Magick—it would be very surprising indeed to find that Lycaelon looked upon them with favor…Furthermore, there might, there just might be something in them that would lead him to freedom.
And that alone decided him. He got them from his hiding place, lit a single, well-shielded candle, and began to read The Book of Sun in earnest.
Copyright © 2003 by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory