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Chapter Thirteen
rowan tree
Chapter Thirteen
by Teresa and Matt Doyle

Polite society in Antarion did not openly discuss the fey; consequently, Mavignel had heard quite a lot about them. Rumors had come by way of hoarse, quiet voices: perhaps the fey had grown weary of the accords which had allowed the Kingdom of Antarion to be carved out of their soil. No-one had been able to explain the sudden plague, after all, and no amount of magic could save those affected - in fact, quite the contrary. The fey were remembered now as the grey forms in the mist that had, three years before, solemnly accompanied the bodies of the Kingdom's late sovereigns to Heartscore, and this was an image not easily forgotten.

Antarion might be a proud an independent nation, but it was known as the Allotment for a reason: it had landlords. When the first mage-lords had come to its shore as exiles, the land had teemed with capricious and deadly spirits, dwelling in every tree, every crag, every pool. The first king of Antarion had become king because he had struck a bargain with the great powers among the fey: a perfect square of land and water one hundred and twenty-eight miles on a side, ceded to he and his heirs in perpetuity, so long as they never transgressed and crossed the Border. The Wall that surrounded the kingdom was laughable as a barrier, only knee-high for most of its length. But as a reminder, it was more than sufficient.

All the stories and rumors Mavignel had heard agreed on two things: no human had ever crossed the Wall without suffering death, or fey curses that surpassed death in their cruelty. And no part of the agreement with the fey had guaranteed as strictly that they would respect the Wall as humankind, perforce, did.

"That doesn't make any sense," Mav said blankly, insistently, standing still even as Tresselion began backing further away from the empty doorway and Corialuna stepped towards it with horrified fascination. "What would one of them want with us?"

"Could one of us be posing a political threat?" Cori asked with an edge in her voice, almost a dare.

"No," Tress said, and they both turned to look at him. He was still backing away, fingers to his temples, shaking his head. His eyes flickered - first to Corialuna, and then to Mav. "Can we discuss this - somewhere else?" When neither of them moved, "Please?"

"Do either of you have any way of finding out more about what exactly did this?" Mav asked, his gaze also shifting from one to the other. Cori pursed her lips, tentatively touched the warped frame, and then shook her head; Tress made no response at all. He sighed, and then conceded, "Then I suppose there's no point in staying here any longer."

Tress made an about-face, his rapid footsteps echoing loudly enough to make them wince before they had even started moving. Cori passed Mav, quickening her pace in an attempt to catch up, but once it became obvious that Tress wasn't slowing, she settled down an even distance between the boys. They walked in silence - the two followers exchanging surprised looks as Tress passed the doors to the library and continued around the wide central halls until finally crossing to the door of his own bedroom, yanking it open. Mavignel half-expected Tress to shut the door again, leaving them on the outside, but the boy inhaled and moved aside, holding the door open. They slipped inside wordlessly.

"We should tell the Countess," Tress began, and Cori shook her head vehemently. She opened her mouth to protest, but Tress cut her off.

"Look, we need help with this, okay?" he said. "This is over our heads; this is too big for the three of us to deal with."

"Is it?" Mav asked. Cori met his eyes, solidly, for a brief moment.

"Do we have any way to defend against fey magic? Fey attacks?" Tress asked. "What's to keep this from happening again? Or something worse? And not just to us - to the Countess. Or - what would have happened if it had been just Jura, locked in that room alone? We can't let that happen!"

"Tress, neither of us is saying we should!" Cori said, her voice sharp. "I'm not suggesting we sit back and do nothing - I'm just saying maybe there's a reason that we were the ones it chose to trap. I don't want to be out in the cold again any more than you do. If it's not aimed at us, then Lady Shadowcross will probably find out soon enough - and if it is, there's no reason to give her an excuse not to sign those papers."

“Precisely,” Mavignel said, privately acknowledging that some things might be more important than adoption, but nothing he would admit out loud. “But let's wait, and think about this a moment, all right?” He held up his hands, palms out, placatingly, and waited a quiet moment for the attention to shift to him. “Let's pretend, for the moment, that one of us is a little behind on his magical theory. Why is this fey magic?”

Tress opened and closed his mouth silently a moment, as though looking for a way to simplify the indecipherable and complex explanation in his head, and Cori rolled her eyes. “Fey magic is nature magic – water and wind and earth and fire, animals and plants...” she hesitated a moment. “And glamers and curses and enchantments, which I guess aren't nature magic after all, but still. The door is wood, expanding wood is fey magic.”

“Okay,” Mav said. “Now, bear with a poor dunce for a moment. Glamers and curses and enchantments – those are all things human mages can do too, right? And I know there are elementalist mages – and Inarios is one of them, unless he's carrying that fancy stick of his just for show, which, I grant, is possible. Animals and plants, I admit, aren't exactly common tools in a magelord's repertoire, but there are even mages who have taken familiars.”

“What are you getting at?” Tress asked, frowning and readjusting his glasses again. One day, Mavignel resolved, he'd let his brother know just how sure a giveaway that gesture was of insecurity and uncertainty. Just... not while he was trying to convince him of anything.

“Does this have to be fey magic?”

“Yes!” Cori said with exasperated emphasis. “I just said-”

Mav turned away from her, cutting her off in mid-sentence, to make full eye contact with Tresselion, who was frowning. “I've never heard of any spell that could do something like that,” he said, shaking his head discouragingly. “I know the catechisms, Mav, and it's not in any of them.”

“But all mages have their own tricks,” Mavignel insisted. “Family secrets, personal twists on older spells – look, things can expand when they're hot – or when they're cold, if they've got enough water in them to freeze. Is this something you could do if you were, say, a gifted elementalist who decided to get creative?”

“No!” Cori said, but something changed about the way that Tress was shaking his head.

“Maybe,” he said, hesitantly, not seeming to notice Corialuna's hot glare turning on him. “I'm not an elementalist. I...”

“There are even spells that can make a mage grow or shrink, or that can let him grow or shrink his possessions,” Mav said. “Baron Endworld's oldest son carries a rapier on a charm bracelet; I've seen it.”

“That's no small magic!” Tress protested. “That takes preparation – time and gold and way too much effort, and it leaves traces behind, and there weren't any here.”

“But in principle... a human mage could manage something - ridiculously complex and powerful and impressive, yes – but something like this?”

“Maybe...” Cori said, hesitantly, and Tresselion nodded slowly. “Yes.”

“And we're at least a good twelve miles inside the Wall,” Mavignel continued. “In the private home of a Countess. And none of us have done anything to personally aggravate the King of Oak and Holly, have we?” They shook their heads, and Mav made a mental note of Cori's reaction in particular, the innocent lack of hesitation or thought. It didn't tally with the story she'd told about her father earlier, but that didn't come as a surprise to him, exactly. “And Lord Inarios, who has perhaps some small cause to bear us ill will, is an elementalist, and is unlikely to be a wood sprite, despite the size and stiffness of the stick up his – well, he's an elementalist, yes?” He waited for, and got, their acknowledging nods. “Then let's not excite ourselves. The simplest explanation is likeliest to be true, after all, and unfortunately for us, that explanation is that Inarios is a determined genius of a mage with a wicked wit.”

Mavignel exhaled slowly, and allowed himself a moment of deep and private satisfaction at the expressions of his adopted siblings. Attentive, admiring, trusting. He felt suddenly and fiercely possessive. This was what he wanted, what he deserved, and he would do what he had to to keep it – keep them - even if it meant convincing them that this wasn't the work of a fairy when the simplest explanation, in fact, was that it was, rather than that Inarios was an unprecedented ingenue of sorcerous talent at only sixteen years of age. Inarios was a stuck-up prat.

“Then that,” he said with a slow smile, “is going to make it that much sweeter when we get back at him with the most clever and dastardly prank we can devise.”

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Crossheart Hall by Matt and Teresa Doyle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


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