April 13, 2005
I woke up early to study. I had no hope of really finishing, but I got as far as I could. Father surprised Gretel and I by cooking breakfast and bringing it to us in our rooms. He said he thought I would be studying and Gretel was exhausted from stress.
It felt strange to sit in biology. The class has moved on from cells and Dr. Ecrue had a long line of animal skulls on tables for us to compare and consider. He particularly wanted us to consider the size of the brain in relation to the animal. For example, the brain of a cat is much bigger than the brain of a possum despite that fact that they are similarly sized. It was fascinating. He had several dragon skulls and I noticed that the brain cavity of the great green skull was no bigger than a cat’s. However, the brain size of a Beri whitescale dragon is nearly twice the size of a great green, despite the whitescale being smaller overall. Dr. Ecrue said the in general a bigger brain meant a smarter animal, but not always. It was fascinating, but he never mentioned memory or memory brain cells.
Mendel was waiting for me at eleven when biology got out.
“Gordo isn’t expecting to meet for lunch today. Also, you should know that Gordo knows we were on a quest, but I didn’t tell him why or what or anything,” said Mendel.
“Why not?” I asked, “He’s trustworthy.”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Mendel, “but the more people know, the more risk we take of the information leaking.”
He had a point, I suppose. I promised to let Mendel know when the next council was and rode Sprigs to the castle. My next class was with Master Ujifil. I had T’ay in my satchel and permission from Father to show it to him.
“A Yugliv healing stone,” said Master Ujifil, respectfully lifting it with both hands and holding it to the light, “Where did you get it?”
“I can’t tell you,” I said, reddening.
Master Ujifil looked at me thoughtfully. Then he nodded.
“Why did you bring it to me?”
“To see what you know about it,” I said, “I don’t know anything about healing stones.”
Master Ujifil set the stone on the exam table and walked carefully around it.
“Healing stones are made by healers,” he said, looking at me, “The creation process is similar to the creation process for a wand with one major exception.”
“A wand?” I asked nervously.
“Yes,” he said, “The major exception is that a healing stone contains a preset amount of magic. A wand is basically a conduit. The magic it contains is merely enough to access the magic of the magician who made it. The magician uses the wand to focus magic and draw it out of him or herself. Someone else can use the wand, but it will draw magic from the person who created it, which is why wands are so dangerous. A wand can literally drain a magician of all magic. The Yugliv healing stones are better designed. In creating a healing stone, the healer begins by endowing it with a specific amount of magic. The stone is a conduit, but it’s limited in how much magic it can draw from the magician, and it draws magic from the magician using it, not necessarily the magician who made it. The magic drawn from the healer using the stone is mixed with predesigned magic placed in the stone. A healer can prepare a complex healing spell, place it in the stone, and then draw it out later with minimal effort, or a weaker magician can draw out the healer’s spell and use it, even though he might not be capable of creating that spell on his own.”
It’s amazing, Keish. If you don’t know how to perform a healing spell, you can have a better healer perform it and store it in the stone for you. Then you can use it.
“Why don’t all healers use healing stones?” I asked.
“One reason, Lady Arri,” said Master Ujifil, his voice stern, “The stones are very addictive. You can actually weaken your own magic by using a stone too often. The more you use it, the more you will want to use it, and the more difficult it will become to use your magic without the stone.”
“Then the stones aren’t good at all,” I said.
“In the right hands, used carefully and sparingly, the stones are very powerful and good. Used recklessly, they are dangerous. There’s a trick to knowing exactly how much you can use them safely, but few healers are skilled enough.” He paused. “Your mother was one of those,” he added, thoughtfully, “I believe she had a stone at one time. Was this it?”
I didn’t answer. Gingerly, I picked up T’ay and looked at it. Light passed through the clear emerald facets and sparkled. It was beautiful. I could feel magic pulsing in it. Poor Nuicui.
There are few people in the world as patient as Master Ujifil. He waited quietly as I thought about his words.
“Master Ujifil,” I said finally, slowly, “is there any way that a healing stone could be used as a weapon?”
He looked surprised.
“I read an old theoretical document a long time ago,” he said finally, “that suggested a healing stone could be set into the handle of a sword. It would be filled in advance with spells for healing wounds. The idea was that the sword could then heal the wounds of a soldier while he was in the very act of fighting.”
“That would be a powerful weapon,” I said.
“Yes, but to my knowledge it’s never been successfully accomplished. A healing stone would be naturally adverse to being installed in a injurious weapon. It would take a powerful amount of magic and skill to accomplish. What are you thinking about, Lady Arri?” His voice became worried.
“I’m not making a weapon,” I assured him, “just trying to understand something.”
“Something you’re not allowed to talk about?”
I reddened, “I’m sorry.”
“Not to worry, my dear. I trust you. Not to worry.” He put a hand on my shoulder, “Just don’t try the stone until you’re more practiced at healing, okay?”
I rode Sprigs home. Emily was back to greet me. She didn’t say much, but helped me with my things. As I passed the kitchen I could hear Cook going over the week’s reading vocabulary with her daughter. It was a nice sound. Father must have completed the interviews and found them all innocent.
Father was at the castle and Gretel was taking apart the quilt blocks that she had sewed together wrongly the previous day. Her bow and quiver of white goose-feather fletched arrows was by the door.
“We need distraction, Arri,” said Gretel, tugging violently at the flowered fabric with her seam ripper.
“Yeah,” I agreed and told her what I learned about Yugliv healing stones. She was fascinated, but didn’t know what to say.
After that I brought my homework into the sitting room and Gretel quizzed me on the kinds of rocks which wasn’t really distracting enough, but I tried to make it so.
This morning when Father brought me breakfast (prepared by Cook) I was staring at Imato’s old globe trying to memorize the different places where different minerals are found.
“I’ve always thought the continents look like giants puzzle pieces that got pulled apart from each other,” said Father.
I examined the globe. He was right. They do look like they could fit together if you got rid of the oceans between them.
“Do you know why that is?” he asked.
Father shrugged. “I was hoping you knew,” he said.
“I’ll ask in geology today,” I said, staring at the globe in fascination.
Dr. Smith, the geology professor, loves rocks. He thinks everyone should love rocks. He usually begins each lecture by showing us a rock and giving an anecdote on how he found it. Gordo took a class from him Fall Term. He told me to be careful about insulting the rocks, which apparently one of the other students did, much to his detriment. I am not quite sure how to insult a rock.
Today Dr. Smith was lecturing on the fascinating qualities of obsidian, which is a beautiful shiny black kind of rock that doesn’t have any large minerals in it like granite. He said it forms when lava from a volcano cools very rapidly. He passed an example around for us to look at. Passing around the rock is also his way of giving everyone in the class a chance to ask a question. When the rock comes to you, you should ask a question. If Dr. Smith likes your question, and he usually does if it’s a question about rocks, he gives you a point towards your grade.
When the rock came to me, I asked: “Why do all the continents looks like a great big puzzle that came apart?”
I could tell immediately that this was a good question to ask, because Dr. Smith’s smile became very wide and Dr. Smith has rather a wide face to begin with.
“That is a two-point question, Miss Etautca,” he said, “It shows you’re thinking beyond the lessons. The fact is that we don’t know why the continents look the way they do. The most popular theory is that the oceans carved them, much like rivers carve grooves in canyons. It would have taken a long time, but it seems possible. Another theory is that the earth was originally much smaller than it is now, but there was an internal explosion, maybe a gas explosion, and the earth expanded like a balloon, cracking the land in pieces.”
I didn’t know what to say to either of those theories, but when I got home I showed my notes to Father. He was fascinated and spent a while debating the merits of the ideas. He seemed to think they were both a little flawed, but he didn’t have anything better to offer. In the end he gave me a new question to ask in class the next day. His question was to ask if oceans carved the continents like rivers, where all the earth that they washed away went. Shouldn’t the edges of the continents be piled high with it? Some continents do have mountains one their edges, but not all. It’s a good question.
When I got home I found that Banquo and Nuicui were in the stables. I sat and told them everything Master Ujifil had told me about healing stones. Nuicui kept her head ducked, nodding occasionally. Banquo crouched, his tail twitching with agitation, his expression troubled. When I finished Banquo gave a kind of shrug with his shoulders.
“Do you still need the stone?” I asked Nuicui. I set the stone cautiously in front of her.
She shook her head slowly. Banquo growled lowly at her. She growled back and they seemed to argue for a minute. Finally Nuicui swatted the stone, sending it flying through the stable door and startling the horses who whinnied and reared up in their stalls. Banquo and I followed the stones progress until it disappeared. Banquo gave a frustrated snort.
“What happens if you don’t have it?” I asked Nuicui.
She frowned. I felt a bit of magic build and dissipate as she attempted to talk. She shook herself and went outside. A minute later she returned carrying both T’ay and a plain stone from the edge of the flower beds. She set T’ay in front of herself, motioning to herself and then the stone. Then she made a show of shoving the healing stone aside and replacing it with the plain stone. She motioned to that stone and then herself.
I had to think about it.
“The stone is losing magic?” I asked.
She nodded, then shook her head, then made a frustrated sound. She motioned to the plain stone and back to herself several times.
“You lose magic too?” I asked finally.
She nodded smiling slightly, but Banquo shook his head. He stood up and threw a spell at Nuicui, a kind of glowing round ball. Unprepared, the lioness fell to her side when it hit her, startled.
Banquo threw the spell at her again. It was a strange spell; I couldn’t recognize it. This time Nuicui caught it. She held it neatly in her paws for a moment and then threw it to me. The ball hit me full force in the stomach and I fell backward with a jolt. The spell dissipated, but not before I recognized it: a strengthening spell.
Nuicui gave a moan of apology as I picked myself up, unhurt.
“Banquo says you can overcome the loss of magic,” I concluded.
Nuicui shrugged, her blue eyes narrow, but Banquo nodded, growling at her.
“And your health?” I asked.
Nuicui nodded, as did Banquo.
What I gathered was that Nuicui’s need of the stone for her health gradually diminished, but her addiction to the stone’s magic grew. It’s the addiction that she needs to overcome, and she is determined to do it. However, the stone has damage Nuicui’s magic to the point that without the stone she has difficultly using it.
We are all waiting for Sir Raporty to finish translating the documents and for Uncle W. to finish the cloaking spell. Then we will hold council again. It is hard waiting.
I had lunch with Gordo today. He asked if there was anything he could do to help with whatever was going one that he couldn’t know about. He asked it so politely and sincerely that I felt awful telling him no, that there wasn’t anything I could think of to do.
“If I had become a page,” he said thoughtfully, “I would be close to becoming a squire now, and then I would be of more help.”
“You’re helping me concentrate on algebra,” I said, “and I really need help with that.”
Gordo looked doubtful.
“Really,” I said, “that’s what I need most.”
He nodded, “I mean it though, Lady Arri, anything I can do. I could even talk to my brother Taxon—he’s a squire, and I’m sure he could help.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“In the meantime, we’ll make sure Dr. Kondamuri eats his words about you.”
“I don’t think it will happen this term,” I said dismally, staring at the pages and pages of practice problems before me. I don’t think my professors would have given me the make-up work if my excuse had come from anyone less than the King. They’re rather of the opinion that I’ve missed too much school this term.
“You’ll do well,” said Gordo earnestly, “I’m sure.”
When I arrived home, Gretel was waiting for me.
“Sir Raporty is ready to give his report,” she said.
I didn’t remove my cloak. Instead I went back out to re-saddle Sprigs. We raced to the castle, arriving nearly at the same time as Nysa. Uncle W. couldn’t come because of where he was in his work on the cloaking spell.
Sir Raporty is round and elderly with small blue eyes in a broad, stern face. No one seemed particularly glad to see him. The King’s councilors sat at the long, narrow jury table with arms folded and eyes narrowed. King Trunsle, Queen Elspeth, and Crown Prince Dedric sat on their thrones. Father sat with the councilors. Nysa and I were the last to enter. Father smiled and motioned for us to join him at the table. He handed us each a quill and sheet of paper.
Sir Raporty’s voice was monotone. He almost sounded bored with the information he related. The first councilor to interrupt him with a question was treated with a dismissive wave of the hand.
“I will finish the report first. Then you may interrogate me,” he said in annoyance. We all complied.
The Grestian papers consist of several separate correspondences to different spies. The oldest refers to the failed attempt at abducting Father during the tournament, though it does not mention the attempt on the Queen’s life. It contains a rather long rant against Father for his interference in the war against Yuglicov. The mention of T’ay is simply that they want it back, and it is clear they’re expecting to recover a sword, not just a stone. The next piece of correspondence was intended for K’Lei. It is a set of instructions for renewing the controlling spell on White. What exactly K’Lei’s mission was beyond that isn’t given. The third document is a lengthy discussion of a plot to abduct Prince Euan.
“Abduct Prince Euan?” several of us voiced at once when Sir Raporty finally allowed us to speak.
“This is about starting a war between Elcaro and Arrella,” said Sir Raporty in a bored tone, “They need a probable cause, preferably one that’s easy to control.”
“Euan is incompetent,” said Gretel.
“As I said,” Sir Raporty set the papers on the table. He leaned back against the nearest wall and closed his eyes.
“How likely is the Arrellan court to believe that Jace Pren is a spy?” asked Father. He picked up the papers and flipped through them slowly.
“Not likely,” said Nysa and I together.
“How likely are they to believe that he’s controlling Keish through magic?” asked Father.
Nysa laughed outright. Father nodded, looking amused.
“If they succeed in recruiting a new spy in the Arrellan Court to help them…” began Father thoughtfully.
“It’s still an idiotic plan,” said the Crown Prince, “If Prince Euan does go missing (and it will take a while for anyone to realize he didn’t just make a wrong turn on the way to the drawing room); no one in their right mind is going to think that Jace Pren put a spell on Lakeisha and forced her to help him with an evil plot to abduct Euan and… what is it they’re going to do with Euan again?”
“Hold him in reserve,” said Sir Raporty.
“What does that mean?” asked Nysa.
“It means they don’t really know yet,” Sir Raporty sighed.
“It’s almost a good strategy,” said Crown Prince Dedric thoughtfully, “Lady Lakeisha has been avoiding, or failing to avoid, Euan for years. She tries to be discreet about it, but it’s been noticed on occasion. So, if it weren’t for King Menion trusting her so much, she’d make a good suspect in Prince Euan’s disappearance.”
“Lakeisha is not important,” said Sir Raporty. We all looked at him.
“Jace Pren is the key. Make him look like a spy, heartless. Kill Lakeisha after the abduction. That would be the proper strategy.”
“No,” said Nysa, standing.
Sir Raporty shrugged at her and closed his eyes again.
“The documents say that?” asked one of the councilors.
“I told you what they said before. Now I tell you what I think,” said Sir Raporty, “Make what you will of it.”
“But you’re not sure?” asked Father.
“The Grestians are not strategists. The government loses its best thinkers to emigration.”
“Yes, they act first and plan later,” said Father slowly, “but this is rather elaborate for them.”
“Not really. We all sit around here for five minutes and find enough flaws in the Grestians’ plan to fill more pages than the documents that explained it to us.”
Enthusiastic discussions of the Grestian government’s flaws followed for several minutes. It seems the royal government of Greste is jealous of any citizen they think might be smarter than they are. They prefer to keep that majority of their people as ignorant and uneducated as possible. And so the people are easier to influence and dominate. It is a deep-rooted problem that goes back for generations. No one seems quite sure how to solve it.
I have your letter, and I have also just returned from the council to determine how to rescue Imato. Uncle Winthrop has finished the cloaking spell. I will respond to your letter first. Then I will tell you about the council.
Tell Sir Byra congratulations for his new post. He certainly deserves it. I hope one day Elcaro will add girl’s classes to the public schools too.
I’m going to tell Master Grant and Dr. Ecrue about my spell once Imato is rescued. It would be nice if Tish could be there too, but if not, I will write her a letter.
I asked Father if his promise to Mendel that he would encounter a dragon was why all the great greens attacked us.
“I have little magic, Arri,” he reminded me, “and no direct control over it.” He stood up from his seat as the desk in Gretel’s sitting room and walked to the window. “However,” he said, “that promise may have made us more attractive to any dragons in the area. I had no idea of attracting seven great greens. I was actually wondering if Mendel’s magical talent for finding things also played a role. We will definitely have to be more careful in the future.”
“Isn’t it breeding season for great greens?” I asked, “Wouldn’t they be more likely to be in flights this time of year.”
“Good point,” he nodded, “the number may have been coincidental.”
“What about the gomorph?” I asked.
“That,” said Father firmly, “had no business being so near a city. We alerted the foresters, so hopefully they will track it down before it builds up enough magic to attack someone else.”
Gretel was very relieved to hear that White is not to blame for Imato’s abduction, although it adds to the embarrassment of sending Emily and Cook away. After the interviews with Father, Gretel apologized to everyone. Cook says it was all very understandable and that Gretel treated them as well as she could have under the circumstances. Emily didn’t say much, just that she was glad Gretel was okay now.
I do not think my spell to restore Father will work for White, since my spell depended on us having shared memories from before the battle. However, I would like to look at White. I understand so much more than I did before, so maybe I can make a spell for him. Maybe I could fix other people’s memories too…
Father is amused to think that H’ma might not be real. He says it definitely kept a number of soldiers busy over the years. But Martin Cobbles reaction was interesting. I hope he doesn’t suspect the truth about Caden because of it. After all, why would you divine a false name. Or maybe, Father says, there really is a H’ma, so secret even the other Grestian spies didn’t know about him.
Now I’m going to tell you about the council. These are the people who attended: King Trunsle, Queen Elspeth, Crown Prince Dedric, several of the King’s councilors, Sergeant Maltese, Brynn (who was called back from Marobury), Uncle Winthrop, Nysa, Mendel, Gretel, Father, Banquo, Liop, and me. It was a lot of people and rather overwhelming.
First we went over all the facts. Everything that we knew about Imato’s abduction, T’ay, the Grestian spies, White, and Father’s recovery. Everyone was given a chance to speak. Since Father has been going to the castle every day since we returned from finding Nuicui, I knew that there had already been a lot of discussion that I didn’t hear about. Finally Father stood up, taking control of the meeting.
“I believe the rescue party should consist of at least six people, no more than twelve. Ability to hide inside the Gretian border will be paramount. Winthop, may I examine your cloaking spell?”
Uncle W. stood importantly. In his hand was a scroll that almost glowed with magic.
“This spell contains exactly ten hours of complete cloaking magic,” he said, “It can be used by multiple people for fractions of that time, or one person for the whole time. For example five people could use the spell for two hours, or twenty people for half an hour, or one person could use the spell for ten hours. You can turn the spell on and off and switch the person it is applied to. However, once the ten hours are used up, it’s gone.”
“Ten hours is more than I expected,” said Father, examining the scroll, “Brilliant work, Winthrop.”
Uncle W. nodded and returned to his seat.
After that Father went into great detail about the skills he would need in the people he selected for the quest. When he mentioned tracking skills, I saw Mendel sit up straighter in his seat, but as Father emphasized the need for each person to also have fighting capability, his shoulders slumped and he shook his head, frustrated.
“I should have paid more attention to the fencing lessons Father sent Sean and I too,” he muttered.
By the time Father finished I was beginning to wonder if anyone had the skills he was looking for. It seemed an impossible list of qualifications. I looked around and saw the councilors nodding at him as he spoke, attention riveted. Father knows how to command an audience.
“Now,” he concluded, “I would like suggestions on who can fulfill this mission.”
He folded his arms and waited. I looked around uncomfortably.
“I recommend Sir Stoddart,” said one of the councilors.
Father nodded, “Yes, I would like him very much.”
“Sir Wooldridge,” said another councelor, “would make an excellent tracker.”
Father and I both looked at Mendel. He squirmed a bit.
“Can he track as well as I can?” he asked.
“You’re a fine tracker, Mendel, certainly one of the best I’ve seen,” said Father.
“But I can’t fight,” said Mendel.
“I’d like you and Sir Wooldridge to collaborate before we leave. I’d like him to see some of your spells.”
“I’d be honored, Captain,” said Mendel.
It was then that I realized I wouldn’t be going on the quest either. Father wanted soldiers. He had good reasons for it.
“Winthrop, I would like to invite you to join the quest,” said Father formally.
Uncle W. looked surprised.
“Your knowledge of magic and desert survival skills will be invaluable.”
“Thank you,” said Uncle W.
“Winged Lions Banquo and Nuicui will also accompany us,” said Father with a slight bow in Banquo’s direction.
“Sir Aoweir,” said King Trunsle.
“Yes,” Father agreed, “and I’d also like to extend the invitation to White.”
This sparked some disagreement among the councilors, but ultimately they agreed with Father. Then Father suggested someone else, but that person was rejected by the councilors. Father looked surprised, but they held their ground and he deferred to their better knowledge of the knight’s current circumstances.
Father turned to Nysa.
“This is a family concern,” he said softly, “I did not allow you to come on the last quest, but I would like to invite you on this one. It will be much more dangerous. However, I believe you have the right to come if you wish.”
Nysa was silent.
“May I consider for a day?” she asked softly, pulling the hair away from her face, eyes intense.
“Yes, of course,” said Father.
“I’d like to suggest another family member,” said the Crown Prince.
We all looked at him.
“It’s well known that Imato was the best squire in terms of fighting that Elcaro has seen since you were yourself in his place, Captain.”
Father didn’t respond.
“However, the second best fighter the squires have seen was not actually numbered among them.”
“Oh?” asked Father.
Prince Dedric nodded, his eyes serious. “I’d like to recommend Master Jace Pren, as the second best fighter Elcaro has seen in at least twenty years.”
I blinked a couple of times and looked at Uncle W. He was nodding thoughtfully, as was Gretel, though she looked rather more worried.
“I will send him an invitation,” said Father.
Another half hour was spent discussing other possible knights. In the end they decided on a knight named Sir Tureo who is also a healer.
You will see Father’s formal invitation to Jace enclosed with this letter.
I wish I could go too, but Father won’t hear of it. He says that taking me into western Elcaro to search for a winged lioness was one thing, but taking me across the border into Greste is too dangerous. Hearing the qualifications of all the other participants, I can see his point.
Mendel has added swordsmanship to his list of things he wants to study. Liop, surprisingly, made no protest about not being allowed to go. He did a few translations for Banquo but was quiet through most of the council. Nysa deliberated for most of the evening, but has decided to go. Letters of invitation have been sent by bird or footman to everyone else. They all have Father’s signature. No one is expected to decline. Everyone who joins the quest will be provided with at least one passenger pigeon for use during the quest.
I need to send this letter as quickly as possible. Father would like to leave in three days. If Jace goes on the quest, how will that affect your spy work with Caden? I know Jace is more than qualified to go, but I was really surprised when he was suggested. Gretel is envious. She has been fiddling her bow all evening. She makes Father nervous. I think he’s afraid she will try to follow.
I can’t think what else to say—just to post this and wait for your reply.
Give my love to everyone.
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