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Authors: Frank Tuttle

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All the Paths of Shadow

BOOK: All the Paths of Shadow
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All the Paths of Shadow

 

 

 

Frank Tuttle

 

 

 

 

This eBook is licensed to the original purchaser only. It cannot be sold, shared, transferred, or given away.

 

Published by Cool Well Press, Inc.

270 Bellevue Avenue, 334

Newport, RI 02840

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations for reviews. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet, without the publisher's permission and is a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines and/or imprisonment.

 

All the Paths of Shadow

Copyright © 2011 by Frank Tuttle

ISBN: 978-1-61877-002-8

Editor – Christine Nodes

Cover Artist – Anne Cain

 

This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.

 

Published in the United States of America

First electronic publication: September 2011 by Cool Well Press, Inc.

www.coolwellpress.com

 

 

Dedication

 

To my wife Karen, who married a writer. Poor woman…

 

Chapter One

 

 

Meralda Ovis, Royal Thaumaturge to the kingdom of Tirlin, waved her carriage away at the palace gates and walked the twenty city blocks home.

Ordinarily, Meralda enjoyed the walk. She loved the wide clean sidewalks and the red brick shop fronts and the rattle and clop of rubber-tired carriage traffic on the cobblestone streets. She loved to stroll down Fleethorse Street, amid the florists and herb shops and tea houses. She loved the pastry shop on Ordoon, Holin’s Bookstore on Kelwern, and the fruit market at the corner of Halor and Stick, where a mechanical man in a bright red suit offered pedestrians fresh apple slices with a click of a smile and a tick-tock wink.

Today, though, Meralda stalked fuming past Flayne’s and Holin’s without a sidelong glance. She marched, unseeing, through the fruit market, not heeding the fruit seller’s cries of “Lamp River apples, fresh off the docks, half price for you, Thaumaturge!”

Meralda didn’t pause until the crossing at Kemp and Weigh, and then only long enough to let the traffic master recognize her and wave traffic to a halt with quick motions of his white-gloved hands.

“Evening, Thaumaturge,” he said as she passed, a gaggle of pedestrians in her wake. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

Meralda nodded, but couldn’t force a smile.
Lovely day,
she thought.
Perhaps to persons not currently in my skin.

Meralda marched down the rows of clothiers on Stringle, dodged a pair of wandering minstrels on Argen, and hit her stride on the home stretch of tall old water oaks and small, shady lawns and tidy, close-set houses between Bester and Shade.

The streets there were named for kings of old—Thinwase and Flanshot and Inlop and Gant.

Marvelous,
fumed Meralda, as the names ran sing-song through her head.
Just what I need. More kings.

Traffic on the sidewalk picked up on the king streets. Dozens of people passed Meralda, greeting her with smiles and nods. Meralda kept her pace fast and her eyes on the ground.

A few passers-by recognized Meralda. The sorceress, both the first woman and the youngest mage to ever occupy the seat of Thaumaturge in the long history of Tirlin, had briefly been the subject of notoriety in the papers. The
Post
had dubbed her “Tirlin’s Lady of Mages,” while the
Times
had run two full weeks of furious editorials questioning the appointment of one so young to the court. Meralda recalled how unnerving it had been, suddenly being known to strangers wherever she went.

Meralda’s fame soon died, though, and she discovered that by leaving the dark blue mage’s robe and black cowl in her closet she could go about as she pleased, unremarked and largely unnoticed. Her customary outfits of long skirts, soft half-knee boots, and plain, high-necked blouses made more sense, anyway. Even old Mage Fromarch, her mentor, had stripped down to pants and a shirt for serious magic. “Robes are fine for show,” he’d said with a frown, the first day Meralda had shown up in her loose brown apprentice robes. “But we’ve got work to do.”

Meralda dodged a small yapping dog and sighed at the memory.
Work to do
, she thought.
Work, indeed.
That was before I learned that the office of Royal Thaumaturge was apparently instituted to provide the crown with the arcane equivalent of fancy stage lighting.

Through a gap in the thinning boughs of the water oaks, Meralda spied the sad, pigeon spotted gargoyles that cowered gape-jawed at the corners of her apartment building. The doorman at the Oggin House doffed his hat at Meralda, and she found a smile for him, but didn’t stop to speak.

Finally, Meralda clattered up the ten steps to the lobby of her building, spoke to Ernst the doorman, and took to the stairs.

Six flights of steep, narrow stairs beckoned. Meralda took a deep breath, hiked up her skirts, and sprinted for home.

 

 

From his pot on the kitchen windowsill, Mug heard the hall door open with a whoosh and slam shut with a bang. He waited for Meralda’s footfalls, but instead heard two loud thumps as she kicked off her boots and flung them to the floor.

Mug swiveled twenty of his eyes toward the ceiling.
The sorceress is slamming doors and throwing boots,
he thought.
That can only mean one thing.

Meralda’s socks made quick soft pats across the floor. The kitchen door opened, and Meralda marched inside.

Mug’s eyes turned and bobbed. His bottom-most leaves wilted. Meralda was pale. With anger. Mug had heard of humans changing colors, but he’d never seen Meralda do it until then.

Meralda’s long hands were clenched into fists, her mouth was a thin straight line across her narrow face, and her fierce glare met Mug’s quick three-eyed glance with dire, unspoken warning.

Mug turned his blue eyes quickly away from Meralda’s brown ones.
What,
wondered the dandyleaf plant,
has that idiot king done now?

Meralda shook off her jacket, threw it across the back of a chair, and was across the kitchen and in front of Mug’s windowsill with four long strides. She reached past Mug, threw open the window, and squeezed her eyes tightly shut.

“Mistress,” began Mug.

“A moment,” said Meralda. “Just a single quiet moment.”

 

 

Cool, dry air washed over her face.
Breathe in autumn,
Meralda thought.
Breathe in chilly nights and turning oak leaves and fat orange harvest moons. Breathe out thick-headed kings and snickering court toadies and long royal lists of impossible things to do.

The scent of caramel covered candy apples, fresh made at a harvest carnival, wafted up from the park below.
A hot, fresh Lamp River carnival apple,
thought Meralda.
When was the last time I had one of those?

“I surmise you’ve seen the king,” said Mug, after a time. “What does Yvin want you to do this time? Lower the moon? Shorten the day? Give him back his girlish figure and his front teeth?”

Meralda sighed and opened her eyes.

The sky through the high window was cloudless and blue. A ragged vee of geese flew by above, veering wide around a lumbering red Alon cargo dirigible dropping toward the docks behind the palace. The dirigible’s long shadow raced over the tops of the towering Old Kingdom oaks that ringed the park before sliding over the park wall and disappearing.

Beyond the park and the oaks Tirlin itself rose up in a tidy profusion of red brick buildings and dark slate roofs and red-gold tree tops just touched by autumn. The towers and spires of the palace peeped through here and there, rising just barely above the banks and shops and offices that made up the heart of Tirlin.

Above it all, though, loomed the Tower, squat and black and brooding in the midst of the green and open park.

Meralda frowned, and looked away.

“Mistress,” said Mug, turning all twenty-nine of his eyes toward Meralda. “Talk. What’s wrong?”

“How many days remain until the Accords?” said Meralda, quietly.

“Twenty,” said Mug, with a small stirring of leaf tips. “Counting today, which I suppose I shouldn’t, since it’s nearly gone.”

Meralda sat on the edge of her battered kitchen chair. “So, in nineteen days, Tirlin will be full of Alons and Vonats and Eryans and Phendelits, all gathered here to strut and brag and eat like pigs while making long speeches explaining why they broke every promise they made at the last Accord.”

Mug nodded by dipping his eye buds. “You left out carousing and spying and tavern wrecking,” said Mug. “What does that have to do with you?”

Meralda slapped her hands down on the table. “Nothing,” she said. “It should have nothing to do with me at all. The Accords are a political matter.”

“Or so you thought.”

Meralda shook her head. “So I thought.” She put her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. Just for an instant, she heard her mother’s scolding voice. “Elbows off the table, young lady. We raise swine. We do not emulate their table manners.”

Meralda sighed and stared at the table top. “His Highness is to give the customary commencement speech on the eve of the Accords,” she said. “He plans to speak from a platform at the foot of the Tower. Carpenters are building covered stands in the park for the delegates.”

Mug shrugged with a tossing of fronds. “Sounds fine. I think Kings Ortell and Listbin did the same thing, way back when.” Mug lifted his three red eyes toward Meralda’s face. “It’s not the weather, is it? Surely even Yvin knows better than to take pokes at the climate just to make sure he has a sunny day for a speech.”

“He didn’t ask that,” said Meralda. “Yet.”

She stretched and yawned and thought again about caramel apples and fall carnivals. “Yesterday—” said Meralda, “Yesterday, the King was inspecting the stands being built in the park. He arrived at five of the clock, the same time his commencement speech is set for.”

“And?”

“And,” said Meralda, “it suddenly dawned on our gifted monarch that the sun sets in the west and casts shadows toward the east.”

“Leaving His High Pompousness to make a speech in the shadow of the Tower,” said Mug, with dawning apprehension. “Which aggravated his royal sense of badly done melodrama.”

“And led him to instruct me to move the Tower’s shadow,” said Meralda. “Move it, or banish it, or fold it up and pack it away for an hour,” said Meralda, in a mocking baritone. “Roll up a shadow? Pack away the absence of light caused by a seven hundred year old wizard’s keep?” Meralda shoved back the chair and stood, hands spread before her. “What kind of an imbecile asks for a roll of packed up shadows?”

Mug cast his gaze toward the ceiling. “The kind with the scepter and the crown,” he said, quietly.

Meralda stood. She walked back to her open window and leaned on the sill.

“Was it a suggestion, a request, or a royal directive?” asked Mug.

“Is there a difference?” Meralda shrugged. “The king asked. Before the full court. I stood there and nodded and made vague assurances that I’d look into the matter.” Meralda sighed. “The Tower is—what? Nine hundred feet high? Almost two hundred wide? At five of the clock today, the tip of its afternoon shadow hit the park wall at the east entrance. That makes its shadow almost two thousand feet long and two hundred wide at the base.”

Mug ticked off figures on his leaf tips. “How big a bag will you need, after you roll it up?” he asked.

“Mug!” snapped Meralda. “Enough.”

“A thousand pardons, Oh Fiery-Eyed One,” said Mug, with a mock bow. “But could it be, mistress, that you are not exclusively angry with King Yvin?” A trio of bright blue eyes peeked up through Mug’s tangle of leaves. “Could it be that you are peeved at your own reluctance to describe to the king in lengthy detail just how asinine and vacuous his shadow-packing scheme truly is?”

BOOK: All the Paths of Shadow
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