Read Taming Fire Online

Authors: Aaron Pogue

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Fantasy

Taming Fire (7 page)

BOOK: Taming Fire
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"No," I said. "I mean no disrespect, Master, but that is not a luxury of my class." I growled deep in my throat. "I cannot live by what should be. I live or die by what is."

He didn't answer immediately. He watched me. Then he sighed. "As I said before, you are a physical one. Practical. And that is a problem."

I shook my head. "No, wizard. That is the only reason I'm still alive."

"I won't argue that," he said. "But that will be a problem for your Academy training." He fixed me with his piercing eyes, and I felt suddenly naked. Deeply exposed. "The wizard lives in the world of what should be. What might be. What
 be. For a wizard, 'what is' is just a starting point."

I nodded, but my head began to spin. I opened my mouth to answer but felt a sudden dizziness, a wave of nausea that gripped me, and I clenched my jaw against it. I focused on the road for a half dozen paces before the feeling passed, and I nodded again. "Let's walk for a while."

He didn't look my way, didn't see the moment of weakness. And he seemed glad of my suggestion. "Yes," he said. "We should press as hard as we can. There are terrible things happening in the world, and I seem to have challenged them to a footrace."

I fought through another wave of dizziness, and focused on keeping up with him. 

Later the shower trailed off. The unrisen sun splashed spots of pink on the thick gray clouds, but the light held no warmth yet. My legs grew tired, and over time that ache faded to a chill that sapped my strength, but I didn't dare admit my weakness to the wizard. He was lost in his own world again, now, and I stumbled along the cobbled road behind him, falling farther and farther behind the old wizard as time passed. We walked the sun into the sky and the heavy clouds out of it, and still Claighan showed no sign of slowing. He walked on without me, mumbling to himself and staring east as though he could already see the city ahead of us.

At some point short of noon he suddenly stopped. He turned to me then with the most clarity in his eyes that I had seen since leaving Sachaerrich, and examined me with a careful scrutiny. "My goodness, boy," he said. "Are you used up?"

I nodded, too tired to speak. He shook his head. "You should've said something, Daven. You're exhausted. Come." He waved me to follow, then stepped off the road into the waist-high grass. I followed him, stumbling wearily. After a moment he had lost me, but I heard him call out from ahead, "Come on. There's a nice comfortable rest up here. Come on!"

The world spun around me as I walked, but I followed the sound of his voice and emerged from the tall grass to find him standing in a clearing. A red brick fireplace stood in the middle of the field, without wall or roof, but it had a tall chimney that reached high into the sky. A warm fire blazed on its hearth, and I dropped my cloak as I stepped over to it to warm my hands. Claighan smiled, delight sparkling in his eyes. "You need some sleep. Go ahead." He waved toward a four-poster bed with heavy cotton sheets and thick blankets. I looked at him for a moment, uncomprehending, and he laughed.

"Think of it as a dream, Daven, but you need your rest. I pressed you too hard." Still I watched him, and he shrugged. "Get into bed. Sleep. I will stand guard."

I did as he said, taking time only to pull off my heavy boots before slipping under the warm covers. The mattress was thick and full, and the pillow soft under my head. In minutes I was asleep—perhaps I was asleep before I ever saw the bed—and it was some time later before Claighan woke me.

I was stretched out in the grass, a pace from the King's Way. The wizard knelt over me, shaking me lightly awake. "Daven," he said, "Daven, wake up. You've had a long rest, but we should press on."

I stretched, and sat up. My clothes were dry, though they still felt stiff. "I had the weirdest dream, Claighan—"

"I know," he said, rising and brushing the dirt off his knees. "Now put on your boots. We've got miles to go."

He tossed me my boots, and as I pulled them on he was already starting down the road. I jumped up and stamped my feet down into them, then set off after him.


It's three days' walk from Sachaerrich to the capitol. We made it in less than two, though it took all our strength. Twice more we stopped, and both times the wizard made an inn of the grasslands, though we only slept a few hours each time. Every time I awoke the bed and fire were gone, the comforts of civilization just a dim hallucination, but I felt well and rested. I
like I had slept in luxury.

Our last stop before the City came just shy of sunrise on the second day, when the wizard urged me to get some rest before making the final push. Twice before I'd slept in the conjured bed, both times so exhausted I could remember almost nothing of it after, but now the thin light of approaching dawn dragged at me, and this time I had trouble finding a comfortable spot on the bed.

When at last I drifted off it was to a fitful sleep, plagued with dreams of cruel, mocking men and terrifying beasts. I dreamed of wars and conflagrations, and then at last I dreamed of drowning in deep black waters. The sensation was so real it finally ripped me from my slumber, and for several minutes I wrestled with the heavy blankets bearing down on me before I remembered where I was.

I was alive. I was healthy and well in a comfortable room, buried under blankets made of magic. I sat up, looking across at the chimney without a wall, and the absurdity of my situation struck me.

The bed beneath me wavered, vanished, and I fell to the hard ground with a thud. I winced.

"Claighan," I called out, rising and brushing the dirt from my pants. "Claighan, are you there?" I looked around, and my eyes fell on the impossible fireplace again. I had only a moment to consider it in confusion before it disappeared—and then I thought perhaps it had never been. I was standing waist-deep in grass, and there had never been a clearing.

There were still two paths through the grass, where grown men had walked through and bent stalks on the way. One led back to the road. I followed the other.

Claighan knelt some distance off in the grass, a long way from the road. I watched him, but he neither moved nor spoke for a long time. Finally I moved next to him and fell down on my knees, imitating his posture.

Nothing happened, so I closed my eyes.

There was nothing, only darkness, except...I thought perhaps I saw an image, nightmare sky above a mountain all in flames. It felt like a memory of the dreams I'd suffered before, but more real. The image became clearer, and I looked out at monsters spreading wings within the flames and soaring up into the sky. Dragons flew high, the world aflame below them. It was the sensation of a heartbeat, an instant, and then it was gone, but the memory hung in my head all full of pain and sadness and fear.

I felt Claighan's hand on my shoulder, and then he spoke, his voice heavy with strain, "That was a brave thing to do, boy. You could have seen—"

"I saw," I said, and his eyes only widened for a second but I spotted his surprise.

"You are a brave boy. Or foolish." He put a hand on my shoulder and pushed down, rising, then held out a hand and helped me up. "But it is good that you can see at all, even if you spy on things you'd be better not to know. I'm sorry you woke before I moved you. Such enchantments rarely survive surprise."

He laughed again at the look on my face, then began wading through the grass toward the road. "Come, Daven. We are nearly there."

I followed him to the road, then followed him to the capitol. We arrived at noon, the old man speaking to empty air all the way.


The guards on the city gate nodded to Claighan and waved us through, and for the first time I entered Sariano on the King's Way. I'd spent most of my life in the dirty streets of Chantire, a slum district no more than a mile or two northwest, within the same walls. But now, walking the proud streets of High Hill, it seemed I was entering the nation's capitol city for the first time. Grand shops lined both sides of the street, three-story inns and noblemen's mansions vying for places along the lower end of the boulevard. I walked with Claighan, and men and women in the crowded street parted to make way for us, sometimes even sweeping low bows as we passed. I wandered up the street half dazed, memory challenging my senses in a dizzying confusion.

Last time I had walked these streets I'd been an urchin, a boy of eleven or twelve years, dirty and poor, weaving in and out among the tight crowds with curses following me all the way. I'd been a beggar, sad and hopeless on a muddy corner in the pouring rain. I'd never walked High Hill to bows and hellos, every eye following me in interest and admiration. I suddenly felt the weight of the purse Sherrim had given me, and I felt my eyes drawn to the shops along the way.

Claighan was three long paces ahead of me when he glanced back over a shoulder and saw me tarrying. His eyes snapped impatiently up the hill, to the distant golden shine of the palace gates, and then back to me. "Come, boy! Quickly. We are close."

I tore my eyes from a weaponsmith's displays and forced myself to catch up with him. I kept pace for most of a block, but I couldn't help notice the shops lining the way. I remembered what Claighan had said about the price of new swords, too. I mustered some courage and plucked at his sleeve. "We've been two days on the road," I said. "We've made fantastic time. Surely we could spare a moment."

He glanced down at me, irritated, then his brows came down and he gave me a longer look. "What would you do with a moment? We are here to see the king."

"For you to see the king," I corrected him. "You have no need of me."

He cocked his head to the side, curious. "Of course I have need of you, Daven. Haven't you been listening?"

I shrugged, impatient. "Yes. Yes, you need me. Your promising young swordsman," I said. "And yet I have no sword. And I look more a shepherd than any kind of promise." He snorted a laugh at that, and I grinned back. I pressed the advantage. "You go and speak to the king. I have money enough in my purse to find a blade and a change of clothes. Tell me where, and I will meet with you later."

He shook his head, still laughing, and fell back into his hurried pace up the hill. I could only follow after. "You needn't spend time shopping, boy. I have new clothes waiting for you at the palace. And you
have a sword, or have you forgotten?" I frowned at him, and he waved vaguely to the long leather sack slung across my back.

I remembered Othin's blade. I shivered at the thought of it. And then, as I followed close on Claighan's heels, we came in sight of the palace gates and another thought stopped me dead.

The Green Eagles. They were the king's personal guard, and they were thick in the city. Two of them stood at attention outside the palace gates we were approaching. Neither of them had the same long, scarred face of the man who had tried to kill me in Sachaerrich, but the palace would be crawling with Green Eagles. If he'd had a horse he could have beaten us back here. He could be waiting for me anywhere inside there.

Claighan stopped, surprise and concern glowing in his eyes. "My word, boy, what's come over you?"

I shook my head, mute with sudden fear, and he laughed. "It
an intimidating experience to go before the king—"

"No, I have no fear of the king," I said. In finery or a shepherd's travel-stained tunic, it mattered not. The king would pay no more attention to me than to a bit of dirt on the rug. No, my fear was all for the petty fury of one of the king's bodyguards. But before I could say more Claighan cut loose a great roaring laugh and clapped me on the shoulder.

"Of course you don't," he said. He applied a touch of pressure between my shoulder blades, gentle but insistent, and I fell automatically back into motion. As we walked he nodded to himself. "Of course you must be nervous, so I will tell you something of what to expect. But first, we must gain admittance."

The palace sat at the top of the city, its famed golden gate making the northern edge of the world's wealthiest plaza. There to my left was the great marble mass of the Hall of Lords. To my right, the public exchequer's building. The shops here bore no signs and displayed no wares. They were offices for scribes and land registers, for the moneylenders who financed trade expeditions and wars. We stepped into a plaza filled with lords and ladies, and I felt like the same grubby little urchin who had begged for bread just downhill from here.

The guards at the gate looked at me the same way, but Claighan never even slowed. He propelled me along a half-step ahead of him, and with barely a glance at the guards he said officiously, "Academy business, boys. Got to see the king."

They glowered at me, but they made no move to bar our passage. Inside the gates stood another courtyard—this one almost completely empty—and in spite of the busy press of people beyond the wall the courtyard here held an eerie quiet. Our footsteps rang against the marble paving stones as we crossed to the high-peaked doors of the palace.

More guards stood at attention there, a clerk between them, but instead of challenging us he fell easily into step with the wizard as we approached. "Master Claighan," he said. "We expected you sooner." The wizard only gave a grunt in reply, and the steward ducked his head. "Master Edwin is waiting for you in the summer suites. There is a sitting room nearby where the boy can make his preparations. The clothes you requested are waiting." He cast a glance my direction, and without a hint of distaste added, "I shall send for a washbasin as well."

BOOK: Taming Fire
2.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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