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Authors: Aaron Pogue

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Fantasy

Taming Fire (9 page)

BOOK: Taming Fire
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I turned back to her. I took half a step, half reached for her hand with a thought to kiss it farewell. My heart pounded and my anxiety rose and I gave a little shake of my head and met her eyes one more time. "I'm sorry," I said. "I must go."

Her lips parted, her eyes widened, but behind me I heard Claighan speak my name and I settled for a weak little wave. The cloak flared dramatically around my heels as I turned. Perhaps I looked the prince, but I felt the fool. I left the girl behind and went to see my wizard.

Though he'd spoken my name, he hadn't been calling me. I slipped into the room without a sound and found a sprawling salon, richly-appointed, with a fire roaring in a fireplace on the outside wall. Claighan and the other old man were arguing, waving their arms and speaking with fierce faces, but mostly in low voices that didn't carry across the large room. The servant I'd followed stepped past the couches in the middle of the room and placed a pitcher of wine and several glasses on the small serving table there.

Then he turned and caught sight of me. He moved quickly back to me, whispering. "The Masters, they are not happy. Perhaps you should speak with them another time?"

I smiled in spite of the nervousness that suddenly danced in my stomach. "I have little choice. I'm here with Master Claighan."

He shrugged. "Princes fear to tread where wizards argue, but young men will always do what they will." He slipped the silver tray under his arm and stepped past me, but just before he reached the door he turned and whispered back to me, "But don't forget that I warned you." And then he left in the same quiet way the servant had left my sitting room. I sank into one of the plush couches and waited for the old wizard to notice me. He did not.

Instead, their voices rose higher and higher until finally I could make out what they were saying. The argument still did not make much sense, except that I could tell Claighan was defending himself. The other said, "I don't care how far you've come, you must leave!"

"It is
that simple! This is more important than one man's pride, Edwin."

Edwin's voice was cold when he answered. "Do you have any idea how dangerous your words are? You risk your life just—"

"This is more important than my life. This is the world, and I cannot afford to tremble before the governor of three small bits of land."

Edwin shook his head. "If I had ever suspected you might be this big a fool, Claighan, I wouldn't have taught you so much as a seeming!"

"You taught me more than magic, Edwin," Claighan said, pleading without backing down. "You taught me to see truth, and to do what must be done—"

"I taught you to survive. I don't care how great the peril, you can help no one if you are dead, least of all this boy."

Some of the fire went out of Claighan's voice. Most of the hope was already gone. "This boy is more important than anyone else on this island. This project is, anyway. If I just give him up to die over some stupid soldier's grudge—"

"He will not die! I have said that already! We can arrange for his safety, but it is a serious accusation, and the king harbors more affection for that guard than he has ever held for you."

Claighan snorted, and Edwin fixed him with an irritated glare. "A new student can be found, if it comes to it," Edwin said. "A new Master is harder to come by. You must be wise, and above all else, you must be patient. "

"There is no time for patience!"

"There is no time for foolishness! Stop. Calm down. Think about the situation, Claighan. Nothing good could possibly come from this encounter. Not now. An hour ago, perhaps—"

"You don't understand. Too much rests on this. The timing will only get worse if Seriphenes figures out what I intend."

"You have explained it all to me. I'm even helping you, remember? I
the situation with the boy, but you don't seem to understand that the world goes on outside your little schemes." Claighan started to protest, but Edwin spoke over him, "I know how important this is to you, but thanks to the troubles in the Ardain we
proceed as you had planned. Not now."

"It is not my fault."

"You said that already."

"Lareth should not have gone over to the duke. I don't know what happened."

"No matter how we train them, they are still only people. He was tempted by the power, that is all. It is not your fault."

"I know!"

"And the king will see that, but you must give him time. For now—"

Claighan's shoulders fell. "For now we must wait."

"Exactly. I am glad you understand."

"I understand. I do not like it, but I understand." He sighed and fell against the wall, all his strength gone. "What will we do?"

"Take him to the Academy and keep him hidden. I will let you know when things are ready."

Claighan shook his head. "The Academy is too dangerous. I will find us rooms in one of the nobles' houses. Perhaps Souward—"

Edwin cut him off with a raised hand. "That is too close. Get him out of town, Claighan." He held the other wizard's gaze until Claighan nodded meekly. Then he smiled, satisfied.

But Claighan frowned. "What of other business? What of our demonstration?"

Edwin shrugged. "I arranged it as you asked, before, and I have not had time to contact them. You will have to deal with things."

He nodded, tired. "I will. Perhaps it will still serve its purpose." For a minute he stared at the floor, lost in thought, then finally shrugged. "You are right, there is nothing I can do. We will wait, and...hide." Again he paused. "You will tell me as soon as things are calmer here?"

Edwin nodded. "These things will blow over. You have always been dear to him."

"I hope you're right. For the sake of the world. You must let me know as soon as—"

"Claighan, I
!" The elder wizard was getting exasperated, but Claighan pressed.

"You don't understand. I need a thousand more like him. A hundred thousand. One man cannot face the dragonswarm, but I must prove myself in him before they will let me train any others—"

"And if you face the king's wrath
, you'll never train even the one. Run. I'll take care of things."

"Fine." He said, "Daven, are your things ready?"

I jumped when he addressed me, then started to my feet and turned to face him, fighting the blush in my cheeks. I took a deep breath to calm myself.

"I have no things, Claighan. I am ready."

He studied me for a minute, then turned to Edwin. "You see how the boy is? He's always ready. He never falters. I have it on good authority he's worth four vints a week for his work ethic alone. It could have been perfect."

Edwin smiled with a sad look in his eyes, patting Claighan on the shoulder. "It will be perfect, Claighan. Your vision will save us all. For now, though...for now you must go."

Claighan opened his mouth to answer, but he was interrupted by the sudden, clear ringing of a bell. It had the sound of a small bell, one a nobleman might use to summon an attendant, and it came from beyond the doors at the other end of the sitting room. I frowned across at Claighan, confused, but he exchanged a look of terror with his master a heartbeat before the doors behind me flew open, smashing against the walls.

I dove away from them, to the center of the room, and found my feet as eight guards with loaded crossbows stormed into the room and aimed their weapons at Claighan and me. Edwin did not seem to interest them. I considered ducking behind the couch for cover, but fear froze me in place. Claighan slid slowly away from the other wizard and came to stand behind me. The guards did not object. I noticed sweat on the foreheads of several of the soldiers. I noticed fear in some of their eyes.

For several tense seconds we stood captured in that frozen tableau before the sound of soft leather boots scuffing on the marble floor interrupted the crushing silence. Then off to our left the sitting room's other doors opened. The room beyond was a sprawling library or office, and I could see a country gentleman seated in a plush chair beneath one of the tall bookcases. It must have been the Baron Eliade, Isabelle's father, come from farthest corners of the Ardain with news for the king.

The king himself now stood in the doorway. He was a man in his late forties, a crown on his head and fire in his eyes. He wore fine but sturdy clothes, and several large gold rings shone from his right hand. In his left he held the royal mace as though prepared to use it in combat, and the strength of his stare belied the gray in his hair. I almost fell to my knees before the king, but no one else in the room moved. I stumbled forward, caught myself, then stood looking awkward. Everyone ignored me.

Edwin stepped forward, fear in his voice. "Something troubles you, my lord?"

"Oh, yes," the king said. His smile was small and forced. "I have just received grave news from my good cousin Eliade. These are tidings that require our attention, Edwin."

"I have just heard as well, Your Highness," Edwin said. He stopped to swallow, then gestured behind him. "I have been speaking with Claighan—"

King Timmon screamed, cutting off the wizard, "
I do not want you to speak with him
!" He stopped, struggling to regain control of himself, then pressed on in a cold voice. "I hold this man personally responsible for the emissary's treachery. He is a traitor and a conspirator to rebellion. He does not need a firm lecture from his old master; he needs to be

Claighan started to speak but Edwin stepped over and caught his arm, whispering something to him. Timmon's anger built. "You have not even lectured him, have you? Do you conspire, too, my good Edwin? Have all my wizards betrayed me?"

Edwin's eyes grew wide in shock. "Not in the least, my liege! You are correct in all things." He released Claighan's arm and walked quickly around the couch to stand by the king. "You are right, my lord, I was overindulgent with him. I forgave him much because he was a former student, but you have shown me my error." He turned to us, an apologetic look in his eyes, then looked back to the king. "I will make an example of them, Your Majesty. None will dare stand against you again!"

Before the king could respond, before I even knew what was happening, the old man whirled to face us and threw his arms out, shouting some terrible word of power that made the whole room shudder. Bright light flashed in blue and red and blue again, blinding me, and in the same instant a fierce heat flashed through the room. It wrapped around me in bands hair-thin and strong as steel, and before I could find breath to scream the bands began to tighten, digging into my skin. Then I felt a wash of sudden cold all around me, the crushing bands were gone. I sensed darkness outside my tight-shut eyelids.

For a moment I thought I was dead, destroyed by the wizard's magic, but then I felt a touch light on my arm and Claighan's voice drifted softly to my ears. "We haven't much time, Daven. We must move quickly. Come." When I opened my eyes I was staring at a wall of crude wooden slats. Suddenly the smells and sounds of a stable flooded me, and I realized somehow the wizard had cast us out of the castle. I peeked out the front door and saw we were still in the palace courtyard.

Claighan turned away from speaking with a groomsman and said in a whisper, "We must move quickly, but everything is prepared. Hopefully we can escape without the king's notice. As soon as the carriage is brought around get in quickly. We have a long ride ahead."

He started to turn away but I caught his sleeve. "Claighan, will Edwin suffer for this?"

He looked down at me, the hint of tears in his steely gaze. "Not if we are careful, Daven. Not if we are swift. Come, the carriage is here." We hurried across the courtyard and into the carriage, and as night deepened the king's own horses took us surely and swiftly from the palace where the king raged against us. That is how I met the king, and how I left his audience.

4. Fugitives

The seats were cushioned and covered in satin, with plush matching pillows strewn in the floorboard. But the luxury of the carriage was lost on me. I knelt on my knees by the door, curtain cracked just enough to peek out and watched the courtyard flash past. I strained to see behind us, to listen for any sound of alarm in the streets as we approached the city gates. The road rattled by beneath us, sharp clop of horses' hooves punctuating the grinding rhythm of wooden wheels against cobblestones.

We passed out of the city without incident, and a mile south of town my nervous strength finally drained from me. I collapsed back onto my heels. Above me the curtains swayed with the constant roll of the carriage and did little to stop the chill draft that flowed in from the night. Every bump in the road jostled me, throwing my shoulder hard against the wooden box of the seat, but I didn't bother moving.

Claighan sat with arms crossed in the corner opposite me, staring at nothing. His eyes were sad, his body bent in dejection. The confrontation with the king had hurt him. And again, as he had on the road from Sachaerrich, he mumbled to himself as he laid plans. I tried at first to talk with him, but he ignored me. I spent a while watching the night flow past outside, but the darkness and the cold wind robbed the sights of their interest.

BOOK: Taming Fire
8.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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