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Authors: Juliet E. McKenna

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The Wizard's Coming

BOOK: The Wizard's Coming
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The Wizard's Coming


A short story by Juliet E. McKenna, from the world of
The Hadrumal Crisis


'The Wizard's Coming' © Juliet E. McKenna 2007, 2011

First published 2007,
The Solaris Book of New Fantasy
. This edition published 2011 by Solaris, an imprint of Rebellion Publishing Ltd., Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK


ISBN(mobi): 978-1-84997-257-4

ISBN(epub): 978-1-84997-258-1


Cover illustration: Clint Langley

The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owners.


A Note from the Author


I've never yet met a writer who's short of ideas. The trick is identifying the ones which will make a novel and those better suited to a shorter piece of fiction. I tuck those away for the occasions when I'm invited to submit a story to an anthology or magazine.

The Solaris Book of New Fantasy
was proposed, I saw my chance to create a bad wizard. A really bad wizard; vicious, corrupt, treacherous.
The Tales of Einarinn
The Aldabreshin Compass
have featured vain, arrogant, amoral and self-important wizards as well as idealistic, honourable and pragmatic ones but I'd only made passing reference to long-past magical scandals and the Archmage's responsibility for keeping wizards in check.

The thing about passing references is they stick around. In idle moments, I found myself wondering... It's all very well having an official Edict saying that wizards don't get involved in warfare but some time someone will challenge it. Not openly and risk the wrath of the Archmage but sooner or later, it's going to happen. It's human nature. So what opportunities could a renegade mage exploit and how would the Archmage go about catching and punishing the rogue without creating a scandal? This story is the result.

Only, as I've found before with short fiction, it didn't stop there. As I was planning
The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution
, I needed something to raise the stakes. What better than the threat of illicit magic used on the battlefield? Who was more likely to decide that wizardly edicts didn't apply to them than one of those selfish, self-absorbed dukes? Since I'd already explored what manner of mage would be willing to forswear his allegiance to the Archmage, why not use Minelas again? Not least to satisfy those who'd read
The Wizard's Coming
and wanted to know what happened next...

Only, while the Lescari Revolution trilogy dealt with Minelas himself, there were still unanswered questions. What had become of all those other characters whose lives he'd ripped apart in
The Wizard's Coming
? Let's not forget that these people now know that whatever the Archmage's edicts say, there are wizards willing to sell their skills to the highest bidder. That bell cannot be unrung and they have no particular reason to keep that secret. Indeed, they have every reason to seek recompense or even revenge.

Each series of books which I've written has always started with the question 'what if...?' So now I found myself wondering about the longer-term consequences of Minelas's actions in Caladhria and in Lescar. What if the Archmage is openly challenged and not just by a renegade mage in a way that can be hushed up? What if this scandal threatens wizardry's reputation right across the mainland? What will Planir's rivals for influence among the mageborn do then? What about those adept in Aetheric magic? What if Planir, usually so deft at evasion and negotiation, is backed into a corner? What if the true, devastating potential of elemental magic is revealed for all to see?

No wonder this new trilogy is called
The Hadrumal Crisis

Only, I didn't want to start
Dangerous Waters
by going back to recap this short story. I want to investigate all these new and intriguing ideas and see where the unforeseen consequences lead.

On the other hand, I know that not everyone who's read my novels has read
The Solaris Book of New Fantasy
. I don't like to think of those fans missing out, particularly since one of the great plusses of writing an extended series of books in the same world is taking advantage of these opportunities to bring back characters and revisit their lives. I know readers enjoy this as much as I do.

Happily modern technology offers the ebook solution and in this instance, I've decided to make the story available for free. As a taster for those who are curious about my writing but who wonder if they really can step into this world without having read all my earlier books. Hopefully they'll discover they can. It's also an opportunity for me to say thank you to all those established readers who've supported my writing for a decade and more. Have this story on me.


Juliet E. McKenna

The Wizard's Coming


On the cusp between winter and spring, snowdrops shivered beneath thorn bushes swelling with buds in a sheltered nook at the heart of the copse, though the wind slicing through the bare and twisted oak trees was bitterly cold. Grey clouds above threatened the rain that still turned too easily to sleet or snow.

'Another frost-killed bird.' A young man with tousled brown hair gloomily nudged the pathetic corpse with a booted toe. 'Why don't they just fly away?'

'You're supposed to be looking for firewood.' As his older, balding companion kicked at a heap of sodden leaves and bent to retrieve a blackened, rotten branch, a sharp whistle raised both their heads.

'Find some god-cursed fuel before that fire dies!' As the man out on the exposed headland shouted angrily at the two of them, everyone else scattered along the cliff-top grassland halted. Three men were walking horses around, in charge of two or three apiece, each beast saddled and bridled. The foremost, lithe and wiry, hauled on the reins wound around each hand and broke into a run, forcing the reluctant animals to trot beside him.

'Come on.' The second man groaned as he gathered up their meagre haul of sticks and thorny twigs.

'Elkan, Serde and Treche have got the horses to warm them,' the first man complained.

'Stop your moaning,' his companion said wearily.

Both shivered as they left the inadequate shelter of the trees. The man out on the headland huddled into his rough grey cloak and scowled at them as they headed for a shallow hollow in the slope running up to the cliff edge. Two tents were angled to shelter the fire pit from the ceaseless wind.

A man seated cross-legged on the turf was skinning a brace of winter-starved rabbits. 'Maewelin's tits,' he muttered. 'My hands are so cold I can't tell if I'm cutting coney or my fingers.'

'There'll be more meat on your fingers.' The younger man who'd found the dead bird dumped his burden.

'This is all we gleaned, captain,' his bald companion apologised.

'Then bind the faggots tighter so they burn hotter,' a tall man ordered curtly. His close-cropped hair as steely as his eyes, his gaze didn't shift from the man isolated out on the headland who was staring out to sea once again. The cold grey waters ran away to the horizon to merge with billows of leaden cloud.

Where the rest wore rough woollens beneath scuffed buff leather and coarse cloaks that could double as blankets, the captain boasted a linen shirt beneath his padded green tunic, scarlet embroidery vivid as blood around the high collar. His cloak was woven from sturdy green wool and lined with brown.

'What about that thicket beyond the track, captain?' The older of the wood-gatherers twisted strips of bark to secure the sticks into a bundle. 'I could take an axe to an ash tree.'

'Perhaps at dusk. When we know he's not coming today.' The captain withdrew his gaze to glower at the youth standing idle. 'Hosh, if you're not helping Avayan, relieve Narich.'

'It ain't my turn,' Hosh protested. 'Bair's next.'

The stolid, square-faced man continued butchering the rabbits. 'Do you want to eat or not?'

'Relieve Narich, Hosh,' the captain ordered sternly.

The youth opened his mouth, shut it and began walking. If he was muttering under his breath, the words were lost as hooves pounded the turf and harness rattled. The men exercising the horses hurried towards the tents, the restive beasts' whinnying initially drowning out the first man's words.

'Unlil whistled us, Captain,' he repeated, soothing the dappled grey with a stroke on her soft, mottled nose.

'What's he seen?' the captain wondered.

'Not the wizard.' Elkan rapidly gathered all the reins thrust towards him by the two others who'd been exercising the horses.

The wind tugged at the captain's mossy cloak as he watched his man breaking cover from the thicket that offered a sentry a clearer view both ways along the track cutting through these coastal pastures. 'He can tell us himself.'

Every man drew his sword, even Bair with his hands still gory. Up on the headland, Narich did the same. Caught half way between the tents and the cliff, Hosh dithered, looking this way and that.

'Horsemen, Captain.' Bair stood beside him, half a head shorter but considerably broader in the shoulder. He pointed with his sword.

A trio of riders appeared as the track rounded an undulation in the cliff-edge pastures. The first horseman lifted a fist in salute. Up on the headland, Narich raised a spyglass, swiftly lowering it to wave his own clenched fist in reply. He began running down the slope, pausing only briefly to berate the hapless Hosh and order him up to the exposed headland.

'It's Corrain,' the captain said tersely,

'With Dancal and Ostin,' Bair breathed, relieved. 'All safe.'

Neither he nor any of the rest moved to sheathe their swords until the three riders arrived. Unlil, the sentry, arrived scant moments ahead of the horsemen.

'Gefren--' The foremost rider recollected himself as he halted his mount. He wore finer linen than the others beneath his uniform of grey wool and buff leather. 'Captain.'

Gefren waved away Corrain's familiarity. 'Report.'

'Nothing.' Corrain glanced at the two riders flanking him for their nods of confirmation. 'Not even a peasant grubbing up acorns to feed his pigs.'

'Captain!' Hosh's shriek startled everyone. Up on the cliff edge, he was hopping from foot to foot, pointing out towards the distant horizon. 'The wizard! The wizard's coming!'

Corrain hauled on his reins to turn his horse towards the sea before Gefren could give any order. 'Narich, let me see!' Kicking his mount into a canter, he barely slowed to snatch the spyglass from the man's raised hand. He stood in his stirrups to search the rolling grey sea, pulling the horse up just short of the precipitous drop.

Narich hurried to the tents. 'We're packing up, captain?'

Unlil the sentry and the bald man Avayan were already hauling packs and blankets out onto the damp grass. The curious wind tugged at flapping canvas.

'Don't bother striking camp.' Gefren watched Corrain intently. 'Get ready to ride.'

'Hosh, get down here,' Narich bellowed.

'It's them,' Corrain shouted, cantering down from the headland. 'It must be,' he said with quieter desperation as he reached them. 'Saedrin save us, it must be.'

'Are they flying the flag?' demanded Gefren, still stony-faced.

Corrain nodded and gestured towards darker grey skeins of cloud promising an approaching storm. 'They must have a mage aboard, to be countering those squalls.'

'Get your gear together, Hosh.' Unlil kicked clods of turf into the fire pit as the youth arrived, puffing hard.

The youth stared at Bair instead, accusing. 'You're taking all the meat to fill your own belly?'

'I snared it.' Bair swathed the skinned rabbits in a linen rag and scrubbed blood off his hands onto the turf.

BOOK: The Wizard's Coming
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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