Healer or Killer?
As he expected, Urthen was made to wait for more than hour after being left in the passageway. This was not only a tactic to show how little respect the king had for him but was also designed to annoy the nobles and courtiers waiting to enter. They would know the delay had been caused by the visiting mage and would assume he was taking too much time with their king. Even if they knew the truth he was certain they would still blame him somehow for it. The door made a slight cracking sound and then opened, revealing a massive hall that appeared to have been dipped in gold, one of Vishanti’s main exports after shadowstone.
“I present Master Urthen Shenfellow. First Guardian of Helliom and Keeper of the Mages.” Rishon’s voice echoed across the empty space like thunder in a canyon. “Hale Keeper!”
The last part of the introduction would normally be met cheers and applause in any other court but here in Vishanti there was little chance of that, even if the court hadn't been completely empty. He walked in slowly, taking in the opulence as he adjusted to the blinding sunlight coming in from a single enormous pane of glass behind the throne. The Vishanti were nothing if not appreciative of all forms of art and the court attested to that fact.
The king was a handsome man in his early forties and with an athletic build that could have placed him at closer to thirty. He did not lounge in his throne as many kings did when alone with Urthen, but sat straight backed and rigid as any soldier in a line up. His face was set in an impassive but hard expression, showing he neither feared nor cared for the man before him. He had no reason to fear a Mage with no access to Hala and even less reason to suspect one of being an assassin.
“Greetings Urthen Shenfellow.” the king said. “Thank you for coming.”
“It’s an honour Your Majesty.” Urthen replied as he bowed. “May I say your city grows more and more beautiful each time I see it?”
“You may say it. Although I believe some of that praise goes to your kind for drenching it breathtaking blue once a year.”
The statement caught him off guard. Surely he couldn't mean he blamed all Mages alive today for the actions of few? That had been centuries ago and they would be no better than minor level Casters today in both skill and power. It would explain why his summons had been less a request and more a demand and also why even his own people harboured such strong feelings for them too. Prejudice never made a man or a people look superior to the ones they were against but it make them a force to be reckoned with.
What he wouldn't give for the powers of the ancient demigods, the Ishmah, who had founded the Aracum and the traditional training of Mages. They could bend the will of others to theirs and control the emotions and minds of whole cities. The Ishmah, from what he had read, had been the epitome of what it meant to be a Mage and worked in harmony with Hala, instead of harnessing it and forcing it like they had to.
“I think credit goes to your artisans and craftsmen, King Terrian.” Urthen replied. “I've been to every palace, castle and keep in Helliom and not one of them even compares to yours.”
“This is true.” the king agreed. “Enough small talk, I want this matter dealt with swiftly.”
A door on the other side of the court swung open and two guards entered, a man held between them and being dragged towards the centre of the room. He was dirty and had obviously been beaten quite soundly recently as his left eye was swollen shut and his lips split in two places. The guards dumped him on the floor, bowed to the king and then returned from where they had come, the door closing quietly and the lock on it clicking closed audibly. Urthen stared at man on the floor in astonishment. It was Kerain, an old friend of his from his time studying at the Aracum and someone he had not seen in many years.
“This creature was found offering cures and salves in the Sea Market.” announced Adviser Rishon. “Among these cures was a substance known as shadowleaf. A highly addictive narcotic that is illegal unless in the possession of a physician or healer, of which he is neither.”
“Just because you hate Mages, doesn't give you the right…” Kerain’s sentence was cut short by stunning blow to the jaw from Adviser Rishon.
“You will not speak in the presence of our king, half breed!” Rishon hissed.
“I'm sorry Your Majesty but I must object to the treatment of this man.” Urthen said. “He is a well-respected Mage and if he was in possession of shadowleaf, I can assure you it would not have been with any intent to supply it to anyone other than those he was treating.”
“This well-respected Mage, as you put it, gave shadowleaf to a merchant’s ailing father, who died from being given the incorrect amount.” Adviser Rishon replied.
Urthen was stunned into silence again. True he had not seen Kerain in years and true he was not a qualified healer or physician, but for him to have overdosed a man with shadowleaf seemed outside the realm of possibility. Kerain was known for his meticulous nature when it came to the use of herbs and minerals in his work and even though he was not formally trained as a healer, he was thought to be very gifted at it. Had this man been so ill that even the correct dose had been enough to push his failing body over the edge? It wasn't unheard of and certainly wasn't something even a veteran healer could predict.
“Your Majesty, may I speak with him in private please?” Urthen asked.
“You may do whatever you want with him.” the king replied. “He is the nephew of a childhood friend of mine and as such I would rather not deal with having him executed for selling drugs.”
“I'm sorry Your Majesty, but did you bring me here to collect him?” Urthen could not keep the incredulity from his tone. “Do you want me to take him back to Myrenia?”
“Take him to Myrenia, give him the Larmec king, I honestly don’t care what you do.” the king spat. “I just want it out of my Pallidon.”
Once the sting of the insult of being treated as a courier passed, Urthen began to consider his options. He could not refuse the king's orders, even if he was not his king, and Kerain would likely die if he was left here anyway. Urthen was about to accept the kings charge when the sound of shouting came from the courtyard outside. It was faint at first, more than likely from somewhere near the entrance, but it was getting louder and closer by the second and even Rishon seemed disturbed by it.