Haverhill wasn't at all what Elizabeth expected. She had imagined an overgrown village with people crafting woolen articles in their homes. Instead, it was a bustling city with more than just sheep.
Baron John Haver was the man in charge. The tall, thin baron came to her the following morning and offered a tour of the city. She was pleased to accept and invited Captain Gregg and Parker along as well. It was the captain's job to look out for her, and she knew the valet had little or nothing else to do and would rather be with her than worrying about her.
The baron took them in his carriage to a stockyard with cattle, horses, pigs, and sheep penned waiting for their turn in a nearby slaughterhouse. Elizabeth declined seeing the inside of the abattoir and moved on to the next set of pens, away from the mostly old, sad-looking animals.
The farm animals there were finer specimens being offered for sale. Besides the large animals there were chickens, ducks, geese, pigeons, dogs, cats, and some creatures that were normally wild including a fox, turtles, snakes, mice, and hooded hawks.
She wasn't sure why anyone would want to buy mice, and was about to ask when there was an explosion that shook the ground. The captain and Parker drew their swords and looked around for attackers. Elizabeth had her hand through her skirt on her dagger but she didn't see a threat.
"What in the world was that?" she asked the baron.
"Kozra," he replied with a sigh. "Your Highness, he's either a genius or insane, I'm not sure which. He hasn't killed anyone yet, and when he does it will probably be himself."
"He blows things up?"
"Sometimes accidently, sometimes on purpose. We'll give him some time to clean up after whatever that was before we visit. Let me show you the cathedral and our weaving halls next, Your Highness."
Elizabeth found the cathedral awe inspiring, and learned that there were both a monastery and a nunnery nearby. The weaving halls were on the other side of the city, and were just as they were named; huge rooms filled with looms with people creating fabrics and rugs from wool and other fibers. She was impressed.
"These colors are wonderful," she commented.
"Indeed, Your Highness, our dyers import from all over the world. Some dyes are quite expensive, but as you can see, they are worth it."
"When I know the sizes and colors I need, I will be buying quite a few carpets, Baron John."
He smiled in a rather satisfied way. "Duke Hubert did too, in fact, quite a few of the earls and dukes buy from us as well as the royals in Londinum. If you like, Your Highness, we can pay part of our taxes in carpets."
The duchess nodded. "I'll let you know what would be acceptable." She had no idea herself how much the carpet manufacturers or Baron John paid to the duchy, but Ralph could surely tell her when she returned.
They lunched at the baron's mansion, and then he offered to show her Kozra's workplace.
"I'll send ahead and he will suspend anything dangerous while we visit," Baron John explained.
Elizabeth was very curious and wanted to see whatever was going on. They rode in the baron's coach to the outskirts of the city. There was a large stone building with open double doors, and next to it was a huge forge. There were pieces of wagons and carriages, odd hunks of metal and all sorts of junk strewn around the property. There were workmen busy in the forge and others hanging around leaning or sitting on various items.
The baron's carriage pulled up close to the double doors and they got out. He led them inside where numerous high open windows and lanterns provided a bright light. At first Elizabeth wasn't sure what she was looking at. There were metal tanks of various shapes, sizes, and composition, most with pipes and gauges sticking out of them. Gregg and Parker stayed close to her, just in case there was something dangerous that they weren't aware of.
The man who came to meet them was tall and broad with a wild bushy beard and uncombed dark hair. His hands were dirty and his face and clothes were smudged. He bowed sharply down and up, clicking his heels together as he did.
"Baron John, what can I do for you?" he asked. His Anglian was slightly accented, but perfectly understandable.
"Kozra, this is Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Sothalia and her party. We heard the explosion this morning, was anyone injured?" the baron asked.
"Not at all, Your Lordship, it was quite a successful experiment. The tanks are standing up to more and more pressure; soon we will be able to create our first vehicle." He turned to Elizabeth and said, "Steam power, Your Highness. Imagine a large wagon, or even a series of wagons, all being propelled by steam, with no horses at all."
"I'm not quite sure I understand," she replied.
"The tanks hold water, underneath is a compartment where we burn coal. The water boils, steam goes up through the pipe and forces the blades inside to turn which turns a rod with a gear on it. That will be connected by other gears to the wagon's axle. When the gears are engaged the axle will turn, and the wagon will move by itself."
Captain Gregg commented, "It's an interesting idea but it doesn't seem very practical. It won't go very far without more coal and eventually more water. And I suppose it will take two men to operate it, one to steer and one to shovel coal, rather than just the one man to drive a horse drawn wagon."
"Yes, yes, that is true, but you are not understanding how much more powerful this will be than any team of horses. It will be able to pull a wagonload of coal as well as other wagons of goods, even heavy things such as brick or stone," Kozra responded.
Baron John and Elizabeth looked at each other and he smiled at her and shrugged. "It seems a wild idea to me too, Your Highness, but Mr. Kozra owns this property and if he chooses to spend his time and money on this, he's breaking no laws, although I've had a few complaints from nearby farms that the noise upsets the chickens and cows." He turned back to the inventor. "Show them the other things you're working on," he suggested.
"Of course, this way, Your Highness."
He led them through a heavy door in a stone wall into a smaller portion of the building, and lit two lanterns. There were workbenches, tools, metal pipes, wood frames with fabric stretched across, and pieces of carved wood as well as other unidentifiable things.
Kozra pointed at the wood and fabric constructs. "I am attempting to make wings so a man can fly in the air like a bird. But so far what I create is too heavy and does not lift enough. I am thinking on a new design."
He turned to a cluttered workbench. "Here I am trying to recreate the firesticks that were invented in Drusia. Of course, with so many magic users in Franck and Ibarra they are fairly useless except as a curiosity. But here in Anglia I can see them being of value, at least to hunters."
The baron added, "They are dangerous to the user in warfare, Your Highness, since any decent magician can heat or spark the powder used to propel the ball and cause an explosion. But I am funding Mr. Kozra in this effort. I believe they could be used one time successfully to stop a charge and confuse an army. After being fired, if there is no more of the black powder in evidence, an enemy sorcerer couldn't use them against us. And these are rare so I doubt they would be recognized before being fired."
Captain Gregg objected. "Perhaps, but one volley wouldn't really afford much protection. An army might pause, but it would still overrun your city, Baron John."
The baron responded, "They will have a blade attached to the bottom of the barrel and will also be a long spear that will be effective against ground troops."
The captain shrugged. "Pikes are longer."
The duchess interrupted to stop the argument. "These are weapons that could be used against a bear or a boar?"
Kozra replied, "Yes, Your Highness. It will be much safer to hit a bear with a ball from one of these from a distance than trying to use a bow, lance or spear. The barrel must be improved and I haven't quite got the firing mechanism right yet, but I'm sure I will eventually."
"Your work is truly fascinating, Mr. Kozra," Elizabeth said. "I should like to be informed if any of your inventions succeeds in its purpose."
"Oh, of course, Your Highness. I will naturally inform Baron John and undoubtedly he will let you know. And if my horseless wagons take to the road, the word will spread very quickly."
"I'm sure you're right," Elizabeth replied without enthusiasm. "Thank you for the tour."
Kozra bowed and Baron John escorted them back to his carriage. Once inside, she asked, "Baron John, do you really think any of his inventions will work?"
"The firestick, perhaps, since he's reinventing something that was already proven. But I really don't know if his smiths can create a barrel properly so that it is completely smooth and straight inside. To work at all, the heavy metal ball must fit closely but move through the barrel easily. Too loose and the power of the black powder is lost and it doesn't push the slug out very far or fast. Too tight and it will jam and the firestick will explode. The black powder must be mixed just right, too. The formula is a secret, but I do know it requires precise amounts of several different substances."
Elizabeth said quietly, " I rather hope he fails. I won't forbid the attempt to create something new. But a man with a firestick could kill another from a distance and escape. And someone with a little magic who hates a man with a firestick could cause it to explode and he wouldn't even have to run, since there would be no proof he had anything to do with it. The idea of those steam wagons belching smoke and lumbering about or of a man with wings spying from above just makes me shudder."
Baron John said reluctantly, "Well . . . I suppose I could stop funding him, Your Highness. With Prince Henry and his magic defending Sothalia, maybe the trick with the firesticks is unnecessary. By the way, I thought he was touring with you."
There was a long silence. Elizabeth finally said, "No, do as you wish as far as supporting him, Baron. Prince Henry has gone on a necessary side trip. I . . . I was hoping he would rejoin me soon, but it may be some time before he returns."
"Oh? Where did he go, Your Highness?"
"I can't really tell you that, Baron John," the duchess replied, pretending it was a secret rather than she just didn't know.
They rode through the rest of the city, the baron pointing out the mansions of the wealthy, busy markets, and imposing stone buildings. It was late by the time he returned them to their inn.
As they walked inside, Elizabeth told Parker and the captain, "I see no reason to remain here another day. Let us return to Sothalia tomorrow. How long will it take from here?"
Captain Gregg asked, "Are we in a hurry again, Your Highness?"
"A little, but let's not wear out our people and horses as we did getting here. It just wasn't worth saving a day of travel time."
"If we proceed at a good pace it should be five or six days, Your Highness," he responded.
"Good enough, Captain."
It took five and a half days of uneventful travel before they arrived in Sothalia in midafternoon. Elizabeth was amazed at how much work had been accomplished in the weeks she'd been gone. Many of the outer walls of the castle had been rebuilt, and there was now a two story wing that extended to the tower. The duchess was pleased to be able to walk up a flight of stairs and stand on a sturdy floor in front of the tower door. Sir Ralph accompanied her and handed her the key, and she was home.
When she touched the light rune next to the door, it only gave off a feeble glow. The heat rune didn't do anything, and had faded to near invisibility. She went up and down the tower stairs and found all of Nick's runes were nearly out or completely out of power. But there were now actual interior walls that made rooms for Sylvie and Parker, who were pleased they could reside in the tower. A second door had been added on their level so they could go in and out without bothering the duke and duchess.
The lowest level was unchanged, the coffin on its bier remained within the silver circle. The duchess decided to ignore it for now, it was something Nick would take care of when he got home. And he was coming home, she told herself.
The first thing she'd asked Sir Ralph when she saw him was whether he'd had any word of the duke, but he'd responded in the negative, and told her there was nothing urgent that needed her attention. But the way he'd said it made her think that tomorrow she would be hearing about some problems.
Prince Arthur, of course, had long since decamped, but he'd left behind a great many workmen. Sothalia was a noisy place, with work ongoing on rebuilding the outer walls of the castle and most interior walls barely begun. Other buildings were being worked on as well. The stable had been enlarged, barracks for the new soldiers were being built, and other buildings were under repair or demolition. Carpenters were making furniture and the main hall of the castle now had a large head table, two long tables perpendicular to it, and dozens of matching high-backed chairs; the pile of firewood was no longer in evidence.
When the duchess came down to dinner, she sat at the high table, with Sir Ralph on one side and an empty chair on the other. Most of the people at the lower tables were unknown to her. There were new plates, goblets, and utensils, all of which matched. Servants she didn't know offered her platters of food.
She took a little of several dishes, but only picked at most of it. She felt like a stranger in her own home. Eventually she rose, and Sir Ralph tapped his knife on a goblet to get everyone's attention.
"I am Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Sothalia, for those who don't know me. Prince Henry has been delayed, and I'm not sure when he'll return. I see many new faces and I'm sure I'll come to know your names in time. Meanwhile, I am quite tired from my trip and I'm going to retire early, but please continue with your meal."
Elizabeth left the hall, and after a moment's hesitation, Sir Ralph followed her out. He caught up with her at the foot of the stairs leading to the second level near her tower door.
"Elizabeth, are you alright?"
"I'm fine, just tired, and . . . I miss Nick so much."
He gave her a wry smile. "I wish I could do something about that, but you know him, he'll be back as soon as he can. I know he misses you as well."
"Will he? He was taken by a dragon, Ralph, he could have been eaten!" She spoke in a fierce whisper, not wanting anyone else to hear.
"Have faith in him, Elizabeth," Ralph said seriously. "He's young but he's determined and capable. He will be back, I'm sure of it."
"I wish I was," she said, and fled up the stairs. She found the tower had been lit with candles and the shutters closed against the chilly night air. Sylvie had slipped out of the main hall after her, and came up the tower stairs to help her get ready for bed. Elizabeth got under the covers and her maid blew out the candles and left.
Being in her own bed felt good, but being there alone was strange. She told herself she'd better get used to it; there was no way to know how long Nick would be gone, even if she could convince herself that he would come back. Tired as she was, it still took her a long time to go to sleep.
Nick could see five men on horses riding toward him from the palace. He looked down at himself and realized he was filthy, unshaven, and smelled of fish and probably dragon. But there was nothing he could do except stand there and face them.
When they arrived, he saw four young men in guard uniforms, and one middle-aged man richly dressed but in an odd style in a heavy green brocade jacket with a high pointed collar. They dismounted some distance from the dragons and one of the guards held the horses while the other four men approached. The obvious leader barely glanced at him but stood in front of the dragon as two of the guards walked over and stood on either side of Nick. The duke was sure the man and the dragon were talking.
After a few silent minutes, the civilian turned to him and smiled a little. "Your name is Prince Henry?" he asked in Incelian.
Nick was very pleased he was in Incelia; Incelia was a civilized land and one he had a connection to. "I am Prince Henry Nicholas Warwick, Prince of Anglia and Duke of Sothalia," he replied with as much dignity as he could in the same language, hoping to convince the man with his speech in spite of his appearance.
The smile broadened. "That's wonderful! I am Prince Matthew of Incelia, and I happen to be your uncle. Welcome!"
He reached out and offered his hand, which Nick took with his own dirty one. Was this man really related to him? He looked closely at him and thought he might be.
"Come. We'll get you cleaned up and fed, and you'll feel much better." Prince Matthew led him to the horses. Behind him, Nick both heard and felt the rush of air as the dragons took flight.
"Um, the dragons said they would get a reward for bringing me here, so they pretty much abducted me."
"Sure they will, but don't worry about anything; we can send a message to your people telling them where you are."
They reached the horses and Nick was given one to ride while two of the guards rode double. He was impressed with how calm the animals had been that close to so many dragons and came to the conclusion that dragons must be fairly common here.
When they reached the palace, Prince Matthew led him inside and through a maze of corridors, snapping off orders to servants they encountered on their way. He threw open the doors to a large well-appointed suite, and servants bustled in behind them, bringing buckets of water, towels and sheets, and trays of food.
Nick was led to a large bath that was already nearly filled. Prince Matthew looked at him thoughtfully and asked, "You can heat it yourself?"
The younger prince realized it was a test of sorts and just nodded. The older man continued, "Good, there will be clean clothes laid out for you when you're done, and yes, here's soap and a razor and plenty of towels. I'll be back in an hour or so to check on you."
Nick was suddenly alone, the last of the servants scurrying out and closing the door after her. He warmed the water to suit him, undressed, and got in and relaxed. After a few minutes he dunked his head a couple of times and began to wash.
When he was clean he got out and wrapped himself in a towel, leaving his clothes on the floor. There were two doors into the bath, one to the large sitting room where they'd come in and another leading to a bedroom. He found a selection of clothing there, all in the Incelian style. Some of it didn't fit well but enough of it did that he could put together a reasonable outfit with underclothing, a white shirt, black pants and ankle boots, and a heavy blue jacket with the usual Incelian standing pointy collar. Then he went back out to the sitting room and found a buffet had been laid out. He put together a plate for himself and chose one of three bottles of wine that were open and ready to pour.
He'd finished one glass of wine and half his food when there was a knock on the door. He called, "Come!" expecting it to be Matthew. Instead an older woman entered. Nick realized this was someone of importance and wiped his face and hands and stood up.
She was striking, tall and with a mass of white hair artfully arranged on top of her head with jeweled combs. She wore a long white dress with a great deal of silver stitching swirled on it and walked with long, slow strides directly to him.
"I understand that you are Ariella's boy. That makes you my grandson. I am Queen Magda."
Nick bowed. "I am extremely pleased to meet you, Your Majesty."
"Call me Grandmama in private, Henry. During the Franckish invasion of Anglia, there was an Anglian who fought them with fire and lightning. Was that you?"
"Wonderful. None of us expected a child of Ariella's to have any magic at all, considering who she was married to. I would like a demonstration."
Nick looked around the suite. It was big, but not big enough to be safe for destructive magic. "Here, Grandmama?"
"Of course. I don't want you to destroy the palace, dear boy; I just want to feel your power. Sit down there where you were. I'm going to access your power stream."
The duke wasn't sure exactly what he was supposed to do or what she was going to do, but surely his grandmother wouldn't hurt him and undoubtedly knew a great deal more about magic than he did. He sat down while Queen Magda took up a position behind him. She placed her hands on either side of his head, not quite touching him.
"Now pull in power, as much and as quickly as you can. I will absorb some of it, and what I do not you can ground safely here. Continue until I tell you to stop."
Nick hesitated. Was this another test of some kind? Was he supposed to prove he could do magic, was it a test of how much power he could wield, or did she just want to see if he would be obedient? Or was this something else entirely?
He decided he should comply. It seemed harmless and he needed to make friends here to help him get home. He opened his aperture and let magical energy flood into him. But even though he could feel large amounts rushing through, only a small trickle entered his channels. He grounded some of the energy into the floor while flushing more through his reservoirs. It was an odd sensation, having the flow diverted . . .
"Stop!" a man's voice called. Prince Matthew?
Nick shut off the flow and leaned forward away from the hands by his head. What was going on? He heard the woman behind him laugh.
"Too late," she said, and laughed again. This time her laugh gave him chills. Nick stood up and turned around to see her striding out of the room past the older prince who looked angry.
"What did you do?" he demanded of Nick.
"I just did what she asked. She said she is Queen Magda, my grandmother, and she wanted to feel my power," the duke replied uncertainly. "I didn't see any reason to refuse her. Did I do something wrong?"
"Yes. I need to warn everyone. If she comes back, ward yourself," Prince Matthew said as he hurried to the door. He added, "I'll explain later," as he left.
Nick was left alone in the luxurious suite. He didn't feel like eating any more. What was that all about? He wandered around the room until he found a few books placed decoratively on a table and picked up one to read, but he couldn't concentrate on it. He had nearly decided to leave the suite and try to find someone to explain what had happened when the door opened again and Prince Matthew returned.
"What was that all about? Who was that woman?" Nick demanded.
"Sit down and let me explain a few things to you." When they were both comfortably ensconced in a couple of overstuffed chairs, the older man said, "She is Queen Mother Magda, and she is your grandmother. However, she is a dragomance. Do you know what that is?"
"The dragon said it was a failed magician, but couldn't really explain."
"When our ancestors came here after the mage wars on Anglia, there were a limited number of mages that survived and managed to make it to Incelia. They found a rural population of farmers, fishermen, and shepherds, and they assumed leadership and created a government."
"Mage wars? What mage wars?" Nick asked, even more confused. In all his history lessons he'd never been taught about mage wars. In fact, Anglian history said there had never been any Anglian magicians except for a few scattered, evil witches throughout the centuries.
"Yes, that's right, being from Anglia you don't know the ancient history. But let me explain this first. With a limited number of mages and the desire for their children to be mages as well, over generations there was inbreeding and some hereditary deformities developed."
"Dragomances have deformities?"
"Yes. One is malformation of the ejectors. There's really nothing that can be done in that case except burn out the aperture. Otherwise, power can only be drawn in and grounded; any attempt to use it generally results in the destruction of the mage. Unfortunately, the way it is usually discovered is when the youth attempts his or her first spells and the come out twisted and dangerous, or they don't come out at all and the power consumes the youngster. Sometimes one or two of the ejectors are usable and with care they can do small magics, but can never develop into full dragonmasters. It's why we always start training a new mage very, very slowly."
"And that's a dragomance."
"It can be. The second hereditary problem is aperture block. A child can be born with a very small or completely blocked aperture or no aperture at all. So even though the rest of his magical system is fine, he can't pull much power or any power at all. If it's discovered early enough it's possible the aperture can be opened or carefully stretched and strengthened. But there's a risk of a tear, and if the aperture is torn open and can't be closed, the mage is doomed to a very short life of magic ripping through him until he is consumed, unless the aperture can be quickly burned out."
"Was my mother Ariella a dragomance?" Nick asked with some trepidation. His mother had been a member of the royal family but had never done any magic during her life in Anglia as far as he knew.
"Your mother had a very tiny aperture, and unfortunately it was discovered too late to attempt any stretching. That's why she was used for an alliance outside of Incelia. She had no useful magic, and it was thought that married to a non-mage, her children would have no magic either. Of course we don't want to export more magic to the rest of the world, it's our protection."
Nick was stunned. A lot of things suddenly made sense, like why Ariella had come to him once a year as a ghost and what she had done for him. Prince Matthew continued, "That was why we expected you to have no magic. The fact that you do in spite of being half Anglian is wonderful. You are an Incelian dragonmaster and therefore an acceptable mate for our female mages, and you have new blood to contribute to our line. You may be the saving of us, Prince Henry."
"Um, no, sorry, I'm married to Princess Elizabeth."
The older prince waved his hand. "Not really. The marriage of a dragonmaster outside the Incelian royal line is invalid."
"I don't consider it invalid. Look, I'm a prince of Anglia, I'm legally married, and I want to go home."
Prince Matthew looked unhappy. "If that's what you wish. You know that our trade with other nations is extremely limited; it may take a few days or even weeks before a suitable ship will be available to take you or even to send a letter. I hope you take that time to meet and get to know your family here."
Nick realized at least a small concession from him was in order, since he was refusing to "save" Incelia, and he did want to meet his relatives. "Of course, I look forward to it. But I need to let my Anglian family know where I am and that I'm safe. Could you send a dragon with a message or even send me back that way?"
"We don't command the dragons, we coexist with them. I doubt any would want to fly all the way to Anglia at our behest, but we can ask. We will get you home as soon as possible, I assure you."
The Anglian prince nodded. "Good, thank you. Now please explain about my grandmother."
"Theoretically she is quite capable of doing complex, powerful magic, except that her aperture never opened; she has no power although she has studied magic. She was King Adelard's second wife, a love match after he had produced sufficient heirs and Queen Estelle died. Otherwise of course he wouldn't have been allowed to marry her. While he lived she was Queen, but after he died her title changed to Queen Mother, which is honorary and carries no authority in itself. If she was the actual mother of dragonmasters she would have some influence through them, but her children were all dragomancers and most did not survive until adulthood."
"My mother was her daughter?"
"Yes. Magda has the mistaken idea that she should be ruling Incelia, and we all fear what she might do with a supply of magic. Unfortunately, you've just given her some, and until she expends it she may be a danger."
"I'm sorry, I really had no idea. I believed her when she said she was queen. I thought I should obey her, and it seemed harmless."
"Well, what's done is done. I will tell you to watch out for your Uncle Simon, her son and your mother's full brother. His nickname is 'Spider' and it both suits him and he likes it. He has one usable ejector, so don't believe him when he says he can do no magic, a claim he makes quite often, but I've seen him do small magics."
Nick was beginning to think he didn't really want to meet any more of his relatives.
"King Benedict is your half-uncle as I am, and you have two half-aunts, Princess Mirella and Princess Katrina. I hesitate to even attempt to name all of your cousins. Perhaps we should leave that for tomorrow; you've already had a long day."
The younger prince agreed with that. Prince Matthew had servants clear away the uneaten food, clean the bath and take away Nick's soiled clothing as well as everything that didn't fit him. They left wine and fresh fruit in case he wanted a snack in the middle of the night. After everyone had left, Nick went to the outer door and discovered it had no lock, but he found an armed guard outside the door. The man ignored him, so he assumed he was there to keep unauthorized people out rather than to keep him in.
There were no locks on any of the doors in the suite, and no windows. That wouldn't have bothered him a bit in Londinum, or even in his castle at Sothalia; he knew the people there. Here, he knew only his half-uncle Matthew, who seemed to be all right and a useful source of information, and his grandmother, Queen Mother Magda, who was apparently dangerous. But he had only Prince Matthew's word for that, and Nick wasn't sure he could trust him. There was just too much he didn't know.
He took two high-backed wooden chairs with him into the bedroom and jammed a chair under the handles of the bedroom and bathroom doors to the sitting room. That wouldn't stop a really determined person from breaking through a door, but at least it would give him some warning. He lay in bed thinking how alone and how lonely he was. Eventually he was able to sleep, although he woke up several times during the night, thinking he heard something. But awake, there was only silence so he went back to sleep.