The Son of the Mage
The next morning came rapidly, as if Kiaran were hit with a torrent. Her eyes ripped open and she sat up. Nurra groomed his wing in the windowsill, casting her a quick glance.
Kiaran rose and dressed herself, pulled her hair back, and exhaled long and slow. Glancing to Stella, she found that she was sprawled out on the bed like a child, sleeping sound.
The sun was hardly high enough to reach the city, the trees hiding it from view. Walking across the room, she lifted one of Stella’s socks and threw it at her face, saying, “Get up. We have work to do.”
She yanked herself up and grunted. Frowning, she tossed the sock back to the floor. She stretched her back and arms with a great groan. “Good morning to you too, Queen,” she huffed.
“No time for sleeping in. Not while Davin is over there.”
The words seemed to remind Stella of the seriousness of their task. “You are right,” she said. “My apologies.”
They all gathered downstairs for breakfast. Torin and Ryker were last, sitting at the round table. A woman brought them a few plates for breakfast, bowed to Kiaran, and raced away.
Even outside of Avestitia she was treated like a queen. It bewildered her; only two years ago she was treated like a dog--beaten to fight and fight to live.
At times, she could still feel the blade being held to her throat or the ropes on her wrists as Nathanial ravaged her.
Yet...she was a queen. She could have easily turned as corrupt as Sterjia. She could have easily given into rage and resentment. However, she was different. What gave her such a different outcome compared to the Mage Queen?
“So, Ryker,” Stella began, trying to keep things less depressing, “Kiaran says that you study often. You speak well, I can see you are a very smart boy.”
“Thank you,” he smiled as he piled a piece of bread into his mouth. “My father raised me to know words are all a man has. He may have his fists, but one day, his back will give out and he won’t have that fight anymore. All he’ll have are his words one day, so I’d do best to take care of my tongue.”
“A wise man,” she smiled.
“Yes,” he smiled, though a look of pain spread across his eyes.
“Where are we to find this mage’s son?” Raven asked.
“There was someone we could talk to by the name of Wilfred Aslin who might know where to point us,” Torin answered. "He knows all the goings on in town."
“So, to Lord Aslin’s home, I suppose,” Kiaran replied as she took a drink of her fresh milk.
They were quick to work, heading straight to the lord’s home. They bypassed stands and people and even a scuff between two, burly men, though Ryker stared with great curiosity. Kiaran had tugged at the collar of his shirt and he rushed back after them.
In the distance, on a hill overlooking the small city was the estate. It was a nice home, two stories with many more rooms than necessary.
It was surrounded by a tall fence of black iron, though the bars were spaced enough apart that a thin man could squeeze through. The gate was left open for people to come and go as they pleased.
On either side of the path from the gate all the way to the house were bushes of peonies, pink and white alternating. The flowers filled the air with a sweet aroma. Once they reached the house, Kiaran knocked on the door.
They waited for a moment until a tall, pudgy man opened the door. He bowed shortly and said, “May I help you?”
“We are looking to speak with Lord Aslin,” Kiaran answered.
His eyes wondered from Kiaran to the others. They each had tattoos, odd hair and clothes, and smelled of dirt. They had tried their best to clean up the previous night, though one could hardly escape the smell of the landscape once living in it for so long.
The man finally asked, “What shall it concern? Lord Aslin is a busy man. And what might your names be?”
“I am sure he is busy. Tell him it concerns the good of the country and he would be doing a great thing for all. As for my name, I am Kiaran Krutia,” she replied. With a pause, he dipped his head, closed them outside and walked away.
Kiaran glanced to Torin as he stood beside her, his eyes on the doorknocker in the shape of a bull’s head. "Seems like Cyrin taught you diplomacy pretty well," he commented. His eyes glanced to her for a moment. "You speak really well. Seems like you were raised in the castle."
Soon, the door opened again and the round man stood aside, allowing them in. “Lord Aslin agrees to see you.” Walking toward a curved staircase, he added, “Follow me.”
He led them up stairs and past several doors. Reaching a set of double doors, each painted a deep green, he opened them, saying, “Lord Aslin, your visitor: Lady Krutia and...companions.”
They each walked into the room. It was a large study, two of the walls lined with books from floor to ceiling, one wall was filled with strange knickknacks, and the last wall was filled with tall windows half covered in green and white drapery.
At the large, oval table sat a stout man, his hands tapping on the oak furnish as he looked over a paper. He glanced up and said, “You may leave us, Arvin.”
The round man was shocked, his widened eyes moving to their weapons, odd faces, and back to Lord Aslin. “But--”
Aslin waved a hand through the air as he stood. Planting his hands firm on the table, he shot Arvin a glare and said, “I. Will. Be. Fine.” Reluctantly, the man moved to the door. “A moment, Arvin. Please fetch some tea, won’t you?” He nodded and left, the doors closing behind him.
Lord Aslin sat back down. He had a thick brown mane of hair that was once attempted to be brushed back, though it sprang up almost like fluff. His beard matched, growing a few inches out from his face. His eyes were old and stern, though they seemed generous enough. As he smiled, his eyes narrowed. It was nearly the only tell to his smile, his lips partly hidden by his mustache that curled out at the ends.
He cleared his throat as he leaned back in his seat and asked, “Queen Krutia of Avestitia. I am surprised to see you here. And I am even more surprised to see who you have accompanying you. Generally, it is customary to have your own guard with you rather than those of a...tribe.”
“Aye, well...” she smiled. She had nearly forgotten that no one knew the entire story of the overthrowing of King Murdock, as to protect the Zeil. “They were my companions long before I took my position in Avestitia,” she answered.
“Please, sit,” he said with a warm voice. They sat around the table, Ryker choosing to sit right beside Kiaran. His bright eyes looked over the books in awe, a small smile breaking across his mouth.
“You enjoy reading?” Aslin asked. Ryker nodded and the man said, “Pick any book you wish, but you must be a quick reader, for I cannot bring myself to lend them out. You see, these books have been collected over generations, starting from three grandfathers ago. They are each specifically chosen books, none of them being chosen off a whim. Oh, listen to me ramble,” he laughed. “My apologies, your Highness. Please, tell me why you’ve come to my home in the center of this small, humble city of Revin?”
“We are in search of a Myrin’s son,” she answered. “I was told he had been raised here.”
“Ah...” he pondered for a long while, fingering the tip of his mustache. “Well...” his voice rumbled like the pouring of rocks. “Myrin is a mage, no? He and I have traded stories often. Why once, he had this lad in--” he laughed while shaking his head and said, “My apologies...once again.”
Standing, he folded his arms behind his broad back and walked to the windows, peering out to the backyard full of flowers and trees. “Myrin...” he chuckled while shaking his head. “His son’s name is Petre, and you may find him in Harlinna’s restaurant, I am sure of it.”
“He works there?” Ryker lowered his brows curiously.
The man let out a full, hardy laugh. It lasted several seconds before he calmed back down and faced them. “No, boy, he fancies the owner’s daughter, Natali.” He let out another, shorter, laugh and added, “He visits her often. I am willing to bet gold on it. He’ll be there.”
“And if he isn’t?” Raven asked
“Then return here and I’ll owe you some gold,” he jested. The man returned with a silver tray of cups and a teakettle. Sitting the tray on the table, he bowed shortly, and left. “Care for a drink?” Aslin asked as he began to pour some into a cup.
Kiaran hesitated, wishing to hurry and leave. However, she agreed to a drink in hopes to hear more from the man. He seemed incredibly well informed, seeing as how he recognized her name immediately.
“So tell me, Lord Aslin,” she sat on the edge of her chair and took her cup from his outstretched hand. “Do you know much of magic and mages?”
“Do I?” he lit up, “I know it all! I’ve been over-indulgent on my studies of it--especially seeing as how I do not have any power of my own. But I’ve dedicated years to learning it. It may very well prove worthwhile if ever I were to face a mage. I’d have an understanding of what I was against. Why? Is there something in particular you need?”
Kiaran smiled, her eyes burning into his. “You seem to be a man on top of things, Lord Aslin. I must ask...Have you heard anything on Queen Sterjia?”
He watched her curiously for a moment as he poured the last cup of tea for Ryker. Handing it to the boy, he said, “I know too little, admittedly. That woman is impossible to find any information on.”
“That she is,” Kiaran muttered, disappointed. “How would you like to join us in confronting some mages?” she asked.
He laughed again, but this time it was softer, almost downhearted. “I’d have to turn you down. This is my home...Sounds like something might be getting riled up. If that’s the case, I’d like to protect my people here.”
“Understood,” Kiaran replied.
“Though...Tell me,” he began. “Why the interest? What is happening?”
She glanced to the others, saying, “It might be best to keep that from you.”
“Hm...” he nodded. “You seem to be on a mission. Going to gather some information? Maybe start a little war of your own?”
She eyed him, her expression darkening. “It is...beginning, Lord Aslin. And I fear the king of your land is in the midst of it.”
“Ah, King Holloway...” he thought, a hint of a smile on his lips. He seemed to spark with interest. “Perhaps I’ve given you my answer a touch too early,” he jested. “Perhaps, in time, I can hear your whole story, no?”
“Perhaps after it’s ended,” Kiaran answered dismissively. That only made him laugh.
He switched his attention to Ryker, his nose halfway through a thick book. "A-Forellia Bristet," Aslin said. "It's a good book."
"It is," Ryker agreed without looking from the page.
For the next several minutes, Ryker and Aslin spoke on magic and wards and healing and stories inspired by such things and whether or not they could possibly be done.
Finally, in awe, Aslin shook his head and commented, “You know very much on the matter, young Ryker. I am impressed. You have done your reading.”
“I have,” he agreed proudly.
After a few more minutes, Kiaran and the others had left in search of the restaurant. It was only a few streets away and was a rather barren place. People seemed uninterested in the small restaurant.
Kiaran stepped inside, the floor creaking beneath her decorated, yet dirty, boot. A large, older woman worked busily, carrying several rags over her forearm as sweat gathered on her brow. The hot building was filled with the aroma of baking bread and cooking goose. Kiaran smiled at the smell. The building was very simple, but the scents which wafted across the room were warm and inviting.
Sitting by himself near an open window was a skinny man that stood easily taller than any of them. His black hair was slicked back, his dark eyes running over the book he held open on the table. He was so plunged into the pages that as Kiaran approached, he said nothing.
Kiaran opened her mouth to speak and he lifted a finger so she would pause. Her brows lowered and she waited. After a short moment, he closed the book and stood, bowed shortly to her and sat back down. “I apologize for being rude, but my studies may be of the utmost importance. Now,” he lifted his eyes to Kiaran, “what might I do for you?”
“Do you happen to be Petre, son of Myrin?” Kiaran asked.
“I am,” he nodded. He glanced to her wrist where she wore a bracelet made in Vintar. His eyes met with hers and he asked, “Are you from Avestitia?” She nodded. “Hm...” he grew solemn, his brows lowering as he held his chin firmly. He had an accent, one mixed with Rishana’s and Avestitia’s. “What might I do for you?”
Kiaran moved to the chair across from him and he shot up, running to it. Pulling it out, he took a small pile of books from the seat and placed them on his table.
Once she sat, she asked, “Do you know much about Sterjia?”
“Only that she is a crazy woman who took leadership of Trindal-VinCar. I say she is crazy because only a madwoman could take over that land,” he shook his head while raising his shoulders. “She is the best mage I’ve ever encountered--”
“You’ve met her?” Kiaran asked, near in shock.
“I have,” he said lowly. “Once, years ago. She was powerful. Luckily, I was not a threat to her or she would have snapped my neck with just the right thought.” He scoffed, fighting the urge to open his book back up. “Why do you ask?”
“She is...indeed mad,” she said slowly, hoping to address the predicament carefully. “I am to understand your father is originally from Avestitia?”
“Have you ever been there?”
“Once or twice.”
Silence. “Have you ever met Cyrin?” she asked.
He thought a moment, his head tilting as if the answer would fall into place. “I don’t recall.”
“Are you willing to join me on a mission?” she asked. He stared at her like a startled deer. “I need a mage--a well learned man who can hold his own and who can answer my questions when they’re posed.”
He ground his teeth while looking aside. Running his hand through his short hair he sighed heavily. “I’ll need to know more before I agree to anything,” he said flatly.
“Is there a safer place to congregate?”
“Are we in danger?”
“Perhaps,” she shrugged.
He pondered, looking around then said, “This is safe enough. No one will eavesdrop here and if you are hungry, Harlinna has some amazing food cooking.”
The group sat at a large table nearby as the woman gave them plates of food. Kiaran and Stella sat with the odd, thin man while the others ate at the separate table.
Kiaran explained the issue, including every detail she could remember. With each sentence, more color drained from Petre’s face. By the time she had finished, he ran a hand over his face and bowed his head. For a long while, the three of them remained silent.
Finally, he sighed. “That is bad...” he muttered. “This is not good, Kiaran...”
“Now you understand why we need you?”
“But me?” he nearly shouted. “I can never hold my own in battle--”
“I am not asking that of you,” she shook her head. “I am thinking I should go incognito. I want to spy, to learn where Davin might be held so I might free him. Sterjia is too powerful to confront in battle at the moment. She might be expecting it.”
“Indeed she would be,” he nodded. “That is precisely why she has your friend.”
“So will you join us?” Stella asked. His eyes moved from Kiaran to her and he paused. For a very long moment, he remained silent. Finally, he hesitantly nodded. Stella smiled widely and said, “That is wonderful news.”
“It will be difficult,” he muttered softly. “I will do the best I can, Lady,” he bowed his head to them.
“We leave in the morning. Two hours before the sun rises,” Kiaran said as she stood. “Meet us at the eastern road.”
“Aye,” he dipped his head once more.
Kiaran sat outside the inn, leaning on the building. There were bits of grass growing between cracks in the stone ground, swaying in the breeze. The night was rather quiet, everyone gone to bed but the bugs.
She rested her head on the wall behind her and watched the stars shine forever on. Ryker was sitting beside her, playing with a blade of grass. He twirled it back and forth, his eyes lost on the propelling piece of vegetation. Kiaran lowered her gaze to him, her heart softening. He was just as determined to free Davin as she was.
“As soon as we get Davin out, I am going to heal his shoulder,” he swore to himself at a whisper. Kiaran smiled softly, keeping quiet. “I’ve done a lot of studying and I know how I can do it...I just hope I don’t forget once we reach there.”
Pointing to the dust of stars that glittered in the blue heavens, she said, “I used to look at them when I was young.” He lifted his gaze to her. “I hoped I might turn into one of those lights one day. Be something beautiful that people gaze at from a far, far distance.”
“But you are beautiful,” he whispered. She smiled for a short moment and patted his knee.
“I hated where I was and wanted as far away from it as possible,” she said. “I guess I just found the sky to be utterly peaceful--the opposite of my surroundings. Untouched.” It grew quiet again, then someone walked around the corner from the front door of the inn.
Kiaran looked to to find Torin walking toward them. He paused a few feet away and Kiaran looked to Ryker. “It is late, Ry, why don’t you go and rest.” He nodded and stood, reluctant to leave. Tossing his piece of grass to the ground, he trotted around the corner from where Torin had come.
Torin sat beside her, stretching his legs ahead of himself. The silence was accompanied by a saddening feeling of dread for the following morning. Torin would accompany Raven back to the Tribe as they headed north and Kiaran would head back to Vintar.
With creased brows and a heavy sigh, Torin rested his head on the wall behind them and dropped his hands into his lap. “I am sorry, Kiaran,” he said.
“Why?” she asked lowly.
“I took our friendship for granted and I never should have said what I did while we were in Trindal,” he answered. It grew quiet as she lowered her head. It was good that he apologized, though she wondered why he said what he did. Did he love her? What about Lianna? “I am grateful for the life I have, and I love my wife...” He closed his eyes. “I am worried.” She kept quiet, watching him. “Do you believe you will save Davin?”
“I have to,” she answered. He looked to her. “If I don’t believe it, it won’t happen.”
“Mind over matter?” he smiled lightly. She shrugged a shoulder and he added, “Do not get yourself into any more trouble than you can handle.”
“I can handle quite a bit,” she replied with a hint of amusement.
“I know you can,” he returned a light chuckle. “...Don’t sacrifice yourself. I don’t think Davin could handle that. Your sacrifice would be all for naught.”
“I’ll remember that,” she said lowly. “Torin...” He lifted his gaze to her. “I am sorry your brother is where he is. I am sorry I can’t just get him out.”
“Don't apologize," he sighed.
The next morning, their goodbyes were almost void as to hurry on their coarse. Kiaran, Stella, Ryker, and Petre moved eastward toward the docks where one of her ships would be waiting. Nurra sat on the back of Kiaran’s horse, watching the birds float back and forth on strips of wind.
Ryker practiced spells, pronouncing the odd language and memorizing the words to each spell. Petre worked with the boy, surprised by his vast knowledge and even learning a few things from him. At times of silence, Stella would hum some songs of the Zeil.
Soon, they would reach the docks. And soon, they'd be in Vintar to continue their mission. And Kiaran was losing patience.