Chapter 4: Revelations
Rain continued to fall in battering sheet and the wind had picked up to a gale, buffeting the blue-grey sea into an angry swirling beast. Inside the shelter of Balthazar’s tower, the super table was silent as my Master and I hunkered over our bowls of fish stew. The unwelcome visit of the Duke earlier in the day left an atmosphere inside the tower that matched the gloom of the weather beyond its stout stone walls. I smiled briefly when Uriel jumped up onto the bench beside me, but my smile soon faded when I noticed his eyes were flat and his ever-present purr was absent.
“Did you know it was a dragon scale,” he asked me plainly.
“No,” I mutter.
My thoughts turned to the night that Balthazar gave me the amulet; the night I officially became his apprentice. There was a full moon, and the silver light from the pregnant orb drifted in from the gaping round opening above The High Alter of Unity. We journeyed for weeks across some of the harshest and most desolate landscape I’d ever seen in order to reach The High Temple of the Unanimity and make my apprenticeship a matter of official record. We stood before the High Alter, illuminated in a circle of moonlight, with a small knot of priests gather to officiate and witness and swearing of our oath to one another. Once the oath was sealed with our shed and mingled blood, Balthazar presented me with the gift of a token. The bond between us could only be broken by death. It was for this reason that a Master Magi seldom took an official apprentice; Kyros for example, had gone through seven apprentices since his elevation to the rank within the Seven Masters, but none were official. This was fortunate for Kyros as three of them he’d killed in anger, one he dismissed, and the other three had run away after various lengths of time. I’d become so accustomed to the disk’s presence about my neck that I sometimes forgot it was there, but suddenly the amulet became quite heavy; both its presence and its meaning weighed upon me.
“Is something wrong Kerri,” Balthazar asked after swallowing a mouthful of stew, “you’re thoughts are distant and troubled … and Uriel seems quite agitated.”
Before I could answer Uriel’s thoughts resonated with force through my head. “Where and by what means did you acquire a dragon scale Master Balthazar,” he demanded hotly and then he added in a more thoughtful tone, “its essence seems familiar to me.”
“It should be familiar to you,” he replied, tearing a hunk of bread from the loaf at the center of the table, “the scale belonged to your sire.”
At his words, I slowly pushed my bowl away. My stomach threatened to reject the meal I’d just consumed and I felt heartsick; had my Master once been the sort of mage who slaughtered dragons for their magical essences. On the bench beside me, Uriel arched his back and hissed. If he were still in his natural form, I fear he would have devoured Balthazar whole.
“Now before the two of you go getting the wrong idea, allow me to explain,” he insisted calmly.
“How does one explain away treachery Master Mage,” a distinctive dragon growl played through Uriel’s mind voice. “My sire awarded you the title of Dragon Friend, which is not a thing bestowed lightly by the Lords of the Sky.”
“I did not acquire the scale through treachery young Sky Lord, of that I can assure you,” Balthazar insisted. In spite of the horrid scenarios my imagination conjured, I knew Balthazar as a man of his word.
“How then did you acquire it, Master?” I believed Balthazar to be an honorable man and wanted him to have ample opportunity to explain himself.
“Ah, that is a very sad tale indeed,” Balthazar sighed, “for the night that Asgeir, your sire, gave me that scale was the same night that his spirit ascended to join the Unanimity.”
I could feel tension and ire rising in Uriel, and in turn, Master Balthazar felt the same transmitted through me. He raised his hand in a gesture calling for calm, “Peace, both of you. Let me tell this tale in its fullness, before judgment is passed.
“I was a youth, likely not much older than Kerri is now, when I first meet Asgeir. My own master, Sargon, was named Dragon Friend by your sire and so I came to know the mighty Sky Lord quite well during my years of academic study. In the due course of time, Asgeir saw fit to honor me with the title of Dragon Friend as well, and we were good and true friends.
“On the eve of my ascendancy to the rank of Master Mage of the Light, Asgeir visited me … to congratulate me on my great achievement … and to say goodbye. At that time, the demand for Dragon parts was growing ever high, both among the nobility as well as in certain darker circles of magic. The cry for these grisly commodities grew even as Dragon numbers in the world were declining. To that end, Dragons were being hunted with greater earnest than ever before. Asgeir received a mortal wound from a Dragon hunter, but managed to escape the final blow. He was making his way to the Isle of The Dawn Sky to die unmolested, but stopped on his way there in order to bide me a final farewell.
“It was at this last fateful meeting that Asgeir plucked a scale from his breast, carved an inscription on it with his mighty claw, and gave it to me. And that, Uriel, is how I came to have one of your sire’s scales.”
I wiped away a tear and swallowed the great lump that formed in my throat while Balthazar told his story. Relief spared through me like the warmth of a welcomed hearth fire; my master wasn’t a Dragon Killer.
“And it wounds me that you would even entertained such a notion Kerri,” he sighed sadly.
I looked down shamefully at my half empty stew bowl; sometimes I hated the way our bond worked. As Master and Apprentice, there was no matter of the mind or spirit kept hidden between us, but Balthazar had a more disciplined mind than I did. According to him, my thoughts were like shouts in an empty Great Hall; they thundered forth and he heard them without effort. His thoughts on the other hand, required my keen attention to know. A raised bushy eyebrow from my master told me that he’d overheard my errant thoughts again.
“I could help you with that, Companion” Uriel insisted.
There was the title again; Companion. I decided to ignore his offer and focus on this odd new turn in my life. “You called me by that name the night we escaped from the gathering,” I said as I reached for my mug of now very cold mint tea. “Just what is a Companion … is it like a Dragon Friend?”
“Yes and no,” Uriel hopped up on the table and poked his feline nose into the remains of my fish stew. His whiskers twitched with delight and he commenced eating my leftovers. “Any among the race of men may achieve the title Dragon Friend if a Dragon deems them worthy of it. To become a Companion … or more properly, a Dragon Companion, many aspects must come into alignment. Firstly there is the matter of your birth as you must be born during a Dragon Moon and your birth sing must be in the constellation of The Dragon. To be born with one or the other of these is not terribly uncommon, but to the have both is rare.”
“I was orphaned,” the shameful answer fell with well rehearsed ease from my lips. “I don’t know when I was born or even how old I am. Balthazar’s best guess is that I’m sixteen.”
“His guess is close, but your master is off by almost a year. The last time that a Dragon Moon occurred within the constellation of The Dragon was seventeen years and seven days ago… exactly.” Uriel purred as he finished the statement and the remains of my stew simultaneously.
“The second requirement is that you must have some aptitude for magic,” the dragon continued, “in your case, Light Magic.”
I barely managed to contain my snicker. Even though I didn’t laugh openly at Uriel’s assessment of my magical aptitude, both the dragon and Balthazar heard my sarcastic amusement vibrating within my thoughts. My master looked hurt, but remained silent; in the past we spent many an evening discussing the potential that he saw in me but that I somehow failed to find.
“Master Balthazar was right to take you as an apprentice,” Uriel defended the elder mage’s judgment. “Great power lies like a sleeping giant within you; if you would but arouse it, you have the potential to succeed him as Master of Light.”
A smile lit my master’s face then as vindication suffused his thoughts. I couldn’t help but smile with him. Even the other Seven Masters had taken to calling his choosing of me as apprentice a folly. It was nice to know that he wasn’t wrong about me.
“Your ongoing difficulties with mastering Light magic are a direct result of the dual nature of your magical gifting.” The dragon explained as he settled in to groom himself.
“Forgive me, young Sky Lord,” Balthazar begged politely, “but there is no duel nature with regards to magical gifting. Those who have a gift for magic have talent in only one of the Seven Aspects. This is a binding construct of the Unanimity, to prevent misuse of magic by mortal men.”
The roar of dragon laughter exploded against my mind, and by the look on Balthazar’s face it was evident that he could hear it too. My Master frowned and I could tell his pride was hurt.
“That was unkind Uriel,” I scolded lightly.
“Many pardons, Companion, you are right” he begged politely in a mental whisper that was as light as a spring breeze. “Please accept my apology for being rude Master Balthazar. However, you are wrong. A duality of magical gifting is possible to those who are born under the astrological conjunction of the Dragon. They pose an affinity for one of the Seven Aspects as well as an aptitude for Dragon Magic. ”
At this revelation, my master sat back in his chair and stroked his beard thoughtfully. I sensed wonderment in him as the notion of my having a dual gifting seemed to, in his mind, explain a lot. While Balthazar found the matter enlightening, I found it highly confusing. If I possessed twice the affinity for magic, as I assumed a duel gifting would confer, then why couldn’t I seem to master even the most rudimentary workings of light magic?
“Because they must be used together Companion,” Uriel replied to my musings. “Dragon magic is the lens through which you must focus your aptitude for light magic. Since you had no inkling about the lens, or any notion of how to use it, you attempts at light magic fail.”