The Quarrels of Mages and Men

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Chapter Ten - Shalonsbury

When Inge woke up, Elyse still lay beneath him. She patted him on the head as she saw him move. This is what my discipline has led to? He thought. Being coddled by women because I can’t face the mistake I made?

“Hey Inge,” Elyse mumbled. She was never overly lively in the morning. “Wanna do some training today?” She always seemed to enjoy the training. He’d been working with her for years, and it was only when she focused on her training that he could fully appreciate the growth and attention she had. Though she would jest with any of the guys in the army, she became an indomitable example of focus and determination. There was still much he hoped to teach her.

“I would love to,” he began. “It may be difficult, though, in the city. You heard Jor – there are two seekers patrolling this city. They may not be the brightest, but they will still sniff us out.”

“Can’t we flee the city for a bit? Slip outside the city walls and see what will burn?” She had a fiery determination in her tone. Inge was perplexed by this element of her, he’d never been one to take such pleasure in his power. His magic was a duty, not something he’d found pleasure in before, especially since the battle. What pleasure lies in fire?

“I’m sure we can find time, but I know Eirik has some jobs he needs us to do. I’m sure we can tell him we need to slip out to get some more tea,” he laughed at this. Laughter felt foreign to the somber man. They had enough tea to last them until they reached Skyhull at the very least.

Elyse stood up and began to get dressed. Once again Inge found himself looking at her body in uncomfortable nostalgia. She noticed and laughed. “Dress yourself, Inge. Your brother will wonder what’s keeping you.” He did, quickly, and went out of the room. Elyse waited inside until Inge managed to make enough of a distraction for her to slip out.

As he entered the inn’s hall, he saw his brother and Lena sitting at the table. Igor sat between them. Inge decided to sit across from them and see what the plans are within the city.

“Inge, brother,” Eirik called. “How did you sleep? You must have been tired after casting all day.” Inge wasn’t. Putting a little bit of ice beneath the trebuchets did little to drain him.

“I slept, yes. It was far better than sleeping on the road,” he said. “What work is there to do within the city?”

Eirik laughed at this. He looked down at the sausage and eggs that were on the plate before him, and took a bite before telling Inge what needed to be done. “We should try and get some grains and vegetables as well.”

Inge nodded. “Alright. Elyse and I need to leave the city briefly at some point to gather some more tea.” He knew his brother didn’t fully understand magic. He hadn’t been taxed with it as Inge had, so it was easy to deceive him. He felt guilty, though.

“Ay, of course. Let’s just get to the mill first, and gather some food from wherever will sell to us,” Eirik responded. As if a thought lurched into his head, he quickly added “do you have your hood convenient? We could go now.” Inge often wore a dark hood that covered much of his face while in cities. He knew seekers weren’t always overly powerful, but didn’t want to risk any of them seeing his burnt vein and trying to be heroes.

“Of course, I will get it ready to go. Let me just eat first.” As he said the words, Jor put a plate with the same food Eirik and Lena were eating in front of him. Igor was only eating a chunk of bread. The boy ate very rarely – it was much of the reason he was so fragile. “Not eating, Igor?” Inge asked. He hoped that the boy might talk with him in some capacity today.

“Not really. Just some bread.” He said. The boy was always concise with his thoughts, but Inge feared that they were far and few between. A part of him hoped that the boy wouldn’t become a king or a ruler. He knew Clarice would be better for the role, whatever prestige and level of ruling it was.

Elyse walked out of Inge’s room without discretion. “Here’s your hood, Inge,” she said, slyly pretending to have overheard the details of their conversation.

He ate all the breakfast that sat before him and when he finished, he saw that Eirik had his boots on and was ready to go into the city. Lena and Igor had retreated to a bedroom. He worried about the child, more so since Clarice’s abduction. He could never rule.

Inge rushed his meal and readied himself to go. Elyse gave him his hood and told him to be safe. He hated the hood – it was dirty and stained. It was a clear opposition to everything Inge believed. The hood was a testament to the judgmental world the king had created, Inge felt hope that by rescuing Clarice the hooded farce would end.

“You ready yet?” Eirik joked. “I want to get to the butcher soon to get some of the best cuts.” His brother was always concerned about the supply of meat the army had. He didn’t want anyone eating poor cuts of meat, regardless of rank.

“Yes, yes. Let’s go.”

They walked down a dark alley. This was Inge’s first time in Shalonsbury, he’d expected a nicer village, but all of the streets seemed to be dark and dreary. People that walked past the two men would avoid eye contact as much as possible. The faces on people passing seemed disinterested and removed from the world. What could’ve befallen these people? Inge wondered. What misery do they know? Inge hoped he would find the answer to this.

They arrived shortly after at the local butchers. “This is where Jor told me to come. He said they have all the best meat.”

The inside of the butchers shop was bleak. The man behind the counter was rather round, his beard was unkempt and his shirt stained with blood. Inge wasn’t entirely sure whose blood it was, but truly hoped that it was the animals he’d worked to slaughter. He snorted and barked at the two to ask what they were here to buy. Eirik mentioned his requirements.

“I need as much of your best meat as you can offer. How many pounds would that be?”

“Likely only fifty, really. A lot of the animals north of the salt mines don’t give much meat, but when you butcher ‘em they’re already cured,” he laughed as he said this. “I got about 50 pounds of cheaper meat, too. It’s salty enough no one will enjoy it, but I can give it to you dirt cheap.”

Eirik looked in his coffer. Inge noticed an excess of money loaded into it. “I’ll buy the lot of it for fifty gold pieces.”

The butcher scoffed again. “You can’t be serious. I was hoping for sixty at least for the good stuff, the rest for ten. Give me seventy, I can see it bursting out of your purse, southerner.”

The king moaned. “sixty-five for the lot, or you’ll get nothing and I’ll tell Jor at the inn to find somewhere else to shop for meat.” The butcher looked surprised. He stared with contempt at Eirik for a moment before shaking his hand and accepting. Eirik wiped the blood on the butcher off on the table.

“Butcher.” Inge began. “Why are the people of Shalonsbury so sullen? No one made eye contact with us as we walked through your streets. In the south, people would be stopping us to talk and asking our mission while your neighbors avoid conversation.”

The butcher looked down as he chopped and packaged the meat. “There’s news,” he began, coughing before continuing his thought. “There’s news from Skyhull. We’re apparently supposed to expect a fleet of mages through the gates. We don’t wanna spark up any conversations with any dangerous people. The mayor warned the villagers as much as he could. I heard it could be thirty mages coming through, with four seekers leading them.” Leading them like sheep, Inge thought. Leading them like they led Clarice.

“What’s your name, friend.” Inge asked.

“Idwal,” the butcher said. It was just the three men standing in the room.

“Idwal, have you known any mages? Do you fear them as the rest of your city seems to?” Inge asked the question, knowing the answer already.

“No, none. I wouldn’t want to, they’re dangerous to know, more so to like. A few months ago one was found in the city, one of the seekers caught him and dragged him through the street. I spoke with the seeker a few days later, he said the mage was trying to light one of the mangers on fire.”

“How long have you worked with the innkeeper?” Inge asked, after enough time had passed to make the question less suspicious. The last thing he wanted to do was to compromise the mage he now felt he understood.

“Oh god, since before my children were born. Must’ve been twelve years ago he came in and bought his first large order of meat. The king had his army in the city, and Jor found himself needing more meat to keep them satisfied. It was back when Damien and Thomas were still alive. I sold him nearly a hundred pounds of meat and I’ve been working with him ever since.”

Quickly Inge found himself admiring the discipline and discretion of the innkeeper. How’d he manage to not get caught?

“Thank you sir, and thank you for the deal you’ve given us on your meat. I wish you all the best in your future.” Inge said, using the formalities his brother had forgotten. They gathered the meat, carrying it awkwardly between the two and began walking back to the inn.

“Eirik, there’s something we must do when we return. I must speak with the innkeeper, and I may commit you to do something you won’t want to.”

“Before you speak for me, please explain”

“The innkeeper is a mage. Not a strong one, and I’ve come to decide he’s not a dangerous one. If these mages and seekers are crossing through the city, they may set up in the inn. Surely the innkeeper has a hiding room, but I don’t know if he has someone to run the inn for him.”

“And you trust that he’s worth helping? How many of our mages can we store with him, do you think?” Eirik asked, seemingly accepting his one night job as an innkeeper.

“Just Elyse and I as well. I am certain the mages in the army can find hiding in their tents, they aren’t numerous – there’s only the six.”

“I accept, Inge.” The words were simple.

They returned to the inn. Elyse sat at the table eating some food. “You were successful?” She called to him, seeing the pile of meat the two men carried. “How much?”

“One hundred pounds total, fifty of it good.” Eirik said.

“Inge, are you ready to gather teas?”

“No, Eirik and I have to gather some oats still and some vegetables. I don’t know if we’ll be able to leave the city at all, today. Come with me, take me to the innkeeper and we’ll discuss it.”

Curiously, Elyse brought the two of them to the innkeeper, who asked what they were concerned about.

“Jor, friend. I spoke with Idwal. He explained the situation in the city.” Jor looked visibly concerned.

“Where is your hiding place?” Inge asked. “Where is it, and can it hold two more?”

The innkeeper looked at him, with a grimace. “I’m sure it can, but it’ll be tight. Just you two, I’m guessing?”

Inge nearly said three, before the reminder of his daughters kidnapping brought him back into the present. “Yes, just the two of us. Have you anyone to run the inn? Surely the mages and seeker will need a place to sleep.”

“Ay. They’ll be staying here, I’m sure. Usually my brother runs it, but he was summoned to the salt mines.”

“Do you need my brother to run it? He’s agreed to help.”

“Yes, I’ll help at a cost.” Inge hadn’t heard this side of Eirik before. “Some oats for our travel north, as much as you can spare.”

The innkeeper looked torn, and Inge felt disgusting. His payment is hiding Elyse and me. What has taken over my brother? What has madness has taken him? The innkeeper accepted the offer, sadly.

“Inge, we have no more work for the day. We’ll leave after the mages and seekers leave tomorrow, you have the rest of the day to yourself.” Eirik said, as though he controlled Inge.

The four people talking walked into the stable and saw how much Eirik was stealing from Jor. It was a good amount, nearly a hundred pounds of oats, conveniently packaged in a large bin. I will repay this, Inge thought.

He asked Elyse if she wanted to leave the city still, and the two of them set off.

“We’re not going out of the city yet, we’re fixing my brother’s errors. I don’t know why the man is so brutish today.” He told Elyse. She looked at him understandingly. “I saw a mill just past the butchers shop. Secure your hood, Elyse, there are seekers out in the shadows.”

“I always do, Inge. You know I’m wise enough to know that.”

Inge walked uncomfortably for a few minutes, staring straight ahead and paying little attention to the guest that walked with him. He was consumed by the greed his brother had exhibited, and for the first time found himself doubting whether or not Eirik would be qualified to rule. Perhaps the son does take after the father, just in a different way. Elyse tried to pry information from him, to navigate to the center of Inge’s problem but he shut her out.

They walked past the butcher shop and up a hill toward the mill. The hill was long and steep, but as they walked the city around them slowly transformed into what it was meant to be. Atop the hill, there were fields of tulips stretching out as far as Inge could see to the north and east. The only thing obstructing the view of the flowers to the east was a hint of Wolf Lake, which must have been miles from the city. He wondered if that was the right body of water he was seeing. Even the west and south of the city looked beautiful from here. He could see the cities keep – a modest stone castle. He had no doubt the mayor sat within it, planning taxes and figuring out ways to turn a profit on a city that was financed primarily by tulips. Seeing the buildings in the run down alleys of the city from above gave them a beauty as well. Many of them had rooves covered in straw, and some were made of stone. High cobblestone walkways lay beside the primary roads and a small stream ran down on the side of one of them. They were at the beginning of the stream and crossed over it on a cobblestone bridge. Inge found himself with a new understanding of why it was worth marching north.

He looked again to the west road. It ran directly through the town – from the north gate to the south. Along it, far away from him and Elyse walked a mob. Two hooded figures led a group of seven people in chains. Inge’s hand clenched into a fist, and he found another reason to keep marching north.

“Elyse. Look at what they would do to us. Look at what paranoia and fear can do,” he said to her. He’d told her before of the mistreatment of mages in the north, but he’d never seen it in the flesh. “This, my dear, is why we’re marching to Skyhull before Dawnsend. We can stop this, I’m sure of it.”

“It isn’t because of your brother’s fear?”

“Perhaps it is, but the more a superstition or paranoia are believed, the quicker they become truths.” His words were both his opinion, and a threat that only he understood.

They watched the chained mages walking south a little longer before going into the mill and asking what the miller had at his disposal. The inside of the building was beautiful – straw lined the walls and made the backdrop of the room look like a piece of woven art. The miller called out for them to wait a minute as he descended from a ladder in the corner. He was old. A woman who Inge assumed was his wife lay on the floor beside the ladder.

“Get up, Isolda!” The miller cried out. “We’ve got some customers today.” He looked enthused as he strolled over to them and shook both of their hands. “How can I help you both? Need some wheat?”

Inge shook his head. “Only if it’s all you have. I need oats to repay a debt, but I’m sure I could repay it with wheat if it was the only option.”

“No oats here. We only got wheat. Eventually we’ll have tulips, too, but they’re not ready yet.” Inge tried to figure out what could be the purpose of buying tulips in bulk, but instead decided to barter with the man. He pulled his coffer out.

“If I wanted one hundred pounds of wheat, what would you charge me?”

The man thought for a moment. He seemed far happier than the civilians he and Eirik had seen earlier, less burdened by the presence of mages. Inge wondered if the higher elevated people of Shalonsbury were happier due to their wonderful view or their prosperity.

“I could give it t’you for fifty gold, I s’pose. Normal price would be sixty but I like your smile, young man.” It’d been many years since anyone had called Inge young, but it had been a long time since anyone had complimented Inge in general.

“We have a deal, my friend,” he said, shuffling around money. He handed the man the money and within the hour they were done in the store. Night had begun to fall as they left. The sun setting to the west casted long shadows over the city from the forests in that direction. As they looked down their desired path, they saw it had become an intimidating, winding road with shadows and hiding spots every few feet. The two mages walked carefully back to their inn and crept into the back of it.

When they got in, Jor beckoned to them to follow him. They did, creeping their way into a broom closet on the lower level.

“The traveling party will walk by here once when Eirik takes them to their rooms, so be careful,” Inge was told.

“Ay, friend. I’ll be careful, but I plan to look, too – I want to size up these seekers, see if they’re worth our fear.”

“You won’t do anything rash, though, right?” The humble innkeeper was visibly worried.

“You’ve hidden successfully for over a decade, I have no intention of changing that. My actions will in no way affect you, it’s only fair.” He looked relieved and Inge was sure his white lie would have no negative consequences.

Sure enough, after a few minutes in the closet the mages moved past them, led by their seekers. Inge rushed over to the door in the cramped space when he heard them approaching and peered out a crack near the top. The nine who entered the village that day walked slowly before the door. Inge looked closely at all of their faces. They all have veins, he noticed. Why do they all have veins? Where are the seekers?

Seekers, though strong enough to see other mages through the use of teas, but they had no magical veins on their faces. They were simply normal human beings that consumed reagents for their trade. Why would mages imprison other mages? What’s happened at Skyhull, and does Gerod know?

Once again Inge felt gratified in their decision to visit the mages’ city. He didn’t notify Elyse of this, nor did he plan to tell his brother. He felt responsible for the fate of whatever mages remained in Skyhull. He wanted neither a volatile woman nor a brutish man to work reason into the minds of confused mages. Is there a monster in Skyhull, and if so, what is his name? Inge thought, deciding to sit on the floor and try to find sleep.

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