Chapter Fourteen - Mages out of Suit
The closet was dark when morning came – dark and empty. When Inge finally stood again after his night of crouched sleep, he saw that he was now alone in his room. He wondered where his odd night guests had gone, and peered out at the beam of light coming under the door. Have the mages left? He figured his best option was to go outside the door and check. Elyse wouldn’t have left if they hadn’t.
He walked out of the room and up to the entrance room of the inn. Elyse and Jor stood at the entrance, waiting for him. Elyse held her finger to her mouth, beckoning for Inge to be silent. He glanced at what they were looking at and noticed the mage group sitting at the table eating.
“Why are they all mages?” He quietly asked the other two. “Where are their seekers?” Elyse seemed confused by Inge’s thoughts, but Jor was more understanding.
“It’s been like that for years,” he began. “For years the mages coming through here have been escorted by mages. I assumed the powers in Skyhull started appointing mages to the job of seeker if they were good enough.”
The mages ate their meals in silence. From this viewpoint, Inge was unable to tell which of them were the seekers and which the prisoners. Are there any prisoners? He began to wonder. They left after a few minutes, leaving half of their meals and the three of them were allowed to reenter the room they were entitled to.
“Eirik. What have you learned?” Inge asked his brother. “What men were these and why were they traveling south?” His brother stood tall near the kitchen doors. He had his sword with him for no good reason.
“They move south because they claim the leader of the Gingolet family summoned them.” Eirik said. Elyse looked surprised by this. “I’m certain they were lying, but I couldn’t figure why.”
“Elyse, summon your father so we may discuss this thoroughly.” Inge told the woman. “And brother, was their early departure in any way influenced by the steel across your back?” This got a smile out of his brother.
“I hope so,” he laughed. “They had no more information of value, and I figure I can eat the rest of their meals. Hell, I may even be able to save our friend Jor here a few gold on food.” The innkeeper looked uncertain how to feel about the praise of the man who had so recently stolen from him.
“On that note, Jor, I have something I meant to tell you in the closet. You’ll find a treat for yourself if you go down to the stable. I would suggest you do it now, and feed your animals while there.” Inge influenced him, and Jor left, leaving Inge alone with his brother.
“Brother, I have concern. I know not what the mages of Skyhull are doing now. I know not what the king has commanded of them or even if the king still controls them,” Inge began, dousing his brother in his new found concerns.
“What makes you say this, Inge? We know only their unguided motives, but they could surely have also been misinformed of their destination.”
“They were all mages. They had mages posing as seekers. True seekers have no veins, Eirik, they have some magic but no veins. They aren’t sustainable. Each and every mage that ate their breakfast here was true. They all had red coursing across their faces.”
His brother dismissed his worry. Inge looked down at the table of half eaten food and felt a sudden burst of fatigue sweep over him. Did I sleep so poorly in the closet? He wondered. His eyelids grew heavier and heavier, and as quickly as he began to feel tired, his head made a thud against the table.
When his eyes closed, he saw one sight purely and clearly. The Iron Hall, the home of all southern soldiers existed before Inge. He was immaterial, staring at the large dome as well as seeing a flock of seven mages surrounding the castle. As Inge looked at them, so too did they look in his direction. He watched powerlessly as fire began to consume all that surrounded him.
A dream? He thought. So clear, so simple. What to make of it? Could it hold truth, or is my fatigue tricking me?
“Inge, did you fall asleep?” his brother asked.
“Ay,” Inge nodded. “I don’t know how, truly. I can rarely sleep when we camp on the road, but this table can bring me to rest so easily.” He wasn’t sure if he should tell his brother of what he dreamt. He didn’t know how much weight to put into the thoughts of a tired mind and knew his brother lacked the discipline to try to find reason in what Inge had seen.
“Brother, I saw something in my sleep,” Inge said, deciding to share. “It was hell, the mages we saw standing outside the iron hall. The roof, it was red, and white. The mages must have cast fire within the hall.
Eirik unsheathed his sword. “Well then, I suppose we have another stop before we head north. Shall we cut them off, brother?”
“No,” Inge said. “I can’t make you do this, I can’t have us killing people over bad dreams.”
Eirik looked unsure about Inge’s attitude. “Brother, we march north to save your daughter. We go to Skyhull to investigate the issue you’re seeing in mages, and you won’t commit to saving the people we live to protect?”
“It isn’t a matter of saving the people to the south. If we kill them, we could be killing innocent men running from the slavery they face in the north. How could we justify that? No, you will not kill the men.”
Elyse returned into the room. Hugo was with her, looking stoic and bold. He was already dressed in his armour with his sword and shield slung across his back.
“My king, Inge, what did you need from me?” He asked.
“Hugo, my friend,” Eirik began. “We’ve received word from the mages that stayed at this inn last night that their destination is Troutson. Have you any idea why your city would be receiving any new mages?”
Inge’s father in law looked bewildered by the accusation. “Do you think I would betray you? Do you think I would summon mages to plot against the man I married my first daughter to? No, never did I order any mages to come south. I am loyal to one family and one family only, the Lindberg’s of Rainhome.”
“I believe you, father,” Inge recalled. He enjoyed calling the man his father, despite the slight gap. He respected the man far more than he had his own father, and admired the discipline and duty he showed. “Please never believe that we doubted you, but it would be better to learn from you than to have our men go south and slaughter innocent mages, don’t you agree?”
“Of course, son. What do you intend to do? Are these mages a threat?”
“Only in my dreams, but an odd dream it was. Eirik, if I may command the actions we take, I have a general idea.” Inge asked his brother.
“Ay, you have command. You know that is how I want it to be, Inge. You know I want us to share the power.”
“Yes, brother. The plan I feel is best would be to send a small group south to spy on – and track these – mages. Perhaps ten people, but they need a strong leader. Eirik, I feel you are best fit for this. We’re moving next to Skyhull, the mages won’t take kindly to a man of the sword there. I believe if you lead this party south, take with you whomever you choose from the army – perhaps Sim, the boy from the inn, he should be knowledgeable about the land.”
His brother looked pleased with this suggestion. “Yes, Inge. I will lead the group south. There are some good spies within our army, and if we take a few horses, we can cut them off at the next inn and learn of their ambitions. It shouldn’t take us more than a week, my brother. Igor and Lena will stay with you, though.”
“Good. After you learn what their purpose is and act accordingly, send word, and head north to Skyhull. You should leave immediately.”
Within the hour Inge’s king and a fragment of their army had left Shalonsbury for the south, leaving Inge with the Gringolet family and an army waiting to be guided north.
“Elyse, Hugo, you will now ride with me, and advise me. I will be ruling in my brother’s stead, and we must keep on our path to the north – every day that passes leaves me with a disgusting feeling of what Gerod may be doing to my daughter.” He told the two. “Tell the army to saddle up and get ready to move north. I hope to leave Shalonsbury before the sun is above us.”
“And what will you do in this time, Inge?” Elyse asked. She was looking deep into his eyes.
“I must speak with the innkeeper briefly, and then I will saddle my own horse. “I’m anxious to be done with whatever awaits us in Skyhull.”
Inge walked down the back staircase of the large inn. He saw Jor feeding some of the purchased grain to his small pack of animals. The pen they were contained in was modest – a few boards held together precariously, with a small pack of pigs and sheep behind it. No animals that would help him to grow any crops. Inge knew the innkeeper was not living a life of luxury.
“Hello friend,” Inge spoke. He walked down the stairs to the innkeeper. Tears had filled the poor man’s eyes as he let out a blithering thank you to Inge. “You have no reason to thank me, Jor. I did only what was just. My brother acted brashly and without dignity. I wished to repay the debt he owed to you. I must ask something of you, though. What do you know of Skyhull?”
“Skyhull? Not a lot, why do you ask?” Jor said.
“In the south, mages are free. Mages are powerful, but each family tends to have one of two within them, enough to understand the value and power a mage can possess. I realize it is not so liberal in the north, but do you know if I am to expect to find a prison or a school when I reach Skyhull. I know Gerod has promoted it as being a safe place to learn magic, but I know also the fear that the king has of magical people.
“To tell the truth, Inge,” Jor began. “I’ve heard rumours. Rumours of dissonance surrounding that city. It isn’t run by the king, I’ve heard. The mages are running it.” This was both a relief to Inge and a horror.
“Well, rumours are known to become truths when the situation demands it of them. I thank you, now, for the rooms you’ve given us. I appreciate you letting us hide in your closet with you, and I hope your animals enjoy the grain. The army will be out of your city and your life within the hour, and I hope that when this oncoming war is complete you’ll support the king, whomever that may be.” He shook the man’s hand and walked to where his horse was stationed.
The horse already had his saddle on it, so he mounted it and rode to the front of his army. “Southerners!” He called out to them. “Now we must continue our march north.” The horses and enclave of foot soldiers began to move north through the city. Up past the butchers and to the top of the hill, near the millers. They moved by the town’s castle and out the northbound gates. To the west Inge saw only trees and thick forest moving up the coast, to the east he saw a couple men running in the direction of Dawnsend.
“Look Hugo,” Inge called to his father in law. “They’re sending word to the king. From what I hear, their words will only work in our favour.”
“Everything the king learns he makes worse in his mind. If he comes to fear us, so too shall we become worthy of his fear. Our strength grows the more he hears about us, and when Eirik returns to us in Skyhull we will be unstoppable.” A smile crept across Inge’s face as he thought about his reunion with his daughter. For the first time on their march north, he began to think about Clarice, and seeing his daughter again. Soon, Clarice. Soon I will have you back and we will rule together.