The Quarrels of Mages and Men

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Chapter Eighteen - Manufactured Magic

After her abduction, Clarice found herself spending much of her time in her bedroom within the castle. The sounds of the blacksmith Gerod had introduced her to, pounding away at his steel, was the only thing she heard. The man worked rhythmically, she’d found while reading her books. He strikes his metal with every third word I read. Little occupied her time in the castle now, besides reading the book she’d found in the city. Having read a few stories, she found herself gaining a greater understanding of the way the world worked.

Many of the stories reminded her of things her father had told her – brief stories with the intention of repairing the life of the reader. Others were far stranger. This morning, for example, she’d found a story with only a few words in it, simply reading “THE WALLS OF A CITY CAN NEVER SURPASS THOSE OF ITS LEADER.”

Reading words like that, Clarice felt that the author of the book may have been a fool – or at least part crazy. Mad, like a man who spent too much time on a fishing ship and came home telling tales of squids and tentacles. There was no context for this story, it was entitled “A Summers Day on the Eastern Coast” and ended after that single sentence.

Unfortunately, the more she read in her solitary state, the sooner she found herself running out of stories. She wanted to go into the city and get another book, but was reluctant to ask the king for permission to do so. I failed him last time, she thought, I cannot ask for his permission again – I haven’t earned his trust. She worried that Gerod thought she was trying to escape when the mages caught her.

On this day, however, she decided it would be necessary to see if Gerod would be willing to let her go into the city. The day was still fresh, she heard the birds’ squawk outside, and she heard the intermittent striking of the smith’s hammer.

She began walking through the castle in search of the king. She climbed up the stairs to the terrace, wondering if he was perhaps using it to view the city. After her abduction, the king seemed to have a new-found zeal. He often stood on the terrace looking down at the city, and even took a number of visitors and held meetings within the castle. Clarice assumed that when he exerted his kingly power, he rediscovered what the job title meant, but at the same time she wondered if the taunting of the dead man had provoked the king to be ready to defend against an uprising of mages. She wondered also if her father would be coming north to rescue her, but as the days progressed she found herself wondering that less frequently.

When she stepped onto the terrace, she saw no king. She saw a family of pheasants nesting within the leaves of a purple tree, as well as a number of shrubs. She saw the city, the stretch of land between the crater and the bookshop she visited. She looked in every direction, seeing the vague remnants of fields to the south and west as well as the coastal hovel in which the kidnappers stored her that night, but no king.

She returned down the stairs and decided to look in the entrance room of the castle. She’d spent little time in this room, it was intended as a place for the king to meet with visitors and a place for him to hold court. The middle of the room held a large brazier, which burned bright, illuminating the room. Large windows lined the walls, providing the room with the scent of the city. The throne was elevated from the rest of the hall – a small staircase the width of the chair led up to it. The throne itself wasn’t overly spectacular – it looked to be made of mahogany with the symbol of the Norsom family embossed upon it.

The king was not in here either, but from the windows she could hear the sound of his voice outside. She followed it, stepping into the city. The king stood on some wood scaffolding, standing above a herd of militia men. There were hundreds of men in new armour standing in front of the king. The king looked charismatic. He wore similar armour to the other men, with a frill of gold and green streaming from his shoulders and ankles. The soldiers seemed to be interested in what the king was shouting to them.

“As the army comes to us, we must wait. In waiting, we have defense, and with defense we have victory. We will cull the mages that threaten our home.” The crowd let out a triumphant hurrah as Clarice stood in confusion about what was happening.

Gerod stepped off of his podium and walked over to her. “Clarice, I hadn’t expected you to come outside today. For what reason do you grace me with your presence.”

“What is this about a war?” Clarice asked, forgetting about her interest in new books. “Does an army march on Dawnsend?”

“Perhaps. I am sure there may be an army – a big army for all I know. The mages now know I am not like them, they could attack us at any time to try to reinstate their tyrannical power. Have you read about the time of the mage ruling? It was about three hundred years ago, if I recall from my history lessons, and deathly mages ruled the continent, men were put into slavery in the salt mines and mages ran everything. Then, of course, the men had an uprising, won, and put all the mages into slavery. Then the mages came back in power – because of my family – and here I am, a man with no interest in power, now holding it again.” This castle holds no power, Clarice remembered the words Gerod had barked at her in the dead boy’s bedroom and came to understand how misguided they were. The castle held all the power, she’s come to realize.

“Well, I hope no army comes soon for both of our sakes, and I hope that you do not truly think of mages as monsters.” She made a passing gesture at her face, which caused the king to wince.

“Clarice it is ideal that you came to me today, for I have a matter to discuss with you. In private, if possible.” The king seemed to stutter over his words.

They returned into the castle, wherein the king quickly rushed to the throne. He sat upon it and gestured for her to come forward. Clarice was confused with regards to the king’s actions, she couldn’t tell if he was just gleeful or anxious.

“Clarice, my dear, I realize that we started our friendship in a bad way, there’s no denying that. You, of course, are aware of my current situation regarding an heir – poor Samuel has left this world, and I am currently without a child.”

“You can have another child with Lucia,” Clarice said, interrupting the king.

“Unfortunately, I know I cannot. The birth of Samuel took its toll on Lucia, and in large part has caused her to be unable to produce another child,” Gerod told her. A poor childbirth doesn’t leave a woman as deformed and burnt as she is, Clarice thought, still unsure of when the right time to ask about the deformed queen would be.

“What are you asking of me, then? Am I to bear you a child?” Clarice feared the answer.

“Oh no, no. Clarice, no… I could never ask something so horrible of you. I ask for you to rule. Be my heir, read now and take over Olander when a sword or my excessive love of food finally kills me.”

The king’s offer humbled her. She hadn’t realized the impression she had made on the king. A part of her had thought he was angry at her after her abduction, she thought he was mad that she had taken Lucia’s name to appease the kidnappers. Clarice believed that Gerod resented the way she assumed a friendship and a bond between them.

“Yes,” Clarice began. “Yes, I can be your heir – if it is what is best for the kingdom.” She thought back to her father. Her father had a habit of viewing actions with regard to what is best for Olander, or best for the people the decision will affect, instead of for the person who makes the decision. That was, in his words, the cornerstone of magic. Inge had always taught her that exhausting one vein to save a large number of people is worth the risk of dying yourself. One life is not equal to two deaths, that isn’t the way it works. Even when it is your own life, you must consider that of others.

“Can I ask something of you, though, Gerod. Can I go into the city again? I have nearly run out of books to read, and would like to find more in the bookstore.”

“You cannot go alone,” he said, pausing for a long time before adding “but I will take you.” She was surprised that the king would personally escort her through the streets, after seeing how people were looking at him during the confrontation. “The city guard is far more astute now, plus we have a new military roaming the streets. Things should be safer, but I still don’t wish to risk you going out on your own.”

The two left immediately. They walked past the seekers haul, and the smithy, where the new smith from Shalonsbury stood. As Clarice looked at him, she noticed the grey veins that faintly crossed his face. I wonder if Gerod knows about his magic. She’d only ever met a warrior mage once. Her father told them they went by many names – warrior mages, stone mages, mages of the sword. As she understood it, the stone mages came into the world far later than powers of fire, water, and death.

They twisted through the city and arrived quickly at the bookstore. As she entered again, the blind man stood at the desk once more.

“Hello,” he spoke. “Ahh, it is you again girl. Do you want more of the same? Perhaps I could recommend some history instead, or something about magic – you are a mage, aren’t you?”

Clarice wondered how the man without sight could tell so much from her, but the accuracy of what he was saying put any true wondering to rest.

“I will get another book of stories, I feel. And perhaps a book on history and magic.”

“Mmm, of course,” he spoke in a creepy voice. “I will get you the books you want. One is on the magic you wish to learn more about, called The Bastard’s Magic, a rude title – yes – but one that is accurate within the mind of a writer from a few hundred years ago. History, too, you want? Read this book on the Battles of Salt – they look at magic, too. As for stories, you can choose. You bought The Quarrels of Mages and Men last time, right? How, then, would you feel about the book following it, written by the same man with similar stories? It has no such fun title, though, but you should enjoy it all the same.” The insight the book seller had into Clarice’s mind were unsettling. She promptly paid him and met up again with the king waiting outside.

The king escorted her back into the castle. As they walked, members of the city guard nodded at them. They all seemed to be wearing new armour which shined brightly in the sun. Some muttered kindnesses, to the king, others just nodded. They walked past the crater, smoke emanated from it slowly still.

“Gerod, what caused that crater?”

“It’s hard to say, Clarice. It’s been like that for years – far longer than I’ve been ruling. My teacher never got into much detail about the crater – but he did speak of it as something he’d lived with for many years. I suspect magic was behind it, of course.”

They ascended through the city, the aqueducts filling the lower areas of the city with water. The castle gate was etched against the sky by the sun setting behind it. The closer they got, the darker it seemed to be. By the time they got to the castle doors, night seemed to have set.

When Clarice got into the castle, she began to read. The king offered her food, with the hope of a dinner guest once again, but she wanted nothing more than to collapse into a book. Food wasn’t something that concerned her at this time – she’d spent many days in Rainhome without eating due to poor success from the fisheries. Her father always told her that their ranking within the city should hold no weight with regards to food – that they should suffer through hard times just as the common people did. He claimed it provided an opportunity to learn about the issues others faced, as well as to learn about necessity. For this reason, she was sure, Clarice rarely ate.

She decided to hide within her room. The king mentioned that she could read at the dining room table while he ate, but she was sure she wanted privacy when she read. While reading, Clarice often moved her mouth as though she was silently speaking the words she read. Her teacher in Rainhome had always criticized her for this, and left her very anxious about reading while around other people. The king looked upset by Clarice’s decision, but gave no opposition.

She walked down the hallway, passing the rooms of Lucia and Samuel. When she entered her room, she saw on the floor her dress from the previous day. I must’ve forgot to put it away. She grabbed an oil lamp from her dresser and moved it to her bedside table. She lit it with a candle hanging in the hallway and began to read about the bastard’s magic while the dress remained on the floor.

The book began with a brief passage written, praising the great fire mage Alexander. The author was a mage of fire, I suppose. It was rare, she’d found, in newer books to have such praises – generally mages were unsure about their place, let alone having people know that they were what they were.

The first section of the book made a bold declaration, stating that “In the beginning, there were only three magics – Death, Fire, and Water.” From this, Clarice wondered whether the life magic she’d read about in Marilla the Fallen Mage. Certainly, she thought, it must hold some truth.

She’d heard her father mention life mages, from time to time. He would mention them as being extinct, and treated them much like plague bats or fairies – she doubts he ever believed in their existence. Clarice had thought, however, that they must have been real since there were so many stories stemming from them.

She read on about the Bastard’s Magic. The author wrote about the pride of being a mage, about the strengths of fire, water, and death. He mentioned the influence these people could have in the world and how their place was atop a throne. It seemed as though he viewed mages as being in an elite group.

The tone shifted, however, when he mentioned stone magic. It must’ve been new, then. He described the discovery of stone magic.

“Men in the salt mines often saw their mage superiors living happy lives. They saw this happiness and wished to impede upon it. One of them saw the reagents the mages were pumping into their drinks and tried to do the same with a number of things – gravel, slivers of rocks, clay – and eventually found that one rock, granite, which gave some of the slave miners’ strength. The mage lords saw this, and began moving granite into cities to see how the civilians of the cities would react to this new substance, but nobody outside the mines had any reaction.”

It must’ve had something to do with the air. “The king caught wind of the actions of the mines slaves and began to plot an attack on them. An army marched into the mines and began filling them with water and flame. The boiling water that filled the mines seemed not to effect the hoard of men that marched out of it, with gray bulges stemming from their faces. The slaves began to swing their pickaxes violently at the king’s army, led by one slave, and obliterated the majority of the army.”

Clarice kept reading the book, but she found that everything after the historical story was of little substance, mostly detailing his desire to remove the stone mages from the world for tainting the supposed purity of magic.

She put the book aside and began to consider the smith Aleysha. He could still be heard outside pounding his hammer against metal, and Clarice wondered what she may learn if she spoke with him. She decided to walk out to the smith and see.

She walked past the dining hall and ignored the calls of Gerod to join her. She moved through the castle and walked out to the blacksmith.

“Aleysha, sir,” Clarice called. “What do you know of the salt mines?”

He stopped swinging his hammer and looked at her fondly. “I know much, king’s friend. I’ve seen many things in those mines – the twisted birds that fly through it, the league of livid mages that work within, the stone monsters that lurk frozen beneath the ground.”

“And yourself? You must fit in with those mages, yes?”

“This you mean?” he said, gesturing to his vein. “I got this while I was there, many of the workers do. A vein developed over time through mining the veins of the mine. I must say it was a valuable acquisition. The miners with a vein become far more efficient than those without. I left shortly after I got it, though – I didn’t want my face to be too ugly.” He laughed as he said this. “The vein is good – it’s let me build up an army’s worth of armour in such a brief time. Soon we can slay whatever monsters attack our city.”

“What does the magic give?”

“Strength. A lot of strength, but strength often without aim. Many of the mages find themselves going crazy, attacking friends within the mines, or going back into the world and trying to cut down their family.”

She went inside and decided to sit with Gerod and eat something. The king was finishing his food, but told her to sit with him and ordered Stephen to bring in some salmon for her. The fish was accompanied by a number of small potatoes.

“The local farmers came to me today. They brought a fresh crop of potatoes and beans into the city. I paid them in kind with swords and armour – the king’s army will once again be strong.” Gerod explained.

Clarice was surprised at how effectively the king was turning the people of Olander for battle, and she hoped that such a movement wouldn’t prove to be necessary.

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