Elf Boy's Friends - III

by George Gauthier

Chapter 4

The Duel

The alliance between the druids and the war wizards of the Commonwealth of the Long River was strong. It went back centuries. That was why the druids had agreed to extend the lives of the Commonwealth's wizards, most of whom were short-lived humans who could otherwise expect to live no more than their proverbial five score and ten.

Unfortunately there was one war wizard named Sir Janus whom the Druids and Healers refused to enhance. What made matters worse was that they wouldn't even say why, not straight out. Janus cried foul. He demanded an explanation or better still, the same healing magic that all his colleagues had already received, even a youngster and johnny-come-lately like Willet's protege Liam. After all, wasn't he regarded as the most powerful wizard of all?

Matters came to a head at a conclave called by the Senior Wizard, Sir Dieter. The post was largely ceremonial and administrative since the Institute of Wizardry was not so much a functional organization as a fraternal one. A representative of the Council of the Commonwealth attended along with a score of wizards, those stationed in and around the capital, Janus among them.

He was a snob and an arrogant sort and not at all popular with his colleagues, but they did back his demand for an explanation. He deserved that much, regardless of how little you liked the man. Besides, the wizards would someday need his raw power on the battlefield.

Dahlderon insisted that their decision would stand. It had been agreed from the start that though the Commonwealth could nominate candidates, the druids had sole discretion in accepting them. And that was that. As to their reasons, Dahlderon would only say:

"We have looked into this man's heart with our empathic gift. Sir Janus reeks of evil. That is why we will not entrust him with an extended lifespan. Nor should you have ever trusted this man with the powers of a war wizard."

Even Sir Willet who had heartily disliked Janus practically from the day they had met was taken aback by this rebuff to his order. As were all the other wizards. Druids had no business telling wizards whom they should allow into the order.

The representative of the Ruling Council tried to smooth things over. The last thing the Commonwealth needed was discord between the two orders of mages.

Dahl shook his head then said:

"Though we know nothing of this man's actual misdeeds, we suspect they are legion and we recommend a thorough investigation of his past activities."

That made Janus explode:

"How dare you!. You assassinate my character and withhold your healing magic which you shared freely with all of my colleagues. I must be satisfied with mere decades of life but the others will have live on for centuries?"

"No! I will not accept your rejection nor your baseless charges. None of it. I am much the strongest of the wizards. I don't need permission from anyone to wield my powers, certainly not from the likes of you. Understand me, plant boy? And I will tolerate no investigation into my so-called misdeeds which you admit you know nothing of., and declare me unworthy of my wizardly powers. You druids are too full of yourselves."

Janus saw the chance for an extended life slipping away. Even worse, the threat of an investigation could could cost him his very, for he would surely face execution for his crimes if the police found out what he had been up to.

"Too late,Sir Janus! Just now when you denied your misdeeds you could not help but think back on them. I picked up your memories via Mindspeech, enough to know you for the monster that you are. And after I tell what I know, I am sure none of your colleagues will defend you."

"In that case, I will kill you where you stand before you can speak."

The wizards were aghast. Janus was threatening to make war on the druids and the healers. Surely the man was mad for no single wizard, not even one as powerful as he, could challenge the power of the druids and the healers. Janus instantly lost all support among his fellow wizards.

Dahlderon shook his head. His eyes flashed as he said with contempt:

"Foolish mortal drunk with power!"

"Your threats alone demonstrate how unfit you are for your high estate. Did you really think you could threaten magic wielders who could end your life with a thought? Either of these senior Healers could stop your heart before you could blink an eye. For my part, as a combat veteran, I tend to be more bloody minded. So I find myself tempted to inflict a lingering death by transmuting the contents of your stomach into a poison which would torment you for days until you welcomed oblivion."

As the literary saying puts it, Janus 'waxed mightily in his wroth'. In plain language he lost it.

"You arrogant whelp! How dare you threaten me with death, me the mightiest war wizard of the Commonwealth."

With that Janus unleashed a blast of white fire at the magical trio, confident that no shield, no substance could stop it. Unfazed the druid threw up a shield made not of a material substance but a space portal which ported the blast to the top of the atmosphere to disperse harmlessly.

Sir Janus was flabbergasted by the failure of his attack. He stood bewildered as Dahl intoned.

"Sir Janus, you condemn yourself by your own actions. As a senior member of the Order of the Druids of Haven I invoke my concurrent plenipotentiary authority around the globe as a Dispenser of the High Justice."

"Die!"

With that single word, or just the thought really, the man's bones crumbled to powder within his skin. His dying body slumped to the floor, an unreadable expression on Janus' distorted features as he realized death had claimed him. All that was left was a lump of flesh and bodily fluids, almost unrecognizable as anything human.

"I apologize for the mess but not for what I just did. I hope you understand the action I had to take. The man brought his death upon himself."

The wizards murmured their assent. For many, Janus's actions amounted to suspicions confirmed. The man's career had been dogged by rumors of 'misdeeds' for years, from financial peculation to sexual abuse to several mysterious disappearances, though no charges were ever laid to him. Janus had been one of the wizards Axel had warned Liam about when Sir Willet took him on as his student. Janus had also been the one intern among those currently serving who had not laughed at himself when he failed the test at the swamp. Instead, he had accused his mentor of setting him up to fail.

The wizards had made a mistake with that one, and now they knew it.

The representative of the Council pointed out that not only Dahl had acted in self-defense, as a druid he had complete legal authority, concurrent with that of all governments on Haven to dispense summary justice. His plenipotentiary authority meant that his decisions were not subject to review. [High Justice was a legal term meaning either long prison terms or capital punishment.]

Some governments did not particularly care for what they regarded as an infringement on their sovereignty by the druids, but no one dared to cross them. Anyway this was one privilege the druids exercised rarely and with restraint and discretion, sometimes dealing out justice in secret. Druids were past masters at arranging 'accidents' and 'unfortunate illnesses' for those who were too rich and too powerful for the local authorities to touch.

The Dread Hands of the Commonwealth operated much the same way, rather than openly exercise their own plenipotentiary authority. War wizards had no such authority. They operated entirely within the military chain of command.

Even those who had known Dahlderon for years looked at him with new respect and even a little fear. He might look like a teen age boy-toy, but at the moment of high drama he had taken on the fearsome aspect of an angel of death.

Sir Willet disposed of Janus' remains with a sheet of white fire which consumed the grisly mass, leaving a scar in the floor where the intense energy ate into the stone. It would be a permanent reminder of what had happened.

Liam and Axel were stunned by what they had just witnessed. But then they were so very young. With his greater life experience Sir Willet recovered his aplomb much sooner.

"Ah, Lord Dahlderon, may I have a word with you in private?"

As the pair stepped into an alcove, the druid said:

"If you intend to ask me how I created a space portal, that is something I cannot share just yet. I am still working on the technique. I can assure you that when I perfect it, I will share it with my colleagues in both magical orders, yours as well as my own."

"No one has been able to open a portal since the days of the wizards who brought the various races to Haven via portals thousands of years ago."

"My grasp of the technique is still not as sure as I would like it. But against white fire, I had to try it out. It would probably have taken too long to invoke earth magic to open a pit beneath his feet and swallow him up. Especially with that stone flooring. Earth flows but stone is stubborn and only breaks. That takes time and energy."

"Nevertheless you were never in any real danger, were you?"

"No. Not really. I knew that if he attacked he would fling white fire, and I was prepared for it. With our empathic gift all three of us could sense when Janus resolved to attack, almost before he realized it himself on a conscious level. Besides as an elf and a druid my reaction time is so much shorter than that of a human, especially one who has not been enhanced."

"And we druids have faster reflexes still. I can snatch an arrow out of the air then use it to bat away a second."

"That is good as far as it goes, but your reflexes would not let you block a volley of arrows coming from several directions at once. For that you need something like our Missile Shield."

"Actually we druids have a missile shield of our own, though only against arrows. Like yours our shield is really a mental field of awareness that does not actually stop arrows. For that I must invoke my druidic powers. You see we druids are always aware of the life forms nearby and of any organic materials like wood or leather. So if archers loosed a dozen arrows at me all at once, I would turn their shafts into dandelion seeds which would disperse in a puff and slow to a stop thanks to air resistance. Without the weight of the shaft and the fletchings the steel arrowheads would not fly true, and without the momentum of the shaft behind them the points could do no real harm even if one or two did impact."

"I never knew that. I also hadn't realized that you were an empath."

"I am not a full empath, but all those with the healing gift have a degree of empathy. Healers are aware of everything going on in the bodies of their patients including pain and emotions."

"You did provoke Janus, you know, charging him with mis-deeds you knew nothing about."

"Ah, but I did learn what they were thanks to his own guilty conscience. I caught his thoughts with Mind Speech when I threatened an investigation. He was suddenly filled with the dread of being exposed. The authorities should check his ancestral manor house in the country. The man was a monster, a sadist who abducted, raped, tormented, and murdered young men and teens. I cannot think of anything more hateful than destroying young lives for perverse pleasure."

"So you deliberately provoked him, to make him to recall his crimes."

"Exactly."

"Remind me not to get on your enemies list, Lord Dahlderon."

"As I told you the other day when we enhanced your protege Liam, in private we are Dahl and Will."

"Fine. What's next, Dahl?"

"Damage control. We need to call in your protege to help."

"What can Liam do?" Sir Willet asked, perplexed.

"Not him. Drew Altair."

"I see. The Capital Intelligencer gets the scoop, and, in return, plays the story the way we like it."

"Not at all. We can count on Drew to be fair. Let him tell the truth as it happened, and we will all come out of this better than if we tried to manipulate the reporting. He already knows many of the principals and the witnesses; you, me, Liam, your aide Axel, and the sisters. That gives him credibility."

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