The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 4

Raimey led them down a hallway lit by the same glowing orbs that had illuminated the prince's audience chamber, magickal bits of firefly light captured in tiny cages of bronze hanging from the walls. Their footsteps made scarcely a sound, all noise in the hallway absorbed by the tapestries of amber gold and burgundy red hanging upon the polished stone walls.

They stopped before a large oaken door banded with iron and inlaid with red walnut. "This room has a single very large bed," Raimey said, looking at Jamie with a small smile. "Will that be sufficient for the needs of yourself and your apprentice?'

Jamie grinned, gave a gentle jab with his elbow to Garvin. "What do you say, my apprentice?"

Garvin raised an eyebrow at the term, but nodded. "I like the sound of it. But perhaps we can see it?"

Raimey nodded, lifted the door's latch bolt and pushed the massive panel inward. Snave immediately glided into the room and found a spot in a corner, as if the decision to take the room had already been made. In truth, in one look, it had. Jamie and Garvin both gasped at what their eyes beheld.

The room beyond was sparkling with the last rays of evening sun, allowed entrance through a set of engraved glass doors that led out onto a tiny stone balcony. Fine furniture stood about the walls, on carpets spun from a rainbow of softly-colored yarns, and patterned after the thoughts of gods. The single bed was indeed massive, clothed in gold coverings and adorned with blue pillows, and standing out from the far wall beneath a canopy draped with blue silken curtains. Jamie eyed the bed in astonishment. It would hold a half-dozen, if it would hold one.

"Plenty of room for two sleepers, you see," Raimey said, indicating the bed. "Room to turn, and toss about, even, and not touch the other."

Jamie and Garvin grinned at each other. That Raimey was curious about their intended sleeping arrangements was obvious. Well, there was no longer anything to conceal. The prince understood, and Getrell understood; why not Raimey, too? It was all among like company, anyway.

Jamie moved to Garvin, encircled his waist with an arm, and kissed him. "We are not worried about contacting each other, Raimey."

He looked back to see the retainer smile sweetly. "I thought not. I sensed it!" His smile widened. "Is there any service I may do for you? If not, I will leave you to rest, and return to guide you to the evening meal in a long hour."

Jamie looked at Garvin, who grinned. "I think whatever services we need now, we can perform for each other," his friend said. "But thank you for offering."

Jamie felt his eyes widen. Garvin was certainly feeling frisky in this new setting!

He looked back at the retainer, whose expression was one of silent laughter. "It would seem we are not in need of assistance, Raimey." But then, a tiny devil of his own seemed to appear. He gave the other boy a wink. "Though I am sure it would be quite wonderful to have your aid."

The retainer did laugh then, and his eyes were bright. "I think it would be wonderful, too." He licked his lips, looking embarrassed.

Jamie nodded, and moved to place his hand on Raimey's arm, and gave the boy a friendly pat. "It will be a pleasure to see you again upon your return." He leaned a little closer. "Does that door bolt?" he asked softly.

The retainer nodded, and took Jamie by the hand and led him to the door. "When closed, push this" -- Raimey slid a small lever to the side, and a pin thrust out to keep the latch bolt from rising -- "and no one may enter." He smiled at Jamie. "No one will, anyway, without knocking and asking first. I promise you."

Jamie gave the retainer a fond clasp on the shoulder. "Thank you, Raimey. We will see you shortly, then."

Raimey nodded, looked over and grinned at Garvin. "Enjoy your rest."

He left the room, and Jamie bolted the door behind him. He turned to Garvin, who was now grinning. "I think we both were terrible teases, Jamie. That poor boy was red in the face with embarrassment."

"I was close to that, myself," Jamie admitted. "We are among those who think as we do, and for the first time. We must temper our impulses with caution. I do not wish to mislead such as Raimey by too much playfulness." He smiled then. "You are the only true love I have."

Garvin smiled at him. "And you are mine." He sighed. "But it is fun, to speak so boldly to others about what has been a secret between us until now."

Jamie yawned. "I agree. And tiring, too, to have experienced so much change in so short a period of time. I am a bit weary from it, I think."

"I could use a rest," the other boy agreed. "So much here that is new and quite amazing. It has made me breathless."

Jamie went to him, placed his arms around his waist, and pulled him close. "You have yet to see breathless, my boy."

Garvin grinned, tugged Jamie towards the bed. They sat on the edge, laughed at the softness of the down and the firmness of the support. Jamie rubbed his face against his friend's, kissed him gently and fondly. "My greatest ally and friend."

Garvin nodded. "An amazed friend. Jamie, such boldness I have never seen in you! You act the part of a mage of the first rank with a brazen tongue and not a trace of guile in your manner. I have never heard you speak so well, nor have I seen you act with such confidence. You have astonished me, more times than once."

Jamie nodded. "There is something to playing the part of the Master that inspires me, Garvin. Almost as if I feel his powers are behind me." He suddenly looked uncertain. "I am afraid now I cannot live up to the image I have presented." He leaned forward, whispered," I do not even know how to begin to help the prince."

"I have confidence in you," Garvin said. He reached over and untied the laces of Jamie's shirt, pulled it off over his head. Then he slid to the floor, pulled off Jamie's leather boots, and quickly moved up to undo Jamie's pants.

Jamie grinned. "What are we doing?"

Garvin gave him a look. "If you need to ask me, you are not the great mage you act to be."

Jamie allowed himself to be stripped, until he wore only the black lens upon his chest, and then let Garvin push him back into the softness of the pillows. Garvin quickly divested himself of his own clothing, and laid down against Jamie, put an arm over him, pulled him close. "I wish to be kissed," he said, softly, into Jamie's ear.

Jamie obliged him, first just touching his lips gently to his friend's; but then getting into the excitement of the moment, and pouring kisses all over Garvin's face and neck. Garvin smiled and made small affectionate noises, and Jamie felt that the truest magic was here, now before him. Finally, he rolled onto his back and brought the other boy atop him, and Garvin wiggled his hips as he slid between Jamie's legs, and their bodies came together with a pressure that caused Jamie to gasp.

They made their love then, the great mass of the castle all about them, its strangeness and wonder seeming to pump new life into by now familiar actions. They huffed and gasped and purred to each other, energetic in what they were doing almost as never before. Jamie briefly wondered if adventure sparked new depths of desire, for he found himself wanting his friend fiercely and passionately, with a drive neither of them had ever felt before.

They exchanged their magick potions, and the bliss of it was heavenly. The moment went on without time, until finally they both sighed, and settled together on the wonderful softness of the royal bed. Garvin went to kissing Jamie now, his eagerness that of a puppy, his eyes bright with affection. "Mmm. Your scent is wonderful, as always, my love."

Jamie lay back and closed his eyes, grinning, basking in the attention, feeling the warmth and love issuing forth from his friend.

"It was enchanted somehow, this joining," Garvin whispered, looking into Jamie's eyes. "The magick of so wondrous a journey, perhaps?"

Jamie smiled and pulled the other boy close, and hugged him hugely but gently to him. "It was wonderful, as always, my love. But I did feel something extra, myself."

Garvin beamed, and received more kisses for the sweetness of the smile. Jamie loved to see Garvin smile. It was an act that started with his mouth but ended in his eyes, a combination that simply radiated affection, and which warmed the heart to such an extent that the only reaction could be to squeeze the other boy closer, and kiss him fondly.

"You are the ties that bind my heart together," Jamie said softly. "I will love only you, forever."

"Forever is just the start, my Jamie," Garvin whispered. "Tis but a shadow of eternity, and eternity is the length you will have my heart in your hands."

Jamie smiled. "You speak sweetly - and well - for a mere apprentice."

Garvin laughed and raised his head. "I don't mind being apprenticed to you. I may learn no magic, but I have certainly learned love."

"Yes." Jamie sighed. "You have learned that incredibly well, my sweet one. And taught it back to me as no other ever could. In this, I am your apprentice."

Garvin raised himself up on an arm, made to stroke Jamie's chest. He looked down as his hand lay upon the black lens on Jamie's breast instead. "I forget this thing is here now, so warm and soft it has become, like your own skin, Jamie." Garvin caressed the charm, and Jamie brought a hand up and laid it upon Garvin's.

He opened his mouth to speak, but suddenly felt a strange feeling come over him.

In a flash, they were standing together in darkness, one arm each still about the other, while their hands lay together upon the charm on Jamie's chest.

"Oh, that was quite easy," said a familiar voice, and they looked up to see a pair of yellow eyes observing them. "I simply wished I could speak to you again, and here you are."

"Flitch," Jamie said softly. He realized then that they were back in the nether. "You brought us here?"

"Oh, certainly not. You brought yourselves here. I simply called, and you answered." The eyes inspected them closely. "Something is different about you. Your exteriors have changed."

"Um, we are naked, you mean," Garvin said, attempting to swing a leg up to hide himself.

Jamie laughed. "Our clothing is off, is what he is saying. We were in the act of...being together, when we were brought here." Jamie felt a slow rise of warmth in his cheeks, even though he knew on some level that Flitch could not possibly appreciate their nudity for what it was.

"The thought conveys great affection, with an undercurrent of reproductive intent. You were attempting to divide and create another of you? How fascinating. Please proceed."

Again, Jamie felt the embarrassment. "No. We were not making babies. That form of sex requires a female of our species."

Flitch peered at them, his eyes managing to convey puzzlement. "Two...genders of you, then? Your mind conveys the concept, but it lacks an explanation for why two of you of similar form would then induce reproductive physical stimulation when no possibility of reproduction exists."

"We do it because we love each other," Garvin said quietly. "We do it to pleasure each other."

The yellow eyes seemed almost to nod in an invisible head. "I see. Affection, I understand completely. Quite an advanced concept, actually, that your species can both be affectionate to reproduce and be affectionate just to be affectionate."

Jamie rolled his eyes, just wishing the conversation on this subject would go away. "You wanted to see us for a reason?"

The yellow eyes blinked. "Of course. The object you made is growing in power. I can feel it, even here. Yet you have not given it a direction to take with this energy, and it threatens to become uncontrollable unless placed into service."

Jamie remembered then that Flitch had given them something for their eyes, so that they could see the world of the nether. Yet all about them was darkness. Perhaps they had to desire to see the nether lands...?

Ah. There it was. A ghostly landscape swam into view all about them, and once again Flitch was with form.

"I'm not sure what you mean," Jamie said. "How do I direct it?"

Flitch came closer and looked at them. "Why did you create the object?"

Jamie blinked. Why? "I wanted a focus to play with, to see if I could direct my magic more efficiently."

"Then that is what you must tell it."

Jamie felt at a loss on that. "I don't know how."

"Certainly you do. It touches you. It is a part of you. Instruct it."

Jamie looked down at the lens. Again it was bright with rainbow colors, almost prismatic in its ability to place the ghostly light about them into distinct wavelengths that played with the eyes. "Well..." He cleared his throat. "You there. Can you hear me?"

Amazingly, the swirl of colors at his breast accelerated, danced, and somehow conveyed an affirmative. Jamie gasped, and so did Garvin.

"Oh, Jamie. It heard you!"

Again the swirl of incredible colors.

"You, too, it would seem."

"Instruct it," Flitch repeated.

"I wish --" Jamie broke off. What did he want the thing to do?

He knew much magick, after reading the Master's many tomes and scrolls. But it all seemed a huge jumble within his head, half complete here, unintelligible there; uniform in its inaccessibility because he could not separate it all out and perform it as needed.

What he needed was clarity. He had the knowledge, now he just needed to be able to understand it and use it.

"My head brims with the magick of ages," he said softly. "I have studied and read and practiced. But so much is not understood. So much seems incomplete. I have not been able to coalesce it into a mage's form for use." He took a deep breath, let it out. "What I need is to see what I have within me, and use it as needed."

"And that was all you need do," Flitch said. If words could convey a smile, it would be there on the nether creature's blank facade.

Jamie looked down at the lens. The colorful rainbow of light there swirled energetically, twisting, turning, tying itself into amazingly complex knots that sank into the lens and were gone. Slowly, the colors blended, reduced in their diversity, until all that was left was a pleasing white light that settled into a sheen on the surface of the thing.

"It's beautiful," Garvin said softly. His eyes came up from the lens and settled on Jamie's face, and he smiled. "Like you, my Jamie."

Jamie smiled, took the other boy's hand and gripped it warmly. He looked up at Flitch, at the creature's yellow eyes, which seemed somehow to convey a liking that Jamie was not sure he understood. "It is done, then?"

"It is done," Flitch agreed. "Such strength you two have in your bonding. It has endowed your lens with very much power, for it is a part of each of you. I believe you will now find the clarity you seek."

The nether creature seemed to back away from them. "You must return. I sense you soon will be needed in your own world." Again, the eyes seemed to convey a smile. "I will see you on your next visit."

"We'll be back?" Jamie said, before thinking. Well, of course they would be coming back. The nether held much of mystery that intrigued Jamie, and now they had another reason to return, too. "I'm sorry. Of course we will be back. We've made a friend here."

"Indeed," Flitch agreed. "You have --"

They were back in the bed, still in the position they had been in when they left. Jamie didn't even need to look to the room's big clock to see that no time had passed in their absence.

"Oh, Jamie. Look."

Garvin was staring at Jamie's chest. He looked down, and felt his eyes go wide in wonder.

No longer was the lens black. It now glowed with a soft, beautiful blue light, the light of the sky on a pleasant summer day. So deep and intense was this blue that it took Jamie's breath away. It was as though he stared into the depths of the noonday sky, knowing full well that behind it hid the lights of forever, the many and distant stars.

"It shows what is in you," Garvin said softly. "I know it to be so. Here is the vision of your power. A force used for good and decency. Such is you, my Jamie." He smiled. "You are my blue boy now."

Jamie felt overwhelmed, and all he could do was pull Garvin near, to kiss him, and to give him the love he was feeling so deeply now.

They held each other in silence, until at last Jamie felt he could breathe again, and that his body was again feeling the wonder of the touch of Garvin's skin. He sat up, allowing the other boy to turn onto his back, and smiled down into his friend's eyes. "All of this, that is happening now, and will happen to us in the future, is occurring because we are together," Jamie said. "Fated, it seems, that we were to join in this venture. It makes me wonder if the Master knew something when he brought you home to the shop that wonderful day."

"A portent, you mean?" Garvin shook his head. "Master Thorvil has great powers, and we know that he has seen other instances of what is to come. Think he knew that we needed to be together for a reason?"

Jamie laughed, gazing fondly at the other boy. "You mean a reason other than love? Perhaps. It would not surprise me at all that he saw some other meaning to our futures together."

The boys were both quiet as they contemplated the idea, until Garvin finally sighed. "I cannot fathom the future, Jamie. Only the present. That I am happy with that is obvious to me. I need no more to know than that being with you is my future."

Jamie nodded, and pressed close to Garvin again, enjoying his warmth, and the comfort of his presence. It was a contenting moment, one that Jamie would fondly remember in future times yet to be seen.

"I have slept upon rocks my entire life, compared to this," Garvin said of the bed, twisting his shoulders and rubbing them into the silken bed cover. "If nothing else were to come of this visit, we can have the memory of this to keep."

Jamie laughed. "Riches come in many forms, I think. Much gold would be traded by many, and willingly, for a good night's sleep."

He raised his head and looked over at the big clock standing near Snave. "Raimey will be returning shortly. I wonder if these rooms have a way of washing up?"

"Certainly a bowl, one would think," Garvin said, sitting up. "Let's look about."

They climbed out of the bed, walked around to the arch in the wall that separated them from another room, went through it.

And stopped. Garvin gasped, and Jamie laughed in delight. "Only a royal could have such as this," he said, shaking his head.

Before them was a large stone pool, its wall knee-high from the floor, full of clear water. Water came into the round pool through a horizontal slot in the wall, a mere thumb's width above the rim of the pool, and flowed down the edge to merge with the waters within. It was not a heavy flow but a light one, just enough to keep the pool filled to a depth a span below the edge.

On the side directly across from the inlet, a long, thin notch in the stone allowed water to flow out at about the same rate that it came in. The water flowed into a stone funnel, swirling in a circle about its narrowing depth, to disappear into a hole in the floor.

"A bath, and large enough for two," Jamie said, grinning.

A stone bench ran to one side of the pool, obviously a place to sit while disrobing. On its end sat a pile of fluffy green towels, meant to dry with after taking a dip. A shelf in the pool's back wall held several small decanters of colored liquids, no doubt soaps with which to wash.

"Shall we?" Jamie asked, indicating the bath with an extended hand.

"Oh, let's," Garvin said, laughing.

They went and stuck a foot each into the pool, felt with delight that the waters, while not particularly warm, were not in the slightest chilled, either. They climbed in, settled down next to each other, shoulder-to-shoulder, and laid their backs against the wall. The waters rose as they displaced them, but the notched side allowed the excess to flow out, and the level quickly returned to what it had been before they settled.

"I could learn to love this quite easily," Garvin breathed, laughing.

Jamie smiled at him. "Don't get comfortable. We have just enough time to wash before dinner with the prince."

Garvin just sighed, but nodded.

They got to their knees and took turns washing each other, enjoying that almost as much as the loving they had just shared in the bed. They smiled at each other, and looked into each other's eyes, and rubbed and gently pinched each other, and laughed and had a fine time. The soaps were pleasant and scented well, and they finally stood and rinsed each other, and then emerged feeling cleaner and more aromatic than they had ever felt before.

They each grabbed a towel and dried the other, and finally went back to the main room to don their clothing. Jamie had just pulled up his pants but not fastened them yet when there was a knock at the door.

"It is I, Raimey, come to escort you to dinner, if you please."

Garvin fastened his own pants, and looked at Jamie with a sparkle in his eyes, and waved at the door. "Let our friend in."

Jamie laughed as he tucked himself inside his pants and drew the strings together, and went and unlocked the door and pulled it open. "Come in. We'll be ready in just a moment."

Raimey took two steps into the room and stopped. "Oh! You are not dressed. I am so sorry." He raised a hand and covered his eyes as Jamie shut the big door.

"We are not shy around our friends," Jamie said, gently pulling the retainer's hand away from his eyes.

Raimey's gaze flicked from one boy to the next, and then he smiled guiltily. "My greatest apologies for not controlling where I look." He lowered his head. "You both are quite...enjoyable to watch." The intern's face slowly reddened as he stared at the floor.

Jamie laid a hand on Raimey's shoulder. "Where do you sleep at night?"

The intern raised his gaze and smiled shyly. "I have my own chamber and bed. All of the prince's retainers have their own rooms." He looked about the bedroom they were in. "Not quite as lavish as this --" He brought his eyes down to meet Jamie's. "-- but it is my own. More than I ever had on the street."

"You sleep there every night?" Garvin asked, leaning down to pull his boots on.

The intern smiled. "Every night I am not serving my Prince."

Jamie cocked his head at him. "He commands you to attend him some nights?"

Raimey looked shocked. "Oh, no. He asks me if I would like to join him. The Prince never commands such as that." Raimey smiled. "I love him. I would sleep every night with him if he asked me so."

"And this night?" Jamie asked.

Raimey made a small, disappointed face. "Tis the turn of Mort and Miles."

"Both?" Garvin asked, his head popping out of his shirt as he donned it.

Raimey laughed. "Some nights it is all of us, if asked." He looked resigned then. "But tonight I will be alone with myself."

Garvin grinned at Jamie. "There is something to be said for being a royal." He nodded his head at Raimey, his eyes questioning.

"If you are not engaged this evening we would invite you to visit with us," Jamie said, smiling. "If you are so allowed, that is."

Raimey's mouth dropped open. He immediately realized it, and it snapped shut again. His smile, when it came, was disbelieving. "You jest."

Jamie shrugged. "No."

Raimey looked to Garvin, and then back to Jamie. "I would love to attend," he said softly, excitement plain in his eyes.

"Oh, it will be work now," Jamie said, holding up a hand. "We may ply you with questions, and the conversation may not be up to royal standards. It might even task you. But at least we might all enjoy each other's company for the evening."

Raimey's mouth opened again, then closed. His eyes glowed. "I cannot wait to be so tasked. I will be pleased to have the company and conversation."

"It will be well with your prince?" Garvin asked.

"Yes. We are free to do as we please. Leave, even, if we wish it." He grinned. "No one wishes to leave. And we are free to associate with whom we wish." He leaned forward to whisper, "On the nights when Getrell visits the prince, I often sleep with Mort and Miles."

Jamie tried not to show surprise at the confirmation of his thinking on the prince's chief defender. That Getrell loved his employer had already seemed plain enough. And the prince was indeed an eyeful, and charming, and Jamie was willing to bet that he was very entertaining in the bed. And he seemed genuinely fond of those who worked for him, and Jamie had little doubt that Sedwick took very good care of those in his employ.

Raimey, certainly, had the look of a happy and healthy lad. Quite healthy, in fact.

Raimey glanced at the clock. "But first, we must take you to sup," he reminded.

Jamie went back to the bed and quickly got on the rest of his clothing. Garvin was dressed, and came over with a comb to straighten Jamie's hair. "You are such a mess, Jamie Grimmstone," he said fondly, pulling Jamie's hair into a semblance of neatness with the comb. Garvin's hair was only slightly wavy and almost always neat; Jamie's, on the other hand, tended to adventuresome curls, and usually looked like large birds had used it to nest.

But finally, they were ready. Jamie touched his pockets to be sure he had everything, felt his silver partlets in the secure pocket, along with the pearl-thing given to them by Flitch. He touched the lens beneath his shirt, felt it's reassuring warmth against his skin, and nodded. Snave moved into step - or glide - just behind them as they set out. They followed Raimey out into the hall, closing the door behind them, and went back the way they had come earlier. But this time they passed the door into the beautiful room. Instead they found one two doors beyond, another large door banded in iron, with a heavy handle that Raimey grasped with both hands to open.

Beyond the door was another beautiful room, this one dominated by a large table lined with ornate chairs down each side, which sat before a grand hearth full of pale yellow flames.

The prince was seated in a chair before the hearth but still at a fair distance, for the day was warm and there was no need of the extra heat. Indeed, as they approached the heir to the realm Jamie felt no heat from the flames at all, suggesting either a marvel of drafting, or some subtle magick at work.

The prince jumped to his feet as they drew up. He was dressed in a loose top of rich forest green with gold piping, that allowed his upper torso all the freedom of motion that the tight, form-fitting black trousers hugging his bottom half looked like they did not. Yet he moved nimbly and gracefully, indicating that the trousers were far more flexible than their appearance suggested.

Dark gray boots of soft suede, that rose midway up the prince's calves, completed his outfit. He looked set for an evening of pleasure, not one of entertaining royal guests.

"There they are, my mage and his apprentice, and looking fine indeed." He winked at Raimey, who smiled shyly back. "And my wonderful Raimey, too. Have you been assisting my guests?"

Raimey tried to conceal a smile. "Only minimally. Although I must tell you, I have been asked for more assistance later this evening."

The prince's eyebrow went up. "And how do you feel about this?"

Raimey looked slightly embarrassed. "I think it would be quite fun to converse with them. I have accepted, providing My Prince does not object."

The prince's eyes softened. "My sweet Raimey. If it is what you wish, it is your right." He leaned forward though, and whispered loudly enough for Jamie and Garvin to hear, "Learn all of their tricks, so that you may teach them to us on your return." Then he looked over at Jamie and Garvin, and winked.

Snave glided over to an unoccupied spot near the table, settled to the stone floor, and went immobile.

The prince eyed the gargoyle, and smiled. "And our wooden protector, too. All welcome."

"Someone else with us, then?" Jamie inquired, looking at the seating at the table, with four places laid out at one end. The prince at the head of the table, and two plates on one side of him, and one on the other.

"Getrell, of course," the prince said smiling. "And my small ones."

He waved at another, smaller table, with three more places, set behind the prince's chair at the head of the large table.

At Jamie's glance the prince smiled. "Of course, I must have my trusted staff close at hand in case of need, so Mort and Miles will be joining Raimey at my back." He shrugged. "They must eat, too."

That his retainers ate the same food that he did himself was telling. The prince treated those around him with great favor, indeed.

Almost as if his voice had suggested it, another door opened beyond the hearth, and the two boys they had met earlier in the beautiful room appeared, minus their musical triangles, of course. They came over and offered small bows to the prince and the guests, and then went to stand by the chairs at the small table. Raimey nodded at them, bowed to the prince, and went to join them.

"I would seat them with me, except people would talk," the prince confided, leaning close and whispering. "Even more than they do now." He smiled. "They are my loves, all of them. That I am forced by birth to treat them as less than equal publicly does not mean that I feel it in my heart."

Jamie smiled, nodding. "I can see they are happy with their lot, nonetheless, Your Royal Highness."

The prince frowned. "Oh - listen. I have protocols to maintain and all that in front of others; but, please, both of you, when no one is about, I wish you would call me Sedwick." He looked at Garvin and smiled. "Hear?" His eyes came back to Jamie. "I wish it, please."

Jamie nodded at the three boys standing by the table behind them. "What of in front of them?" he whispered.

"They are fine," the prince whispered back, leaning closer. "In private, they call me Sedwick, too." He grinned. "Or Seddy, which I find even more attractive." He straightened, and raised his voice. "So no need of whispering in front of my boys, either."

The door by which they had entered opened, and Getrell strode in, looking distressed.

"I am so sorry to be late, Your Royal Highness," he said, drawing up to them. "A bit of trouble with the watch. The men on the north tower claimed to have seen odd lights in the woods. I had to send a party out to look, and wait for them to report. Nothing was found."

Sedwick reached out and placed a hand on Getrell's arm. "It's fine. We are all just met ourselves."

The look that passed between the two was not missed by Jamie, nor Garvin, either. That the prince and Getrell would be pleased to hug right now was obvious.

"Shall we look away?" Jamie asked softly.

The prince looked surprised, and his eyes went to Getrell's.

"They guessed, My Prince. I could not deny what was apparently plain for them to see." He grinned. "Likewise, I am sure you have seen the way they look at each other?"

The prince smiled, looking at Jamie and Garvin. "Yes. No missing that. Shall we all agree to relax a bit, then? This room is secure enough. No one will enter lest I summon them."

"Agreed," Jamie said. Garvin only nodded, not sure at first if he had been included in the question; but the prince's smile assured him that he had.

The prince leaned in and kissed Getrell gently on the lips, then pulled back, smiling. "I feel much better. Shall we sit?"

They went around to the table. Getrell took the single spot on one side, and Jamie and Garvin the double spots on the other. They waited for the prince to sit, and then seated themselves. Only after all of them were in chairs did Raimey and Mort and Miles be seated at their table.

The prince laid his hand upon a dark, glassy-looking circle inlaid in the tabletop by his right hand, and said, clearly, "We are ready to dine."

He lifted his hand and looked at Jamie and Garvin. "Only watch your speech when you see my hand upon the summoner, for others can hear us at that time."

They both nodded.

Jamie was suddenly stunned to realize that he understood completely how the summoner worked, and even what spells, combined, caused it to function. Looking at the hearth now, he also knew that he saw how it had been enchanted to produce flame and no heat. In fact, he could even recall the moments now that he had read about these very things in the Master's texts, each passage dropping into clear order, each spell or potion clearly defined.

Jamie took a small breath in shock. Here was some of the clarity of magickal thought he had been seeking! And he also knew why he was having it. He dropped a hand and laid it against the slight bulge in his shirt under which lay the nether lens. It felt slightly warm, and even soft under his fingers.

The thing was working, and working well. Jamie even felt like he had an idea now how the lens itself was functioning, and that Flitch had been quite correct when he had said that the lens would instruct Jamie. That the thing was - at least in part - somehow alive, was now obvious.

Garvin nudged him, and gave him an inquiring look.

You okay?

Jamie smiled at his friend, gave him a slight nod.


The door through which Mort and Miles had entered opened, and a man in white clothing emerged, followed by another, and another. Behind them a fourth man emerged pushing a large cart covered on several levels with steaming dishes, pots, and bowls. To Jamie's great surprise, the quartet went immediately to the table where the three retainer boys sat and took their plates and began to fill them with food.

Then he understood. As no one would begin eating until the prince did, the prince was served last, so that his food would be hot when he started eating. Indeed, after the three boys had been served the cart was wheeled over to their table, and Getrell's plate filled, and then Garvin's and Jamie's. Only then was the prince's plate taken and filled with food. Two cups were placed in front of each diner - one of wine and one of flavored water. Serviettes, adorned with the royal coat of arms, were offered to each diner, and then the quartet of kitchen staff left as quickly as they had entered.

The door closed behind them, and the prince laid his hand upon the summoner. "Thank you, Evain. The same for your servers. Relax and eat yourselves. I'll give you a call if we need anything."

He lifted his hand and smiled. "Everyone may start."

When no one did, he sighed, lifted a fork, and pierced the breast of the small but beautifully broiled fowl upon his plate.

With a tiny, boyish clatter of silverware, Raimey and Mort and Miles dug in. Jamie smiled, lifted his own fork, used it to tear off a piece of tender breast, and tasted it. It was exquisite, and he said as much to the prince.

"My father, the King, engages those who prepare meals for me. Evain is a master at what he does, and I love to partake of his creations." He nodded. "He and his team also know how to keep their mouths closed and not speak of things they see and hear. For this I compensate them well."

Jamie paused in his eating, undecided if he should speak. "You know it is rumored in town that you like boys like yourself?" he finally chanced.

The prince paused, too, but smiled. "Secrets are the hardest of treasures to conceal. I am aware my desires are known, and also that none will speak of it to my face. My only reason for any concealment at all is to protect my father's sensibilities. He is aware of my proclivities, and while he does not condemn me for them, he has asked that I keep them as quiet as is possible. He seems to think the populace will be distressed if they think I will not provide them with an heir to the realm."

"How do you feel about that, if I may ask?" Garvin put in, a bit timidly.

The prince smiled. "Please feel free to speak. You sit in that chair as if you might be struck down at any second. I assure you, you are very safe here."

Garvin smiled, and visibly relaxed. Under the table, Jamie found his friend's hand and gave it a fond squeeze.

"On the matter of an heir," the prince continued, "I am certain I can provide one. Any number of girls here have made it known that they would adore to be the mother of the next prince, despite the rumors they hear here, as well. So I do not doubt I will provide the people with a continuance of rule. But not just yet. There is time; years, even."

The prince turned his head slowly and gazed back to where the three boys sat, laughing and whispering together, their eyes bright and smiles on their faces as they ate. "I love what I love," the prince said, turning his head back to face them. "And I so love them." He reached out and placed a hand on Getrell's as it lay upon the tabletop. "I so love them all."

Getrell's own eyes shone as he smiled back. "You have my unwavering loyalty forever, My Prince."

Sedwick laughed, and then immediately sighed. "Still, you will not say it openly. So much of manliness is in you yet."

Getrell looked surprised, and looked over at Jamie and Garvin. On impulse, Jamie withdrew his hand from beneath the table, still with Garvin's hand clenched inside, and showed it to the soldier.

Getrell smiled.Truly smiled. He looked back at the prince, leaned closer, and whispered, " I love you, and you know I do."

The prince's eyes widened, and he smiled. "Yes, I do know. But one likes it to be said sometimes, so that it can be heard, and savored." He laughed. "I may need to keep you two here forever," he said, to Jamie and Garvin, even though his eyes were still upon Getrell's. "You have a wonderful effect on the local populace."

They all laughed.

The prince looked into his lead soldier's eyes for a few moments longer, and then resumed eating, a smile on his face. "Not three hundred. I disbelieve it completely."

Jamie looked over, feeling the statement was in reference to his purported age. "Your Royal Highness?"

"Sedwick, I think you mean," the prince said, smiling at him. "I shan't remind you again. If you wish to spend all your time throwing royal titles about, far be it for me to chastise you upon it."

Jamie grinned. "I'm sorry. Sedwick?"

"More to my liking, and sure to get my attention. I was referring to the fact that you are a grumbly, bewhiskered old man who has regressed himself into an appealing, sweet-eyed youth who takes away the breath of most who look upon him. I don't believe in it."

Beside Jamie, Garvin let out a soft chuckle at the descriptive.

But Jamie was worried. "You do not believe I am what I say?"

Sedwick laughed. "Oh, I believe you are as old as you say. I just do not believe you are as old as you say."

Jamie blinked at the apparent contradiction.

Sedwick looked at him and smiled. "So sweet is your face, it cannot hide a mind that is three hundred. Not truly three hundred. Oh, you may have existed for that long; but that you act the way you do, and say the things you say, and that the boy at your side so obviously loves you to the core - no. Not three hundred. Not really." The prince nodded. "I know and love boys, Master Thorvil. I am, my position notwithstanding, but a boy myself. And never have I seen one truer to the form than the one that lives within you."

Jamie was touched, and so, apparently was Garvin. His friend leaned closer and laid his head on Jamie's shoulder, closed his eyes, and nuzzled the side of Jamie's face. "For me, he is all there is," he whispered.

Getrell coughed, and took a drink of his wine, and the prince brushed the corners of his eyes, carefully, and took another bite of his fowl.

"My, the food is quite delicious this evening. Evain has outdone himself."

Jamie felt the warmth of the boy against him, and the pleasantness of being among company where he could enjoy this feeling so openly. That a life in the castle, with the prince, might be in many ways enchanting, he could easily consider. He rubbed his cheek another moment against the top of Garvin's head, and then turned and kissed his hair.

"Hard to eat, with such a sweet scent in my nose," he grumbled softly.

Garvin straightened and smiled at him, his eyes bright, and then settled back to his seat. He let go of Jamie's hand and picked up his fork. "Always later."

Jamie smiled. "Yes. Always."

There was a small silence at the table, which grew a bit, until the prince saw he needed to step into it.

"So what about this mysterious light in the woods?" he asked, looking at Getrell with interest. "How was it a mysterious light in the first place?"

Getrell looked uneasy. "The watchman that spied it said it was green, My Prince."

Sedwick paused with a forkful of meat almost to his lips. "Green? That's a bit odd."

Jamie thought so, too. Green light, at least in a magickal sense, could mean several different things. A working - the changing of elements. A making - the construction of things from elements. A transport - the moving of people or objects from one place to another utilizing the nether...

Something danced in the corner of his vision. With a start, Jamie froze. He looked about the room, feeling the same odd sense of a shadow flickering by that he had felt when Wanda Pegfoot had entered the shop under an invisibility spell. He narrowed his eyes, willing them to see into every corner of the room, and so was looking when the shadows in one corner moved.


Jamie bolted to his feet, pointing, even as the gargoyle came to life and reacted.

There was nothing subtle about Snave's response this time. No soft lights of pleasant colors reaching out to tickle or prod. A tremendous bolt of silver lightning smashed across the room and splashed against the shadow in the corner, tearing away all darkness and doubt. A man was suddenly revealed, one dressed in dark red leather leggings, boots, jerkin, and cape. The cape was equipped with a hood, which covered the man's head, save for his face, which wore an expression of complete surprise.

He was a handsome man, too.

And not without defense.

His hand was raised, and a nearly invisible bubble of golden light stood between himself and the silvery lightning. The lightning crashed against it with great force, and the man's hand shook and wavered. It was obviously a fight between powers, but one the newcomer could handle.

"Urvan," the prince said stonily, rising to his feet. "You are banished from this place."

The man laughed, seeing now his golden bubble firming even under Snave's assault. His voice was deep, mellifluous. "Oh, ho! So, have we traded in that buffoon Kundun for some new talent? I am even a bit impressed, young prince."

Jamie saw that Snave was not going to best the newcomer with the current attack. That the gargoyle had other, even more potent weapons at his disposal Jamie somehow knew now; but this Urvan had not come here to fight. His was solely a defensive posture. He had come to talk, not war.

"Snave," Jamie said, more softly, and the lightning ceased.

Urvan's hand remained up for a few moments longer before he slowly brought it down. The golden defensive bubble faded, and was gone.

His eyes settled on Jamie, who simply did his best to stare back and look more controlled than he was feeling. That the newcomer was a power to be reckoned with was beyond doubt. The attack Snave had used would have incapacitated all but one with the Master's own prowess with magick.

"My, you're a pretty one. And who might you be, my young mage?"

Jamie realized that Urvan's words were directed at him, and felt a curious blush in his cheeks."My name is not important. Just that I am here in the service of the Prince of the Realm." He was surprised to hear his voice sound strong and sure. He certainly did not feel that way inside. Maybe this charade thing was taking him over.

The other mage stared at him, his eyes piercingly interested. "You are far too young to reek of such power."

"He is age-regressed," the prince said icily. "But I have not noticed that it has affected his prowess. He spied you out quite handily."

"Age regressed? Is he, now?" The way that Urvan spoke seemed to say he knew the lie of it. Jamie's nerves jangled with anxiety, but he was determined to bull his way through this thing, somehow or another.

Jamie crossed his arms. "You have stolen something from My Prince. I would suggest that you return it. Now."

"Oh, dear." Urvan smiled. "I didn't take much. A little bit of this, a little bit of that. The prince himself knows how it can be restored. I don't see what all this hostility is about." He smiled. "It was such a little thing. Or, it is now, I should say."

The prince shook his head. "You and I have no future, Urvan, for your nature is utterly repellent to me."

The red-clothed mage smiled. He was quite handsome, Jamie decided, but something was off about it. The man had sharp, almost chiseled features: high cheekbones, a fine brow, straight nose, strong jaw, cleft chin. With all this appeal, his eyes were an unbelievable shade of orange, looking like tiny fires burning within his sockets. Handsome, yes; if the dark one himself decided one day to become handsome, he might look like this one. It was unnerving, somehow, to see such warmth and such cold somehow mixed in one single face.

"I do not ask for much, My Prince. Some of the fondness you so easily dispense to this street filth you have surrounded yourself with."

Jamie felt the bristling of the prince, and understood it, for he was feeling it himself. He looked over at Raimey and Mort and Miles, sitting quietly at their table now, upset and fright apparent in their expressions. To treat such with anything but kindness was a true evil in Jamie's mind.

The prince leaned towards the mage, anger apparent now in his eyes as well. "Each of them is worth ten of you, Urvan. Even more, I think."

Urvan didn't like hearing that, no. Not one bit. Jamie could see it in the man's eyes, and in the way his smile vanished into a sneer.

"You will reconsider your position, or you shall remain as you are." The dark mage smiled again. "Unable to enter...into affections with your lads."

The prince smiled. "Affection is not an act, my sad mage. It requires no single body part to share. It comes from the heart and is received by the heart. It is in a look, and in a smile, and in a touch, and in a kiss. You have taken nothing from me that can stop my affection for the ones I love. That you cannot understand affection is why you shall never have any from me."

"Perhaps it is you who should reconsider," Jamie said quietly.

The red mage's eyes returned to him. "You are not what you say, and neither what you seem. That you have some power is obvious. That you are not in all control of it, equally so. Surely you do not wish to test the limits of what you can barely hold in your...young hands?"

Jamie swallowed hard. The red mage almost certainly knew.

Jamie found his tongue. "Appearances can be deceptive all around...can they not?"

It was simply a blind shot, one boy calling another in game, a poke meant only to play on any disquiet within the other mage, and perhaps bring evidence of it out into the open.

Urvan's eyes narrowed to slits. "You cannot know."

"But I do," Jamie said softly, realizing he'd struck gold.

The red mage slowly smiled. "What are you, exactly, my boy-man mage? There is something new about you, and something quite old. And what is it that hides about you...I cannot place it." He laughed. "A puzzle you are. I love puzzles of all kinds. Especially ones as cute as you."

Jamie laughed. "I have even less liking of you than does My Prince."

Jamie felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck even as he became aware that Snave had moved.

A furious bolt of fire a poisonous yellow-green in color flashed from the red mage towards Jamie's face, only to sputter harmlessly against a golden shield looking much like the one that Urvan himself had wielded earlier. That Snave had reacted and set it in place was clear.

To Urvan, also. He stared at the gargoyle, as though for the first time seeing it as something other than poorly chosen decoration. "Ah! I see now, young mage. What is old about you is not within you, but in your service." He waved a finger at Jamie, smiling. "I so love a good liar."

Jamie looked at the golden shield as it faded from view once the red mage's attack was over. He understood it now. To produce it required a lock to be tied, a fairly complex one. But he could see now how it went...first this turn, and then a loop, and then another, and then about in a circle, and back, and under, and over, and betwixt, and between...

Something inside his head clicked, and Jamie knew that the golden shield was his now, and would rise to his defense automatically should he be attacked again. What's more, a smaller, secondary lock, easily tied, extended it's range and awareness so that it would cover any and all within attack range about him.

But the golden shield was a ward for energies, not physical things. It would not stop swords from slicing or piercing, nor axes from mauling.

Was there such a thing? A shield defense against physical attack?


Jamie remembered reading of it now, in an ancient scroll in the Master's library. Another knot, equally complex, tied with the mind and fueled by the very air around them. His head seemed to be working quickly now inside, thinking and imaging in between Urvan's words, the very blinks of the red mage's eyes. Jamie saw a bright point form in his mind's eye, drew it through its complex movements, it's curves and returns, until it pulled tightly into a knot and vanished in a flash of blue light.

Again there was a click within Jamie's mind, and he knew that that lock, too, was now his.

"Games," Jamie said, seriously, "are for children."

He was commenting on the nature of their present interaction, but the red mage seemed to take Jamie's words with different weight.

Urvan nodded. "You speak the truth. And, I am tired of games." His eyes went back to look at Sedwick, and for just a moment they softened. "I only ask to be allowed to be close to you, young prince."

Sedwick's gaze also moderated. "Would you have me pretend, even were I so inclined? Would you enjoy me, knowing in your heart that I cannot feel for you, that nothing between us was more than act, forced upon me by you? Do not you see that you cannot command that which comes only when true between two hearts?"

The red mage watched the prince quietly for a moment, and then scowled. "I only know what I feel, and which you refuse me in turn." He leaned closer, his eyes returning to alarming intensity. "And which, as you will not give freely, I must take."

"Time to go," Jamie said simply. "You are placed on warning not to return until you are ready to restore that which you have taken."

Urvan smiled. "But the evening is just begun."

Jamie shook his head. "Leave."

Urvan laughed. "Or...what?"

Jamie was feeling very odd. There was a fluttery feeling inside his head, like the pages of many books turning, and spells and incantations whipped past the back of his eyes. All were readable, and he understood each as they passed. Many he now recognized, and remembered reading.

And none were suitable to his needs.

Something different was required here, something beyond the norm. Something with which a seasoned professional - as Urvan obviously had proved to be - might not be instantly familiar with, and so automatically prepared to defend against.

The rush of spells came and went past his mind's eye, each embedding itself within his memory. Each had its merits, many had their weaknesses. That one the mage would surely know. And that one, likely, because his nature was abrasive and surely some mage would have turned it upon him. No, not that one, either. And that next one was just for minotaurs, and who even knew how to find one of them?

Time stopped and waited in the moments between heartbeats, as the Master's library flashed through Jamie's mind. No good. Too simple. Too obvious. Not strong enough. Not that. Nor that one...

Ah. That one.

Oh, yes. Very rare, that one. He would need to focus. He would need his wand...or would he? A wand held no magick. Its enchantment was just as a way to focus one's energies. The magick of the world existed within the things it held; magick was where you found it. A mage's job was simply to bring it forth. Maybe Jamie didn't need a focus now. In fact, he knew he didn't. Thorvil never used a wand. He waved his arms and his fingers, even his toothbrush, and magick did his bidding. And even those gestures were just old habit dying hard.

The focus is in my mind, Jamie realized.

"Or...this." Jamie said, smiling.

Just to be proper, he waved a finger at Urvan.

There was a sudden, odd tension in the room, almost as if the very air was stretching.

And then Urvan was on his knees, his hand stretched above his head, the golden bubble reformed, trying to shield himself from the energy inherent in the mass of a column of air stretching to the very edge of space above, that was suddenly quite determined to come down upon him. It was not the actual weight of the air which descended upon the red mage, which would have been a physical attack; it was the energy of its mass that assailed him.

The dark mage screamed in rage as he was pushed to the floor, and the golden bubble intensified into a shield above him and began to push upwards. For a long moment it seemed that Urvan would be ground into the very stones of the floor...until his downward movement ceased.

He began to rise again, first his shoulder uncompressing, and then his arm extending. The golden bubble, now extraordinarily thick, began to move upwards. Slowly. But upwards it did go. And as it rose, so did Urvan, first back to his knees, then to his feet, albeit he still squatted under the oppressive load above him.

"You!" The dark mage's free hand extended, and a finger came out to point at Jamie. "We will see each other again, I promise."

Then the finger waved, and a point of red light appeared near the floor. It grew and grew, took form and depth, and suddenly bloomed opened like a doorway into the land of hell.

Suddenly, small robed figures began to pour through the doorway. They were not quite waist high, like slightly squat, misshapen dwarves; yet no face showed within the darkness of their hoods. At the end of each short arm was a studded steel globe, like the head of a mace, and the studs looked very sharp.

Jamie intensified his column of air, added to it from the sides, and Urvan screamed again and went to his knees. The golden bubble tried to grow again, but Jamie widened the area above the funnel of air by twofold, and slowly, the dark Mage was crushed downwards. Beneath his bubble of gold, Urvan's eyes blazed at Jamie. But the dark one moved his finger in a complex pattern that quickly trailed a strange green light, and Jamie realized that the mage was tying a knot-key.

"Get them!" Urvan roared, pointing. "But leave the prince unharmed!"

Jamie added more air, more mass, to the crushing column; but the effect was not felt quickly enough. Urvan finished his knot, was suddenly encompassed in a green light, and vanished, the golden bubble with him. The mass energy of the column of air crashed into the floor, shattering the stones, before Jamie could lift the spell and dissipate the effect.

The lead small figure leaped at Getrell, spiked, steel-balled hands now rotating in a fatal blur that would surely mean death if they touched; who rose and drew his sword so quickly it was amazing to behold. The sharpened blade whipped around and through the hood of the lead attacker, felling him as if he had been struck down by the Creator himself. There was a small plop! as if air filled a new vacuum, and the creature vanished.

Other small attackers piled through the doorway and spread out. Several jumped at Raimey and the other boys, who stood quickly and turned the table over as a shield, sending plates and bowls flying. The maces of the lead attacker crashed into the wood like a mill saw, sending splinters in every direction.

At Jamie's side, Garvin was suddenly moving, and moving with a speed that no human should possess. He vaulted across the table, grabbed a lance from a display on the wall, and inserted himself between the boy's table and the robed attackers, moving the lance's point in a blur of motion that felled the strange creatures even as they lunged forward.

Jamie stared at his friend in shock, disbelieving what he was seeing, that any human could move with such speed. But then the press of events called him back to the red doorway and the mass of creatures pushing through it.

Snave was tossing lightning about the room as a talented juggler would pretty balls, peeling the heads off of the robes to reveal that there was nothing at all inside them.

They were being attacked by wraiths.

All happened in the merest of seconds. Jamie himself reacted, calling a spell he scarcely looked at but somehow knew was there, that revealed itself as a glowing blade of green light, that waded into the storming ranks of the attackers, slicing them to ribbons. He moved as quickly as he could to stand between the prince and the oncoming horde, lest Urvan's instructions not to harm him somehow be forgotten.

And all the while a tiny portion of Jamie's mind knew that the red doorway was the true foe, as some small visionary eye within himself could see beyond, into a land of non-things of enormous power, which created the robed wraiths faster than they were destroying them, and which creatures were lining up beyond the door in their millions waiting to come through. Such a horror he had read about once, but there was no clue in the pages turning with near-blinding speed within his mind yet on how to close the doorway to death.

Behind them, the door from the kitchen crashed open, and a trio of robed figures entered, and immediately began adding bolts of energy to their own, peeling the robed skins from the wraiths and terminating their existence. The castle's mages, no doubt, feeling the release of powers and coming to the defense of their prince.

Garvin moved with incredible speed, almost a blur as he advanced upon the rank of robed wraiths, the sharp tip of the lance waving nearly invisibly, a reflection of death as it tore holes through the oncoming waves.

The red doorway was filled with the things as they squeezed through and immediately filled the gaps in the attacking wall left by the decimating counter-thrusts of the defenders.

But Jamie could see the pattern, already. The wraiths were filling the room, spreading out, and soon would be such in number that the defenders would be unable to hold them at bay. Getrell waved his sword like a holy crusader, backing up to Jamie and placing himself in defense of the prince. Garvin continued to move with almost ghost-like splendor, and a part of Jamie was mystified and awed at his friend's sudden potency as a defender.

What had happened to the boy?

But Jamie could not take the time to wonder, his thoughts awhirl at the pages, thousands of them, that whipped past his mind's eye and were instantly replaced with a thousand more. Faster and faster they flew, each carving itself into Jamie's memory, yet none seeming to hold the key he sought. Some place, he had read of this red doorway. Somewhere, in all the tomes and scrolls, there was an answer...

Wait. A sheet of parchment tucked inside the back of an ancient tome told of a red doorway, opened to a land of demons and wraiths, that once opened, could never be closed...


But at the end of the description a clue, and then an answer, and one so simple and counterintuitive that Jamie would never have guessed it on his own. The doorway must be turned...turned about, to face itself. That such a thing seemed an impossibility to Jamie's mind was laid to rest by the complicated lock that accompanied the description. His mind leapt into the formula, and the red spot appeared, and began to draw a line inside his mind...

The wraith's numbers were growing now, as they pressed through the doorway upon themselves, into the spaces vacated by their brothers, who perished wholesale against Getrell's sword, and Garvin's lance, and Jamie's scythe, and the bolts of fire launched by the three mages, and to Snave's glittering, sparking defense. The mages had come up behind Jamie and the prince now, to stand with them.

The knot tied so slowly, a ponderous thing of epic proportions, that filled every corner of the workspace of Jamie's mind. Something - something warm and soft - moved about Jamie's mind with him, organizing, keeping track, holding all of his thoughts and efforts together even against all that tried to divide them.

The air of the room stirred, and grew warmer, and a mist appeared about the red doorway, and the wraiths seemed imbued with a new ferocity as they pressed forward. That Getrell was hard-pressed to keep the whirling spiked balls away from his body was now obvious; the soldier was tiring at the extreme effort. Despite everything else going on, a tiny stream of thought in the way corner of Jamie's mind tied a small knot of soft rose light that would nourish and replenish the soldier's muscles.

Getrell yelled with gusto at the sudden burst of strength he felt, and redoubled his efforts, leaning back into the fray with a frightful will that sent a half-dozen wraiths off to eternity with each swing of his sword. Still, the enemy pressed forward, it's numbers undiminished.

Jamie feared for Garvin's safety, terrified that harm would come to his so loved friend while Jamie's mind was occupied with so many other things at one time. But he need not have worried. Even as his eyes looked inward at the prodigious, massive form of the growing knot, he was aware of Garvin simply dancing about on the floor, a blur of motion, as he kept any and all of the attackers away from the prince's retainers. Raimey and the other boys were squatted now behind the table, peering about in awe at everything going on around them.

The mist about the red door grew, and the wraiths squeezing through it seemed somehow impeded by it's presence. Both Garvin and Getrell took a step closer to the doorway as they suddenly gained on the robed numbers coming through, and still, Jamie gazed within at the knot of the lock, which was becoming brighter and brighter as it neared completion.

A new, multi-part sound filled the room, a wail of moving air, and the shattered grind of tortured time and space closing in on it self, and the edges of the doorway slowly began to fold inwards, to draw together. The knot within Jamie's mind grew ever brighter, until it shone like a sun and he could almost bear it no more; and then, in a final flash of fury, the knot was tied, and vanished.

The red doorway compressed, seemed to grow thin, until suddenly Jamie could see right through its bulk. In the blink of an eye, the no-faced robes of the wraiths passed through it no more, were for a moment as children with their faces pressed against the outside of a shop window, gazing in; and then, with a sound as if the very fabric of existence was being torn, the doorway plunged into itself and vanished.

The wraiths still within the room suddenly seemed to lose direction and will to fight, and were cut down by Garvin and Getrell and the mages and Jamie's own scythe, until a moment burst upon them where they all were gone.

Silence dropped among them like a curtain, and for a moment all that was heard was the lot of them breathing with their efforts.

The prince, who had never once backed away from the attack, turned to look at Jamie, a small smile playing about his lips. "My. When you come to dinner, you certainly do entertain."

Jamie grinned, but then looked around for Garvin. The other boy was leaned across the overturned table, talking to the retainers, who were now smiling in relief. The lance, which Garvin had used to such great effect, stood against the wall, looking none the worse for its wear.

Getrell looked about, sighed, and re-sheathed his sword. He looked back at Jamie and nodded. "I felt that which you gave, and knew instantly from whence it had come. Thank you, for allowing me to continue to defend My Prince."

Jamie smiled.

The three robed figures came forward and bowed to the prince. All were older men, graying, bearded, with an intensity to their eyes that managed to be wise and still peaceful while also conveying notice that these were not men to be trifled with. "Your Royal Highness," said the tallest, his expression somewhat anxious. "I am pleased to see you well." Jamie immediately recognized the last, reasonable voice of the mage he had made agreement with through the scroll back in the Master's shop.

"Kundun, thank you." The prince smiled, and raised a hand in salute to all three mages. "And Lestho and Pallin. My thanks to all of you for your rush to my defense."

Kundun turned to stare at Jamie. "We've met, sir, though over a distance. I am Kundun, Chief mage to the Court of the King of the Realm." He smiled, and bowed his head. "It is an honor to meet the Master Thorvil."

The other two mages also nodded their heads and smiled.

Jamie put a stern look on his face. "Which of you called me a wretch?"

The shortest mage looked startled, and then embarrassed. "It was I. I apologize. I was quite distressed to have wet my robes."

Jamie walked up to him, looked him over, then smiled and stuck out his hand. "Nice to finally meet you."

The other looked surprised, but smiled, took Jamie's hand and shook it warmly. "I am Pallin. Truly, we are indebted to you for standing in defense of our prince."

The third mage also smiled and extended a hand. "I am Lestho, and I also apologize for the abruptness of our initial meeting. You certainly provided us with fanciful illustration of what can occur when we get caught up in the day-to-day sameness of our operations here." He rubbed his backside at the memory. "Never have I been so well instructed in manners."

Kundun stepped forward and looked down at Jamie. "I had heard of the Master Thorvil, but never did I dream what the term Master truly could mean. We are, as Pallin has said, indebted to you. Any who stand in defense of our King or Prince are forever welcome with us."

He looked closer. "I could see the results of the magick you worked here this evening. But I could also feel it growing as you worked it within. I have never felt anything of such power before. What did you use to close the red door, may I ask?"

Jamie shook his head. "A door such as that can never be closed. It must be turned upon itself, which is what I did. A doorway that leads only to itself is as a wall, for all intents and purposes."

The three mages looked at each other.

Kundun cleared his throat. "You, three hundred and some years? And age-regressed?"

Jamie felt a nervous burst inside himself. Did the old mage suspect something? "Yes."

Kundun shook his head in amazement. "So perfect is the regression I would never have suspected. Even your feel - the aura about you - smacks of youth." He licked his lips. "Is this something you could be persuaded to share? I would trade my best spells to learn it."

Jamie sighed, mostly in relief. "I will need to consider this," he improvised. "Such a spell is tailored to an individual. I must first see if it can even be applied to another safely."

Kundun nodded. "Fair enough." He turned to the prince, bowed again. "You are in good hands here, My Prince. While I do not wish to desert you in your defense, I see now that I and my fellows must see to the defense of the castle. Charms must be placed, spells set as wards. Urvan must not be allowed to translocate himself within these walls again without being detected and met. We need to be readied. May we have your leave?"

Sedwick nodded. "Yes, and thank you again for coming. I will not forget your efforts here today."

The three mages smiled, bowed towards the prince, nodded their heads at Jamie, and left the room. Jamie seriously doubted that any of them could bar Urvan from returning if the red mage really wanted to come. Even Jamie's new magickal index had not yet produced a ward that would keep Urvan's power to will himself about at bay.

Garvin came up to Jamie and put a hand on his shoulder. Jamie stared at his best friend, a thousand questions in mind. But he dared not ask any in front of present company, not before first speaking with Garvin alone. Garvin's eyes seemed full of questions also, but the other boy wisely kept his tongue silent.

But the prince did not. He reached out and touched Garvin, poking him gently with a fingertip. "Just seeing if this one is quite real. The way he moved about earlier, I had my doubts."

Garvin smiled. "My own bit of magick at work, is all."

"Quite incredible it was," Getrell added, shaking his head in wonder. "A hundred like you and I could win any battle in the land, against any sized force."

Garvin smiled. "It is defensive in nature, of no use to conquerors."

Getrell nodded. "Nor would I employ it for such. But it would be a wonder against the Tramodil, whose hordes periodically harass our borders."

Jamie heard a clatter of dishes, and looked over as Raimey and the other boys hefted the heavy table upright and began to stack the broken plates on its surface.

"All are well?" Jamie asked of Garvin, who smiled and nodded.

The prince came over, gave Garvin a warm hug. "Thank you for looking out for my sweet ones, Garvin. It would have torn my heart asunder to have a one of them injured."

Garvin nodded, but looked pleased. "I could not stand to see them harmed, either, Sedwick."

Jamie smiled, but his thoughts were suddenly elsewhere. The three mages wanted to ensure that Urvan could not return. To Jamie's knowledge, there was no recorded way to stop a translocation. did such travel work? One opened a doorway that somehow induced the nether to place its other side at the very spot that one wished to go. There was no going through the nether. The space between the entry and the exit in this world was somehow negated.

But still a doorway. Perhaps like the red door, the one just doubled back on itself, in nature?

Suppose one did the same with a translocation doorway? Not closed it, not kept it from operating, but simply placed another doorway against any that appeared, with a return route to the point of origin. Was there such a thing, and could it be done?


Again, the weight of pages beyond reason fluttered through Jamie's mind, and settled on a worn page at the back of a volume of locks and keys.

But...the page was blank.

Or was it?

Even as he looked, a diagram grew across the page, another complex knot to be tied inside his mind. He examined it as it progressed, knew then that he could duplicate it, set it to work. Here was a lock for this very problem, one that would return all traffic through a translocation doorway to its point of origin. But...its range was limited, as it took ferocious amounts of energy to keep such security activated around the clock. Too much to protect the entire castle.

But...yes, he could manage enough to protect the keep. He set to tying the knot, aware of the many energies somewhere in the world being utilized to allow it, but unsure just where they came from. This lock, despite its complexity, was not on the order of the lock required to shunt the red door back upon itself, and it was done in a matter of moments. It finished, sealed with a flash of blue-green light, and was gone.

Jamie became aware of the silence in the room, looked up. All eyes were upon him.

"We could feel that, Jamie," Garvin said slowly. "Like someone stoking a furnace. The heat was all about us." He leaned closer. "What did you just do?"

Jamie shrugged. "I have just sealed the keep against entry by magickal means. If Urvan returns here, he must walk like a common man."

The prince stared at him. "You keep right on impressing me, Master Thorvil."

Jamie smiled. "My friends call me Jamie. Thorvil is for the customers. Sounds more imposing." He grinned sheepishly. "The needs of business."

"Then I shall call you Jamie, for certainly you are my friend." The prince smiled, waved at the table. "Maybe we can finish our meal now?"

Surprisingly, less than a half hour had passed since Snave had first struck at the unseen red mage in the corner of the room. Their food, while no longer hot, was still edible, and they sat now and went back to eating. The three boys at the table behind had lost the rest of their meals when the table had been overturned, and the prince had Evain and his kitchen crew bring other things for the boys to eat.

The evening wore on, full of laughter and friendship. All of them were aware that they had survived something together that few others would have lived to speak of. It had brought a closeness to them that was warm and very appealing. Even Raimey and Mort and Miles pulled their chairs over and placed them around the prince's after the food was gone, and joined in the conversation and fun.

The hours passed, the evening settled to night, and Jamie found his eyes getting heavy. Not just him, either. Mort and Miles had their chins on their breasts, and Raimey struggled to keep his head raised. The prince quickly took notice, and suggested they call it a night.

"Getrell, if you would help me with Mort and Miles...get them to our bed?"

"Surely, My Prince. And then I shall stand by your door the rest of the night."

Sedwick smiled. "But Jamie has cloaked us from Urvan's trespass, and to get to these chambers on foot would cause a ruckus that would wake the dead. Perhaps you could guard me from within the bedroom?"

Getrell smiled. "Surely, that would please me, Seddy."

The prince sighed. "Then we shall say goodnight, I think. Jamie and Garvin, my thanks again for protecting myself and my loved ones. We shall gather again in the morning to break our fast." He smiled and nodded his head towards Raimey, who had given in to sleep and now sat, chin down and eyes closed. "Please take care of my sweet one. Kiss him for me, and make him feel loved?"

Jamie nodded, and Garvin smiled. "I think we can say that that will happen."

They rose, gathered their retainers, who pushed their eyes open enough to allow themselves to be guided to bed.

And then they said their good nights.

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