The Case of the Short, Short Prince

by Geron Kees

Chapter 8

Master Crillis was resting well. He lay in a vat in the workshop of Kundun, his body submerged in a solution of over 200 different ingredients. That they had just barely managed to save the mage's life was apparent. The creeping death was in him, but the bath in which he rested was drawing it back out.

"Just an hour more and he would have been lost," Kundun decided, staring at the other mage, who - exhausted by his ordeal - now slept peacefully. Geert sat on a small stool beside the vat, elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands, watching his master with sleepy eyes. That the apprentice had been relieved that it now looked as though Crillis would live was readily apparent.

A prop in the vat beneath Crillis held just the ailing mage's face above the level of the liquid. Jamie and Garvin stood by with Kundun, while, behind them, Lestho and Pallin were busy at another vat, mixing yet another solution. Crillis would need to have the solution switched twice each day for three days in order to remove the plague within him, and Kundun had decided it would be easier on Crillis to simply move him to a fresh vat each time and minimize the time he was without the healing agents against his skin.

Snave, who stood with them, still seemed overfilled with pleasure in Jamie's success at pulling off the mass translocation.

"You set a precedent today, Thorvil," he said, still playing as if Jamie was his brother, age-regressed. "I don't believe it has ever been recorded that so much mass was moved in a single instance."

"I must agree," Kundun, said, turning to look at Jamie. If the old mage had been surprised by the gargoyle's sudden ability to speak, he did not show it. "There is no record like it that I have ever come across." He smiled, glancing to the end of the shop, where a stable hand was busy feeding the tyrbeast still connected to the cart. "My only question now is, how do we remove the wagon and its beast from within these walls?"

Jamie laughed. "Easy enough. We will need both when we go. We'll take them with us."

Jamie had been correct that his own defenses for the keep had not kept them from getting there. The signature of the magic would not allow it to stand in the way of the caster. Even so, it seemed the prohibition that Jamie had placed against translocation did not reach to the mage's workshop. Kundun, when asked, admitted to having translocated from the mage's shop to the surface outside without problem. But he also said that attempts to test Jamie's protection of the keep above by translocating inside the structure had proven that there was to be no magickal means of entry to the keep while that protection remained in place.

"I tried three times to take myself from here to rooms within the keep, and each time I came back here," the old mage stated. "It gives me a feeling of security for the prince to know that Urvan cannot reenter in the same fashion as he entered once before."

"Presuming he does not figure a way around what I have placed," Jamie said thoughtfully. "We have been lucky in dealing with the man up until now."

Kundun smiled. "Luck would seem to be a constant companion with you, Master Thorvil."

With a smile of his own Jamie wondered at his luck. It had been quite good of late. Perhaps part of it was the lucky bracelet he wore, given by Sedwick for the journey to find Urvan. But even before that, Jamie's life had been blessed with largely good fortune. That it could be a part of his knack was a possibility he had to consider. Knacks were difficult to plumb, even harder to quantify. That more than once the nether lens had shown blank pages inside his head when he needed something, only to have them fill with needed information, indicated he might have a bit of the seer in his makeup as well. The lens itself could only show him what he had read. To have a blank page fill with new information, or translate from a tongue unknown to that which was familiar - these were actions that came from outside the realm of Jamie's reading, and indicated a link at some point to a knack to seek out and view information that was currently unavailable.

He had heard of such knacks before, but was a little astonished to consider that he might have such a one as part of his make-up.

Mage, doest thou know thyself?

It was apparent from Kundun's eyes that there were many questions in the old mage's mind, yet professional courtesy kept him from asking. Kundun preferred to wait until the time - if - that Jamie wished to share anything with him of value. Jamie had already decided that he would share what he could, as the better informed that Kundun and his staff were about both the situation, and the magics involved, the safer the prince would be.

He showed Kundun the lens, explained its purpose and function, and then showed his hand, and told that it wore a skin with the ability to magnify, at least if not more, translocation magic.

"Which is how we all arrived here at one time. I have not tested it out yet to see if it will also magnify other magicks," he confessed.

Kundun was amazed. "These instrumentalities are new to the field, I am sure," he said, shaking his head. "Surely stories of such things would have made the rounds if others had them. Certainly, while Urvan was here, I saw nothing to indicate that he was so equipped."

"Neither have I heard of such wonders," Snave offered. "And secrets of this sort are quite hard to hold close, given time."

Both statements were somewhat of a relief to hear. The red mage was a great unknown in Jamie's mind. Jamie was afraid of the man, plain and simple. That he had bested the other mage once in battle was the purest whim of the spirits. He could not expect it to happen again. Having once been shown that Jamie was at the very least an unknown to be reckoned with, the red mage would take far more care the next time that they met. At the very least, the devices that Jamie had made to assist him would provide him with some small edge in the next confrontation with Urvan. But they could not be expected to win the day alone.

Finally, Jamie took Kundun aside so that the two of them were alone.

"I am not Thorvil," he finally managed to say.

Kundun stared at him a long moment before finally smiling. "No. I thought not."

Jamie was astounded. "You knew?"

"I suspected, yes," the older mage admitted. Yet the man's eyes held no accusation, just a warm curiosity that spoke of a liking for Jamie. "So who am I speaking with, then?"

The boy sighed. "I am Jamie Grimmstone, Thorvil's apprentice."

At that there was a decided look of surprise in the old mage's eyes. "An apprentice? Surely not!"

"Yes," Jamie admitted, casting his eyes downward in embarrassment. "Garvin and I were watching the shop for the Master. He is away at the Conference on the Arts, you see. When your scroll arrived seeking him, I saw the possibility of a great business opportunity for Master Thorvil being lost, and only posed at being him in the hopes that I could put you off until he arrived home and could address the opportunity." Jamie looked up at Kundun. "It was not an attempt at deceit for deceit's sake. I thought I was doing a necessary thing for my Master." He shook his head a little dazedly. "How could I have known what I was getting myself into?"

But Kundun only smiled. "When I met you after the appearance of the red mage in the hall above, and knew you were supposed to be age-regressed, I was astonished. I think I mentioned even then that you wear the aura of youth as strong and as beautiful as I have ever felt it. I was at first intrigued by a magick that could so well return a man to the very aura of as well as appearance of youth. But then I felt a doubt. A nag, really, in the back of my mind, that somehow it just could not be so. Yet I could feel your power, Jamie. And you seemed so proficient with magicks unknown to me that I let my doubts lay, and have not much thought of them since."

Kundun reached out a hand and laid it upon Jamie's shoulder. "Your secret is safe with me. I see no reason that anyone should know otherwise, Master Thorvil."

Jamie gaped in surprise. "You will not reveal me?"

"No. You are here to help My Prince, and help him you have." The old mage looked thoughtful. "And...something quite special is going on here, Jamie. An awakening, of sorts. You are in the process of becoming something new, I think. Something wonderful. I do not wish to discourage this personal making in any manner. So for now you remain as everyone thinks you are, so that you can continue to help My Prince, and to grow in your own fashion."

Jamie felt a mixture of gratitude and elation. The hardest things he felt he had been about to face was the confession to the prince, and to his retainers, that he was not who he had claimed to be. The loss of their confidence and interest was not something he felt he could deal with just now.

As if in response to his very thoughts, he heard a voice: "Master Thorvil?"

Jamie turned, and there was the prince, smiling, his eyes alight at the sight of Jamie. Beside him was Garvin, trying to smile as well, but looking a little concerned, as if he somehow knew what Jamie and Kundun had been discussing.

Jamie grinned up at Kundun, and then went to the prince. "My Prince, it is wonderful to see you again."

Sedwick turned his head slightly askance and frowned. "Is that the best you can do?" The prince smiled and held out his arms.

Jamie grinned, and stepped forward, and was received into a warm hug on the part of the prince, that lasted for far longer than he would have imagined. Finally, the prince gave Jamie a last small squeeze, and then the heir to the realm released him, and stepped back.

Jamie heard Garvin laugh then. "It certainly makes visiting here special, does it not, Master? I have just received my own welcome, and a warm one it was, too!"

Sedwick smiled. "We did not expect you back so quickly."

"It was an act of need, My Prince." He turned now to motion towards Crillis in his bath. "We brought with us a casualty."

The prince looked grave. "Yes. I have been filled in on the condition of the other mage. Have you any idea what happened?"

"It would seem his shop was invaded by a beggar who was not a beggar, but rather a mage of considerable power. This mage was apparently after a book of maps that Crillis had upon his shelves."

"Maps?" Kundun interjected, narrowing his eyes. "What sort of maps?"

"Old ones, "Jamie supplied. "From the forbidden era, laid to pages by the ancients in their strange fashion."

The prince looked puzzled. "Why would anyone steal maps? What did these maps show?"

"Crillis did not know," Jamie responded. "He said they were of no lands that he recognized. That in itself is not surprising, as the maps we have in our age are far from complete. The ancients, it is said, had mapped all of the world in their travels."

Sedwick looked at Kundun. "Something of this act strikes at me with warning. It is somehow important, I think."

"I agree," the old mage returned. He looked at Jamie. "I know of Crillis just as I know of you, Master Thorvil - by reputation. Crillis was not one to trifle with lightly. If this mage bested him, he is one to be wary of, I think."

"Crillis said he was holding his own, if a bit pressed, but that the other mage was quite powerful. But in the exchange of traditional magicks, neither could best the other. It was only the use of the Breath of the Dragon that finished the battle, in the favor of the intruder."

"Breath of the Dragon?" the prince repeated, looking at Kundun. "What is that?"

"Old magick," Kundun said. "Machine magick.The ancients could endow their machines with powers we can only imagine. They used machines to war among themselves, to great effect. The Breath of the Dragon is one magick such as that."

Sedwick was silent a moment. Then: "This sounds grave. My father is aware of this?"

"I spoke to him just a while ago," Kundun said quietly. "He is concerned, as we all should be."

"I don't know for certainty of this matter, not just yet," Jamie said, "but on the way to town a passing traveler warned that wagons and their cargoes and drivers were going missing down by the crags before the Forest of Night." He looked at Kundun. "Have you heard of this?"

The older mage shook his head. "No, not of a certain, either. Only rumor." He looked over at Sedwick. "Your father has sent a small group of investigators to check this, in case you were not so informed."

"I was told," the prince acknowledged. "My father likes me in the know, should something occur that is of relevance to the crown."

Jamie nodded. "Interesting coincidence, that we are off to the Forest of Night in search of Urvan."

Kundun pursed his lips in thought. "I have considered a possible association with the two. Knowing what I know of Urvan, to learn that he was involved in any sort of deviltry would be no surprise at all. is too early, yet, to know anything."

"I suppose the sooner we are off, then, the better," Jamie decided. He smiled at Sedwick. "Dorf is a most professional driver."

The prince laughed. "He is many-talented, that one. A fine man to have in a fight, too, which is the main reason he is with you."

"We would like to have him again, if possible."

"Of course. I will ask him if he knows any that would volunteer for the job. You watch his reply."

They all went back to the wagon, where Dorf was talking to the stable worker, who was just finishing feeding the tyrbeast.

"Your Royal Highness," the soldier said, taking the prince's hand and bowing over it. "A pleasure to see you again."

Sedwick grinned. "My eyes are pleased as well."

Dorf did everything but blush at the compliment. Finally, he smiled. "Can I assist you with something, My Prince?"

Sedwick nodded. "The Master Thorvil and his retinue will be returning to the road shortly. You have served them well, I am told."

Dorf's eyes flicked to Jamie again, before returning to the prince. "It was my duty and my pleasure, My Prince."

"Yes," Sedwick said, nodding. "But of course I cannot ask you to go out again. So I was wondering if you would know any that would volunteer in your stead?"

Dorf looked surprised, and then a little upset. "But...My Prince. My service has not ended simply because of our brief return. This was but a side-trip, not the conclusion of the venture. My service is not ended. It is only just begun."

Sedwick looked over at Jamie, and they both smiled. "What did I tell you?" the prince said.

Dorf let his eyes go from one boy to the other. "Is someone perhaps making jest here?"

This time, both Jamie and the prince laughed.

"No," Sedwick said. " We make no joke at your expense. It is a fond thing between us, the Master Thorvil and I, if truth be told."

Dorf smiled. "I am fond of fond things, My Prince."

Sedwick laid a hand on the soldier's arm. "I feel security in knowing that you accompany them, Dorf. I can think of no better man I trust to help them along on their journey."

The soldier nodded, obviously touched. "Thank you, Your Royal Highness. I am honored to be informed so."

The prince squeezed Dorf's arm a last time, then turned to Jamie. "You will leave now?"

Jamie looked over at Garvin. "Can you think of anything else we need do here before departing?"

Garvin frowned, then shook his head. "No. I am ready, when you are, Master."

Snave glided up then, and faced Jamie. "The Master Crillis is awake and would like to speak to you."

Sedwick's eyes grew wide at Snave's speech, but he said nothing. Jamie was surprised for another reason: that Crillis had wakened so soon. But he nodded, and followed as Snave turned and glided back to the vat in which the old mage lay. Briefly, he was aware of the others following along behind him.

Geert looked up at them as they circled the vat, his eyes alight with pleasure at his Master's awakened state. The apprentice stood with his hands atop the sides of the vat, leaning slightly over to watch the mage's face, and it was apparent that his concerns for his master were wearing upon him. Jame felt sympathy for the lad, for he knew how he would feel had it been Thorvil in a similar state of distress.

Jamie looked down into the vat, to where just the mage's face was above the liquid. The man's eyes were slitted, but widened as he became aware of those now circled around him. He looked up, found Jamie's face.

"I just awakened to discover that I still lived. And that you are somehow responsible for this."

Jamie shook his head. "No. I just helped to bring you here. It was you who held on long enough for these mages to work their magick upon you."

"A good lad you are, Jamie." Crillis managed a smile, and his eyes briefly flitted to land upon Geert. "I have an apprentice. Damnable lazy boy. He's nearly burned my shop to the ground three times because he could not remember to discharge his built up potential in movement magicks."

Geert made an embarrassed sound, his eyes going wide. "It was but twice, Master," he said in a soft voice. "And I have since learned better."

Jamie grinned, but felt his own face redden, as if somehow the master mage knew of Jamie's own troubles in that area.

The twinkling portent of another smile came to the mage's eyes. "Yes. You have indeed. And yet, the shop still lays burned to coals, by another hand than yours. So it was perhaps fated, after all." A small sigh escaped the mage's lips. "At least I still have you, Geert. It would have pained me greatly to have lost you, for I would have no one to help me rebuild."

Geert nodded, and compressed his lips. "I am grateful to still be your student, Master. When you are well, we shall find the one who did this."

Crillis coughed out a short laugh. "Oh, you never change, my boy. Here is the shop, burned to ashes, and I immersed in this sour-smelling potion, and you would wish to confront the one responsible. I think perhaps that that sinister fellow is best left to his own devices for now."

"But...Master." Geert seemed reluctant to speak with an audience present. "This wrong must be redressed. That evil one could have taken you from me."

This time the mage sighed. "If your ability matched your stubbornness, we would surely take the day, Geert. But...that is not a matter for now. First, I must regain my feet, and we must set up shop again."

Geert narrowed his eyes, but nodded. "Aye, Master."

"You must get well first, my mage," Sedwick agreed. The prince looked thoughtful. "I am not so sure that what happened to you is not in some way related to a problem of my own. I feel some responsibility here. Please know that I will be happy to assist you "-- Sedwick smiled at Geert --"and your apprentice, to reopen shop in a new and less carbonized location."

A small round of gentle laughter from the circle about the vat caused Crillis to smile and close his eyes. "Thank you for that, My Prince."

Jamie leaned closer. "There was something you wished to tell us, Master Crillis?"

The other opened his eyes, now damp from within. "Oh...yes. Where are my robes?"

Geert raised a hand. "I have them over here, Master."

"Can you bring them to me?"

The apprentice nodded, turned and went to a nearby bench, gathered a neatly folded bundle from the top, and brought it back to the vat.

"Hold them up," Crillis instructed. "The pocket on the right - feel within. You will detect a flap. Pull it back, and withdraw the small pouch contained within."

Geert did as he was bidden, and after a moment produced a small leather pouch secured by a cinched leather drawstring.

"Now, open it carefully," Crillis continued, "holding your cupped hand over the opening. Turn the pouch, and when you feel that which is within fall into your hand, close your fingers quickly to keep it from escaping."

Geert blinked in surprise, but did as he was asked, carefully loosening the drawstring and upending the pouch. Something dropped into his hand, and he quickly closed his fingers about it.

Crillis nodded. "Now bring it here."

The apprentice folded the robe over his other arm, looking at his own hand closed into a fist, and slowly leaned over the vat.

"Hold your hand up, so that I may see it," the old mage instructed.

Geert raised his fist and held it out towards the mage.

"Turn your fist so that the fingers are atop, and then do not move again." He smiled. "Do not be surprised at anything that happens. If you feel the object move, hold tight until I tell you. Do you understand?"

Geert licked his lips, but nodded, flipped his hand over in compliance, and went still.

Crillis closed his eyes.

"That which is mine I now do lend,
until their journey comes to end,
go now to him of valiant deed,
the one you feel is most in need!"

Geert's hand vibrated, and the apprentice's eyes grew wide. But he remained still watching his hand. The fingers flexed, and Geert obviously squeezed them tighter.

"Now release it!" Crillis said forcefully.

Geert opened his hand, revealing a small spot of light, that danced briefly across his extended fingers, and then flew with great speed into the air, straight at Jamie. Jamie was stunned, but opened his hand as if to catch the amazing thing.

But at the last second, the spot of bright looped past Jamie's hand and flew straight to Garvin, who, despite being surprised, snaked a hand out and snatched it out of the air. Everyone turned as the boy opened his hand.

On his palm was...a ring, all of gold. Its head was engraved with the form of a dragonette, one of the small flyers that lived in the trees of the Forest of the Night. The tiny wings were extended, as if in flight, and the eyes of the beast were tiny rubies that danced with red fire. The dragonette's talons were extended, and formed the claw that held the head in place, and the tail curled away, engraved around the shank.

"Place it on your finger, second from the last. Hurry!" Crillis called.

Garvin gulped, but did as he was told, sliding the ring onto the finger of his right hand. He let it go, and the ring flopped around, too big for his finger...but only for a moment. It suddenly took on a life of its own, turned until the engraved face showed on top, and the gold band suddenly contracted to a perfect fit.

Garvin gazed at his hand, stunned.

Jamie looked back at Crillis. "What have you placed upon my friend?"

For a moment the mage looked confused, and Jamie realized then that Crillis could not see where the ring had flown.

"It did not come to you, Jamie?"

"No," Jamie said. "It now lives upon the finger of my friend."

Crillis sighed. "Then apparently he is most apt to be using it. I had thought it would go to you, but it does not matter. If your friend wears the ring now, it is because its power is there with him to assist you in your journey."

Jamie leaned forward. "A ring of power? What does it do, Master Crillis?"

The mage smiled, looking sleepy again. "Not it, young Jamie. They. For the ring has eyes. The eyes of the night."

Crillis sighed, and his smile faded, and again he was asleep.

Jamie turned and looked back at Garvin, who had his hand extended, fingers splayed, examining the ring. "It is beautiful...and somehow alarming, both at the same time."

Jamie frowned. Obviously, Crillis had felt that the ring would somehow aid them on their journey. Jamie did not like the idea of Garvin being exposed to untested magic...but...certainly Master Crillis would not provide something harmful.

He walked over to his friend, looked down at the ring, then looked up and smiled into Garvin's eyes. The other boy immediately smiled back, and Jamie sighed. He puckered his lips gently, winked at Garvin, whose smiled only broadened. The other boy's eyes twinkled with humor and affection as Jamie turned back to the prince and Kundun. "I guess we should be going."

Sedwick nodded, came forward, and gave Jamie a hug. "You must tell me who you really are, you know," the prince whispered. Jamie froze, and stared at the royal as he pulled back. But Sedwick only smiled, and squeezed Jamie's arms fondly. "When you return will do," he said, nodding at Jamie.

The prince went to hug Garvin, and then gave Dorf a brief hug as well. Finally, all goodbyes said, the prince left them, a last good luck called from the bottom of the exit shaft.

And then he was gone.

Jamie looked over at Garvin, could read the emotions in his friend's face. That they had formed bonds here was plain to them both, that leaving was painful, also clear.

Jamie was suddenly aware of someone near his side, and turned to look. It was Geert. The apprentice looked apprehensive. "I wish to go with you," the lad said quietly.

Jamie examined the apprentice's face. It was set in a look of determination. "Why? What happened with your master has no bearing upon our mission."

"The one you seek is somehow with the one that did this to my master." Geert's tone conveyed that there was no doubt in his mind about this fact. "I sense this to be true."

Jamie shook his head. "No. Our mission is for the prince. There is no indication that the beggar had anything to do with our business at all." He pointed to the vat, and the sleeping mage within. "Your master will need you when he awakens."

Geert shook his head. "The mage Pallin said that my master will be sleeping for most of the next week, and not be able to rise from the vat. He will be in good hands while I go with you to seek out those responsible for this depredation."

Garvin came over and stood next to them, having heard some of the conversation. "You seem convinced that the beggar is connected to our mission."

Geert made a face, and then nodded. "My knack has a strong favor for precognition."

Garvin's eyebrow's went up. "You are a seer?"

"Of a sort." The apprentice of Crillis, Master Mage, suddenly looked young and scared. "My knack spies relationships in events, more than actually glimpsing the future. I sense that you and your group will surely meet the one responsible for this action against my master, and that he will be in the company of one that you seek." Geert took a deep breath, let it out. "I see my presence there as well, and see no other way that could be unless I travel with you."

"I don't think..." Jamie began, but trailed off as the lens grew warm against his chest. For a moment a picture appeared in his mind, so vivid that it appeared as if before his eyes at that moment. He stood before a ruined building, one strange of composition and architecture, a tower with a jagged spike for a summit, and a ruin most obviously. Dense forest crouched all about them, with shadows everywhere he looked. He turned in his mind's eye, briefly saw Garvin, and Dorf, and Snave standing near.

And Geert, alongside them.

That the lens was tickling Jamie's own knack for precognition was obvious to him. And what he was seeing was that the apprentice of the Master Crillis was to accompany them.

"You have belongings?" Jamie asked the boy. "You can place them in the back of our wagon."

Garvin looked surprised. "What? Jamie, surely you are not considering --" But then he broke off, seeing the look in Jamie's eyes. "A portent?" Garvin guessed.

"Of a sort," Jamie agreed, nodding. "This one will be with us later, whether he travels with us now or not." Jamie smiled then. "And he will be far safer in our company, than alone on the road."

Geert looked like he could not believe that Jamie had agreed to let him go along. "All I possessed was lost with the shop. I have but what I am wearing, and what I carry in my tote." Geert patted a small leather bag attached to his belt.

Jamie smiled. "You are at least as well equipped as the rest of us, then. We intend to stock ourselves before taking to the road. Anything you may need we can acquire at that time."

"I...thank you." Geert lowered his eyes. "I am in your service."

Garvin smiled, and Jamie nodded. "Oh, you will earn your keep, of that there is no doubt."

Geert looked up then, glanced at Garvin's grin, then at Jamie's smile. He visibly relaxed then, and offered a small smile of his own. "I will do my share."

Snave glided up to them, settled to the floor. "We go to speak with Wanda Pegfoot now?"

Jamie nodded. "A moment, Snave." He turned back to Geert then. "You may wish to say farewell to your master. But make sure to also tell him you will return."

Geert looked over at the vat. "He sleeps...but I will tell him." He moved off, and Jamie turned back to the Gargoyle.

"Yes, our first stop will be to see Wanda." But then a thought occurred to him. "Snave, you are nearly as old as Master Thorvil. You have never heard of this Urvan before?'

The big gargoyle was silent a moment before speaking. "I do not know him. I have never heard the name. But that does not mean that much, as I have spent a great deal of time standing in my brother's shop while he moved about the world. So I cannot claim equality with my brother's experience and knowledge, by far. And...a name can be changed even more quickly than one's garments, I think. Urvan is only Urvan today. Who he was yesterday is anyone's guess."

Jamie nodded. "Do you know Wanda Pegfoot? I mean, did you know her when you had a...a body?"

Snave chuckled. "Yes. And she looked much the same then, just younger. She chased me a bit, until she found that my liking was not for her type."

Garvin grinned. "You mean because you liked boys?" he whispered.

Again the gargoyle laughed. "She did not know that. I refer to the fact that I did not care for women that resembled a djinn after a night of binging in the pub quarter."

Jamie and Garvin both laughed. "But she is sweet inside, Snave," Garvin protested. "You must not be cruel to her."

"Oh, I will not. After I came to live in this body, she used to stand beside me as I watched the door to my brother's shop, and whisper sweet nothings to me when Thorvil's back was turned. Drove me half mad at times. But I will get even with her, now that I can speak again."

Jamie could almost feel Snave's good humor. That he was looking forward to seeing the old witch again was apparent.

Dorf came over and looked at them. "Are we ready?"

Jamie nodded. "Yes. We will translocate back to the lane from whence we left, and go from there to the shop of Wanda Pegfoot." He put a hand on Dorf's arm. "The apprentice of Master Crillis will be accompanying us."

Dorf squinted briefly, considering that; but then nodded. He held up a small leather bag, and shook it. The plain jingle of coins could be heard from within. "The prince wishes us well-stocked on the road. Once we speak to your friend in town, we can go by the market and purchase provisions for the journey."

Jamie grinned. "How do you know we go to journey?"

Dorf returned the grin. "These things always have a journey in them. Evil never sits by the road with a sign that says, 'Here I am!'. The heroes must seek evil out where it hides, usually at great peril, and accompanied by high adventure."

Jamie and Garvin grinned at each other. That Dorf seemed to have spirit for their quest to find Urvan only added to the man's magnetism.

Kundun returned then, from checking on Crillis. "He sleeps, but he sleeps well. I think that bath will save him, Master Thorvil."

Dorf suddenly crossed his arms and stared at Jamie in the oddest of fashions. Jamie looked back at the soldier a moment, but the man simply smiled.

"He is in good hands, I am sure," Jamie said, smiling at the old mage now. He extended his hand, not knowing what else to do. "Thank you, Master Kundun. For everything."

The man looked down at Jamie a moment, then smiled and clasped his hand warmly. "I will set a spell for good fortune for you all. The luck of the kingdom rides with you, and there are many talents among you. Such an interesting group of adventurers I am certain I have never met before. Be safe and well, all of you." He leaned down, giving Jamie's hand an additional squeeze. "And please, come back."

Jamie nodded. That he had come to like the first mage of the kingdom was something he understood now. "We will return. Be well, Master Kundun."

"Be well, Jamie."

Again Dorf made a face, but said nothing. Jamie spared him a questioning look, but the soldier simply shrugged and smiled once again.

Geert returned to their side, and he and Snave entered the rear of the wagon. Dorf climbed into the seat from one side, while Jamie and Garvin mounted from the other.

Ahead of them, Pallin and Lestho had come to stand with Kundun. The three of them waved, and those on the wagon waved back.

Jamie raised his hand, and the green lead-point appeared as the knot for translocation slowly tied inside his mind. He was surprised to find that he did not have to concentrate on it, that he performed the act now almost by rote. All magics would be thus, one day. Experience - and time - would tell.

The knot finished, there was again a sweeping blackness that passed over them, and then again they were in the road just down from the shell of the shop where Master Crillis had narrowly escaped with his life.

Garvin raised a hand and squeezed Jamie's arm. "I will never get used to that, Jamie. To move so far, so rapidly. Why, a well-traveled mage need never walk again!"

Jamie shrugged. "Have you noticed, though, that Master Thorvil never translocates? He always flies to his destinations, even though it might take much longer." He grinned. "I honestly believe he likes to see the sights!"

They both laughed a moment, before Jamie looked up at Dorf. "We can start. Go back to the gate road and turn right. We need to get to the central avenue. Wanda's shop is just up from the market."

But Dorf simply crossed his arms and made no move to take the reigns. "One moment."

Jamie saw the tiniest hint of indecision in the man's eyes before they narrowed. "Just who are you really?"

A brief feeling of disquiet came over Jamie. Did everyone now know that he was not who he claimed to be? He felt Garvin's hand close on his forearm, but did not look back at his friend.

"What do you mean?"

Dorf rolled his eyes. "Oh, come now, boy. I like you quite a lot, but you and I will get along better if there are no games between us."

Jamie swallowed hard, totally unprepared for this to have happened. "I...what games?"

The soldier huffed, but then smiled. "I am on your side, remember?"

When Jamie said no more, the man sighed. "One moment someone calls you 'Jamie', the next it is 'Thorvil'. One moment you are a master mage named Thorvil, the next you are calling to Crillis in his ruined shop that you are the apprentice of a master mage named Thorvil. And Crillis himself called you young Jamie. You have more personalities in your body then the seer of the Scarlet Falls!"

Young Jamie? Was that also what had prodded Sedwick's question?

Jamie closed his eyes, thought back to when he had called to Master Crillis that it was safe to come out of the trap door. 'Master Crillis? It is I, Jamie Grimmstone, apprentice to the Master Thorvil. You may come out now.'

Oh! Yes, he had said it - and right in front of Dorf!

Jamie sighed. "Does it matter to you who I really am?"

Dorf stared at Jamie for what seemed like a very long time, but then finally smiled. "No. It does not matter. I trust in you, and I am already fond of you. And I can see with my own eyes that you are quite able. And" -- he indicated Garvin, and then waved a hand at the back of the wagon where Snave traveled -- "you have good and loyal friends, so I can infer from that that you are a person that deserves such good and loyal friends." He made a small, irritated face. "I think it is just not fair that everyone gets to call you Jamie, and I have to call you Master Thorvil."

Jamie laughed, relief flooding through him. "My friends all call me Jamie," he said.

Dorf grinned. "Then I shall call you Jamie, too." The soldier flipped the reins, made a small sound of encouragement, and the tyrbeast started off.

By now the sun was lowering in the west. The day was growing long, and evening would soon be upon them. It had been quite some time since they had eaten, and Jamie vowed that after seeing Wanda Pegfoot they would go to the market and find a street merchant that sold food and get something to eat.

The streets began to get busy again as they passed beyond the worrisome influence of Crillis's burned-out shop, until once again the wagon seemed to be wading through an unending mass of people. Dorf kept their pace slow but steady, alert to those around them, but relying in part on the built-in habit of townsfolk to pay no attention whatsoever to wagon traffic yet still manage to stay out from under their wheels. They reached the wider avenue that split the town in two, and turned right, moving with the flow of people heading for the market square.

It was not long before Jamie pointed to the narrow doorway over which hung the sign, Wanda's Witchcrafts. Dorf pulled the wagon up out front and then looked at Jamie, frowning. "A nice wagon such as this might suddenly drive off if left untended out here in this busy street. Unless you have a magick to prevent that, I should remain here."

Jamie considered that. One of the first magicks most boy apprentices learned was the kind of simple projection used to scare a friend on short notice. Surely something like that would suffice here. He had everyone climb down off the wagon, and waited until Snave came out to join them. That act in itself created a sudden and wide area of clearance about the wagon as the foot traffic noted the large wooden gargoyle and moved to be as far away from it as the buildings would permit. But traffic did not stop, and no one ran screaming. Lyrix was a magic town, with mages and witches in residence, and the townfolk just made-do.

Jamie closed his eyes, whipped a tiny blue point through a tying so quickly it appeared to simply flare up and be gone. This little magick he had known for two years now, a devilishly simple projection with which he had startled or scared most of his friends at one time or another.

He looked up. The canvas flap to the rear of the wagon's seat parted, and another gargoyle, fully as large as Snave, climbed out and sat upon the wagon's seat. Except that, instead of being of golden-brown wood with ebony accents as Snave was, this one was midnight black, and appeared to be of tough and sinewy flesh and blood. It's large black eyes turned to watch the crowds as they passed, and every now and then its mouth gaped open in a yawn, revealing rows of very white and very sharp teeth within.

Dorf grinned. "That will do it, I think."

Geert grinned at Jamie, nodding. "I would not climb aboard, that is for certain."

Jamie waved at the projection, which had just enough wits about it to wave back. If anyone approached the wagon too closely, the projection could also lean towards the culprit and issue forth a growl that would curl the hair of the stoutest of the King's guards. It could also wave its clawed hand in the air periodically, as though shooing off bothersome flies.

Jamie turned to the door of the shop, gave a sigh of relief when the latch gave under his hand and the door opened. A tiny bell jingled as it was swept by the top of the door, signaling their entry. That Wanda was still in was fortuitous. The old witch tended to get restless as sunset approached, and could just as easily have been out somewhere, preparing for the night's activities. Exactly what it was that Wanda did after dark, Jamie had never cared to imagine.

They went inside, and Jamie closed the wooden door behind them, causing the tiny bell to whisper again.

The inside of Wanda's shop was more cramped than was Thorvil's shop of magicks. The shelves and cabinets were closer here, and the contents somehow eerier, and dustier than any would have been allowed to be in Thorvil's place of business. Wanda had no apprentice or clerk to keep the place up, and the filth of the town moved in and made itself at home. Only every now and then would the old witch remember to cast some kind of clean-up spell that sucked the dust out in one great column of air and deposited it in some dark corner of the nether.

Because her method of cleaning shop was more violent than the careful cleaning that Thorvil's shop received by the hands of his two boy clerks, everything in the witch's shop was under glass or secured somehow to its shelf. They wandered up a narrow row of old skulls inside glass cabinets, many of which still bore the remnants of dessicated flesh clinging here and there, and arrived at the counter just in time to hear Wanda's voice drift in to them from somewhere in the rear of the shop. "I'm coming. What can I do for you this fine evening?"

There was the sound of something hitting the floor, followed by a small curse; and then Wanda appeared in the little doorway to the back rooms, shuffling along at her usual gait, tap-tap-tap.

She was nearly to the counter when she looked up and spied them.

"Why, look who it is! My sweet boys! And a third you have with you, I see. A friend?"

"Geert," Jamie introduced, nodding. "Yes, a friend."

Wanda smiled frighteningly, but Geert was used to such things, and managed a pleasant smile in return.

Wanda's eyes moved to Snave. "And the wooden one, too. Mind your manners, you hear? This is my shop we are in now."

She spied Dorf then, and smiled even more broadly. "And who is this? Certainly you cannot be part of this mage's brigade?"

Dorf, apparently so well trained and experienced that even the appearance of the old witch did not faze him, gave a small bow and smiled. "I am Dorf, my lady, driver and guide to these fine souls, and at your service, I may add."

Jamie grinned as Wanda actually blushed. The old witch gave forth a series of cooing laughs, and batted her curled eyelashes a few times, before clearing her throat and approaching the counter. For just a second she almost disappeared behind it before mounting a low step, and then another, and another, and then at last arriving upon the platform that ran the length of floor behind the counter and which brought her up to the general height of those she served as proprietor of the shop.

She smiled again at Dorf, but then leaned forward, looked into Jamie's eyes, and smiled with real warmth, founded only in fondness. "Hello, sweetness. How are you this evening?" Her eyes moved to Garvin, and she nodded. "And you? " She shook her head. "Warms my heart to see you lads, out and about, and away from that hole your crusty employer calls a shop."

Jamie grinned, not about to openly compare the cleanliness and order of Thorvil's shop to the riot and happenstance that was this place. "We needed to ask a few questions of someone experienced and wise, and with The Master away at the conference, you immediately came to mind."

Wanda looked pleased. "I would be happy to assist, as you well know." She looked at Snave then, and winked at Jamie. "Not that this one could help, being tongue-tied as he is."

"They did ask me," Snave suddenly said, his voice deep and calm. "I simply did not know the answer."

Wanda's mouth simply dropped open as she stared at the gargoyle. No one said a word, but everyone was grinning at the expression on the old witch's face.

Finally, Wanda found her voice. "Why...why...Snave! I would recognize that voice anywhere, even after all this time! You speak! How is this come to pass?"

Snave laughed. "A bit of magic on the part of a good friend, and here I am again. So you must watch the things you say to me now, dear Wanda, as I can and will comment on them, to be sure!"

Wanda's mouth opened wider, and she blushed deeply, perhaps recalling the many years of slightly lewd comments made to one sealed in wood and unable to respond.

"Why, I...I..." She stopped, licked her lips, and smiled. "Haven't changed a bit, I see."

"Not one iota." There was a noticeable satisfaction in Snave's voice.

The witch smiled, and this one held the same warmth usually reserved for Garvin and Jamie. "It is good to hear you again, my old friend. A fabulous piece of magic this is, to bring you back among us." She frowned suddenly. "Amazing, really. Just one more event of note in a season of strangeness, however."

"Yes." Snave glided just a little closer to the counter. "You sense it as well, eh? Odd things afoot in the world? The feeling that grave events move elsewhere now, but which will soon turn our way and be upon us?"

Wanda nodded. "Yes. I have felt exactly that. It has troubled me much, lately."

"It may be in part why we are here," Snave offered. "We seek knowledge of a mage called Urvan, who was recently in the employ of the King, but who has since fled for acting in untowards fashion with respect to the young prince, Sedwick."

Wanda made a small, indefinable face, her eyes narrowed. "You mean the one with the fire in his eyes?"

Jamie was stunned. "You do know of him? Do you know where he can be found?"

Wanda shook her head. "He was here, in town, with Kundun, at the market square buying elementals one day. I saw him then. A face like that you do not forget easily. Handsome as a godling, yet cold as the wind at the door of death."

Dorf smiled grimly. "She has seen him. I saw him once, too, and had the very same impression."

"He is not what he seems," Wanda added, with assurance. "I was almost as close to him in the square as I am to you this day, and could feel all manner of things from him." She leaned closer. "One thing I know - he is not the young man he looks. The depth of the darkness I felt from within him only comes with very great time. That one is old - nearly as old as I."

Jamie was stunned at the news, but now something fell into place inside his head.

The game, the one he had played with Urvan, that evening in the hall at the castle. A blind shot, meant to unnerve, and to gain time while Jamie thought. The other mage had said that Jamie was not as he seemed, and Jamie had replied that appearances were deceptive all around.

'You cannot know' Urvan had said.

'But I do', Jamie had replied.

And now, he actually did. Urvan was operating under one of two conditions: either he wore a form - a simple masquerade of his physique that hid his true nature from even the tested eyes of other mages; or...he was age-regressed, just as Jamie had claimed to be.


A formidable and extremely difficult magick, scarcely ever performed with complete success. That was why Kundun had had his doubts about Jamie. Jamie was too obviously a boy and not a man for the old mage to believe that he could have performed the regression so successfully.

So what - and who - was Urvan, really?

Wanda turned to Snave again. "Those eyes of his. They have bothered me since the day I saw them. Like tiny coals burning in the furnaces of hell, they are. I had the distinct impression I had seen them before."

Snave could make no expression, but the way his wooden body seemed to lean forward towards the witch spoke vastly of his intense interest. "Surely? Do you know where?'

Wanda frowned. "I strained to recall it after seeing that mage in the square, and could not. But now, talking to you again, it comes right back to me." She licked her lips. "The one you fought? The one that nearly claimed your life?"

"Lodda," Snave said, his voice hard. "What of him?"

"He had an associate, I believe?"

The gargoyle was silent for a long moment. Then: "Yes. Porvus, he was called. Another mage with trouble for a heart."

Wanda nodded. "That's it - Porvus. Well, that one had an apprentice, a boy younger even than our Jamie. And that boy had eyes that burned in such fashion."

"Leemus," Snave said then. "I knew of him, but never saw him. He was the apprentice of Porvus. And you say he had eyes like our Urvan?"

"Yes. I am certain. The boy had those eyes. I only saw him once, but that face is burned into my memory. The face of an angel, holding the eyes of the dark one himself."

Snave's wooden body turned towards Jamie. "A boy who was trained by Porvus and Lodda will be a deadly adversary by now, Jamie. Surely, he could be as formidable as Thorvil. I suggest we proceed with extreme caution in this matter."

Jamie had to laugh. Hearing the possible true identity of Urvan did nothing to bolster his confidence. That he might be facing a mage on a level with his own Master's skills was somehow not a complete surprise; but it was certainly not something he wished to hear confirmed, either.

"I thought we were already proceeding with extreme caution, Snave."

The gargoyle chuckled. "Yes. I guess we are. This just brings back old memories for me, you see."

"I can imagine," Garvin said.

No one spoke for a moment.

"Best you stay away from that one," Wanda finally suggested.

"We would, except we cannot," Jamie said. "This Urvan - or Leemus - has something we require."

Wanda closed her eyes a moment, then opened them. The old witch leaned on the countertop, thrusting her face towards them. "Oh, my sweet ones. Please be careful. I feel that a meeting with this ember-eyed one will be fateful. Take the greatest of care, so that the beautiful lights I see inside you are not extinguished."

Jamie took a breath, let it out. "Believe me when I say we will take the utmost care, Wanda."

There was little left to be said after that. They returned to the wagon, while Wanda stood in the doorway to her shop and watched them.

The black gargoyle was still in his seat. Jamie untied the tiny knot that had created him and he vanished. They climbed aboard the wagon, and Snave and Geert returned to the rear.

"Do we even know where to go next, then?" Dorf asked, holding the reins in his hands.

"The Forest of Night, of course," Jamie said. He grinned, trying not to let the knowledge they had gained upset him. "But the market square first, I think. I, for one, am hungry. And, we will need provisions for the road."

Dorf patted the hidden pocket in his trousers where he had placed the small bag of gold given him by the prince to cover supplies for their journey, then nodded. "I could use a bite myself."

The wagon started forward. Jamie resisted the urge to mope over the news that Urvan might in fact be almost as old as Thorvil, and his equal - or even master - in the arts. But the question had to be asked then: what was Urvan doing at Cumberstone seeking work as a castle mage if he was already a master of the arts? Surely, he could do better than that. His own shop, certainly. Or a partner in a shop, at the least.

But he had been at the castle seeking - what? Surely not just to be close to Sedwick? But what else was there, then, if not that goal?

Garvin placed a hand on Jamie's and grasped it, intertwining their fingers. "Are you worried, my Jamie?" he asked softly.

Jamie looked at his friend now, into his eyes, which smiled with love and concern. "No. Not with you with me, at my side."

Garvin nodded. "We will persevere. I feel it in my heart, Jamie."

Jamie hoped so. He really did. "Yes." He smiled at Garvin. "Are you hungry?"

"Oh, yes. My stomach makes angry comments to me even now."

Jamie smiled, feeling better about things. He looked again at Garvin, who smiled in return; and then he turned and looked at Dorf, who saw him looking, and smiled as well.

Jamie leaned back and reached a hand through the tarp behind him and placed it on the head of the wooden gargoyle. "Snave? Are you smiling, too?"

There was a small creak from the rear of the wagon, and then a chuckle from Snave. "I am now, Jamie. I'm smiling now."

"And Geert?"

There was silence for a moment, and then the creak of wood, followed by a small thump.

"Ouch! I mean...I am smiling also!"

Jame grinned, looked over at the man seated next to him. "Onward, friend Dorf."

The soldier laughed, made a sharp sound to the tyrbeast, which picked up its pace.

Ahead lay the market square, and something to eat, and provisions for their journey.

Beyond that - who knew?

But that there would also be adventure, Jamie was certain.

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