Authors: Donita K. Paul
The soft pillow cushioned Kale’s head and invited her to stay cozy for a few more lazy minutes. But her nose twitched, and she turned away from Metta, who prodded her cheek with a wingtip and sang a cheerful tune.
“I don’t want to get up, Metta.” She twisted away and pulled the covers over her head.
The minor dragon hopped onto her head and sang a song full of trills and energy and high notes that raked over Kale’s nerves.
“All right! All right!” She threw back the covers, knocking the laughing dragon off her perch. “I’ll go join Bardon at breakfast, but I don’t believe anything could be interesting enough to warrant getting up at the crack of dawn.” She looked out the window and recanted. “Or before noon.”
She swung her legs over the side of the bed. “Oh, my feet.”
Gymn landed on her knee and ran down to sit on the arch of her foot.
“That won’t do,” she complained and carefully shifted her legs to lift her feet with Gymn to rest on the bed. “I didn’t think I danced that much. But when they broke into the tavern songs, I couldn’t help dancing one right after the other. The easiest was dancing with that urohm Stockton. My feet never touched the floor.” She relaxed and stretched out on her back on the soft bed.
Gymn circled her feet, gliding over the skin and rubbing his scales against the places that hurt the worst.
“Ooh,” sighed Kale. “That feels so good.”
Kale rose up on her elbows. “I know. I know. I don’t have time for this. Bardon wants me down at the breakfast board.” She rolled over on her stomach and looked at her dress draped over the back of a chair. “I need time to change my ball gown into appropriate attire for the morning.” She cocked an eyebrow at Metta. “Is it all right for Gymn to continue massaging my feet until I have it ready?”
The tiny purple dragon nodded and flew to the windowsill. She chirred and trilled until several songbirds came to perch beside her on the balustrade. Metta listened to their songs and then repeated them. When satisfied she knew the melodies, the musical minor dragon orchestrated a combined tune. Kale listened with a contented smile on her face. Metta bossed the birds just as she bullied Kale.
Kale’s dress required simplifying, but that took much less time than creating the extravagant apparel for a ball. She modified the lines of the dress, took away the frill and fuss, and reworked the color from pink to a pale yellow.
The music stopped. Kale jumped from the bed before Metta could complain of her dillydallying. Gymn flew into the folds of the moonbeam cape and came out with a comb.
For the next few minutes her hair would look elegant, tied back from her face and cascading in large brown ringlets. After that, gravity would take its toll, and the curls would fall upon her shoulders in a tangled mess.
In moments, Kale descended the wide staircase to the main entryway. She’d left Gymn and Metta in the room. They had no interest in what the buffet offered, choosing instead to feast on insects in the extensive castle gardens.
In the dining hall, Bardon beckoned her to come directly to the seat beside him. He placed a finger to his lips and directed his gaze at two other guests deep in conversation. Tieto hopped from his shoulder to hers. Mikkai remained with his knight. Kale noticed the minor dragon was in an odd mood, hunching over, glowering around the table. He looked like a gargoyle from a book of foreign architecture she’d seen in the library at home.
Kale settled beside Bardon and gave him a morning smile that would pass for an ordinary greeting between husband and wife.
What’s going on?
“Listen to those two. They’ve gone on to another topic now, but they have been circling back to the same odd interpretation of the Tomes as if the thought holds them captive.”
Bardon reached for a biscuit from a platter piled high with them, broke it open, and buttered it. He put it on a clean plate in front of his wife. Then he speared a prickly gotza fruit and held it over a flame rising out of a small silver canister until he’d burned all the spines off. He put it in a bowl, sliced it in half and transferred one piece to another bowl. He gave Kale one and offered the other to the lady sitting at his other side.
The marione maiden leaned forward. “Your husband is such a gentleman.”
Kale swallowed the bite in her mouth as she nodded, then drank from a cup before speaking. “He’s a knight. They are trained to remember that in order to live in a comfortable environment, they must assure the comfort of those around them.”
“Oh,” the lady giggled. “I’ve never heard of such a thing. That must keep him very busy.”
“Actually, it is a basic precept of the Tomes, but one not easily discerned without much study. A principle can be like a hidden riddle. Once you see the meaning, you start finding clues in many places.”
“Still, following these principles must be hard to actually do. I mean, if you always have to see to others’ comfort, when do you see to your own?”
Looking at the woman’s fine dress, her manicured nails, the jewels on her ears, fingers, and around her neck, Kale almost dismissed the question. But the sincerity in her voice and the puzzled expression in her eyes led her to attempt the explanation.
“When you have a household running on this principle, the work spreads out. Sir Bardon demonstrates the implementation of the standard, and we as a family follow suit.”
“Oh, you have children?”
Kale blushed. “No, I didn’t mean that. I meant our household.”
“You treat your servants as family?”
“Hmm.” The woman turned away.
Kale knew the last concept was too much for her to take in.
Scowling, Mikkai moved across Bardon’s back to the other shoulder. He stretched out with his tail hanging down Bardon’s sleeve and his chin on the collar of the jacket.
Kale grinned at him and then turned her eyes back to the woman she had been talking to. Sometimes Kale felt like glowering at the world as well.
Bardon put his hand on his wife’s arm.
“Give her time.”
I wish that when I was a village slave, the townspeople had treated me like a member of their families.
“Of course, but you cannot change the past. You can only influence the future. ‘Moving a rough rock from the bank changes not the history of the ground surrounding it. But place it in the river, and the future is changed for the rock, the river, and the world downstream.’”
What have I told you about quoting principles before breakfast?
Bardon chuckled, leaned forward, and pecked her on the cheek.
“I have something to tell you later. Right now I want you to concentrate on our fellow guests.”
Ever so slightly, he nodded toward the two he wanted her to note.
She busied herself with the food in front of her but kept her attention on the other people at their table.
She identified one man as a tumanhofer architect and the other as an o’rant merchant from Ianna. The conversation centered around the tumanhofer’s need for a specific wood and the merchant’s list of contacts that might be able to supply the need. Her ears perked up when she heard the mention of a truthteller speaking on a street corner near one of the shops the merchant recommended.
“I heard it again there,” he said. “Among all the truth I am familiar with in my own study of the Tomes, the concept of forward forgiveness came to light.”
“The truthtellers come from Paladin’s palace. Surely their teaching is accurate.” The tumanhofer pierced a sausage with his fork and took a bite.
“Do they all come from Paladin?” The o’rant merchant shook his head thoughtfully. “I’m not so sure. There are so many. A dozen or more in the small towns, two or three in every village, and scores in the cities.”
“I didn’t mean that they all came from the palace.” The architect swallowed hard, wiped his lips with a napkin, and met the other’s gaze. “The truthtellers came out from under Paladin’s mentoring, spread out through the country, and trained more truthtellers to further Paladin’s plan to reeducate the citizenry. It has been a great boon to our people. Groups have formed in every community to bring back the principles of Wulder.”
The o’rant scowled. “The porridge has lumps in it.”
“My porridge is fine.”
Kale lifted her eyes to look at the food before the men. The merchant had no bowl of porridge before him, but the architect seemed oblivious. He turned the subject to the different types of food he’d experienced in his travels.
Kale looked at Bardon, who cocked an eyebrow.
“What does Tieto say?”
Kale listened to the minor dragon.
“The o’rant’s aura is fine. The tumanhofer’s contains several dents and a hole.”
She looked her husband in the eye.
“What’s going on, Bardon?”
“A group of people who call themselves Followers are slipping in dangerous ideas while they pretend to be espousing Paladin’s teaching.”
“It shouldn’t be Paladin’s teaching at all. It should always be Wulder’s.”
Bardon shifted his chair in order to stand. “I wish to talk to Sir Dar about this and see if I can persuade him to come with us on the quest.”
Kale squeezed his arm. “That would be wonderful. I’d go with you to convince him, but I have a meeting with Wizard Namee and the others.”
“Having him on the quest would make you happy, wouldn’t it?”
“Then I’ll be very persuasive when I talk to Sir Dar.”
Laughing, Kale stood. “And I’ll go see about this mysterious new weave of a gateway.”
Bardon winked at her. “Oh, you are going to like this new contrivance derived from two brilliant wizard minds.”
As soon as Kale entered the chamber where the wizards gathered, she heard talk of capturing sound. That didn’t surprise her because Namee was a talented sound wizard. And according to Bardon, Regidor collaborated. Kale had long ago decided that Regidor had no distinctive trait to his wizardry, but his talent encompassed them all. She had no doubt he had developed skills that would put her light wizard ability in the shade.
She looked around the room, hoping this protégé of hers was present. It would be like him to make an unannounced appearance. The room held only four wizards—Cam, herself, and two others she knew slightly.
“Of what use will it be?” asked Sora, a plains wizard. She stood with her back to Kale, deeply involved in her debate with another wizard. “If he’s captured sound, then does he let it go later?”
“Now, Sora,” said Vog. “Namee is, above anything else, a sensible wizard. I’m sure there is some practical value to this new gateway.”
Sora huffed. “Yes, but that fellow Regidor was involved in these shenanigans, and I’ve never trusted the meech wizard. Why isn’t he off with his own kind?”
Vog looked over Sora’s shoulder and nodded. “Welcome, Kale Allerion.”
Sora jerked and turned abruptly. A quick smile took the place of a confused expression. “Oh, call me an ill-mannered wretch. I’m afraid my foot is in my mouth. I’m sorry, my dear. I don’t know your meech friend. I’m just a prejudiced old fool.”
“She is, at that,” said Vog. “She’s always rattling on about how things don’t suit her. It’s all those years with the wind whistling about her ears.”
Sora gave Vog a disgusted look, but before she could toss back an answer, Namee entered the room.
“Good, we’re all here. Take a seat, take a seat.” He stood at the side of the room where an empty fireplace provided a backdrop. “Make sure you can see. Get comfortable. This will take a couple of hours.”
Kale heard Sora mutter but didn’t catch the words. She grinned as she deduced the wizard didn’t care to be detained long enough to observe sound being captured.
“First, we’ll have a demonstration with a gateway that has already been constructed.”
The wizards glanced around the room.
Kale saw nothing unusual. She concentrated harder. Gateways usually could be detected without too much trouble, especially ones freshly made or frequently used. She found nothing. Observing the other wizards’ expressions, she realized they were equally puzzled.
Namee chuckled. “I’m carrying it.”
Kale leaned forward, her interest caught.
The sound wizard reached into his robe and pulled a round object from a hollow. The sphere had one flat side and was no bigger than his hand. He set it on the table.
“This isn’t the gateway but a receptacle for containing the portal while traveling. The small portal is fragile.” He touched the top of the sphere and two sides fell away. With thumb and forefinger he pulled out a shimmering cord circlet. The item stretched and opened to a circle two feet in diameter. “This is the gateway.”
“It’s too small to go through unless you’re a kimen,” observed Sora.
“You can’t go through this gateway.”
“Then what use is it?” asked Vog.
“You deposit something in it. That something travels to another gateway made like this one.”
Sora sat forward. “Could you send a letter through? That would be useful.”
Vog nodded. “A tool or an ingredient you want to share with someone.”
“No, no, no.” Namee looked pleased. “You’ve heard the rumors, haven’t you? It’s sound. Mostly. An image too if you construct the thing just right.”
“But—” Sora stopped short in response to Namee’s upheld hand.
“I’ll show you.”
Kale watched as Namee carefully maneuvered the strands of the gateway. At first she thought he was adding to the weave, but then she saw he was opening the portal. The air rippled within the circle. Rainbow colors shimmered across the surface from the center to the outside, then disappeared. Kale gasped as a face became clear. Regidor!
He blinked and smiled. “Hello, you probably think I am talking to you, but I am not actually speaking at this time. I inscribed this message before I departed from Namee’s castle. My voice and image have been stored in the gateway. Namee and I will try another experiment soon, and you shall be the witnesses. Hopefully it will work, and Namee and I won’t look like nincompoops.”
The image disappeared. The center returned to an undisturbed calm. Kale could see right through to the blackened bricks in the fireplace wall.
“In answer to your first question,” said Namee before anyone could speak, “yes, I can make that same image appear over and over should I want to.”
He clapped his hands together and rubbed vigorously. The sound amplified with his enthusiasm.
Sora’s face twisted at the harsh, grating noise. “Tone it down, Namee. You’re going to have us all running from the room with our hands over our ears.”
Namee ceased sliding one palm against the other. “Oh, sorry. Now look at this.” He moved one strand making up the gateway and then another.
The center shifted and rippled. Kale no longer saw through to the other side. In a moment Regidor appeared again, wearing his black cape and the round-brimmed black hat he favored.
“If you are seeing this, the second part of our experimentation has been successful. Again, I am not really speaking to you. Instead, I have stored this message in the gateway, leaving it for Namee to unravel. At the time of this deposit into the portal, Gilda and I were in a small hostel in the city of Kory. I spoke to my gateway this morning and have since left on my journey. I can leave a message at any time in the gateway, directing it to another portal. It will remain until that gateway is opened.”
Regidor shifted position to reveal the view behind him. Gilda pulled away a curtain over a floor-to-ceiling window, unveiling a large lake dotted with sailboats.
Regidor addressed the portal once more. “Kale, tell Bardon to hurry. Gilda and I are traveling north on the east side of the Morchain Mountains. This incredible weave has allowed you to know of my intentions, even though we are too far away to communicate. Namee will now show you a message left at another gateway. I hope you are enjoying our little device. Namee and I had a great deal of pleasure in putting theory into practice. Wizardry, what a superb occupation!”
Regidor flashed his toothy grin, and the image disappeared.
“Yes, yes, quite!” Namee rubbed his hands together again, remembering to keep the volume at a reasonable level. He fingered the weave of the gateway, and this time Kale understood a little bit more of what he was doing. He didn’t open the portal clear to the other side but merely inched the interior wall backward, creating a shallow space in front. With her eyes trained on Namee’s fingers as they worked at the edge of the weave, she missed the appearance of her mother and father in the portal’s center.
“Morning, Kale.” Her father’s voice made her jump.
Framed by the circling weave, her mother and father peered out. Kale recognized her own sitting room in the background.
“Hello, Namee.” Her father looked around as if he could peer right into the room. “Cam, Sora, and Vog. No, I can’t see you. Namee told us who would be invited to this unveiling of the new gateway. Handy, wouldn’t you say? Kale, this is how I can keep tabs on both my castle and yours. Hurry and construct your own portals, friends. We can communicate daily—hourly—if we want to.”
The depiction faded.
Sora stood up. “Me first! I must have one of these.”
Vog chortled. “You want to capture sound, Sora?”
“Sound, images, details, history, and even gossip.” She put her hands on her hips and glared at Vog, who had bent over laughing. “Gossip can be very useful.”
Lake Wizard Cam looked down at a puddle around his feet. “Oh, bother! I’ve sat too long.” He stood up and shook droplets from his sodden slippers. “Only if you’re discerning,” he said, glancing up at the plains wizard. “Otherwise, gossip can be a trap.” He raised his hand as Sora sputtered an objection. “And we all know our Sora is discerning.”
Namee called them to gather around a table he had set up at the back of the room. The first steps of drawing dimensional threads from the air mimicked the beginning of building a conventional gateway. But Kale soon had to give all her attention to the intricacies of weaving a portal so much smaller than those she easily made. These new gateways also required the detail of layering from front to back.
Several hours later, she left a message for her parents in her own version of the gateway. Then Namee showed her how to fold it, and he gave her a cylinder in which to keep her new toy.
Wizard Cam lifted his sphere in the air and examined it. “We should give these gadgets a name. It’s awkward saying, ‘The new gateway invented by Namee and Regidor.’”
Sora held hers up. “The Nagidor? The Regimee? The Meedor?”
“I like the Meedor,” said Vog.
“Humph,” said Cam. “That’s a rather silly name. I was thinking more on the lines of the message portal.”
“How dull,” said Sora.
“Descriptive,” said Cam.
“We could shorten it to MP,” suggested Vog.
“MP?” Sora scowled. “Mounted Patrol. Male Parrots. Magnificent Pottery. More Potatoes. I don’t like MP at all. MP could be almost anything. Massive Pimples.”
Namee took a step toward the plains wizard. “You’ve proved your point, Sora.”
She squinted her eyes and glared at Namee. “Mean People.”
Namee sneered. “Missing Propriety.”
“Silence,” bellowed Cam. Water sprayed from his arms and shoulders, dousing the disputing wizards.
He glared at Sora as she opened her mouth. She pressed her lips together in a firm line.
“We shall call it, if Regidor and Namee concur, the talking gateway.” He moved his pointing finger around the room as he scanned the faces of the other wizards. “Are there any objections?”
The four other wizards shook their heads.
Cam lowered his arm. “Fine. Let us take these talking gateways out into Amara and share them with our fellow wizards. I foresee they shall be a great convenience.”