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Authors: Karen Miller

Tags: #Fantasy, #Epic, #Magic, #Paranormal, #Science Fiction

The Awakened Mage (74 page)

BOOK: The Awakened Mage
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For five slow heartbeats, Morg burned incandescent. Then came a crack of ear-splitting sound. The golden fire bloomed. Blossomed. Swallowed the sun.

Morg disappeared, and his dead demons with him.

Without a word Gar slumped to the cobbles. Fell face upwards, green eyes staring at the cloudy sky. The sky with no Wall. Asher fell with him. He mustn’t let go, no matter what happened.

Gradually, he became aware of feet, hurrying by him. Sound, as rubble was kicked away. Voices shouted orders, called for
“Help here, help! “
He wanted to answer but his head was hurting and he was oh, so very tired.

Footsteps stopped beside him. He opened his eyes.
Dathne.
At her shoulder, Darran. Not dead then, the ole crow, even with a groggy heart, and in his face such a ravagement of grief…

He managed to smile as Dathne knelt beside him, her . hand pressing hard to his cold, wet cheek. “You were goin’ to tell me somethin’,” he whispered, his voice a sickly croak.

Her eyes were brighter than any star. “I was, love, wasn’t I?” Her forehead came to rest against his. “We’ve made a baby,” she told him softly.

A baby. A
baby?
How had
that
happened?

He turned his head and said to his friend, “Did y’hear that, Gar? I’m havin’ a
baby!”

But Gar was dead, and couldn’t hear him.

Darran sobbed then, a thin, broken sound. Asher sat up with Dathne’s help, and stared at the rotten ole crow in fury.

“Don’t you blame
me,
you bloody ole man! This ain’t
my
doin’! It ain’t
my
fault!” His blunt and brutal handprint was burned into the shoulder of Gar’s blue coat.

“It
ain’t
my fault,” he said again. “I never thought of it. I ain’t the scholar. It were
his
idea. All his. Not mine.”

He lowered his forehead to Gar’s still chest.

“I forgive you,
Gar,” he whispered. “I
forgive you. Please… now you forgive me, too…”

Silence. And then a long slow weeping of rain.

 

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

After the moist heat of the high summer afternoon, the shadowy coolness of House Torvig’s royal crypt came as a welcome relief. Asher took a deep breath, tossed a ball of glimfire into the ah and let it light his way along the corridor to the place he’d not stepped foot in since the funeral. His palms were damp and his heart was racing. Sink it, he’d sworn he wouldn’t let nerves get to him. The chamber was cramped. Crowded with memories as well as coffins. As he pressed past Borne, then Dana, and finally Fane he touched a fingertip to his forehead in greeting. Looked into the marble serenity of their faces and with affection recalled them, living. “Majesty. Majesty. Highness.”

They were the last royal family of Lur. The end of a long and proud tradition. One day they’d be nowt but old-fashioned portraits staring down from a wall. Engravings in a history book with no one left alive who’d known them.

One day.

But not today.

He reached the fourth and final coffin. Shoved his hands in his pockets and took another deep breath, then let it out slowly, hoping the ache in his chest would ease. It didn’t.

“So,” he said, into the somnolent silence. “Here I am. Bet you thought I’d never make it, eh?”

By some kind of miracle he’d managed to get Gar’s effigy pretty lifelike. Even though Darran kept insisting the nose was wrong.

Bloody ole crow.

Staring at Gar’s proud stone profile he felt a wave of melancholy. A grinding echo of grief. Dathne said he shouldn’t come here.
Let the dead lie and the living dance.
That was her motto. But he’d put it off for long enough, so here he was.

With a snap of his fingers he conjured a stool to sit on. No reason he couldn’t be comfortable, was there? Heart still heavily thudding, he tilted it onto two of its legs till he reached a precarious balance.

“We had some rain this mornin’. Rain that fell all on its lonesome, without any meddlin’ from me.” He shook his head. “Rain without magic, like everyone’s agreed to. Did you ever think we’d see the like? No more WeatherWorking. Now there’s a thing . ..”

The Gity folk had danced in the street like children as the dove-gray clouds summoned by no one unburdened themselves without spite or fury. He and Dathne had smiled to see it. He smiled again now, remembering, then swiftly sobered; harsher memories lurked close to the surface. Sometimes he thought they’d never sink.

“Everything’s different now, Gar. Everything’s changed.

For the better, I’m hopin’, though I don’t deny it’s still a mite unchancy. Bloody politics. There’s lots of you Doranen of the mind things should go right back the way they were. Seems they’re havin’ a deal of trouble gettin’ used to Olken magic. Good thing I got Holze on my side. Good thing Nix and some healers from the Circle patched him up and kept him breathin’. He’s the royal Barlsman. Folk listen when he speaks. He’s kept the kingdom together, I reckon, him and his clerics. Kept folk from goin’ mad.”

He thudded the stool back to the flagstoned floor. Got off it, arms folded over his chest, and started pacing.

“We lost a lot of people, Gar. Yours and mine. The storms savaged every inch of the kingdom, just like the Circle said.” Pulling a face he added, “All of Conroyd’s family perished. Sad, but I don’t deny it’s made life easier. Ain’t no squabblin’ over crowns any more. And it seems I got no brothers left but one. There were waves, you see, from the falling of Dragonteeth Reef. Ferocious, they were, folks say. Taller than treetops and faster than a galloping horse. They washed in from the harbors, up and down the coast. Restharven’s most gone now, and Westwailing. Rillingcoombe. Struan’s Cove.”

The playgrounds of his childhood, smashed to rubble and firewood. He’d not gone down to see them yet. Wasn’t sure when—or if—he would. Getting the kingdom back on its feet was a full-time job, and besides, all those survivors, searching for answers. What could he tell them? How could he explain?

Not even the Innocent Mage could save everyone.

He shook his head. “Jervale alone knows how Zeth survived, but if anyone was goin’ to, it’d be him. I sent a message sayin’ he and the rest of the family could come here. That they was all welcome. Folks as spoke for me said he just spat and walked away. Aye, well. That’s bloody Zeth for you.”

With a shrug and a jerk of his chin he put that memory to bed.

“And Jed survived too, bless ‘im. He’s livin’ here now, with us. Potters round the stables and pastures most days. Cygnet and Ballodair follow him like overgrown dogs. He won’t stop feedin’ ‘em apples no matter how often I ask ‘im not to.”

Was that glimshadow, or Gar secretly smiling? He smiled himself, a little. Right or wrong he found it hard to grieve for his brothers. But if he’d lost Jed …

“We’re rebuildin’, slowly. Got anew Council. Dathne’s on it, and Pellen Orrick. Me. Holze, of course, and Nix. Lady Marnagh, too; she’s a woman with sense. There’s talk of makin’ Orrick mayor of Dorana, but I don’t know if he’ll do it. He was born a guardsman, Pellen. Dathne’s overseein’ all to do with Olken magic.” He grinned. “You should hear her speechifyin’. Scares the trousers off me. Veira’d be right proud of her, if she was here. Matt, too.”

His breath caught a little at the sound of their names, and his fingers pressed the lump of crystal still buried in his flesh. It was a talisman, now. A part of him, memory, as they were part of him and always would be.

“Bloody Darran’s in his element. Fussin’ and orga-nizin’ and bossin’ folk about. Truth is I’d be lost without him, but don’t you bloody tell ‘im. The ole crow’s puffed up enough as it is.”

He scratched his chin and watched, for a small while, glimshadows dance on the chamber wall.

“It ain’t smooth sailin’, not by a long shot, but we ain’t quite capsized yet.” He snorted. “Some fools want to make me king but I won’t let ‘em. I
ain’t
a king, I’m a bloody fisherman. Just ‘cause I got some powerful magic…”

Suddenly tired, he dropped back on the stool. “I don’t much care for magic, Gar. Don’t like what the wrong person can do with it. Ain’t too proud of what I did with it, even though I had to. I’ve kept Barl’s diary, like you asked me. Read it, at least what you managed to translate. Your bloody handwriting—I nearly went cross-eyed. I’ll keep it safe, no need to worry. But I reckon I’ll keep it secret, too. Barl hid the thing for a reason, and I reckon she was right. No one should have that kind of power. Not for any reason.”

He’d told not even Dathne he had the diary. He had a duty to safeguard the future, just in case another Morgan—or Barl—was born.

Gar’s effigy glowed warmly in the light of the yellow glimfire. In the stone face a silent agreement. Seeing it, he breathed a little easier.

“There’s talk started up of crossin’ Barl’s Mountains, and I reckon we will go, one day. But there’s work to do here first. That’s what we need to think on now, not rushin’ about from here to there, sightseein’.”

He stood again, then, and unkinked his back. “Speakin’ of work, I’d better go. Just wanted to tell you what’s happening, is all. Figured you’d like to know.” His fingers touched Gar’s shoulder, briefly. “I miss you, my friend. Ain’t a day goes by I don’t think…” He stopped, his throat closing. It was done, it was done, and nowt could undo it. “Anyways. I just wanted you to know this: I promise I won’t waste what you gave me. What you gave all of us. I should’ve said thank you, Gar. I should’ve said a lot of things. Sorry. Guess I am bloody rude after all.” He heaved a sharp sigh. “Don’t know when I’ll have a chance to visit again, but I will. I promise. Wait for me, eh?”

With a flick of his fingers he sent the glimfire bobbing towards the crypt’s doorway. As he reached Fane’s tomb he stopped. Shook his head. Turned back.

“Nearly forgot,” he said. “About the baby. If it’s a boy we thought we’d call it Rafel. That’s a bit more personal than a moldy ole statue. If it’s a girl, Darran says we got to call it
Gardenia.”
He grinned. “Darran can suck on a blowfish and die.”

And he left the crypt, still grinning.

 

 

The recently opened Garden of Remembrance was full of fountains and flowers and flitting, jewel-colored birds. Asher came out of the crypt into warm sunshine, where families strolled and boys and girls, black-haired and yellow, threw balls of glimfire, squealing with laughter.

Dathne was waiting for him, round as a full moon.

“All right?” she asked, her hand on his arm.

He kissed her cheek. “Aye. All right.”

“Good,” she said, and tugged him along the path. “Now walk with me.”

As he turned, obedience personified, he caught a glimpse of Darran hurrying towards them from the direction of the palace. The light of battle was in the ole crow’s eye and a dozen scrolls were clutched to his chest. He groaned. He never should have mentioned he was going to the crypt…

“What?” said Dathne, alarmed. – “Nowt, nowt,” he assured her blithely. Slid his arm around her shoulders and matched his stride to hers as they strolled between the budding pink cantimonies. With luck she wouldn’t notice …

But Dathne glanced to her right and cursed. “Oh, for Jervale’s sake! Can’t he leave us alone for five minutes?”

“Doubt it,” he said. “Darran lives for his paperwork, you know that.”

She gave him a look. “Since when are you so tolerant?”

“I ain’t. But you’re the one said bygones were bygones and these are brand-new days.
And
you said I had standards to set. Can’t hardly show my aggravation in public, can I?”

“Maybe not,” said Dathne, and raised her hand. “But I can.”

The scrolls of paper leapt out of Darran’s sheltering arms. They heard his wail of dismay quite clearly.

“That weren’t very nice,” he said. Glancing over his shoulder he saw Darran stooping and scooping the scrolls from the ground, and grinned. “Then again, neither’s this. Rat’s arse to good examples!”

With a whispered word he set the scattered scrolls to dancing. The children, seeing a better game afoot, abandoned their balls of glimfire and joined in the chase. They thought it enormously funny.

Darran didn’t.

“Asher!”
he shouted, his voice carrying on the lively breeze. “You
reprobate.
You
ruffian.
You
sorry
excuse for a king!”

Asher shook his head in sorrow. “What a mouth the ole man’s got. And all in front of the baby, too.”

“Disgraceful,” Dathne agreed, smiling. Took his hand and placed it tenderly on her burgeoning belly.

With Darran disposed of they wandered amongst the flowerbeds and past the statues in the Bower of Heroes: Gar and Matt and Veira and Rafel. The sun shone softly in an eggshell-blue sky. Birdsong drifted from the trees around him. And a lone skirling eagle rode the thermal currents above the top of the Black Woods, up the face of Barl’s Mountains … and beyond.

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

First, last, and all the stops in between—my incomparable editor, Stephanie Smith. Julia Stiles, copy editor extraordinake. The entire HarperCollins Voyager team in Australia, most especially Robyn Fritchley and Samantha Rich.

Fiona McLennan for friendship, feedback and excellent website advice.

Shane Parker, for his exquisitely delicious covers and putting up with the nit-picking author.

Elaine and Peter, again, for more beta reading above and beyond the call of baby Kate.

The Purple Zone crew, whose enthusiasm for Book One made me smile and smile and smile.

All the folk who gambled on me with their dollars, then made a point of letting me know they didn’t consider the money wasted. Thank you.

And last, but never least, the wonderful booksellers who convinced them to take that gamble. Thank
you.

BOOK: The Awakened Mage
2.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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