For weeks I was hidden away in the necromancer’s basement. I try not to recall those drawn-out days hunched over that dead beetle on the table, sweating through my frustration. Time and again, I repeated the same words Gustobald had used so many times during his demonstrations, performed the hand gestures exactly as required. I even consumed the disgusting crawler larva that was the usual base ingredient for the spell. My inflection, my stress-timing, my verbosomatic coordination; everything had been perfect—and yet, not. Not even the slightest twitch of a leg. The scarab’s spirit was gone for good, and mine was fleeting.
Necromancy was nothing like what the academy masters taught. To the civilized wizards of the world at that time, it was all virgin sacrifice and bargains with demons. For all I had learned as a month-long student of the so-called dark arts, it might have been true; if so, I was never called to witness anything half so interesting. For me, it was twelve-hour solo study sessions, punctuated by private instruction from the brightest necromancer of our time, Gustobald Pitch.
Having already attained the rank of apprentice wizard at the academy’s manifestation school, and been subsequently dismissed, I was no stranger to late nights and long hours. In most ways, necromancy was a discipline of magic like any other, with many tomes’ worth of theory and formulae to be committed to memory before even the simplest spells could be cast. This understanding did nothing for my wounded pride. In all the ways that mattered, I had been cast down to the lowly rank of novice, and it stung. A humbling experience; any master would say there is value in that. But I didn’t have time to spend on life lessons. I was in a race against time—against death itself—and I grew wearier by the week.
The language of necromancy was a challenge all to itself. Necrospeech, they sometimes called it, but I’ve heard many names over the years: deathwhispering, deadspeak, corpsetongue, among other uninformed, uninspired drivel. That being said, whatever disrespect was shown to this forbidden script, it deserved all that and more; the language spilled and turned with no care for rule or order. It was maddening.
And I was angry in those days—that day in particular. I might have burned that beetle and the whole table with it. I might have unleashed a bolt of lightning and rendered its tiny body into vapor. I might have smashed its body under my fist, or done one of a hundred other things to convince myself I wasn’t completely powerless, had Gustobald not chosen that very moment to check on my progress.
“Troubles, Miss Ives?” he asked, clearing the bag of fertilizing powder from the corner of the table and stacking it with the others against the wall. “You really must learn to control your temper.”
“I’m in control,” I said, my voice raw from my hours-long attempt to harness the power of that cursed speech.
“In control? You’re downright irascible! And you shouldn’t be down in the basement in such a state. It’s not good for the mushroom garden, after all. A few of the more delicate specimens might think you’re angry at them and go into hiding.”
“Is it?” he asked. His tone of voice and startled expression disarmed me. I could never tell if he was being serious. When I broke down into reluctant laughter, he leaned in for a close inspection of my would-be patient. “Didn’t we talk about this?”
“Yes, Gustobald. But I don’t have time and I haven’t been a novice in years.”
“Ah, but you are a novice now,” he replied, stressing his words rhythmically. “First comes understanding, then practice.”
“I don’t have time,” I repeated as I rubbed my tired eyes with a sigh.
“You’re still afraid.”
“Of course I am.”
“You can’t fear it, girl.” He pointed at the beetle as if that explained everything. “Look at it.”
“Then look and see. It’s dead. You have to accept it.”
“I understand, but—”
“No. No, you don’t,” he said, tugging his braided beard. “It’s dead. Say it.”
“It’s dead,” I repeated.
“All living things must die.”
“All living things must die.”
“And that’s it,” he said. “There’s nothing more, because until you understand that one truth—truly accept it—you will always be afraid. Fearing death is just another way of saying you’re afraid of life.”
I knew better than to talk back to Gustobald. He was a master in his field, despite the academy’s refusal to acknowledge that fact. Even after all he had done for the magic school in uncovering the conspiracy behind the Archseer’s murder, the masters would never fully trust him. In the most difficult times, I had to remind myself that Gustobald knew best.
“Take a rest, Miss Ives,” he said. “It’s important sometimes.”
I took one last look at the lonely scarab and then followed the necromancer up the stairs. He stopped on the final step to motion toward the globe of perpetual light hanging from a rope, snuffing it out.
“You really should use darksight while you’re down here. The mushrooms.”
“I try not to squander my strength any more than I have to,” I said. “I have my own delicate condition to worry about.”
“Perhaps I’ll enchant some spectacles so you can work in the dark,” he said with a nod. “But again, if you were studying upstairs where you belonged, you wouldn’t need them at all.”
We eventually made it to the kitchen, a journey that seemed much longer with the old man’s constant commentary on my unruliness. His complaints reminded me of my own time as an apprentice at the Tower of Hands. The novice and initiate wizards had ever been on the lookout for ways to make my days difficult. At this thought, I was shamed enough to suffer Gustobald’s grievances in silence.
The dining table had already been set out with tea and egg-tarts, a duty that usually fell to me. Gustobald took a seat and motioned for me to do the same. I was eager to get the taste of crawler off my tongue and helped myself without further invitation. I could feel my cat Akasha rubbing against my leg under the table. It was a miracle she had left the treats untouched. I sniffed one of the tarts to make sure it wasn’t another one of Gustobald’s macabre experiments.
“It’s difficult,” Gustobald said at last. “Believe me, I know.”
“Was it the same for you?” I asked, devouring one of the tarts and trying to remember the last time I ate real food. “How did you learn?”
“It was different,” he said. “Harder. I had no teacher.”
“Impossible,” I said, lowering my voice when he raised an eyebrow. “No one could learn this on their own.”
“We all have our hidden talents,” he replied. “Some of us are foolish enough to seek them out.”
“I thought you were gifted with a talent for transmutation.” I passed a bit of the soft pastry under the table to reward Akasha for not disturbing the plate while it was unattended.
“I’ve told you before. With the notable exception here or there, necromancy is much the same. What is life but a continual state of change?”
It was only after I grabbed the last tart from the plate that I realized he wasn’t eating. He didn’t point out my selfishness, and I hadn’t even been counting how many I’d already taken, but I placed the treat back on the dish and went for the teacup instead. I leaned back in my uncomfortable chair and we stared at each other in silence, perhaps both dreading the path of the conversation. It had become a recurring pattern with us; Gustobald was always two steps ahead of me.
“What gave you the idea to leave transmutation?” I asked, hoping this new variation of an old question might slip by unchallenged. “I mean, how did you know you would be good at necromancy?”
“We never know until we try,” he said, reaching out for the last egg-tart. He savored it slowly, as though it were the last treat in the world. If I had known he would use it as a shield, I would have eaten it myself. After a minute of munching, he sipped his drink and cleared his throat, but didn’t continue.
“What I mean—”
“I know exactly what you mean, girl. And your concentration should be on the future, not the past.” At this, he removed a small envelope from his pocket and slid it across the table. At his nod, I unfolded the paper and quickly counted the stack of bills—the paper money used exclusively by the wizards of the Academy Magus in those days.
“There’s three-hundred crowns here,” I said, straightening the papers and making a special effort not to crease them. I had never seen so much gold in one place before. At Gustobald’s nod, I looked to the shopping list written on the inside flap of the envelope. Some of the ingredients would be hard to find.
“That represents a good portion of my life savings,” he said. “You’ll have to pay a visit to Madame Barrows’s Goods. Hopefully she’ll remember what we did for her last month and cut us a bargain.”
“I’m sure she will. I burned down half her shop. She’s still not fully restocked.”
“Maybe don’t remind her of that part,” he said with a painful wink. “Find what you can where you can, and stop by the vaults and exchange the leftover for specie. We’ll need real coin soon enough.”
“Are we going somewhere?” I asked, wondering if the academy had finally turned us away for good.
“In fact, we are.” His sly smile was wasted on me, and he wouldn’t continue until I shook my head. “I’ve been summoned to Astar.”
“We have a new client.” He nodded joyfully. “There’s been another murder!” He was beaming like a child with a sack full of sweets, and I wondered at the fact he had contained himself for so long. “Word of our deeds has reached the capital, and they are in need of our special brand of justice.”
“I can’t go to Astar,” I said, suddenly terrified at the prospect of losing my tutor. “My studies. I don’t have time.”
“Nonsense!” It was too late. He heard my words, but missed my meaning. I would see that same look in his eye time and again in days to come. There was fresh blood and he was ready for the hunt; everything else was secondary. “What better place to grow your practical understanding of the craft?”
“Gustobald!” I waved my hand to catch his attention. “We’ve had a month and I can’t even move a bug. How many months do you think I have left?”
He didn’t answer and neither did I. We spent the better part of a minute staring down at the half-eaten pastry. The master had spoken; as the apprentice, it was my job to follow. Finally, I tucked the notes back into the envelope and carried it to my satchel for safekeeping. Gustobald didn’t leave his chair, just propped his chin on his fist and wandered his own thoughts.
“When do we leave?” I asked, shouldering my bag and threading my wand through the leather straps on my wrist. “It will take me a day or two to gather everything.”
“Tomorrow at noon,” he said. “We mustn’t keep our client waiting. And Miss Ives—” He caught me with my hand on the latch, just before I walked out the door, his voice suddenly somber. “Have faith, and don’t forget the tobacco. It’s third on the list, but it really should be first.”
It took less time than I expected to run Gustobald’s errands. Most of the items were run-of-the-mill components: ink and parchment of sufficient quality to scribe magical scrolls, a couple blank wands to charge whatever spells we would have a need for, rose petals, walnut shells, chips of animal bone, copper rings, dried apricots. Those last were for eating; Gustobald had recently acquired a taste for them.
The more exotic reagents—a rainbow garnet, a swatch of raw spider silk, a small piece of marble carved into the shape of a human finger bone—made up the bulk of the cost. It was more than I would have been willing to pay with my own money. Acquiring them in a timely manner only made things more expensive, but nearly anything could be bought, sold, or commissioned at the magic school for the proper price.
The final item on the list was a small cordierite pendant bound by a simple leather strap, for which Gustobald had placed an order weeks before. While not particularly scintillant, the stone was clear, beautiful, and paid for in advance. I was no expert on gemstones, but it was clearly worth more than Gustobald’s entire estate. It would be many months before I learned its true price.
I was finished before morning, so I took a short nap just before sunrise and then invited my best friend Regina to breakfast—Gustobald’s treat—at the best eatery the academy had to offer. It would be the last time we saw each other for a while, as Gustobald’s business in the capital was open-ended. Truth be told, I wouldn’t miss my grueling study schedule one bit, but I would miss the few friends I left behind.
“I still can’t get over your hair,” Regina said once she finished her meal. She grinned and leaned back in her chair. “Aren’t you light-headed?”
“It’s not too short, is it?” I asked. “I give myself another month in Gustobald’s house before I shave my head completely. It would be cleaner, at least. Don’t ask.”
“It looks cute anyway,” she said, looking down at her pocket and pulling a tiny box. “Before I forget.”
She placed it on the table next to my dirty plate and I flipped the lid to reveal a jadeshell trinket. “It’s half a pair of earrings,” I said. “Thanks.”
“I have the other half, of course. I traded a good amount of my upcoming free time for it, I’ll have you know. We can use them to keep in contact.”
I placed it to my ear and she did the same. I felt a pinprick on my forehead. She must have felt the link as well, because she winced the same time I did. “It’s telepathic,” she said. “Just put it on and call my name and it will summon me if I’m in range—or the other way around.” You can talk out loud, but you don’t have to, she said without moving her lips. “Don’t keep it on for too long though, unless you like headaches.”
“Thank you,” I said, removing the earring and placing it back in its cradle for safekeeping. I felt the mental link break as soon as it was off my ear. “It will be good to have you to keep me company.”
“When our schedules match up, at least. I’ll be busy. So when are you coming back?”
“Maybe a week. Maybe a month. Who knows? Gustobald won’t even say exactly where we’re going.”
“Did you say goodbye to Harper Lazrus yet?” Regina had that look in her eye again. She had been trying to set us up together ever since she found out about him.
“I haven’t spoken to him in a couple weeks.” I tapped the box containing Regina’s gift, avoiding her teasing grin. “Do me a favor. Let him know next time you see him.”
“You should tell him yourself,” she said.
“He’s busy with his research.”
“I really don’t get you sometimes. He’d make time for you.”
“I’m busy with my study, too,” I replied, a little too quickly. “You’ve no idea how much time it takes. It’s not like manifesting.”
“Oh, well excuse me.” She shook her shoulders haughtily and gave a half-smile. “Some of us just have it easy, I guess.”
“I just can’t afford any distractions right now.”
“I get it,” she said. “Save yourself. But what’s the point in living if you don’t take the time to actually live?”
“I’m too tired to actually live, whatever that means. These days I feel it more and more. My strength is leaving me. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get out of bed.” I realized I’d said too much when Regina’s forehead creased. “You know what? Let’s change the subject. Do you have any personal problems I could complicate with my unwanted advice?”
“None whatsoever,” she said, blinking innocently. “Though I have been pretty busy myself these days managing the fresh recruits. We have two due to take the Trials next month, and another a few months later. They won’t be ready. Master Virgil’s none too pleased about it. You mean you’re physically tired or—”
I shook my head, shrugging her off. “Virgil let me get kicked out. He should have fought for me and he wouldn’t be down an apprentice. You can tell him I said that, too.”
“Are you kidding? He’d kill me if he knew I was talking to you.” She leaned forward, whispering in her most sinister tone. “Consorting with a necromancer.”
I wanted to smile, but that joke had run its course weeks ago. Whether I was buying research materials for Gustobald’s bizarre experiments, taking a leisurely stroll to refresh my tired mind, or just paying a visit to my best friend, the mood around the academy was steadily changing for me. I had noticed people crossing the street to avoid my path, cutting their conversations short whenever I entered their space. On more than one occasion I had witnessed mancers—former pupils of mine—flexing their wrists to keep their wands close at hand. Whatever the masters of the Tower of Hands were saying about me, it wasn’t good.
Miss Ives, come at once. Gustobald’s voice invaded my mind. His missives were always the same, regardless of the true urgency of the situation, or more commonly, the lack thereof. Nevertheless, it was getting late, fast approaching the hour of our scheduled departure.
“What’s it like?” she asked. “From the inside.”
“It’s like my first day at the academy, but without the excitement.”
“You’re so brave. I don’t know if I could do it.”
“You could if you had no other choice. There’s not much left for me to lose.” Satchel in hand, I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t want to leave the magic city. After being dismissed from the academy, my proximity to Regina and the streets I had called home for two decades were the only things that gave me a feeling of normalcy, despite my failing reputation.
Even my magic had threatened to abandon me. It had taken over a week for it to return after I had stressed myself so heavily during the MMAGE games. Now it came and went seemingly at its own whim. The only remedy was to stop casting altogether in order to give my body a chance to recover, but it was only buying time until the inevitable.
I caught Regina staring at me, perhaps wishing she could read my thoughts. Her eyes were glassy, so I gave her an apologetic nod. She had been uncharacteristically patient with me over the previous two weeks since we had made up from our most recent argument, and it wasn’t wasted on me.
“Listen, if there’s anything I can do—” Regina let the offer hang in the air between us, no doubt as clueless as I was.
“You’re doing it,” I said. “But I have to get going. Gustobald will have my wand.”
“Seriously?” She stood up first, giving me the courage to follow through, but I shook my head. “All right, then. Go ahead. Off to Astar. I’m still jealous.”
“Don’t be. Look after my cat?”
She nodded. “I’d love to see the capital. We should go together someday. You can be my guide.”
“Maybe after you earn your freedom,” I joked, giving her a long hug.
“Sooner than that would be nice.” She laughed, escorting me out the door. She gave me one last embrace and went on her way, stopping short and waving back to me. “Bring back something expensive for me!”
I shook my head to banish that notion immediately, and then made my way toward the Tower of Many Tongues. Caller’s Court was empty that morning, from the Tower of Seeing all the way to the Calling Grounds, reminding me that all members in good standing were hard at study. Regina would surely be counseled for neglecting her own duties to meet with me.
Miss Ives. The Tower of Many Tongues. Come at once! I pressed my lips together to avoid calling out. I wouldn’t have arrived at my destination yet even if I had left straightaway at his first message. I bolstered my patience and doubled my pace. As usual, I spotted the tower long before I turned off of Caller’s Court.
The summoning school was unique in décor, forgoing the customary stone courtyard for a dirt exterior. It had a large outer ring reminiscent of a jouster’s tilt, draped with bright fabrics embroidered with all manner of bird and beast, both real and mythic. The artistry was top quality, but the design choice made them something of a joke among the other schools. When I turned onto the West Tradeway, I could see Gustobald and Master Rupert waiting within the tower’s garish outer ring. They were deep in conversation and didn’t notice me until I was upon them.
“Come now, girl,” Gustobald said, blowing out his pipe. “No time for layabouts.”
“Is it noon already?” I asked, prompting a double-take from the old man.
Gustobald was decked out in his finest dress robes, an ensemble I hadn’t seen since Master Bartleby’s funeral. He had brought his deathknell staff along for the journey, too—the tool of a true necromancer. He rarely took it from its resting place on his sitting room wall, as it was forbidden to carry on academy grounds. It made Master Rupert jittery, his eyes darting up and down its mock-bone façade.
“We’re leaving early,” Gustobald replied. “Our client isn’t accustomed to waiting. Master Rupert has been kind enough to agree to take us. Pay the man.”
I reached for the coin purse representing Gustobald’s treasury, but Master Rupert raised both hands in front of him. “That won’t be necessary,” the conjuror said. “My only wish is to be of service to the academy.”
“Good man,” Gustobald said. “I’ll be sure to spread the word of your generosity.”
“Don’t mention it.” Master Rupert shook his head as sharply as if he was being chased by a bee, and the warmness seeped out of Gustobald’s face in response to the man’s undisguised desperation. “Please don’t mention it.”
“Our bags, Miss Ives, if you please.” Gustobald turned his back to the conjuror and pulled a small cloth from one of his pockets. He watched me with disinterest, wiping down his pipe and blowing it out once more for good measure. The luggage was light, but difficult to manage—two large duffel bags, each half my height in length—and the fabric rubbed together with a loud swish! with each step I took. I could only hope we never had to move quietly. “Ready when you are, Master Rupert.”
The conjuror took me by the arm and then hesitantly offered his hand to the necromancer. Once Gustobald had accepted, Master Rupert wasted no time in working his magic. One second we were standing in the shadow of the tower, the next we were surrounded by heavily clad soldiers in a round well-lit chamber. “Good luck,” Master Rupert said, disappearing.
Startled at the sudden appearance of armed strangers, I dropped my bags and loosened my wand, but Gustobald’s poise settled my nerve. I took a breath and examined my surroundings. The room was a large sphere, the concave walls chiseled with runes of warding and lit by perpetual flames suspended at regular intervals. There was only one exit from the chamber, guarded by a pair of Sentinels decked out in black-and-indigo ensembles.
“Master Gustobald Pitch!” A man in black master’s robes—with a cape, no less!—stepped out of the wall of soldiers and gave us the most stately bow I had ever suffered. His academy robes were stylized with fine embroidered dots placed at random intervals across the dark field. Some points were connected by silver-stitched lines, which I later realized were star constellations. “I am Xavier, Royal Seer and Court Magician. We are grateful to you for accepting His Majesty’s summons in his time of need.”
“His Majesty?” I whispered. Gustobald nodded in reply, and I realized how close I was standing to my master. When I stepped back to give him some room, my foot caught on the strap of one of the bags I had dropped. I swung my arms for balance, reaching out to Gustobald for aid, but the old man didn’t budge. The raised step complicated matters, causing me to twist my ankle and fall onto my hands and knees just hard enough to damage my self-esteem.
“I’m the Royal Seer, but I’m not royalty,” Master Xavier said. “So please stand up. The men will see to your bags. We mustn’t keep His Majesty waiting.”
Only a select few were given permission to teleport directly into the Silver Palace. There were a number of wards in place to punish those who made the attempt. Instead, Master Rupert delivered us to the Astar Hold, where the First Sentinels kept the most dangerous rogue sorcerers locked away in interdimensional prisons. I gave Gustobald his space when the passing Sentinels took interest in his staff.
Whereas the Hold of the Academy Magus was built with practicality in mind, the Astar counterpart was grandiose, intimidating in its majesty, as if daring the good wizards of the world to step out of line. The arched ceiling stretched thirty feet above; like the walls, it was carved with enormous bas-relief chains that stretched from one side of the building to the other. The chain sculptures were ablaze with arcane enchantments both practical and aesthetic, bathing every inch of the chamber with pure white light, despite its immense volume. Our guards marched on without a second glance at the magnificent scene around us.
I was relieved to get out into the open air. The city streets were alive—a twisting, breathing throng of citizens going about their everyday lives laughing, shouting, fighting, buying, selling, pushing, pulling; engaging in cooperative chaos for the good of all. I grabbed hold of Gustobald’s arm in nervous excitement.
Our guards cleared the way with booming voices and the banging of swords on shields, allowing me to examine the goings-on from a safe distance, though the experience diminished somewhat as people gave up their business to catch a glimpse of those worthy enough to receive a palace escort.
We followed the Cradle until it intersected the King’s Way, where a troupe of fire-breathers and body-benders were entertaining the masses while a troubadour strummed his lute so viciously one of the strings hung broken from his instrument. The people tossed copper studs at a pair of men who deftly caught them between their teeth. The roar of applause was unceasing.
Finally, we turned north and continued to the silver gates. They opened and closed around us, our escort never slowing their march. When the gates closed, the din of the city streets was replaced by the tranquility of the inner courtyard, and half of our guards broke off to return to their normal duties.
“Follow me,” Xavier said as we entered the Silver Palace. “And see that you don’t fall behind. It’s easy to get lost.”
I don’t expect you to truly appreciate the unique situation in which I found myself. I’m not even sure I did at the time. I was invited to a private audience with the most powerful person in Coranthia, King Eamon. There are some who say the king rules over all creation, governing everything from the changing of seasons to the yearly harvest. I didn’t believe any of it, but the man could have taken my head with a single word; that had to count for something.
After ten minutes of wandering through a spider web network of passages, we found ourselves kneeling before His Majesty in a quiet sitting room. He was older than I expected, the first tinges of grey dappling his rust-tinted beard. His gel-slick hair was unmaintained, his eyes bloodshot. He stooped his shoulders and leaned heavily on the oversized table in the center of the room, measuring us.
“Rise.” King Eamon’s command sounded more like a question, so weak was his tone.
As I stood, Gustobald grabbed my hand and pulled himself up, straightening his dress robes. I felt self-conscious about my choice of dress, so I stood back and let him draw attention away from my nondescript travel cloak. Gustobald had been understandably secretive as to the identity of our client, but it would have been nice if he would have given me fair warning.
There were five unfamiliar mages present, each clad in the peculiar leather battledress of the First Sentinels. The academy tasked these wizards with the protection of the royal family, and they took their work seriously. Though it was ever the policy of their order to serve in silence, their icy stares sent a clear message to the necromancer in their midst. They held their wands at their sides, ready to cast at the first sign of provocation.
Queen Valora placed her hand on the king’s arm and whispered to him gently. He gave her a dismissive nod, and she relayed the gesture to her daughter. The two ladies took half the soldiers and two sentinels with them on their way out. With that, the tension drained from the room and only the king’s sorrow remained. He clutched tightly to a blue stretch of fabric, which he frequently brought to his face to wipe away his tears. Upon closer inspection, I realized the article was a shirt.
“Majesty.” Xavier moved aside with a simple bow. “I present Gustobald Pitch, master necromancer and dispenser of the king’s own justice.”
I tilted my head at the odd title, but Gustobald stood taller, rotating his deathknell staff for a more comfortable grip. The necromancer had a hungry look in his eyes waiting for his turn to speak. Judging by the king’s somber mood, it was a good thing Gustobald held his tongue. His words rarely improved a situation.
“The hero of the magic school,” King Eamon said. “Word has it you are responsible for avenging Master Bartleby.”
“Hero?” Gustobald puffed up his chest. “I simply dealt with the matter after all others had given up. With the help of my assistant, of course.” He shot me a sideways glance to bask in my appreciation.
“Master Pitch is being modest,” Xavier began. “He—”
“I suppose some might consider that heroic,” the necromancer said, staring into the distance and nodding thoughtfully.
“He—” Xavier glanced at Gustobald before continuing. “Master Pitch is the best necromancer the Academy Magus has to offer.”
Gustobald took a deep breath but thought better of responding. Instead, he squared his shoulders and cleared his throat. “At your service,” he said.
“Can you be discreet, Master Pitch?” the king asked, staring down at his ring-laden fingers.
“None are more so than I,” Gustobald said, and my mouth went dry.
“None more so than you?” The king nodded. “What I am about to tell you is not common knowledge. If it were to become so, many lives would be at risk, none more so than yours.”
“You have my complete confidence, Your Majesty,” Gustobald said. “You may speak freely. What manner of mischief has Prince Jasper wrought?”
The king tensed up at the mention of his son, his eyes fierce, all but accusing Xavier of treason. The court wizard shook his head, retreating a few steps under the king’s bitter scrutiny. To this day, I have never seen another man fall from such pomp to such despair in the space of a single breath.
“What is this?” King Eamon clenched his fist and walked around the table. Gone was the broken man of moments before, replaced by a red raging giant. He bellowed and jabbed a finger toward Xavier, faster than any duelist who’d ever brandished a wand. “I’ll have your tongue pulled, wizard!” He spat the word with such derision it made my skin tingle, but the sentinels held their composure.
“Mercy, Your Majesty.” Xavier, too terrified to run, froze in place as the king closed the gap between them. “I swear I would never!”
“Master Xavier speaks the truth.” Gustobald never wavered as he stepped in front of the court wizard. “In fact, he’s told me very little.”
“Perhaps not his tongue then,” Eamon said, not pacified in the slightest. “If you have information on my son, you’d best speak now while you still have a chance.”
“Far from it,” Gustobald replied. “Your Majesty is vexed. Prince Jasper being the only member of the royal family not present in your time of need, it is quite obvious who grieves you so. It doesn’t take a seer to know which way the sun will set.”
Xavier moved out from his hiding place behind Gustobald, and I slid away from both of them, a twinge stirring in the pit of my stomach. The blood still hadn’t returned to Xavier’s face, and his voice was shallow. “Your Majesty—”