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Shattered Dreams

 

Shattered Dreams: A Pursuing Victory Novella

 

M.M. Brownlow

Shakespir Edition

 

 

Copyright 2016 M.M. Brownlow

 

 

Discover other titles by M.M. Brownlow at Shakespir.com

 

 

Shakespir Edition, License Notes

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Shakespir.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

Table of Contents

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Author’s Note

 

The Pursuing Victory trilogy tells the story of Aislynn and Eryk from the other side, the antagonists’ points of view. There are three books in the series, which detail the stories of Callum – King of Madelia, Avalon – Commander of the Black Scorpions, and Rhys – Emperor of Gundalar and the mastermind behind the plotting.

There is another player working for Rhys, and that is Henry. He is the son of Cynthia and Reginald, heir to the throne of Mythesti, and Aislynn’s brother-in-law. This is his story.

Chapter 1

 

Henry rushed down the corridor, mindless of which turn or stairway he took. His goal was to lose his pursuers, and it wouldn’t do him any good if they managed to pluck his location from his mind. Better for him to be lost in the maze that was the lower levels of the large building. He knew not to look behind him as he ran – that cost him precious seconds – so instead Henry concentrated on simply moving as fast as he could.

He had no idea how long he ran before his pounding heart and ragged breathing finally drove him to search for somewhere to hide. He didn’t hear anybody behind him, but he wasn’t sure how long that would last. Ducking into room after room, Henry scanned the spaces and rejected them one by one. He didn’t know what he was looking for until he found it, a small room with a padded bench and battered table in the middle and no other furnishings. Shutting the door behind him, he flipped the lock and breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the room’s shielding click into place. This workroom would allow his magic out but no magic in, effectively hiding him from all but the most thorough and persistent search.

Brushing his sweaty brown hair back from his forehead, Henry collapsed onto the bench and placed his apprentice staff on the table. Folding his arms beside his staff, he laid his head on his arms and took deep, restorative breaths. Slowly his heart returned to a normal rhythm and he felt a little less fatigued, and when he felt ready, the boy picked up his staff once again.

Henry caressed the smooth wood of the staff, which was about the length of his forearm. The pale wood showed very little grain, and each of the magical symbols he’d learned so far showed clearly where he’d painstakingly etched and painted them along the wooden length, one rune for each spell he’d mastered in his nearly five years of training. The end of the staff held a large emerald, the wood curving around the focus stone almost lovingly. Henry was an apprentice Earth mage, and the staff was the symbol of his craft. He needed it to focus his energies for all but the most basic spells, and as he found and traced the rune he needed now, Henry could feel the wood warm beneath his hands like it was a living thing.

Closing his blue eyes, Henry began to see a map of the building painted across the darkness by the spell he was casting. Slowly he watched walls take shape in his mind, marking out rooms and hallways, and as he continued to weave his spell, the layout of others floors appeared in his mind as well. Soon he knew exactly where he was, as well as where his tormentors were. They were searching for him still, and Henry sighed as he let the spell go. He shifted his weight on the bench, trying to make himself more comfortable. It looked like he was going to be here for awhile.

Henry remembered the very first time he’d run afoul of his special torturers, a group of three boys who seemed hell bent and determined to make his life miserable. It had been his second day as an apprentice mage, and he’d been trying to find his way from the dining hall to his first class. Only six years old, he’d felt lost, confused and somewhat abandoned by his parents, and trying to look in five different directions at once had caused him to walk right into another student, a tall, older boy named Jerome. Jerome had immediately spun around to confront him, the boy’s swinging staff slamming into Henry’s arm with enough force to bruise right down to the bone. Henry had fallen to the ground, much to the amusement of Jerome and the two boys who’d been standing with him.

“Watch where you’re going, imbecile,” Jerome had growled.

Scowling, Henry had pushed himself to his feet and brushed the dust from his clothing. “Show some respect,” he’d answered. “Don’t you know who I am?”

Jerome’s answer had been another blow from his staff, knocking Henry back down. “Of course I know who you are, your Highness. Who could have missed the fanfare yesterday? Well guess what? I don’t care about your prophecy or who your parents are… You’re no better than anybody else here, princeling. Might as well get used to it.”

Jerome and his cronies had left it at that, the first time, but the truth of Jerome’s words was evident when Henry had complained to the masters and been told that he should be more careful in the halls. From that point forward, whenever Jerome caught Henry alone, Jerome always made sure the prince knew where his place was – on the floor – and no amount of telling or complaining had helped. When the punishments Jerome inflicted on Henry for the apparent sin of being born who he was got worse, Henry took to running away instead of getting beat up. He was the prince of this kingdom, that was true, but that held no weight in this place, and he couldn’t ever seem to defend himself against the older boy. No matter what he tried, Jerome was always a step ahead of him.

Pulling himself from painful memories of beatings past, Henry hung his head in his hands and closed his eyes once more. Until he’d come to this place, nobody had ever laid a hand on him; he’d had a whipping boy at home to take his punishments for him. His whipping boy, a peasant about his own age, had been named Lewis. The idea was that if Henry needed to be punished, instead of laying a hand on the heir to the kingdom of Mythesti, Lewis would take the punishment instead. Since Lewis was innocent of any wrongdoing, Henry was supposed to feel bad about having the boy take his beatings, thereby encouraging Henry to better behaviour. Lewis’ family was well compensated for their son’s service, something that went a long way in Mythesti’s poor economy, and Lewis himself was educated, housed, dressed and fed like a noble. Henry had always thought that Lewis was getting a good deal until he’d had to start taking his own beatings.

Henry stayed in the workroom he’d chosen for a sanctuary until his legs were numb from sitting in one position for so long and his stomach was rumbling with hunger. Pushing himself up, he kicked his legs and walked around the room a few times to restore circulation before finally approaching the locked door. He knew that as soon as he opened the door the shield would open and he’d be detectable once more. In addition to Jerome and his friends, there were two other apprentices, three journeymen and two masters who called this building home. The master mages were a husband and wife team, and this building was the closest thing Mythesti had to a mage school, making Henry’s apprenticeship here something that his parents had been very happy about.

After his magical abilities had been discovered shortly after his sixth birthday, Henry was heralded not only as the heir to the throne, but also as possibly the prophesied saviour of the poor, failing kingdom, a mage of royal birth who would turn the kingdom’s fortunes around. Most master mages picked up apprentices as they found them, and there was a lot of moving around involved in a mage’s training, with the associated security and safety concerns. The king and queen liked the idea that their son would be stationary, at least until his journeyman years, but right now Henry wished that he were alone with his master instead of living here. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.

Henry crept along the dimly lit corridor slowly, trying to keep all of his senses alert so that he wouldn’t be caught unaware by Jerome. When he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder a few moments later, he shrieked and turned around so abruptly that he stumbled and nearly fell.

“Take it easy there.”

He felt another hand on his shoulder, this time to steady him. Henry looked up and met the crooked grin and sparkling green eyes of Master Rylan’s journeyman, Cedric. He breathed a sigh of relief. Cedric was five or six years older than he was, and the older boy was someone Henry admired a lot. Cedric had actually rescued him from Jerome a time or two, and Henry loved the classes he had that were taught by the journeyman. Cedric never looked down on him for his royal birth, though he did expect Henry to pull his own weight when it came to both chores and lessons.

“I’ve been looking all over for you,” Cedric scolded with a smile. “You’ve missed dinner and your evening chores.”

Henry groaned, making the older boy laugh. “Don’t worry. Maddie covered for you, but you owe her the next two mornings of kitchen duty in exchange.”

Henry smiled and nodded his agreement. An extra shift of chores was a small price to pay to avoid a beating from his master for shirking his responsibilities. He made a mental note to thank Maddie as well, one of his master’s younger apprentices, a girl only two years into her own training.

“Come on then,” Cedric prodded, giving Henry a gentle push to get him moving. “I’ll take you up to the kitchen for something quick to eat, and then see you safely to your room. You really need to learn to stand up to him, you know.”

Henry sighed. “I tried, I really did, but he always seemed to know what I was going to do before I did!”

“No, he knew what you were going to do when you did,” the older boy corrected him. “Jerome is a Spirit mage, remember? He likely uses a telepathy spell when he picks on you, which would let him read your thoughts. You need to keep your shields up.”

Henry sighed again, louder this time. “I thought I was keeping them up. I guess I’m still not very good at splitting my concentration.”

As promised, Cedric took Henry to the kitchen where the cook put together a sandwich for him and gave him an apple to take back to his room. After the journeyman escorted Henry to the dormitory and his small sleeping chamber, Henry locked the door and threw himself onto his tiny, hard bed. As he ate his makeshift dinner, he contemplated Cedric’s words of advice. If only he could finally stand up to his bully, maybe the next five years wouldn’t be as bad as the first five.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Cedric ducked into the library and closed the door before leaning back against the smooth wooden panel with a sigh. Across the room his master and the lady of the house sat by the fire, crystal goblets of wine catching the light as they turned to regard him.

“Well?”

“I found him,” Cedric stated as he straightened. “He’d taken refuge in one of the shielded workrooms after fleeing from Jerome… again.”

“What is wrong with your apprentice, Melynda?” the master mage asked, looking to his wife for an explanation. “What does he have against the boy?”

Melynda tilted her head to the side and smirked. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him, dear,” she answered. “He just feels strongly that the prince shouldn’t expect differential treatment because of his birth.”

“The boy came to us when he was six! He was just a child. He still is.”

“Rylan, you know as well as I do that six years of coddling and luxury are more than enough to set a child firmly down the wrong path.”

Seeing that he wasn’t going to get anywhere with this argument, Rylan turned his attention back to Cedric.

“And what is your assessment of this situation, young man,” he asked.

Cedric blinked, surprised to be asked his opinion. “Well… Henry told me that he tries to fend off the attacks when they happen, but that Jerome always seems to be a step ahead of him. To me, that sounds like Henry does not yet have the instinctive control of his shielding when he’s under stress, which is something he’ll need to perfect before he can take his journeyman test. It worries me that he is so far behind.”

“And what would you recommend?” the master mage wanted to know. This question caught Cedric entirely off guard, and his expression must have shown it because Rylan laughed.

“Don’t be so shocked,” his master admonished. “You’ll be a master soon yourself, and you’ll need to deal with these sorts of things.”

Cedric took a few moments to frame his answer in his mind before replying.

“I would give Jerome his test and promote him,” he finally stated. “Once Jerome begins his walkabout, Henry will be free of the distraction of his bully, and will be more likely to be successful. He will need tutoring, however, since if the shielding isn’t instinctive by now, it won’t be without direct intervention.”

“Excellent,” Rylan pronounced, turning to face his wife. “Didn’t I tell you, Melynda? Cedric has a wonderful head on his shoulders. You can start tomorrow, young man.”

“Excuse me?” His master hadn’t turned to look back at him, so Cedric wasn’t certain that the man was speaking to him.

“You can start tutoring Henry tomorrow. Jerome’s test will be the day after tomorrow, and Henry’s is only three months away, so you’d better start his tutoring as soon as possible.”

“Hold on a moment. What do you mean that Jerome’s test is in two days? It takes longer than that to assemble a circle of mages.”

“Yes, it does,” Rylan agreed. “That is why Melynda began the process a couple of weeks ago.”

“But if you were already going to promote Jerome, why did you ask me about what I thought you should do?”

Rylan laughed. “Just because I asked for your thoughts, it doesn’t mean that I was planning to act on your advice. You are, after all, still a journeyman, and one with a year of learning left before him. Now off you go, Cedric. Have a good night.”

Cedric didn’t need to be dismissed twice, but as he closed the door of the room behind him once more, he remembered his master’s comment about Henry’s test being in three months. They couldn’t have scheduled it already, could they? He turned back to ask, but hesitated with his hand on the knob. Neither Rylan nor Melynda took kindly to having their judgement questioned, and so Cedric turned away and made his way up to his own little room. If he only had three months to whip the prince into shape, then he did indeed require a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow was going to be the beginning of an exhausting amount of work.

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

Bang, bang, bang.

When all Cedric heard from the inside of the room was a soft groan and the rustle of sheets, he knocked again.

“Get up!” he called through the still closed door. “You have until I count to one hundred to get out here, or I’m coming in to haul you out, dressed or not!”

He was well into the nineties, his hand on the latch, when a sleep-tousled young prince appeared.

“What time is it?” Henry wanted to know as he used his fists to scrub sleep from his eyes. “I feel like I’ve barely had time to sleep at all.”

“Is that a complaint?” Cedric asked in way of answer. “You’re going to be reaching your five year anniversary in just a few months, and you’re nowhere near ready to take your journeyman test. Do you want to pass or do you want to sleep?”

Cedric watched Henry’s eyes darken at his disrespectful tone of voice, and the older boy waited to see what would happen. He knew as well as Jerome did that Henry felt unjustifiably entitled to a lot of things, and he had no intention of letting the prince get away with any inappropriate behaviour or comments.

“Pass, I guess,” the boy muttered finally, and Cedric nodded as if he hadn’t expected anything different.

“Come along then. I’m going to tutor you before morning chores for the next little while, and we’re going to start with dividing your focus between two spells.”

Cedric turned on his heel and started to walk briskly down the hall and away from the small sleeping chambers. Caught by surprise, Henry had to scamper to catch up, and when he did, the apprentice needed to practically jog in order to keep pace.

“Why are you doing this?” he asked, his voice sounding just a little breathless from their quick pace. “Why are you giving up sleep to tutor me?”

A few different replies flashed through Cedric’s mind and he considered each of them before stopping outside one of the shielded workrooms and turning to face Henry.

“You are my master’s apprentice,” he began, “and your performance reflects on all of us. I have no desire to look foolish because you weren’t able to pass your test.” It wasn’t the entire truth, but it was part of it.

Henry nodded, his expression conveying understanding, and Cedric had to school his features in order to avoid showing his disappointment. It saddened him that the boy could so readily identify with such a self-serving answer. He hadn’t really expected anything better of prince, though, as much as it pained him to admit it, even if it was only to himself.

“So what are we going to do first?”

Cedric opened the door and gestured the prince inside. “First we’re going to work on getting your thoughts shielded a lot better than they are currently. Then we’re going to make sure they stay that way.”

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Five…four…three…

Head in his hands, Cedric tried desperately to regain control of his temper. As he finished his silent count, he took a deep breath and looked up at the young prince sitting across from him.

“How is it possible that you can’t do this?” he asked Henry, quite pleased with himself for keeping most of the frustration out of his voice.

Henry sat up as if affronted, spine straightening, and he blinked his eyes.

“How am I supposed to know?” he asked in return. “Aren’t you the teacher? You tell me why I can’t do it.”

That was it! Cedric was tired of the attitude and the number of times the boy foisted the blame for his lack of prowess onto someone else.

“Look,” Cedric stated, “I don’t care if you’re going to be my king one day, and I don’t care if you’re supposed to be some sort of prodigy destined to save this wretched kingdom. I WILL NOT be spoken to this way any longer.”

Cedric stood and began to pace along the length of the table that was thankfully between him and his student.

“I have no idea how you’re supposed to amount to anything let alone a saviour with untold magical ability,” he spat brutally, hoping to shock the boy into better behaviour. “If you can’t even cast a pair of second year spells by this point, you’re not only dooming this kingdom, you’re likely going to get yourself killed. And with an attitude like you’ve been throwing around, good riddance!”

As soon as the rant left his mouth, Cedric was sorry for saying the words. It wasn’t that they weren’t true, but Henry didn’t really need to hear all of Cedric’s thoughts and concerns laid bare like that.

Henry blinked rapidly a few times, pushed himself up from the table, and fled the room.

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

Henry stalked down the corridor, using anger to keep the tears at bay.

How dare Cedric speak to me like that? he asked himself. If I was king, I would… I would have him executed! Chop his head off and leave it on a pike outside of the school for everyone to see that…

Henry let that thought trail off inside his head, suddenly uncertain of where it was leading. Everyone in the kingdom knew the prophecy that Cedric had thrown in his face. A few generations ago, the Seer of Talothis had foreseen that a child of the royal family would be born with the magical ability to save the failing kingdom of Mythesti. Every royal child, whether of direct descent or part of a branch of the family, was tested for magical ability on his or her sixth birthday. Henry was the first child since the prophecy was spoken who actually had magical ability, and in the last five years, the prophecy and Henry’s role in its fulfillment had been all he’d heard about. The pressure he felt was enormous, though he’d never told anybody that he felt that way, and now Cedric was telling him everything that he’d ever feared. Henry was desperately afraid that he would fail to save his kingdom.

So would I chop off Cedric’s head because he was disrespectful, or because he was telling me a truth that I don’t want to hear? Henry asked himself. Would I be warning people not to speak rudely, or not to be honest with me?

He stopped walking. He took a deep breath, and then he turned around. He may not have been happy with Cedric’s words or his tone of voice, but Henry realized that if he didn’t want to fail, if he didn’t want to let everyone down, he needed Cedric. He went back to the workroom, prepared to beg if he needed to.

When the door opened beneath his touch, Cedric looked up and Henry could see regret pasted across the journeyman’s face. He opened his mouth to speak, but the older boy held up his hand, indicating that he wanted to speak first.

“I’m sorry about what I said,” Cedric admitted quietly, and Henry nodded his acceptance of the apology.

“And I’m sorry for… overreacting,” Henry stated. “You’re right. I should be able to do what you asked me to. I should be able to do anything you ask me to.”

Henry looked down, ashamed. “I… I really need your help,” he said quietly. “I don’t know why I’m not… why I can’t…”

Henry felt Cedric’s hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see the journeyman’s slight smile.

“Don’t worry, Henry,” he assured him. “We’ll figure it out. How about we sit back down and begin at the beginning? You show me what you can do, starting with your first year spells, and we’ll figure out where your skills need strengthening, okay?”

Henry nodded and let himself be led back to the table, where he resumed his seat. Running his fingers along his staff, he found the rune for the very first spell he’d ever learning. Taking a deep breath, he gathered his energy and felt the wood beneath his hand warm to his touch. As he released his spell, everything in the room that was magical began to glow with an eerie green light.

“Excellent,” Cedric said as he looked around. “The glow is strong, and it shows variation to indicate the strength of each object’s magic. Now, the next spell.”

Spell by spell, Henry spent the next few days casting his entire repertoire as Cedric watched carefully. As the spells progressed through to the higher levels, the journeyman began to take notes about what he observed when Henry cast, and at the end of the week, he shared his notes, explaining in detail what he’d seen.

“So your individual spells are fine,” Cedric told him. “You cast them exactly the way they are supposed to be cast, and that’s the problem.”

“How is that a problem?” Henry wanted to know. “If I’m doing what I was taught to do, why is that bad?”

Cedric took a deep breath and took a few moments before answering. “By this point in your training,” he explained, “you should be… personalizing your spells. For example, when I cast the detect magic spell, things glow blue instead of green. I’ve always found the green a very unpleasant thing to look at, so when I grew powerful enough, I changed the spell a little. You’re not doing that sort of thing.”

“But nobody ever told me that I was supposed to!” Henry exclaimed. “How was I supposed to know?”

“It’s usually something that just happens,” Cedric said with a shrug. “I’m guessing that you’ve been so focused on getting everything exactly right, that you’ve never loosened up enough to experiment.”

“So that’s what we work on next?” Henry guessed, and Cedric nodded.

“Which spell’s effects do you like the least?” the journeyman asked, and Henry took a few moments think about his answer.

“The entangle spell,” the prince said at last. “I’ve never understood why, when every other apprentice spell is about rock and sand, that spell is vines.”

Cedric nodded. “So we’ll work on that one. What do you think it should be then?”

“I think it should be more like mud rising up from the ground to encase you,” Henry explained. “Maybe the mud could even solidify into rock to hold the person in place?”

“So do it.”

“How?” Henry wanted to know.

“Figuring that out is your challenge, my dear apprentice, not mine.”

 

 

 

Chapter 4

Henry clenched his teeth against the pain and blinked his eyes rapidly in a vain attempt to keep the sweat rolling down his forehead out of them. His lungs burned as he tried to pull oxygen into his air-starved body, but nothing he tried seemed to ease his discomfort nor put an end to his suffering. He knew that there was only one thing he could do to stop this torture, but he wasn’t quite stretched to his limit just yet.

“Let go!” Cedric commanded, his voice distorted by the stone and earth that separated them. Henry shook his head stubbornly, refusing to give up when he’d finally managed to transmute a large section of earth into a huge pane of bubbled glass, and he watched as his tutor threw his hands into the air in disgust. He just needed to smooth the glass a little more to get the bubbles out, and then Henry could consider this latest challenge accomplished. That fact that Cedric wanted him to quit was just another example of how the journeyman was working against him, trying to hold him back and prevent him from becoming the saviour he was meant to be. Such things had become more and more common the closer Henry got to his fifth year anniversary as an apprentice mage.

Closing his eyes for just a moment, the young prince tried to find a previously untapped reservoir of magical strength, but there was nothing left. With a horrendous crack, the glass shattered and fell in on itself, the vacated space rapidly filling with earth from either side. The noise was nearly deafening, and Henry clapped his hands over his ears in an effort to reduce the sound that stabbed into his suddenly aching head.

When the rumbling of moving dirt stopped and the dust finally settled, Henry opened eyes knowing that the disapproving face of Cedric awaited him. Light stabbed into his overly sensitive eyes, and he groaned before he could stop himself.

“Given yourself a reaction headache, have you?” Cedric’s unpitying voice echoed through the room, far too loud. “Well, it serves you right. What were you thinking, trying a section so large?”

Henry shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Liar!” Cedric spat, infuriated. “You decided to try to impress Master Rylan, endangering yourself and me! You are the heir to the throne, and should know better than to take risks like that! Magic is dangerous, and you can’t just jump ahead to bigger spells and greater consequences without learning all the steps in between!”

Henry looked up, meeting the older boy’s glare with one of his own. “How do you know that I’m not up to the challenge?” he demanded. “You tell me that you want to help me, you tell me that I have to challenge myself, but you’ve been holding me back!”

“Holding you back? You little brat! Without me and what I’ve taught you, you wouldn’t even-”

“Cedric!” boomed Master Rylan, interrupting the journeyman’s tirade. “I believe you have somewhere to be right now.”

Cedric snapped his mouth shut, spun on his heel and stalked from the large workroom without another word. He didn’t so much as glance back at them, his spine straight and his body language radiating fury. Henry watched him leave with a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. The journeyman deserved to be put in his place like that.

“That was a very reckless thing to do, your Highness. You must be more careful.”

Henry turned his attention to his master, affecting the posture and attitude of a properly chastised student. Keeping his eyes on the master mage’s boots, he rolled his shoulders forward and curled in on himself a little.

“I’m sorry, Master Rylan,” he apologized. “Cedric is right; I did want to impress you. I know that my five year apprenticeship is nearly at an end, and I wanted to be sure that you were proud of me. What better way to demonstrate everything I’ve learned from you than by performing such a complicated spell?”

Master Rylan chuckled and his put hand on Henry’s shoulder. “I know that you’re a good student, my boy,” he assured him. “You don’t have to go around getting yourself killed to show me that!”

Henry blushed, showing his embarrassment, and Rylan ruffled his hair.

“Come along, your Highness. You’ll need a good meal, a bath and then a good night’s sleep if you’re going to take your journeyman’s test tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

Henry could hardly believe his good luck. Finally, after three months of hard work under the watchful eye of Cedric, he would be free of the early mornings, the extra practice and the stupid challenges that were meaningless when it came to actually advancing his skills. He had no idea why he’d ever admired the older boy, knowing now that Cedric was too cautious with his instruction. Henry remembered clearly the journeyman’s words a few weeks ago when he’d clearly stated his belief that Henry would not live up to his destiny. How was he supposed to save his kingdom if people like Cedric were trying to hold him back from achieving the greatness he was born for?

Henry let the master mage steer him away from the dining hall and toward the kitchen. He watched as Rylan got a covered basket full of warm dinner and a few extra sweets, and he smiled when the man passed him the food and left him in his room a short while later. Full of excitement for the pending test and wondering what it would be like, Henry ate as much of the food as he could and then crawled into bed. Blowing out the candle beside the headboard, he fell immediately into dreams of triumphant parades through street full of citizens chanting his name. Tomorrow, he’d be one step closer to being the hero he’d been born to become.

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

“You can’t seriously be planning to go through with this!”

Cedric watched Rylan’s eyebrows rise in question at his journeyman’s tone of voice, and he quickly ducked his head in apology.

“I’m sorry, Master, but the boy is simply not ready. He is arrogant and grasping for power that is beyond him, though I will admit that his progress these past weeks has been quite good.”

“I didn’t call you here to debate the flaws in the prince’s personality,” Rylan chided gently. “One must expect a certain amount of arrogance from the heir to the kingdom.”

Cedric sighed. “If you don’t want my opinion, then why did you call for me?”

“I was hoping that you would be part of the casting circle tomorrow,” the master mage revealed.

Cedric’s head snapped up and he met his master’s gaze. “Really? Even after I have voiced my concerns about the test?”

Rylan chuckled. “Yes, even after that.”

“I would be honoured, but…”

“But what?” Rylan asked with a sigh of his own when it became apparent that Cedric wouldn’t continue the thought without prompting.

“I don’t think this is a good idea, not yet. Can’t we delay the test? Even another month or two would give Henry more time to refine his skills. Ever since he started making good progress, progress he could see for himself, the prince has started to reach beyond his ability. It’s dangerous.”

“And are you going to be the one to explain to their majesties why their son isn’t progressing through the ranks at the expected pace?” Rylan began to pace. “The crown has generously contributed large amounts of money toward the upkeep of this place over the past five years.”

“So you’d be willing to risk the boy’s safety and his future because you don’t want the flow of gold to stop?” As soon as the incredulous words left his mouth, Cedric knew that he shouldn’t have said them. The way his master’s eyes narrowed dangerously confirmed the feeling.

“I would never risk an apprentice’s life by allowing them to take the test if I truly thought they were unready,” Rylan stated. “I am confident that young Henry will be fine, and that your reticence is due to inexperience.”

Cedric tried to keep the next words inside his head, but he failed. “But what if I’m right? What if he fails? What will happen to the hopes of the kingdom then?”

“You are obviously tired,” the master mage commented softly, dangerously. “You should retire and get some rest if you plan to be of any use tomorrow.”

Recognizing that his concerns were not going to be acted upon, Cedric bowed his head once more. “Goodnight, Master.”

“Goodnight, Cedric.”

As he walked back to his room, Cedric couldn’t help but wonder which of Master Rylan’s words were true. Would he truly risk Henry’s life to appease the king and queen and keep the gold coming in? Sadly, Cedric was almost certain that he would, because he was almost certain that Henry wasn’t ready to become a journeyman in his own right. It was with those dark, unhappy thoughts that he blew out the candle and settled into the darkness, hoping and praying with every fibre of his being that he was wrong about both the prince and about his master.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Henry had a difficult time eating breakfast the next morning. Despite the fact that he knew in his heart that he was ready for the challenge of his journeyman’s test, he couldn’t help but feel nervous. It soured his stomach, and nothing on the table before him looked at all appetizing.

“Ready, my boy?” Master Rylan asked what seemed like an incredibly short time later.

Henry took a deep breath and nodded, pushing back from the table and meeting the curious and envious gazes of his fellow apprentices, who were seated with him. With a smile that he hoped portrayed confidence instead of anxiety, Henry left the dining hall as an apprentice for the last time.

Henry knew as much about the test he was about to take as any other apprentice, which is to say, nothing at all. It seemed to him that if anybody failed this test, they were either too embarrassed to talk about it, or they blocked the painful memory from their conscious minds. Anybody who passed the test was apparently sworn to secrecy, because there wasn’t anybody Henry or the other apprentices could find who would tell them about it.

Reaching one of the largest workrooms in the building, Master Rylan pushed open the door and gestured for Henry to precede him across the threshold. There were five people already in the room, and Henry recognized Cedric immediately. He opened his mouth to protest the journeyman’s presence, knowing as he did that Cedric was biased against this test being successful, but then Henry thought better of the idea. It would be just desserts indeed when Cedric witnessed his victory, when Henry joined the ranks of the journeymen mages and would be considered Cedric’s equal.

The other person Henry recognized was his master’s wife, Melynda. He knew that she was a Spirit mage, as he knew that Cedric was an Earth mage like he was. The staves of the other three mages in the room indicated that they filled out the collection of elemental powers, representing Fire, Water and Air.

“Henry, you are here before us today to take your journeyman’s test, correct?” Melynda asked. Henry nodded, not trusting himself to speak.

“You are aware that magic is a dangerous tool,” the master mage continued, “and you have studied hard to reach this point. You only get to attempt this test once, and there is no shame in turning away now to study further, as there is no shame in refusing the test altogether. You could remain at your current level of power until the end of your days.”

Henry shook his head this time. “No,” he said. “I am ready to take the test.”

Melynda nodded as if she had expected this answer.

“The test does not come without a price,” she informed him. “Upon its completion, pass or fail, you will be forever changed. If you pass, you will be granted the rank of journeyman and your studies will continue. If you fail, you may die or you may have your magic burned from you, leaving you unable to cast any spell at all. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“And do you still wish to proceed?”

“I do.”

Henry felt as if an entire colony of butterflies was inside his stomach trying to escape. He was sure that someone had explained the risks of this test at some point – probably Cedric, trying to scare him – but it was so much more real when Melynda spoke the words. He could die! But he knew that he had to push ahead, knew that his parents expected this of him, and he expected this of himself. He stepped forward into the circle of mages, and Rylan moved to the side of the room. As Henry’s master, he was here only to observe.

Melynda began to chant, the others joining in after a few moments. The fact that it was the Spirit mage who seemed to be running the test struck Henry as important, but before he could figure out why, the room around him went dark.

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

Henry stumbled forward, disoriented in the darkness. He spun around, trying to regain his equilibrium, but he ended up falling to his knees instead. Holding his head in his hands, he waited for the sensation of spinning to stop, and then he looked up and around him once more. Where was he? How had he ended up here, in the dark and alone?

It took another few moments, but as his eyes continued to adjust to the dark, Henry remembered his fall. He’d been looking for the entrance to… a cave, and he’d fallen and ended up here. Looking upward, he could see a pinprick of brightness that showed him the hole he’d fallen through, and Henry thanked the gods that he’d survived such a significant fall without apparent injury. Looking around, he also realized that there was a source of light down here after all. Over toward his right there was a patch of grey against the black.

Pushing himself carefully to his feet, Henry turned toward the lighter area, the scabbard of his sword swinging with the movement. He put his hand on the pommel of the weapon to steady it, only then realizing how strange it was for him to be wearing a sword at all. He was a mage, wasn’t he? Wasn’t magic his weapon of choice?

The voice of his weapon master tugged at his memory. A warrior knows to use every available tool at his disposal. Of course! Henry remembered the many long hours he’d trained with both blade and spell, helping to make him the young man he was today. A young man destined to save his kingdom. Henry moved once more toward the lighter patch in the darkness.

Moving slowly and carefully, unwilling to tempt fate and provide the opportunity for another fall or an accident that would bring a premature end to his quest, Henry thought about his journey to this point. He knew that this quest was dangerous, that he could fail and die… like the others who had accompanied him. As prince of this kingdom, it wasn’t usual that he travelled alone. There had been others, warriors who’d accompanied him, but they’d died one by one…

Henry suddenly felt crippling grief over the deaths of his men. The deaths had been his fault, every one of them. If he hadn’t been so determined to take on this responsibility, both he and his men would be home right now, safe behind thick, strong walls. Safe from the poverty and the destruction that ruled this kingdom with an iron fist. Safe… he could be safe.

The prince shook his head, trying to banish the cowardly thoughts. This was his destiny! It was his job to save his kingdom, just as the prophecy foretold. Henry, a child of the royal family with magical gifts, would turn the fortunes of Mythesti around. He would alleviate the poverty that gripped this kingdom, he would help the citizens to rebuild their homes… He would defeat the monster that was at the root of all of the kingdom’s problems.

Henry reached the patch of grey and stretched out his hand. He expected to find stone, like the rest of the cave in which he found himself, but instead his hand passed through empty air. Moving forward a little more, and keeping his hand extended in front of him, Henry found the opening to a side passage that led deeper into the heart of the mountain. If he’d had a torch, he was positive that he’d never have found the way into the monster’s lair; it would have looked like the room’s walls were solid all the way around without the tiny difference in light to give the passage away. Thanking the gods once again for his good fortune, Henry moved down the new branch of the tunnel.

As he moved slowly down the passage, he could feel the rock practically vibrating under his feet. Unsure if this was an actual feeling or the result of his affinity for the earth, Henry paused and took a deep, steadying breath. Extending his senses outward in all directions, the prince tried to determine what was causing the vibrations, hoping it wasn’t something like a cave in or earthquake.

He could feel the earth all around him, and he drew comfort from the steadfastness he sensed. There was no impending eruption or shift in the stone anywhere within range of his spell, but what he did sense did nothing to ease his anxiety. In a large room not too far ahead of where he now stood, rested a huge beast whose very breath was causing the vibrations he felt. He wasn’t far from finishing his quest now, for better or for worse.

The farther down the passage that Henry moved, the easier it was to see. Better lighting made it possible to move faster, but knowing what awaited him made him hesitant to pick up his pace. How was he, a young man alone, supposed to face this fearsome beast and survive? Waves of self-doubt rolled through him, and Henry struggled to push his way past them. What would happen to his kingdom if he failed? What would happen if he turned away right now? Would it really be so bad?

Fighting to take another step toward his destiny, Henry tried to banish the defeatist thoughts running through his mind. He was going to do this, he told himself. He would succeed and everyone would rejoice!

As he rounded the final bend in the passage, light flooded the tunnel and forced him to squint his eyes tightly shut. He could see yellow through his eyelids, and as he cracked his eyes open slowly to give them time to adjust, the sight that was slowly revealed before him took his breath away.

The passage opened out into a natural cavern more than large enough to swallow the entire city of Danmoor with room to spare. Henry stood on a ledge about ten feet above the bottom of the cavern, and somewhere around fifty feet or so below the top.

Looking around, the prince tried to determine the source of the very bright light, and he blinked a few times to clear his vision to be sure of what he saw. The bottom of the cavern had initially seemed to be something like a yellow quartz, something that was reflecting light, but he realized now that he’d been mistaken. The floor was actually covered in gold and gems that were reflecting the light, and he readjusted his estimate of his current height to closer to fifteen feet from the actual stone floor. That much treasure would not only correct the downward slide of Mythesti’s economy, but it would propel them into an economic boom of… draconic proportions. All he had to do was slay the beast that guarded the treasure.

It took him some time to find the actual monster, his eyes dazzled by the light as they were. It took him even longer to realize that the light emanated from the beast itself, a dragon partially buried beneath its hoard. Once he realized what he was looking at, once he traced the sinuous body with his eyes, Henry nearly turned and fled.

The dragon was so large that it could have easily crushed the walls surrounding his city just by stepping on them. The beast could flatten the capital just by laying down, and the yellow light that poured from beneath its scales told Henry that it was a dragon that could likely breath fire as well. It was no wonder that his citizens hid inside their homes in fear, that the kingdom was so incredibly poor, and that nobody seemed to have any hope. Faced with this monster, Henry felt the same need to run and hide and give up. There was no possible way that he could defeat this dragon.

The hopelessness of the situation drove Henry to his knees. He couldn’t advance and he couldn’t go back. Everyone expected him to defeat this monster, but how? He looked around the cavern again in desperation. Seeing nothing that could possibly help him, Henry turned his eyes to the heavens to look for some fortuitous divine intervention, and there it was, plain as day.

The roof of the cavern was rough and full of protrusions, many of which looked sharp and dangerous. There wasn’t any single stalactite that would do anything other than make the dragon angry, but if he dropped the entire roof…

Closing his eyes and gathering his strength, Henry prepared to cast the largest spell he’d ever attempted. He needed to ensure that he brought down enough of the stone and rock overhead to kill the dragon because making it angry would only lead to more damage to his already troubled kingdom. He knew that the amount of rock he needed would mean that it would take a long time to dig out the treasure that would also be buried, but the mining operation would provide jobs to a large number of people, so that would be a good thing too.

Henry clenched his fists and brought them to his chest, using the gesture to symbolically gather the magical energy he needed to do this. When he felt full to bursting with power, he flung his hands outward, spreading his fingers as if he was letting something go. He felt the spell rush through the air and slam into the ceiling high above. The impact was loud, and if Henry hadn’t already been on his knees, the shockwave would have knocked him down.

The spell was more than loud enough to wake the sleeping dragon, and the beast raised its massive head to look up at what Henry hoped was its doom rushing toward it. The dragon breathed in, almost casually, and let loose a blast of fire that made Henry cover his face and head instinctively, trying to protect himself from the heat.

Stone melted beneath the onslaught of the dragon fire, becoming liquid that rained down upon the treasure and the beast. Presumably immune to the effects and consequences of its own weapon, the dragon seemed undisturbed by the liquid rock, but Henry had started a chain reaction of sorts when he’d cast his spell. As the fire from the dragon’s attack died down, there was an enormous crack and another section of the room came free. The dragon seemed almost surprised when it glanced up, but this time it didn’t have the chance to breathe fire. The rock slammed into the beast, which crumpled and was buried.

Henry jumped to his feet, startled by his sudden victory, but as the dust settled and there was no movement below, he was able to admit to himself that he’d done it. Mythesti was free of the tyranny of the dragon, and Henry had done what he was born to do. His men hadn’t died in vain, and now everything would be fine for his people. His elation got the better of him, and Henry leaped into the air with a whoop of jubilation. As he landed, however, his foot came down on a patch of loose gravel. As his boots went out from under him, Henry wind milled his arms in an effort to keep his balance, but gravity had a hold of him and pulled him over. His head hit the ground hard, and Henry blacked out.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

“What the hell was that?” Cedric demanded. He didn’t care that his tone of voice was disrespectful, and he didn’t care that he was still in what could be considered a public place. He was tired of the preferential treatment the prince was receiving, and he just wasn’t going to stand here and let this travesty of a test be allowed. He stepped out of the casting circle, and being careful not to step on the prone and unconscious Henry, advanced toward his master.

“No wonder you weren’t concerned about his readiness for the test,” Cedric observed. “You knew that the test would be… rigged!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rylan protested. “I wasn’t a part of the casting. I was merely here as an observer.”

“Do you really think I’m that stupid?” the journeyman demanded. “Your wife led this casting, and I’m sure that you discussed your desired outcome with her.”

Rylan had reached his breaking point. He took a menacing step forward, but Cedric refused to back down.

“Now see here,” the master mage said quietly. “There was nothing at all wrong with that test. It met all of the criteria that are considered necessary.”

“How?” Cedric wanted to know. “The boy is afraid of failure! When did he confront that fear?”

“He was presented with a difficult situation, one with every possibility of failure.”

Cedric laughed. “Being faced with a dragon and being afraid of dying is not being afraid of failing. It’s being afraid to die.”

“And his feelings of guilt and doubt about the deaths of his men-”

“Are normal for someone trained to rule!” Cedric insisted, cutting the man off. “When he was allowed such an easy way out of his predicament, Henry wasn’t given the chance to confront his fear, he was given more fuel for his overwhelming ego. Now, he’ll have the impression that he’s invincible, and that anything he tries will succeed. We’ve done far more harm than good, and all for some gold.”

During his tirade, Cedric had entirely forgotten that they were not alone. That fact was brought back to his attention when Rylan looked over his shoulder and thanked the other master mages for their help. The others, including Melynda, took that as the dismissal it was, and the four of them quietly left the workroom. Henry groaned softly on the floor.

“Cedric, I admire your conviction, I truly do, but you are trying to simplify a very complicated situation,” the master said softly after the door closed behind the mages. “Henry’s promotion to the rank of journeyman is not about the money his parents pay toward his schooling here, nor was he unfit or unready to take this test. I ask you how, precisely, do you think we should have tested him and let him confront his fear of failure?”

Cedric took a deep breath to collect his thoughts and rein in his temper, something Master Rylan had taught him during his early years of study.

“I will admit that Henry’s fear is not one that is as easy to confront as others,” he admitted at last, “but the prince has never known failure, not really. The closest he’s come is when he was learning each of his spells the first time, but the pressure of trying to keep pace with the other apprentices is nothing compared to the pressure of saving an entire kingdom. Or of ruling an entire kingdom. I’m just afraid that Henry is… unprepared for what the future holds, having never known any real failure.”

His master smiled in a way that made Cedric very nervous.

“Then I task you with teaching our young prince the lessons you feel he so desperately needs,” Rylan said, confirming Cedric’s fears. “As your final journeyman challenge before your master’s test, you will be Henry’s mentor on his first journeyman walkabout. You can use your time with him to teach him that failing is not always a bad thing, as long as you learn a lesson from the process.”

Cedric sighed. “I’ve already been working with him for the past three months. Henry barely listens to me as it is.”

“Then you will learn valuable lessons about teaching reluctant pupils, won’t you?”

Before Cedric could reply to that or protest further, Rylan spun away from him and swept from the room, leaving the older journeyman to wait for the younger to regain consciousness.

Isn’t this going to be fun? he asked himself silently as he settled in to wait. I get months alone with the prince to look forward to, and his tenure with me is going to begin with a massive headache on his part. Oh joy!

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

It seemed to Henry that he was almost awake for quite a long time before he finally opened his eyes. He closed them again immediately, the reaction headache slamming into his brain with such force that he wasn’t at all surprised that his body had been trying to keep him unconscious. When he slit his eyes open again, just a little, Henry was both relieved and surprised to see Cedric leaning over him, a cool cloth in his hand.

“So this time you’ll take pity on me?” Henry asked, his voice sounding hoarse. He closed his eyes again as Cedric laid the cloth across them, and he realized that his throat was very dry, and he wondered how long he’d been lying here.

“This time it wasn’t your own stupidity that caused the headache,” Cedric replied. Henry could hear the smile.

“So are you here to gloat?” the prince wanted to know.

“No.”

At the very short answer, Henry reached up and removed the cloth from his eyes. Squinting, he looked at Cedric carefully.

“So I passed then? I don’t even really remember what happened…”

“Yes, you passed,” Cedric replied tersely. Henry could tell by the tightness around his eyes that the older boy wasn’t happy, and he felt the urge to say something. As he opened his mouth to gloat in turn, Cedric turned away.

“And you’ll remember all about your test, eventually,” Cedric told him as he stood and moved toward the door of the workroom. “It usually comes back to you in nightmares. I’m going to go get some food.”

Before Henry could say anything, Cedric was gone. He let the cloth fall back over his eyes, and started to mull things over. He was a journeyman mage now. What, exactly, did that mean?

When Cedric came back into the room a little while later, Henry was happy to see that he was feeling well enough to sit up. His head still ached, right behind his eyes, but the pain was fading. He knew from experience that the reaction headache would be gone soon, and he wondered again what he’d done to himself in order to spark the reaction in the first place.

“I’m assuming I don’t need to tell you that you’re not allowed to talk about your test to anybody who isn’t already a journeyman,” Cedric stated without preamble as he laid out a small meal for them to share. Henry recognized a few of his favourite dishes, and wondered if the kitchen had prepared them with a specific purpose in mind, or if it was just good luck.

“So I’m a journeyman now?” the prince asked, needing to hear someone actually confirm his new rank.

“Not exactly,” Cedric answered with another smile. “You need to go through the promotion ceremony first, which will happen tomorrow morning.”

“And then what?”

“And then you will begin your first walkabout,” he was told, “so tonight is all about packing up whatever you’re bringing with you and getting a good night’s rest. You’ll leave right from the promotion ceremony.”

Henry wasn’t sure what to think about that. On one hand, getting out of the building he’d basically been confined to for five years was incredibly appealing, but he had no idea what to expect. He didn’t like not knowing what to expect.

“What about my parents?” Henry asked instead of asking the questions he truly wanted the answers to.

“They’ll be here tomorrow to see you off, and to witness your promotion, of course. That’s part of the reason the ceremony isn’t until tomorrow. Master Rylan sent his fastest courier when he knew of your success, and I expect your parents are already on their way here.”

Cedric pushed another plate in Henry’s direction. “Now eat up, and I’ll take you to the quartermaster to get you some of the supplies you’ll need for travelling. Then it’s up to you to go through your belongings. Make sure that you box up anything you’re not planning to take with you tomorrow, and remember that you’ll be travelling the better part of the year, so bring heavier winter clothing too.”

“Why do I need to box everything else up?” Henry asked around a mouthful of meat pie.

“Because tonight is your last night in the apprentice wing. When you return from your walkabout, you’ll have a new room, with your boxes waiting for you to unpack.”

Henry nodded, the extra packing making sense now. As he finished eating, he started to go through his clothing and possessions in his mind, sifting through five years of accumulated stuff to try and determine what to pack. He suspected that packing up for a year’s worth of travel wouldn’t be an easy task.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

“You cannot possibly take all of that!”

Henry straightened from the box into which he was packing the last of his belongings for storage, and looked over at the small pile of saddlebags and packs that littered the top of his bed. He took immediate exception to Cedric’s tone of voice, and when he turned to face the older boy, it was with a sneer twisting his lips.

“I’m going to be travelling for a year, remember?” he asked sarcastically. “That means winter things and summer things, and clothing for the change between seasons. Not to mention the things I’ll need to keep me from getting bored.”

Cedric laughed. “Bored? When do you think you’ll have time to be bored? And where do you think all of this is going to go?”

“Why into the wagon, of course.” Henry looked at Cedric incredulously. How could he be so daft?

“There is no wagon, Henry.”

“No wagon? How am I supposed to bring all of my things?”

“That’s my point! You need to go through all of this and get it down to what will fit inside two saddlebags,” Cedric told him. “That’s all the mules can carry.”

“Mules can carry more than that,” Henry pointed out stubbornly. “If there’s more than one mule, they can certainly carry all of my things.”

Cedric shook his head, and Henry could tell by the look on his face that the older journeyman was becoming increasingly frustrated. That amused the prince immensely.

“One of the mules will carry the camping supplies,” Cedric explained tersely, “and the other will carry food. Unless you want to sleep under the stars for a year and or go hungry, you will pack what you’re taking with you into two bags, or I will do it for you.”

“What if I do want to sleep under the stars?” Henry demanded. “Or what if I want to sleep on comfortable beds and eat food prepared by people who know what they’re doing? I want to take all of the things that I’ve selected.”

“Tough!” Cedric had apparently reached his breaking point, and he strode toward the bed. Throwing open one of the bags, he began to remove the contents, throwing clothing and books and whatnot onto the mattress. “You don’t get to decide how this year is going to progress; you get to do what you are told!”

“Stop that!”

Henry rushed over to his belongings and tried to start shoving them back into the bags as quickly as Cedric emptied them. In short order, the boys were practically tearing things out of each other’s hands, and Cedric pushed Henry down to sit on the bed and stepped away before things really got out of hand.

“Look,” Cedric started after a few deep breaths to calm himself, “the journeyman walkabout is about learning ways to use your magical gifts to help others. You travel from village to city to remote communities, and you help people with whatever problems they are having, to the best of your ability. As prince, this year will be even more important for you than for most, because you will really get to know the citizens of your kingdom.”

“I don’t see what this has to do with not being able to bring my things with me,” Henry pointed out, crossing his arms in front of him.

Cedric sighed again. “By the end of the day, you will barely be able to set up the tent and shovel food into your mouth before you fall asleep. Between all of the walking, the labour and the magic use, you’ll barely be able to keep your eyes open most nights, so you won’t need the books and you certainly won’t need the trinkets you’ve got shoved in those bags right now.”

“Walking? I thought you said there were mules.”

“There are mules, but they carry gear, not people. It’s called a walkabout for a reason, Henry.”

“No horses either?” Henry asked, knowing that he sounded a little desperate, but not caring. Cedric shook his head, and the prince took a deep breath and blew it out slowly. Then he stood and started to empty his bags onto the bed, while Cedric fetched another box to store what he wasn’t going to be able to take with him.

By the end of the packing ordeal, Henry had managed to whittle his belongings down to the requisite two saddlebags and a backpack that he promised to carry himself. Cedric also allowed him to bring a bow and quiver of arrows, and a long knife, commenting that the roads were not always safe and that the bow could help add meat to his dinners if he was a good shot. Henry’s short sword was left behind after Cedric forced the prince to admit that he hadn’t practiced with the weapon in many months.

“So now what?” Henry asked as the last of the buckles were fastened and the last of the boxes were closed and piled neatly to be taken to Henry’s new room in the journeyman wing.

“Now you bathe and get ready for the promotion ceremony,” Cedric told him with a smile. “I will come and collect you just before the ceremony, we’ll be leaving immediately afterward.”

“What? What do you mean, immediately? And what do you mean, we?”

“I am going to be your mentor for your walkabout,” Cedric revealed, his voice carefully neutral so that Henry couldn’t decide if the older boy was pleased with the fact or not. “And we leave immediately because that is how it works.”

“What makes you qualified to be my mentor?” the prince asked, his tone harsh. Henry most certainly was not pleased by this turn of events, and he suspected that Cedric had waited so long to tell him because he’d known that this would be the prince’s reaction.

“I am a journeyman in my final year,” Cedric pointed out, “and I have been mentoring you for three months now. I am sixteen, and therefore considered an adult and perfectly capable of travelling by myself or with you, and I am an Earth mage, as you are, and therefore know all of the spells that you are expected to learn not only in this next year, but in your next five years. Is that good enough for you?”

When Henry didn’t immediately reply, Cedric picked up the outfit that had been left for Henry to change into and then threw it in the prince’s direction. “Get ready and I’ll be back for you soon.”

Henry remained in his room for a little while after his mentor left, though he couldn’t tell if it was because staying there was contrary to what Cedric wanted or not. He knew that he’d had enough of the other boy telling him what to do these past three months, and he didn’t relish the idea of having to spend the next year listening to him. Of course, he pointed out to himself as he made his way down the hallway toward the bathing room, I’m a journeyman now too, so that makes us equals. Sort of.

When Cedric came for him a short while later, Henry was ready and waiting. Someone had removed his pair of bags and his pack and bow while he’d bathed, and the prince assumed that his things would be waiting for him with the mules Cedric had mentioned, but he didn’t bother asking his supposed mentor if that was true or not. Henry had resolved, while he’d bathed, to rely on Cedric as little as possible, since he knew that the other journeyman didn’t approve of Henry anyway. Henry had also determined that he would show Cedric that he’d been wrong. Surely with a year to spend together, he’d be able to prove that he was not only worthy of his new rank, but that he was, in fact, the prophesied saviour of this kingdom.

Henry was surprised by the transformation the dining room had undertaken as part of the preparations for this ceremony. The long tables were moved to the side of the room and were covered with intricately embroidered clothes as fine as any that he’d ever seen in the palace. They were also laden with food and drink that he assumed were for afterward. The other promotion ceremonies he’d attended while studying here had not involved any sort of food or even a snack.

The benches had been lined up to provide seating for the various students currently in the building, and his new and former peers were sitting patiently, everyone facing away from the door where he and Cedric paused. On the other side of the aisle that had been left unobstructed were chairs, and here sat the various master mages and his parents. Aside from occasional visits home for holidays, Henry hadn’t seen the king and queen very much in the past five years, and he wondered suddenly if they were pleased with him before shaking his head to dispel thoughts of their potential disappointment. He’d succeeded in advancing to the next rank, after all, so what could there be for them to be unhappy about?

Directly ahead of him was Master Rylan, and the man stood behind a table covered in a cloth that Henry had seen before. This cloth was pieced together from five different colours of fabric, each colour representing one of the elements of magic, and laying in the centre of the cloth was his staff. Seeing it now made Henry realize that he hadn’t seen it all morning, and he wondered at this. Normally his staff, like those of all the mages, was within easy reach, since without it they were essentially powerless and were able to cast only the most basic of spells. He shifted uncomfortably at the sudden feeling of vulnerability he had with the focus for his power so far away, and the small movement drew his master’s attention.

“Excellent,” Rylan intoned, bringing immediate silence to the quiet conversations that had been happening. “Our guest of honour has arrived. Come forward, Henry.”

He did as he was directed, walking slowly up the aisle toward his master and his staff. Henry could feel everyone’s eyes boring into him, and he struggled not to fidget and not to turn. He most especially didn’t want to show his parents that he was anything less than confident, which he most certainly was not.

“When an apprentice has passed his or her journeyman’s test, as the prince has, there is one final step before the new rank can be fully bestowed upon that apprentice,” Rylan informed the gathered onlookers. He picked up Henry’s staff and held it aloft.

“As an apprentice mage learns his or her spells, the symbols that represent those spells are engraved upon the apprentice’s staff. This signifies the mage’s connection to the spells, and as the years progress, the staff becomes quite decorated. In order to progress, there must be more room for new symbols to be carved.”

Placing the staff back on the cloth in front of him, Rylan closed his eyes and held his hands over the short piece of wood. As the master mage began to chant, Henry held his breath, frightened that the spell wouldn’t work, that it would show everyone that he was truly an apprentice and that was all he would ever be.

As Rylan’s chant gained in volume, Henry could feel a tugging from the middle of his chest. The emerald encased in wooden tendrils at the end of his staff seemed to catch the light in the room of its own accord, and the prince realized that Rylan was trying to draw the energy for the spell from him, using his staff as a focus. Henry hadn’t realized that such a thing was possible, though it made sense now. The staff was part of Henry, part of Henry’s magic, and the changes being forced on it would likely affect Henry too. The tugging sensation transmuted into a painful draining feeling, and he bit back a gasp.

The staff twitched on the cloth, and in front of Henry’s disbelieving eyes, the wood began to grow and lengthen. The more the wooden staff changed, the more painful the energy drain became, and Henry locked his knees to prevent himself from collapsing right there in front of everyone. He knew that to show weakness would mean never hearing the end of it; his parents expected him to be perfect in all things, and Cedric was always looking for proof that Henry wasn’t the prodigy everyone else thought he was.

By the time Rylan brought his spell to a close, the sound of the chant fading into the rafters of the room, Henry was shaking and sweating in reaction to the energy drain. But he was still on his feet, and as he picked up his staff, the wood now waist-high and the perfect length to use as a walking stick, he turned triumphantly to face his audience as his master proclaimed him officially a journeyman mage. There was polite applause, and then the guests rose from their seats and made their way toward the refreshments, leaving Henry alone at the head of the room to spend a few moments recovering his strength.

“That was quite a show, son,” came his father’s voice, long before Henry felt truly recovered.

“It wasn’t a show,” Henry stated, looking up to see his parents approaching. “It was a ceremony.”

Henry noted, in a distracted sort of way, that despite the length of time that had passed since his last visit home, his parents were exactly as he remembered them. The king, Reginald, was a tall and imposing man. His body was well-muscled, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist, and it was obvious to anyone who looked that the king took care of himself. He had light brown hair and blue eyes, and Henry took his looks mostly from his father. The queen, Cynthia, was as tall as her husband but she was very thin and lean, without the curves that many found appealing on a woman’s body. Her hair was a very light shade of brown, nearly blond, and her eyes were a very dark shade of blue. Those eyes glittered now, and Henry cringed inwardly.

“So that’s it?” the queen asked. “You’re a journeyman now?”

“Yes, Mother, I’m a journeyman.”

“And what does that mean, exactly? How will that help this kingdom?”

Henry fought back an exasperated sigh, knowing that he should have expected this line of questioning. One of the reasons he’d taken to avoiding visits home were because of the emphasis his parents placed on what he could do as opposed to how he was doing.

“Well, your Majesties, the prince is now a step closer to becoming a master mage, and while he ventures through the kingdom on his first journeyman walkabout, it is his very goal to help the kingdom and its citizens with his magic. He will spend the next year helping.”

Henry turned his gaze slightly to see that Cedric had come up beside them and he was absurdly grateful that the older journeyman had been the one to provide the answer. His parents were far more likely to believe someone other than him.

“Venture through the kingdom? What do you mean by that?” the king wanted to know.

“Every journeyman begins and ends his or her five years of study at this rank with a year-long journey through the kingdom. As many mages don’t take the risk to become master mages, this is a time to make connections and see what their magic can really do, giving them ideas for how they may live their lives in the service of others when their schooling is complete.”

Henry was impressed with the way Cedric rattled this information off, and he looked to see how his parents were taking the explanation.

“He is going to wander the kingdom alone for a year?” Cynthia asked, her eyes widening in horror at the thought.

“No, your Majesty,” Cedric was quick to reassure her. “The prince will be in the company of his mentor, who is a final-year journeyman or a master mage.”

The prince in question noted that Cedric did not volunteer the information that he was that mentor, and wondered why but didn’t get a chance to say anything. Cynthia was shaking her head in denial and calling for Rylan.

“I don’t like this,” she told the master mage when he approached. “I don’t like the sound of this walkabout one bit.” Reginald nodded his agreement, but said nothing.

“It is the way it has always been done,” Rylan explained. “The journeyman mages journey. Real experience is second to nothing else, and Henry will certainly learn more out in the world than stuck here.”

“But what if something happens to him?” the queen demanded. “He is heir to the throne, and he could be in danger for the entire time he’s out there. He’s just a child!”

Henry bristled at the reference and took a step forward to interject, but Cedric stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and a shake of his head. The prince turned his attention back to the adults and their conversation.

“I can assure you that he will be quite all right,” Rylan was saying in a soothing voice. “His mentor is exceptionally skilled, both with magic and with more mundane weapons, and they will never be more than a day or two from a settlement. It is early summer, perfect weather for travelling, and by the time winter arrives, they will have found themselves somewhere to spend the colder months.”

When neither monarch moved to say anything, the master mage continued.

“Even though it is called a walkabout, the journeymen do not spend every day travelling. Depending on the situations they find, and the solutions they can devise for those situations, it is not uncommon for the mages to spend days, if not weeks, in a given location before moving on. It is also exceptionally rare for our journeymen mages to run into trouble while on walkabout, as there are few people who want to be on the receiving end of a well-cast spell.”

As Rylan continued to reassure his parents that this undertaking was not only a normal procedure, but a necessary one if Henry was to advance to the rank of master mage, the prince took the opportunity to mouth a silent thank you to Cedric. And as their master finally managed to get grudging acceptance for the journey from the king and queen, Cedric was quick to whisk Henry away from the dining room before they could change their minds. Before he knew it, the newest journeyman mage had a mule’s reins in his hand, a pack on his back, and his newly grown walking stick in hand as he left the building he’d spent the last five years of his life in. Henry didn’t look back.

 

 

 

h2={color:#000;}.

Chapter 8
p<>{color:#000;}. Three days into their walkabout, and both boys were miserable. Henry was miserable because his feet were sore and his body ached from the abuse he’d already subjected it to, and his mentor was miserable because Henry wouldn’t stop complaining about all of his aches and pains.

“Look,” Cedric pointed out, trying to be reasonable. “At least it’s early summer and not late fall. The weather these past few days has been perfect, the food in the packs has been good, and we’re nearly to our first village. You’ll be able to get a hot bath, a hot meal, and a comfortable bed tonight.”

Henry looked at him suspiciously. “I thought you said that it was all camping out and cooking our own food,” he pointed out.

“I lied.”

It was only another hour or so of walking until the pair of journeyman mages topped a rise and saw their destination spread out below them. The village was a good size, and Henry could see a number of people bustling around the main streets. Based on what he knew of village buildings, the prince could identify a town hall, an inn, and at least two taverns. As they started down the road toward an actual destination, Henry felt better than he had all day. He was disappointed when they actually reached the village though, as their arrival didn’t cause any stirring of interest on the part of the villagers… not even a curious look in their direction.

“You take the mules around to the stable and getting them unloaded and brushed down while I secure our room,” Cedric directed him when they reached the inn. “With this village being so close to Master Rylan’s, there shouldn’t be any pressing problems that need looking after, so we’ll only stay two nights.”

Henry had no idea what, exactly, he and Cedric were supposed to be doing while touring the kingdom, but he did as he was told and led the mules over to the large, clean stable. The stable boy on duty noticed his arrival right away and rushed over to take the mules’ lead reins, and Henry was happy to pass them over. When Cedric returned from securing their lodgings, the prince was leaning against the stall door and feeding one of the mules a handful of oats.

“I thought I told you to brush the beasts down,” his mentor scolding, and Henry shrugged.

“It’s the stable boy’s job,” he commented without apology. “Why should I have to do it when there’s somebody here to do it for me?”

Cedric sighed and bent down to pick up his saddlebags and one of the packs of foodstuffs.

“Come on then. You can leave the camping supplies here with the tack, but grab the other bag of food.”

Henry followed Cedric across the courtyard and into a large, clean common room. There was a large bar across the back, and doorways that he assumed led into the kitchen bracketed the bar on each side. The space, which was swept clean of dirt and dust, was filled with an assortment of tables of various sizes, and there was a large fireplace at either side of the room. Both fires were currently laid, but unlit, given the warm summer’s day. A staircase leading upstairs to sleeping quarters was to the left of the bar, tucked beside the kitchen doorway, and Cedric led him upward and then down to the end of the hallway.

“The room isn’t much to look at,” Henry was told as the door was pushed open, “but we have a limited amount of money, so get used to this level of luxury.”

Luxury was not a word the prince would ever have chosen to describe the tiny space into which he was ushered. There were two narrow beds that he was certain were as hard as the wood they were made of, with a worn rug that lay between them. A tiny window above the rug was open to catch the non-existent breeze, and there was a lantern hanging on a peg below the window. That was it.

Cedric put his burden down on the floor and used his foot to slide everything under the bed, and Henry did the same after a few moments. Comments about the lack of amenities in the room ran through his head, but he had to admit that after a few days of camping beside the road, even the hard bed was looking not too bad. He lay down and stretched out.

“What are you doing?” Cedric asked immediately. “We have work to do.”

“Work? What kind of work?”

Cedric sat down on his bed, resting his elbows on his knees and letting his hands dangle loosely. He fixed Henry with a serious expression.

“You really have no idea what goes on in this kingdom, do you?”

Before Henry could answer, the other boy shook his head.

“Of course you don’t,” Cedric observed. “You spent half your life in the palace, and the other half in school.”

“If you’re so smart, why don’t you tell me what’s going on in my kingdom,” Henry snarled.

“It’s my kingdom too, at least as much mine as it is yours, your Highness. Right now, you just live here, so I’ll thank you to drop the attitude.”

Henry made a dismissive gesture and Cedric rolled his eyes.

“As I’m sure you do know, Mythesti is not a rich kingdom. While the kingdom is fairly large in terms of geography, there are very limited resources. The mountains to the south are impassable, and those within our borders to the west tend to yield gems and gold only rarely. We do have plenty of copper and tin, but little else as far as mining goes. The northern area produces the best agriculture, and there are salt mines in the east, near the coast. Trade by water is controlled mostly by Calyso, though we do have a small fleet of fishing boats, but the majority of our kingdom is good for nothing except grazing.”

“And? This is, as you pointed out, all information that I already have,” Henry pointed out. “What does any of this have to do with work?”

“Mages are trained in order to serve the kingdom,” Cedric continued, ignoring the interruption. “Each of us has an elemental gift, and it is our duty to use our magic in a way that increases the yield of our limited resources. Mages are what keep the populace from starving, some years, and we are going to use our magic here to help increase the yield of the crops.”

“You want me to use my energy to make plants grow?” Henry’s tone of voice was incredulous, and Cedric fought not to roll his eyes again.

“Yes, Henry, I expect you to help make the plants grow. This village, which is the first of a number of villages we are going to visit in the northern part of the kingdom, is growing food for the rest of the people in this kingdom. The better the crops grow, the more yield there will be, and the less likely we’ll have people starving in the winter. So get up off your butt and let’s get to work.”

“And we’re going to do this in every village?” Henry asked as he pushed himself upright.

“No, not every village. We will help the crops to grow while the growing season is upon us, then we will help with the harvest. As we move through the kingdom, we will help with the mining as well, and anything else that falls under the purview of an Earth mage.”

Henry groaned as the made his way down the stairs and back out into the summer sunlight. Staff in hand, he followed Cedric through the village and toward the fields that lay beyond the buildings. The closer they got, the farther the fields of crops seemed to stretch out away from them.

“How many fields are we casting the spell on?”

“All of them. That’s why I took the room for two nights. We’ll work until the farmers come in from the fields tonight, and we’ll be back out just after dawn tomorrow.”

Henry muttered unflattering things about his mentor as he took up a place at the head of a row of knee-high plants. Raising his staff, he ran his thumb over the symbol he needed for the growth spell before beginning to chant his spell. Closing his eyes, Henry could see the area of the field that his spell covered, and he took a few large steps to the side before casting the spell again. Slowly the prince made his way through the field, ensuring that none of the growing plants were left out. And when he finished the first field, Henry made his way to the next and started over again.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

As the weeks wore on and summer moved inexorably toward fall, Cedric dragged Henry from town to town and from village to village, their progress across the northern agricultural belt of Mythesti just as relentless as the changing seasons. Henry dragged his feet through the dust on the road upon which they trudged, feeling generally sorry for himself. He’d cast all of one spell since leaving Master Rylan’s care – though he’d cast it what seemed like a million times, he’d been forced to eat his own cooking far too often, he’d been rained on a number of times, and the worst thing of all, his birthday had come and gone without… Well, without anything. Even while away from home attending to his studies, there had been some sort of recognition for the annual event at school, be it a special meal or treat, and there was always a gift from home. Now, wandering through the kingdom the way he was, Henry knew that there really wasn’t any possibility of a gift finding him while he was on walkabout. He sighed and kicked at a rock.

“Why would anybody want to be a mage?” Henry asked a short while later. “Why did you decide to become one?”

Cedric glanced over, his eyebrows drawn down in confusion. “That’s an odd question,” he observed. “Why wouldn’t I become a mage?”

Henry scowled, not happy to have his question answered with another question. “I know that I was tested like my father and grandfather were tested, because of the prophecy. When they found that I had magic potential, my course was set, whether I wanted it or not. But you, you had a choice in all of this. You didn’t have to sign up for this.” As he finished, Henry gestured to the countryside around them, encompassing their entire situation in his statement, and Cedric smiled.

“Again, why wouldn’t I choose this?” Cedric asked with a chuckle. “I get to travel throughout the kingdom, I’m welcomed in every city, town and village I come across, and I know that I will always have enough to eat and a warm bed, which is more than most people in the kingdom can say.”

Henry blinked, surprised by Cedric’s answer.

“What?” the older boy asked as the silence stretched between them.

“So you’re working to become a mage for the material gain?” the prince queried.

“Why not? I didn’t have a lot growing up, and not going to bed hungry is a big step up, trust me. When we’re out working like this, we get fed first, even in the villages that have little to offer. You’ll see, my young prince.”

A slow smile spread across Henry’s face, Cedric’s reasoning something that he could understand easily. His perception of Cedric as unselfish and a perfect servant to the needs of others shifted, and in a way the prince could relate to.

The sun was beating down on the young men and Cedric called for short break when they reached a small copse of trees. Henry threw himself down into the small area of shade with a groan before pouring a small amount of water from his water skin over his head.

“It’s so damned hot!” the prince complained before taking a drink of the tepid water. Cedric nodded and poured some water into a pair of pots for the mules.

“It shouldn’t be too much farther to the next town, and we can get this dust washed off when we arrive.”

Henry quirked an eyebrow. “Can we actually bathe when we arrive, or do you mean that we can bathe after countless spells cast over fields?”

Cedric laughed. “The weather has changed, in case you hadn’t noticed. The crops are past the point of us using our spells to encourage a bigger yield, but it isn’t time to harvest yet. We’re off the hook, so to speak, as the hot weather will ripen the crops better than we could.”

Henry smiled and stretched out on the sparse grass. “So why are we here then?”

“Just passing through, though we may be asked to cast some spells to help protect crops and animals from pests,” Cedric informed him. “This time of year is one of the most peace-”

“You there!”

Cedric broke off, startled by the cry, and both journeymen turned their faces to look up the road. Galloping toward them was a young boy bent low over the neck of a pony, pale blue and white ribbons streaming from the animal’s bridle. There were symbols written on the ribbons in gold, and while Henry had no idea what it meant, Cedric certainly did. The older boy cursed and Henry jumped to his feet, uncertain about what was happening.

Cedric waved the boy down, and the pony was reined in with a cloud of dust rising around them all. “How long?” he demanded.

“No more than a day.”

Cedric nodded and turned away, while the boy kicked his pony back into a gallop and continued down the road. Henry, still having no idea what was happening, simply stood there in the shade and tried to absorb the meaning of the fragments of conversation. Cedric packed away the pots and rearranged the packs on the mules before flipping the lead ropes back over the beasts’ heads.

“Get up.”

Henry blinked, and when he didn’t move fast enough for Cedric, the other journeyman walked over and shoved him in the direction of his mule. “Mount up. Now.”

Henry didn’t hesitate this time, pulling himself awkwardly onto the mule beside him. Without a saddle, it wasn’t the most comfortable perch, but the prince could sense that arguing right now really wouldn’t be a good idea.

Cedric pulled his mule over beside Henry’s, and placed his hands on the animal’s foreheads. He quickly muttered the words to a spell that Henry had never heard before, pulled himself up onto his mount’s back, and kicked the beast into a trot. Henry followed suit a few moments later, but his mule got caught up quickly.

“What do you know about the Weather Wizards?” Cedric asked him when he was riding alongside.

“Nothing,” Henry answered with a shake of his head. “Should I know something?”

Cedric shrugged. “The capital city is right on the edge of the agricultural belt, so I wasn’t sure if you would have had anything to do with them. Anyway, they’re a group of Air and Spirit mages who live in a tower in the middle of Mythesti’s agricultural area. They are a mix of journeymen and master mages, who all have a particular gift for weather or precognition magic.”

“So I assume that whatever is going on has something to do with weather then,” Henry observed, his tone of voice a touch sarcastic, but if Cedric noticed, he let it go.

“This time of year, when the weather is hot like this, strong storms can whip up.”

“So? We’ve already been through a few bad storms, one of them while we were on the road,” Henry reminded him.

“It’s not the rain that’s the problem, it’s the hail. A hailstorm will destroy the crops, so the Weather Wizards have sent out runners in every direction to try and find mages to help all of the farmers in the path of the storm.”

“So we’re supposed to help save the crops? How? And what did you do to the mules?”

Cedric chuckled, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “We’ll save the crops through magic, of course, or at least as many of them as possible. And I cast a strength spell on the mules, so that they have the ability to carry us and the gear at a trot.”

True to the power of Cedric’s spell, the pair moved down the road at a good pace, and they came in sight of their target village before the sun had moved too much farther across the sky. Cedric reined in his mule to a quick walk, Henry doing the same, and it was at that moment that the enormity of their task stretched before them. Fields of growing wheat spread out before them in every direction, as far as they could see.

“How are we supposed to do anything at all to save all of that?” Henry wanted to know. “And do we have any help?”

“I don’t know about the help, since that will depend on how far the storm is expected to stretch. As to what we can do, well, each type of mage has their own way of dealing with this type of problem. Us, as Earth mages, are going to ripen the wheat so that the farmers can harvest as much of it as possible before the storm hits. If we’re lucky enough to get another type of mage, they’ll cast shields over the fields to protect them as long as they can, or as long as they need to.”

They’d reached the first edges of the fields by this time, and Cedric slid down from his mule, the animal moving to the side of the road and putting its head down, obviously tired.

“How do I make wheat ripen?” Henry demanded as he slid down from his own mule. He could see people farther down the road rushing around, and he assumed that they were doing what they could to be ready. Already there were farmers with scythes coming toward them, and women with baskets to collect the fallen wheat to take to the threshing barn right behind them. “What do I do?”

“It’s just like personalizing a spell,” Cedric called over his shoulder as he took up a position beside a field, propping his staff in front of him, one end planted in the earth to help him draw power. “It’s the same spell you’ve been casting all along, the growth spell. Just change what it does.”

“I don’t know how to do that!” Henry blurted out, his voice wavering with uncertainty.

“And I don’t have time to show you!” Cedric yelled back. “Figure it out, Henry.”

With that Cedric turned his back fully and started to cast his spell. Henry closed his eyes and cast a detect magic spell so that he could see what Cedric was doing, and he was amazed by how far the other journeyman’s spell reached across the field of wheat, how powerful his mentor was. Henry couldn’t see exactly what Cedric was doing though, and so he turned away and focussed his attention on his own field. Taking a deep breath, he began to cast.

The words came easily to Henry’s lips, and as he stood with his feet shoulder-width apart and his hands resting on the jewel at the top of his staff, he felt his magic ripple out over the field. As the spell fizzled and died without effect, a surge of panic rolled through the prince with the failure, especially as there were farmers starting to gather behind him, ready to harvest what he ripened.

It took a few shaky breaths for Henry to realize that since he’d cast this spell so often in the week leading up to now, the spell had escaped his lips without him performing any alterations to it. Cedric had told him that he needed to modify the spell, and so he tried again, taking a little longer before whispering the words this time.

Once more his magic rippled out over the area of the field in front of him, and Henry held his breath, looking for some evidence of success in the growing wheat. The sky above was still blue and free of clouds, but there was something in the air that urged him on, something that told him that if he didn’t get this right, these people and the kingdom would suffer.

Ever so slowly, the green growing wheat in front of him began to change, shifting into the golden colour of ripe grain. The heads on the stalks weren’t terribly large, he noticed, but surely some grain would be better than nothing, and nothing is what this community was going to get if he didn’t hurry up. Resisting the urge to cheer his success, Henry advanced into the field to where the wheat was still green, and he cast the modified spell again.

~ § ~ § ~ § ~

“That was amazing!”

“You said that already…twice.”

Henry glanced over to the other bed in their small, shared room at the village inn. Cedric was lying stretched out, fully clothed except for his boots, with one arm tossed across his eyes. His face was drawn and pale, and he looked exhausted, which is exactly what Henry knew he should be feeling.

“Come on!” Henry exclaimed, his voice making Cedric wince. “When was the last time you did something so… amazing?”

Working together, the pair of journeymen had managed to ripen about two-thirds of the grain fields surrounding the village before the storm had broken over them. Henry had pushed himself harder than he ever had before, pushed past the point of initial exhaustion, and there was a part of him that knew he’d be paying for this overuse of his power eventually. But for right now, the high of knowing that he’d been instrumental in helping to save the crops, to save the livelihood of this village… there was nothing he could compare to it. Right now, there was a fire mage holding a shield over the fields where farmers still worked to harvest the last of the ripened grain. Henry knew that those farmers were smiling as they swung their scythes, even though they’d worked all day and all night without much rest, and he was part of the reason they were smiling. He flopped down onto his bed with a happy grin.

“Is the tea ready yet?”

With a sigh, Henry rolled back to his feet and made his way over to the small hearth in their room. There was a tiny fire burning down, the warm summer night making additional heat unnecessary, and there were two mugs of steaming tea seeping beside a tin kettle still partially filled with boiling water. Henry checked the mugs, poking at the leaves of various herbs to see what colour the water was.

“Almost.”

“Good enough,” Cedric commented, pushing himself up onto an elbow. “Can you bring me a mug please?”

Henry did, bringing his own along as well. He watched Cedric grimace at the taste as he drank the liquid down to the dregs. He pushed his boots off and sat down once more.

“Make sure you drink it all,” Cedric reminded him as the older boy lay back down and closed his eyes. “It won’t do you any… good if you… don’t… drink…”

Henry smiled as the herbs took effect, pulling Cedric down into a deep, restorative sleep. Taking a deep breathe, steeling himself for the unpleasant taste, Henry drank the foul brew and laid down to get some rest.

 

 

 

Chapter 10

Following the post-hailstorm cleaning, Cedric led Henry to the south, explaining that as Earth mages, they were no longer necessary in the agricultural belt of the kingdom. As the crops ripened, their care turned now to the Water mages, who ensured that they had adequate moisture in case of drought, and to the Fire mages, who warmed the soil in case of early frost or unseasonably cool temperatures.

“So what will we be doing?” Henry wanted to know.

Cedric was tempted to hassle the prince for being impatient, but decided to answer him instead.

“Now,” he explained, “is when the animals are fattening up for the upcoming harvest slaughtering. We’re going to make sure that there is enough grazing for that to happen.”

“So we’re still making plants grow,” the young journeyman groaned, and Cedric laughed.

“Don’t worry,” he promised. “When we get to the coast, you’ll have something else to do.”

Intrigued, Henry tried to get Cedric to reveal what the ‘something else’ was, but Cedric remained mute, answering Henry’s pleadings with only an enigmatic smile.

Mythesti, south of the narrow agricultural belt and north of the impassible mountains that marked the southern border, was good for nothing except grazing. The soil was poor, and even the grass and stunted shrubs that grew there could only sustain goats, and so that’s what Mythesti had. They had goats for meat, goats for milk and cheese, and goats for hides and fibres that could be spun into wool. Henry had wondered on occasion why the kingdom’s symbol was a raven instead of a goat, but nobody had ever provided him with a good answer to the question.

Casting growth spells on pastures of grass wasn’t terribly interesting, and Henry was happy when Cedric continued to lead him eastward and toward the coast. He knew that there were no crops and no goats along the coast, but there was a lot of water, which made him curious about what Earth mages could do. Henry also knew that fall was a time from storms coming in from the sea, and Earth mages certain couldn’t do anything about those!

“Here we are!” Cedric proclaimed one morning in early fall.

There was a chill in the air, the grass was browning, and the leaves on the shrubs had started to turn yellow and orange as the nights warned the plants of the coming winter. Before them, down a fairly steep slope, was a small village and a large, flat, open space. Henry could see the sunlight reflecting off the sea on the horizon, the road they were on continuing through the village ahead and to the actual coast. Nothing grew at the bottom of the slope, and the prince had absolutely no idea what they were doing here. Cedric tugged at his mule’s lead to get the beast moving once more and started down the slope, leaving Henry no choice but to follow.

“Where are we?” he asked when he caught up to his mentor. “What is this place?”

“This is where you find the most valuable commodity this kingdom has,” was Cedric’s reply.

“There are jewels here? Gold?”

Cedric laughed. “No. This is the salt plain. This is where the salt comes from.”

“Salt? How is that the most valuable thing in the kingdom?”

In Henry’s experience, salt was something added to food on occasion. He knew that they used it in the kitchens when cooking too, but other than that…

“Salt,” Cedric explained, “allows up to preserve meat and fish and other foods to get us through the winter. It is not easy to come by either, and most of the kingdoms need to trade for it. Calyso and Cembrance have access to the sea as well, but Bacovia and Evendell do not. Most of the kingdom’s revenue is generated from the trade of salt with our neighbours.”

Henry shook his head, astounded. “How did I not know that? If salt is that important, why didn’t someone tell me about it before now? I’m supposed to rule one day!”

“Maybe they thought it was unimportant for now,” Cedric suggested with a shrug. “Regardless, for the next while we’re going to be staying here to help with the salt mining. Our magic makes it a lot faster and easier to get the salt out of the ground, and the villagers here are always happy to have mages.”

“How did the salt get into the ground in the first place?” Henry asked as they reached the bottom of the slope and started to close the distance to the village.

“This is the original coastline. As the sea has withdrawn over the centuries, it has left salt behind. You are currently walking on what used to be the bottom of the sea.”

Cedric let them take the rest of the day off after they were settled at the inn, and Henry went out to watch the miners work. He watched them use pickaxes to chip away at the ground, breaking up chunks of hardened soil and salt into smaller pieces that were then put into great vats of water to be heated. When the water boiled off, and the soil was washed away, crystals of salt remained. These were put into large burlap sacks and weighed.

Everyone in the village helped. The men did the mining, the women did the washing and boiling, and the children sorted through the ground the men broke up for large salt crystals before sending the rest of the mined soil to the women. Henry wondered how he and Cedric were going to help make this process easier.

When he and Cedric went out with the villagers the next morning, Henry noticed that instead of pickaxes, the men carried shovels and rakes. There weren’t as many women either, and he wondered why.

“Okay Henry,” Cedric began. “For this one, it’s going to be easier if you sit instead of stand.”

“Why?”

“Well, there are a few reasons. One, this spell is a lot harder than the one we’ve been using, and it will take a lot more energy to cast. And two, having more of yourself connected to the ground is a good thing.”

Henry shrugged and did as instructed, sitting cross-legged on the ground with his staff balanced across his knees. Cedric nodded his approval and then sat next to him.

“Now, I want you to close your eyes and reach out into the earth. Tell me what you feel.”

Henry closed his eyes and reached, an exercise he’d done thousands of times in his life as a mage. He knew that Cedric wanted him to find something specific, so he let his awareness drift, something that he’d never really done in the past.

“I don’t know what I’m looking for,” the prince complained at last.

“Just tell me what you feel,” Cedric repeated. Behind them, the villagers waited patiently.

“I can feel that this area is old,” Henry finally stated. “It’s been like this for a very long time.”

“Good. And what does ‘like this’ mean?”

Henry concentrated, trying to put what he sensed into words. “It’s hard and dry. There’s no moisture in this ground.”

“And is that what the earth usually feels like?”

“No.”

“Okay, good. What you’re sensing is the salt leeching the moisture out of the ground, which is what salt does – it pulls moisture out. I need you to remember that feeling. Now cast a detect magic spell and watch me.”

Again, Henry did as he was told. He watched his mentor gather power around him, and he was surprised to see that most of the power for whatever spell Cedric was casting came from Cedric himself instead of from the earth. He figured out why a moment later when the older journeyman sent the gathered power into the ground. Henry watched carefully as Cedric’s power rippled out from where they sat, reaching about two arm lengths in every direction, but reaching about Cedric’s height below them. Then the ground began to shift and heave slightly, bringing shouts of pleasure from the waiting villagers. Finally, Henry watched in amazement as salt crystals began to rise from the ground, forced out of the hard-packed soil by Cedric’s power.

“How did you do that?” Henry asked, astonished.

Cedric opened his eyes and gave him a shaky smile. “It takes a lot of personal power, but it’s just a separation spell.”

“Really?” Henry remembered learning how to cast the separation spell. They’d been given a pail of rubble, rocks, gravel and soil all mixed together, which needed to be separated into piles using magic. It wasn’t a particularly difficult spell, but it did take control.

“Because you’re trying to separate something out of the earth itself, you need to use personal power instead of power drawn from the earth,” Cedric explained. “I’ll only be able to cast the spell a few times today, and I expect that you’ll only manage it once, if that, until you build up some stamina.”

“If you can only cast it a few times, why is everyone so excited?”

Cedric smiled and gestured behind them. “The amount of salt that I can force out of the ground with a single casting is about the same as they can get in three or four days of work. Between the two of us, over the next few weeks, we’ll save them the equivalent of months of labour.”

Henry watched as the salt crystals Cedric had summoned to the surface were collected and bagged. “It must take weeks to fill a single sack,” he observed, and Cedric agreed.

“Like I said before, salt is not easy to come by.”

Cedric seemed more like himself, and settled in a new spot to begin the spell again, while Henry moved a little farther away and settled himself to try his hand at calling salt from the earth. He was mindful of Cedric’s assessment of his likely abilities with this spell, and closed his eyes, determined to call something from the ground today, no matter what.

Drawing his personal power around himself like a cloak, Henry whispered the words to the separation spell and thrust the gathered power into the salt field below and around him. Gritting his teeth against the drain, he tried to hold his concentration as he sifted through the soil searching for something that felt different, searching for salt.

Just as he finally grasped that elusive crystal, Henry felt as if it was nudged out of his hold. He reached again, and again he latched on. There wasn’t a lot of salt in the shallow area he could reach, and the crystals weren’t very big, but Henry knew that didn’t matter. Getting the salt to the surface was what mattered. He tried to push the crystals to the surface using his magic, and when that didn’t work, he tried pulling them. That didn’t work either, and as he became distantly aware of sweat beading his forehead and cramps knotting his muscles, Henry realized that he was losing his concentration. Panic hit him like a blow to the stomach.

This was too important to fail! He reached harder, squeezing his eyes shut to try to restore his concentration and wrench his awareness away from his body and back into the earth. Knowing that time was running out, that his personal power was draining away, Henry grabbed onto the nearest salt crystal and wrenched it from the ground. At the same time, he felt a very similar wrenching inside his head, and crying out in pain, Henry’s concentration broke. He was conscious only long enough to see that there was a salt crystal as large as his hand sitting in front of him, and then the reaction headache from the power drain of the spell hit him. The pain rushing through him was enough to make him vomit before he passed out, his last thought gratitude that Cedric had told him to sit down for this casting. It was a lot less distance to fall.

 

 

 

Chapter 11

The weather was warming, finally, and Henry trudged happily through calf-high partially melted snow without complaint. He and Cedric were nearly at the end of their walkabout, heading east once more now that the season was recognizably spring. It had taken awhile for the weather near the western mountain range to catch up with the calendar.

Following his introduction to the salt mines, Henry and Cedric had worked alongside the miners near the western coast for a number of weeks, as autumn turned to winter and the journeymen were eventually needed elsewhere. They turned slightly to the south, and Cedric showed him the mining settlements that abutted the tall, imposing cliffs of the impassable mountains that made up Mythesti’s southern border. As they moved from place to place throughout the winter, Henry felt truly useful at last. Though he now understood how valuable salt was, and he knew that his work with the salt miners was useful and productive for his kingdom, it wasn’t until Henry was working with the metal and gem miners near the mountains that he truly felt like he was making a difference. Henry was drawn to the more tangible riches in a way that he couldn’t quite put into words.

During the cold, quiet winter months, the young journeymen used their magical gifts to help the miners determine which mines were tapped out and where to dig new shafts. They also helped to find weaknesses in the rock and stone, allowing the miners to shore up the tunnels with wooden beams to prevent cave-ins and accidents. And when winter turned to spring, the young men found themselves in the western mountain range, still working with miners but also happy to be heading back home, to Master Rylan.

Henry thought to himself as he walked that despite his initial doubts about working with Cedric for the better part of a year, he’d truly learned a lot from his mentor during their walkabout. The older journeyman, though difficult to work with at times, really had tried hard to teach Henry new ways to use his apprentice spells, as well as a few more powerful spells he’d never had access to before passing his test. His staff was carved with new runes for each of those new spells, something Henry took pride in. He smiled.

“What are you smiling about?” Cedric asked, looking over from where he trudged alongside the prince.

“Nothing in particular,” Henry answered, still smiling. “I was just thinking about everything I’ve done and learned while I’ve been wandering around the kingdom.”

“Ah. So you’re smiling because you haven’t passed out from magic overuse in a couple of months,” Cedric teased. “That is a good thing to learn.”

“That’s not nice!” Henry protested, striking out to hit Cedric playfully in the arm. A look of surprise crossed his mentor’s face, and then Cedric was suddenly on the ground looking up at the clear, blue spring sky. The prince laughed and reached down to offer his mentor a hand up.

“Don’t move!”

Henry froze, compelled by the frightened sound in Cedric’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

“The ground isn’t stable here,” Cedric told him, “and I don’t want it to give way and take us both down. Reach out your powers and see for yourself.”

Again, Henry did as he was told, closing his eyes and looking at the ground around them. He and Cedric were on a trail that led down from the mountains, and the prince could sense that the trail was more packed snow than actual rock. With the warmer spring weather, the snow all around them was starting to melt, and the trail where he and Cedric were standing was starting to melt too.

“What do I do?” he asked, relying on his mentor’s expertise. The familiar knot of panic was starting to form in his stomach, fear that he’d do something wrong, and that either of them – or both of them – would pay the ultimate price for his failure.

“Where is the solid ground?” Cedric asked.

Henry knew that Cedric could find out the answer to his question himself, but figured there was a reason he was asking Henry, so he closed his eyes again and concentrated, looking for solid rock under the snow… somewhere.

“This whole area is nothing but packed snow,” Henry all but sobbed. He could also sense how quickly the snow was eroding underneath them. “There is nothing solid anywhere around here.”

Cedric took a deep breath, and Henry could see the tension in his body relax. How can he relax at a time like this? Henry thought to himself.

“Okay, this is what we’re going to do,” the older boy stated, his voice sounding confident in Henry’s ears. “I can sense solid ground below us. We’re going to have to reach it.”

“It’s nearly twenty feet down! We’ll kill ourselves if we jump,” Henry protested.

“We’re not going to jump, Henry, relax. We’ll use rope.”

“We don’t have that much rope, and what about the mules?”

Cedric sighed. “We’re running out of time, Henry,” he pointed out. “If we do nothing, the ground is going to fall out from underneath us. Pull the rope out of the mules’ packs, and slap them to get them moving. They’ll find their own way down… or they won’t.”

Straightening slowly, Henry moved to the pack animals and found the rope. “Won’t they potentially start an avalanche if I get the mules going?” he called over his shoulder as he tied the two pieces of rope together and looked around for something to anchor an end to.

“Possibly,” Cedric conceded, “but again, we don’t have much choice.”

Finding nothing solid to anchor their rope to, Henry decided to bury a loop of rope in the snow nearby, hoping and trusting that the snow would anchor them long enough so that the trip down to the next level wouldn’t kill them.

“This rope isn’t going to be nearly long enough,” Henry stated as he worked.

“You’re going to have to make it longer,” Cedric told him, matter of fact.

“What? How?”

“Same spell as always,” his mentor told him with a bitter laugh. “Rope is made from plant fibres, so make them grow.”

“But rope isn’t alive,” Henry pointed out unnecessarily. “How can something not alive grow?”

“Same as always,” Cedric said again. “You just need to alter the spell, to make it do what you want. You’d best hurry.”

Henry tried to push down the knot of panic, which had crawled out of his stomach and into his throat. He muttered the incredibly familiar words to the spell he’d cast so often that Henry felt he could do it in his sleep, but he had difficulty adapting the spell to make the dead plant fibre grow. He tried again, and again the spell failed to do what he wanted. The panic grew until Henry started to feel dizzy. Hands shaking, he started to cast the spell again.

The ground under their feet started to groan, the snow creaking in an alarming way. Henry’s eyes widened, and he swatted the mules to get them moving. The beasts, sensing the danger, trotted off quickly, the packed snow starting to crack under the abuse of their hooves.

“Henry!” Cedric called, the snow under his outstretched hand crumbling away. “We’re out of time!”

Gulping, choking on his panic, Henry wrapped the rope around his arm and dove for Cedric. He grabbed the other mage around the waist and practically yelled the words of the spell. He could hear Cedric saying the same words, and he hoped that one of them would be successful. The packed snow they were on gave way with a crack, and they were falling.

The ground was coming toward them much faster than Henry was happy with, and he found he couldn’t do anything to slow or halt their fall, not even whisper the words to the simplest spell. Snow was falling around them, the chunks of the previous pathway leading the way to the rapidly approaching earth. Henry fought down a scream, knowing they were going to hit the ground… hard.

The rope in his hand writhed as Cedric’s spell finally did what Henry hadn’t been able to. Henry couldn’t see it lengthening, but it felt alive where it was wrapped around his arm, and he took a relieved breath. That breath was jerked out of him at the same time as it felt that his arm was going to be pulled from its socket. There’d been some increase in the length of the rope, but not enough, and they’d just reached the end of it.

Swinging from their momentum, Henry tried desperately to keep his hold on Cedric. With one arm above his head supporting their combined weight, it hurt so very much, and Henry desperately wanted to let go of both the rope and his mentor. He was only twelve after all, not yet possessing the full strength he’d grow into, and Cedric was seventeen, and much larger than he was.

“I can’t hold on any longer,” Henry gasped in pain. “I just… can’t.”

With those words, Henry’s grip on Cedric slipped, and he watched in horror as his mentor fell away from him. Without Cedric’s weight pulling on him, Henry felt immediate relief on his shoulder, but that relief was short lived. With another loud groan and a crack of breaking snow, the rope holding Henry gave way and he followed his mentor to the ground.

Hitting the snow covered ground hard enough to knock all the breath from his body, Henry fought to get oxygen into his lungs. He was riddled with pain, and heard a groan that echoed his feelings, but Henry wasn’t certain if the sound had escaped from him or from Cedric, who was laying a short distance away. They were both alive, but Henry knew nothing more than that.

“Henry,” Cedric gasped. “The snow.”

Henry looked up, and sure enough, the place where they’d been standing a short while ago was gone, but the snow from the area around and above that spot was still in place… and crumbling. They were about to witness an avalanche, from the unfortunate location of right underneath it.

Henry reacted without thinking, without asking for advice like he usually would. Thrusting his hand down through the snow, the prince fought to touch the rock beneath to strengthen his abilities via contact. Casting a spell without pausing, Henry drew rock and dirt up from ground and shaped it into a dome above them. He felt their shelter shudder when the snow hit it, but he was able to hold the dome until the feel of snow thudding into the rock and dirt stopped.

“Are you okay?” Henry asked, letting the shield fall back into the earth beneath them. He tried to sit up, but fell back when his arm gave way beneath his weight. He didn’t think it was broken, but hurt a bit too much to be certain. Cedric’s answer was just a groan, and Henry rolled over instead of trying to sit up a second time.

Crawling toward his mentor, Henry quickly realized that no, his arm was not broken, but it was at least sprained. He used his undamaged arm to help pull himself forward, Henry wasn’t sure what to expect when he finally reached Cedric’s side. He was almost afraid to look.

Cedric’s face was bruised, likely from a combination of the fall and the snow that had pummelled him before Henry had raised the shield. His eyes were closed and squinted together, and his breathing was shallow, leading Henry to suspect that Cedric was in pain, but not yet unconscious.

“Is anything broken?” he asked the older boy.

“I don’t know,” was the reply, “but I certainly hurt.”

“We need shelter until we can get ourselves sorted out,” Henry stated. He looked around, wondering if the mules were around. “I’ll see what I can do, while you rest here.”

Making true on his words, Henry managed to haul himself up and put together a functional shelter. He couldn’t see the mules anywhere, but between his magic and the abundance of snow at his feet, blocking the wind wasn’t difficult at all.

“We don’t have any blankets or food,” he pointed out after helping Cedric get more comfortable. “Maybe the mules will find us, but I’m thinking that it’s more likely that we’ll be a little cold and hungry until tomorrow.”

Cedric just grunted. “We’ll survive.”

 

 

 

Chapter 12

“Welcome home, your Highness!”

Cedric winced, hearing Master Rylan use Henry’s title. He’d gone to a lot of time and effort to avoid reminding the prince of his station, getting Henry to see that a life of helping others wasn’t something to shy away from in the name of vanity and an accident of birth. Cedric thought he’d done a reasonably good job of grounding Henry in the reality of life in Mythesti… and now Rylan was going to undo all of his hard work.

“You’re also back a little early,” the master mage observed with a sharp look in Cedric’s direction. “I trust there wasn’t a problem.”

“Well… there was a bit of an accident,” Henry said with a smile before launching in the story of the avalanche and how he’d taken care of his mentor for two days before Cedric had been able to travel. Rylan looked suitably impressed with the young prince’s exploits, and Cedric was just as happy to let Henry do the talking. Cedric knew that he’d have a chance to tell tales later.

Leaving Henry in the care of their master, Cedric made his way up to his room, not surprised to find that the space had a slightly musty smell. Being home a few weeks early hadn’t given anyone time to air the place out, and he pushed open a small window and looked around. He was pleased to note that everything was as he’d left it nearly a year ago, and there was evidence that the room had been dusted recently. He smiled as he sank into the chair in the corner, closing his eyes and massaging his arm.

The fall from the ledge in the mountains had broken his arm in two places, something Cedric had discovered the next morning when he’d awakened from his shock-induced sleep. He’d been in too much pain to help Henry with even the simplest chores, and he felt that he owed the young journeyman his life. Henry had kept them warm, found their mules, and eventually had found the Spirit mage who’d healed Cedric’s arm. Having gone a few days of letting the bones heal however they wanted had left Cedric with a bit of an ache that the mage had told him likely wouldn’t fade completely. Cedric considered it a small price to pay for his life.

Thinking back to his own first walkabout, Cedric figured that a large dinner would be likely that evening. He also remembered getting sick, and he made a mental note to tell Henry to go easy on the rich foods. They’d eaten reasonably well during their journeys, but the food had been a simpler country fare, very unlike what was probably going to be put before them tonight, all in the name of celebration.

Forcing himself back to his feet, Cedric gathered clean clothing and made his way to the bathing room. It would be wonderful to feel truly clean, and then he thought he might take a bit of a nap before dinner. Being back here wasn’t sitting quite right, and Cedric couldn’t put his finger on exactly why. Maybe this past year has changed me enough that I’m truly ready to be out on my own, he mused while he bathed. He was due to take his master’s test, after all, and assuming he passed, on his own would be exactly where he found himself.

Dinner came and went with the expected festivities, the various apprentices and journeymen studying under Rylan and Melynda enjoying themselves immensely. Cedric noticed that Henry’s former rival, Jerome, was sitting at the journeyman’s table with them, and he wondered briefly if there would still be trouble between the boys. They’d had over a year apart, after all, and Cedric hoped that they’d both matured… Jerome especially.

After dinner, the apprentices all scrambling to clean up after the meal in order to enjoy a rare evening off, and the journeymen retired to their wing of the building. Cedric escorted Henry, showing him to the sitting room where the older students could sit and relax after a long day of study and teaching. Cedric didn’t stay for very long, however, knowing that he still had one duty to perform before he could truly say that his walkabout was complete. He soon found himself outside of his master’s study, knocking softly before entering.

“So an avalanche, you said,” Rylan began without preamble, making Cedric wince. He’d known that this line of questioning was coming, but he hadn’t really expected to start with it.

“Yes, sir,” he replied. “It was careless, of both of us. We were distracted by the warm weather and beautiful day, and neither of us thought to check the stability of the track we were using.”

“You’re lucky,” Melynda pointed out. “This could have ended badly, for both of you.”

“I know that, ma’am,” Cedric commented with a nod in the master mage’s direction. “It was a lesson for both of us, and I know that I am certainly grateful for the chance to learn from my mistake.”

Rylan nodded, apparently satisfied. “So, what else can you tell us?”

“Well, the prince has made a lot of progress this past year,” Cedric started, choosing his words carefully, knowing what his master wanted to hear. “He’s come a long way toward mastering the process of adapting spells to his needs, but still has difficulty doing so under pressure.”

Rylan waved Cedric’s critique away, commenting that Henry was only finishing his first year and had plenty of time to master the ability. Cedric continued.

“Henry does have a tendency to freeze up under pressure,” he said. “I was never able to get him to tell me about what he is thinking when it happens, but I suspect that he will need to understand whatever it is that is holding him back before he will be able to make any significant progress.”

“What about his speciality?” Rylan wanted to know. “Did he show any particular ability with anything?”

Cedric shook his head. “Not really, no. The closest he came was when we were working with the miners in the western mountains. Henry really enjoyed working with the few gems and precious metals we were able to locate, but it did seem to be more enjoyment than an actual affinity. You will have to identify his particular talent in the workroom, I’m afraid.”

Master Rylan seemed disappointed by this news, but Cedric knew that there was nothing he could do about it. Each journeyman had a particular talent or affinity for a specific type of spell, and with their rather limited spell use over the past months, Henry simply hadn’t stumbled across his yet. It wasn’t anything to worry about though, as this was quite common.

“Enough about Henry,” Rylan said. He raised his glass of wine to salute his journeyman. “Let’s talk about you.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you,” Rylan said with a laugh. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed your restlessness today. It’s time for you to move on, so let’s discuss how we can make that happen. What are you thinking about doing next?”

“I do want to take my master’s test,” Cedric stated without hesitation. He knew that there were many mages who stayed at the journeyman level for their entire lives, the idea of taking the risk to become a master mage not being considered worth it. There was additional power, yes, but also additional responsibilities, and many didn’t want that.

“After that, assuming that all is well, I’m thinking about establishing a place for myself somewhere in the agricultural region.”

Rylan nodded, agreeing with Cedric’s idea. They both knew that Cedric’s talent lay with plants, especially making them grow, and an agricultural position made perfect sense.

“Are you certain about the test then?” his master questioned. “You could still establish yourself as a journeyman, and not worry about the risk. I heard nothing but good things about you and Henry during your stint across the north. You would be well received.”

Cedric laughed. “Yes, I’m sure. The extra power that comes with being a master mage would be particularly useful to me. I’d be able to stretch my spells even farther than they reach now, which will be very important when it comes to avoiding storm damage and the like.”

“Agreed. I’ll send out messengers tomorrow to find mages for your test, and I’ll let you know.”

Cedric nodded his agreement, bowed to the master and mistress of the house, and took his leave of them. As he walked back to his room, his thoughts were already ranging ahead into the future. He was assuming that he was going to pass his master’s test, and so he started sifting through his memories of the villages and communities he and Henry had passed through, trying to decide which ones were best suited to housing him year round. Lost in these pleasant plans, Cedric lay down on his bed and drifted into a peaceful sleep full of dreams of sunshine and acres upon acres of healthy growing plants.

 

 

 

Chapter 13

Henry settled into his new role as one of Rylan’s journeymen without a lot of trouble. He found it a little difficult to get used to his new schedule, his former chores having been replaced with teaching apprentices instead. His days were filled with classes, some he found easy and some he found much harder… and he wasn’t always the student when he was struggling.

After nearly a year of being out of the school and actually using his magical gifts, Henry considered himself much more mature and knowledgeable than he had been as a mere apprentice. Unfortunately, this new attitude had a tendency to rear its head when Henry was teaching.

“You really must be more patient with the apprentices, your Highness,” Master Rylan told him, his tone appropriately deferential as far as Henry could hear. The prince knew that it wasn’t the apprentices as a whole who had a problem, however, but was instead one young man named Christian.

“Christian needs to watch his tone,” Henry replied, his voice a little harsh. “And the way he rolls his eyes when I say something is completely unacceptable. It’s disrespectful!”

“And I do agree that you deserve respect, both as his prince and as his instructor,” the master mage commented. “However, you should try to avoid losing your temper like you did today. Destroying part of a workroom in a moment of… pique is not the best message to send to the apprentices.”

Henry took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying not to be angry over the incident a second time. He knew that he should remain calm, but sometimes it was just so hard when Christian was acting like a fool and getting the rest of the students off task with him.

“Maybe the first year apprentices would be better suited?” his master suggested, and Henry’s eyes widened. He was going to be demoted! And for what? A simple demonstration of what he, as a journeyman and their better, could accomplish?

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Henry answered coldly. “I’ll do a better job keeping my temper in check, but something needs to be done about Christian.”

“I will speak to the boy,” Rylan promised, and Henry took his leave from the master’s sitting room a short while later.

Muttering to himself, Henry made his way back to the journeyman’s wing of the dormitory and threw himself down into his favourite chair in the sitting room. There wasn’t anybody else there at the moment, and Henry took advantage of the silence to close his eyes and reflect on what had been happening recently. Maybe he could figure out why he was having these problems if he thought about it some more.

Things in class got better after that meeting, though Henry never found out what Rylan had said to Christian. His own studies continued to progress, and Henry was happy that he never had another run in with Jerome, even when they were in the same class. Since Jerome was a Spirit mage and he was an Earth mage, they had no spells in common at this level, so only theoretical classes were shared by all of the journeymen in the same year. Theory was something that Henry excelled at, a fact that he could silently attribute to Cedric’s teachings, but he would never admit that out loud.

On the rare occasions that the prince’s thoughts turned to his former mentor and tutor, Henry hoped that Cedric was happy doing whatever it is he was doing. Henry honestly had no idea, Cedric having passed his master’s test and leaving to strike out on his own within a week of their return from the walkabout. He thought that someone might have mentioned that Cedric was working in the agricultural area of the kingdom, and Henry shuddered, remembering the hundreds upon hundreds of times he’d cast that stupid growth spell during his time there. Cedric was welcome to it!

The farther Henry progressed into his studies, the more theoretical his classes became. There were only so many base spells for him to learn, the majority of a journeyman’s flexibility coming from his or her ability to alter those base spells to do what was wanted. Henry had had a lot of practice doing this, and as the discussions turned to things like combat and defence, he didn’t have any trouble picturing and describing how his base spells could be put to creative and altered uses. Even the despised growth spell could help to build and strengthen a palisade wall or grow thorns and brambles onto ladders that invaders were using to climb a city’s walls. Henry received top marks, never having cast a single spell that he’d described. This happened for a few reasons, the most important being that nobody wanted the prince and heir to the throne hurt or killed in something like a mock combat.

Three years passed in what seemed like a blink of an eye, the routine of teaching and learning helping to blur the days together for Henry. But before he knew it, it was early spring a few months before his fifteenth birthday, and there was a new journeyman who needed an escort around the kingdom for his first walkabout.

Now in the position of mentor, Henry was privy to the meetings that Cedric had attended before leaving for their own journey. Henry was given maps, names of people he could contact in case of trouble, and a pouch of gold to buy things that couldn’t be bartered for with the services of a pair of journeymen Earth mages. Henry wondered if there’d been any conversations about this second journey with his parents, but preferred not to ask. It would be disheartening if Rylan had had to convince the king and queen of the importance of this journey the way he’d convinced them the first time. Henry preferred to just head out and try to enjoy his year.

With the season being entirely different this time around, he’d had to think about the route he wanted to take. The mountains to the west would be treacherous this time of year, something Henry had firsthand experience with, and he knew that the people living on the western border could use their help to find weakened trails and the like, along with the usual work Earth mages did with miners. On the other hand, it would be time for planting very soon, and if he and Alec, his partner for this trip, could cast growth spells on the plants as soon as they sprouted, they may be able to save some from last frosts and hungry animals. That line of thinking decided him, and he led Alec north and east, into the agricultural belt.

Knowing that the timing Cedric had used would be the most useful for Alec’s learning, Henry was able to move back and forth between the agricultural area and the herding area of the kingdom for nearly half a year. Alec was able to see a lot more of the animal husbandry part of the kingdom’s work than Henry had seen, and it was something that the younger journeyman was drawn to in a way that indicated to Henry that Alec had found his particular gift.

The boys visited with Cedric when they came upon the master mage, though Henry didn’t tarry for long, finding his former mentor’s appraisal of the work he was doing with Alec uncomfortable. Cedric’s rather pointed questions about how Henry was progressing with his little anxiety problem were even worse, and the prince and his partner left as soon as he could get away with it.

The time spent at the salt mines was just as interesting as it had been four years before, as was the time in the mountains with the miners. Henry loved working with the gem and gold miners the best, and he found that his affinity for the precious materials had grown in his time away from the mines. Henry knew that Cedric has proposed that spells involving precious stones and the like were Henry’s particular gift, but it hadn’t really manifested that way before. Now, there was no doubt, which made the prince happy. He’d been feeling a little like a freak, being the only journeyman without a known gift, but it looked like the knowledge of his gift, along with the rest of his magic, had simply taken a little longer to develop.

By the time winter had drawn to an end, both Henry and Alec were more than ready to return home to Master Rylan’s school. Alec was eager to move on to the next phase of his journeyman training, but Henry just wanted to be done with it all. He’d journeyed around his kingdom twice now, had worked with all sorts of people doing all sorts of jobs, and he felt that he had a good idea of how his magic could help to improve the lot of his kingdom and his people. Henry felt confident that he knew the steps to take in order to fulfill the prophecy, and his newly confirmed affinity for precious things just made it all the more obvious to him where his path to better the kingdom of Mythesti should lay. He just needed to pass his master’s test, and then everything would be ready for him to start truly making a difference, finally living up to his parents’ expectations that he would save this kingdom from itself.

 

 

 

Chapter 14

“Good morning, your Highness. Happy birthday.”

Henry rolled over onto his side and opened his eyes slowly. He was momentarily confused, the sheets softer than expected and the bed a lot wider. Once he cleared the cobwebs from his sleep muddled mind, the prince remembered that he was home in Danmoor, Mythesti’s capital city and home to the royal family.

“Good morning, Adam,” the prince greeted his personal servant. “What time is it?”

Adam smiled, the wrinkles around his eyes deepening. “Their Majesties wanted to let you sleep in, your Highness, to ensure that you are well rested before this afternoon’s events. It is midmorning.”

Henry groaned and rolled onto his back, stretching his arms above his head. Ah, yes, he thought to himself, today’s events.

The prince had received special permission to return home from Master Rylan’s in order to be in the palace for his birthday. After he’d returned from his final walkabout in the spring, Henry had bided his time and finished his lessons while waiting for his sixteenth birthday. This momentous occasion marked not only his passage into adulthood, but also the end of his ten years of magical training, culminating in his master’s test. Both his birthday party and his test were scheduled to take place this afternoon.

Heaving himself up into a sitting position, Henry scanned his room, the room he’d not spent more than a day or two in for the past ten years. The decor had changed since he’d moved away as a child, and now the room was decorated as appropriate for an adult. The furniture, once white, was now a rich golden hued wood, and the pastel colours had been replaced with a rich blue accented with red, the royal colours. Here and there were stylized ravens, the kingdom’s symbol. Overall, Henry liked how it all looked, and he made a mental note to find out who’d decorated the suite in order to thank them for their work.

The boxes holding his accumulated belongings from his years away were piled in a corner, waiting until Henry had a few moments to unpack and put things away. One of the servants had offered to do it yesterday afternoon when he’d arrived home, but Henry wanted to do it himself.

“I have a late breakfast here for you, your Highness,” Adam told him when Henry swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. “It is light, as I’ve been told you won’t want much in your stomach for what’s to come.”

Henry walked over to the small table and padded chairs set up in the nook created by the bay window at one end of his room, lifting the cover from the platter holding his food. His eyes roamed over fruit, bread and cheese, and he paused to consider what he felt like eating.

“Is there something wrong, your Highness?”

Henry turned, surprised by the tremulous sound in his servant’s voice. It was the second time he’d heard the tone from a servant, the first from the maid who’d wanted to put away his belongings. It struck him as worth investigating, and he was quick to assure Adam that everything was fine. Showing the truth of his words, Henry sat down and began to eat.

Following his meal, the prince bathed and then dressed, getting ready for his master’s test. That would come first, followed by a light lunch, and then a gala dinner and dance in celebration of Henry’s coming of age. He suspected that he’d be allowed to sleep late tomorrow as well, recovering from today’s exertions. After that, Henry would take his place at his father’s side, the confirmed heir to the throne.

When he felt ready, and before anybody could be sent to fetch him, Henry made his way down the large spiral staircase to the main floor of the palace. As he walked, he tried to take deep breaths to centre himself, starting to feel nervous. After all, this is what he’d been working toward for so many years, and it would finally prove to everyone that he was, in fact, the mage spoken of in the prophecy.

There were people in the ballroom when he arrived, Master Rylan and Master Cedric among them, and Henry felt his breath catch when he saw a trio of other journeymen waiting off to the side, their rank easily identified by the length of their staff, equal with Henry’s own. He’d forgotten that this test wasn’t a private, single person affair, but was instead a group test. When someone noticed Henry’s arrival, a hush fell over everyone. The prince caught sight of his parents off to one side, unfamiliar expressions on their faces. Could that actually be pride he was seeing?

“Excellent!” Master Rylan exclaimed. “Now that we’re all present and accounted for, we can begin.”

Henry’s master gestured for both the prince and the other three journeymen mages to approach, and the four master mage hopefuls gathered inside of a loose half-circle of master mages and gathered witnesses. A mage Henry didn’t recognize took a deep breath and rapped his staff on the floor three times.

“We are gathered here to witness the growth of journeymen mages to the rank of master,” the mage intoned. “Gentlemen, lady, please step forward.”

Henry did as he was told, and the other three stepped forward a moment later.

“The master’s test is a serious matter,” they were informed. “Many mages choose never to take this risk. Do you all understand that this test could have serious consequences? You could have your gift burned from you, or even die while undertaking it.”

“We understand,” the four journeymen answered together.

“And is there any among you who no longer wish to proceed?”

The mage running the ceremony met each of their eyes in turn, and not one of the four journeymen chose to back down. The mage nodded.

“This test requires a fair amount of space,” he said. “We will now adjourn outside.”

There were doors leading from the ballroom to the gardens, and servants threw these open at the mage’s words. Everyone turned toward the fresh air, and the master mages led the way outside, journeymen following, and then the witnesses. They all moved to a large, open area of the gardens, where some of the master mages made a loose circle. There were five of them, one for each element, and Henry caught Cedric’s glance as his former mentor took his place in the circle. Cedric looked worried, but Henry’s gaze was drawn back toward the Spirit mage who was overseeing the test before he could puzzle out why.

“This is a trial by combat,” the Spirit mage informed the journeymen, and Henry was barely able to stifle his gasp of surprise. As with the journeyman test, the specific details were kept quiet until this moment.

“The purpose of this test is to appraise your abilities as mages, both your ability to use your magic and your ability to improvise under pressure. You do not necessarily need to be the last one standing in order to be declared competent enough to earn the master rank. Good luck.”

Henry wasn’t sure what to do, having never been in a magical combat before, but he knew something that he shouldn’t do. To his right, two of the journeymen were casting shield spells, and as they rippled into effect, Henry could tell immediately that these two were both Air mages. Their shields were transparent and nearly invisible, just a rippling in the air as the conjured winds swirled around them, something that his own shield of rock would never be. No shield for him, not if he wanted to know what was happening around him anyway. The third journeyman didn’t bring up a shield either, indicating to Henry that he either didn’t think he needed one, or he was an Earth or Fire mage. He couldn’t quite see the gem in the top of the man’s staff to determine which.

This quick appraisal of his situation took only a few seconds, but it was long enough for Henry to be the only mage who hadn’t cast a spell yet. He grounded his staff and uttered the words to the first spell that came to mind, the plant growth spell. It was late summer and they were outside in a garden full of plants, so there was no end to what he could direct the magical energy to, and Henry chose one of the Air mages to target.

With a little extra power and concentration, he was able to get the grass inside the shield to grow upward, entangling the man’s legs. It took a few moments for him to notice, but when he did, he started to struggle against the plants entwined around his ankles and calves. The mage’s concentration wavered and his shield came down, something that the other male journeyman was quick to take advantage of. With a word and a gesture, the mage finished forming the spell he’d begun, hurling a small fireball at the still struggling Air mage. The man was hit in the chest, and still trapped by Henry’s entangling plants, he fell over backward with a shriek. The prince didn’t know if the cry was from surprise or pain, but he had no time to worry about it, as the Fire mage began casting again.

Henry took a deep breath and began to gather energy into himself for a spell. He wasn’t certain if it would be offensive or defensive in nature, and so he let the energy pool within his body while he waited to see what would happen next. The Air mage was safe within her shield, which she’s extended to prevent Henry from repeating his little trick, so he let her slip into the background for a moment. The Fire mage was the bigger threat, and so Henry began to spin the energy inside him into spears of rock to hurl at the man.

Later, if any of the witnesses were asked to explain what they saw next, everyone would describe an unlikely series of events that just happened to align into the magical equivalent of a perfect storm. The Fire mage finished his spell, hurling a fireball at the Air mage before throwing a second fireball at Henry about two seconds later. The first fireball hit the Air mage’s shield just as she was bringing it down to hurl an attack of her own, a lightning strike aimed at Henry. The fireball got caught in the swirling currents of air to slingshot around the Air mage and hurtle toward the prince as well.

Henry, seeing three attacks coming toward him, froze as a panic attack hit. That moment of indecision before he started to twist his rock spear spell into something defensive was enough of a delay so that when the first fireball hit, Henry was defenceless. The second fireball and the lightning strike were only seconds behind, hitting the prince before he even had a chance to fall to the ground. Henry was falling, however, and this fact meant that his staff was no longer in contact with the ground. The energy he’d had inside his body for his own spell had nowhere to go as his spell was unfinished, but it also had no direction, as Henry’s concentration had broken when the first attack hit. All Henry could do was writhe in pain as spell energy ripped through his body, a body that was being pummelled by fire and electricity at the same time. His screams were mercifully brief, the torment of what had happened driving him quickly into unconsciousness.

 

 

 

Chapter 15

Henry’s mind started working again after his body did, apparently, which meant that he regained consciousness to find himself retching and vomiting. From the raw pain in his throat, he suspected he’d been doing so for at least a little while. Either that or the rawness was from the screams that he vaguely remembered.

“What happened?” he asked once he was able to get himself under some semblance of control. His voice sounded harsh and ill-used to his ears.

“Nobody is entirely certain,” someone answered softly, and Henry turned his head to see Cedric kneeling beside him, a damp cloth in his hand. There was a look of pity on his face.

“Tell me what you think happened then,” Henry demanded angrily.

Cedric pursed his lips and hesitated before complying. “There was an accident,” he said, still using that quiet tone of voice.

He reached behind him and picked up something from the ground. Henry felt his eyes widen at the sight of his staff, the lovingly carved wood charred, the symbols marred and blackened. And the focus crystal at the top of the staff was cracked in three or four places, the emerald now a dirty looking grey. Henry felt bile rise in his throat, and he was sick again before he could stop himself.

Wiping his hand across his mouth, he looked over at his one-time mentor. “So that’s it then?” he asked bitterly. “It’s all over for me?”

“You’re lucky to even be alive, Henry,” Cedric told him. “Can’t you be grateful for that?”

Henry pushed himself to his feet, wavering for a few seconds as he regained his balance. He waved Cedric away when the master mage would have helped to steady him, not wanting to admit how drained he felt, to say nothing about a reaction headache that dwarfed any he’d ever had before.

“Be grateful?” he repeated after he felt a little surer of himself. He walked away from the disgusting mess on the floor, distancing himself from the proof of his failure. “How can I possibly be grateful when I’ve failed so spectacularly? I’ll never cast again!”

“Well, we don’t know that for certain,” Cedric said, and Henry gestured angrily toward his staff.

“My focus is destroyed, my staff too. If, and it’s a big if, my powers haven’t been burned from me entirely, I’ll never cast more than the most basic of apprentice spells.”

The master mage sighed. “It’s true that damage to a staff like that usually happens when the focus tries to absorb excess spell energy, to protect the mage, but maybe you could try to build another staff?”

“Assuming I have any magic left in me, right?”

Cedric nodded, though the question had been rhetorical. Henry knew that his power was gone. He could feel the emptiness inside of him where it had once resided, like an echoing chamber in his soul.

“I was supposed to save my kingdom,” the price muttered quietly. “Now what will I do?”

Cedric stepped closer, daring to put a hand on Henry’s shoulder to offer support and comfort. “The prophecy said that it was a child of the royal family with magical ability who would save Mythesti,” he said. “It says nothing about having to use magic. Maybe your knowledge of what can be done, of what’s possible, is all that is needed.”

“But anybody could know that!” Henry exclaimed, spinning to face Cedric. “All it takes is the ability to watch mages working!”

“But who has ever bothered?” Cedric countered. “You have lived the life of a mage in service to the kingdom, and while your expertise in the other elements is a little weaker and more theoretical, you should still be able to direct mages to where they can be best used. Maybe if you-”

“Enough!” Henry interrupted. “I’ve heard enough, and I don’t want to talk about it any longer. I believe I have a party to get ready for.”

Cedric’s face reddened. “Your parents sent everyone away and cancelled the party. They said you’d taken ill and would not be able to attend.”

Henry’s shoulders slumped, a feeling of defeat settling into him. Not only had he failed his master’s test, but he’d burned out his powers entirely, and now he wouldn’t even get the recognition of becoming an adult and a so called productive member of society. He spun toward the door, heading toward the stairs and his room.

“I want to be alone,” he muttered when Cedric took a step to follow him. “I need to rest, I think, and tomorrow, I need to figure out who I am.”

“You’re still the heir to the kingdom, Henry,” the master mage told him as Henry walked away. “That hasn’t changed. You still have a job to do. You’ll just need to do it a little differently than you’d thought.”

Henry didn’t reply, and when he reached his room, he barely managed to avoid slamming the door behind him. He knew that he was now an adult, but his spirit was crushed, his future destroyed. The prince threw himself across his bed and wept like a child, crying himself to sleep over lost hopes and dreams.

 

 


Shattered Dreams

All Henry has ever known is the fact that it is his destiny to save his kingdom. A child of royal birth, with magical powers at his disposal, Henry is the prophesied saviour of Mythesti. Learning what he needs to fulfill that role is a difficult path to tread, and the pressure to succeed is enormous. Can Henry survive his training, or will his need to be perfect be his undoing? This novella accompanies the Pursuing Victory trilogy, providing the backstory for the last of the King's Assassin antagonists.

  • ISBN: 9781310740510
  • Author: M.M. Brownlow
  • Published: 2016-07-05 21:41:47
  • Words: 27448
Shattered Dreams Shattered Dreams