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What were his first things? His name was Evnos Rae Karavasha, and he was the fifty-seventh Prince of the isle of Iankoros, descended in unbroken line from the second son of the first king the world ever knew. The sons of the first son had ruled on the Amyrthelian mainland and were called Kings. They had perished long ago. The sons of the second held the island and flourished. They were the Princes.
Evnos was born on a dark October day, in a room hung with red cloth, and his mother died in the birthing. Rannon, the Lord of Death, took her. When the boy was three years old, again in October, Rannon took his father also, and Evnos was Prince over Iankoros. On that day they brought him, shivering and uneasy, out into the drizzling rain, and he stood in the courtyard of the Phoenix Nest, the castle of the Princes, with many men and women around him. Dark clouds drifted overhead. Cloaks and veils flapped in the damp wind.
His father lay on a litter before him, dressed in all his finery and surrounded by costly goods, the best cloth, the rarest jewels, cunningly fashioned swords, a shining helmet, chests of gold coins, and sealed jars of wine. On the other side his honor guard flanked him, stiff and pale as marble statues. Black banners swayed overhead, dripping rainwater.
The Master of Troops came and laid a gift of spices before his departed lord. He spoke aloud:
"Rannon, dread king above all kings, you who hold the sword forever over us and who spares each man for a little space of years as it pleases you, we beg you to take these gifts and this man, and by the richness of the offering be moved to mercy.Treat our Prince well when he comes into your kingdom."
The Master of Troops wept. The soldiers looked on in silence.
The boy fidgeted with the gold necklace he wore. He did not understand, and very little of the grief of the others carried over to him. He looked slowly about, counting the pigeons as they huddled under the eaves against the weather. He did not know what this was all about. He did not know what death was.
Why did his father lie so still?
They took up the body on a litter, and for the treasure there were many bearers. At a command, the drawbridge of the Phoenix Nest was lowered. The mourners walked in single file behind their lord: first the guards of honor; then the new Prince accompanied by the wizard and regent Zio Theremderis, who held him by the hand; then the Master of Troops; the lords and ladies of the court; and the soldiers. Common folk joined them as they went, trailing far behind. The procession passed over the bare, brown hills of Iankoros, bowed against the wind and rain and sleet, singing dirges and bearing plain black banners aloft. From afar the mourners looked like a sluggish, weary serpent stretching across the land.
They came to the Black Cliffs. Far below, the sea crashed onto a narrow beach. There waited the old Prince's funeral ship; and the litter, together with all the riches given to Rannon, was lowered with ropes down to waiting sailors. They loaded the corpse and treasure aboard the ship, unfurled a single square sail--black, with the emblem of the Princes of Iankoros, the sign of the Phoenix, embroidered on it in gold--and they launched the vessel out over the breakers, wading out with it until a wind came and took it off to the north, where it vanished after a time in the mist and distance. All present shouted the name of the deceased as loud as they could, and never again did they speak his name. He belonged to Rannon now.
On the march back to the castle, when the child-Prince was sure that the affair was over, when he began to understand that his father was not coming back, he tugged the sleeve of Zio Theremderis and said, "Must it always be like this?"
Months later the sun returned to the castle above the sea, and white flowers, then grass, covered the brown hills, while bees hummed in the orchards and blossoms fell thick as snow.
Throughout that spring and summer the boy Evnos grew. He was a lively child, full of energy and curiosity, always the dismay of his tutors and nurses, who swore he never remained in one place more than an instant.
Zio Theremderis was the center of his world. The wizard towered over him, his long gray beard infinitely mysterious, and it seemed to Evnos that there could be nothing finer to have such a beard, and to practice magic. When Theremderis was not holding court and making the boy sit still with him to receive ambassadors and lords, the wizard dwelt high above everyone else in the Tower of Eagles, so called because of the birds carved in stately procession just beneath its battlements. More than anything else, Evnos wanted to learn what the wizard did up there. One day, he decided to find out.
He slipped away from his attendants, and by luck the guard at the door of the Tower of Eagles was lax, not noticing the boy as he entered. Once inside, the Prince saw a stone staircase winding around inside the tower, up to a distant trapdoor.
He began to climb the well-worn stones, and it seemed to take forever, the door above getting slowly closer. Once he peered down at the steps coiling below him. The floor at the tower's base seemed no larger than a shield.
He drew back, terrified, clinging to the wall of the tower. A spider fell on him in a shower of dirt. He brushed it off in disgust and continued his long climb. Three more times he paused to rest, never looking down. He concentrated on each step as he mounted it. When he finally reached the top, he only knew so because his head hit wooden planking.
Slowly, with every attempt at stealth, he raised the trapdoor and climbed into the room above. He almost lost hold of the door, but caught it again, and lowered it carefully into place without a sound. He saw Zio Theremderis sitting at a desk amid piles of books, with bones and bottles and a stuffed crocodile or two on the shelves around him and a piece of parchment unrolled on the desktop beneath his beard. The old eyes strained to read what was written, and at times Theremderis would lean very low, till his nose all but touched the paper.
"Magic," Theremderis said without looking up.
"I want to learn magic. I climbed all the way up here to see."
The old man smiled and looked away from the parchment.
"Well! You certainly are a brave boy, and my guard is a fool. Of course I knew he was. That's why I put him there."
"I wasn't afraid. Not very much."
"You have the makings of a hero then. That is good. The world needs heroes. But first you must learn many things."
"Magic is one of them. Wisdom is another. To rule a kingdom or to wield magic, you must be wise."
"Can we start with magic?"
"I suppose so. What would you like to learn?"
"Yes, but there are many kinds. What do you want to do first?"
The boy ran to the window. He paid scant attention to the view; he had seen Iankoros many times before from towers almost as high as this one. He took in the other towers and rooftops at a glance, and the walls beyond. Patrolling guardsmen looked like specks. Green hills rolled, spotted with villages, and the blue sea glared beneath the sun. The mainland was barely visible on the horizon, faint, like a motionless cloud.
"Come here," he said, and the wizard came. "See that?" He pointed to a pigeon atop one of the nearer roofs. "I want to make that bird disappear."
Theremderis went back to his desk, took a pen, and wrote something on a scrap of paper.
He gave the boy the paper.
"Say this word. Can you recognize the letters?"
Slowly, clumsily, Evnos sounded out each syllable of the massive word, and uttered it.
In a flash of light, the pigeon vanished.
"There! I did it! I did it! My first magic!"
Theremderis was solemn.
"Yes, the pigeon is gone. I don't suppose anyone will notice, except perhaps its mate. She will sit up day and night, waiting for the bird to return, and he never will. And then there are the baby birds who will starve and die because no one will bring them food anymore."
Horror came to the child's face.
"Bring him back! Quick!"
The wizard shook his head sadly. "I can't. You killed him. You used your magic foolishly, without considering its effect. Perhaps our next lesson should be concerned with wisdom."
Evnos began to cry. He buried his face in the wizard's gown and sobbed for a long time. When he stopped, Theremderis took him in his arms and carried him all the way down to the base of the tower. Neither said a word.
Copyright © 1989 by Darrell Schweitzer