By Coe, David B.
Tor Fantasy Copyright © 1999 Coe, David B.
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780812571134
1 In considering the sum of my interrogations of the outlander Baram, I am forced to conclude that future encounters with invaders from Lon-Ser are inevitable. The conditions in Lon-Ser that prompted this first attempt to destroy the Order and seize control of Tobyn-Ser have plagued that land for more than two centuries, steadily growing worse with the passage of time. They will not have disappeared. Indeed it seems likely that the intervening four years have served only to heighten the urgency felt by those who initiated the plot against us. It is up to us, therefore, to choose the circumstances of our next encounter: Do we wait for them to make their next move, and risk that this time we will be unable to withstand their assault? Or do we act first, and set the terms of the confrontation ourselves? Certainly, no one who knows me will be surprised to learn that I would advocate the latter
--From Section Nine of "The Report of Owl-Master Baden on his Interrogation of the Outlander Baram," Submitted to the 1,014th Gathering of the Order of Mages and Masters. Spring, Gods'Year 4625.
* * *
The paper itself was a message. Immaculately white, its edges were as straight as sunbeams, its corners so sharp that they seemed capable of drawing blood. It had arrived with first light at Amarid's Great Hall, Sonel had been informed, delivered by an Abboriji merchant whosailed with it across Arick's Sea, through the Abborij Strait, and around the northeast tip of Tobyn-Ser into Duclea's vast ocean. Yet, despite the distance it had travelled, it still came rolled in a precise, narrow cylinder and tied with a shining, golden ribbon of silk. Indeed, it looked so elegant, so unnaturally perfect, that Sonel had known, even before she read the infuriatingly terse response to her own letter of several months before, what the flawless, ornate lettering would say. She thought now of her own note and she felt embarrassed. She had used the finest parchment in the land; she had employed the most skilled scribe in Amarid, and had tied her letter with the fine, blue satin used for all of the Order's communications. But when compared with this missive from Lon-Ser, the image of that first letter seemed to wither and fade. In her memory the parchment now looked dingy and rough-edged, the lettering coarse and uneven, the blue satin crude and inadequate. The letter from Lon-Ser's leaders made a mockery of her effort.
Which, of course, was the point. The words printed so finely beneath the gold seal of Lon-Ser's Council of Sovereigns made that much clear:
* * *Owl-Sage Sonel
:Regarding your note of this past winter: We have no knowledge of the events you describe, nor do we have any desire to become entangled in what are most likely internal disturbances endemic to Tobyn-Ser
* * *
That was all, except for the date, given in a notation that Sonel did not recognize, and a second seal pressed in gold wax beneath the message.
She leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes, smelling the sweet breads and shan
tea that sat on the low table before her, still untouched, no doubt cold by now. Nearly half the morning was gone, and still she could not bring herself to stir. Twice already, Basya had come to the door, urging her to eat and offering to help her make preparations for tomorrow's opening of the Gathering, and twice Sonel had put her off. The third time could not be far away. Again she read the note, as she had perhaps a dozen times already. It was a dismissal, cold and disdainful. Little more, and certainly nothing less. She wasn't sure what she had expected, although she knew that it hadn't been much. More than this, though; she needed more than this.
* * *
The idea of writing the letter had first come to her late in the fall, during one of Baden's frequent visits to Amarid. Once more, he had come to the First Mage's city to continue his conversations with Baram, the outlander. But each of Baden's visits had seen the Owl-Master and the Owl-Sage spending greater amounts of time together, and Sonel's recollection of this particular occasion remained vivid and brought a smile to her lips, even as the continued to stare at the note from Lon-Ser. Before that visit, it had been several years since she had lain with any man, and several more since she had passed a night with Baden. Her smile deepened, then faded as the memory moved past their lovemaking to what had followed. Lying together in these very quarters, as the glow of the moon seeped through the translucent white windows and illuminated the tangle of sheets and bare limbs, Sonel had shared with the Owl-Master her frustration with the Order's inaction over the last four years. Ever since Sartol, the renegade Owl-Master, was destroyed by the combined might of the Order in the Great Hall, and the band of outlanders with which the renegade had allied himself was defeated at Phelan Spur, she had tried to compel the Order to address the threat posed by Lon-Ser. But every proposed plan of action had drawn fierce opposition from a small but outspoken clique of older mages and masters, and, though a majority of the Order agreed that some action was warranted, Sonel had been unable to win support for any specific plan. The problem persisted even after Owl-Master Odinan's death, just before last summer's Gathering, robbed the older mages of their most impassioned voice. Indeed, if anything. Odinan's passing appeared to reinvigorate his allies, giving them a symbol around which to rally. With the venerable Owl-Master gone, a new leader emerged, Erland, who, though revered less than Odinan, had proven himself an energetic and persuasive spokesman.
"We haven't done a thing," Sonel concluded on that autumn night, lying with Baden. She hade been unable to keep the desperation from her voice as she passed a hand through her wheat-colored hair. "For all we know, there's already another group of outlanders in Tobyn-Ser, and we've done nothing."
Baden cleared his throat awkwardly before astonishing her with a confidence of his own. "They may be planning something," he told her, taking her hand. "They may even be on their way. But they're not here yet. That much we do know." And in this way, Sonel first learned of the psychic link that Baden and his friends had formed in western Tobyn-Ser. It was an old magic, first developed by Amarid himself after the death of Theron, his friend and rival, and the departure from Tobyn-Ser of Theron's followers. The First Mage had feared that the Owl-Master's disciples would return and seek to avenge their leader, and he had established a mind link among all the land's remaining mages, a web of consciousness that monitored the land's borders. Even after the First Mage died several decades later, the Order continued to maintain it. For nearly three hundred years, Amarid's psychic link guarded the land. But the link demanded a tremendous expenditure of power that drained both mage and familiar, and eventually, it was allowed to slacken, until it ceased to exist altogether.
Now Baden and his allies had created a similar link in western Tobyn-Ser, smaller to be sure, but, if formed correctly, no less effective than Amarid's. And they had done so without any proper authority. The Order had rejected the reestablishment of the psychic link as an option several times over the past few years, though the issue continued to be a point of bitter contention within the Order. For a time, before the mages learned that outlanders had been responsible for the attacks on Tobyn-Ser, Baden himself had spoken against the link. Later, he switched sides in the debate, but those against the link still prevailed. And now Baden and his friends had gone against the will of the Order. He had no right to do this. Sonel should have been indignant. But her immediate sense of relief and gratitude at learning of what he had done would not allow it.
"You have every right to be angry with us," Baden told her, concern etched in his thin face, his bright blue eyes locked on hers. "With me really; it was my idea. But if Erland and his followers learn of this, it won't matter to them that you weren't involved. You're the one they'll blame."
She allowed herself a smile in response to his earnestness, his dismay at exposing her to this risk when his impulse had always been, had remained even to this day, to protect her. Then she felt her expression harden. "If they learn of your link," she assured him in a tone that would brook no contradiction, "I'll tell them that I knew of it from its inception, and that you had my blessing. Because if I had known, you would have." She paused, gratified to see him smiling at her with equal measures of surprise and pride. "So you'd best fill me in on the details," she added a moment later. "I'll want to be as convincing as possible."
That Trahn and Radomil were involved came as no shock to her. The dark mage from the Great Desert was Baden's closest friend in the world, and Radomil, the portly, goateed Hawk-Mage who served Leora's Forest was, in his own quiet way, as courageous and steadfast in his devotion to the land as any mage she knew. Nor was the Owl-Sage surprised to learn that Jaryd and Alayna had joined them. Jaryd, Baden's nephew, had been the Owl-Master's apprentice. But more than that, both he and Alayna, who had once been Mage-Attend to Sartol, had played a pivotal role thwarting the traitorous mage's plot and defeating the outlanders. Now Sonel fully understood the young mages' decision to serve the Lower Horn rather than returning to Alayna's home near the Abborij Strait or Jaryd's home in Leora's wood.
Sonel was suprised to hear that Orris, Ursel, and Mered had also joined Baden's little conspiracy. Mered tended to avoid political entanglements of any sort, and Ursel, though she had battled the outlanders at Phelan Spur and was closely allied with Orris and the other younger mages, had never seemed to Sonel the type to take such a bold step. And then there was Orris himself. True, the burly mage travelled with Baden, Trahn, Jaryd, and Alayna to Theron's Grove, and stood with Baden and Trahn against Sartol when the renegade accused the three of them of treason and murder. But Orris and Baden had never gotten along, and they often found themselves on opposing sides of the Order's most acrimonious debates. Even after all that had happened during the struggle against Sartol and the outlanders, Sonel found it difficult to think of them as allies.
"It's an uneasy alliance," Baden admitted when she asked him about the burly Hawk-Mage, "but Orris has grown quite close to Jaryd and Alayna, and he and Trahn have always had a good rapport."
"So that's why he agreed to work with you," Sonel ventured.
Baden shook his head in response. "He's doing it because he believes it's the right thing to do. I've never me anyone who takes his oath to serve this land more seriously than Orris."
Sonel considered this in silence for several moments, glancing at the two owls that sat perched together on the window sill across the room. She still had not gotten used to seeing Baden with his new familiar, though he had been bound to the creature for over three years. His owl resembled the bird to which Jessamyn, Sonel's predecessor as Owl-Sage, had been bound. She was an imposing bird, a good deal larger than Sonel's familiar, with feathers as white as snow, and bright, yellow eyes in a round face. After some time Sonel looked back at Baden, her mind turning once more to the Lon-Ser threat. "You've seen nothing, then? No sign of the outlanders?"
. He didn't actually say it, but he didn't have to. It was manifest in his tone, in the shadows lurking in his eyes. They would be coming.
The Owl-Master seemed to read her thoughts. "We're keeping watch, but that's all. Certainly we've done nothing to prevent the next attack."
Sonel let out a long breath. "I know. I've been considering calling the Order back to Amarid."
The question caught her off guard. "To discuss our options; to come up with a plan for dealing with Lon-Ser."
"What makes you think that we'll have any more success than we did at Midsummer?"
"What are you saying?" she demanded irritably. "That we should continue to do nothing? That we should just wait for them to come after us again?"
"I'm just wondering," the Owl-Master countered in a quiet, even tone, "why you need to convene another Gathering. You're the Owl-Sage; you lead the Order. I don't think you need to get prior approval for every thing you do in that capacity." He smiled, the dazzling, disarming smile she had come to know so well over the years. "It's just a thought."
Sitting now in her chamber, with the tea and breads before her, she allowed herself a smile of her own at the memory of that last comment. Just a thought
. Nothing Baden ever said could be dismissed so easily, and this particular thought stayed with her for the next several days, tugging at the corner of her mind like an insistent child, demanding attention. It was not until a week later, however, when a second visitor came to her chambers bearing news, that Baden's suggestion and her own frustration with the Order's inaction crystallized into a decision to draft her letter.
It was one of those grey, cold autumn days that presages winter's approach, and Sonel had been wrapped tightly in her forest green cloak, with her chair set before the hearth and her long legs folded beneath her, when Basya knocked on the chamber door and announced the caller. Twice the Owl-Sage had to ask her servant to repeat the name of her guest, and even after hearing it for a third time, Sonel was not sure she believed it. But a moment later, Linnea, the highest authority among the Keepers of Arick's Temple in all the land, Eldest of the Gods, as she was properly addressed, swept into the Owl-Sage's chambers, her silver-grey robe swirling impressively around her bulky frame.
As a young girl, Sonel had trained briefly as an acolyte in the Temple near her home, and, as she often did in the presence of the Keepers, she found herself having to resist an immediate impulse to fall to her knees in obeisance. Instead she rose from her chair, smiling broadly, her arms open in welcome. As the Eldest stopped before her, she bowed just slightly, enough to show proper respect for the Temple and Linnea's position within it, but not so much that Sonel compromised the standing of the Order and her own status as its leader. Such was the delicate balance that leaders of the Order had been striking in their interaction with the Children of the Gods for nearly a millennium. Ever since Amarid's emergence as a powerful figure in Tobyn-Ser, relations between the two institutions had not been easy. From the beginning, the Temples had distrusted the wild magic of Amarid's Children and had seen the mages and masters as threats to their authority. Where the Order could offer Tobyn-Ser's people healing from disease and injury, and protection from the land's enemies, the Temples could offer only lore and faith. The Sons and Daughters of the Gods had found themselves unable to compete with the wielders of the Mage-Craft, and their influence had waned. And though the Order had done nothing over to confirm their suspicions or undermine their power, neither had the mages gone out of their way to cultivate an alliance with the Keepers, an oversight the God's children had taken as an affront.
Over the last several years, the Order had paid the price of that provocation. With the attacks on Tobyn-Ser by outlanders posing as mages, and the Order's slow response to that threat, the people of Tobyn-Ser had grown increasingly disenchanted with the Mage-Craft and had begun to turn back to the Temples for leadership. Bloodied and humiliated, the mages had hoped that their victory over the attackers at Phelan Spur would help them win back the people's esteem. But it had not. Indeed, any good will that might have been garnered from this success was more than offset by Baden's legitimate but unpopular insistence that Baram, the surviving outlander, be imprisoned and interrogated, rather than executed as the people had demanded. Not surprisingly, the Temples had revelled in the mages' fall from favor and had hastened their own resurgence by leading both the criticism of the Order's response to the attacks and the calls for Baram's death. The relationship between the Children of Amarid and the Children of the Gods had never been so strained; Sonel had not believed that it could possibly get any worse.
And yet it had. Soon after Sonel's ascension to the position of Sage, Raina, Tobyn-Ser's Eldest for more than a decade, died, and the Keepers chose Linnea to take her place. Where Raina had been as accommodating and cordial as one could hope, Linnea had a reputation for confrontation and hostility toward the Order. Because she was relatively young, the "Eldest" in title only, Baden and Trahn speculated that she had been selected for just this reason. And in the months and years that followed, Linnea proved them right, taking advantage of every opportunity to remind the people of the land of the Order's failures.
Even as she greeted the Eldest on that grey afternoon, with all the graciousness she could muster, Sonel could not help but wonder why Linnea had come. "Eldest," the Sage had said, still smiling, "be welcome in the Great Hall. You honor me with this unexpected visit." The Owl-Sage turned toward the doorway where her attendant still stood, staring at the two women with unconcealed curiosity. "Basya," she called in a commanding tone, forcing the young woman to mind her duties, "please bring us some fresh tea and something to eat."
Basya flushed slightly and nodded. "Right away, Owl-Sage."
Linnea watched the attendant withdraw, a sardonic grin on her broad, pale face. "Impertinent, isn't she?" the Eldest remarked when Basya was gone, a breezy arrogance in her voice.
"I wouldn't call her impertinent," Sonel replied, fighting to keep the anger from her voice. She motioned for Linnea to sit in the chair nearest her own. "She's just young, and easily impressed."
Still lowering herself into the chair, the Eldest stiffened and opened her mouth to fling back a retort of her own. But then, surprisingly, she appeared to think better of it. And as she settled herself into the seat, awkwardly smoothing her robe with a meaty hand and nervously shifting her gaze around the chamber, Sonel wondered again why she had come. "You are well, I presume?" Linnea asked perfunctorily, her pale, blue eyes finally coming to rest on Sonel's face.
"Yes, Eldest, thank you. And you?"
"Yes, fine." And then, as an afterthought, "Thank you." The large woman continued to fidget with her shimmering robe for several moments until, at last, she seemed to gather her resolve with a deep, slow breath. "Owl-Sage," she began, surprising Sonel with the use of her formal title, "I have come today seeking your--"
A knock on the door stopped her, and Basya entered the chamber carrying a crystal tray of fruits, cheeses, and dry breads, and a pot of steaming shan tea. With quick, economical movements the young woman placed the tray on the low table between the Sage and the Eldest and poured out two cups of tea, seemingly unaware that Linear was following her every move with manifest impatience.
"Thank you, Bays," Some said when the girl was done. "That will be all."
Bays nodded and left, quietly closing the chamber door behind her.
The Eldest appeared to consider offering another comment on Basya's manners. But instead she took another breath in an attempt to regain her composure, and began once more, her tone somewhat less subdued than it had been a minute before, and her eyes fixed on her hands. "As I was saying, I've come seeking your...advice," she said, with obvious discomfort, "on a matter of some sensitivity." Linnea was full of surprises this day.
"Of course, Eldest," Sonel replied. "Whatever guidance I can offer is yours, and with it, a pledge of my discretion."
The Keeper looked up at that and inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement. "You remember Cailin?"
"Of course," Sonel answered, her tone suddenly flat. An image of the young girl flashed into the Sage's mind. Her straight, dark hair; the beautiful open face; the pale, blue eyes, much like those of the woman who now sat with Sonel in her quarters. And the sadness that had resided in those eyes. For Cailin was the lone survivor of the massacre at Kaera.
During one night of blood and flame and terror, this child had seen her village utterly destroyed, and her parents, her friends, every person she knew in the world slaughtered by two men posing as mages. She had been quite literally, the only shred of Kaera that they had left intact. And she had lived only because the outlanders had chosen her to be their messenger, so that she might be an agent of their campaign to destroy the Order.
In the aftermath of all this, the girl had been brought back to Amarid where the Order assumed responsibility for her upbringing. But Cailin continued to blame the Children of Amarid for her parents' deaths, even after it had been explained to her several times that the men who destroyed her town had only been pretending to be mages. When several of the Keepers came from Arick's Temple demanding that Cailin be placed in their care, Sonel refused. But she could not refuse Cailin's own request that she be allowed to leave the Great Hall. In the end, Sonel found herself forced to give the girl over to the Keepers, who wasted no time in making Cailin a symbol of both their own redemption and the Order's inability to protect Tobyn-Ser.
"Of course I remember her," Sonel said again. "How old is she now? Ten?"
Linnea nodded absently. "I think so. Yes, ten."
"Is she all right?"
"Naturally she's all right!" the Eldest snapped, her eyes flashing, and her round face growing red. "The Keepers vowed that we would care for her! Do you doubt our word? Or do you think perhaps that we lack the compassion necessary to raise a child?"
"Neither, Eldest," Sonel responded soothingly. "I meant no offense. You have come here seeking my advice and asking if I remember Cailin. In what way was my inquiry inappropriate?"
Linnea closed her eyes and said nothing. After some time she managed a slight grin and shook her head. "There was nothing wrong with your question, Owl-Sage. This is...difficult for me." She opened her eyes. "Please accept my apology."
"Of course," Sonel assured her, returning the smile. "Now, please, tell me about Cailin."
"She is a fine child: still beautiful, as you no doubt recall her being, and clever. She excels in her studies. She loves to read, but she's good with numbers as well. And she's as strong and nimble as any of the boys in the Temple." Linnea wore a wistful smile as she spoke, and it occurred to Sonel in that moment that the Eldest genuinely cared for the girl. In the next instant, however, Linnea's smile fled from her lips, and her gaze turned inward. "There is, as one might expect, a sadness to her. But it's strange-it can materialize almost instantly, under any circumstances. One minute she will be laughing, or speaking with passion of the latest story she's read, and the next she'll grow silent and a darkness will come into her eyes." The Keeper shook her head slowly and took a sip of tea. "More recently, these bouts of melancholy have been accompanied by a rebelliousness that we hadn't seen before."
"And this is why you've come," Sonel guessed, brushing a wisp of light hair from her smooth brow.
Linnea smiled wanly and shook her head again. "I've dealt with a child's temper tantrums before, Owl-Sage," she said evenly. "If it were just that, I wouldn't be here."
"So there's more."
"Yes." The Eldest hesitated, but only for a second. "There's no delicate way to approach this, so I'll just say it: for more than a year now Cailin has shown signs of possessing the Sight. We considered coming to you then, but thought better of it. Last month, though, she bound to a falcon. She's a mage."
Sonel couldn't have been more shocked if Linnea had said that she herself had bound to a hawk. But the Sage's astonishment gave way almost instantly to rage and indignation. For more than a year? Last month
? "The Order should have been informed immediately!" she stormed, hurling it at the Eldest like an accusation.
"I'm informing you now!" Linnea returned hotly.
Sonel propelled her lanky frame out of the chair and began pacing in front of the hearth. "I want her returned to the Great Hall at once!"
Linnea glared at the Owl-Sage defiantly. "I won't allow it!"
"I won't! And neither will Cailin!"
"You don't know that," Sonel replied, less sure of herself.
"Yes, I do," the large woman told her, seeming to sense the Owl-Sage's uncertainty. "You still haven't heard everything, Sonel."
The Sage halted in front of the Eldest and crossed her arms in front of her chest as if to shield her heart from a blow. "Tell me," she demanded.
Linnea swallowed. "Whatever you might think of us, know this: we are not stupid, and we do not underestimate the power that you wield. While we will not give Cailin over to your custody, neither would we allow her to use the Mage-Craft as she would a toy. We have instructed her in the ways of the Order and explained Amarid's Laws to her." Another pause, and then: "She has refused to submit herself to them."
?" Sonel hissed. "You can't be serious!"
"I'm afraid I am. She still blames the Order for the death of her parents--"
"Yes!" Sonel spat, "I'm sure you saw to that a long time ago!"
Linnea shot to her feet, her round cheeks flushed with anger once more, and she leveled a rigid finger at the Owl-Sage. "You can't place this on me, Sonel! The Order brought this poor girl's hatred upon itself!"
"We didn't kill her parents or destroy her town! You know we didn't, and yet you perpetuate these lies!"
"We never accused the Order of attacking Kaera," the Eldest countered, her voice suddenly low, her choler under control for the moment. "We would never have said such a thing." Sonel started to protest, but Linnea stopped her with an abrupt gesture. "Let me finish! We never accused you of murdering Cailin's parents, but we have held you responsible for the promises you failed to keep. You mages have pledged yourselves to guarding this land, and you've enjoyed a thousand years of reverence due in large part to the success of your forebears in honoring that pledge. But the Order as we know it now, the Order that Cailin has come to know in her few years upon this earth, has proven itself incapable of protecting the people of Tobyn-Ser. Cailin doesn't think you killed her parents--oh, she did for a time, but she's understood for several years now that it was the outlanders posing as mages--but she blames you for allowing this to happen. And, quite frankly, so do I." Linnea started to say more, but then she stopped herself. She was breathing hard. The fierce anger in her pale eyes was gone, leaving something else, something unexpected. Not self-righteousness, or exultation at the Owl-Sage's discomfort, but pain.
Sonel had no answer, either for the Eldest's words or for the look in the heavy woman's eyes. She and Baden had been saying much the same thing about the Order for nearly four years; she could hardly fault Linnea for speaking the truth. There was a dryness in her mouth, like dust or ashes, and she took a long drink of tea. She felt spent, and, when finally she spoke, it was in a voice scraped raw by the emotions of the afternoon. "So you want to know what you can do about Cailin?" she asked. "How you can control her power?"
"Actually," the Sage began, again brushing the strands of hair from her forehead, "there's very little that you can do. We police our own; the collective power of all the mages in the Order keeps the individual in line--that, and the oath we take upon earning our cloaks. There's nothing really magical about Amarid's Laws; there's no power in the words themselves beyond the honor and scruples that each mage brings to them. From what you've told me of her, I would expect Cailin to be bound to the spirit of the Laws by her strength of character, even without taking the oath."
"I would hope so," Linnea agreed thoughtfully.
"The danger lies in her age, and the rebelliousness of which you spoke. So young a child, regardless of her normal disposition, might be subject to fits of anger. That's where you'll have to be careful--you'll have to teach her to control her temper. And I don't even want to think of what you'll face as she enters her adolescence." The Sage shook her head slowly and stroked the chin of her owl, which sat perched above the hearth. The bird opened its eyes and began to preen itself. "I've never heard of anyone binding so young," Sonel murmured, as much to herself as to the Eldest. "You say it was to a falcon?"
"A small one, yes. A kestrel, I believe."
Again, the Sage shook her head. "Remarkable."
"Is there anything more that you can tell me, Owl-Sage?" Linnea asked, rising from her chair with a rustle of cloth.
"Not much, I'm afraid. Frankly, I would feel much better with Cailin in the Great Hall, under our supervision, but I will accept what you say: that she would not agree to such an arrangement. Short of that, I would just tell you to raise her as you have been. To the extent that it's possible, you should treat her just as you would the other children. She shouldn't feel overly special, nor should she be given reason to believe that she's feared." Sonel took a slow breath and offered Linnea a thin smile. "I don't envy you this task, Eldest. But if there's anything more you need from me, don't hesitate to ask."
The Keeper gazed at her for a moment. Then she nodded once. "Thank you, Sonel. I'll keep you apprised of Cailin's progress." She began to leave, but, as she reached the door, she paused. At last she turned and faced Sonel again. "I don't know if you'll believe this, Sonel, particularly coming from me. But we in the Temple didn't wish for the Order to fail. Certainly, we've taken advantage of your loss of prestige, and I make no apology for that. But we know that, ultimately, Tobyn-Ser will be served best by a strong Temple and a strong Order working side by side. I personally look forward to a day when that will be possible."
Caught off guard by the Eldest's admission, Sonel stared at her for several seconds. Linnea seemed sincere in what she had said, but still the Owl-Sage found it difficult to accept that such sentiments could come from this woman. In the end, she merely nodded in acknowledgement and said, with as much feeling as she could muster, "I look forward to such a day as well, Eldest."
Without another word, the Keeper departed. Listening to the sound of Linnea's footsteps retreating across the Gathering Chamber, Sonel came to a decision. Notwithstanding the accommodating words with which Sonel and the Eldest had concluded their encounter, the frayed relations between the Order and the Temples would not be easy to repair, nor would the reputation of Amarid's Children be rehabilitated overnight. But the Order had done nothing for too long. And now, in Arick's Temple just a few miles outside this city, a ten-year-old girl was mastering the Mage-Craft with no mage to guide her. The time had come.
Moving to the folding wooden desk by her bed, Sonel took up parchment and writing lead, and began composing an unauthorized letter to Lon-Ser's Council of Sovereigns. Since her conversation with Baden, the Owl-Sage had given a good deal of thought to what she would say in such a correspondence, and the words came to her easily.To the Council of Sovereigns:I write to you as a representative of the people of To-byn-Ser and as the leader of this land's Order of Mages and Masters.Nearly four years ago a band of Lon-Ser's citizens entered our land and, in the guise of mages, began a campaign of vandalism and violence against our people. Although we eventually succeeded in defeating these invaders, killing all but one of them, their actions resulted in considerable loss of property and life.We seek no compensation for the crimes committed against us, but we do wish to avoid future hostilities. To this end, I propose a meeting, at a place and time of mutual satisfaction, to discuss the events I have described and any outstanding conflicts that may exist between our peoples.We did not seek this conflict, nor do we wish to prolong it. But know this: our desire for peace is matched by our determination to remain free.In friendship I am yours,Sonel,Owl-Sage of Tobyn-Ser
By the end of the following day, the letter had been scribed and sent. Sonel told no one, not even Baden, who, having said what he needed to say that night in her bed, never broached the subject again. Nor did she speak with anyone of her conversation with Linnea. Cailin's binding, she decided on that autumn evening, was a matter to be broached at a Gathering of the whole Order.
And so, silently bearing the burden of her secrets, she waited. Through the cold snows and wind of winter, and the grey, damp chill of the rainy season, she struggled to control both her fears and her hopes, all the while watching for acolytes of the Temple, who occasionally brought her news of Cailin, and anxiously anticipating a response from LonSer. As the last of the rains blew off to the east, however, and the warmth of the growing spring gave way to summer, Sonel's anticipation gave way to a dark foreboding. In the winter she had looked forward to the arrival of each new merchant ship, thinking that perhaps this one would bare the Council's reply, but she now came to dread the dockages and the grim vigils she found herself keeping for several hours after each ship began to unload.
Thus it seemed an irony that on this, the day before midsummer, the reply should arrive at dawn, coming from a vessel that had docked late in the night, as she slept. It was small consolation, given what the letter contained. Or, more exactly, what it didn't contain. Smoothing the radiant white paper with a careful hand, Sonel read the message one last time. Such a letter was worse than no reply at all, she realized despairingly, because now she had no idea what to do.
For the third time that morning, Basya tapped lightly on the door, and, for a moment, the Sage gave no answer. Then, reluctantly, she rose. There would be visitors soon, she knew: mages and masters arriving in Amarid and making their way to the Great Hall to offer greetings and to try to divine her mind on their dearest issues. It was a ritual of sorts; as much a part of the Gathering as the Opening Procession, as much a part of her duties as calling the mages to order. She still recalled with fondness her own audiences with Jessamyn, when she had been just another mage and Jessamyn led the Order, and she found herself wondering if the diminutive, white-haired woman's cordial hospitality had served as but a cover for burdens as great as her own. "Of course it did," Sonel said out loud as she raised an arm for her dark owl. "Why should I think that I'm any different?" The bird flew to her, hopped up to her shoulder, and regarded her in silence.
Another knock, a bit louder this time. "Yes, Basya," Sonel called, with forced brightness. "You may enter."
The young woman opened the door tentatively and seemed surprised to see that Sonel had risen from her chair. "I'm sorry to disturb you. Owl-Sage, but you have visitors"
Sonel smiled reassuringly. The girl was, after all, merely doing her job. "You're not disturbing me, Basya. Please show them in."
"Right away, Owl-Sage."
Sonel saw the girl turn and motion, heard voices drawing near, and, as she did, she remembered the piece of immaculate paper that she still held in her hand. Quickly, unobtrusively, she concealed the Council of Sovereign's letter within the folds of her cloak. There would be plenty of time for such matters over the course of the Gathering. This was a day for welcomes, and friendships renewed. As her first guests reached her door, however, a thought occurred to her: if sending a letter did not get the attention of Lon-Ser's leaders, perhaps sending a group of envoys would.
Copyright 1998 by David B. Coe Continues...
Excerpted from The Outlanders by Coe, David B. Copyright © 1999 by Coe, David B.. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.