Chapter 17: Kieran's Future
Seated in his study where he had been doing paperwork, Edouard sagged back in his chair and stared at his hands resting on the table in front of him. "So he did kill my father?" he said tonelessly.
"It appears so," Colwyn replied gently. "He will not admit it, but he did attack the judicial panel that was assembled to hear the charges against him. That act has made most wizards inclined to accept a presumption of guilt in the death of King Heston."
Edouard nodded, still staring sightlessly at the hands lying limply in front of him. "He betrayed this kingdom," he said, his voice barely audible. "He betrayed my father, me and the Wizard's Hall." He looked up at Colwyn and pushed to his feet. "And he violated the oath he took when he was named the Royal Wizard," he continued in a stronger tone. He straightened his back. "What assurances will the Wizard's Hall give the Crown that such a betrayal will not happen again?"
Colwyn bowed his head. "I will convey your demand to Lord Gavilan, Majesty," he said. "Your question requires an official response."
"Yes," Edouard agreed with a nod. "This kingdom has always had a Royal Wizard serving at the king's right hand and I do not mean to break that tradition, but I will not blindly accept whomever is brought forward as Imbario's replacement. Everyone whose name is submitted to me may expect to undergo considerable scrutiny."
"That's fair." Colwyn smiled. "And I am honestly pleased to hear you say so. In my opinion, Imbario's actions have put all wizards under suspicion. He had supporters, after all. Now every wizard must earn back the trust that Imbario flushed away."
"Not everyone," Edouard replied with an answering smile. "I trust you and Divwall. And Kieran. When will he be allowed to return?" Edouard watched Colwyn's face as he asked the question. When Colwyn had arrived to report on the outcome of Imbario's trial, Edouard had been disappointed to find him alone. He missed Kieran.
"I'm not sure, to be honest," Colwyn answered slowly. "Not surprisingly, the revelation of his powers has caused a great deal of shock. Gavilan wants to keep him in the Hall, but there are many wizards opposed to this. Rogue wizards inspire a lot of fear."
"Kieran is not a rogue!" Edouard said sharply. "He may be powerful, but he is not a threat to anyone."
"I agree with you," Colwyn said, "and so does Gavilan. He thinks there is a lot to be gained by having someone with Kieran's powers answering to the Hall."
"I want him to be my Royal Wizard," Edouard said. He met Colwyn's eyes. "Kieran… belongs with me."
Colwyn shifted uncomfortably. "That may be difficult, Majesty. Kieran is still young and has several years of training ahead of him. Plus, there may be some who will resist the idea of having a rogue wizard so close to the king."
"I told you: he's not a rogue."
"Yes, but that is how many people see him and we will have a difficult time changing that perception. People fear power; even wizards."
Edouard frowned. "Nevertheless, when Kieran graduates from the academy, he will serve me here at court. I will not accept anything else."
Colwyn sighed. "Very well. I will tell Gavilan that. But in the meantime, you will have to appoint someone else. It will be at least four years, maybe longer, before Kieran completes his training. We will need at least that long to convince people that he is taking the ethics training to heart, which is the only thing likely to change the belief that he is a rogue."
"I can accept that," Edouard replied. Then he smiled at Colwyn. "Why don't you take the post? It would save me a lot of bother."
Colwyn paled. "Become the Royal Wizard?" He shook his head quickly. "I can think of several reasons not to, the foremost being that Imbario is my father. But more importantly, I do not have the temperament for court life. And now that I have met a madrin," he added with more excitement, "I am desperate to get back out into the woods to learn more."
Edouard laughed. "I should have expected that answer!" He waved a hand. "Well, no matter. I'm sure I'll find someone who suits me." He did not add that part of suiting him meant a willingness to step aside when Kieran became eligible for the post. But, remembering what had started the conversation, he grew thoughtful. "What will happen to Imbario now?"
"His powers will be permanently bound and he will be confined to a prison cell on Bright Isle for the remainder of his days." Colwyn sighed softly. "Few wizards live long after a binding, however. Being cut off from one's power is… deadening." He smiled sadly at Edouard. "In truth, it's crueler than execution."
Edouard returned Colwyn's sad smile with a humorless one of his own. "I suppose I should be glad, then. A few years of suffering on his part seems fair after what he did to me. But Kieran would be disappointed in me for being heartless. So I'll just say that whatever punishment the Hall deems appropriate is acceptable to the Crown."
Colwyn inclined his head. "You are becoming a great king, Edouard."
"Thank you." Edouard accepted Colwyn's compliment with a faint smile. Should I tell him that I am just trying to live up to Kieran's expectations?
Kieran sat alone at a table in the dining room wishing there was somewhere else he could eat dinner. All around him, wizards and students watched him with alarmed, angry or frightened expressions. He kept his eyes down and focused on the food in front of him. Colwyn had told him to expect something like this once the rumors started to spread, but it was still dismaying.
A tray appeared in his field of view on the opposite side of the table and he looked up in surprise to find Tank staring down at him with a worried frown. Tank glanced around and then quickly took a seat amid a flurry of whispers. He leaned toward Kieran and spoke in a low voice.
"Kieran, what's going on? First people were saying you kidnapped Prince Edouard and now they're saying you're a rogue wizard." He stared at Kieran with concern in his bright blue eyes. "You can tell me, can't you?"
"I didn't kidnap Edouard," Kieran whispered back. "I took him to see a madrin so he could be cured."
"You did?!" Tank squeaked. "Did it work?"
"Yes." Kieran almost smiled at the look of comical shock on Tank's face. "We were on our way back when we got word that the king had died. Edouard wanted me to stay with him until everything was resolved and that's why I didn't come back sooner."
"Wow!" Tank's eyes went round with excitement. "So you're friends with the new king? That's fantastic!"
Kieran just shrugged.
"So about the other thing," Tank continued after a moment. "Why is everyone saying you're a rogue?" He watched Kieran's face with open curiosity as he spoke.
"Well…" Kieran began, struggling for the right words. He did not want to make Tank afraid of him, but neither did he want to lie to him. "I can do things other wizards can't," he said finally. "I can invent new spells just by thinking about what I want to do."
"Really?!" Tank stared in amazement. "And they put you in third year?!"
Tank's simple assessment of the situation suddenly eased Kieran's unhappiness. If the first thing Tank thought of was that he had been ranked incorrectly, maybe there was hope that others might see it that way too. He laughed softly. "I guess being around Edouard and trying to take care of him really brought it out. I was thinking so hard about protecting him that it never occurred to me that the spells I was coming up with had never been done before."
Tank thought seriously about this for a moment and then a look of understanding dawned on his face. "I get it!" he exclaimed. "We learned in second year that rogue wizards can make up spells on the spot, which is why they can be so dangerous. The rest of us have to study and practice, and how good we get depends on how powerful we are and how hard we work at it." He peered hard at Kieran. "So by that definition, I guess you are a rogue."
"But I don't want to hurt anybody," Kieran said quickly.
"I know that!" Tank said with easy confidence. He sat back with a wide smile. "Thanks for telling me. I feel a lot better now. I was really worried for a minute there." He looked over his shoulder at a nearby table. "Hey! There's nothing to worry about. Kieran's fine."
At Tank's words, a couple of their classmates, Lisette among them, got up and came over to their table.
"I'm so glad you're all right, Kieran!" Lisette said when she sat down. "We were really worried about you when you disappeared."
"Yeah," another boy spoke up. He ran thick fingers through a mop of curly red hair. "People have being saying really stupid stuff about you. We've been defending you, but…" he trailed off, looking guilty.
"That part about you being a rogue kind of threw us," Lisette admitted. The red-haired boy nodded.
"Kieran's got some exceptional skills," Tank put in quickly. "Personally, I think snobby wizards with weak powers slap that label on anybody who's more powerful than they are."
"That's right!" a third boy said, nodding vigorously. "I'm sorry I didn't stick up for you more, Kieran."
"That's all right." Kieran smiled around at his classmates. Until this moment, he had not realized that they were also his friends. "I got involved in things that maybe I shouldn't have. It's gotten me noticed and we servants have always known that being noticed is never a good thing."
"That's the truth!" the red-head agreed emphatically.
"So tell us what's been happening," Lisette said eagerly. "We students hear nothing but rumors and they're so distorted by the time we get them we have no idea what's really going on." She leaned forward expectantly and the others followed suit. Kieran was not sure how much he should tell them, but then he had not been specifically told to keep quiet and news of Imbario's crime and punishment would soon be known to everyone. So he kept his voice low as he proceeded to tell them the story of his past few weeks.
Kieran stood carefully at attention in Divwall's study, where he had been summoned after dinner, facing the tall wizard. She regarded him silently from her customary padded chair, her expression unreadable.
"We have decided that you should witness Imbario's binding ceremony," she said abruptly.
Kieran stared. "Me?! Why?"
The corners of her mouth lifted into a humorless smile. "Some of the wizards on the judicial panel, namely Hothram, hope it will teach you to fear a conclave of wizards. But I suspect his intent will backfire." She tipped her head to one side as she studied him. "Tell me honestly: if you see the binding spell, you'll be able to counter it, won't you?"
"I don't know, Lady Divwall," he answered honestly, but he shifted uncomfortably. "It's harder to counter something I've only seen, not felt."
"But you will understand how the spell works, yes?"
"Probably." Kieran ducked his head.
Divwall smiled. "Thank you for being honest, Kieran. I will tell you truthfully that your abilities dismay me, but perhaps there is some degree of jealousy, too." She chuckled. "We wizards envy the powers others possess which we do not."
"I never wanted to upset anyone," Kieran responded with an unhappy frown.
"I know that, Kieran." Divwall stood up. "But you inspire fear just by existing, I'm afraid." She stepped forward and patted him on the shoulder. "But come. It's time for the ceremony."
"Tonight?" Kieran stared at her in surprise.
"We don't like to wait on these things," she said with a sigh. "Not everyone agrees that Imbario is guilty, despite his attack on us. They will say he was provoked by you. So it's better to complete the ceremony as soon as possible. And binding is a dark power. It's better to do it at night." She turned Kieran by applying pressure to his shoulder and guided him to the door. In the hallway, she turned to the left and led Kieran to the end of the hall. They went down two flights of stairs and followed another hall past several closed doors, turned another corner and continued until the way was barred by a single door spanning the width of the hallway.
Divwall stopped, rapped on the door once and whispered a spell under her breath. The door swung open. She glanced at Kieran. "The spell which opens this door is known only to a handful of senior wizards. Beyond it is the dungeon and the room we use for bindings. When the dungeon is occupied, this door is guarded day and night and opened only twice a day, when a servant is escorted inside to take the prisoners their meals. We do not often use it." She stepped inside with a resigned expression.
Kieran followed her reluctantly. He had not wanted to know about this dark side of the Wizard's Hall. The door swung shut behind them, sealing them into a chilly darkness lit only by the flare of golden witch fire dancing above Divwall's palm. Beyond the door, the hallway narrowed and the stone walls became rougher. A dozen or so paces farther on the hallway became a steep staircase, descending into even chillier depths. At the bottom of the stairs on the right was a single door. Flickering light was visible through the opening and it was through this door that Divwall led him.
A circular room constructed entirely of smoothly finished stone lay beyond the door. Torches flared in brackets equally spaced around the walls, staining the stones above them with soot. The floor of the room was painted with a series of concentric circles in shimmering white, spaced about an arm's length apart. Imbario stood in the centermost ring, stripped of his fine robes and wearing only a plain shirt and trousers. His feet were bare. Several wizards stood against the walls. Instinctively, Kieran counted them. There were eighteen. Divwall made nineteen as she closed the door behind him.
"Stand there," Divwall instructed. She pointed to a spot next to the door. She herself stood in front of the door, her arms folded under her breasts.
Gavilan immediately stepped forward, stopping inside the outermost ring. "Tonight we will bind the powers of one of our brethren. We do this because he has used his power to bring harm to others, which is the greatest crime any wizard can commit. Ten wizards of the highest rank are required to perform a binding. Each of you here falls in this rank." At these words, the eyes of several wizards flicked to Kieran. Kieran blinked nervously. Gavilan continued without giving any sign that he had noticed. "Binding is a dark power that stains the soul of the wielder. No one may be compelled to practice this spell. Who will volunteer to perform this ceremony with me tonight?" Gavilan looked around the room. Divwall immediately stepped forward. One by one, other wizards stepped forward until ten of them stood just inside the outermost ring. Hothram remained against the wall, a harsh glare on his narrow face. Gavilan nodded. "Very well. The rest of you shall stand as witnesses. Let us begin."
He lifted his hand, holding it with the palm pointing toward Imbario, and began to speak. The words of the spell were simple and Kieran recognized the intent immediately. It was similar to the suppression spell he had used. When Gavilan completed the spell, the wizard on his left lifted his hand and began to recite the spell in concert with Gavilan. Each time the spell was completed, another wizard joined until all ten were speaking. Once the spell was completed for the tenth time, the wizards stepped forward into the next circle and moved a pace to the left. They chanted the spell ten times and then stepped forward and to the left again. As they moved, Kieran could see the ropes of magic woven from the spell forming between Imbario and the palms of the wizards' hands. As they moved, the ropes wound around Imbario, settling onto him and sinking into his skin. The color slowly drained from Imbario's face as the ceremony proceeded and sweat trickled down as he watched the wizards move around him. Kieran wondered why he did not resist. But Imbario remained immobile as the wizards drew closer and closer to him, until they stood outside the circle containing him. As they completed the chant for the tenth time in that circle, the wizards reached out and touched him simultaneously.
Imbario threw his head back and screamed in anguish. His horrified shriek echoed from the stone walls and the torches guttered in response. The ten wizards stepped back, looking tired.
"I will take him to his cell," Gavilan said. His face was drawn and haunted. He reached out and took Imbario by the arm. At his touch, Imbario collapsed to his knees, sobbing wretchedly.
Another wizard, one of the witnesses, stepped forward. "I'll help you." Between them, they lifted Imbario to his feet and led him toward the door. Quickly, Kieran pulled it open and stepped back. Imbario rolled his eyes at Kieran as he went by, a look of seething hatred burning beneath the horror in his eyes. Kieran quickly turned away and found himself staring at Divwall's chin. He looked up into her eyes.
"Why didn't he resist?" he whispered.
"He could not," she replied gravely. "Once a wizard is placed inside the central circle, he cannot leave until he is escorted out." Divwall bowed her head. "Being placed in the circle is a horrible fate. The binding spell is evil." Her eyes, like Gavilan's, looked haunted. "I need to cleanse myself. Come." She led him out of the dungeon and back into the open hallways of the Hall. "You are to speak of the binding ceremony to no one," she said firmly, "including King Edouard. It is wizard's business."
"Yes, my lady," Kieran murmured obediently.
She put a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Life will not be easy for you for the next few months, but in time, if you do not exhibit any unusual talents, people will forget. Be patient and concentrate on your studies. Once you have sworn your oath of obedience and don robes with the royal crest on the shoulder, you will be trusted, as much as any of us ever is," she added with a harsh laugh.
"My lady," Kieran began tentatively, "will I be allowed to visit Edouard?"
Divwall pursed her lips as she looked down at him. "If Edouard summons you to court, even I cannot tell him no," she said. "But your studies have to come first, is that clear?"
"Yes, my lady!" Kieran could not help smiling. He could endure anything as long as he could still see Edouard.
"Go to bed," Divwall ordered. "You've missed a lot of school. You have a lot of catching up to do." She trudged tiredly away, her shoulders slumped.
Kieran hurried toward the tower, but as he rounded a corner, he came face to face with the wizard Hothram. The pinch-faced wizard glowered at him.
"Do not think you are getting off scot-free, rogue!" the wizard hissed at him angrily. "I know what you are and I will never forget!" He whirled around and stamped away, his robes swishing sharply from side to side.
Kieran watched him go. There was an undeniable stench of fear in the air. Hothram was afraid of him. Kieran absorbed the knowledge in silence. Fear made people dangerous, even more so than raw power. He would have to be careful. He lifted his hand and studied his own palm, coming to a sudden realization. The binding spell required ten wizards because that was the only way they could make the spell permanent. Otherwise, the spell would fade over time. If a single wizard cast the spell, it would temporarily disable another wizard, but eventually that wizard's powers would return. On the other hand, the protection spell he had put on Edouard was permanent. Kieran looked up at Hothram's retreating back. I could cast the binding spell by myself and make it permanent, he thought, and I know how to counter it. I could break the binding spell on Imbario if I wanted to.
"Is Kieran here yet?" Edouard demanded anxiously when Landon entered his room.
Landon chuckled warmly. "Not yet, Sire."
"But the ferry should have arrived an hour ago! Didn't you send a carriage to fetch him like I ordered?"
"I did, Sire," Landon said with amused patience. "You should finish reviewing those recommendations for Royal Wizard."
"I'll do it later," Edouard said impatiently. He tossed the pages onto the table in front of the couch. He should have left them in his study, but everyone was anxious about the appointment of a new Royal Wizard. But it had been three weeks since Kieran returned to Bright Isle and Edouard missed him. According to Colwyn, he was settling back into his studies and was doing all right, but Edouard would not believe it until he heard it from Kieran's lips. He jumped to his feet at a knock on the door, but remained where he was at a stern glance from Landon. Landon was determined to make him behave with a king's dignity at all times.
But dignity flew out the window when Landon opened the door and Kieran stepped in. Edouard raced around the table and embraced him happily.
"Kieran! I missed you! How have you been?"
"I am well, Your Majesty," Kieran replied a little stiffly. Curious people peered through the still open door at them and Landon closed it with a muffled snort.
Kieran's arms immediately tightened around Edouard's waist. "I missed you too, Edouard," he said. "How have you been getting on?"
"Just fine." Edouard took his hand and led him back to the couch to sit down. "Governing is much easier than I expected. Most of the time I just read reports and sign them. I remember Father hated reading the reports, but I'm used to spending most of my time reading. I should probably get outside more, but I never think of it." He grinned at Kieran. "Maybe I should come visit you on Bright Isle."
"I would like that." Kieran returned his smile.
"So how is it for you?" Edouard watched his face, looking for signs of unhappiness.
"All right, I guess. A lot of people don't trust me and some are still afraid of me, but it's getting better." He folded Edouard's hands in his. "I wish I could see you more."
"But you need to study," Edouard finished for him. "You have to finish your training so you can serve me here at court."
"Yes." Kieran nodded. "That's what I want, so I'm working very hard."
"Good." Edouard fell silent, studying Kieran's face. The young wizard returned his gaze, his dark eyes full of secrets. "I still feel like there's so much I don't know about you," he said softly.
"There is much less to me than people think," Kieran replied just as softly. "Becoming a royal wizard so I can serve you is all I want."
Edouard smiled. "Having only one goal does not make you simple, Kieran. It makes you focused. Perhaps that is why people fear you; because they know they cannot buy your loyalty." Edouard raised his voice. "Landon, Kieran will stay in my room tonight. We only have one night, so I don't want to waste any of it."
"Very well, Sire. I will have dinner brought here."
"Thank you." Edouard grinned at Kieran. "And make sure they have grilled tomatoes with cheese tonight. And we want tomatoes and sausages for breakfast."
"And porridge too," Kieran added with a wide smile.
"Yes, and porridge!"
Landon shook his head in amused resignation as the two young men giggled at each other, their hands still intertwined. "Will there be anything else, Sire?"
"No, thank you, Landon," Edouard replied, trying to still his laughter without success.
"Then I will leave you until dinner." Landon bowed and left, still shaking his head.
As the door closed behind him, Edouard dissolved into a gale of laughter. "I should make them serve sausages and porridge for breakfast! The nobles would have fits!"
"You wouldn't!" Kieran laughed
"It would be funny!" Edouard leaned back against the couch. "And it would keep them on their toes. They need to learn that I am not my father." His laughter faded and he sighed. "You are not the only one who has much to learn." He glanced at the papers on the table. They were the recommendations for Royal Wizard sent from various noble families. Most of them were promoting some relative or other who had managed to get through the academy and graduate with a royal crest on his or her shoulder. "I wish I didn't have to pick someone to serve as Royal Wizard until you graduate. I really don't need anyone but you at my side."
Kieran squeezed his hand. "I will always be at your side, Edouard, even if I am not your Royal Wizard. I will serve you even without the title."
"I know." Edouard returned his gaze to Kieran's face. "But your friendship means more to me than your obedience, always remember that."
Kieran nodded and a smile spread slowly over his face. "Will you read to me from one of your books?" he asked unexpectedly. "I've started learning to read at the academy and I want to practice."
"Of course!" Edouard exclaimed happily. "I love reading!" He jumped up and started for his bedroom, where he kept his books. Then he whirled toward Kieran. "I know! I have a book about madrin that Colwyn gave me. Let's start with that."
"That's perfect," Kieran said, his eyes shining.
Much later, after dinner was eaten and the dishes cleared away, when the palace was sinking into silent slumber, Landon and Justus found the two young men in Edouard's bed sound asleep facing each other, the book lying on the coverlet between them. With a warm smile, Landon moved the book to the night table and he and Justus covered the pair with a blanket.
"We should probably not let them spend the night like this," Justus whispered.
"Probably not," Landon agreed, "but perhaps we can allow it this one time." He gestured at Edouard. "I have never seen him smile in his sleep before."
Justus smiled affectionately at his king and nodded. "Yes, perhaps just this one night."
Quietly, the two servants left, leaving the young king and his wizard companion to sleep in peace.
-o- The End -o-
I would like to thank everyone who has been reading and reviewing this story. It has been a lot of fun writing it and I appreciate all the positive feedback I have received. If you enjoyed this story, perhaps you will be pleased to know that there will be a sequel. I don't want to spoil the surprise, so all I'll say about the new story is the title: The Royal Wizard.