Author's Note: My first work on Fictionpress. I hope you, the reader, will enjoy it. Please review as well!
The Court Magician
I told myself that as I took a deep breath. I was feeling uncharacteristically nervous, but it was hardly surprising considering I had only graduated from the Collegium Arcana a few weeks ago. I did, admittedly, have a famous mentor, but I had never expected to receive an offer to work as an official Court Magician for the Kingdom of Cassiopeia. Novice mages usually travelled, offering their services to whoever required them, and it was extremely uncommon for one to acquire any sort of permanent job.
I took a quick glance at my surroundings. The red carpet was clean and unblemished. I took the liberty of stepping out of the room and ran my finger on the banister of a nearby stairwell, but there was no dust visible on my glove. The room was furnished with a number of bookcases and some tables and chairs.
The silence was only broken by the occasional sounds of footsteps as maids hurried by in their work.
I shivered slightly and pulled my red lambskin cloak closer. Winter was still two to three months away, but the chill was already beginning to set in. I ran my fingers through strands of my brown hair, attempting to tame them. I rarely succeeded at this task.
My hand dropped like a puppet with its strings cut. More footsteps rose in crescendo, interlinked with a certain metallic rhythm.
"Welcome, Lathall Orte."
Three people entered the room, two male and one female. The two men were clad in chainmail and gripping pikes. The third was an elegant young lady wearing a simple white dress, which I noticed had a shorter skirt than was usual. She spoke rigidly, clearly enunciating each word. I sniffed the air and detected a hint of perfume. I bowed formally towards Princess Clarice and smiled.
"I thank you, Your Highness."
The princess gave me a smile of her own and I allowed myself to relax slightly.
"I am pleased to welcome you as the Court Magician of this kingdom. I am quite sure that you are unfamiliar with the castle. Allow me to give you a tour."
"There is no need, Your Highness. It is no real trouble for me to explore in my own time," I responded quickly.
"Please, I insist."
My best attempts to read her expression did not succeed, and I acquiesced to her offer. Perhaps there were areas within the castle that the Royal Family did not want me to be aware of? Such a thing was not impossible. She glanced at the two footmen who had been flanking her and shook her head almost imperceptibly. The two guards retreated from their positions without any response.
The tour began and she gave adequate descriptions of the dining areas as well as the servants' quarters. My mentor had told me that the King was the one who had offered me the position of Court Magician, but I had learned from some preliminary investigation that the King was currently in Corvus. That was probably why the princess was handling the matter of my appointment instead.
I observed the princess carefully. Her grace and poise were without question, and she showed little of the physical frailty that I had heard was present in other nobles as we walked inside the castle. Her golden hair fell freely to her waist and her firm blue eyes conveyed a sense of authority and confidence that I had never seen before. Her expression was otherwise neutral and guarded.
I was forced to refocus my attention to what she was saying as I noticed that she was no longer talking about the castle. We had stopped in another room.
"This is your room. I do hope you will like it."
A quick scan was sufficient for me to realize the room had not been used for awhile. It was clean and well-kept, but it lacked any form of personal touch. The furniture was strictly functional, and the empty shelves told their own story. The room itself was carpeted in velvet, and the midnight blue curtains were made of the same material.
"Thank you, Your Highness. As you can see, there is not much for me to do," I said, waving my empty hands. Mages tend to travel light. "Shall we get down to business?"
"Very well," she began. "As you may be aware, my father was the one who appointed you, and I am ashamed to say that I am wholly ignorant of your abilities," she said. Humility did not suit her, I decided.
I then paused for a moment to consider my response. Should I tell the truth or lie?
"I mostly specialize in fortune telling and other, similar forms of magic," I explained, waving my hand. A deck of tarot cards popped into my hand, accompanied with a small cloud of smoke. This was my favourite set. The backing was blue, and a stylized figure of a man carrying a stick was depicted in white lines on each card. I noted the princess' curious air as she inspected it closely.
I shuffled the cards as I spoke, "Would you like a quick reading?"
With one swift motion, I tossed the cards into the air. They fell slowly, as though buffeted by a wind that wasn't there. I gestured towards the princess, and the cards shot towards her like a hail of arrows. They then formed a ring around her, spinning at great speed.
"Pick a card. Any card."
She reached out assuredly and selected one.
The remaining cards faded away in a series of small bursts of white light, and reappeared in my hand. The princess stretched her hand out, displaying the selected card bemusedly.
A horned figure carrying a flaming torch was positioned over two human ones, one male and one female. An inverse pentagram was visible above its head. The illustration was of the same design as the man on the backing – abstract and comprised of white lines.
The Fifteenth Arcana. More commonly known as The Devil.
"And what might this signify?" she asked. I detected a hint of a challenge in her question.
"Contrary to what you might be thinking, Your Highness, this card is not a sign of evil or wickedness. It instead signifies a kind of restriction or shackle, usually mental in nature. Perhaps you are currently experiencing some unease?"
The princess looked at me blankly. "It may be my worries over my father, who is after all currently away in a foreign land," she suggested.
"That could well be the case."
She looked at the card once more before returning it to me.
"That was a suitably impressive display, but it is difficult for me to understand how you intend to use this ability to solve our current problem."
"Ah. I understand very well that my status as a novice magician does not inspire much confidence. My skills may not be perfectly suited for the situation at hand, but all magicians are trained to deal with a wide variety of situations."
Magicians are expected to be well-versed in both magical and non-magical knowledge, and were most frequently called upon to act as wise men, giving precious advice to help solve the problems of their employers. A Court Magician was no different, but his work had a much wider scope, and he could be responsible for resolving any major problem in the kingdom.
She shook her head quickly in response to my answer. "I did not mean to question your abilities. Your master's name is known far and wide, and I am sure any student of his will be more than capable."
There was a moment of silence before she continued. "I apologize."
It was then my turn to shake my head profusely. "There is no need at all for that, Your Highness. I would like to say something. If it offends you, then I will be the one who must beg for your forgiveness."
An image of the Devil card flashed into my mind.
"Please pardon me if I am mistaken, Your Highness. I do feel that you are…restraining yourself, so to speak." I hesitated for a moment before taking the plunge.
"Well, what I really mean to say is - you don't need to hide behind your mask while talking to me."
There was a pregnant pause. The princess stared at me and I saw my blue eyes reflected in her own.
Her face cracked into a smile and I felt that for the first time I was catching a glimpse of her true expression beneath the facade that her upbringing imposed on her. Her grin was now altogether different and conveyed a sense of what almost seemed like wickedness.
She moved towards me and her sapphire orbs were suddenly mere inches from mine. I instinctively took a step backwards, but instead found myself backed up against the midnight blue curtains.
Her head was now moving even closer and I could not help but look fixedly at her soft, pink lips.
The light scent that I had noticed previously seemed inexplicably stronger, and her gentle breath tickled as she whispered softly into my ear.
"Why, if you so insist, Lathall."