Of all that is holy. I stood upright, staring around, looking for the good wizard but did not see him.
“Hello?” I asked aloud. Sebastian looked at me askance, as did the horse.
“Don’t talk out loud, fool,” Wizard Tim chastised me. “We have a hatbox full of trouble with your name on it.”
The man did have a fondness for hats; large, colorful, beribboned and feathered chapeaus. The last time I had seen him, he and Rufus weasel gnome were escorting Leviathus back to Skyfell to be dealt with by the university regents.
“What sort of trouble?” I asked.
“Rufus has been stripped of his Order of Nightshade First class for participating in the demise of one Cassandra the Black, Dragon Extraordinaire and benefactor of the High Reclamation Council. He has fled Skyfell with a handful of others, including your mercenary friend Calladil and the twins Beatrice and Johann.”
I was bemused. “The dragon was evil,” I said as if it weren’t obvious.
Tim laughed at that. “Evil is in the eye of the beholder. The Order of Nightshade considered her a ranking member in high standard and with her demise, they believe that their voting block on the council has been weakened. They have put an order of azimuth against Rufus, poor chap. He and his allies are under a to-be-killed edict.”
Sebastian was nearly as perplexed as I was, but mainly because he could only hear my side of the conversation. “Thank you,” I said to him, smiling and nodding. “I’ve got this from here.”
He made a dubious face and backed away. “Whatever you say.” Then he was jogging back toward Far Spire.
“Was that the young man who had my calling stone?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Fine fellow out of Far Spire by the name of Sebastian.”
“Tall fellow, looks like he’s been through a tannery, but amiable and loyal to Captain Kershaw?”
How does this wizard know everyone? It is a puzzle. “Yes, that’s the one.”
I scratched my head and loosed the brake, allowing the horse to begin moving down the road once more.
“I’m moving again, in case you care.”
“Careful, don’t over steer the horse or you will flip that wagon.”
I didn’t even ask how he knew I was in a wagon. I just assumed Sebastian had told him.
“While I feel for Rufus and his compatriots, I’m sure they can handle themselves.”
“No, no, no,” Tim chanted. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. They were on their way to Far Spire in hopes of catching up to you. They’ve opted for exile instead of hanging. Oh, also, don’t call yourself wizard. They have rescinded your Order of Nightshade Second Class.”
I would like to tell you how devastated I was, but I couldn’t be chuffed about it. “I’ll learn to live with my disappointment,” I replied, not bothering to hide the sarcasm in my voice.
The horse was mainly self-guided. The road was even and the slope not too dangerous. I did hold onto the reins, but I let him have his head. We were another third of the way down to the river before Tim spoke again.
“I know you don’t know the pain your words cause,” he said, emotion clear in his voice. “When you saved me, I carried a debt to you that I had no hope of repaying. You were not a peer, not someone I could treat as an equal. The Order of Nightshade, even a second class, put you on a similar elevation as myself. It meant I could consider you an equal.” He paused and blew his nose like an animal braying. “I have grown quite fond of you.”
I looked at the stone, trying to determine just what had come over the ornery and contemptuous wizard.
“Are you saying you can’t like me if I’m not a wizard?” I asked.
“Worse,” he said. “I’m now obligated by the rules and strictures of the university to hunt you down.”
Now I was getting angry. “Wait, what? You would hunt me down after everything we’ve been through together. All those times you nearly got me killed? That time you sent a back of rabid kobolds to capture me with a scroll of sleep? Where in there did you come to like me?”
“When you were granted the Order of Nightshade, Second Class. Weren’t you listening?”
I rubbed the bridge of my nose, thinking how completely and utterly demented wizards were. The more I thought of it, the more I wondered if it had to do with civilization as a whole. Maybe I should turn around and let the world come to an end. A good cleansing may just be what the gods ordained.
“You are an idiot,” I said.
“There is no call to be insulting. I gave you the courtesy of warning you before I interceded.”
I took a couple of deep breaths, trying to remain calm. “Do me a favor,” I said. I wanted to tell him where he could stuff his hatbox, but thought instead of another recourse. “When you get back to your tower, please make sure that you spend some quality time with your apprentices. I believe you gave me your word that you would look after those left behind there. Or are you no longer a man of your word?”
He spluttered. “Of course, I’m a man of my word. Why do you think I’m obligated to hunt you down. I pledged my cooperation to the Order of Nightshade. They demand loyalty above all else.”
“They sound like a cadre of pompous windbags,” I growled. “Go to your tower, which is really MY tower and see that everyone there is taken care of. If you managed to fulfill your duties there, we can consider ourselves shut of each other.”
There was another long pause before Tim spoke next. “There is no call to be rude,” he said, his tone now full of hurt. “I was doing you the courtesy of a warning. I am not the only wizard out in the wide world. Other in the order are obligated to hunt you down as well.”
“What of Leviathus?” I asked, suddenly concerned.
“Well, about that.” He took a deep breath. “As you have been stripped, you no longer are seen as a wizard in the eyes of the university. Any allegations or charges against Leviathus have been dropped as a matter of decorum.”
I growled again. Stupid, meddling wizards. “Fine. Surely you and Rufus both still qualify as wizards with or without the Order of Nightshade.”
“Oh, yes,” he said, finding his footing once more. “We have many orders to our name.”
“Do any of them think the Order of Nightshade is full of dragon dung?”
He laughed then. “Actually, now that you mention it. The Court of Relics and the Court of Antiquity both have a higher standing in the council.”
“Good, then you and Rufus should both be okay without the love of the Order of Nightshade.”
“Alas,” he said, “without a public spectacle, none of the orders will countermand any of the others for fear of being ganged up on. It’s the only politic way to survive the council.”
“So, Leviathus who hates me has a sanctioned license to kill me and Rufus?”
“Oh, no. Leviathus was never in the order of Nightshade. He was much too pure for the likes of us. He prefers his own brand of nefarious malcontents the Order of Starlight, who are not happy with us at all.”
Blah, blah, politics. I was getting a headache. “Look,” I said, trying for patience. “I need to find Liz and Blargle, is there anything here of value for me other than an obtuse warning that you may help kill me at some point?”
“Blargle?” he asked, aghast. “She’s a menace. I think they gave her an Order of Nightshade second class just so she’d go out into the field and leave the university alone. She has very thin credentials.”
“Great. Does that mean she’ll try and kill me?”
“Most definitely. She won’t want to be exiled from the order. If she gets kicked out she’ll have to return to the university.”
Remind me to never go to Skyfell, Father Mulcahy. It is full of madness.
We were nearly to the bottom of the hill and I could see where the river bank wound around toward the door. Passed that, about a quarter league beyond, should be where the well comes out. There has to be a cave there somewhere. I took the wagon off the road and around the cliff wall where Far Spire stood.
“Timoteus,” I began, hoping his full name would get his attention. “Can you track me through this gem?”
He thought for a moment. “Yes, why?”
“Take care of the folks at the tower, ” I said and stood. I drew back and threw that scrying stone out into the swamp as far as I could.
Now to find a place to park the wagon so I can go retrieve my armor. Some days it didn’t pay to have allies.