Imsdyn 19, 1013
Jessie came in for a landing and shivered. The sea near Avilion had been warm, keeping the land on the coast warm as well, but apparently the wizard’s school in Lothian had not been so lucky. She should have brought a cloak.
Ah, well, it wasn’t as if she didn’t have warming spells, and more importantly, it wasn’t as if she would have to walk very far. She dismounted and dismissed the broom with a wave of her hand. Glancing askance at the slight dusting of snow and her new shoes, she wondered if it might have been a better idea to just ride all the way up to the front porch …
But that was rude. It was, she knew, a precaution born of the days when witches and wizards didn’t want to be seen entering or leaving each other’s dwellings on broomsticks. That precaution had been relaxed enough in Albion that most witches and wizards thought nothing of riding all the way up to the letterbox on broomstick, whereas Penelope was telling Jessie that in Glasonland, witches and wizards would sometimes only fly most of the way, walking the last mile or more if things were dangerous. If the distance was short, most of them just traveled by horse, donkey, or on foot.
Although now that Jessie thought of it … her perspective was so skewed. Who knew how witches and wizards in Albion who were not connected to the royal family traveled? She didn’t. Nobody would dare to harass her, even if she turned their mother into a toad in front of their very eyes. Others, however, might not be so lucky … and Penelope, or Morgan, or even Garnet or Ravenna couldn’t tell her if this was the case.
But Merlin Emrys could.
Smoothing back her hair and setting her chin in the most royal manner she could muster — a technique she’d only mastered in the Glasonlander court — Jessie strode across the snow-swept walk and up the many steps.
They never failed to fill her with a sense of foreboding, for all that she hadn’t walked up them often. Her parents had considered sending her to school here, and they, Jessie, and Morgan had toured the premises with the Emryses. What Jessie could remember most about that visit had been the sinking feeling in her stomach at the thought of being separated from her friends, her parents, even her brothers. She remembered, too, her mother’s faint frown throughout the tour, and her father’s ever-darkening looks. It had been Morgan who had urged that tour, Jessie remembered, Morgan who was most enthusiastic about a magic school. Arthur and Alison hadn’t been nearly as impressed with the idea. And after the tour, when they asked Jessie in private — away from the Emryses, away even from Morgan — if she wanted to go to that school, Jessie had said no. That was the end of the matter.
Now, though, as the door opened under Jessie’s touch — she had only raised her hand to knock! — and she entered into the warm, airy foyer of the school, she wondered if that had been the best decision.
Ravenna scooted between the doors and ran to Jessie. “I knew it! I knew I’d be the first to see you!”
“What?” Jessie laughed as she embraced her little cousin. “Did you see it in your scrying bowl?”
“Ha-ha,” Ravenna snorted. They were both remembering the same thing: how Garnet once told Ravenna that scrying bowls could show the future, and how Ravenna had stared and stared into the depth’s of her mother’s. Then, when she finally complained that all she saw was her face in the water, Garnet had laughed, “Exactly!” and unleashed her spell to send a spray of water flying in Ravenna’s face.
It wasn’t the nicest thing to do to your gullible little cousin, Jessie thought, but all the same, it wasn’t any worse than what Jessie had done to her brothers and her brothers had done to her and to each other.
Jessie drew away from Ravenna and gave her a quick, critical once-over. She was looking just as she had at Garnet’s wedding: bright-eyed, rosy-cheeked, energetic. Blooming, really. Apparently the school was agreeing with Ravenna.
Except, Ravenna had been here for five years now, hadn’t she? And she’d never looked quite this happy, quite this carefree. It might, no, must have been something else. But not, perhaps, altogether unconnected to the school.
“Anyway!” Ravenna bounced, “I knew I’d be the first to know you were here because I set wards for you, ever since Professor Merlin told us you’d be coming today.”
“Oh, did he?” Jessie asked, barely refraining from catching her lower lip between her teeth. She’d gotten awfully better at not doing that during her time in Glasonland.
“Aye — I think George wants to meet you, too. Even if he won’t admit it.” Ravenna rolled her eyes, but there was something there — an undercurrent, a strong one, of affection — that hadn’t necessarily been there before. “But! That’s not why I set the ward for you. Jess …” Ravenna’s smile spread from ear to ear. “I have something I want to tell you.”
Oh, does she? Jessie bit back a smile. She’d suspected something like this — some announcement — was in the offing ever since the party Morgan had before Garnet’s wedding. Ravenna had floated through that party, giggly and effervescent, except, for some reason, when her gaze crossed over Delyth. And then, of course, after the party, at a few teas with Morgan, there had been veiled hints …
Apparently Jessie wasn’t as good as controlling her facial expressions as she thought she was; Ravenna frowned. “Mum told you, didn’t she?”
“What? No! No, your mother didn’t …”
“But she hinted, didn’t she?” Ravenna sighed. “I told her I wanted to tell you myself! And Garnet, too, but Garnet won’t be back from her wedding trip until the end of the month.”
“Well, maybe there were a few … hints,” Jessie admitted. “Most of them about having to keep your father sane … but let me put it like this, she didn’t tell me any names. Or any details whatsoever.”
Ravenna’s smile bloomed. “Perfect.”
Jessie grinned in reply and patted Ravenna’s arm. “So I’ll be able to hear all about it — after I see Professor Merlin, aye? Where would he be, anyway?”
“His office. It’s just down the hall, last door on your left.” Ravenna frowned. “Maybe it’s technically the only door on your left. But you know what I mean!”
Jessie did. And so, less than three minutes later, after promising to meet with Ravenna as soon as her meeting with Merlin was over, she was knocking at the door of the man himself.
“Come in,” came the quiet, reedy voice from the other side of the door. Jessie pushed the door open — this one didn’t magically swing forward at her touch — and slipped into the office.
It was the office of a consummate light wizard — white wooden furniture, walls draped in checkered cloth of blue and yellow, a carpet on the floor with the same pattern Jessie had helped pick out for the du Lac castle. Jessie felt the tension slipping out of her just at the sight of it, even if she preferred to decorate in different colors when it came to her own, personal spaces. Still, the tension returned when she focused on the wizard on the other side of the desk.
“Ah, Princess! Welcome!” He rose and made her a slight bow. Jessie rolled her shoulders back, standing straight as her mother had taught her, and nodded her head once, just as she had seen her mother do hundreds of times. She also did not correct him.
“Thank you, Professor. I must say,” the door closed behind Jessie as soon as she crossed the threshold, “your school seems to be doing well, and the grounds look lovely, even for this early in the spring.”
“Ah, they would look better, if the weather would cooperate!” Merlin laughed. “But it’s young George we mostly have to thank for the grounds. He’s designed an ingenious golem that takes care of all the gardening for us. It’s better than a servantus — except, of course, when it goes slightly, well, mad and starts watering things five times over. But please, Princess, have a seat!”
Jessie took a seat with a small laugh. “Thank you. Tell me, does it do that often?”
“Go mad? Every so often.” Merlin sighed and mockingly rolled his eyes. “George says he is still working out the kinks.”
“He sounds like a bright young man.”
“Indeed — as is Ravenna, though her talents lie in a different direction, I feel. However, Princess …” Merlin smiled. “I am sure you did not come here to discuss my students.” His eyes narrowed and he cocked his head to one side. “Unless you did?”
One did not last long as a royal if one couldn’t see the light of ambition shining in a Sim’s eyes. Jessie’s shoulders tensed. Still, she took a deep breath, relaxed it away. Merlin had ambition, but she knew that. Her father had known that, and that was probably the main reason why he had not wanted her to go to Merlin’s school. Still, nobody Jessie talked to saw any harm in Merlin. He wanted great things for witches and wizards — not necessarily great things for himself.
Still, ambition was ambition, and Jessie was not here to gratify Merlin’s ambition.
“Not today — although, with your permission, of course, I’d like to take Ravenna out after our meeting. We’ve a bit of catching up to do,” Jessie smiled.
“Of course, of course! Feel free. Family members are always allowed to take their students out, provided they aren’t in classes.” Jessie’s eyebrows must have been quite eloquent on that subject, for Merlin sputtered, “Well — within reason, of course. But I can hardly see Lady Morgan or Lord Accolon objecting to you taking Ravenna for an afternoon outing.”
Neither could Jessie, and she hoped that didn’t count as bragging. She dropped the subject. “Thank you. But what I came to discuss was …” Jessie hesitated. “Something I … saw in Glasonland. However, Professor, before I continue, I have to ask that this conversation be held in strictest confidence.”
“Of course,” Merlin nodded.
“I mean that, sir. Absolute confidence. No one else can know about this conversation. No one.”
“In-deed.” Merlin leaned back, steepling his fingers before him. “Well, I must admit, Princess, I am intrigued — and you have my word as a Light wizard on the matter of my confidence. None shall know what we discussed today, unless you give your permission.”
“Thank you. Professor …” There was nothing to do but to jump straight into what she had to say. “Professor, there was magic — Dark magic — involved in the deaths of Lord Lucinius and Sir Septimus.”
She wished — hoped — that he would have a different perspective than Morgan. Morgan had shrugged off the concerns, explaining that magic was always available in Glasonland to those who wanted it, provided they could pay for it. There were any of a number of Dark tricks that could have had a hand in killing the Tarquinii brothers, and any number of wealthy men who wanted them dead. If one of those wealthy men had hired a conventional assassin, Morgan had asked Jessie, would she be was worried then? Hiring a Dark wizard (or witch) to do the deed was no different than hiring a bowman or a poisoner.
Or so Morgan claimed.
Merlin, however, barely seemed to react at all. His eyebrows only rose. “Ah.”
Ah? Ah? Jessie thought. That’s all you can say? A Dark wizard as good as kills the uncles of the King of Glasonland, and all you can come up with is “ah”? But she didn’t say that. She breathed deep and slow, instead. “So. That does not worry you?”
Merlin shook his head. “Alas, no — at least, not in the way you want, I’m sure.” He smiled somewhat sheepishly and shrugged. “I fear I worry more about what this deed might mean for the cause of witches and wizards than I worry what it means for Glasonland and the Glasonlander king. I understand, of course, that you may feel differently …”
Vortimer and Viviette deserve so much better than this.
“… but at the same time, I hope it will not prejudice you — or by extension, the royal family of Albion — against allowing witches and wizards to practice magic openly and safely within our borders.”
Jessie barely bit back a snort. It would take a hell of a lot more than magic being used in the assassination of two — all things considered — rather odious powers behind the throne to prejudice her against that. After all, the Tarquinii brothers had been walking around with targets on their backs, targets they had chosen, in some ways, to put there themselves.
But that magic had been involved … “From what I understand, Professor, most witches and wizards in Glasonland live in mortal fear of the nobles becoming at all interested in them.” Penelope had indicated as much.
“Most Light witches and wizards,” Merlin replied with a faint smile. “Unless, of course, they are blessed with temporal power themselves and can safely tell other nobles to take their business elsewhere. But Dark wizards and witches often welcome such attention. Men — they usually are men who do the seeking, in Glasonland — of power can often offer them great rewards, and a certain measure of protection.”
Merlin sighed. “And Dark witches and wizards in Glasonland, indeed in lands other than Albion … well, the disposition of one who is attracted to that side of the Art tends to be somewhat less … kindly, shall we say, by nature than one who is attracted to the Light. Indeed, people who choose to abide by the ethics of the Light in situations such as Glasonland are an interesting breed. Those of the Dark are generally those who take the — not entirely unreasonable — position that if every man’s hand will be against them, then their hands might as well be against every man.”
“I see,” Jessie murmured.
“In Albion, things are so very different … the hand of every man is most emphatically not against us, you see. So people have that much more incentive to be loyal.” Merlin smiled. “I’m sure that’s something you’ve learned at your father’s knee. Treat people well, and they will treat you well in return. It seems to be — and I say this as an observer — his philosophy. And it has worked well for your father, don’t you think?”
“As you say — of course. Nonetheless, I can see, as someone raised in this rather halcyon environment, to see the — the ugly side of magic would be somewhat shocking –“
“No. No, Professor, that is not what shocks me. That is not what shocks me at all. What shocks me …” Jessie threw her hands up in the air. “Professor, this was a perfect crime! Adam of Howell held the knife, he killed Lord Lucinius and Sir Septimus! I saw him! And if I hadn’t been there to feel that magic, nobody would have the least idea magic was involved!”
And apparently, Will and I are the only people at all bothered by this!
Jessie took another deep breath. “And do you know why everybody believed the official story, Professor — even the officials? Because it made so much sense. Adam of Howell had every reason to want to kill the Tarquinii brothers. He was furious when they stripped him of his command. And he was a trained warrior. Sure, he was an old man, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch that his anger and his training would let him do what he did. Whoever thought up that scheme, Professor, is not just some down-and-out Dark wizard who will kill people for a price. That kind of work is the work of a — a — a twisted genius, and one with inside knowledge, too.”
“And do you think that it is impossible for down-and-out Dark wizards to be twisted geniuses?” Merlin asked with a faint smile.
“I think a twisted genius, Dark wizard or no — especially a genius like that, who knows just what puppet strings to pull to get the effects he, or she, wants — would not be down-and-out.”
“While I see your point,” Merlin replied, “who is to say whether the plan was devised by the Dark wizard, or the master puppeteer, as you put it? If you think it unlikely for the Dark wizard to have the necessary psychological genius and inside knowledge, then perhaps it was whoever hired him who came up with the plan.”
No, Jessie thought. It’s possible — but not likely. Because that was not how men of power — and surely whoever was at the bottom of this was a man of power — operated. Jessie saw it all the time — in her father, in Tommy, in Lancelot, in Will. In Lord Pellinore and Sir Mordred and even Sir Bors. There was no one who could delegate like a man of power and wealth. When they wanted something done — and done well — and couldn’t, for whatever reason, do it themselves, they hired an expert. And then they let him get the job done.
Morgan might not remember this. She’d always lived at the periphery of true power and had never seemed the least interested in politics beyond how they affected her and hers. She and Accolon had carved out their own little enclave, too, so Morgan didn’t see noblemen at work all the time. And apparently Merlin didn’t know this, either.
But Jessie did.
And so she could not believe Morgan and Merlin’s blithe assurances. Oh, if the murderer, the man who wielded the knife, had been a random madman, or someone else with no apparent motive — Morgan had told her that Dark wizards used that method of covert assassination often — then Jessie might have believed that the wizard was no more than a hired wand. But because the nominal murderer had been Adam of Howell, then it had to be a person with inside knowledge.
Which meant that there was a wizard who wanted — desperately wanted — the Tarquinii brothers dead. And if wizards were getting this involved with politics in Glasonland …
“Princess?” came Merlin’s voice. “Princess, is there something the matter?”
Jessie blinked, and found herself staring at the door. When had she gotten up? She didn’t even remember doing so. She hadn’t been pacing, had she?
She shook her head. “Nothing — nothing, Professor. Sorry. I was just thinking.”
He chuckled. “It happens to the best of us.”
In spite of herself, Jessie smiled.
Merlin rose. “Are you sure, though, that you do not care to voice your thoughts?” He shrugged. “I find it sometimes help to have another brain tackle the problem.”
“I appreciate the offer, but, no, thank you.” She smiled in reply and stuck out her hand. “I’m sure I’ve taken up enough of your time for one day.”
“It was my pleasure, I assure you.” Merlin laughed, taking her hand and giving it a firm shake. “Besides, I must admit that now that George is too involved with … certain things to getting into real trouble, I find myself growing bored now and again. A bit of politics was just the spice I needed.”
“Then I am pleased to be of service.” Jessie smiled. “And I’ll be sure to have Ravenna back before supper.”
“Thank you very much, Princess.”
With that and a few more polite nothings, Jessie was able to take her leave. But she had not even made it to the door before she made her final decision.
This afternoon, she would enjoy her outing with Ravenna and force herself not to care about politics or assassinations if it bloody well killed her. And this evening, she would have a quiet night with Will, with Lancelot and Guinevere, and with her babies.
Then, first thing in the morning … she would go see her father.
Because even though Morgan hadn’t understood, and Merlin hadn’t seen, Arthur would understand. Arthur would see.
And then they could start to solve the problem.