Chapter Seven: Atina Get



by

Josie Beaudoin







The travelers assembled in the great hall of Far Ganel the next morning. Most were excited; only Jasper showed real sorrow to be leaving. The sun, unobstructed by clouds, shone through the walls of the hall until the room glowed.

“You must understand that this sort of spell has limits,” Keleva said. “I cannot place you back in Lyridon; the spell will set you safely on the outskirts of Atina Get. You will have to make your way overland from there. I’m sorry I cannot be more specific in your landing. I wish you all safe travels and a successful conclusion to your quest. Now please gather together.”

“Ta Ria, your generosity knows no bounds,” Morgan said. “Atina Get will do perfectly, I have things to discuss with Arden’s queen.”

“As it happens, geography favors your journey this time. More than that I will not say.”

The group huddled close; Morgan, Jasper, Paige, Brand, Galen, Ashia, Kemen, Willow, Dreyma, and Orden, each carrying a bundle or package. In his arms, Galen carried a wooden chest where rested the skull of Mjarni, for she had chosen to join them.

“It was supposed to be just myself and Morgan,” Jasper said. “How did we manage to pick up so many others on the way?”

“I’d be perfectly content to go back to Erlaya,” Brand said.

“Laric would as soon kill you as look at you, cousin,” Morgan told him. “We’ve been over this before. If he no longer has me, he won’t care about you.”

“Keep your delusions to yourself, Northman,” Brand muttered – mostly to himself, but loudly enough for Morgan to hear. Morgan chose to ignore the statement.

“Alright, everyone hold still for this,” Keleva said. “It’s been a while since I performed this spell, and I don’t want anyone left out.”

A feather was produced, along with a black pearl and a shark’s tooth and several other items. Keleva described a path around the group widdershins, and a globe of light sprang up and encircled them. The bright hall was filled with a silent roaring that filled their ears but made no sound, and then the hall disappeared, and they were standing upon the rocky shores of a land none of them had visited before. The spell had worked.

“Well I suppose we’d best get on with it,” Morgan said. “Atina Get is a long way from Lyridon, and the queen is not expecting me today.”

He set off confidently in the direction of the harbor, which was detectable through the trees as masts and cranes. The others followed behind him, disoriented but trusting in Morgan. Jasper brought up the rear, not wishing to share his grief with the rest. Jasper the Oathbreaker had seen his last glimpse of Far Ganel.

At length the group rounded the head and suddenly the harbor opened out in front of them. It nestled in a wide bay, and the city climbed the hill beyond it. At the top of the hill sat the castle, and behind it all, green mountains marched North into the distance. Atina Get was not as large as Lyridon City, Paige mused, but it was definitely not small, either. Fewer buildings were made of stone than she had expected for a capital, but the architecture definitely mirrored what she was used to at home. The fabled domed roofs of the temples did not disappoint, pointing their way to the gods in brilliant patterns and colors.

“Queen Sevell is our ally, of course,” Morgan said to Galen as they wound their way through the congested harbor. “She will know about my abduction, but will not have knowledge of my condition, and must not learn of it. Are you ready for what we practiced?”

“Yes, Magister,” Galen said.

“I hope so,” said Morgan. “This whole plan depends upon it.”

“What plan?” Paige asked.

“The plan where I dazzle the court with evidence that my powers are intact. The plan where no one finds out I’ve been stripped. The plan where Galen covers for me,” her brother said. “The plan which depends entirely on my ability to act and Galen’s ability to be inconspicuous.”

“Oh, that plan,” Paige said. “That sounds like a good plan.”

“It had better be,” Galen said, “because it’s the only plan.”

Jasper, his shoulders hunched and his head low, averted his eyes from the ships as the group passed them. He skulked at the back of the group, and his tension only lessened when it was clear no one recognized him. Even so, it was a relief when they passed at last into the town proper and began moving up the hill. At last they were out of sight of the docks, and his shoulders went from hunched to slumped. He knew there was no way for these crews to know even about his disgrace, much less his banishment, and he had no wish for awkward conversations.

At last they reached the gates of the castle. The guards stopped them, demanding to know their business.

“You may inform Her Majesty that the Shield stands without, and would speak with her,” Morgan informed them. He had drawn himself up to his full height and spoke with an imperious tone.

The younger of the two gave a derisive jeer, but the older man stared intently into Morgan’s icy gaze. His eyes widened, and he bowed his head.

“I was part of the Queen’s honor guard when she went to the Shield’s investiture,” he said. “I recognize you, Archard.”

“And a good thing, too,” Morgan said. “Now if you please…?” He flicked an eyebrow at the closed gate.

“You’re…. serious?” the younger man gulped air. “I-I mean, of course, at once, Your, erm, I mean…. Archard.”

“Please allow me,” his senior said. “Follow me this way at once, if it please your… well, I mean, sir, ladies…” and with a smart click of the heels he turned and ordered the gate raised. When the group had been let inside, he remanded the young guard to stay on duty while he himself ushered them inside. Dreyma shuddered as they passed beneath the ominous gaze of the murder-holes just inside the portcullis. The guard led them through a courtyard and many hallways, and at last to the throne room.

“Your Majesty,” he said, slightly breathless, “it is my very great honor indeed to present to you Morgan ap Phaelan, Forty-Seventh Shield of the North. And… company,” he added, having failed to recognize anyone else in the group.

“It is good to see you again, Sevell,” Morgan said, striding forward and bowing to the woman on the throne. “Though I regret the necessity that brings me to your door.”

The queen’s eyes and mouth widened momentarily before she schooled her expression and rose to her feet. Descending from the dais she crossed the throne room to meet Morgan in the middle. She allowed a tentative smile to cross her face as she neared him and confirmed his face for herself. Morgan tried to return her smile, but it never reached his eyes.

Sevell sank gracefully to her knees and bowed her head. “Your presence here is a blessing, Archard,” she said. “How can Arden serve you?”

“With an army,” Morgan said bluntly.

There was a gasp and murmurs began circulating among the assembled courtiers. Morgan raised Sevell to her feet and they kissed cheeks.

“Clear the court,” the queen ordered, and the ambassadors, officials, ladies-in-waiting and other nobles began making their ways to the exit. When the doors closed at last, she turned back to Morgan.

“Archard,” she said, “forgive my bluntness, but I thought you were still…”

“The Emperor’s guest? Not for some time now,” Morgan said.

“We have had no news of your return to Lyridon, and you appear at my gate looking like a common traveler – well, forgive me, but this is quite a surprise.”

“You have had no news because there is no news,” Morgan told her. “I have yet to return to Lyridon, and my somewhat circuitous route home has led me here first. It is my hope that you will join me on my journey south.”

“How many soldiers do you require, Archard?”

“As many as can wield a weapon,” Morgan said. “The Ancient One believes he can field the might of all Erlaya in this coming war, and I have no reason to doubt his word. We must be prepared to meet him sword for sword, lest all be lost.”

“The summons shall be sent,” Sevell said. “Arden’s men and women stand ready to answer Lyridon’s call.”

“And Lyridon is grateful for Arden’s unwavering support. I would also be grateful for the use of your court magician.”

“My apologies again, Archard, but my court magician – every magician that I know of, in fact – has been summoned to Lyridon already to await the attack you anticipate.”

“What do you mean, ‘every magician you know of’? You cannot be without a single magic-user in your kingdom. That’s not safe.”

“Lyridon felt it less safe to leave magic-users scattered across the North. At any rate, all of mine have been summoned south.”

“Then I have no way of sending a message or myself home any way that will arrive faster than by travel overland. Which is a nuisance and a bother. I had hoped to confer with my father immediately. Well, not your fault, Your Majesty. Now, if we are quite finished with the formalities, I think it might be a good idea for my companions and I to freshen up before the evening’s meal and any festivities you might be planning.”

Queen Sevell looked past Morgan to the assembled travelers who had stood silent and forgotten during their conversation. Jasper dropped his pack by way of emphasis.

At once, Sevell was all business. She went to the large double doors at the foot of the hall, flung them wide, and began issuing orders. People scurried to obey. In what seemed moments, Morgan was following a footman down a corridor, up a flight of stairs, and into a large, well-appointed chamber. In a twinkling Morgan’s pack was set in a chair, a fire was started, and a large, copper bathtub was carried in, followed by steaming buckets of hot water. With a smart bow, the footmen took their leave, and Morgan found himself alone with every luxury he could ask for. He lost no time stripping down and settling into the tub with a contented sigh.

When he felt suitably refreshed and clean, and the water was beginning to cool, Morgan got out and rummaged through his pack for some clean clothing. After the long sea-voyage, his wardrobe was mostly Rian in style, but better that, he mused, than Erlayan. He had nothing that could be considered court dress, so he contented himself with something well-made and un-mended.

As Morgan was finishing his toilette there was a discreet knock at the door.

“Come in,” Morgan said, and Galen poked his head into the room. “All the way in, shut the door behind you.

“I’m afraid we’re going to scandalize the Ardennese court this evening,” he continued as the door clicked behind his apprentice. “Apart from Paige and possibly – though I shudder to think it – Brand, none of us have any finery to wear to dinner tonight. Our showmanship will have to suffice.”

“Surely it shall, Sir,” Galen said. “These people have been waiting six years for your return, I doubt they’ll quibble over your choice of clothing now.”

“Let’s hope not. How did you find me, by the way? Is there a crowd outside my door?”

“Not yet, Magister, if you’re expecting one. I’ve become accustomed to feeling your presence.”

“There’s a small mercy. Keep your wits sharp, though – I do half-expect a mob. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see one, at any rate.”

“I am sensing at lot of excitement at your return. I should tell you that one of your predictions has yet to manifest: namely, I feel no one bears you any ill will.”

“What are you sensing specifically, Galen?”

“Hope. Excitement. Fear. Relief. Curiosity. Most of them only know of you by historical precedent.”

“Please let me know if that changes,” Morgan said. “Curiosity I can handle. Anything more than that and we may have our hands full.”

There was another knock at the door, and Morgan raised an eyebrow at his apprentice.

“It’s your sister,” Galen supplied.

“Let her in.”

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Morgan, I didn’t know you weren’t alone,” Paige said, coming in. “I was hoping to talk to you in private.”

“I can go, Master, I just wanted to check in with you,” Galen said.

“Don’t go far,” Morgan said. “From now on, we never know when the Shield may be called upon to perform. I don’t want to have to send for you when that moment comes.”

“I’ll be right outside, Sir,” Galen said.

Paige sank into a chair as the door shut. She said nothing, but stared off into the distance.

“What is it?” Morgan asked. He crossed the room and knelt in front of his sister. “I don’t need magic to recognize tears in your eyes. Talk to me.”

“I miss her, Morgan,” she whispered. “I know important things are happening that I should focus on, but I just can’t stop thinking about her.”

“By the Gods, Paige, you lost a child! It’s not something you just get over because you feel you ought to. I miss her, too, and I can only imagine how much worse it must be for you.”

“I just f-feel so s-selfish…” Her words, muffled by his tunic, dissolved into incoherence as she wept on his shoulder. Morgan wrapped his arms around her, once hand stroking her hair.

“It’s all right, Shadow, let it out. Remember what uncle used to say, ‘You’ll make yourself sick if you hold it in.’

“It hurts, Morgan, it just hurts all the time and I can’t stop it.”

“So stop trying to stop it,” her brother said. “Who told you you have to be strong all the time, anyway? If I don’t have to, you certainly don’t. Let the hurt out so it doesn’t fester. Now tell me: would you prefer to stay here tonight?”

“Oh, m-may I?” Paige looked up from her brother’s shoulder.

“You haven’t slept in my room since you were little, but if it will help, do you think it might?”

“But don’t we have to go to the banquet tonight? They’re sure to keep us for hours and hours.”

“Not in the least. You shall stay right here while I go down to dinner. I shall make a brief appearance for nicety’s sake, then excuse myself with the truth: my sister is feeling under the weather and I must attend to her. How could anyone object to that?”

“I d-do love you, M-Morgan,” she hiccoughed.

“And I, you, Shadow,” he said. “Now, help me find something else to wear. You’ve quite besmirched my doublet. No, don’t look in the mirror, I promise you don’t want to see.”

Paige looked at her brother’s clothing and laughed. “Your front’s all wet,” she said.

“Your Highness, my front is, and ever shall be, at your disposal,” Morgan said with a bow. “But help me out of this, would you? I think I’ve got another clean doublet somewhere. Ah, yes, here it is.”

“It’s not nearly as nice as the first one,” she fussed, doing up the buttons.

“I’m sure Arden’s suffering will be monumental,” he said, “but I’m confident that they shall survive.”

“You always know best,” she agreed, straightening his belt.

With a wink and a kiss, Morgan crossed to the door. “I shall have them send up some supper,” he said, “and if you don’t eat I shall be quite cross,” and then he was gone.

“-erribly sorry,” he heard Galen say, “but my master has asked not to be disturbed. Ah, Sir, there you are.”

“It’s all right, Galen, I’m ready now. But the order still stands. My Lady Sister is in there, and she wishes to be alone. Footman, see to it that no one disturbs her until I return, except for the dinner I’m having sent up.”

They were joined in the corridor by the others, except for the children, and were led to a grand banquet hall. The walls were lined with tapestries of every description, and liveried servants to attend every guest. Morgan, Galen, Dreyma, Jasper, and Brand were seated at the High Table, and the rest were placed near the head of the hall. As Morgan took his seat next to Queen Sevell, a nimbus of blue light appeared around his head. The crowd murmured appreciatively at the sight.

The tables formed three sides of a rectangle, and into the open space at the foot of the hall now came entertainers: acrobats, jugglers, a bard. The main course had just been served when Morgan turned to Sevell.

“This is all wonderful,” he said, “but I hope Your Majesty will excuse me. My sister is not feeling well and I must attend to her. I am truly honored, but she needs me.”

“Please convey our warmest wishes to her Highness,” Sevell said. “And we hope she feels better soon.”

There was a flutter of concern when the guest of honor left the hall, but the Ardennese court turned their attention to the remaining guests. Even Ashia found herself the focus of scrutiny and eager questions she felt unqualified to answer. Before long she felt buffeted and exhausted.

Brand, on the other hand, was in his element. Though he felt woefully under-dressed in the festive throng, nonetheless he sat in his rightful place at the High Table. Although he had to pretend to accept kinship with Morgan, he was celebrated as a returning hero by the assembled courtiers. He had not been this highly regarded since he had left Gurthiri, and he had missed the adulation. It was even better when Morgan left.

At last the banquet concluded. The tables were cleared away and a group of musicians set up in one corner. The dancing began with a simple pavanne that enchanted the travelers, none of whom save Brand having seen one before, and he having no memory of it. He was a quick study, though, and after a few minutes’ consultation with the dancing master he joined in the next dance, and eventually persuaded Dreyma to join him. The whole thing was deeply reminiscent to Galen of the time when Brand and Paige had first come to Erlaya, when he was courting Dreyma behind the Emperor’s back. It was good to see her smiling and laughing.

Jasper sat quietly at the High Table throughout dinner. He envied Paige her solitude, and was in no mood to celebrate. He slipped out before the dancing and returned to his quarters alone. Only Galen noticed his departure, and he said nothing, well aware of Jasper’s discomfort.

Morgan eased the door of his quarters open and peeked inside. Paige was seated in front of the fire, picking at the banquet tray and staring into the flames. Morgan shut the door softly and crossed the room to sit beside his sister. She leaned into him with a sigh that seemed at once anguished and relaxed. He wished he could tell the difference.

“We’re safe, aren’t we?” she asked, bemused. “It’s been so long, I almost don’t recognize the feeling.”

Her brother nodded.

“Was it just me,” he said, “or did the ship never really feel safe?”

“It wasn’t just you,” she said.

The pair sat together in silence, watching the fire. Time passed unnoticed as each sibling sat with their own thoughts. Unexpectedly, the fire popped, startling Paige out of her reverie. She yawned and stretched.

“I’m nodding off,” she said.

“You should get to bed,” her brother told her.

“Aren’t you coming?”

“I’ll be right here,” he said. “I need to get some work done, then I’ll rest better.”

Paige gave him a grimace of a smile as she pulled her gown off. In her chemise, she climbed into the bed. Morgan pulled the blankets to her shoulders and planted a kiss on her brow. Then he pulled a bundle of papers out of his pack and took them to a round table under the leaded-glass windows. By candlelight he began reading.

He was still reading when Paige awoke. He had located paper, quill and ink some time during the night, as well as a pot of tea.

“Have you worked through the night again?” Paige asked.

“Huh? Oh, look at that,” he answered. “It appears I have, in fact. Good morning. Have some tea.”

“More lessons for Galen?” she asked, crossing the room and helping herself to a cup.

“Not strictly. I’m working on translating the texts we took from Barkarnas. There’s some fascinating material here.”

“More fascinating than sleep?”

“By far,” her brother assured her.

“Well, I hope you can pull yourself away long enough for a fitting. You need some good court attire, and this is just the place to have it made. You look like a peasant.”

“You never used to care about my clothes,” Morgan said, putting down his pen.

“We used to have all the clothes,” Paige replied. “Anyway, remember what mother always said, ‘Appearances matter to the public.’

Morgan recited the line in unison with his sister. “Yes, you’ve made your point. I suppose I need to look like the man I’m pretending to be. Very well, you may dress me up for the royal look. I bet I’ll have to wait until Brand is quite finished, though. I’m sure he’s already put every tailor and seamstress in the castle to work.”

“They’ll drop everything for their Archard,” she said, “or they’ll answer to me.”

“A dire threat, indeed. I’m sure they’ll rue the day they ignored you.”

“They wouldn’t dare,” Paige said.

“I believe you,” said her brother.

There was a discreet tap at the door.

“Come in,” Morgan said. “Ah, here’s your breakfast. And look: here’s Galen, prompt as always.”

#

They were a few weeks in Atina Get, while Morgan and Sevell drew up their plans, Paige saw to re-wardrobing everyone, and messengers were sent riding to summon the Queen’s army from their homes. At last Morgan felt they could delay things no longer. It was time to take their leave.

“I will send you back your court magician, or at least a magician, as soon as I arrive home,” Morgan told the queen.

“I will await your orders and be ready to move, Archard,” Sevell said. “For now, farewell and safe travels. I will see you in Lyridon.”

“Do not delay over long,” Morgan said.

“You have my word,” the queen replied.

Morgan nodded and hup-ped his horse to a walk. A banner bearing Lyridon’s arms had been lent them, and it flapped from a pole carried by Galen at his master’s side. The rest followed after the two. The group clip-clopped along the main road north by east, which soon enough would turn south, towards home.














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