Chapter Eight: Ornika



by

Josie Beaudoin







I’ll eviscerate him, Brand thought. In his sleep, right next to his wife. Or no, decapitate him, that’s quicker, and he won’t make a sound. Brand glared across the campfire at Galen laughing and playing with the children. That he dared to call the Aiyana Dreyma his wife was infuriating, an insult not to be tolerated. That he had fathered a child with her was beyond obscene. That everyone else was fine with the situation, however, was what galled him the most.

The group had stopped for the night on the side of the road on their journey to Lyridon. It was colder than it should be by Erris’ reckoning, and he sat bundled in a cloak and blankets. Erris was working on controlling his anger, but having a rough time of it. He had learned to answer to ‘Brand,’ and occasionally had disturbing visions of a life in a northern castle, but he worked hard to suppress those ideas and concentrate on reality. He was the Sutari Erris, a demigod, and beloved friend of the Emperor. This he knew to be true, above anything else. But he kept it to himself, knowing the others dismissed him out of hand.

“This is all so wonderful,” Paige said next to him. “It’s like a dream come true, to be back at last, and going home. I can’t wait to get home! I wonder if it’s changed much since we left.”

“I can’t imagine why it would,” Morgan put in. He was picking at his dinner halfheartedly and staring into the flames, also bundled against the spring chill. “Either way, we’ll find out soon enough. We should be able to buy or hire a boat in Czeryn that will hasten us down the river. It shouldn’t take long.”

“When will we reach Czeryn?” Paige asked.

“Soon. I want to stop in Ornika on the way and consult with Thybram before we head south. He can spread the word into Coryn and Feryn for us. It should only take us a week or so out of our way. We’ll be back to Lyridon within a month.”

“Do you think The Tree is still there?”

Morgan snorted in derision. “You really think Father would allow anyone to so much as touch Her with an axe? No, The Tree will be here long after you and I are turned to dust, Shadow. But what’s all this worry about things changing? What’s on your mind?”

“I’m just… they don’t know what happened to us,” Paige’s voice dropped to a whisper. “What if my clothes are gone, my things…? What if they think Brand and I are dead? You they’re expecting back, but not us.”

“I won’t lie to you, some things might have been stored away,” Morgan told her. “Mine as well as yours. But I can’t imagine they would throw out your belongings. Not while there’s the remotest chance you could still be alive. Which you are, and everyone will be overjoyed to see both of you. And just think: there might even be new nieces and nephews since our absence! Wouldn’t that be exciting?”

“Reina would be exciting if they could have met her,” Paige said, and tears stood in her eyes.

Morgan went and sat beside his sister. He put one arm around her and hugged her close. “I’m sorry, Paige. We’re not coming home ‘all in one piece,’ and the family will just have to accept that. We’ve done our best, but it will never be good enough.” Morgan’s eyes were no drier than his sister’s.

“Will you stay with me tonight?” she asked.

“Of course, Shadow, you only have to ask.”

#

A few days later, they reached Ornika. The capital of Uaylen was set at its southwestern-most point, on a spit of land carved out of the neighboring kingdoms for the ocean access and trade. As usual, Rian ships were lined up in the harbor, though much fewer in number than Paige had seen in other cities. Morgan led them uphill from the heavy city walls towards the fortified castle near the center of the city. Each house was walled off from the next with high walls of stone and brick, and the tops of trees could be seen in every yard.

“I guess nobody here likes his neighbors,” Brand observed. “Look at all the personal fortifications.”

“These walls are agricultural, not political,” Morgan replied. “The walls block the wind that would twist the trees, and the sun’s heat on the stones gives them a slight warmth – warm enough at least to grow fruits here that would normally only grow further south. It’s a useful trick when you live this far north. The only Freeland capital further north is Adith.”

The news of Morgan’s return had evidently traveled ahead of them, for Thybram himself was waiting at the portcullis to greet them. He gestured grandly, and a herald spoke:

“Welcome to Ornika, My Archard! I, Thybram, King of all Uaylen, stand ready to assist you however you may need.”

“It has been a long time, O King,” Morgan replied, also making complicated gestures with his hands. The king watched and then gestured while Morgan watched, then Morgan gestured again. No one said a word.

“I don’t understand what’s going on,” Dreyma whispered to Paige. “What are they doing?”

“They’re talking,” Paige said quietly. “Thybram is deaf as a blue-eyed cat, he speaks with signs and gestures. I used to know some, but I’ve forgotten most of it. Morgan never forgets anything.”

As the silent conversation continued between the rulers, Dreyma watched her husband, who was holding their son in his arms. Since they were reunited, she never tired of staring at him. Galen was paying close attention to his master, looking for clues, she suspected, that he needed some magic done. The whole arrangement still confused her, but she trusted Galen implicitly. If he said it was a good thing, she believed him. At any rate, the situation had brought him back into her life, and that if nothing else, was good.

At length the formal greetings came to a close, and they were ushered inside the castle. Morgan was right, there was a harsh wind coming in from the sea, and Dreyma was grateful to be out of it. The castle perched atop the hill was not much better, however. It was dark and grim compared to her grandfather’s palace in Gurthiri and the Rian island fortress of Far Ganel. She and her small family were soon ensconced in a room that, while dark, was warm and snug. Galen followed his master, of course, but she knew he would return to her when he could.

#

“So tell me, doctor, what are the symptoms?” Morgan asked the hastily summoned woman. “His Majesty informs me of a sickness here, but not much else. What exactly is going on?”

“A-Archard, t’is consumption, plain and simple.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as I can be. You are aware of course, that-”

“That you are no magician. I know. Very well, I will examine some of the affected and confirm your diagnosis. What was the Council thinking, leaving you unprotected? Not all the dangers this world has to offer come from Erlaya. They have to know that.”

It was consumption. Both Galen and Morgan had seen it before in their years as magicians, and it was unmistakable. The diagnosis, swiftly reached, led both men to take up residence in the royal magician’s room of ingredients where Morgan guided Galen as he composed a healing spell. When it had been checked over for efficacy, they began producing it in mass and gave it to the royal physician.

“Archard, you are a gift from the gods,” she said. “There is no non-magical cure for consumption, all I can do is tend to their symptoms. This is such a relief, to be able to cure my patients.”

“We are here to serve, my lady,” Morgan said with a bow. “Though you should thank my assistant, as most of the hard work was done by him.”

“Thank you, thank you so much,” she exclaimed, grasping Galen’s hand and pressing it to her forehead.

Blushing, Galen changed the subject. “Are you quite certain you have enough, doctor?” he asked.

“You’ve given me enough for all my patients, and enough to share with the rest of the city,” she said, “and enough to have some left over for new cases that may crop up before we have our own magician returned to us. I believe so, yes, we should have enough to get through, thanks to the two of you.”

“If you run out, please send word to Lyridon, and I will send you more, although I will also be returning your own magician as soon as may be,” Morgan told her. “Thank goodness consumption is a slow-acting ailment. I have seen plagues in my journeys that can kill you in a day.”

The doctor shuddered.

#

“Your Majesty, have you a rookery?” Morgan signed the next morning at breakfast.

“We had one, once,” Thybram replied, “but it has sat empty for some time now. Why do you ask?”

“It would be so much easier than capturing a wild bird, for I have need of their wings,” Morgan replied. “However, I shall ride out with my assistant today and find what I need outside the city.”

“I can have almost any type of fowl served to this table, if only you let my huntsmen know what you desire,” the king signed.

“Oh, it’s not for eating, Sire. I require a bird that is alive. I thank you, though.”

“As you wish, Archard. My stable is at your service at all times.”

“Come along, Galen,” Morgan spoke aloud as he signed, “we have business to attend to. Thank you, Your Majesty.”

With that, the two men excused themselves and headed out. Their first stop was the armory, to inquire after a smith with the requisite skills. A quick stop at the stables and they were on their way to find said smith in the city proper. Galen rode in silence at his master’s side, eyes and mind alert for any danger, but there was none. Morgan laid out his plan to the master silversmith.

“It won’t be easy, Archard, but I can do it,” he said at length.

“That’s all I ask,” Morgan smiled, and handed the man a small pouch of coins. “This should cover the cost.”

“I shall begin at once,” the smith said.

“Excellent! I shall return for it this afternoon.”

Morgan and Galen left the jeweler to his work and returned to their horses. They made their way out through the city gate and rode east, inland, into the forest that lapped at the city walls. Morgan explained his plan to his apprentice as they rode. Soon the city was out of sight, and they were alone in the wilderness.

“So just birds in general, Master,” Galen asked, “or birds of a certain size?”

“Eagles, hawks, ravens, crows. Others may show up, but we need a creature of strength and intelligence.”

Galen nodded and began to concentrate, but his focus was interrupted by the sudden flapping of many wings, as a flock of ravens landed on and around them like a black cloak.

“What’s wrong with him?” one of the ravens asked Galen abruptly.

“I-I beg your pardon?” Galen said, surprised. Morgan raised a single eyebrow at his companion, who nodded and indicated the birds. The one who had spoken hopped up onto Morgan’s arm to inspect him more closely.

“This other human. The Archard. He used to have magic, but now stands like a dried-up lakebed. I can see the remnants of magic on him, but there is nothing there now. What’s wrong with him? And you needn’t squawk, I can hear you just fine without speaking.”

“Like this?” Galen thought in the bird’s direction.

“Precisely,” the bird said. “You learn fast, that’s in your favor, at least.”

“His magic was stolen by another,” Galen told the raven. “He seeks your aid.”

“We do not have his magic,” the bird informed him.

“No, he knows that,” Galen said. “He seeks one who can carry a message to his home.”

“Ah. And where is the Archard’s home?”

Galen had been studying maps, not to mention Morgan’s memories, and had been given quite specific details, which he relayed to the large raven sitting on his master’s hand. Morgan stroked the bird’s blue-black plumage while saying nothing.

“So, a man in blue living under a dome in the city on an island,” said the raven at length. “It sounds straightforward enough. And that will restore his power to him?”

“No, nothing will restore his power,” Galen said. “What the message will do is allow his family to know that he is alive and safe and coming home.”

“Why do you not restore his magic?”

“I don’t know how,” Galen said, “or most assuredly I would.”

The bird cocked his head in Galen’s direction.

“Though he may not know it, your companion has the answer within him,” the raven said. “That much is clear to see.”

“It is not clear to us,” said Galen. “Can you explain?”

“No,” the raven said after a thoughtful pause. “It is simply evident. I can no more explain that than tell you why I can fly and you cannot. It is simply evident. Nonetheless, we will agree to carry your message.”

“He agrees, Magister,” Galen spoke aloud.

“Excellent!” Morgan said. “You’ve expressed my gratitude, I hope.”

“Of course, Sir,” Galen hastily thanked the bird.

“Good. Let us proceed back to the silversmith and check on his progress, then.”

As the two men turned their horses and returned to the city, the entire flock moved as one with them. Startled, Morgan pulled them to a halt.

“What are they doing, Galen?” he asked his apprentice.

After a brief consultation with the birds, Galen reported back that the entire flock had taken on the errand, and that they all intended to carry the message.

“But only one is required.”

“They understand that, Master, but they refuse to be separated. They say they will be less conspicuous traveling as a flock than a lone bird would be. One will carry the physical message, the others will act as camouflage.”

“Oh. Well I suppose that makes sense. Please convey my thanks to all the flock then.”

“Indeed, Sir, I had not realized it either.” Galen quickly thanked the flock.

Their return to Ornika caused somewhat of a disturbance. The raven who had volunteered to carry the message itself rode on Morgan’s right arm, while the rest of the flock circled above.

“They’re not less conspicuous in the city, though,” Morgan muttered. “Everyone’s staring at us. Good thing we’re amongst friends.”

The silversmith had, in fact, completed the design by the time they returned. Morgan deftly fitted the small cage onto the raven’s leg with soft leather straps, while Galen explained to the bird that it mustn’t get wet lest the contents be damaged. This is the message Morgan put in the tiny wire cage, rolled into a tight scroll:


“It will take us roughly two months to get there overland,” said Morgan, “barring any significant delays or obstacles. But with good weather my message might get there within a week.”

The raven in his hands ruffled its feathers. “May we go now?” it asked Galen.

“You may.”

The raven hunkered down on Morgan’s arm, then jumped, wings spread wide. In a moment the air was full of black forms, then they were dwindling in the distance. Soon they were gone in the vastness of the blue sky.

“We had best be on our way as well,” Morgan said. He thanked the smith, who bowed low, and they took their leave, back up to the castle. They found Paige with Dreyma and Ashia, watching over the children. Paige knew the look in her brother’s eyes.

“Is it time to leave again, so soon?” she asked.

“I’ve sent word of our situation home,” Morgan told her. “They will know within the week. But to get ourselves home will take somewhat longer, and I am in no mood to delay.”

“So you’ve ruined the surprise, then?”

“Surprises are not what anyone needs right now,” Morgan said, “and the people need hope. I would give it to them as soon as possible. We still have a long way to go.”

“I suppose you’re right, but I did rather relish the idea of just showing up and shocking everyone. Ah well, let’s gather our belongings once again, ladies, and return to the road.”

#

They took to the road two days later. Thybram insisted on giving Morgan a huge horse named Frelan who stood eighteen hands high.

“He is the pride of my stable, but now he must be yours,” the King signed. “This way, it looks like you’re riding the horse, rather than the horse riding you! Your feet no longer drag on the ground!”

Morgan smiled and laughed with the group, but in his heart he grimaced. Jokes about his height were a thing he had endured for a long time, but he had rather hoped they would be gone after his adventures. It would appear that was not to be.

“It is a positive sign, Magister,” Galen said softly, so that no one else heard. “They believe things are returning to normal, they are not as afraid as they were. It means we are succeeding.”

Morgan, hearing his words, shrugged. He might dislike it personally, but Galen was right. Their ruse was working. It was a good thing overall. Frelan was a good horse. Black with a white blaze, he was nowhere near as jumpy as Morgan had feared from a stallion. He was, of course, unable to sense the animal like he would normally have done, but Frelan did not dance or jitter or pull at the bit. He was very calm, as if his great size had given him the wisdom of ages.














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