The Wards Dilemma

From Steven Gorwood: "In Wizards Heir, much is made of the fact that someone entered Liam Rhenford's home even though the wards were still in place. In Beggar's Banquet, the point was made that only the owner of the house could use the stove.
"In Fanuilh, Liam Rhenford entered the home to find the dead wizard without any difficulty. He also used the stove. At that point in time, he was not the owner. When he entered the home, he was not even the 'counterfeit' owner. How was this possible with the wards in place?"

An excellent question. Really excellent question.

OK -- here's my response, in story form (which I should warn the unsuspecting reader contains information on Liam Rhenford's future that they may not wish to know):

No, seriously -- there's information here you may not want to know. Two people have e-mailed me complaining about it already, so I'm making this warning as strenuous as possible: WHAT FOLLOWS ENDS IN A VERY HARSH MANNER.

Inwards and Outwards

There was silence for some time after the woman left, until Doorward finally worked up the courage to ask:

"Um, do you suppose I was supposed to do something about that?"

Moonlight flashed from the panes of glass through which Doorward saw, and in the whisper of wind over the tiles came Roofward's reply:

"Excellent work, Doorward, really excellent." It was clear that Roofward meant to be sarcastic. The Earth Elemental, who protected a larger structure and thus possessed greater faculties than the rest of them, was always sarcastic.

"That's not fair," protested Windoward, from its various positions around the house. "Master let her in."

"Still, Doorward should have known better than to allow it. And now look what she's done!"

While they could not all actually look, they were all aware of what the woman had done; even Privyward, mindlessly mulching and masking scents, knew that the woman had killed the Master.

"Why did he let her in, I wonder?" Doorward asked after a while, having come to the conclusion that it bore no responsibility for allowing the woman in. Its duties were clear: to keep those out who were not specifically invited in by the Master. Since the Master had let her in, Doorward was absolved.

"She looked good," Windoward said.

"Looked good," Roofward sneered. "You say everything looks good. That's all you ever think about."

"I'm mostly about looking," Windoward admitted good-naturedly. Scattered as Windoward was, the Air Elemental had difficulty mustering much mental capacity. "And keeping closed to the unwanted."

"Which Doorward seems not to have mastered," Roofward muttered.

A mongrel of Earth and Air, Doorward was humble, and did not try to defend itself. A heavy silence descended on the Masterless house.

* * *

Windoward spotted the young man before anyone else, first in its western facets, and then its southern, as he crossed the beach and walked onto the terrace in front of the house.

"Do we let him in?" Windoward wanted to know.

"You don't let anyone in," Roofward answered.

"I could if I wanted to," Windoward shot back, "which is more than you can say."

Roofward sniffed, and would have drawn itself up haughtily if such a thing were possible. "In any case, it's up to Doorward, but Doorward isn't allowed to decided such things. Not the way Master created him."

In the ordinary course of events, this was true. When the Master was away, no one was allowed in, and since that was all Roofward had ever seen, it assumed Doorward had no discretion in the matter. There was some flexibility, however, in the weave of magic that had infused Doorward into the glass-and-wood structure at the front of the house. A small amount, to be sure, but flexibility nonetheless.

It was strictly for emergencies, actually: say, for instance, if a particularly close friend of the Master's (of which there were no more than two) should appear at the door pursued by a pack of hungry wolves. In such a case, Doorward might legitimately allow entrance to the pursued.

The trouble in this case was that the young man who approached was neither a particularly close friend of the Master's, nor in any obvious danger.

Little Master, however, was quite obviously dying.

"Do you think he might be able to help the Little Master?" Doorward asked the other wards.

"Yes yes yes yes," piped Windoward, who had a definite fondness for Little Master.

"Possibly," Roofward grudgingly admitted. "But the Master wouldn't like it."

Without a trace of sarcasm, Doorward pointed out that the Master was dead, and thus in no position to mind.

Roofward sniffed again. "Oh, very well -- do as you please. But I want no part of it."

"I think I will open, then."

And so, when the young man tried the front door, Doorward did not bar his way.

* * *

The next morning, things grew more complicated.

More than once the eavesdropping wards heard the young man ask, "And I'll be your master?" And as far as they could tell, the Little Master agreed.

The young man heard nothing of it, but a silent debate raged among the wards.

While Roofward had been willing to stand apart from the decision to let the young man in on that first night, it was not prepared to allow him the same privileges as the Master had enjoyed. Citing what it considered unimpeachable precedent -- only the Master had enjoyed those privileges, and the young man was not the Master -- Roofward roundly denounced all talk of extending the same to the young man.

"Who is he, after all? Not the Master. The Master created us -- fashioned us out of our Elemental slumber, gave us form and thought, so that we could protect and serve him. He didn't do it so we could play host to whoever happened to come along. And I might add, at this point, that when I mention how the Master gave us thought, I feel I would be remiss if I did not mention that he gave me much more thought than the rest of you."

Doorward, with artless honesty, countered that the Master was dead, and since the young man had come along and helped the Little Master, they might as well afford him certain privileges.

"Let him eat, at least," Doorward said, and the three small Elementals of the oven (one of Fire, one of Water, and one of Earth) agreed vociferously -- they were always anxious to serve, and had long regretted the Master's decree that the Little Master might not eat from the oven.

"Besides," Windoward added, "the Little Master treats him like the Master, so why shouldn't we?"

That pretty much settled things, as far as most of the wards were concerned, and Roofward was obliged to go along with their decision.

What started as a provisional extension of privileges fairly quickly became permanent, and some of the less bright wards actually began to refer to the young man as the New Master. (Privyward in particular liked the New Master, in large part because the young man was continually remarking on the quality of the ward's work. The Stove Elementals, kept extremely and happily busy by his varied requests, also became New Master supporters. Their only regret was that they could not find a voice to correct the Little Master's misconceptions about the way they functioned.)

There was a minor squawk when the young man went into the work room and threw out the Old Master's supplies. Doorward was in agony throughout the process, unsure whether to shut tight and prevent the despoilage, or to stay open as the young man clearly wished, and allow it to continue. For once Doorward was irresolute, and as a result, every time during the process that the young man came in or went out, he found the front door further along its track in one direction or another than he had left it. If he noticed, however, he made no sign.

Roofward, however, did notice, and was devastating in his scorn. "Having pangs of conscience, are we? Sorry we let the 'New Master' in? Look at what he's doing to the Old Master's things!"

Windoward, unsure of the meaning of the word "conscience," spoke up: "I don't see you letting the roof leak," it flashed, "and you're still keeping the birds from nesting under the eaves. Leave Doorward alone!"

Proud and aloof, Roofward sniffed and refused to comment.

* * *

Needless to say, when the Old Master did return, Roofward was quite smug.

It was almost a month after his death, but they recognized him immediately: every ward in the house thrilled to his presence, and Doorward practically threw itself aside to allow him entrance.

"I told you all," Roofward said. "Didn't I tell you so?"

They had to admit, in all fairness, that he had, and there was no small amount of quaking when the Old Master went into his workroom and discovered the wholesale removal that had taken place there.

"What's he doing?" Doorward asked.

"Cursing," replied Windoward, one of whose facets looked in on the workroom. "But very quietly."

"And planning your destruction, no doubt," Roofward added.

Though he never had before, they fully expected him to address them -- and after a brief visit to the trophy room, he did, in a roundabout sort of way.

He went to stand on the patio in the front of the house, put his hands on his scrawny hips and looked up at the place, his eyes roaming over Windoward and Doorward and Roofward. After a while, he vented a sigh.

"Now you're in for it," Roofward whispered.

"Hush" Windoward and Doorward replied in unison.

The Old Master thought it was only the moonlight glinting off the glass panes of door and windows. He sighed again.

"Didn't think I'd miss it, but I do," he said. "I wish it was mine again. Still, the scaley little beast has made my will already, and I doubt a dead man can contest. Besides, he's as good as any to have it." The Old Master paused, and then added in a quieter voice, "I hope it suits him as well as it suited me."

Then, with another sigh, he lay the carpet from the trophy room on the ground, spoke a Word, and flew off.

* * *

Roofward tried to argue that the Old Master had not specifically granted ownership to the young man, but the other wards shouted him down, and soon enough even Roofward was calling him the New Master.

And so it went for quite some time. For the most part it was dull routine -- Roofward chasing drips, and suggesting to a family of swallows that they take up residence elsewhere; the Stovewards creating meals from ether and raw elements; the Lightwards mindlessly obeying the New Master's requests for illumination (or lack thereof); and so on and on as they years went by.

There were moments of excitement, to be sure. A pair of thieves came by once, while the New Master was away (he travelled a great deal more than the Old Master had), and tried to force their way in. Doorward allowed them to pry the front door open a few inches, and then slammed shut as hard as it could, neatly snapping the bones of an imprudent forearm. The thieves fled in great haste, and did not return.

In another, later year, there was an assassin who came in the dark of night and was chased away by a shower of clay tiles from Roofward.

Mostly, however, it was the normal round of housewardly duties -- and a steady, gradual drain of their ability to stay focused. The New Master had been in the house some ten or fifteen years (Roofward, self-appointed calender-keeper of the wards, used the figures interchangeably, and the others never argued), but was apparently unaware of the fact that the wards required a certain upkeep.

When the front door began to stick, he applied wax and grease, little realizing that it was Doorward, not the door, who was sluggish. When Windoward's eyes began to fog, he wiped at them, and then was surprised when they needed cleaning again a short time later.

The simple fact of the matter was that the New Master was not capable of the things the Old Master had been, and was unable to halt the slow seeping of their elemental essences from the structures they inhabited.

They did not fault him for it; they served loyally, and without complaint right up until the end.

And that, when it came, was another wizard in the dead of night, a person who had been allowed into the house before as a friend, but came now as a destroyer.

Diminished in strength, Doorward fought nonetheless, struggling courageously against the wizard's magic, until the wizard, growing impatient, summoned an enormous Stone Elemental. Propelled by great force, the Elemental crashed through Doorward as if it were no more than wood and glass.

The rest of the housewards cried out, but were unable to stop the wizard from taking what he wished, and departing.

Before leaving the beach entirely, however, he stood on the patio and surveyed the house, much as the Old Master had years before.

"Too good for him," the wizard snarled and, summoning a Fire Elemental, sent it to consume the house.

In the hour that followed, Windoward died slowly, each facet succumbing in a shower of burst glass. The Lightwards had already gone, unable to resist joining their larger cousin, and Privyward was vanquished in a cloud of foul steam. The Stovewards held on almost to the end, protected by fired clay, but when a gust of the Fire Elemental's breath tore the door from the oven, they too were consumed, in a fire much hotter than they had been created to withstand.

Roofward went last, as the flames ate through the now unwarded parts of the rest of the house, and its last thought, as it deliberately threw itself upon and smothered the Fire Elemental, was that it had been right.

About what, it could not say, but the rest was only smoke and darkness.